Stargate SG-1 2.22 & 3.1 – Out of Mind / Into the Fire

Hey! This is our 2000th post! We sure do watch a lotta telemabission!

We wrapped up this chunk of Stargate with a one-and-a-half parter over the last two nights. It’s not quite a two-parter because most of part one is a clip show. Three of our heroes got captured by Hathor, one of their old enemies played by Suanne Braun, who makes a second and final appearance in this story. I’m sure the writers didn’t like clip shows; this one compounds the cheapness by setting it in a mockup of the heroes’ headquarters as the villain uses her “previously seen footage” technology to gain intel about all the other aliens in the show.

Our son offered that he really hates Hathor, growling that she’s about as aggravating to him as the Cybermen in Doctor Who. So lucky for him she gets a liquid nitrogen bath in the second half. Also, this part was an all-action shootout with lots of explosions, several other SG teams joining the fight, and Tony Amendola’s Master Bra’tac comes along for the ride because they usually call on him for part two of these things, so he had a lot to enjoy. This episode also introduces an older-style enemy ship called a Needle Threader which is used to fly through Stargates. That certainly caught his imagination.

The episode ends with Hathor dead, but three of their Goa’uld enemies are still out there: Sokar has Apophis as his prisoner, and Heru’ur – who is Hathor’s child – still has a formidable army. Unfortunately for our heroes, their rogues’ gallery is about to get a lot bigger, which means the show’s about to get more fun. Sadly, their next opponent will be a one-off. I say sadly because he’s really entertaining and I’m looking forward to seeing him again.

That’s where we’ll leave Stargate SG-1 for now, because we like to shuffle things around to keep them fresh. We’ll watch all of season three this summer, starting in June. Stay tuned!

Stargate SG-1 2.21 – 1969

I honestly enjoy putting the schedule for our blog together, because I enjoy seeing happy accidents form. Why did we start watching Star Trek when we did? So that we’d have a chance to watch “The City on the Edge of Forever” shortly before watching “1969,” of course. Mind you, in a perfect world, we’d watch the Doctor Who story “Father’s Day” for the first time this week, but you can’t have everything. All three have the heroes traveling eighteen or thirty or thirty-seven years back in time, where they’re supposed to try very hard not to screw with history. Maybe Rose Tyler should’ve watched Star Trek or Stargate instead of whatever she watched; she’d have known better than to save her father’s life in 1987.

It’s hard to find any fault with “1969.” Everything lined up perfectly for our son to understand the various pop culture references in the episode, although we did need to pause and explain that Michael and Jenny, the hippie couple who drive our heroes from Colorado to Washington, are then headed to Canada because Michael is a draft dodger. I’d forgotten this plot point; it’s very minor and revealed right at the end of their involvement in the story. I wonder whether an earlier draft of the script had Jack responding to this more. He raises his voice in response, which is natural. Surely in his own history, 1969 – give or take a couple of years – must have been about the time that Jack joined the US Air Force, and now he’s learned that the guy who’s been giving them shelter and transportation for a week is a dodger.

My favorite part of the story is learning that this whole time, General Hammond has been keeping the events of what happened in 1969 to himself. Before we got started, I asked our son how long he can keep a secret. In Hammond’s case, it’s thirty years. I think that’s delightful. When George Hammond first met each of our heroes, he had to have smiled to himself. Every time Earth’s been in danger, he must have thought “We’ll get through this. Captain Carter hasn’t injured her hand yet, and I haven’t sent my note back in time to my younger self.” Every time. He reminds Jack of an old debt at the end of the story and we all had a fine laugh. (Also of note: “Where there’s a will, there’s an or.”) Certainly there would not have been a “1969” without a “City on the Edge of Forever,” but it’s so much more entertaining.

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 2.15 – A Matter of Time

One of the odd things about isolating during this virus is that we’re watching so much stuff on the weekends, because we’ve nowhere else to go, that it seems like a long time since I wrote about Stargate. It’s only been five days. But relativity, as this episode reminds us, is a strange, headache-inducing thing. We all enjoyed this episode because, even for a (mostly) in-the-base cheap one, it’s incredibly imaginative and plays with big, fun physics concepts. The Stargate’s wormhole lands on a planet that’s being torn apart by the gravity of a black hole. The resulting bubble of time dilation causes the wormhole to become locked, with the effects of relative time spreading.

I first saw the concept of gravity screwing with the perception of time in Alan Moore and Ian Gibson’s Ballad of Halo Jones in 2000 AD, and I think the writers might have as well. There’s an identical moment in each story as people realize that what appears to be a still photo from the other side of the equation is actually a live image of people that are moving but appear to be frozen. As the dilation spreads from the gate room to the mountain’s entrance, a trip that feels like twenty minutes to the man who makes it actually takes twenty-two hours. It’s very wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey and very fun, easily one of the highlights of the show’s first two years.

Stargate SG-1 2.14 – Touchstone

Previously this month, I’d written about how the conspiracy/UFO fad and feel of the nineties started informing this show, and also how the governments-keeping-secrets angle doesn’t sit well with me. With these in mind, “Touchstone” was probably inevitable. Tom McBeath is back as the slimy Colonel Maybourne, overseeing experiments into the trinkets and tech that the SG teams have brought back to Earth. Naturally, he is based at Area 51 in New Mexico. This was probably inevitable regardless of when the series was made, but it’s very 1998. So I rolled my eyes, but it caught our son’s imagination. When you’re eight, Bigfoot and lake monsters and UFOs and Area 51 start to become your bread and butter, the reason they invented libraries.

So the episode positions two rival factions: there are the good guys of Stargate Command and the bad guys of the National Intelligence Department, a shadowy civilian-military-Trilateral Commission gang whose emblem includes the all-seeing eye pyramid of the Bavarian Illuminati. It’s a bit on the nose. Maybourne isn’t specifically linked to this conspiracy to misuse the second Earth gate (discovered in “Solitudes”), but his connection is strongly hinted. It’s almost like the show’s trying to acknowledge the fact that having the government waging a top-secret war against aliens costing billions in tax dollars may be pretty bad, but there are forces within the government that would gladly make it even worse. The NID are the humans who would, in some other show, employ the Cigarette Smoking Man and the Well-Manicured Man and that Krycek jerk and make secret deals with alien oil monsters or whatever the heck they were doing.

Interestingly, the episode climaxes with four NID operatives jumping through the second Stargate to an unknown location, with the unsettling knowledge that they’re out there in space somewhere, at an off-world base presumably already established. The second Stargate has an iris welded upon it and returned to the SGC, out of commission, permanently. Our son may have figured out the big solution of the previous story early on, and he’s starting to grasp how new elements introduced throughout a run build up to a big season finale, but he’s still young and naive enough to believe General Hammond when he said “permanently.”

Stargate SG-1 2.12 – The Tok’ra (part two)

Last time, I mentioned that the big solution – letting Carter’s dying father become the host to the dying alien – completely eluded me when I first watched this story. Our kid figured it out before the credits tonight. You can take this as evidence that our kid may be really clever, or you can take this as evidence that I’m behind most everybody else.

I think it’s a pretty disappointing production, and not just because other viewers are more insightful than I am. I think Christopher Judge and Michael Shanks are completely sidelined for far too long, and Richard Dean Anderson is abnormally crabby, and I kind of wish the other three fellows in SG-3 had been given lines or names. And as much as I enjoy Carmen Argenziano in the role of Sam’s father, the way he keeps forgetting new words and phrases that he’s been provided, like a doddering old chump instead of a very intelligent Air Force general, undermined what could have been a much stronger scene as he learns what his new life as a Tok’ra might be like. I didn’t even like that the older actors didn’t get to lock lips, so that a special effect could be drawn between them.

On the other hand, the “big picture” side of me did find something that I liked. I’m kind of torn about how we’re not told which of the evil System Lords launches the attack on the rebel base. Part of me wants to know which of the villains – remember, we’ve only met three active ones at this point – was behind it, and part of me kind of enjoys how it feels like we don’t need to know. I think that we’re told later on, when we start meeting lots of the bad guys, but I don’t really remember. As for now, the series, very sensibly, isn’t firmly answering with exact numbers as to how many there are, and it really doesn’t matter. The Tok’ra have pissed off everybody.

Stargate SG-1 2.11 – The Tok’ra (part one)

Talk talk talk talk talk. Stargate is far from the only program to make a two-part story from what barely feels like enough material for one, but this is an important tale, even if nobody raises their voices or shoots anything. Sarah Douglas guest-stars in this one, which also introduces J.R. Bourne as another recurring character, Martouf.

I do like the way that it hides a solution in plain sight. On Earth, Captain Carter’s father is dying from cancer, and on a distant planet, one of the Tok’ra resistance fighters is dying after a couple of hundred years because finding new humans to agree to symbiosis is not very easy. When you write it like that, it’s obvious, but the plot strands are kept so far apart that I certainly didn’t spot the solution first time around. Carmen Argenziano, who plays Jacob Carter, just gets to cough and whisper in a hospital room in this hour. He’ll be up and on his feet again tomorrow night.

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 2.7 – Message in a Bottle

Here’s a nice surprise. I’m quick to dismiss a lot of what we’re watching in this phase of SG-1 – and the ones we’re skipping really left me cold – but “Message in a Bottle” has a couple of very nice moments, including Teal’c telling a joke for the very first time. It’s got a mawkish subplot with some cheesy sad piano at one point, but the main story is a mystery that kept our son’s attention.

Our heroes bring back a small orb from a dead planet because it’s got some kind of battery inside that’s kept it ticking for about a hundred thousand years. But after a day or so on Earth, the orb starts waking, giving off heat and radiation, so they try throwing it back where they found it. The orb doesn’t want to go; it sends out attachments that latch into the concrete, and impales Jack, bloodlessly, against a wall. Worse, there’s some kind of virus that’s spreading.

The story’s built around our heroes trying to translate the microscopic inscriptions on the orb and finding a way to fight the virus or break the harder-than-steel pole holding Jack against the wall. It kept our kid guessing and completely riveted, at least when he wasn’t squirming because he’d somehow shifted a sofa cushion so far that he’d left a “sinkhole” behind. He didn’t much like Jack being helpless for the whole story, but full credit to Richard Dean Anderson. Before the base personnel got Jack something to sit on, the actor had to be strapped in some kind of harness to the wall for a couple of long shots and I’m sure that couldn’t have been very comfortable for him at all!