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 8.11 – Gemini

One of my all-time favorite dumb visual effects in Doctor Who – yeah, yeah, it’s a long list – is in the first episode of “Mawdryn Undead”, in which the astral plane is depicted as looking like the opening of Tic Tac Dough. Here’s the Stargate equivalent, in which a subspace communication between two Replicators in different galaxies is conducted on the set of a music video by Bonnie Tyler.

Anyway, back when we started blogging about Stargate, I said that my rule of thumb was that seasons 1-2 were largely terrible, 3-5 were entertaining and competent, and 6-8 were all really excellent. I was wrong. Looking at these again, the show really peaked in years 5-6, and these two, while largely, again, entertaining and competent, have more than their share of duds and turkeys than I remember. Case in point: “Gemini,” which is so painfully obvious that if you don’t figure this one out, you must not have watched much TV since “Total Eclipse of the Heart” was in the charts.

So at the beginning of this season, we got a last-minute revelation that the Replicators’ unstable and immature leader had built himself a Samantha Carter doll to play with. Several months later, Replicarter contacts the SGC saying that she’s escaped from her abuser and wants to be destroyed, but of course, the humans can’t do anything that sensible, and before you can say “curse your sudden but inevitable betrayal,” a trap gets sprung.

The kid wasn’t impressed, I wasn’t impressed, Realcarter takes this all way too personally, and I’d say that at this point we’re just twiddling our thumbs waiting for things to really get moving and for the show to throw Replicarter and the Goa’uld at each other. But first we have to wrap up two other very old plot threads and introduce a really great new one. Looking forward to Saturday.

Stargate SG-1 8.2 – New Order (part two)

The Sci-Fi Channel definitely made the right choice in airing these two episodes as a single feature. Part two is far better than the first half, and illustrates just how badly the show needs Richard Dean Anderson’s wit and light touch. Somebody must have realized that if he ever were to leave the show, then they will have to radically rethink all the personal dynamics of the cast. Amazingly, they get it just about perfect in year nine, and it’s such a shame the program will eventually get bogged down with such unpleasant villains.

So anyway, we’re back on familiar ground, with Erector-set bug Replicators getting blasted into blocks and weird new weapons being developed to stop them. Unfortunately, there’s a Human-form Replicator who’s got Carter in what can only be described as a virtual reality prison, which seemed about ten years behind the times in 2004 and is so predictable that even our son wasn’t surprised when he starts looking like Carter’s boyfriend Pete, who was introduced in “Chimera” and has been offscreen since. Still, everybody else’s plot is interesting.

And back on Earth, there’s a really fascinating development which the show sadly doesn’t really use anywhere near as well as it might have. Three villains had come to Earth in part one, and that fellow in the middle, Camulus, played by Steve Basic, says he doesn’t want to go back with the rest. He asks for asylum on Earth. We’ve never had a Goa’uld switch sides like this before, but he knows that he’s lost and doesn’t have the resources to fight Baal.

We did give our son a big clue in that Torri Higginson’s character would be moving over to Atlantis, but the other predictable thing for him is the closing revelation that O’Neill, promoted to brigadier general, gets to be the new commander of the SGC, which will allow Richard Dean Anderson to take a regularly short workweek and not have to go out on location shoots as often. It’s a move that makes a lot of sense, apart from SG-1 not getting a fourth member to replace him. The program has shown us repeatedly that four is the ideal number for a unit. Until it becomes five, anyway.

Stargate SG-1 5.19 – Menace

The previous episode had been filmed almost entirely on location with dozens of costumed extras, many of whom I suspect were probably students at a martial arts academy in Vancouver, and lots of speaking parts. This one’s all in studio with one guest star and a handful of single-line parts among the base personnel. It’s not in any way deficient. SG-1 finds a humanoid robot alone and inactive on a dead planet. In a bitter little throwback to the end of season three, they bring the robot home before they realize the danger: this robot is the creator of the Replicators, and before long, the base is overrun by Erector-set bugs.

Our son thought this one was very intense, although he wasn’t overly frightened or worried. He said that he had no idea how this one was going to wrap up. Probably with the most intensely detailed sweep that base has ever had, followed by a dozen more to make sure not a single Lego brick from a blasted-apart Replicator bug got wedged between a fire extinguisher and the wall behind it. I think it’s a fine story because, unusually, Jack O’Neill is shown to be consistently correct from start to finish. He doesn’t make any stupid or silly suggestions. Even though he’s a little sarcastic – because he’s Jack – every time the others don’t listen to him, the situation gets worse. Even turning the deactivated robot over to their allies the Asgard after the events of this story will turn out to be a mistake.

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 4.1 – Small Victories

It’s kind of hard to find a good illustration image of the bug-version Replicators. They are constantly moving computer animations and much, much smaller than the actors. So they’re rarely in the same frame at the same time as one of our heroes. The Replicators were apparently one of the hits of the early 2000s on the sci-fi con circuit, and lots of dealers at shows would have little replica Replicator blocks at their tables. If only 3-D printing had been developed twenty years earlier, dealers could have been selling full-sized bugs. I imagine the market kind of moved on by 2015 or so, when printers became a bit more common and affordable.

We were very proud of our son showing off a little deduction. While Carter is in space helping the Asgard come up with an unlikely tactic to fight against the Replicators, the others are in a Russian sub. The surviving bug from the last episode killed the crew of the submarine and has been eating and replicating. Daniel notes they’re a different color. A supporting character asks whether it’s a kind of camouflage. We asked whether our son knew why, and he reasoned it’s because they’re made of a different metal, which turns out to be an important plot point. Good for him!

I also asked whether he could tell any differences between the interior of the real submarine used here and the submarine set used on a few episodes of The Champions. SG-1 used a decommissioned and privately-owned Foxtrot-class sub, B-39. The sub is only 25 feet wide, with barely enough room in the narrow interior hallways for the actors, never mind a film crew. ITC’s version, first used in “Twelve Hours,” is a good-looking set, and I suppose nuclear-class subs must be a bit bigger than Foxtrots, but this really drove home just how incredibly small the real thing is.

And with that, we’ll take a break from Stargate SG-1 for a few weeks. We like to rotate things around to keep them fresh, but we’ll resume season four in September. Stay tuned!

Stargate SG-1 3.22 – Nemesis

Occasionally on Friday evenings, we’ll watch an episode of the Saturday morning cartoon version of The Tick, and tonight, we saw this episode. I told y’all that little Roswell grey aliens were all over pop culture in the nineties.

And so, amused, I shuffled the rotation so we could see the Stargate take on the trope. Ever since the Asgardians were introduced, they’ve been explaining that they cannot devote the resources to eradicate the Goa’uld, because in their home galaxy, they’ve got a far greater enemy taking up their time. These are, of course, the Replicators, which at this phase in the series are still in their most entertaining incarnation: silent, remorseless, Erector set “techno-bugs.” They just consume, seeking new tech and energy, and create new bugs. Blow them apart into their hundreds of component Lego bricks and they just reassemble. Thor explains to our heroes that they brought the bugs onto one of their ships before they realized the danger. “We do that all the time,” Jack replies, “kind of expected more of you guys.”

“Nemesis” was the point where an uneven-but-improving show made me sit up and pay attention. This is an incredibly interesting threat and a delightful challenge. In time, of course, the law of diminishing returns will set in. The Replicators who can have conversations are nowhere as fun as the ones who silently back our heroes into corners where they have to out-think them. They’re not a sci-fi baddie, with all the attendant moral debates, in this form; they’re an earthquake. I enjoy the heck out of these episodes, and while there are some disappointments and silliness down the line, they never made a Replicator episode that I wish I could just remove from the narrative. Try saying that about Doctor Who’s Weeping Angels. (“What happened to Amy and Rory, Dad?” “Uhhhh… they never said. Darnedest thing….”)

We did have that chat I mentioned last time about our son’s increased need for conversation in the middle of a show. He did tune it down a lot, although he certainly found a lot to enjoy with whoops and laughs, which is always welcome. We did tell him up front that it was a two-parter, although this one, unlike SG-1‘s previous two season-ending cliffhangers, is really divided into two separate escapades set several days apart. The cliffhanging image? One of the Replicators survived the destruction of all the others. And one is as much a threat as a thousand…