Stargate SG-1 6.19 – The Changeling

Hmmm. Think we may have found out why episode 17 was a clip show! “The Changeling,” which was written by one of the stars, Christopher Judge, features several recurring actors, Peter Williams, Michael Shanks, Tony Amendola, and Carmen Argenziano, multiple locations, including the same bridge that was later used in the first episode of Batwoman, where young Kate and Alice and their mother went into the river, and a whole passel of extras. True, they went a little light on the special effects and gunfights this week, but there’s just so much more going on in this episode than a typical one that it sure looks like they needed to cut a corner somewhere else.

A Doctor Who story that was made seven years after this episode, “Amy’s Choice”, had a somewhat similar premise of two competing realities, each of which seems like a dream to the people who wake up in the other one. Our son did not like that Who, and he didn’t like this either, struggling to come up with a tortuous analogy that understanding this was like holding on to a very high set of monkey bars with grease on the metal. The kid likes television better when he’s on surer footing.

Stargate SG-1 4.22 & 5.1 – Exodus / Enemies

This afternoon and this evening, we watched the split season finale / season premiere of Stargate SG-1‘s fourth and fifth seasons, originally shown in February and June 2001. The first part’s not bad. It features Teal’c trying to get even with his old enemy Tanith, who we met earlier in the season. Tanith escapes – it’s set up in a line of dialogue in the second half and it unfolds a few episodes down the line – not long after what looks like the real problem shows up.

So our old enemy Apophis arrives with his entire fleet to wipe out Earth’s allies, the Tok’ra, once and for all. But he’s walked into a great big trap, unlikely and “ambitious,” and part one of the story ends with his fleet completely wiped out. Part two takes the story into an entirely different galaxy – it’s unlikely, but we’re playing with hyperdrives and supernovae, so we’ll run with it – and Apophis suddenly has a great big problem. His bunch of alien baddies have never met the Replicators before, and suddenly the whole notion of him being a god falls down around his big dumb ears.

When we watched the previous story, “Double Jeopardy”, I made sure to point out that the Goa’uld have no imagination and no interest in new technology. The Replicators don’t care about anything else but new technology. Guess who’s going to come out on top?

So no, part one’s not bad, but part two is a completely entertaining and delightful spectacle. The Replicators have only been seen once before, but bringing them back and turning them into implacable Goa’uld killers is a great idea, and it’s revealed so casually. The director of this episode gives the audience a little glimpse of an erector-set leg and then calmly shows off the writers’ masterstroke.

But honestly, the hour is really the actors running around the spaceship set having gunfights without a lot of heart to it. It’s entertaining but hollow, except for Peter Williams’ performance as Apophis. I’ve grumbled about the quality of the villains on this show before and won’t indulge again, because Williams has often been much better than the limitations of his character. And he completely shines here. Apophis doesn’t get to go down in a blaze of glory, his master scheme doesn’t come this close to succeeding, and he doesn’t even get a final standoff against our heroes. Instead, he is completely out of his element, has no idea whatsoever how to get out of this mess, and I just love this scene where Apophis looks around his new throne room and realizes just how screwed he is. In the end, Apophis dies like a chump. It’s a beautiful, beautiful thing.

So the final tally at this point is that Apophis has killed Sokar and Heru’ur, and SG-1 has killed Ra, Hathor, Seth, Cronus, and Apophis. Lotsa villains down for the count, but Anubis is right around the corner…

That’s all from SG-1 for now. We cycle things in and out to keep things fresh, but we’ll pick back up with season five in about three weeks. Stay tuned!

Stargate SG-1 4.14 – The Serpent’s Venom

The bulk of this episode deals with a race against time to reprogram a floating space mine. During a quiet moment of visual effects navigating the minefield, our son observed “Based on what I’ve learned from movies and TV, I think there is going to be a near miss.” Good. He’s paying attention.

He really enjoyed this one, and even liked the machinations of the bad guys. Two of the biggest threats have been the regular main baddie Apophis, and Heru’ur, who’s been mostly offscreen and talked about, and hasn’t actually appeared in the flesh for more than two years. The mine’s needed to disrupt their impending alliance, but Apophis was predicting trouble, and instead of the two stomping off from the negotiating table and rousing their armies, Apophis just kills Heru’ur outright, so he can stomp off and absorb his army.

Kind of an ignoble end to one of the space baddies. This was Douglas Arthurs’ final appearance in the show, but it introduces a new recurring character, Rak’nor, played by Obi Ndefo. He’s one of the villains’ underlings who joins the rebellion against them. Kind of the nature of this show that we won’t see him again for a really long time either, but his next appearance, in season five, sure is a good one.

Stargate SG-1 3.13 – The Devil You Know (part two of two)

I mentioned a splendid cliffhanger last time, and it really is a delightful, nasty one. Apophis is still alive. The producers did such a good job with this, spending the first half of the season moving on from Apophis, even devoting an entire episode to convincing his brainwashed acolytes that he was dead. And he isn’t just alive, he’s in charge. He was disguised as the second-in-command to Sokar’s second-in-command, hidden under armor and a helmet, looking like a medieval Boba Fett or something.

Actually, I adore the backstory that we couldn’t have seen without spoiling the reveal. Our heroes’ allies had warned them that Sokar was likely to restore Apophis to life with the slimy bug technology of the sarcophagus, just to keep torturing him for years and years. Somehow, Apophis got the upper hand at some point, disguised himself, and has been slowly getting things ready to strike… and then these damn Earthmen show up again. Of all the luck!

Anyway, the episode finds reason to focus on the damn Earthmen and their allies, but the machinations of the villains is the really fun part. Apophis kills the next guy up in the pecking order, consolidates power, puts a gang together, gets a secret weapon and some intel – or so he thinks – from J.R. Bourne’s recurring guest character, who’s more wily than Apophis figures, and goes to meet Sokar under the guise of being penitent and loyal. Of course, Sokar doesn’t buy this for a minute, and it looks to all come crashing down around Apophis’s ears.

Sokar proves to be a disappointment in the end. If there’s a misfire at all, it’s building up Sokar through other characters’ discussion of him for months and months and not giving him the center stage we might have enjoyed for a while. The episode ends with Sokar’s mothership and his hell moon blown to pebbles and dust and our son was loving every second of the climax… until the inevitable “escape pod” moment, showing that one of the baddies had made it to safety. The final shot reveals that it’s Apophis who somehow made it out, and is presumably taking power and stamping out resistance among Sokar’s army.

Apophis is by no means anywhere near my favorite villain. Like too many of the Goa’uld, he’s only got one note and it isn’t played with any nuance. But structurally, this story is great, and it’s occasionally very entertaining to let the overall storyline disappoint you when it’s told so well. I’ll be fed up with his crap again in no time at all, but I assured our son that his eventual demise will be worth all the aggravation getting there.

Stargate SG-1 3.9 -Rules of Engagement

We skipped over an episode I really dislike and landed on this story, which introduces a really neat problem. It’s sort of the SG-1 equivalent of those stories of Japanese pilots and soldiers holding out on Pacific islands throughout the 1950s and 1960s and refusing to surrender. Our heroes find a training camp where young soldiers, dressed in USAF SG-team fatigues, are waging war games against pretend Jaffa soldiers and everybody is using stun weapons.

They learn that these are slaves of Apophis, who eventually abandoned them and withdrew his forces but left them shooting it out while he battles against Heru’ur and Sokar. Previously, Apophis’s plan had been to send these “soldiers” to Earth as an invasion, but getting killed by Sokar put paid to that. So how do you convince a mob of heavily-armed acolytes that their all-powerful “god” is dead and they can go home, because they’re free?

I enjoy episodes that force the heroes to think way outside the box. To be fair, some of this is handled really conveniently, and it ends too suddenly for my liking. The biggest flaw is that a critical part of the setup is that one of their units, SG-11, has been MIA for months, and that’s the sort of thing they really should have addressed previously, instead of in passing as the situation unfolds. But putting too much in an hour’s better than padding out something that’s too slight, isn’t it?

Stargate SG-1 3.6 – Point of View

Another parallel universe episode, “Point of View” helps establish that in a lot of these realities, Earth gets invaded and the SGC gets overrun by Apophis’s troops sometime around 1998-99. The Black Mirror had been introduced toward the end of season one. In that adventure, the Daniel from our world gets stuck in another universe where the Goa’uld are invading. In this episode, the Samantha and Major Kawalsky escape from their overrun world into ours. I like that they brought back Kawalsky, who had been in the original movie and the first two TV stories before getting killed off. Nice continuity touch.

When I was writing about the previous story, I mentioned its structural similarities to the Doctor Who serial “Inferno,” but of course, the template for “bad parallel worlds” in American TV sci-fi is Star Trek‘s “Mirror, Mirror,” where Evil Spock wears a sinister mustache and beard. In the world that SG-1 needs to rescue, Apophis also wears some ugly facial hair. I guess that means this one is really, really evil.

Stargate SG-1 2.17 – Serpent’s Song

Can we take a moment to appreciate just how good of a job the makeup team did in making Peter Williams age several decades over the course of this episode? Round of applause; it’s a great job.

I paused the episode after the first mission gets back to Earth to remind our son of the old saying “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” I cautioned that probably wouldn’t be the case in this series, where, since the bloodthirsty and power-mad System Lords are involved, it’s more like the enemy of my enemy is a really pissed off enemy. It’s an interesting setup. What we learn as the show goes on is that offstage, the System Lords have been infighting and waging their wars, and the show’s principal enemy, Apophis, has been losing ground on every front. His main rival for power is Heru’ur, who we’ve met briefly a couple of times. However, he’s been captured by a new-to-the-show villain, Sokar, and has spent weeks or months being tortured. Apophis somehow gets free, sends a message to Earth with coordinates of where he can be found, and makes a break for that planet.

So the humans find a great intelligence victory: their main adversary is broken and beaten, and both his legs are shattered, and he can be brought back to Earth for interrogation and imprisonment. Except that’s a terrible idea. Their new allies the Tok’ra send one of their agents, Martouf, who we met a couple of episodes previously, to tell them no, send Apophis back. Sokar, who we don’t meet in the flesh this time, wasn’t done with him yet and is prepared to destroy Earth to recover him. Meanwhile, Apophis is dying and cannot be returned to full health without a Goa’uld sarcophagus.

Even though it isn’t an action-packed episode, the combination of the setup and the drama, once Sokar starts screwing with the Earth Stargate, kept our son fascinated by where this one was going. For me, there’s a real low moment that weighs over the whole episode. Debating their options, Jack says that they should “beat whatever information we can out of old Snake Boy.” That’s an ugly sentiment from any hero, but since we know that Colonel O’Neill has been tortured for information before, both in the show and prior to it (in episode 15, we learned that he had been captured during an operation in Iraq [Desert Storm?] and held for four months), I think it’s out of character. O’Neill should know perfectly well that Apophis isn’t going to give up information under duress. After all, Jack didn’t. What would be the point, therefore, other than cruelty?

Stargate SG-1 2.9 – Secrets

There is a heck of a lot going on in this episode. It features two plots. One, set on Earth, introduces Carmen Argenziano as Capt. Carter’s father Jacob, who’s about to become a major recurring player in the show. The other, set on Abydos, has Daniel and Teal’c caught between two of the villains who are jockeying for power. It turns out to be really entertaining, despite digging at one of the issues I have with the program’s setup.

As I explained back in January, the “government keeping secrets” aspect of this series can’t help but annoy me, because that’s just who I am, and I find it difficult suspending my dislike of the military-industrial complex even for a fanciful, escapist show like this. In this episode, while some of the team is in Washington, a journalist confronts Col. O’Neill with very specific details about the Stargate Program. It’s immediately suggested that these may have been leaked by some of the human adversarial characters like Senator Kinsey, and not by any of the hundreds of base personnel (perish the thought!). The journalist knows facts and financial figures and he gets way too conveniently killed by a hit and run driver, which is the point where I want Fox Mulder to show up and blow the lid off this seven billion dollar boondoggle.

Although, credit where it’s due: I don’t like how this plays out, but it’s done extremely well. They used the Vancouver Art Gallery as the Pentagon annex where this goes down, and Richard Dean Anderson is completely excellent as the all-business, poker-faced hardass who responds to the journalist. He buries the sarcastic good guy that we enjoy and admire as the show’s hero immediately and he’s a taciturn government thug instead. Fine performance; horrible person all of a sudden. There’s more to say about General Jacob Carter and his passive-aggressive way of creating daddy issues that probably weren’t there before he opened his mouth, but perhaps another time.

Meanwhile on Abydos, Daniel goes back for a prearranged meeting with his kidnapped wife’s father, only to find the kidnapped wife is waiting for him. There’s a sci-fi explanation for why the parasite inside her is dormant – look it up, it’s long – but she’s been targeted by one of the other main villains, Heru’ur, who we met three episodes previously. Perhaps sadly, both Douglas Arthurs and Peter Williams appear in this episode at separate times – on the same set, even! – but Heru’ur and Apophis don’t get to have a showdown quite yet.

Reading up on this, I was surprised to learn that Michael Shanks, who plays Daniel, and Vaitiare Bandera, who plays Daniel’s wife Sha’re, were a couple at the time, and that’s their kid she was carrying in the episode. How pregnant is she? It looks like they drove straight to the hospital after they wrapped. With the parasite dormant, Sha’re goes into labor and Daniel helps her deliver Apophis’s kid. They simply must have joked “We’ll be doing this again for real tomorrow.”

Stargate SG-1 2.8 – Family

Drat, I thought I remembered this one as being okay, but it’s probably even more idiotic than the episodes from this period that we’re skipping. Tony Amendola’s in it, which is nice, and there’s some good continuity about Teal’c’s family and Apophis still being alive. Peter Williams is here for a short scene, being as nasty as usual. But the story’s a complete turkey, with SG-1’s battlefield tactics being even more boneheaded than usual. They still haven’t learned to either kill or imprison the guards they stun when they travel into a known hostile environment, and they should definitely know by now not to trust anybody.

The bits where Teal’c’s son reveals himself to be brainwashed by Apophis are suitably frightening to his parents, but “years of therapy and a daily gallon of Zoloft” not being a reasonable way for an hour-long action teevee show to wrap up, they had to come up with something else. It had been far too long since I’d seen this for me to remember ECT even being proposed as a solution, nor the quickie sci-fi substitute for electroshocking that they come up with. It’s not only a stupid ending, it’s a dishonest one.

At the very least, it did give us a good opportunity to talk with our son about Teal’c’s family situation. In his absence, his wife had married somebody else, an old friend who offered her a life outside the squalid refugee camps. Teal’c handles this horribly, with violence and anger. We took turns discussing the decisions that both Teal’c and Drey’auc made, and the consequences of their actions. I think it made for a good talk. We can give Teal’c a little leeway, because he’s a sci-fi warrior who’s had all the “showing compassion” business beat out of him through decades of training, but at the end of the day, he’s a man who should have known this would happen, and shouldn’t act like an unmitigated ass when it does.

Stargate SG-1 2.1 – The Serpent’s Lair

Eh, the kid liked it. Lots of shooting, big explosions. I liked it better than the previous part, because Tony Amendola shows up again as Master Bra’tac. After Vala, who we won’t get to for quite a while yet, Bra’tac is probably my favorite character in the series. Peter Williams does his sneery bad guy turn as Apophis, only ever managing to sneer at his henchmen because the humans, quite sensibly, never stick around long enough for a conversation. This is the first of what will be a comical number of times where the narrative tells us that Apophis has bought it, but we learn later on that he got out via an escape pod or something. You know, like bad guys do.

And with that, Stargate SG-1 goes back on the shelf for a few weeks to keep things fresh while we rotate something else in. We’ll be back for more in early April. Season two won’t be much better, but it’ll get there. Stay tuned!

Stargate SG-1 1.21 – Within the Serpent’s Grasp

The big end-of-season cliffhanger, and part three of four, effectively.

I was telling our son how adventure TV from the nineties seemed to almost always split their two-part (or longer) stories around a summer break. Stargate SG-1 didn’t do this any more or less than any similar program in the nineties might have, but when Marie first showed me this program ten years ago, I had completely forgotten about that. So my older kids, who, it must be said, were enjoying this considerably more than I was, and I sat down late to finally finish this season. I’m pretty sure it was late in the evening, and I’m very, very sure that I was very, very clear that I was really, really looking forward to taking a break from this for several weeks, when the “to be continued” banner appeared at the end. I was not amused. Everybody went to bed late because I was determined to put this behind me without a cliffhanger hanging over the kids. This time around, I’ve planned our viewing schedule accordingly. I know which seasons end on a cliffhanger, and which ones (five and eight) don’t.

Something you good readers almost certainly couldn’t have known is that around 1998-2003 or so, I wrote and drew a comic that amused me and a small audience somewhat. One of the big cliffhanger endings within a lengthy storyline had our heroes exploring what they thought was a secret headquarters somewhere within a short walk from their original location, only to find a great big window revealing that they’re actually in outer space. I guess that another reason I was cranky that late night ten years ago was that I realized that the producers had beat me to that moment by a couple of years.