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 6.15 – Paradise Lost

Richard Dean Anderson was most likely absent from much of the previous episode because he and Tom McBeath were out in what looks like the middle of beautiful nowhere shooting this story. Maybourne, returning for the first time this season, successfully tricks everybody into allowing him on an off-world mission, but he does not find what he expected to find. He and O’Neill, stranded, find nothing but skeletons. The peaceful utopia that should have been on the other end of this journey has been gone a long, long time.

Well, the kid hated this one, again, but I’ve always enjoyed it. Give Jack O’Neill a chance to spend some time quietly assessing a bad situation and the character is incredibly watchable. I like how he finally has to start studying what happened here, a job he’d normally give to somebody else, and silently come to ugly conclusions. There doesn’t seem to any sentient life wherever it is they are, but they’re still in great danger. I think it’s really well done, and it should probably leave you wanting to visit British Columbia and go hiking at the location.

Stargate SG-1 5.14 – 48 Hours

Tonight’s episode of SG-1 introduces David Hewlett as Dr. Rodney McKay, who makes no friends at all as he smarms and condescends and talks down to everybody around him, taking such a particular delight in mansplaining to Major Carter at every opportunity that his comeuppance at the end of the episode is doubly delightful. McKay will be back often, and is frequently quite delightfully annoying, but his edges will get sanded down quite a lot before he becomes a regular on Atlantis.

This is a big follow-up to “Desperate Measures” and also ends the revenge storyline between Teal’c and his enemy Tanith. Peter Wingfield doesn’t get a credit or dialogue and that might not have even been him in long shot when Teal’c blows him up, another ignominious end to one of the villains in this series. As before, O’Neill and Maybourne team up to deal with Col. Simmons and his NID goons. The story ends with Simmons and his Goa’uld prisoner arrested, but as is often the case, the details of his downfall are dealt with offscreen. We won’t see them again for almost a year.

Our son was honestly a little restless again this time. This is another story that leads with an all-action teaser with lots of explosions, but it’s mainly people rushing around arguing about various conspiratorial dealings or scientific jargon. He finds the characters and their situations so endearing that he puts up with it a lot better than he would have even a year ago, but he’s just going to have to trust us that McKay eventually becomes one of those characters that you love to hate, emphasis on the love, because right now he’s just rude.

Stargate SG-1 5.11 – Desperate Measures

Back to Earth for another conspiracy story, and this one turns into something much like a better than average X Files installment. Major Carter gets abducted while outside the base. It’s not random: somebody in the civilian sector is desperate enough, and wealthy enough, to start paying for access to records about aliens with healing powers. And thanks to the incompetents running the Russians’ Stargate operations, there’s another Jaffa on Earth besides Teal’c, and the long-growing alien inside this guy’s body has reached maturity and needs a new host.

So there are threats and double-dealings and appearances from both Tom McBeath’s and John de Lance’s utterly untrustworthy characters, and some great dialogue between Jack and Maybourne. Marie commented that this wasn’t a funny episode and she shouldn’t be laughing as much as she was, but Richard Dean Anderson’s delivery was really tickling her. The kid followed suit, but that might have been because he’s really sick of Maybourne and wishes that somebody really would finally just shoot him. The story ends with the alien finding a new human host and reaching an agreement with Col. Simmons, which opens all kinds of ugly possibilities which play out over the next year or so.

Surprisingly, this is the first time that Stargate filmed at the former Crease Clinic location of Vancouver’s Riverside Hospital. It’s a familiar sight to anybody who watches TV shows made in town. It was seen frequently in the first couple of years of The X Files, and is still used all the time by contemporary programs like Dirk Gently and the Arrowverse series, where it’s used regularly as Mary’s clinic in Batwoman. You’ve probably seen it a time or ten yourself.

Stargate SG-1 4.15 – Chain Reaction

The “chain reaction” of the title refers to this episode’s B-plot, which illustrates what happens without the command structure in place at the SGC. Not that our heroes don’t screw up often, but without General Hammond in place, other people make terrible decisions. People die and risky experiments threaten the planet again.

This was a good episode for this kind of B-plot, because it really held our son’s interest a lot more than the A-story. Back in season one, we skipped the first appearance of Ronny Cox as Senator Kinsey. He returns this time for the first of about a dozen appearances across seasons four through eight, trying to either shut the Stargate program down or misuse it. Also returning, it’s Tom McBeath’s slimy Colonel Maybourne, who has been tried for treason after the events of “Watergate” and is on death row. Jack gets him out of prison to work a black op against Kinsey and the Area 51 / NID people and get Hammond reinstated. The kid was much less interested in the conspiracy stuff. He hasn’t grumbled and pointed his finger guns at the villains on TV in ages, but he certainly did today while waiting for the action to go back to the SGC.

Some of the dialogue in the A-story doesn’t quite work for me. The episode tries to balance Jack and Maybourne working together as though Col. Jack Freaking O’Neill had never, ever “got his hands dirty” before now. Well, no, maybe he’d never pointed a gun at a US Senator before today, but the man’s had decades of deeply dirty missions in trouble spots around our planet and plenty of others. Hero, yes, angel, uh-uh. It’s told with TV simplicity, but it’s an interesting story, and it sets McBeath’s character up to have new opportunities to screw with things in future episodes.

Stargate SG-1 4.7 – Watergate

Before we got started with tonight’s episode, I gave our son a quick lesson about the word “Watergate,” and what it might have in store for us. It has a fun double-meaning: there is a government coverup – the Russian navy retrieved the original Stargate from the wreckage of a spaceship at the end of last season and has been quietly exploring other planets from a facility in Siberia – and their gate is locked on a submerged water planet, unable to disengage. He was all “Ahhhh, I get it,” as he figured it out. Later on, we had to explain what “exchanging hostages” meant. I’m glad he’s asking questions.

“Watergate” pulls yet another ’90s Star Trek player up to British Columbia for a guest shot. This time, it’s Marina Sirtis, playing a Russian scientist who’s been working on what’s been known about the Stargate behind the Iron Curtain for a really long time. I enjoy the backstory and long history that the show plays with; this establishes that the original Dial Home Device from the Stargate in Egypt had been taken by the Nazis, and later captured by the Soviets.

Going forward, though, I wish that they did more with this. The Russian Stargate program is such a promising idea but it gets curtailed very quickly in the show. Sirtis’s character is sadly never seen again after this, and unfortunately the episode must have been running long because it ends without addressing the real elephant in the room: somehow, Tom McBeath’s recurring character Col. Makepeace avoided what should have been the mass arrests that went down when his rogue team was busted last season and has been working for the Russians. There’s much more to come with him and his obnoxious and powerful allies in the US government; I’d have preferred they spent time butting heads with Russian intelligence instead.

Stargate SG-1 3.18 – Shades of Grey

“Shades of Grey” is a really entertaining, twisty, and occasionally hard to watch installment that follows up on a storyline introduced in the previous year: there’s a rogue agency of American agents using Stargates to hop around and steal alien tech. We first met these guys very briefly in “Touchstone” and this confirms what we suspected: Tom McBeath’s character of Colonel Maybourne is, despite his protests of innocence, up to his eyeballs in this.

To grown-up viewers, it’s evident that Jack is working undercover to find who’s involved and identify the mole within Stargate Command. The question isn’t “has Jack gone bad,” of course, it’s “how is he going to let the SGC know what’s happening.” But for younger viewers like our favorite nine year-old critic, it was a tough and confusing episode. We’ve seen this with him before; he really, really doesn’t enjoy stories where the hero acts like one of the villains.

The hero also acts like the military jerk we rarely get to see in this downright painful scene with Daniel. Jack believes that his home has been bugged and so he doesn’t give an inch; he’s right back to the humorless and nasty portrayal that Kurt Russell originated in the movie. It gets resolved with an attempt at an apology at the end, which certainly doesn’t result in hugs and smiles. I said before that this show would have been unwatchable if Richard Dean Anderson hadn’t found some humor and light in the character, but it’s good that he’s able to pull that ugly military person out when the situation demands it. It’s very good acting.

Actually, the only complaint I have about this story is that the mole turns out to be a very minor character called Colonel Makepeace who we have not seen in months. It’s a situation similar to what we saw in “Rules of Engagement”, where SG-11 has been MIA for months and assumed dead. The story would have more impact if we hear more about the other SG teams and characters. Makepeace has had something like a combined five minutes of screen time across three episodes; he might as well have been a brand new character instead of a surprise betrayal. They actually mention Ferretti, who hasn’t been seen in a year and a half, in passing this week. I don’t think that character ever appears or is even mentioned again.

Stargate SG-1 3.14 – Foothold

I suspect that “Foothold” was hardly planned as a tip of the hat to the “trust no one” world of The X Files, but I like that show and so I’ll choose to read it that way. This time, Carter learns that there is an alien infiltration in the Cheyenne Mountain facility, so she calls in the team’s nemesis, Colonel Maybourne of the NID, to help investigate.

Bizarrely, Maybourne doesn’t follow procedure when informed of a possible foothold situation. That might be because, try as they might, the writers couldn’t come up with a way for Carter and Maybourne to have their suspicions confirmed before returning to Colorado, or it might possibly be because Maybourne is, at his core, an idiot. Nevertheless, that’s about the only real flaw in this otherwise superb and tense story. I enjoy this one a lot.

Strangely, the aliens’ tech is seen again a few years down the road, but the aliens themselves are not. This is the first time we run into another aggressive species who really could pose a threat to the Goa’uld. The aliens mention that the Goa’uld are the dominant species in our galaxy. So did these guys travel to our galaxy via ship and learned about the Stargate network from their bridgehead planet? The producers went to the expense of building five or six alien costumes – they’re bipeds with brown and crimson exoskeletons – so I’m surprised they never returned. But that’s okay; the Goa’uld will get a proper threat to their pecking order pretty soon.

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 1.16 – Enigma

Shows like this are as good as their villains, and “Enigma” introduces just about the most repulsive and infuriating villain this show comes up with. Going back to what I said a few chapters back about loathing our country’s military-industrial complex, Col. Harry Maybourne, played by Tom McBeath, makes his first of about a dozen appearances in this story, using his position in military intelligence to undermine the Stargate Program, ignore everybody’s wisdom and experience, and try to acquire alien technology at any cost. I really wish that the series never took this direction. McBeath will later get a couple of chances to make his character less repugnant and more human, but it never really works with me, and the program as a whole would be more satisfying to me without him in it.

I also picked this one because it introduces an important new alien race, and their leader is the episode’s other central antagonist. These are the Tollan, and they’re centuries ahead of humanity in their understanding of science. Unfortunately, their people’s first contact with another species led to that species blowing themselves up with their new toys, so they have become strict isolationists and refuse to share knowledge or tech with primitives like us anymore. Unfortunately, ten of them got caught up in a volcanic eruption on their dying planet and can’t get to their new homeworld, which is outside the Stargate system and accessible only by spacecraft. So they’re refugees on Earth, and their leader is a deeply unpleasant and obstinate jerk who stinks up every scene he’s in.

But since the Tollan will become a more interesting bunch once he’s out of the way, and central to some key episodes, we needed to watch this one. Garwin Sanford starts a recurring part here as a Tollan called Namin, and this time it’s Carter’s turn to share some lip time with somebody who wants to know more about this Earth thing called kissing. Well, the Tollan know it already. Our cultures share a few oddball customs. Eventually one of the Nox, the fairie folk that we met in episode seven, comes to Earth and brings this mess to a conclusion.

That said, there’s a much, much more interesting story here that we did not see. One of SG-1’s pals, from an episode that we skipped, happily comes to Earth, the first representative of his people to do so, to offer the Tollan refuge on their world. It’s staged well, with the USAF members in formal dress, and the pal thanks General Hammond for allowing him to visit. The Tollan leader is a snide and dismissive jerk because the pal’s people are even more primitive than Earth, shutting down that possibility. But I’d like to think that the rest of the pal’s visit went really well after the embarrassing awkwardness of the meeting, and the pal got to visit the Denver Art Museum, and the Botanic Garden, and either see a show at Red Rocks or a Nuggets game. Maybe get to know more about this Colorado thing called Coors.