Stargate SG-1 9.8 – Babylon

Like I noted with the last episode of Atlantis that we watched, I’ve enjoyed pointing out where MGM and the network looked for some notable stars from other SF TV shows for guest parts. “Babylon” marks the first of two appearances by William B. Davis as Damaris, one of the Priors of the Ori. Davis, of course, was the Cigarette Smoking Man in The X Files along with sixty-eleven other things. By every account a heck of a nice man in real life, onscreen he’s the perfect choice for a really creepy old dude. He doesn’t really do much in this appearance, though. Just the sight of him is enough to know that things are lousy.

Our son was fascinated by the community in this story and grumbled that they didn’t spend even more time on it, despite much of the episode – what felt like the whole story – being centered around it. Our heroes go in search of a legendary group of Jaffa called the Sodan who freed themselves from slavery five thousand years ago and live in an isolated village protected by Ancient tech. As is common with television tradition-and-honor-before-common sense warriors, there’s a bit of samurai code to them. The Sodan are led by a tough guy played by the great Tony Todd, who we saw in a Xena episode last year, but he’s falling sway to the Prior’s silver tongue and is about ready to throw away all that tradition and honor for the Ori’s hocus pocus. Mitchell’s able to get through to one of the Sodan. We’ll see later in the season it does not go well for the rest of them.

Stargate SG-1 9.7 – Ex Deus Machina

“Ex Deus Machina” begins with a fabulous cold open. We see a Jaffa soldier running through a dark forest, and naturally assume that we’re on some alien planet somewhere. Then he gets hit by a Nissan Pathfinder or something. He’s on Earth!

The bigger surprise is that the Trust is still active. They were last seen midway through the previous season, and now we’re back for more tales of extraterrestrial conspiracy. This feels very strange in relation to what’s happened since. There’s been all the massive wrapping things up that brought season eight to an end, then all the new normal and the Ori and Priors this year, never mind all the huge events happening on Atlantis, and suddenly our heroes are again working with government agents from the back of surveillance trucks, getting gossip in diners, and spying on limousines with binoculars.

And it’s not just great because – hooray! – Cliff Simon is back because Ba’al has decided to come live on Earth and has picked up a pretty blonde girlfriend. Given the choice of having the conspiracy be the new big bads or the Ori, I’m sorry, but the fellows in suits win every time. The kid really enjoyed this one, from all the twists to a big shootout in an office cube farm to Cam hearing a description of the ruffians blowing up cubicles and remarking “It’s either Jaffa or KISS is back on tour.”

Stargate SG-1 9.6 – Beachhead

Of course, the big thing from a continuity perspective about “Beachhead” is that Amanda Tapping rejoins the cast starting with this episode. It’s also the Ori’s first attempt to build a gigantic “supergate” in space, through which they can fly an armada. So of course our son loved this one to pieces, because it’s a really special effects-heavy piece with lots of gunplay and hundred mile-wide explosions and planet-crushing force fields. Louis Gossett Jr. returns as Gerak, and at one point one of Earth’s flying battleships is raining missiles down on the planet alongside three of his big pyramid battle cruisers, and I can imagine our kid jerry-rigging some Lego constructions to recreate it.

It’s also goodbye – for now – for Claudia Black as Vala Mal Doran, but she’ll be back before too long. And happily, we meet a really great new villain. Nerus is a minor System Lord played by Maury Chaykin and he is so incredibly fun. He’s apparently a very clever technician who came up with all sorts of advancements while in the service of one powerful Goa’uld or another, and he knows on what side his bread’s buttered, because he figures getting in the Ori’s good graces is the right move. So he promises the stars with his intel, in exchange for a gigantic meal that might make Chaykin’s best-known character, Nero Wolfe, proud, planning, of course, to stab everybody in the back, because he’s a Goa’uld and that’s what they do.

Before he gets marched to his cell in Area 51, Nerus gets to enjoy chicken for the first time and thinks it’s completely amazing. Our son couldn’t help but comment that Nerus should try it fried. I’m glad that Nerus enjoyed the chicken, because there probably isn’t any saucisse minuit or anchovy fritters where he’s going.

Stargate SG-1 9.5 – The Powers That Be

Summing up this episode once it was over, our son said that he wasn’t sure what to think of it, beyond not liking the Ori and their Priors, especially since this story has shown, as Marie put it, “they’re here to play hardball.” So this builds on the earlier installments this season, but also lets Daniel get a good point in that won’t be explained for a few more weeks. We don’t know why the Ori are so obsessed with converting new worshippers. (The truth is ugly and also explains why they have to kill non-believers. More on that in episodes 10-11, I think.)

So this clown, who we met earlier this season and was since made into a Prior, has a deeply ugly scheme to convert a poverty-stricken planet. He infects everybody with a nasty disease – possibly the same one that SG-1 dug out of Antarctic ice in season six – and only cures them once the people beg for his help. Earth medicine won’t work, and neither will those handy-dandy Goa’uld healing devices the show’s always had around, so it’s accept Origin or die.

There’s a little more to this story that’s a lot more entertaining. The poverty-stricken planet is one that Vala ruled for many years when she was host to the System Lord Qetesh. But Vala being Vala, once the System Lord symbiote had been removed by some of Earth’s allies four years ago, Vala kept up the charade, for treasures and massages, although to her small credit, she did at least stop the mass executions. Something I really like here is that this series has shown us humans being tried for the crimes of their symbiote villains a couple of times before. This time, Daniel objects that Vala should only be held responsible for what she did in the last four years, and the locals, happily, immediately agree, saving a lot of time. Not that she wasn’t a completely indefensible jerk four the last four years, but let’s make sure we’re trying the right villain, you know?

Stargate SG-1 9.4 – The Ties That Bind

If the previous three episodes of SG-1 were heavy to the point of being ponderous, here’s the lovely “Ties That Bind” to give audiences a breather. This one is a hilarious caper story in reverse. Of course we all loved it. The kid laughed like a hyena throughout it. Is this among the best SG-1 adventures? Absolutely. It should have been as silly and fun as this every week.

Not long before visiting Earth, Vala had pulled a series of swaps, steals, and scams, and now they have to retrace her steps to get some information, which one person won’t divulge without x, which is now in the hands of a man who wants y, which is unavailable without first obtaining z, which is in the hands of those two barely competent, shoot-first traders we met last season. Beautifully, one key link in this mess is played by the great Wallace Shawn, who is tired, resigned, defeated, gullible, and still heartbroken after Vala left him. It’s not a large part, but I don’t think anybody could have played it as well. The casting director must have danced on the ceiling when he agreed.

Stargate SG-1 9.3 – Origin

“Origin” is effectively the third part of a three-parter, and it goes into detail about the new bunch of big bads, the Ori and their superpowered human Priors. Our son got a little grouchy about these guys and the convert-or-die policy of their religion. The Priors believe that humans have free will, and would naturally use that freedom to freely worship. Otherwise, they have been corrupted by evil and must be destroyed. And there lies the structural flaw with having this kind of a villain. Their sort shows up in the real world enough as it is, and it’s always depressing and annoying. I really wish they’d have come up with some interesting and challenging additional threats rather than just the religious bores.

On the other hand, our son did enjoy the really fast pace and exciting resolution to this story. And there’s an interesting observation about why this is absolutely the worst possible time for religious fanatics to start a crusade. Our heroes’ allies, the Jaffa, have only just been freed from generations of enslavement to the false gods, the Goa’uld. It’s only natural that charlatans and opportunists would try to step into the power vacuum. It’s just our bad luck that these particular opportunists can back it up. Oh, and our kid enjoyed a great little Buckaroo Banzai reference as Mitchell exchanges meaningless phrases with a Prior. He probably enjoyed the reference more than he did the movie, to be honest.

Joining the recurring cast this time, we’ve got two new faces. Julian Sands makes the first of three appearances as the Doci, the leader of the Priors. Surprised there were so few; I wrongly remembered that he’s in more. Plus there’s Louis Gossett Jr., a powerful leader among the Jaffa who is going to show up in four of the next eight episodes as the big political machinations of Teal’c’s people rumbles in the show’s background. The actors will briefly get some screen time together in the big midseason finale, which I remember as being really stunning. I’m looking forward to that.

Stargate SG-1 9.1-2 – Avalon (parts one and two)

So with season nine of SG-1, they had to move on from Richard Dean Anderson, who appears, briefly, to pass the torch, and, at least initially, from Amanda Tapping, who also makes a short cameo. This story is also the final appearance of Obi Ndefo as one of our heroes’ allies in space. But there’s a pile of new faces, including Ben Browder as the new action lead, Cam Mitchell, Beau Bridges as General Landry, and Lexa Doig as Landry’s daughter, the new chief medical officer at Stargate Command. Cam has to put the team back together because even though the System Lords were defeated, there’s still a lot more exploring that needs doing.

I don’t like season nine as much as I’d hoped because the new baddies this year are so dull that they make me miss the System Lords. For all their conceptual faults, they were at least played by a variety of interesting actors and had colorful costumes. Occasionally they’d get to let a fun, malevolent personality shine through. The Ori and their Priors are overpowered, joyless, old dudes with AARP cards. At least one that I remember we get to will be played by an actor everybody likes, but these guys are out to conquer the universe taking as little pleasure from the experience as possible.

So thank God, basically, that Claudia Black gets to return for a six-week engagement while Amanda Tapping was on maternity leave. I think the producers rewatched her performance in last year’s “Prometheus Unbound” and decided that since she was going to steal the show for six weeks anyway, they’d just give her all the best lines and let Vala be as flirtatious, fun, and obnoxious as possible. Season nine will suffer a little after she leaves, because as much as everybody likes Ben Browder, he doesn’t have that lightness of touch that Richard Dean Anderson brought to make this show relaxed and light. Claudia Black gets the job of keeping the viewers smiling while the situation gets dark. Is Vala my favorite character in the show? By a mile. And we’ll meet my second favorite alien villain in a few weeks, too!

Stargate SG-1 8.19-20 – Moebius (parts one and two)

I’m telling you good people, you can lead a kid straight up to a reference, but you cannot make him recognize it.

I told him when we watched “Time and Punishment” to remember the ending. I asked him last month if he remembered how it concluded with Homer Simpson shrugging “Eh, close enough.” In an alternate timeline shown in this SG-1 two-parter – intended as the series finale – the retired Jack O’Neill runs fishing charters from a boat named Homer, written in that program’s font. I told him between episodes to watch for another big Simpsons reference, to keep it in the back of his mind. And even in a story where Carter says that traveling back in time is a terrible idea because she might step on the wrong bug – Bill Potts knew better – the show closes with a repeat of the end of episode 18, only time has been changed, and there are, at long last, fish in Jack’s pond.

“Eh, close enough,” Jack says. And the kid didn’t connect the dots.

And she’s so kind, I think she wants to tell me something,
But she knows that its much better if I get it for myself
– Dar Williams

Anyway, the kid completely loved this one, obviously. It’s really, really fun, and has several great gags. Full credit to the show’s producers for deciding to go out with something light and silly and clever and ridiculous. It’s a great time travel story, where our heroes make the deeply dumb decision to go back 5000 years and retrieve a ZPM – that’s the macguffin that they badly need over in Atlantis – from its last known location. This creates an alternate timeline where Ra, the villain from the original film, abandoned Earth as he originally did, but this time, he takes the Stargate away with him. But SG-1 left a camcorder and tape behind, sealed in a canopic jar, to tell the new future how to fix things, and a very unlikely bunch have to somehow come together to do it.

While the last several episodes of the show had given final bows to many of the recurring characters and close out their storyline, this one gets to revel in the past, and bring Don S. Davis out of retirement, and Peter Williams back to play Apophis again. Even Jay Acovone returns as Kawalsky, who originally died way back in episode two. About the only old face who doesn’t return is Jaye Davidson as Ra, which wouldn’t have been all that likely, I suppose.

We’ll get to the surprise renewal of SG-1 in a couple of weeks, and how the producers had to scramble to put the band back together when Richard Dean Anderson really called it quits, and Amanda Tapping was not available for several months since she decided to take advantage of the program ending to have a baby. Season eight honestly was not as consistently good as I remembered it this time around, but the last five episodes gave the series a solid finale, and this two-parter a downright great ending. I’d say it’s almost a shame it didn’t really end here, except that I like some of what’s coming next quite a lot.

Stargate SG-1 8.18 – Threads

“Threads” is an extra-length episode that was originally broadcast in a 90-minute slot, and our kid really hated it. Their goal was to wrap up absolutely everything, all the outstanding continuity, clearing the decks for a big, fun two-part finale without all the weight of loose ends. This one even introduces a whole new loose end: O’Neill has been seeing a CIA agent named Kerry for a few weeks, but that gets wrapped up as well, so that he and Carter can finally begin a relationship. But wait, you say, wasn’t she engaged to Pete? The guy who’s been barely mentioned and not seen since “Affinity”? Yeah, she breaks off their engagement. And her father dies, so it’s farewell this time to both Carmen Argenziano and David DeLuise, making their final appearances in the series.

Okay, so technically O’Neill and Carter don’t actually formalize anything onscreen. Then there’s the fact that the series continued with occasional guest appearances from Richard Dean Anderson showing that his character does not actually retire from the USAF as it is strongly hinted here. But I’m pretty sure that “I can’t believe we didn’t do this years ago” is all the meat that fans of that ship needed. It works, offscreen, from here if you’re willing to let it.

Our son was very, very bored with this one. It’s all talking, with the action offscreen. On Earth, it’s deaths and breakups, in space, all the money for big battles needed to be spent in the next story, and then there’s the Astral Diner. Happily, mercifully, this story also mostly wraps up all the business with the higher planes of existence, and finally answers the problem posed two years previously why Oma Desala never stopped the supervillain Anubis.

But it’s all so dopey! Daniel is trapped in a diner whose appearance was pulled from his memories, and populated by Ascended Beings who ignore him while he and Oma Desala and a mysterious loudmouth argue about free will and death and good and evil and coffee. It all plays out precisely like those deeply bizarre tangents that Steve Gerber would write in 1970s Marvel comics like Man-Thing and Omega the Unknown, where you thought you were buying a comic with a monster or a superhero and you got people on roller coasters having a mid-life crisis and talking directly to the reader. That fine character actor George Dzundza plays the loudmouth in the diner, and his identity is a nice surprise, but I’ve said before that the higher plane of existence business has been the weakest thing about Stargate and they were determined to wrap it up as goofily as possible, weren’t they?

Stargate SG-1 8.16-17 – Reckoning (parts one and two)

So, the final five episodes of the series, or at least that’s what they planned. You might could read it as a three-parter followed by a two-parter, but I kind of see it as a pair of two-parters with a interesting loose-ends story between them. It begins with one of our favorite villains, Yu the Great, being killed, and ends with every Replicator in this galaxy wiped out, their threat finally destroyed. And in between, the Goa’uld Empire falls. Big event TV, in other words.

Naturally, Tony Amendola and Carmen Argenziano return for all the chaos, because it makes sense to bring back recurring players at a time like this. We also get a surprising guest star for the first three hours of this farewell tour: Isaac Hayes. Plus we get some explosions and other visuals from previous stories and the return of the great big stone prop from “Window of Opportunity” because that thing probably wasn’t cheap. Well, when you go bigger than the budget, you cut corners where you can!

It’s a shame to see Yu go, but my absolute favorite villain on this series, Cliff Simon’s Baal, just owns this one. These are among his worst days. Baal is inches away from complete domination over all the System Lords when the Replicators make their move and start wiping out his fleet. In the end, he’s still sneering but he has to form an alliance with the humans and the Tok’ra to stop the erector-set bugs from spreading everywhere. Simon is just a joy to watch. He’s like a volcano in this one.

All told, this is a very fun story. Hats off to everybody involved; they separated our heroes into four places of action and the stakes get higher and higher and things get worse and worse. Our son was in heaven. He was so excited by everything that happened in this one, with great dialogue to outer space visuals to lots of gunfire and explosions, paced just perfectly. It’s a really thrilling story, directed extremely well. You might could make the argument that it’s all sizzle and no steak, but that’s okay. It sizzles really nicely and we’ll get the steak next time.

Stargate SG-1 8.14 – Full Alert

As SG-1 continues tying up all its loose ends, last time we saw Tom McBeath’s character get a happy ending. This time, Ronny Cox’s character gets an unhappy ending.

I mentioned before that I’m finding season eight less entertaining than I did the last time around. One problem is that the evil conspiracy bunch, the Trust, are badly ill-defined and don’t have a figurehead for the audience to jeer. It’s almost like the producers realized, too late, that they needed somebody like the Cigarette Smoking Man in The X Files, and phoned up William B. Davis’s agent next year for a broadly similar role once they saw their error. Another problem is that too much of the Trust material happens offscreen. Even Jack O’Neill protests that he must have missed an episode, and Carter can only speculate that since we last saw them in “Endgame”, the Trust had to have been infiltrated by the baddies offworld. I’d have thought shadowy conspiracies were a little too complex for the simple, power-mad Goa’uld, but I guess they do what the script demands in the end.

This episode tries to do a lot, and it does it fairly well, but the nature of a modestly-budgeted sci-fi show means that it’s not just the infiltration that happens offscreen, it’s pretty much everything. The Trust have had an alien agent in the Russian military for a very long time, and once the full takeover of their ranks happens, they just need to rope Kinsey back in to make Russia’s president believe that the American administration has been compromised. So we hear about Joint Chiefs of Staff having emergency meetings and armies massing and nuclear silos opening, but the action is all in small rooms, and our four regulars are in the same place for all of about thirty seconds. It ends with a bang, and our son seemed to enjoy it very much, but the way it’s paced leaves no room for any resolution after the climax. The fascinating ramifications of the Russians capturing a Goa’uld in the body of their own defense minister aren’t investigated; I think there could have been a heck of an episode with that alone!