Stargate SG-1 9.17 – The Scourge

Months and months ago, I spent maybe sixty seconds, if that, commiserating with our son, who doesn’t like bugs, that when I was a kid, cockroaches freaked me out as well, on account of some great big ones in the film of Damnation Alley. So tonight I said that I had considered skipping tonight’s episode because, well, you may remember, young man, I said, back in the summer I mentioned a movie that gave me the heebie-jeebies when I was about your a–

“Not the giant cockroaches!” Unreal. This child can’t remember anybody’s name, whether actors or friends, has lost at least twenty bucks to the washing machine because he forgets to clean his pockets, and thinks restaurants in Blue Ridge GA are actually in Fayetteville TN, but he remembers The Thing With Two Heads and a one-off, months-old mention of oversized palmetto bugs.

So anyway, yes, “The Scourge” is a gross-out episode with a trillion carnivorous bugs. It owes a considerable debt to both Damnation Alley and that bit from Creepshow with E.G. Marshall. It features the return of Robert Picardo as Woolsey, only the writers chose to make him more stupid this time, I’m pretty sure they used that cave set in a couple of episodes of Atlantis, and the kid, who had a blanket over his head for much of this, is unlikely to ever forget it.

Stargate SG-1 7.17-18 – Heroes (parts one and two)

“Heroes” is astonishing. It’s a masterpiece. It’s the one that was nominated for a Hugo – it lost to a Battlestar Galactica – and I love it for lots of reasons. The main one is that Saul Rubinek is on fire in this story. He plays a documentarian who the lame duck president has commissioned to tell the story of Stargate Command for the day down the line that it becomes public. Nobody at the SGC wants to cooperate with him. They are all bent on keeping secrets.

In part one, Rubinek’s character is used as a foil for the other characters, and a odd-feeling frame story back at the base while another unit, SG-13, has an adventure. This unit is commanded by a colonel played by Adam Baldwin, who we all remember from Firefly the previous season. But in part one, they fall into trouble, and the episode ends with three other units heading out to rescue them. Part one was entertaining, but part two is next-level. It starts with Rubinek, once again kept from filming anything interesting, absolutely tearing into the base personnel for getting in his way. Secret military stuff is the way of Mao and Stalin.

As I’ve mentioned about Stargate previously, they totally had this coming. The only thing I’ll complain about the scene is that Rubinek gets to have a career-high shouting match about the truth and the public right to know against a bunch of extras who can only respond with silence. Would love to have had that scene played out in General Hammond’s office.

But this is still a brilliant episode for Hammond. Don S. Davis gets a fantastic new antagonist when Star Trek‘s Robert Picardo stops by for what was intended as a one-off appearance as another civilian oversight obstacle, but everybody liked Picardo and his character, Woolsey, so much that he’ll be back quite frequently. Picardo and Davis go at it in a blindingly good scene built around the death of one of the base personnel, and the show masterfully makes the audience think that it’s Jack O’Neill who died.

I know this misdirection couldn’t have worked with us as well as it did the audience that night in 2004. It was an open secret that Richard Dean Anderson was ready to retire and move back to Los Angeles, where he was already living part-time again; his absence from every peripheral corridor scene and gag is, despite the best possible efforts of the production crew, incredibly noticeable. Hence O’Neill getting injured, getting alien viruses, getting completely sick of squabbling diplomats and just leaving. At the time this was shown, audiences knew that the spinoff, Stargate Atlantis, was in development and was anticipated to debut in the fall. What they didn’t know was whether SG-1 was coming back, but if it did, it would be reasonable to expect that Anderson wouldn’t be rejoining the show.

Obviously, it wasn’t Anderson’s character who dies. But the show spends twenty minutes making us believe that he was killed in action before giving us the brutal gut-punch that it was Teryl Rotherty’s character of Dr. Fraiser, who’d been a solid and important part of the show for about 120 of the previous 149 episodes, who died in the ambush. Brutal doesn’t cover it; the way it’s revealed to the audience is downright cruel. It’s amazing, amazing television, and there’s nothing left but to rail against the unfairness of it.

Our son really didn’t like it, unsurprisingly. But I was pleasantly surprised that he was not bored; he was just unhappy. This is an hour that puts audiences through the ringer and doesn’t give much light to them. He didn’t want to talk about it, he didn’t want to remember it, he just wanted away from it. “I know you didn’t like it, but did it make you sad?” I asked.

“I really don’t like it when shows make me sad,” he replied, and went to the kitchen for a cookie.

The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr. 1.3 – The Orb Scholar

Normally I wouldn’t ever agree with a network shuffling the broadcast order of a show from the way the producers intended it, but watching Carlton Cuse’s “The Orb Scholar,” you can easily see why they showed this one after the pilot. It begins with a recap of the science fiction elements of the pilot, and while the meat of the story is Brisco hot on the trail of John Bly and having a run-in with an old friend who had betrayed him a decade previously, the Orb and its weird power, and the Jedi mind tricks that an older man who studies it has learned, are on the periphery of the story. Bly is hunting for the Orb, and while Brisco believes it was washed out to sea, it’s very much active.

Bly is played by Billy Drago, who passed away last month, and I think he’s completely wonderful. Years ago, I said that Bly was one of television’s greatest villains and I stand by that. We didn’t see very much of him in the pilot movie, so this is his first chance to shine. I love his quiet, silky voice and his theatrical gestures, and the way he walks with his head hunched forward and his black hat covering his face. He’s a fabulous example of a villain that you love to hate because he’s so successful in pushing Brisco’s buttons.

Brisco is usually too resourceful and intelligent a hero to fall for a bad guy needling him, but Bly very naturally and very believably slides right under Brisco’s skin and makes our hero do stupid things. A lot of this is down to television convention, of course. After the show, we reminded our son of how Carol Danvers correctly handled her climactic battle with Jude Law’s character in Captain Marvel, and how that was so refreshing and wonderful because (a) the woman had nothing to prove to the man and (b) the hero had nothing to prove to the villain. Bly can count on Brisco not figuring that out yet.

The main thing that our son loved this time was a great subplot about the crooked sheriff and his partner, played by Robert Picardo, who has to deal with the sheriff’s big mean Rottweiler. Picardo was probably best known at the time for his recurring role as the coach on ABC’s The Wonder Years, and while I was enjoying his performance as a snivelling number two with barely enough talent to match his boss’s expectations, our son loved the dog, who’s in charge of the jail keys, being mean to everybody. When Lord Bowler gets himself out of the jail cell by hooking the rug underneath the sleeping dog and sliding the snoozing beast across the floor, the kid was howling.