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.