The Best and Worst of Stargate SG-1: Season 8

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For previous installments:

 

Season 8 dealt with Colonel O’Neill becoming the Base Commander of Stargate Command. This season also dealt with the ending of System Lords as a collective foe, and the Replicators.

The Best:

New Order, Lockdown, Zero Hour, Full Alert, Reckoning, Threads, and Moebius

moebius

Brief, brief, brief:

  • New Order leaves where Lost City and Unnatural Selection left off, the destruction of Anubis’ fleet, and the human form Replicators in possession of the time dilation device. Dr. Weir is now played by Torri Higginson, and Thor and Lord Yu return;
  • Lockdown continues Anubis’ story following Lost City;
  • Zero Hour is great on General O’Neill’s perspective as Base Commander;
  • Full Alert concludes the story of the Trust introduced in several episodes, and closes out Robert Kinsey’s story;
  • Reckoning fully concludes the story of the System Lords and Replicators, in one felt swoop, that would lead to the rise of the Free Jaffa Nation next season;
  • Threads closes out Anubis’ story as well as Oma Desala’s; and,
  • Moebius is a fantastic time travel/alternate timeline story that places SG-1 causing the original rebellion against System Lord Ra on Earth in Ancient Egypt.

According to the GateWorld review of New Order, Part 1:

Following a variable season last year, Season Eight begins in a more coherent and entertaining manner. With the changes that are afoot there is vast potential for fascinating stories and interesting twists. However, it appears there is still a tendency to fall back on tired solutions and over-used plots — which is a great shame in a series that has the ability to give so much more. Despite its faults, there is plenty in “New Order” to keep the audience tuned in.

First thing’s first. As a fan of the team of SG-1, I think “New Order” delivered in a great way. The friendship between Sam and Teal’c has become a thing of beauty, both gentle and amusing. Jack, Daniel and Teal’c play off one another to perfection. Seeing the team gathered together to discuss the pros and cons of Jack’s promotion was like welcoming back an old friend, and a vast improvement on the awkward team gathering at Jack’s house before poor Jack was put on ice (“Lost City, Part 1”).

Both the Goa’uld situation and the Replicator threat have evolved from where we last saw them, with a few twists to keep things interesting. Earth has finally become a force to be reckoned with — not entirely unexpected considering the use of the Ancients’ weapon. But the idea of taking the fight to the enemy, as was suggested by the System Lords, doesn’t sit well, even if Earth manages to harness the technology of the Ancients.

If “New Order” is any indication, this is the season of change. Daniel’s role seems to have permanently diverged from archaeologist to diplomat and expert on the Goa’uld. It’s a role he’s uniquely qualified for, and it was interesting to see Weir treat him as an equal and relying on his advice. Teal’c’s new hair is unlikely to be explained, if only because it will drive Jack nuts not to know why Teal’c let it grow. And the promotions of both Jack and Sam must surely have repercussions.

While some changes look promising, others are not so auspicious. Compared to the original, the new Weir appears emotionless, and the actress’s delivery is flat. I was rather relieved to know she won’t be staying on at the S.G.C. The loss of Hammond, however, leaves a hole. He was a calming influence on the S.G.C. and without him the place seems to have lost much of its gravitas.

Inevitably, some of the show’s unchanged facets are not entirely welcome. Poor Sam, it’s a wonder she’s not in therapy trying to deal with the number of men falling in love with her. And really, the plot is done. Overdone. As an attempt to bring back the kind of personal enmity that was wrapped up in the Daniel-Apophis / Teal’c-Cronus relationships, it simply doesn’t have that same ring to it. Perhaps Fifth’s crush is an attempt at postmodern irony, having the male of the species fight back against BlackWidowCarter. It might even be amusing on that level, if it wasn’t that the underlying theme of Fifth creating the LEGO-Technic equivalent of a blow-up doll to replace the object of his affections is so disturbing.

I can only assume that we’ll see more of Fifth and Carter’s double (already dubbed “RepliCarter” by various fans). The Replicators themselves have never seemed a good villain to me, mainly because fighting them is rather like fighting a swarm of ants: there is very little intelligence to pit our heroes against, and the only thing provided in the way of drama is a chance for blowing up more stuff. This incarnation of human-form Replicators, while more interesting, still carries with it the impression of power with not enough smarts — and that’s down to the recipe of two parts intelligent being, three parts hormonal teenager, one part locust, and one part sociopath, all tossed into a mixing bowl and given a thorough stir. I hold out hope, though, because the writers do manage to come up some startling twists from time to time.

The other issue that brought the season opener down a notch or two was the Deus ex Asgard who appears in the nick of time to save Sam and Teal’c. Then saves Jack. Then saves the Asgard by destroying most of the Replicators. It’s too easy a plot device to fall back on, and there needs to be some serious thinking before it’s whipped out over and over — the suspense is non-existent, almost to the point where you can wander off and make a cup of tea rather than wait for the inevitable to play out. I didn’t this time, but if it happens again …

With a double episode to write about there should be much to comment on. The fact that there isn’t is actually a good thing. The effects, acting, sets, costumes, and all the other components that make up an episode of Stargate were as reliable as ever. These are things we’ve come to depend on, so much so that they frequently drop into the background, only noticed when they hit one or other end of the scale to be exceptional or poor.

Overall, “New Order” has a mixture of good drama, friendship, and children’s fairytale ending. While the writing was a little lazy at times — the use of neutronium as an element is something that owes its existence to Star Trek rather than astrophysics research — the story was well-paced and interesting. Promises have been made that big things will happen this season, and I’m looking forward to seeing them.

According to the GateWorld review of New Order, Part 2:

“I get to do whatever I want …”
– Jack O’Neill

As Jack decides to accept the promotion to brigadier general, and as his first act is to promote Sam Carter to lieutenant colonel, “New Order” gives Stargate itself a promotion — a shot in the arm if you will. While some series making it into an eighth season might be tempted to go through a complete reinvention, thereby alienating old fans and confusing new viewers (and you know who you are), Stargate‘s creative team is smarter than that. They know to stick with what works, only — as Emeril might say — kicking it up a notch.

While the previous season sadly lacked a real “barn-burner” of an episode, the two-parter “New Order” has already ignited the proverbial outlying farm building. The proverbial outlying Montana farm building, even.

The first and most important thing: Unlike many Stargate two-parters, “New Order” doesn’t feel like two separate stories linked by the smallest of plot twists. Instead, it has the seamless two-hour feel of a television pilot, but without the pestering matter of introducing new characters and concepts. Joseph Mallozzi, Paul Mullie and Robert C. Cooper stick with established storylines — the Replicators, the Asgard, the Goa’uld — while picking up where “Lost City” left off: Anubis vanquished, a lost outpost found, and Jack a … Jacksicle.

Several other themes continue from previous seasons into the eighth, such as Sam’s propensity for appealing to men with stalkerish tendencies and the obsessive focus of Stargate fans. Also: the inability of the Asgard to prove that they’re actually as smart as everyone keeps telling us they are. Thor is often lauded (or criticized) for his timing, but it’s his actions that provide some of the major tension in the episode. The sad thing is that his moments of super-smart-alien stupidity are pretty much accepted by this point. (I only smacked my face with my palm once.)

But that’s the only thing about “New Order” that was even close to sad. Most of the two hours was spent sitting on the edge of my couch, having driven the rest of the family away after merely expressing my “admiration” for Teal’c’s hair, and biting my nails. (Thank God I decided against getting that manicure!) The transitions between the Earth and non-Earth segments were fluid and maintained the pace, even when there wasn’t all that much going on. And once the action picked up …

Well, I haven’t been this into a Stargate SG-1 episode in a long time.

And there was plenty to get into. Amanda Tapping’s performance as a victim of the Replicator “We Always Hurt the Ones We Love” Fifth was brilliant and moving. Her chemistry opposite Pete Shanahan was as good as could be expected, given the situation. Her hair was … interesting.

Speaking of strong female types, Torri Higginson’s adaptation of Elizabeth Weir kindled an interest in the character that was faint after Jessica Steen’s portrayal in “Lost City.”

And speaking of strong, someone needs to tell Daniel to switch to decaf, or we’re going to need an Asgard translator to decipher him.

Now for the rundown. What we know: Thanks to the dumb old humans, the Asgard have been rescued from their own super-intelligent ineptitude and now stand a fighting chance against Reese’s LEGO bugs. They also have a ship called the “Daniel Jackson,” although it can’t possibly be as pretty as its namesake. Now that we’re the “bully” on the block, the people of Earth have risen in the estimation of at least some Goa’uld; it’s nice to know that at least we’re no longer publicly being compared to livestock.

Teal’c is adjusting to Earth by adopting a new ‘do. Jack is now in charge of Stargate Command, and his first act was to promote Sam … which will no doubt elicit cries of favoritism and allegations of misconduct. Or not. Lastly, Fifth has a girlfriend. A naked girlfriend. A slimy, naked girlfriend, who looks like Sam. Could he get any creepier?

What we don’t know: The Asgard might have a weapon against the Replicators … but what about the Repli-Carter? How much is really Sam, and how much is simply Evil Replicator Girl? It’s only a matter of time until the happy couple is back (and hopefully clothed).

Meanwhile, how will Jack adapt to having the desk, the chair, the parking space and the phone? How fun will it be to watch him try? Can he and the others figure out how to save Earth’s collective butts in case Baal does come a’knocking? When do we get to see the Asgard ships the “Teal’c” and the “Samantha Carter?” How long until we get to see our beloved General Hammond back in action?

Is Yu as senile as his crony would have you believe, or is Anubis still out there somewhere? Is a Goa’uld seeking asylum as suspicious as it seems? Will Sam’s thoughts of Pete be tainted by the unpleasant memory of airborne skillets? Will sleeveless shirts become a mainstay of the S.G.C. uniform? And just how often can we expect to see General O’Neill in those dress blues?

Thanks to this excellent episode the questions abound, and an entire season — and a whole lot of Stargate fans — await the answers.

According to the GateWorld review of Lockdown:

One of the foundations of Stargate SG-1 is the idea of humans controlled by alien beings, which means that despite the derivative use of the old “possessed by aliens” shtick, “Lockdown” really works. This is one weird twist on the concept of being taken over by a Goa’uld, and that’s what elevates the story from what could have easily become a run-of-the-mill and forgettable episode.

It’s not just the turns that the plot takes that keeps “Lockdown” interesting, it’s the look and feel of the episode. Will Waring gave an extra spark to the direction this week, moving the camera around to give stationary scenes more life — particularly during the preparation to flush Anubis out — and adding more energy to usually dull scenes of running up and down corridors. Kudos goes also to the steadicam operator, who did a sterling job.

Speaking of Anubis, is anyone surprised that he’s not dead? Will he now follow in Apophis’ footsteps, becoming ever more difficult to kill? I hope not. While he had the potential to be a formidable bad guy due to his powers as an at least partially ascended being, as Daniel has pointed out he can’t use those powers without the Ancients coming down on him like a ton of bricks. And that makes him less powerful than he could have been. The behavior of the Ancients is inconsistent, though. Daniel was not prevented from helping Jack during his time as Baal’s prisoner, nor was he prevented from helping Teal’c. What makes Daniel so sure the Ancients will intercede when all Anubis is doing is traveling from Earth to another planet? The back-story isn’t strong enough to support this, and thus made for a weakness in the plot.

While we’re on the subject of inconsistencies, it would be nice if the zat could have the same effect on everyone each time it’s used. While various security personnel and other folk were knocked out by one shot, Daniel wasn’t. It’s a weapon whose effectiveness depends on the needs of the plot, and while I’m used to it by now, it sometimes grates. It grated here.

New characters crawled all over “Lockdown.” Major Kearney was a good supporting character of whom I’d like to see more. I missed our favorite Chevron Guy, though he wouldn’t have had a great deal to do. Still, it’s odd to see someone else sitting in his chair. Colonel Vaselov was a fascinating man who would have been an interesting addition to the S.G.C. Sadly, that’s not to be. Failing that, Vaselov’s sacrificing of himself to save the S.G.C. — and Jack in particular — is something that should have quite an effect on the general, whose dislike of Russians is ingrained and extreme. Will we see Jack’s reaction next week? Perhaps. It was only one missed character moment, however, in an episode that had a nice sprinkling of them.

The new doctor popped her head above the parapet in a way that made me miss Janet Fraiser all over again. It was never going to be easy to replace a beloved character, but the opportunity was missed to create someone interesting and original. A white female doctor with attitude was replaced by what seems to be a bland reproduction. There’s a difference between detached professionalism and a lack of emotion, and Brightman tipped the balance in the wrong direction. Perhaps she’ll grow on me.

Due to financial constraints this season, it’s been reported that we’ll be seeing more episodes set at the S.G.C. rather than off-world. The changes that Stargate has gone through over the years, evolving from a show about exploration of other worlds and dealing with other cultures (be they allies, enemies or something in between) into a show primarily about a war with the Goa’uld has inadvertently laid the groundwork for this kind of Earth-based episode. However, if they’re all as interesting and dramatic as “Lockdown,” those limitations will hardly be noticed.

While the premise of the show has shifted quite considerably, the characters are still eminently recognizable. Jack’s frustration with his paperwork, and his ability to be an “equal opportunity offender” are the same. Sam’s respect for her commanding officer seems to have grown, but it was nice to see Jack bringing her back down to earth. It’s also refreshing to see Sam being a professional with none of the undercurrents of inappropriate crush that ran through too much of the last season. Long may it continue.

“Lockdown” didn’t give me the “Wow” feeling as I watched it. Those episodes come once or twice a season (“The Fifth Race,” “Orpheus,” and “Abyss” are prime examples). But it’s fairly high on the list of episodes to rewatch, and I’m encouraged once again by the quality of the new season.

According to the GateWorld review of Zero Hour:

“You dare mock me?”
“Baal, you should know … of course I dare mock you.”
– Baal and Jack O’Neill

Continuing in the same vein as last week, “Zero Hour” takes us inside a day in the life of the S.G.C.’s newest commander. Actually, we get to see five days, all counting down — we learn at the end — to the President’s endorsement of General O’Neill. It’s not a smooth road for Jack, but it’s a fun journey for the audience, and in the end more effective than last week’s “Lockdown.”

I actually found myself comparing “Zero Hour” to “Lockdown” several times during the hour. It seemed that the goal of the episode was something of a repeat of last week: showing us the frustrating minutiae that General Jack is forced to deal with, from bunting and personnel files to an assortment of other trivial annoyances that all add up to big problems. “Zero Hour” is also dependent on a host of guests to help Richard Dean Anderson carry the episode’s weight.

But where “Lockdown” tended to stutter, “Zero Hour” sails. On top of the little bothers Jack is faced with a new assistant, bickering ambassadors, an out-of-control plant, and three friends who seem at least a little irritated by his caution. Sam in particular seems to misinterpret his protectiveness as a lack of confidence in her abilities. When SG-1 is apparently captured by Baal — someone with whom Jack has no small amount of history — it seems as though it may all be too much for him to handle.

Although we’ve seen Jack in situations beyond his control, we’ve rarely before seem him so out of his element. The quiet desperation in his letter to Hammond opened up an entire facet of his character that we don’t usually see outside of fan-written stories.

Jack’s command style, as it was introduced in “Lockdown,” is reinforced here: he is not afraid to be unconventional in his tactics, and he’s not shy about bluffing to try and get his way. He is also smart enough to recognize the diplomatic properties of Krispy Kreme doughnuts. But he is also extremely careful when it comes to his former team, and smart enough to outsmart Camulus with regards to the booby-trapped Z.P.M.

A great deal of the credit for this episode’s success goes to the host of minor characters provided for Jack to play off. Eric Breker’s Reynolds further endears himself, coming across as surprisingly sympathetic and leading the real tear-jerker scene of the episode. Mercifully mobile for the first time in a long time, Gary Jones (Walter Davis) is hysterical, and he seems to know it. David Kaufman’s Mark Gilmor, Cliff Simon’s Baal and even Colin Cunningham’s Major Davis all add extra depth and dimension to an episode that is devoid of three-fourths of the main cast for most of the hour.

Only two things stand out as drawbacks in this episode. First, the pacing is slower than the average Stargate episode, which probably has a lot to do with the lack of action. Considering the idea behind this episode that was unavoidable, but it is also very noticeable to viewers. (The seemingly never-ending commercial breaks didn’t help minimize this either, and “Zero Hour” is a much better experience when one is able to fast-forward.) There is also the matter of the anti-climatic ending: Although I suspected that Baal was just as big of a bluffer as was Jack, the fact that all of O’Neill’s angsting was for naught took some of the wind out of the episode’s sails.

All in all, however, this is a very good episode: funny, a little stressful, with lots of good one-liners and plenty of memorable moments — and, just as importantly, lots of Jack. Although Sam, Teal’c, and Daniel are incommunicado for most of “Zero Hour,” there is a nice scene at the end where Sam reveals some of her insecurities and Jack reaffirms his faith in her. It’s the kind of moment that would have seemed out of place in an earlier season, but seems just right at this point in time.

What we know: Jack is shaping up to be a fine base commander, one who knows he has limitations, but also knows that he has the support of his people and the official approval of the President.

What we don’t know: Will handing over Camulus come back to bite the S.G.C. in the derriere? Will Jack ever let an alien plant on his base again? And did the ambassadors leave any Krispy Kremes for anyone else?

In short: If we wind up with a slew of Jack-light episodes in the future, as we surely will, we at least have this one fun episode to look back on fondly.

 

According to the GateWorld review of Reckoning, Part 1 and 2:

“Y’know, you blow up one sun and suddenly everyone expects you to walk on water!”
– Sam Carter

Even if you are not a spoiler fanatic, it’s easy to see that the end ofStargate‘s eighth season will, in a way, be the end of an era. Change is in the winds, and that’s not a spoiler — it’s an observation about SG-1‘s ambitious two-parter, “Reckoning.”

In the life of every long-running series, every once in a while it is necessary to do a bit of house cleaning, brush the dust from some dangling plot threads and tie off a few of them. Stargate begins to accomplish this with these two episodes — episodes which promise to develop into a much larger arc by season’s end. By the end of these two 45-minute blocks a major character is assaulted — and perhaps killed — a large-scale invasion of the galaxy comes underway, the Jaffa conceive and execute an audacious plan to gain their long-sought freedom, and a more recent foe is destroyed permanently — at least as permanently as is ever possible on this show.

I mentioned it was ambitious, right?

“Reckoning” gives us something that has been absent from Stargate SG-1 for a while, at least compared to sister series Atlantis: a sense of immediate peril and terrible urgency. The fast pace is compounded by the fact that the episode takes place on several fronts, through the development of many storylines.

Daniel and the fan-dubbed “RepliCarter” play mind games to uncover his repressed Ancient knowledge, games that come to a piercing conclusion — if you’ll pardon the pun. At last we’re revisiting the questions that have plagued the character since before Season Seven’s “Fallen”: who or what kept Daniel from destroying Anubis in “Full Circle?” What happened during his time as an ascended being that he has not been permitted — or has not permitted himself — to remember, and why did he return to human form? (And, while we’re at it, why did he have to return naked?)

Faced with a possible setback in their plans for freedom, Teal’c leads the attack on the psychological target Dakara — which ends up being a much more crucial objective than anyone knew. Complicating the situation: Baal must either help Anubis destroy all life in the galaxy (including his own) or face the wrath of his creepy new overlord, while simultaneously waging an ineffectual battle against the Replicators.

As the Goa’uld-Replicator battle is monitored from the comfort of Stargate Command — not one of the most thrilling sequences, but a fun opportunity to show off some computer-based visual effects — the focus moves to hidden secrets of Dakara, which are brazenly uncovered sans archeologist.

Sam attempts to make up for some possible errors in judgments during the episode “Gemini,” with the help of her father and — eerily enough — everybody’s favorite sadistic torturer, Baal. While Jacob in particular finds collaboration with this self-proclaimed god to be the essence of abhorrence, Sam seems to take the adage “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” to heart.

Jack goes back into gung-ho flyboy mode for what could be one last of his last on-screen hurrahs, defending his planet from Replicators and rescuing wrench-wielding Sergeants from certain doom. Jack-as-General has been noticeably more toned-down and aloof than Jack-as-Colonel — and the trend continues to the end of this episode, with an awkward moment and a thoughtful look. But it’s always nice to see him back in his element, a bad-ass gun in hand, commanding the situation and blasting away at the bad guys.

These two episodes are crammed full of so much that the slower parts of the story — Daniel’s protracted mind-trip with Oma-turned-Replicarter, and Sam and Jacob’s endless fiddling with the Ancient keyboard (last seen in “Window of Opportunity”) — are welcome reprieves.

Along with meaty roles for all four of our heroes, the two-parter is rich with guest talent: Bra’tac, Jacob Carter, Oma, Baal, Thor, Yu, and two creepy new incarnations of Anubis grace the screen. Questions are raised, alliances made and broken, self-aggrandizing Goa’uld are forced to ask for help … and subsequently taunted.

The visual effects department has much to do with one of the most impressive scenes of Part 2, as the Stargate on Dakara dials every other gate in the galaxy at the same time. We see the beloved “kawoosh” again and again on planets familiar to the devoted viewer: Chulak, Hadante, the worlds from “Forever In a Day” and “One False Step.” It’s a creative way to tie all those planets together into this one moment, to in fact tie the many adventures and explorations of the past seven-plus years into this one, last-ditch chance for survival.

The events of “Reckoning” accomplish a great deal. The freedom of the Jaffa is all but assured; they were unable to capture Baal, but they did chase him off of his own ship. The Replicators have been expunged from our galaxy. But questions remain: will the legions of free Jaffa be able to work together without a common enemy to rally against? What will Teal’c’s role be in this brave new Jaffa world? What are Baal and Anubis up to? What will come of the deadly weapon on Dakara?

And what about Daniel? The last time we saw him he was looking disturbingly glassy-eyed, but was that flash of white light at the last moment what we all suspect it is?

The list goes on and on. “Reckoning, Part 2” may not have ended with the “To Be Continued” tag traditional in such situations, but we can expect that this two-parter will expand into a larger arc. And we can hope that the final three episodes of the season will be just as impressive.

 

The Worst:

Avatar, Gemini, Prometheus Unbound, It’s Good to Be King, and Citizen Joe

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As brief as possible:

  • Avatar was such a failure of an episode, as usual sidelining Teal’c to an episode with no character development and giving him an impossible task to defeat, which meant he had to be paternalized by the white team members;
  • Gemini was far too obvious from the beginning, as the show is notorious for it’s Black and White Morality, meaning there was no real creativity by the writers and producers on this episode. Of course, an ambitious Replicator version of Carter has to be really bad, because of ambition. It’s even addressed specifically in this episode, by the evil RepliCarter to the good Lt. Col. Carter:

Carter: So this whole thing was a set-up. You just wanted to get rid of Fifth.
RepliCarter: Fifth was pathetic. And to think he expected us to love him.
Carter: Fifth was flawed, and if I had to destroy him, I would, but …
RepliCarter: But what? You feel sorry for him? Don’t bother. He was never fit to lead an army, and he certainly wasn’t fit to rule this galaxy.
Carter: But you are?
RepliCarter: I am what I am because of you.
Carter: Not me. You’re what Fifth made you.
RepliCarter: You have untapped greatness inside you, Sam, but you’re limited by your own fears. You play by the rules, you do as you’re told, and you deny yourself your own desires.
Carter: I have no desire to rule the galaxy, believe me.
RepliCarter: All humans desire power. It’s just that most of them are never in a position to attain it.
Carter: We will stop you.
RepliCarter: You’re forgetting: I know exactly how your mind works. I know what you’re going to do before you even think of it.

  • Prometheus Unbound was the episode that introduced us to Vala Mal Doran, as an unscrupulous liar, cheat, and thief, willing to use her sexuality (or simply violence) to achieve her goals, for profit;
  • It’s Good to Be King was the first episode we got to see Lt. Col. Carter take the team off-world (episode 13 out of 20!). Then we run into Harry Maybourne and discover the time ship – which requires General O’Neill to activate – leaving Carter in O’Neill’s shadow when he destroys Ares’ vessel, and mostly throughout the entire episode anyways; and,
  • Citizen Joe was done solely because of Richard Dean Anderson’s (also Colonel O’Neill’s) love for The Simpsons which resulted in Dan Castellaneta (the voice of Homer Simpson) being cast one-off in this episode.

According to the GateWorld review of Avatar:

For the ultimate in role-playing games, look no further than the S.G.C., it seems. No need for joysticks, plastic guns, or complex key-strokes — simply plug in and play! As usual, with SG-1, though, the cry of “It seemed like a good idea at the time” will have been echoing through the corridors for days after things went wrong. Again.

What I find most interesting about “Avatar” is the comparison of a learning machine with a learning person. The machine learns, adapts, sacrifices pawns in order to reach its ultimate goal of destroying the S.G.C. The people learn, adapt, forget many of the things they had learned in the past, fail, fail again, and at least one of them gives up. Why, in the final game, does Daniel not shoot both Sam and Jack and worry about it later — like he certainly knew by Season Five’s “Proving Ground?” Why does Teal’c not shoot them when he had already shot Daniel in the same situation?

And why, why, why does the game not have an external failsafe? That was plain daft considering the disaster that was “Avenger 2.0” happened only last year. It is a thin plot device on which to hang the drama, which only makes them all look silly. And really, whose idea was it to have a game that caused physical pain?

With Teal’c effectively playing against himself in the game, it isn’t a surprise that he is defeated over and over. The version of him that is pure strategy is surely going to outplay the version of him that has emotions, second thoughts, and ultimately suffers from exhaustion. Having worked on the chairs for two years, it’s astonishing that the scientists didn’t consider such an outcome. Nor do I believe that the game knows everything in Teal’c’s head except the fact that it is just a game.

The niggly details that would have allowed the scenario to work seamlessly aren’t there, and the fact that I had time to think about those details while watching came down to one thing: the violence.

The changes Stargate has gone through since it began are many, but I’m not prepared for the show to have changed so far that I have to watch a whole episode about shooting, killing, and blowing stuff up. For those in the gaming community, all the violence is probably nothing new. But this story came from the same people who tried to make a big deal out of Janet dying in last season’s “Heroes.” Dying is a big deal.

“The Gamekeeper,” the pre-cursor to this episode, showed the trauma of death and how it affected those involved. “Avatar” is practically emotionless within the game, with the emphasis on tactics, on defeating an enemy. We have so much of this from the show that having all of this intense violence and blatant death in one hit is too much.

Despite my aversion to them, the fight scenes must have required a considerable amount of work from many people behind the scenes. So congratulations must go to them for the realism. Additionally, the editing achieved a cracking pace through the majority of the game scenes, which is essential to the success of the episode.

The plot itself is overly burdened with exposition, the most obvious example coming right at the beginning of the episode with Teal’c’s comment to Sam: “You have previously given me this information.” Please, please, please, writers, don’t wave a big flag to say, “We’re only explaining this for the benefit of the audience!” Perhaps the excessive exposition wouldn’t have been so obvious if not for the dramatic difference in pacing between the game scenes and the lab scenes. Although, sticking up for the writers for a moment, it would have taken some very clever writing and exceptional acting to put across all of the information that the audience needed to keep up.

Even Chris Judge’s excellent performance here, meeting every challenge thrown at him, wouldn’t have been enough for Teal’c’s eyebrow to say, “I used to believe the Goa’uld could not be defeated but I might have changed my mind. Possibly.”

Again, I loved the way the team works together. I really can’t get enough of team togetherness, and this season has definitely ironed out a lot of the issues that were present in Season Seven. Favourite moment? The “I’ll do it!” from Jack, Sam, and Daniel, all volunteering to enter the game to help Teal’c.

As to the extended team — in the game, all are working together to a single goal: defeating the intruders. Outside the game, the impression I’m getting is that the writers really don’t like scientists. Have they simply never met a real scientist, engineer, or computer expert? It certainly seems so. Scientists are not all bumbling imbeciles created from some universal template, although from watching the last few seasons of this show you’d be forgiven for thinking they are.

Is “Avatar” a success or failure? Somewhere in between. It certainly shows a concerted effort towards high achievement, but the subject matter isn’t really my cup of tea.

According to the GateWorld review of Gemini:

It struck me as I watched “Gemini” that there must have been a scene cut from the beginning of the episode. The scene could have involved Lieutenant Colonel Sam Carter getting up in the morning, going to work, and accidentally leaving her “national treasure” brain in the jar by the bed. Or Sam being hit over the head the day before, leaving her with a concussion that would affect her judgment. Or … something.

There had to be something. Anything. There’s no possibility that Sam, one of the smartest people at the S.G.C., would allow a Replicator access to not only her mind, but also the Alpha Site’s computer systems with all of their top secret information.

But she did. And, like so many viewers, I really don’t get it.

Sam was tortured by Fifth not too long ago. She knows how unstable he is. She knows he’s been crawling around inside her head and knows her well enough to be able to create a vision of her future that’s realistic enough to confuse her. And she certainly knows how dangerous the Replicators are in general. Add to that the standard treatment of enemy defectors — which was completely ignored in this situation — and the mystery grows.

If we look to Jack, who ordered the Replicator to be destroyed, there is a completely different point of view. He has always maintained that Replicators are machines, and he is absolutely right. RepliCarter is notSam. Fifth is not a misunderstood young man. They are extremely intelligent machines. They are machines who are capable of creating more of themselves, as well as more complex versions of themselves. They are certainly machines that are capable of switching themselves off.

The classic reverse psychology RepliCarter uses by asking to be killed, then giving more reasons for keeping herself alive while drawing Sam’s sympathy and empathy, is quite clever. However, there are several times after RepliCarter’s initial appearance where alarm bells should have been blaring. Yet Sam manages to talk around the problem with Jack, saying, “But what if …” and playing on Jack’s own fears of a powerful enemy. She allows herself to be a mouthpiece for RepliCarter without even realising it.

And then there’s Teal’c, who played the piggy-in-the-middle role. Jack trusted him to destroy RepliCarter. But Teal’c also claimed to understand Sam’s emotions and reluctance. The trouble is, Teal’c is experienced enough to know better. He doesn’t give Jack all of the information he needs to make a decision, not mentioning that RepliCarter had been inside Sam’s brain. “We weren’t in my mind, we were in hers,” says Sam. Exactly how did Sam think she could see any of RepliCarter’s thoughts as if in perfect video playback without there being some contact with her own mind?

Having let the “RepliCarter” into her head, Sam seems to fall for everything it tells her. Sure, Sam keeps saying it must be destroyed in the end … eventually. But not until it’s had access to the Alpha Site’s computer systems, so that it can steal any knowledge it hasn’t already taken from Sam’s brain. Enemies like Linea (“Prisoners”) are apparently a distant memory.

Of course, RepliCarter escapes. Earth now has no defence against the coming Replicator attack. And this is where things become a little clearer. Sadly, the things that become clear were related to behind-the-scenes needs, rather than character evolution. It seems that the writers had an aim in mind for this episode: it was to be the episode that led to the Replicators becoming a strong enemy once more, where Earth’s disruptor weapon would be nullified. The enemy that had lost its bite is again a threat.

The trouble is that when a story is written to serve the needs of a plot characters tend to get lost or twisted along the way, and this is precisely what seems to have happened with “Gemini.” While the intention of the writers was clear after a little thought — Sam was meant to have made a perfectly human mistake, trusting her emotions — there was no need to malign Sam’s character to achieve those aims (nor Teal’c’s, though to a far lesser extent).

Having said all that, I think Amanda Tapping did a sterling job. There were only a couple of times that she slipped from “RepliCarter” back into “Sam,” and then it was only for seconds. It must have been a big challenge to play two characters that spent a considerable amount of time techno-babbling at one another, and that she carried it off so well does give me hope when looking to future RepliCarter episodes (which must surely now be coming).

The level of technical achievement was also high in the episode, and both were absolutely necessary if we were to believe there are two Sams.

At the end of it all, Sam admits she’s at fault. And the audience breathes a collective sigh of relief. But we relaxed too quickly. Is she blaming herself for handing over vital information to an enemy? No, for hurting Fifth’s feelings the first time she met him. Jack said that wasn’t her fault, she wasn’t the one who betrayed Fifth. And Jack was right — it was his orders that led to them leaving Fifth behind. Of course, nobody owned up to the real issue; the elephant in the room was ignored. It was quite baffling.

Sam Carter used to be a smart, capable officer, while still holding on to her humanity. I don’t know who was in this episode, but it wasn’t the Sam I recognise. Whoever stole my Sam, can you please give her back?

According to the GateWorld review of Prometheus Unbound:

The humour that filters into almost every episode of Stargate often doesn’t work for me when it’s expanded to the full hour. “Urgo,” “Wormhole X-Treme!” and “Avenger 2.0” all made me wince rather than laugh. For several years now, “Window Of Opportunity” has held a special place as my favourite funny episode and there’s been no sign that it would be toppled off the top spot in the four years since I first saw it. That is, until “Prometheus Unbound” touched down on my television screen.

It’s odd, really, that I should like this episode so much. If I were to tick off the points I would expect to see in a favourite episode they would include SG-1 working together, a fascinating story, great character moments, travel through the gate, and mythology of some variety. And yet, Sam and Teal’c are completely absent, Jack is in one scene, there’s no mythology, no gate travel, and what is fundamentally quite a simple storyline … and even then, I love it.

Despite the impression that persists by the end of the episode that it has been one of start-to-finish wit, “Prometheus Unbound” is actually a solid mix of drama and comedy. The underlying story, the theft of the Prometheus and the danger the crew were put in, is very serious. And in addition, Daniel is left alone on the ship, trying to defeat a formidable enemy when he knows he has little chance of success. All of our heroes are in extreme danger, with hazard piling on top of peril as both Daniel and the crew make every effort to rescue each other — an excellent foundation for tension.

The much-hyped appearance of Claudia Black (of Farscape fame) meant that even with my spoiler-phobic tendencies, I knew she had to appear at some point. Vala, the fruitcake, the liar, the woman who uses everything in her power to get what she wants, is a character who needs a great actor to carry her off. Black manages it with effortless style. Facing off against her was a frazzled, bewildered Daniel, a man pushed to the very edges of the reality he’s used to and into Vala’s weird, weird world.

The strong acting from Shanks and Black was also essential for success. Their facial expressions and body language save certain scenes from a liberal sprinkling of cheese, and I suspect writer Damian Kindler knew just what these actors could pull off when he wrote such lines for the super-soldier as, “You are very attractive.” Poor Daniel — I’ve never seen him look quite so stunned.

I wonder, though: Was Vala written before Black was brought on board, or was a part written specifically for her? The creation of such a fascinating character, one who makes such an impression and yet about whom we know very little (that’s true) by the time she leaves … the inspiration must come from somewhere, and I’d love a glimpse into that whirlpool of creativity.

From the very first scene this episode swept me along with it. The banter between Jack and Daniel that is so often missing these days is present in full force. General Hammond is back, so confident in his command, utterly sure of his current position in the universe. His new job seems to have relaxed him enormously — perhaps it’s that he no longer has to watch his teams go off-world every day, never knowing who will come back. As Daniel said, “We miss you around here, sir.”

On top of that, there’s more of Walter, more of Reynolds, and new characters popping up as if they’ve always been there. The Stargate universe is totally solid.

There are some nitpicks that keep me from awarding a full four stars, though. While the humour was generally at a level that was just right for me, the Daniel / Vala fight scene tipped over into an excess of slapstick that was a step too far. The poor hiccupping Novak bothered me on a level I’m sure wasn’t deliberate. With women as rare as hen’s teeth on the show, why is it necessary to introduce one with a quirk? Why not one who is competent and quirkless?

Finally, now we know that one individual can take down the entire crew of Earth’s flagship spaceship, we can only hope there is an in-depth review of the Prometheus’ security procedures going on at the S.G.C. right now.

“Prometheus Unbound” is a fabulous concoction of laughs, fascinating character insights (particularly for Daniel), and high-level drama, jumbled together in an predictably unpredictable package.

According to the GateWorld review of It’s Good to Be King:

Sam Carter was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel a whole 12 episodes ago, and became head of SG-1. SG-1, if you remember, is the team that goes through the gate, makes first contact, and generally gets into trouble. We’ve seen General Jack settling into his new role as head of the S.G.C., but very little sign of Sam leading SG-1 off-world on an honest-to-goodness mission.

I’d like to be able to say I took the opening of “It’s Good To Be King” in stride, but, to be truthful, I can’t. I saw Sam in charge of an off-world mission and it took considerable effort not to bounce up and down on the sofa in pure glee. There she is on another planet, making the decisions, telling her team what to do and where to go, and generally being in charge. It suits her, it really does.

Add to that a time-travelling Puddle Jumper, Ancient text written on stone tablets, Maybourne fooling the locals, and Jaffa threatening the population, and we should be set for a real humdinger of a story.

But there is little humming and even less dinging. The Jack and Maybourne show doesn’t have quite the same zing it used to. Maybourne being a mostly good guy rather pulls the rug out from under the feisty relationship we’ve come to expect from those two, and that’s just one of the issues that dampen this episode. Daniel is shown some tantalizing Ancient text, but we barely see him investigating it. Sam’s leadership disappears off the radar when Jack arrives on-site. The bad guys are coming to take over the planet, but there appears to be no real threat.

The problem, it seems, is that we’re not given enough of an emotional connection to the planet and its people to make the threat actually threatening. SG-1 can simply go home, which is something that’s pointed out several times. The Puddle Jumper is an interesting diversion, but it can be destroyed. The locals don’t want to leave, but there’s no real obstacle to prevent them from moving to a safe planet. And Jack apparently couldn’t care less if Maybourne is blasted into tiny pieces.

This scenario has already been played out, although in a different form, in Season Four’s “Scorched Earth.” A tribe of people would die if they stayed where they were and their health would be threatened if they left. The connection to these people and to the threat was made through Jack and Daniel, and we cared what happened. But Maybourne, loveable rogue as he’s become over the years, isn’t sufficient to provide that kind of emotional connection.

The episode also seems to be missing the depth that we are accustomed to seeing in Stargate episodes. Sam plays with doohickeys, Jack shoots at Jaffa to give her time to play with doohickeys, Daniel and Teal’c are captured, Teal’c is threatened because he’s the shol’vah. It all happens by rote: this is when Jack blows up a pyramid ship, this is when Teal’c fights another First Prime, this is when Daniel looks worried. The bad guys lose, the good guys win, and the audience wanders off in search of a glass of wine and a good book.

What I found most odd, though, was the idea that Maybourne can read Ancient well enough to make accurate predictions. A few episodes ago Daniel was being threatened by the Trust to make him translate some Ancient for them, and now I’m a little confused as to why. If Maybourne, who hasn’t been on Earth for quite some time, can read the language, there surely must be several other people who can read it, too. This rather pokes holes in a major plotline in “Affinity.”

All this probably gives the impression that the episode was a washout. It wasn’t. There was enough to be interesting for an hour, with the return of Maybourne, the team running around off-world (which is something that will never, ever get old), and Jack rejoining his team for a bit of R&R. The introduction of the Puddle Jumper is a significant plot development that must be in preparation for an upcoming story, and the timely reminder that Jack can work Ancient technology is another notion that probably needed a reminder.

The episode overall is superficial, but entertaining. Everyone did their “thing” — Daniel translated, Teal’c fought, Sam successfully connected her laptop to yet another piece of alien technology, and Jack … er, Jack shot the enemy.

And did I mention that Lieutenant Colonel Carter got to be in charge? Still smiling, here.

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Next in the best and worst is Season 7.

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18 thoughts on “The Best and Worst of Stargate SG-1: Season 8

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