Stargate SG-1 8.13 – It’s Good to Be King

Last week, I wrote that this time around, I’m finding season eight not as good as I remembered, but I think it’s still very interesting from a production standpoint. At the time they were preparing these episodes for production in 2004 and deciding what stories to tell and when, everybody had agreed that this was the final year of SG-1 and they had to wrap up all the business with the System Lords and the Replicators and freedom for the Jaffa. This was all planned for the final five episodes of the show, and so it left them a little leeway to tell a couple of smaller tales and give some recurring characters one last curtain call. It also meant that they were gonna run out of money doing all the big things they wanted to do, which is why they needed yet another clip show for episode fifteen. Ah, well.

So this week, Harry Maybourne gets a last hurrah as we say goodbye to actor Tom McBeath and his amusingly slimy character. We last saw him back in season six, and since then, he’s found a new planet and a parlor trick in interpreting some Ancient writings – literally Ancient, though they have been there a long time – which foretell the future. He’s used this to become a wise and beloved king, and knows that SG-1 will show up to fight a new invasion by some old Goa’uld. What he doesn’t know and didn’t consider is how many of his subjects will die in the crossfire. The kid really liked this one, and was paying so close attention that he realized the hidden Ancient ship was an Atlantis puddle jumper before the grownups did. Then again, he’s much better at recognizing props and spaceships than he is actors and cars.

Stargate SG-1 8.12 – Prometheus Unbound

So back when we first started watching Stargate, I said that the world of this series is “really chaste and sexless.” That’s why the introduction of Vala Mal Doran is like a long, long overdue atom bomb. The show had brought in several actors who were familiar to SF fans over the years, usually from the Star Trek franchise, but Stargate typically reserves its lighter touch for smaller stories without guest stars. Since the show is otherwise really serious and often quite heavy, that means that none of these familiar faces really got to let their hair down and have lots of fun. Claudia Black got to have fun. Vala is my favorite character in the whole franchise.

While Amanda Tapping and Christopher Judge were off filming the previous story, Michael Shanks got to team up with former cast member Don S. Davis for this one. General Hammond decides to command the Atlantis rescue or recovery mission himself, brings Daniel along, and the flying battleship gets hijacked by a space pirate. It begins with one of my favorite scenes from the whole series, where Daniel protests that he should go on the Atlantis for reasons x, y, and z, O’Neill says that he can’t, and Hammond, apparently oblivious to their argument, beautifully undermines O’Neill because he needs Daniel… for reasons x, y, and z.

But then Vala shows up and steals the ship out from under everybody. The beauty of this is that it feels like SG-1 just goes crashing into another series entirely. Before this, SG-1 only rarely hinted at a universe outside of worlds of Goa’uld control and human slaves. But Vala – while herself possibly a former host for a Goa’uld and old rival of a recent enemy, Camulus – is from a universe of pirates and illegal weapons trading and dodgy deals with weird aliens. Daniel takes the alias “Hans Olo” at one point just to drive it home.

And this universe is fun and it’s sexy. Vala initiates things talking dirty to throw him off his game, and their fighting/flirting is hilarious and hot. After he zats her, she wakes up in the battleship’s brig in crew coveralls, her stolen armor confiscated, complaining that she’s hungry. “You’ve seen me naked already, the least you can do is cook me dinner,” she protests. The best thing is that the show’s producers knew they were onto a winner with the character and brought her back. Late October? I suppose I can wait that long.

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 8.10 – Endgame

Strangely, I thought that our son would have enjoyed this episode a lot more than he did. It’s an all-action story with a wild mystery at the beginning, lots of gunfights, and Earth’s flying battleship. Unfortunately, it’s also so dense with continuity that even a patient and attentive kid like him could get lost. Doubly unfortunately, he also wasn’t paying attention to the “previously on” bit, because the thing that lost him was the subplot about a baddie from last season having a ship abandoned, cloaked, in orbit. He protested that they should have shown a clip. I put the DVD in to get the screencaps, showed him that it did, and he said “…oh.”

So this is a story where Earth’s Stargate is down, meaning that the new Alpha Site, which we visited two episodes previously, has to be used for Teal’c to learn who has been killing thousands of alien soldiers, both the ones loyal to the baddies and the rebels. Someone is using alien chemicals to start a chemical warfare attack on Ba’al’s planets. I thought this episode had everything short of some recurring characters and a high-profile guest star, with conspiracy stuff on Earth, the battleship, lots of alien soldiers, sneaking around on spaceships, but perhaps the kid is right and it was a little too dense with what has come before.

Stargate SG-1 8.9 – Sacrifices

I think I’ve figured out our kid’s preferred tempo for an hour show. He really enjoyed “Sacrifices” a lot. It starts with some good comedy, details a problem that isn’t too complex, and builds to a very big on-location shootout. It helps that the shootout climaxes with the villain having an amusing reaction to his impending doom. This villain is Moloc, who we’ve heard about previously but never seen, and he realizes too late that a laser pointer sight on his chest is not some strange alien bug, but a “painting” for missiles to target. Our son does like it when the villains learn they’re “screwed.” Tsk. Where’d he learn language like that?

Anyway, “Sacrifices” is another episode scripted by actor Christopher Judge, and it brings back Teal’c’s space girlfriend Ishta, who we met last year in “Birthright”, along with Tony Amendola making another welcome return as Master Bra’tac. This time, her tribe of rebel warriors needs to be evacuated to a new planet when their cover is blown, and one of their number is getting married to Teal’c’s son. In three days. These rebels are stubborn; of course the wedding can’t be postponed.

Every once in a while, I remember something just perfectly and can pause at just the right point for a quick discussion. Just before the rehearsal falls apart, I figured we could have a little chat about how this ancient, ancient ceremony is so mired in sexism, and how Teal’c himself is still having trouble seeing Jaffa women – although not women from other cultures – as the equals of Jaffa men. We resumed just in time for the ceremony to fall apart, because the bride-to-be evidently didn’t look at the book beforehand and didn’t know there was a bit where she’s meant to kneel in respect to her husband. And the groom-to-be is every bit as outraged as you might fear.

I’d like to think that the meat is the good fight stuff, and it’s quite exciting and very well directed. Teal’c and Ishta and one other dude are cut off and outnumbered. It all turns out okay in the end, with Moloc dead, but interestingly, everybody who’s been urging caution before rising up and killing Moloc is proven correct. Within a couple of days, they get word that Ba’al, who is really overdue for an in-person appearance, has simply absorbed Moloc’s forces and grown more powerful. From this point, things are going to start moving very quickly offscreen. Seems amazing that we’re this close to the end of the Goa’uld arc.

Stargate SG-1 8.8 – Covenant

“Covenant” feels like Stargate SG-1‘s producers wanted to try something a little different and give a known guest star the spotlight, and make the story about a character played by a name the network could publicize. In the end, though, they went with Charles Shaughnessy, who doesn’t have a long list of Sci-Fi Channel-friendly credits, but who is really good in the role. It’s about an incredibly rich industrialist who has received proof from several sources, including a stunningly fun reveal at one of the commercial breaks, about alien involvement in Earth’s affairs. He’d have made a good ally for Fox Mulder. This guy knows the truth is out there and he wants everybody else to know as well.

It was another bomb for our son, however. This one was way too much about adult consequences. There’s business with the Securities and Exchange Commission and one character kills himself offscreen. I thought it was a good story that used existing continuity really well, as it reintroduced the journalist character who we met two seasons ago and provided a lot more information about the Earth-based conspiracy bad guys, the Trust, who we briefly met in the previous episode. Surprisingly, that’s because the Sci-Fi Channel ran these two in the wrong order; this one should have gone out seventh. I wonder why they didn’t correct that for the home media release.

Stargate SG-1 8.7 – Affinity

By this point, the continuity around the characters is so rich that they can do an episode where the Stargate is not mentioned and the prop doesn’t actually appear onscreen at all. It introduces a new recurring Earthbound threat called the Trust, made up of those members of Maybourne’s old NID that hadn’t been arrested already. The business of other interests on Earth having their own designs on alien tech has been a thread since season two, but it works better with somebody really slimy in charge for the audience to hate, like Maybourne or Kinsey. This introduces three bad guy characters, but far too briefly. We don’t even get to hiss at them much, and two of them will get killed off in their next appearance. That’s no way to do it.

The meat of the story, though, is Teal’c taking an apartment offbase, in what must surely be the most crime-racked neighborhood in all of Colorado Springs, and befriending his neighbor, played by Erica Durance. I was afraid our kid was going to give this the thumbs-down because it was leading into the land of smoochy stuff, especially with Carter surprising the audience by accepting her boyfriend’s proposal. He enjoyed it a lot more than I thought he would. Happily, Teal’c beating up wannabe tough guys and knocking out purse-snatchers with well-thrown avocados is just as entertaining for a boy his age as gunfights on alien planets. The best moment, however, is Carter delivering a rather brilliant rant about society’s pressuring women to neither be alone nor accept anything less than the absolute love of their life, and, after a perfectly-timed, awkward beat of silence, Daniel asking “How are things?”

Stargate SG-1 8.5 – Icon

Well, getting the whole raison d’blog out of the way, our son really didn’t like this one at all. It’s not even remotely fun. It’s a look, albeit a fairly superficial one, at religious nuttery and politics, with an interesting and really, really slimy villain at its core. We only get to meet this character, whose name is Soren, a couple of times in the episode, but we get to know him through his thugs.

Soren takes control of a case where SG-1 unwittingly sparks a powderkeg on a planet where a holier-than-thou order has been quietly wearing little trinkets and having little services and not getting in anybody’s way, but the thugs take advantage of the proof of alien life to rise up and tell people to convert or die. They’re all about spiritual salvation. That’s why they want to negotiate with Earth for superior firepower instead of medical supplies, you see.

There have been a couple of other cases where our heroes land on planets where the political situation is tenuous. “New Ground” from season three comes to mind, as do all the stories set on Kelowna in seasons five through seven. But this is the first time that SG-1 is stuck in the problem as it gets worse and worse over the course of three months. I do like the fact that the story unfolds over a much longer period than these usually do.

That said, sadly, it’s not as strong a script as I’d have preferred. There’s a little too much of Daniel talking to the pretty co-star and talking about whether anybody should be blaming the Earthmen for sparking this problem, and not enough of the deterioration. I’d have liked to see more of the allegedly good religious people who are briefly glimpsed early on, and see how they got corrupted by a power-mad meathead. At one point, O’Neill says “we’re always sticking our collective noses where they don’t belong. It’s what we do,” and that’s a great and true line, but there’s no follow-up to that. SG-1 has never destabilized a planet for the worse in quite this way, and its resolution needs to be more than action teevee stuff with machine guns in a bunker. I respect that the script has some teeth, but I don’t think it has nearly enough bite.

Stargate SG-1 8.4 – Zero Hour

I think Richard Dean Anderson might’ve got more screen time in this episode than any five installments from season seven. He’s in the center of nearly every scene in this mostly in-the-base story about him dealing with the bureaucratic expectations of his position. Over the course of five days, everything that can go wrong does.

It starts out really, really amusing, but the minor and funny headaches quickly turn into massive ones. Among the many issues, Ba’al shows up as a hologram to announce that he’s captured SG-1 and will only trade them for his rival Camulus, who requested asylum two weeks ago, and Dr. Lee tries to deal with a plant that enjoys the artificial light of the SGC so much that it basically turns into a Krynoid. The best moment out of many very good ones: Ba’al, as bad guys do, asks “You dare mock me?!” and Jack replies “Ba’al, come on, you should know. Of course I dare mock you!” Good stuff, with a couple of really amusing twists.

Stargate SG-1 8.3 – Lockdown

Interestingly, there’s a little moment in “Lockdown” where our heroes talk about who might be joining SG-1 now that Jack’s been promoted. I mentioned this small problem last time, so I paused the episode so we could talk about it. I guess I can see the producers’ dilemma. Introducing another character to SG-1 might have seemed a little weird, especially with Richard Dean Anderson just hanging around the base and not going out on location with the rest of the cast much anymore. But how many times in the past seven years did these guys get into messes that required a fourth member to get them out of it? I think it’s a shame they didn’t bring a few temporary characters into SG-1 to try them out for a bit. It could have been a good place to use Cadet Haley, last seen in seasons four and five, again.

Anyway, this entire episode is set in the base, so viewers who were concerned that Anderson was going to just sit on the sidelines could, at least this week, enjoy watching him in the center of things for the whole hour. It turns out that Anubis, who we thought was killed off at the end of season seven, has survived as a spectral ghost who can take over other people. “Anubis again? I hate that guy,” our son growled. It looks like they get rid of him for good at the end. A dying Russian colonel becomes the new host and they dump him on Planet KS7-535, which is an ice world and doesn’t appear to have a DHD.

We enjoyed speculating about this. Maybe they dialed the planet, sent a MALP through, learned that it isn’t fit for human travel and does not have a Dial-Home Device. Maybe it was just one of dozens of failed explorations, but it was worth remembering for incidents like this. There’s probably a little red notebook for emergencies. Just in case there’s some foothold possession situation: dial up KS7-535, kick the baddie through, and let the weather do its job.