The Best and Worst of Stargate SG-1: Season 9

In a previous post, I began the series of posts on Stargate SG-1, and I continue in with Season 9.

This season began by introducing the new character, Lt. Col. Cameron “Cam” Mitchell, and reintroducing Vala from “Prometheus Unbound” of Season 8. Most importantly, though, is the criticisms the show received regarding the Ori storyline, as a critque on Christianity. According to Teleogical Blog’s “Stargate SG-1 Joins the Attack on Christianity” (ID stands for Intelligent Design):

ID critics have long prevaricated ID as Creationism. The Darwinian PR campaign is certainly effective with the initiates. There are many fronts to the Darwinian PR campaign. We’ve seen their deception in the mainstream media and in pop culture TV programs.

Since I believe that Darwinian evolution is essentially an atheistic philosophy and not real science, the current ID debate has prompted certain ancillary criticism on Christianity. A recent example of such an attack was promoted in the science fiction series Stargate SG-1. This post is intended to defend against such attacks raised by the Stargate SG-1 program.

In season 9 of the Stargate series, it has introduced a race of Ascended beings called the Ori. The Ori are extremely powerful beings that once had physical bodies but now have evolved to an incorporeal plane of existence, giving them a godlike quality. The Ori are evil beings because they deceive their followers to worship them for their own benefits, in essence they gain strength from the worship of their followers. Anyone who refuses to worship them would be killed. The Ori also give false hope to its’ followers of the promise of Ascension, which provides immortality and enlightenment.

The worshippers of this Ori are portrayed as dupes who reject science and rationality. The worshippers would blindly annihilate an entire planet full of people at the whim of the Ori. These worshippers have been brainwashed to fear and obey the Ori with unquestioning loyalty and contrary to all moral discernments.

One more interesting aspect of the Ori is that they are the evil counterpart of another group of Ascended beings, who was called the Ancients. Long before the Ascension, the Ancients and Ori are of the same race. There was split that developed between these 2 groups. The Ori were very dogmatic and became very religious. The Ancients believed in science. (Do you see a parallel between these fictional groups and the real world Christians and atheistic Darwinists? Let me also digress here to make another point. Although the sci-fi writers here are attempting to emphasize the noble character of science, they missed the fact that Ascension is not a scientific endeavor, because both the Ori and Ancients were able to Ascend from both a science and anti-science perspective. What’s an even more glaring contradiction to their attempt to put science on this pedestal is the fact that they rely on the eastern mysticism of enlightenment for their Ascension concept. How much more anti-science is that?)

The points that the sci-fi writers have raised are these.
1. The Ori are evil beings with godlike powers, which deceive people into worshipping them for their own benefit.
2. The worshippers are irrational dupes.
3. Religious fanatics are anti-science and they are evil, while science minded people are noble beings.
4. We must reject a god that would destroy people merely because we refuse to believe in him/her.

There is no doubt that the writers have popularized the proverbial criticisms of Christianity in their stories. I say Christianity specifically because there have been other instances where the dialogues make specific references to Biblical characters. What is surprising to me (although it shouldn’t be) is that they trot out these proverbial criticisms but never researched the apologetics responses to their criticisms.

 

Both actors Ben Browder and Claudia Black had played John Crichton and Aeryn Sun, respectively, on Farscape. So the wink by Vala to Cam Mitchell in the clip above is a tongue-in-cheek reference to Aeryn’s pregnancy with John Crichton’s son during the final season and direct-to-DVD film, The Peacekeeper Wars within the series.

The Best:

Avalon, Origin, The Powers That Be, Beachhead, Prototype, Ripple Effect, Stronghold, and Camelot

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Very briefly:

  • Avalon and Origin was actually pretty great as a soft-reboot because it stuck to form, though I was disappointed that Carter was not in it;
  • I really loved that The Powers That Be returned to focus more on the Priors as a substantial threat, complete with a trial;
  • Beachhead is great at separating the technological superiority of the Ori from that of the Goa’uld, and Carter comes back;
  • Prototype has been a particular favorite for Khalek, who was a bit Hannibal, and this episode also had some serious tension with Richard Woolsey;
  • Ripple Effect is a generally fun multi-verse episode that allows us to see Janet Frasier and Martouf once again;
  • Stronghold is a particularly good Jaffa episode which also includes Ba’al; and,
  • Camelot could have been the last episode of the series, but luckily, it wasn’t. It also incorporated several platforms for stories: the adventure on the planet, the space ships, and the subsequent space battle that ensues. (There is also John Noble from Fringe to boot.) This is the first season finale cliffhanger since Season 4’s “Enemies.”

According to the GateWorld review of Avalon, Part 1:

There’s been a buzz around the Stargate SG-1 watercooler in recent months, much of it regarding the cast changes we’ve heard so much about. Would the new Colonel Mitchell end up as Colonel O’Neill lite? Would the new General take the role and run with it or would we end up missing Hammond all the more? Would the pre-season advertising emphasis on Browder correspond to a story emphasis on Mitchell? What about the characters we know and love: Daniel, Teal’c, Carter? And where would the stories take the team?

There were lots of questions and concerns, some of which began to be answered with this first offering in SG-1‘s new season.

With a slow start to the episode, and an excessive emphasis on quite how much of a hero Mitchell is and how much SG-1 owes him, for a short while there it did seem that concerns would be justified. Ben Browder’s take on Mitchell luckily gives the character a different perspective. Watch the flashback scenes alone and you see a pilot who almost sacrificed himself to save SG-1, was showered with effusive praise by all and sundry, and was given a medal so rarely presented that none of SG-1 have received it despite saving the planet several times.

Ignore those flashback scenes, however, and we are introduced to a character who is earnest, capable, sincere, flawed, and not a little in awe of the famous SG-1. I much prefer the second guy; one can only hope we’re done with the gushing.

There is no such sentimental introduction to General Landry. We plunge right in there to find a commander who is authoratitive with his subordinates even while privately empathising with their problems. The moment where Mitchell comes to life as a character, as a person, is in his meeting with Landry when he discovers the SG-1 he’s come to join no longer exists. That is when we see cracks in the “hero” veneer, see under the man’s skin. The interaction between the two actors is what makes the scene work.

Thus begins Mitchell’s efforts to reform SG-1, to bring his personal heroes back together as a team. It is wonderful to see Daniel brimming with his enthusiasm of old, so excited to finally be going to Atlantis where he could learn more about the people he spent a year with as an ascended. Michael Shanks has managed Daniel’s evolution beautifully — it’s the same enthusiasm Daniel showed in his early years, now tempered with experience and maturity. Teal’c’s move to the Jaffa council on Dakara is another natural move, one that is unlikely to keep him for long if his comments about the issues his presence creates are accurate.

There are two things that give “Avalon, Part 1” its zing: the acting and the script. I say script, rather than story, as the story itself is generally predictable and a little disappointing in its shift away from Egyptian mythology and towards Arthurian. The acting, both from our favourites and from the new folks, is generally high quality; the words given to the characters to say are spot on.

In choosing the character to fill in for Carter until Amanda Tapping’s return, the least predictable option was followed and it couldn’t have been a better choice. Vala and Daniel’s interaction is brilliant, with the sniping at an all-time high. But a close second is the intriguing relationship between Teal’c and Mitchell. The episode has excellent characterization all around.

Memorable scenes are strewn throughout the episode. I feel a need to be able to point to one scene and say, “That’s my favourite bit,” but I can’t choose between Vala telling Daniel she’s pregnant, Mitchell getting so excited when Daniel figures out what the tablet means, and Teal’c’s smirk after his shooting of a solid stone door makes Mitchell go nuts. Or it could be the pillow throwing … you see the problem?

There does seem to be an air of new energy in “Avalon,” and it’s not just coming from the cast and the writers. The camera work feels more active than usual, giving new angles and adding interest to static scenes. From the opening theme right through to the final credits, the score adds an almost cinematic quality to the proceedings. And the scale of the sets and special effects — from Dakara to the hanger to the caves under Glastonbury Tor — made it seem that someone gave the design teams an injection of cash and they had enormous fun with the funds.

Two small things do bother me, and I’m sure I’m not alone in the first one: the shortened opening credits. What were they thinking? And second, can someone please buy Lieutenant Colonel Carter a hairbrush? Her hair is utterly undignified for someone in her position.

Overall, “Avalon, Part 1” is a very positive beginning, and I hope this quality continues. The story itself is actually the weakest part — Arthurian legend has been done, done, done — but even that was certainly not the worst that SG-1 has seen. I’ll be watching with interest to see where it goes.

According to the GateWorld review of Avalon, Part 2:

There have been times when Stargate has delivered compelling messages, when episodes have involved deep emotions and compelling stories. People have sacrificed themselves to save a way of life, died in space battles by the hundred, and whole planets have been destroyed. But the view of death has been one usually distanced — be it hidden by bandages, made impersonal by seeing only an exploding spaceship and not those inside, or merely implied because the camera moves away at the crucial moment to show reaction not reality. Not so with “Avalon, Part 2.”

When I sat down with a friend to watch this episode, we were both keen to see the nascent team escape the jaws of death, as is expected from all good cliffhanger resolutions. Not only are our heroes not turned into pancakes but there is another challenge to face only a minute later. Mitchell’s sword battle with the holographic knight is unashamed stage fighting with the odd bit of something different tossed in to make it interesting, yet it fits in fine as another stage in the team’s quest to prove themselves “worthy.”

Along with worthiness comes the treasure Vala has been seeking, as well as a machine of Ancient design that is immediately whisked back to the S.G.C. to be examined. Have we already veered from the Arthurian legend? Was that whole strand merely a plot device to obtain the “communication system” so that Daniel and Vala could meet the Ori?

Last week was all about getting the team together, and this week the team spends considerable time separated — which doesn’t impress me this early in the season. However, the writing is strong (again), the acting is strong (again), and the story flows without pause from humorous moments through intriguing situations … and on into darker themes.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Daniel and Vala find a civilisation who worship other beings as gods, and who aren’t allowed to learn about their own history. It all appears very familiar at first sight. Perhaps all of these powerful beings follow the evil overlord guidelines, checking off each item on the list as they get to it:

Don’t let subjects get too smart — check;
Don’t let subjects learn that we didn’t create them — check;
Be sure that subjects have proper respect by worshipping us every day — check;
Be sure that subjects are kept convinced of our goodness by creating a miracle every so often — check.

This basic concept needs a new twist, a different perspective. I hope that’s what is coming in part three.

To balance the previous episode, there is less of a focus on Mitchell and more of an even spread of story. While Ben Browder hasn’t had to stretch those acting muscles too far as yet, he’s already turned Mitchell into someone I like a great deal. I want to see how he will react in different situations, and how he will manage such different personalities as Daniel and Teal’c. (Wanting to know more is always a good sign.)

There is more significant story from Teal’c, and Chris Judge is having no trouble rising to the occasion. It’s about time, and long may it continue. I am disappointed that so far that wonderful temple set has been so underused — effectively the location for a combination of the “walking down corridors” scenes that we’ve had so many times at the S.G.C. and in Goa’uld spaceships, and the “telling not showing” habit that’s been prevalent in recent years.

The town that Daniel and Vala were transported to is surely one of the most elaborate sets the designers have created. It is large, complex, contained detailed rooms with all the comforts of home, and walkways on more than one level. I couldn’t tell where the outside set stopped and the effects began before someone in the know pointed it out. Not only that, but the set overflows with people all decked out in great costumes. If this is the kind of scale and attention to detail we’ll be seeing all season then I’ll be very happy.

Finally, a return to the subject of death and how it’s portrayed on Stargate SG-1: For those who haven’t yet seen this episode, look away now. Please. This section of “Avalon, Part 2” needs to be seen fresh to get the impact. And a shocking impact it is.

The lead-in to Vala’s death is drama as it should be played. Both Michael Shanks and Claudia Black have incredibly expressive faces and they use those tools to their full advantage to show confusion, fear, and outright panic. Right up until the second where we see Vala burning to death, I was convinced the camera would look away, that we wouldn’t be shown such a scene. We’ve seen a lot of death on the show over the years, but never anything so graphic. It is nasty, but that is the reason it packs the punch — the producers aren’t afraid to show the whole thing in gory detail.

There’s barely anything to complain about here, and really only one thing bothers me. The comment from Vala about not hearing squishing sounds or screaming when Daniel thought Teal’c and Mitchell had been crushed is incredibly insensitive considering how Daniel’s parents died. Of course she didn’t know, but the writers did. Maybe they just forgot. Daniel looks horrified by the whole situation.

It has been a long time since I’ve yelled at the television when the “To be continued” came up. Watching “Avalon, Part 2” with a friend, we both laughed in the same places, called out in the same places, and went completely silent for the last 10 minutes. Powerful stuff.

 

According to the GateWorld review of Origin:

“Origin” is terrific. There, it’s said.

In any television show, there are those episodes that come along every so often and knock your socks off, but even with my favourite shows such episodes have been rare. “Reckoning, Part 2” was one such episode, and it was so recent that I was in no way expecting another gem so soon, let alone more than one.

With three great episodes in a row, there is one drawback: it actually gets harder to write a review. Will any be interested in yet more comments about excellent acting and great storytelling? Will it still be nice to hear that the effects, the costumes, and the sets are again fabulous? Let’s take it as read that “Origin” has all those things, and move on to other themes.

The Goa’uld grip on our galaxy is gone, along with the Replicator threat. While “Avalon, Part 1” and “Part 2” gave us an inkling that all might not be happy and settled out there in the greater universe, “Origin” brings the message home with a bang. This is Stargate for grown-ups.

There has been a slow and steady build-up of tension to the revelations about the Ori, with the revelations that there are yet more beings claiming to be gods, that people aren’t allowed to learn about their own history, that a Prior is capable of bringing a person back to life. The representatives of these gods walk among their worshippers, leaving miracles in their wake.

Daniel, not one to be easily impressed, sees these miracles and they are nothing new to him. The day is the same as many others he has had, until he is taken somewhere to meet the Ori, and learns the Ori’s intentions. These are powerful beings, ascended beings. These are incarnations of the threat Anubis could have been to humanity had he not been thrown out of the ascended club.

“Origin” is finally an adult treatment of themes that the show has been tiptoeing around for years. We’ve seen many Goa’uld out there claiming to be gods, but they’ve had armies and plundered technology to back them up. The Goa’uld were an enemy that could be defeated with enough time, resources, and insane plans. But the Ori are that potential power brought to life — incomprehensible, seemingly unbeatable, and chilling. Many Earth people will see the Ori’s party-tricks and believe they are gods.

It’s nigh on impossible to fight an ideal, a belief, rather than a person. It’s no wonder Daniel is afraid.

In a story with such depth, it’s a little frustrating that there isn’t quite the courage to take the story to its limit and trust that it can stand alone without adding in some kind of reassurance for the audience. The Ori and the other ascended might be on a higher plane of existence, we’re told, they might seem all powerful, but there’s still the likelihood that there are higher planes of existence beyond these ascended — that a genuine “god” can still be out there. To a multi-cultural, multi-faithed (and non-faithed) audience such commentary diminishes the impact of the new danger.

However, while the threat is frightening, there are still nits to pick. If the Ori are gods, why do they need spaceships and armies? And how does worship benefit them? The Goa’uld were on our plane of existence and gained many things from worship: power, shiny toys, nice food, pretty hosts … all sorts of things that were as a result of having a massive workforce that mined and built and worshipped and feared. The Ori don’t need any material things, but they apparently have a desire for species on lower planes of existence to become “enlightened” (which would surely be easy to do without invoking compulsory worship). I’m just not completely convinced there is a coherent motivation and purpose for the Ori as yet.

While a lot of the story is taken up by the revelations of new bad guys, there is still plenty happening character-wise. Colonel Mitchell fits naturally in his role as a leader, and I love his ability to bring a quote for all occasions. Daniel was brilliant, standing his ground despite his terror at what will be facing Earth. I had such pity for Sallis and Harrid and their fate.

It was nice that Vala took something of a back seat this time, as she’s only around for a few episodes. However, there is still the feeling that things are not quite settled, and that comes from knowing that the team we have at the moment is not the one we will be seeing for the majority of the season.

Strange as it is to see such famous actors on SG-1, I’m having no trouble getting used to the consistently high-quality acting from the new folks and the regulars. Gerak (Louis Gossett Jr.), the new Jaffa leader, is given personality and gravitas not only through the presence and ability of a great actor but through Teal’c’s reaction to him. It is also a relief to see the Jaffa story take on some life of its own rather than remaining a series of reports from Teal’c or Rak’nor.

Well done, Robert Cooper, for writing three fascinating episodes in a row. If there were more than four stars to award an episode, I’d hand them over without hesitation.

According to the GateWorld review of Ripple Effect:

Writer and executive producer Joe Mallozzi warned fans that this would be a show for the die-hard fans, and he wasn’t kidding. Multiple SG-1 teams mean plenty of characters and issues from previous episodes. But the story provides a mere background to all the inside nods and references.

“Ripple Effect” uses the possibilities of a multiverse to set the stage for various versions of SG-1 to arrive. The episode sends us on a long trip to nowhere to do nothing once they get there, just to allow two and a half versions of SG-1 to interact. The story explores the idea of competing with yourself to the Nth degree, though with little originality.

As a reward for die-hard fans of the show, this episode provides an opportunity to be a knowledgeable insider. Recalling events from previous episodes gives continuity to the show and strokes long-term fans. If you aren’t an uber-fan, you don’t have to watch all eight and a half seasons to catch up. Capitalizing on the show’s extensive backstories is a lot of fun.

Not finding a unique solution, however, is a cop out. I felt as though I were watching a patchwork quilt of the old SG-1. Take a problem from “A Matter of Time” in Season Two. Add a dash of multiple Carter’s from “Point of View” in Season Three. Sprinkle some déjà vu from at least 14 more episodes of seasons past. Don’t forget to bring back the dead from Season Four and Seven. Throw in an alien. Then add plenty of ‘ship to stir up the fans. Presto, you have “Ripple Effect.”

The episode’s main premise is to stop the convergence of multiple realities and get the stranded teams home. The “real” SG-1 soon learns that not all teams are exact duplicates — some of them are more desperate to save their worlds than others. But none of the duplicate teams are evil, just pressured. Mitchell’s Star Trek reference about beards and evil twins had to make a few viewers giggle. I suddenly got the image of a bearded Mr. Spock in Star Trek — which goes back to the idea that “Ripple Effect” requires extensive background knowledge of not just SG-1 but also sci fi shows back to the 1960s.

Finally this season, the team was together if only to fight with themselves. We see Mitchell at his slap-happiest and most treacherous. Browder is fun to watch acting his heart out. But the others are wallpaper. Tapping must be getting tired of acting with herself. However, the visual effects were seamless showing all the multiple Carters.

The problem I had with multiple Carters trying to solve the riddle of how to get the other teams back home was simply this: 18 Carters equal one Carter. They all have the same mind. While the problems pressuring each SG-1 might vary, the characters involved were almost identical. Both SG-1’s could anticipate their own actions against one another. This is kind of like playing poker with your spouse, since it’s all your own money.

Oh, the gang got to take a pony ride on the Prometheus to a black hole and back to the barn. As a result, we learn there’s a previous solution on file. All those Carters and the teams didn’t really solve any problems. For a quick and easy solution, just back look to “A Matter of Time.” I kept wondering if the other realities had other SG teams working on the situation. It would have been fun to see some of that as a counterpoint.

And even considering royalties, would it have been too much to include a canned shot of the old team with a Colonel O’Neill arriving through the gate yelling, “What?” At least Dr. Fraiser mentions a General O’Neill.

I loved seeing Dr. Janet Fraiser and Martouf again. Jerking the shippers’ chains must have caused screams around the world and grins at the head office. Daniel and Janet exchanged big, significant hugs. Then Janet and Martouf went to work on the Sam/Jack shippers. Janet and Martouf allude to Carter’s personal life, leaving open the resolution. We hear Sam got married; got pregnant; took maternity leave; and shacked up with Martouf for a while.

At least Martouf survived Black Widow Carter in one reality. Had he finished kissing her in this one he would have taken his life in his hands. A Martouf/Sam ‘ship was just more fodder for fan loyalists.

Can it be that this reality’s S.G.C. are the bad guys for wanting to save this planet at the expense of all the other Earths? Teryl Rothery showed us again why we miss her character. In earnest distress, Dr. Fraiser makes a speech to save the alternate Earth populations.

And a Tok’ra as an SG team member is a great twist. JR Bourne played Martouf for all his pathos and kindness. Beau Bridges’s Landry gives Janet the recently found cure to the Prior’s plague, and thus avoids having the fans hate his guts for all eternity. My question would be how do you know it’s the same plague? If we watch for another nine seasons, maybe we’ll find out.

It isn’t often that fans are so generously stroked. Overall, “Ripple Effect” is a pleasant, fluffy romp for the faithful.

According to the GateWorld review of Stronghold:

The Jaffa discover that an old enemy is subverting them when Teal’c goes missing. In a classic SG-1 episode, the team acts to save its own. And various characters learn to be true to themselves.

According to Plutarch, the famous Greek maxim from the Sun God Apollo’s Oracle at Delphi is “Know Thyself.” Another version is from Shakespeare’s Hamlet: “This above all: to thine own self be true.” But I like Teal’c’s version, “To resist the influence of others, knowledge of oneself is most important.”

“Stronghold” continues the thread where the Jaffa take their first steps as a free people, and make poor choices before they make good ones. Any race that has to find itself by removing a body organ is in trouble. A symbiote is a Jaffa’s immune system. And any nation in such a fundamental transition is bound to have terrible political problems.

Add a dose of religious fanaticism and a compelling strongman waiting in the wings, and you have big trouble in River City.

Ratcheting smarm up to new heights, Baal tries to sell us on the idea that he’s trying to fight the Ori by brainwashing as many Jaffa leaders as he can. In the process he captures Teal’c. However, T-man is made of stronger stuff, having been brainwashed in Enemies by Apophis. It doesn’t hurt that Chris Judge is an amazing figure of a man, with arms bigger than most people’s legs. (Stargate actors are all good-looking people. I keep thinking back to Season One’s Brief Candle for Daniel’s comment about the Argosians never hearing of the term “unattractive.”)

Baal himself should be on the cover of GQ (Goa’uld Quarterly). He’s the best-dressed bad guy on TV. Maybe he’s the best bad guy ever. He’s handsome, smart, sophisticated, rational, and deliciously evil, worse than a used car salesman. He’s a very self-aware bad guy with great ambition.

Now Baal admits to Teal’c that he is not a god. What a shocker. And since he’s cloned himself in unknown numbers (Ex Deus Machina), the viewers get the satisfaction of killing him every so often. It’s like having your cake and eating it too.

“Wait a minute! He’s got one of ours!” Which brings me to the wonderful action in an episode that is classic Stargate SG-1. All the familiar components are working for this story. SG teams go through the Stargate. Soldier Sam is back as a military commander giving the troops the rules of engagement and leading the charge. I still think those folks should all wear helmets. The grunts do. Why not the blonde woman? We get to attack a pyramid ship to rescue a team member in the clutches of a Goa’uld. And there are Jaffa everywhere. Baal is torturing poor Teal’c, looking hot in sleeveless chain mail. And Tony Amendola is in the middle of it all out-acting the entire cast.

In a terrific sub-plot, we get to learn what makes Cam Mitchell tick. Action-packed scenes show him nobly risking his life. He’s a talented warrior with a death wish, and a hefty dose of survivor’s guilt. But Mitchell knows himself enough to admit that he is rash and hotheaded. He ignores the needs of the many (the nation) for the wants of the one (his friend). Thus Mitchell spends the episode studying his navel trying to find himself … or at least a reason to break security protocols.

Nothing was accomplished telling the guy. There had to be one question on everyone’s mind: Why not call the Tok’ra? The snake could fix him so we’d have a new liaison with a tenuous ally. That would justify breeching security regulations. Until General Hammond approved approaching the dying Jacob Carter to become a Tok’ra (The Tok’ra, Part 2), no one thought a telling him was appropriate. So many Earth-bound interests could have compromised Major Ferguson. And leaving the guy plugged in alone was criminally negligent. Do the writers really understand what national security means? Call your local unemployed K.G.B. agent for details.

Watching Mitchell too easily get on board the ship and take out the crew made little sense unless you knew some background. How many viewers remember that the Jaffa, generally speaking, don’t work for the Goa’uld anymore? It’s tough to get good help without brainwashing the staff. There are even fewer under-Goa’ulds these days. Mitchell rampaging too easily — and alone — through the ship needed some reference.

But “Stronghold” is an example of what keeps us watching Stargate SG-1. This action-packed story continues to make us think while using all the elements of a successful episode. Stargate SG-1 has gone back to its roots and finally knows itself again.

The Worst:

Babylon, Collateral Damage, and Crusade

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Yet again:

  • Because I disliked Lt. Col. Cameron Mitchell, Babylon and Collateral Damage really didn’t come off as episodes I prefer, especially with the masculine-centric narrative in the former, and the capitalizing of ‘cool technology’ in the latter (though this tech did work better in Dominion); and,
  • Because the opening scene of Vala-as-Daniel Jackson inside the Men’s Locker Room somehow seemed meant to suggest that gay is funny, Crusade comparatively gets low marks. This is only compounded by General Landry telling her how they were “worried” about her since Beachhead, when up until she lodged the ship into the Supergate, everyone seemed seriously annoyed with her (like they had amnesia). Now, here they are, giving her all the attention! We also got rehash with Black and White Morality, plus a Mystical Pregnancy (see Feminist Frequency‘s #5).

According to the GateWorld review of Collateral Damage:

It’s been said by many that there are no new stories to be told, only retellings, reproductions, and retreads. Knowing that, it’s inevitable that a long-running series will occasionally take a story from another series and simply rewrite it in their own universe. So seeing a Star Trek: Voyager story replayed on SG-1 wasn’t really all that surprising, and in my view Cameron Mitchell plays Tom Paris very well indeed — perhaps even better than the original.

How long does it take to move past the intense feeling of déjà vu? Not too long, honestly. Instead of focusing on whether or not Mitchell actually committed the crime (we’re not daft; we know he didn’t), “Collateral Damage” narrows in on the efforts to find out who the real murderer is and get the memory of the crime erased from Mitchell’s mind.

It all sounds so simple, and it is. The trouble is, things are simple mostly because of the liberties taken with the use of memory and brain science, combined with a lack of internal consistency within the plot. Star Trek used to solve problems by throwing around pseudo-scientific terms such as “photon torpedo” and “modulating shield frequencies,” and the audience would be quite happy with that because who among us could argue that a phase variance in the warp core wouldn’t cause the shields to destabilize?

But Stargate isn’t Star Trek. Stargate is grounded in our reality, and it needs to work with our science. Those of us who don’t have regular out-of-body experiences are unlikely to be able to run a memory back in our heads and see that memory from the perspective of an outside observer. We’ll see through our own eyes, rather than watching ourselves from five feet away. As fans, though, we can ignore the little things, so we add this anomaly to the list of things we have to ignore in order to allow us to suspend disbelief. And we continue to watch.

Then we have to ignore the CSI-like rewind, pause, and zooming of memory as if it’s a home video, even though we know it doesn’t work like that. Then we have to ignore the problem raised by lines such as “Because we know the memory was implanted, we can expect to find anomalies,” because apparently finding those anomalies without knowing the memory was implanted isn’t proof enough in this universe that memories have been tampered with, so … Add it to the list and keep on hoping things will get better.

They don’t get better, though. The final nail in the coffin of the plot is when we discover that the real murderer managed to wipe his own memory, write in a new memory, and then somehow not be confused when he woke up in the memory chair with electrodes stuck to his head. Because if he was working alone, he must have come to his senses at some point sitting in that chair and wondered what he was doing there in the middle of the night.

That’s when it just gets to be too much. The logic implodes and small soft things get thrown at the television. (I like my television too much to throw larger, harder things).

For those who can ignore the plot holes, there are some really interesting character insights to be found here. It turns out Mitchell’s father was a huge influence on his behaviour, his outlook on life, and the determination that we’ve seen and heard so much about. Then there’s Mitchell’s experience in the Gulf, how he reacts to orders, how he likes to be sure a decision is correct before acting on it, how he faces mistakes. The character nuances are many and hopefully they will be built on in future episodes, bringing what we now know of Mitchell together with deeper involvement from the other three members of the team.

SG-1’s varied perspectives, those strong moral views built on diverse backgrounds, could make for some powerful interactions of the kind that were, unfortunately, completely missing from “Collateral Damage.” After all, while the audience learns a lot about Mitchell, the rest of SG-1 was left in the oft-flickering dark.

And flickering it was. For some reason, a decision was made to make this episode different in look and style. Perhaps it was an attempt to be edgier, to bring more CSI-style into a CSI kind of story. With this being a murder-mystery, I’m not convinced that was inappropriate, but it did signal a “we’re doing something different this week” feel which didn’t quite work for me. I like the crisp, clear lines of the usual Stargate episode, without this deliberate confusion of artsy graininess and flickering images.

It feels like there’s a considerable measure of “coasting” going on here on the part of the writers. A simple walk-through of the plot and the science from a few different perspectives would have highlighted the issues, and they could have been solved before this episode went to camera. With so many new cast members and new opportunities, this season is not the time to let up on quality.

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Next in the best and worst is Season 8.

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