The Best and Worst of Stargate SG-1: Season 5

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For previous installments:

 

Season 5 saw a major shift within the show’s main foe, with the death of Goa’uld System Lord Apophis in the premiere, and the rise of Anubis throughout the season (particularly Summit, Last Stand, Fail Safe, and Revelations). Meanwhile, Meridian saw the death of Daniel Jackson (who would be replaced by Jonas Quinn next season).

 

The Best:

Enemies, Ascension, The Fifth Man, Red Sky, Rite of Passage, Between Two Fires, 2001, Desperate Measures, Proving Ground, 48 Hours, Summit, Last Stand, Fail Safe, Menace, Meridian, and Revelations

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Briefly:

  • Enemies was the first instance of the philosophy we see that a major enemy (Apophis) is defeated with assistance from a lesser enemy (Replicators): Essentially, evil is self-defeating. This philosophy would also occur again in Reckoning (between the Goa’uld and Human Form Replicators); in The Shroud, as Daniel Jackson was a Prior of the Ori (though not at the time evil) who helped defeat them using Merlin’s weapon (and face off with Adria, after doing so prior at the end of The Quest); and finally, Dominion, when Ba’al captured, and then used a symbiote clone to possess Adria, which resulted in her poisoning, and subsequent ascension, followed up in The Ark of Truth;
  • Although I enjoyed many aspects of Ascension, some scenes are suggestive that a male-depicted characters (in this case, the ascended Orlin) stalking a potential love interest (in this case, Samantha Carter), is a normal form of behavior, even complimentary. I have to disagree with that, it is creepy;
  • The Fifth Man was one of the more interesting episodes, though not necessarily making sense;
  • Red Sky is a strong moral story on how traveling to planets can have adverse effect on the inhabitants, but ultimately the story is resolved by a Deus ex Machina;
  • Rite of Passage deals with Cassandra Fraiser finally becoming 16 years old, and developing powers, apparently;
  • Between Two Fires is the last episode to deal with the Tollan, a favorite early series race, and also a major part of the Anubis story arc;
  • 2001 is the sequel to 2010 from last season, dealing with the Aschen;
  • Desperate Measures is about Adrian Conrad making a Faustian deal in order to get healed from a terminal illness, and ends up becoming the symbiote’s host, meanwhile Major Carter becomes a Damsel in Distress (see Feminist Frequency‘s Damsel in Distress series), which isn’t particularly wonderful;
  • Proving Ground saw the return of Cadet Haley from the previous seasons Prodigy, certainly a favorite character of mine introduced at the time;
  • 48 Hours finally sees Teal’c kill Tanith;
  • Summit and Last Stand is one of my favorite stories throughout the entire show, as it goes very deep into Goa’uld politics, which is ironically very much like Earth politics. The name of this mysterious foe was finally spoken by Osiris in this story: Anubis;
  • Fail Safe is how we find out Anubis planned on destroying the Taur’i once and for all;
  • Menace was the first story that bothered to go into the origins of the Replicators, but this would later have no relevance to future Replicator stories. Also Reece being, ironically, of color, isn’t considerably progressive;
  • Meridian sees the death, and ascension, of Daniel Jackson, plus the introduction to Jonas Quinn; and,
  • Revelations sees the return of Osiris, and Thor, with the final scene introducing Anubis.

According to the GateWorld review of Enemies:

While “Enemies” is not the thrill ride of “Small Victories,” this new episode provides more drama and greater character development than Season Four’s opener. Daniel and Sam are both stronger, Jack and Daniel have a great moment in discussing Teal’c’s presumed death, and Teal’c undergoes some massive brainwashing that sets him firmly back in place as Apophis’ First Prime. Ultimately, we see all four members of the team stand out in one way or another, something no previous episode has given us. Perhaps this is the result of four writers having been involved in the script. Regardless, it works.

We’ve been watching Daniel Jackson “grow up” over the past few years. First introduced in the original Stargate movie, this character has evolved from a stereotypical science geek to a “man with a mission.” Now it seems we can add “warrior” to the mix. We’ve seen our favorite archeologist in battle numerous times before. Yet suddenly in “Enemies” he is found wielding a weapon as though he owns it, while in previous episodes it seemed the reverse was true. He falls so easily into step with O’Neill and Carter — shoot, fall back, shoot, fall back — that it appears he’s finally become a true part of the unit, someone they can rely on rather than someone they need to protect.

Carter did some growing herself in this episode. In the past, she’s been seen to hesitate but never to outright disagree with her C.O.’s orders. However, in “Enemies” when Colonel O’Neill asks her to see what she can do with a control panel she shrugs off the suggestion and goes so far as to question, “What’s the point?” Obviously she’s become more comfortable with her own place on the team.

Still, perhaps part of her attitude here has to do with the proximity of her father. Jacob’s negativity grates on the colonel’s nerves more than once, and could be influencing Sam. We see some good father/daughter interaction between Jacob and Sam Carter, most notably with Sam’s “welcome to my life” comment to O’Neill after a key interchange regarding that negativity.

Nonetheless, it is Teal’c’s development that steals the show. He has been brainwashed to such an extreme that he insists the friendship he had built with O’Neill over the years had been forced upon him, a fact which is said to have sickened him. Of course, his teammates know better.

In the beginning of the episode, the team believes Teal’c is dead. I was happy to see this belief was not forgotten by the writers. Each of Teal’c’s teammates is seen dealing with his death in subtle yet realistic ways. Sam’s mind is elsewhere when she needs to help her father with repairs, then she finally admits she’s thinking about Teal’c. Likewise, Daniel and Jack, left with nothing to do, discuss his death in a manner that suits them.

Looking away from each other and thus keeping a certain distance from the depths of their own feelings, they have a brief yet revealing conversation. Jack feels a strong sense of guilt at having failed to prevent his friend’s demise. Daniel absolves him of that guilt by reminding him that they were ambushed. That’s all there is to it; but it is enough.

When next we see them, they are engaged in an inane, makeshift “ball” game while waiting for the Carters to fix the ship. This doesn’t mean the mourning is done, however. It simply signifies that they can move on and get past it.

Aha! But Teal’c is not dead!

Jack’s relief is tinged with suspicion when Teal’c communicates with them from a Goa’uld cargo ship. Even so, O’Neill is clearly not prepared for Teal’c’s apparent betrayal. I’m not sure even a punch in the nose is enough to convince him his friend isn’t acting for the benefit of the other Jaffa. Frankly, I think the colonel would have continued to believe in Teal’c if Daniel hadn’t suggested their former teammate had been brainwashed, reminding them all of what had been done to Teal’c’s son, Rya’c (“Family”).

So, their good friend and teammate has been compromised. He separates himself emotionally from them, but they refuse to do the same. After escaping from Apophis with the unexpected help of an even deadlier enemy, the mindless Replicators, their subsequent escape from the Replicators is not as clean-cut. Still, they take risks to ensure Teal’c goes with them — willingly or not.

Yes, that’s right. This season’s opener gives us not one but two of our favorite enemies! Apophis is back, looking more regal and more fierce than ever, yet even he doesn’t have the power to battle the replicators, our favorite lego-spiders first introduced in Season Three’s finale,”Nemesis.”

I’m not sure I like the plot device utilized to bring the Replicators into our galaxy. An exploding sun sends two ships, already engaged in hyper-drive, 4 million light-years away; then a host of hungry Replicators join together to alter the technology on one of those ships, allowing it to make the return trip with equal ease.

I can’t say that I completely disagree with the concept. It seems reasonable, in a sci-fi sort of way. Yet at the same time, it seems a bit contrived. It’s just too easy.

I also don’t like seeing this apparent end to Apophis. He’s a great villain, and has gained his own degree of three-dimensionality over the years. Ah, but he has come back from the dead before, and this is sci-fi, after all …

Costuming and set design are beautiful in this episode, with one exception. I simply cannot see any substance to the main console panel on the bridge, aka the “pel’tak.” The panel just does not seem real to me. On the other hand, I love Cronus’ “throne.” The Replicators are also as impressive as ever; and the new uniform for Apophis’ returned First Prime is more stunning than ever — as are Apophis’ own clothes.

Of course, Apophis himself adds a certain flavor to each of these. When the System Lord, in his fancy new duds, slinks into his former adversary’s throne, it seems as though it had always been his, and it fits his every contour.

As to special effects, I have only one complaint. I did not get a good “feel” for the combined Replicators, or the “one big bug” as Jack put it. There was something missing there for me. Nonetheless, I certainly won’t complain. I like the idea that the Replicators, too, are evolving.

What’s next, from them, hmmm? Certainly if one survived the demise of Thor’s ship, why can’t we assume at least one will also survive here? I’m sure we haven’t seen the last of them!

“Enemies” was another fabulous start to another fabulous season. With four seasons down, the team behind our team is as fresh as ever. And I’m as hooked as ever!

According to the GateWorld review of Ascension:

If you’ve seen movies like “City of Angels” and “E.T.,” and you’re at least familiar with TV’s “MacGyver” and Star Trek’s Q Continuum, then nothing in this season’s third episode will be new to you. Nonetheless it is a good story well told, as we’ve come to expect from the series. And if someone had to combine these four relatively diverse scenarios, no one could do it as expertly as the folks behind “Stargate SG-1.”

The character of Orlin, played by Sean Patrick Flanery, is every bit the fallen angel. He is the Nicolas Cage to Samantha Carter’s Meg Ryan (“City of Angels”), ready to give up eternity for the love of a woman who barely knows he exists. And despite his creepy, stalker-esque entrance, he exudes such an intense longing born of such a deep-seated loneliness that Sam Carter doesn’t stand a chance. She’s hooked from the moment he convinces her to experience his “essence.”

But, of course, there can be no fairy-tale ending. Orlin is, after all, an alien. Just as the government was eager to get its hands on young Elliot’s E.T., so too is the Pentagon’s Colonel Simmons eager to get his hands on Orlin.

Ironically, Simmons is played by John de Lancie, recognizable to Star Trek fans as the infamous Q — a character not unlike the “others” of Orlin’s race. First introduced in Season Three’s “Maternal Instinct” with the being called Oma Desala (otherwise known as Mother Nature), Orlin’s species is one that no longer exists in corporeal form, and possesses powers well beyond human understanding — so much so that their ability to control the weather is shrugged off by Orlin as easy.

It is fun to see de Lancie play the role of the naïve human, opposite this Q-like being. Where his character of Q placed Captain Picard on trial to justify the continued existence of the human race, now de Lancie is among those who are being judged. Simmons’ insistence on experimenting with the weapon found on Orlin’s planet could bring down the wrath of the others, who would not hesitate to destroy us just as they destroyed the people Orlin had erroneously attempted to help.

This time, however, Orlin’s help is justified. If he can prevent SG-16 from successfully powering up this weapon, he can save the people of Earth. If he can’t, then his error on Velona will be repeated here, and he will have that many more deaths on his conscience.

Yet how can he help? If he returns with Sam to the SGC, he will surely be taken into custody by Simmons. Nor can Sam dissuade her superiors from proceeding with the test. And though Hammond tries to delay it, Simmons’ pull with the Pentagon overrides him. The test will go on.

This is where “MacGyver” kicks in. Having taken human form to prove his love for Sam, Orlin’s “super powers” are lost. He’s now forced to rely on his superior intelligence. Okay, so what can a guy that makes big honkin’ emeralds in a microwave do when he’s stuck in a house in suburbia? Make his own Stargate, of course!

In pure MacGyver fashion, Orlin gathers up some common household items and puts Sam seriously into debt ordering additional supplies through the Internet. By the time the military comes to get him, he’s made a miniature Stargate.

Flanery’s Orlin is a soft-spoken, puppy-dog-eyed kind of character so much like Cage’s angel that I can’t help but imagine Flanery studied Cage’s film very closely before beginning work on “Ascension.” Amanda Tapping’s Sam Carter, however, is not comparable to the Meg Ryan of that same film. Okay, so the hair is similar. But the roles are not. Sam the planet-hopping physicist doesn’t have the luxury of denying her angel exists.

Nor does Sam have the opportunity to fully give in to the love that is being directed her way. There is a brief walk in the park where her dimpled smile hints at a deeper love story yearning to be told; yet that story is not allowed to develop.

I enjoyed the chance to gain more insight into just who this Samantha Carter character is. Her home is especially telling. At the SGC she is a military-minded scientist, pure and simple. But at home, she has a soft side, one that relishes the cozy comfort of hand-made quilts and family photos. The décor is soft and subdued, lacking both “cute,” girlish items and rough, hard-edged ones. It is not just a “house,” a place to stay in between excursions off-world; it is a home.

Unfortunately, it is a home that her adopted family — the other members of SG-1 — do not visit often enough. When Colonel O’Neill and Teal’c arrive at her door with pizza and a “Star Wars” video in hand, it is a surprise to both sides — O’Neill is shocked that she might already have a guest, and Sam is equally shocked to see them there.

Okay, it’s a shock from a third angle as well: I, as the viewer, am shocked to see Teal’c dressed like an urban cowboy!

Humor and character development have been important aspects of “Stargate SG-1” since the very beginning, and “Ascension” is no exception. But there is something new showing up consistently this season. The camaraderie fans have been begging for is really beginning to unfold. The moment at Sam’s door reminds me of several fan fiction stories I’ve read. The exchange regarding Teal’c’s interest in seeing humans doing “battle in a ring of Jell-O” is also reminiscent of fan-fics.

I look at these moments with a fond sense of wonder. We are being heard, and the show is as terrific as ever, if not more so.

I would like to give this episode another 4-star rating; but I can’t pretend it’s perfect. There are problems, most notably Daniel’s miraculous ability to translate the writing found on Orlin’s planet, despite the utter lack of any point of reference.

Another glitch occurs with Sam. What exactly is it that motivates her to hide a suddenly flesh-and-blood Orlin? Here is her perfect opportunity to prove to O’Neill that she isn’t crazy, that there really is an alien in her house; but she doesn’t take it.

Still, my concerns with this episode are small ones. I thoroughly enjoyed the story. Now I ask: what’s next? We’ve lost Colonel Maybourne, and Senator Kinsey has been awfully quiet — but Colonel Simmons seems quite eager to fill the role of the “internal enemy” they have left vacant.

And what’s happening with Daniel? The past few seasons have seen him simmering to a slow boil. He’s obviously reached his boiling point. Quick with sarcastic retorts that are bound to get him into trouble before long, he’s becoming almost a shadow of Jack — yet he still manages to maintain his own strength of character, evidenced best in his twice repeated, “How’s Sam?” when Jack focuses on seeking evidence of the alien rather than on Sam’s own state of being.

Season Five continues to prove just how good “Stargate SG-1” can be. Where it will finally take us remains a mystery; but I sure am enjoying the ride!

According to the GateWorld review of The Fifth Man:

“The Fifth Man” marks Season Five’s first disappointment. The idea of an alien’s ability to blend in by making himself somehow recognizable to humans is a good one. However, this episode takes that idea too far. A chemically-induced system of camouflage is simply not a strong enough explanation for how an alien, posing as a fictional Lieutenant Tyler, manages to plant three weeks worth of false memories in the minds of SG-1.

There are good moments. This is “Stargate SG-1,” after all, a series already proven to have some of the best behind-the-scenes as well as on-camera talent available in the industry. However, the overall quality of this episode is severely marred by the weak nature of its principal storyline. I will attempt, therefore, to consider the quality of the various pieces of the episode, rather than focusing too extensively on my complaints about the manner in which those pieces fit together — or fail to fit together.

Richard Dean Anderson has the opportunity here to highlight Colonel Jack O’Neill’s military capabilities. Trapped behind enemy lines, O’Neill must use his training and his wits not only to keep himself alive, but also his injured teammate. It is clear he takes this responsibility very seriously. We never see O’Neill relax. He is always on the alert, weapon in hand, ready to do battle at any moment. It is also quite clear that no matter what happens, he will not abandon one of his men.

However long he has known Lt. Tyler and regardless of his personal opinions of the SG-1 newcomer, O’Neill views Tyler as one of his men, and thus his direct responsibility. He will do whatever it takes to get that man home. It is clear O’Neill is not entirely sure about just who Tyler is, personality-wise, as when the colonel doesn’t quite know what to make of Tyler’s question about Minnesota being “nice.”

But there is nothing personal in his actions here. The bottom line is his duty. Anderson depicts that sense of duty perfectly.

I like Tyler. He’s just an all-around likeable guy. I wouldn’t mind seeing him in a recurring role — if he were actually a real person, and not an alien simply donning a persona for protection. But since he’s not a real person, I’ll say he’s pretty good from that perspective as well.

Tyler is a convincing alien in several respects. He is believable as a human — with quirks. And it is precisely those quirks, such as his confusion with Jack’s quips about paperwork and his question about Minnesota being “nice” that make him believable as an alien.

Though I like Tyler, and he can be perceived as believable on two fronts, I still cannot accept the basic concept of his masquerade. What’s more, in all his naivete about Earth customs, how can he know enough about military ranks to christen himself a lieutenant? Has that chemical reaction downloaded Earth information into his brain as effectively as it has uploaded the false memories of Tyler into each member of SG-1? Unfortunately, this is where it becomes clear that good pieces in this episode, in and of themselves, will not necessarily result in a good end-product.

Yet I did promise to examine the pieces, so let’s gate back to Stargate Command.

Jack’s trusty teammates are treated to a severe reality check when they request help for an injured teammate who simply doesn’t exist. In some ways, I believe their harsh welcome is perhaps too drastic. Were I to take Hammond’s position, the idea of another visit with an alternate reality might be foremost on my mind, in which case I might temper my suspicions about compromised personnel. However, the general has certainly learned not to take anything for granted as far as off-world travel is concerned.

Not only does he know that SGC personnel can be impersonated by aliens (“Foothold”) and androids (“Tin Man” and “Double Jeopardy”), he is also well-aware that memories and even mental predispositions can be compromised (as in “Fire and Water” and “Divide and Conquer”:). Thus I can accept his militaristic reaction. He places SG-1 under guard as a preemptive strike. They are suspects in a crime not yet committed, and as such are guilty until proven innocent.

The best moments of this episode are those involving the Pentagon’s Colonel Simmons, first introduced to us in “Ascension” as a likely replacement for the treasonous Colonel Maybourne. Simmons’ investigation of Carter, Jackson and Teal’c suggests interesting possibilities for future episodes. He trusts none of the members of the SGC’s flagship team.

Teal’c is, after all, a Jaffa. Carter has herself been taken over by a Tok’ra (“In the Line of Duty”), and has also harbored an alien being in her home (“Ascension”) — thus her loyalty is clearly questionable. And what about Dr. Jackson?

Last season and again here, we see Pentagon officials proving they want Dr. Jackson off the Stargate project — at least as far as the exploration of worlds is concerned. Why is this, I wonder? Is it because the non-military-minded Jackson brings ethics into the equation? Simmons’ claims that Jackson is emotionally unstable; but I suggest it is rather his clear sense of right and wrong that Simmons dislikes.

Ever since the beginning, the government has demanded that the Stargate project’s primary goal must be to obtain the means to defeat the Goa’uld. They want weapons and technology, and men like Simmons want it at any cost. The values Dr. Jackson brings to SG-1 can only get in the way.

Where will this thread go, I wonder? It will be interesting to find out.

Once again, it is the pieces that make this episode worth watching. But don’t place too much hope in the whole.

 

According to the GateWorld review of 2001:

“Break out the fishin’ gear, General — our job here is done!”

Revisiting the Aschen storyline introduced in Season Four’s “2010,” Jack’s surprising proclamation opens “2001,” and Sam’s announcement that the alien race with whom they’ve made contact are the Aschen instantly drops us into the seat-gripping territory of “2010.”

“2010” left me with questions I wanted answers for in “2001.” Did sending the note change the timeline? Does anyone agree on the pronunciation of “Aschen?” What did Carter see in Joe and, more important, what the heck was Joe’s last name? “2001” addresses some of these questions, and maintains the suspense as to whether SG-1’s efforts in “2010” were successful.

While Carter and O’Neill negotiate with the Aschen, Daniel and Teal’c work to uncover the truth about Earth’s new best friends. Of the two missions, Daniel’s and Teal’c’s quest is by far the more interesting.

Daniel gets to use linguistic skills that have been underutilized thus far in the season, and Michael Shanks performs the role with relish. Under orders from General Hammond to find out from the Volians “if the Aschen are the good neighbors they seem to be,” Daniel and Teal’c investigate the peaceful pastures of the farm world.

When they find an underground city, Daniel’s suspicions that all isn’t right pan out, and Shanks aptly shows Daniel’s mixed feelings about what he may find. Daniel is in his element in the dust, dirt, and old newsprint, and it shows. Excited at his discoveries, horrified at what he translates, and frustrated at what he can’t, Daniel doggedly pursues and solves the mystery of fate of the extinct city’s inhabitants. He also pushes for discontinuing relations with the Aschen. In “2010” Daniel’s note is dismissed by Jack. This time he comes up with the note that saves the day.

Christopher Cousins reprises his role of Joe Faxon — yes, I said “Faxon” — and anyone questioning Sam’s attraction to the ambassador in “2010” will have no problems seeing his charm here. From his obvious interest in Carter to his affable acceptance of the ribbing from the team when he shows up in a suit and dress shoes for the off-world visit, Joe Faxon is a genuinely likable guy — a sharp contrast to the man we met in “2010” who sold out the future of the human race. Instead of condemning the inhabitants of Earth to extinction, he selflessly acts to save the SGC from a nasty bio weapon and by tackling Borren to allow Carter’s escape. The Joe of the present redeems the Joe of the future.

Ronny Cox’s Senator Kinsey is irascible as ever, putting up every roadblock imaginable to ensure Earth’s admission into the Aschen Confederation, including all but kidnapping O’Neill in Washington, D.C. to keep the colonel from conferencing with the president. (His best line, hands down, was, “Colonel Starsky? Or is it Hutch?”)

Mollum, again played by Dion Luther, slickly sells the benefits of belonging to the Aschen Confederation in a performance that reminds me of a used-car dealer all too eager to pass off a lemon. Each question he poses reeks of the Aschen’s ulterior motives, and heightened the threat of history repeating itself.

From Jack’s eagerness to consider retirement to his reluctant admission to Kinsey that he was wrong about the Aschen, from Carter’s open interest in the young ambassador to her angst about having no choice but to leave Joe behind, from Teal’c’s unwillingness to let Daniel explore in obviously dangerous situations to his subtle dismay at their discovery, we are provided with a rich tapestry of character moments.

As usual, neat gate effects abound. Joe’s walk through the gate is a very cool new take. We follow his face into the event horizon, where it dissolves into the wormhole effect, then rematerializes on the other side. Also great visuals are the Aschen’s harvester and the mechanics that maneuvers the Stargate into a horizontal position. The special effects blended seamlessly with the farmland setting.

The special effects are a bit lacking, however, when Jack leans over the harvester’s balcony. It was very apparent that the scene had been set up in front of a green screen. The motion of the ship indicated by the dipping of the filmed horizon and Jack’s opposing movements seemed disconnected. Actually, dizzying might be more appropriate, as I found myself reaching for the seasickness medication.

My biggest complaint comes when Sam flies out of the gate and down the ramp. She’s obviously injured and Jack, Teal’c, Daniel and Hammond just stand gaping at the Stargate, discussing the wonderfully dark gate addresses that the Aschen would discover in the laptop. Jack did ask if she was okay, as she grimaced in pain on the metal ramp, but I just wanted something more — from any of them!

I also found myself wanting the answers to two big questions. First, what motivated the Aschen? We know they wanted gate coordinates for other worlds, presumably so they could conquer them. However, what was their motivation to wipe out the Volians and to want to do the same to the inhabitants of Earth?

Second, what drove the wedge between Jack of “2010” and his friends? We know they didn’t support his reservations about the Aschen, but the scene between Sam and Jack in “2010” hinted at more, and I found myself wanting to see the team pushed to the brink. I wanted to see the team acknowledge that present-day Jack was right in his instincts. I wanted the high emotion quotient from “2010” be increased in “2001.”

While “2001” has its moments of humor and tension, it’s missing the heart of “2010.” Sam’s infertility, Janet’s loss of identity, Hammond’s death and the wall that Jack built between he and his friends following the still-unknown fallout from the original first contact with the Aschen all contributed to my edge-of-the-seat, gut-wrenching fascination with “2010.”

“2001,” on the other hand, had none of the high emotional content from the original and, in the one place in which emotional concern could have been infused … well, let’s just say I left entertained, but still wanting.

According to the GateWorld review of Proving Ground:

“Proving Ground” opens with half of SG-1 — Jack and Teal’c — and four unknown SGC personnel in hot pursuit of an escaped Goa’uld, and a missing Daniel and Sam. Wait a second — one of those four unknown SGC personnel looks familiar. No — yes — oh, no — it is Jennifer Hailey, last seen in Season Four’s “Prodigy.”

In Russia, the Matryoshka Dolls — the nestling dolls — are a highly valued collectible. They are intriguing folk art — inside one doll is another doll, inside that doll is another doll, and so on. “Proving Ground” reminded me of the Matryoshka Dolls — an episode that started with one plot (the pursuit of the escaped Goa’uld and missing Sam and Daniel), which lead to another plot (the training of the cadets), which lead to another plot (the foothold situation back at the SGC), which lead to another plot (the radiation coming through the open wormhole, a trapped Hailey in the gateroom) … and so on.

“Proving Ground” was a very entertaining episode — but some aspects of it I found implausible. It was like eating cotton candy: very satisfying while eating, but not very filling.

Along with Elizabeth Rosen returning to reprise her role of Jennifer Hailey, we also get to see Michael Kopsa reprise his role as General Kerrigan (“Prodigy”). Fortunately, Hailey’s character has been allowed to mature and become less … annoying. We’re introduced to three new characters — Air Force Academy graduates — Lieutenant Elliot, Satterfield and Grogan. They are being trained by SG-1 for possible inclusion with the SGC.

Lt. Elliot is at the top of his Air Force Academy class, but unfortunately, he has managed to not endear himself with O’Neill. In the first training exercise, he loses control of the situation by arguing with Grogan over who is the Tok’ra and who is Goa’uld, and Daniel (the fake Goa’uld) shoots all four trainees with an Intar weapon (introduced in Season Three’s “Rules of Engagement”).

In the second training exercise, he compounds his errors by leaving an injured Grogan alone, making a decision not to try to disarm a booby-trapped Goa’uld device. When ordering the remainder of his team to evacuate, he doesn’t check to make sure Grogan is capable of leaving on his own. He has made the cardinal sin of leaving a teammate behind, the one thing O’Neill will not tolerate.

Following that fiasco, the first note of implausibility rings out. That’s right — O’Neill’s cell phone rings. I am not a Luddite, but I don’t have any affinity for cell phones. I found it hard to believe that O’Neill would carry a cell phone while out on a training exercise, and even if he would carry one — and least he would turn the darn thing off during the actual running of the exercise.

However, by answering the cell phone, the new plot element is introduced. A foothold situation — an alien incursion — is in progress at the SGC. O’Neill tells the trainees to go home; they will be contacted by the Air Force. At this point, two humvees drive up, with General Kerrigan and four SF’s. O’Neill walks over to meet them, and from a distance we can see Kerrigan ordering O’Neill to surrender his weapon. Gunfire breaks out, and O’Neill is wounded, but manages to dispatch the other five Air Force personnel.

Returning to the trainees, O’Neill again tells them to go home. Elliot however argues that O’Neill will need assistance, and the wounded O’Neill reluctantly agrees. The trainees are the only help he has. O’Neill and the four trainees access the SGC through those ever popular ventilation/access shafts that are the boon of television sci-fi writers.

Once inside, they head for Carter’s lab. They determine that indeed the SGC personnel have been conformed by an unknown enemy, that there is an open incoming wormhole that needs to be shut down (the iris is open), and that an unusual device in the SGC briefing room is apparently controlling the conformed SGC personnel.

The wounded O’Neill remains behind in Carter’s lab, Grogan and Satterfield go to Daniel’s lab to find a translation for the inscription on the alien device, and Elliot and Hailey go to the gateroom to try and close down the wormhole. At this point, O’Neill goes over to a telephone and advises “they’re on their way” — and we know that this is another training exercise.

However, at this point, SG-3 needs to return home due to a real Goa’uld threat (or is this another one of the false plots?), so O’Neill orders Elliot and Hailey to abandon their mission and return to Carter’s lab.

There in the lab, with the information that Grogan and Satterfield find, Hailey discovers that the SGC personnel are apparently infected by nanobots, which are being controlled by a device from Argos (see Season One’s “Brief Candle”) in the briefing room. It is now evident that the trainees not only know O’Neill’s and Teal’c’s personal histories (Elliot knows that O’Neill is Special Forces trained and that Teal’c was once Apophis’ First Prime), but also have had access to prior mission reports.

Now the plan is two-fold: turn off the alien device in the briefing room and disengage the Stargate. The trainees leave for their mission — and run into Carter in a hallway (she’s escaped from her captors). They bring Carter back to her lab in time to see O’Neill removing the restraints from an SF. Elliot has learned his lesson from the first mission, and dispatches both the SF and O’Neill with his Intar.

Carter is deemed safe because Hailey has determined that the nanobots won’t work with the Goa’uld markers in her blood. Carter is left behind to work on a cure and the trainees head back to complete their mission.

Elliot, Grogan and Satterfield head for the briefing room, Hailey for the gate room. Daniel, Teal’c and several SF’s are in the briefing room, but the trainees are able to take control, however, Grogan is incapacitated again, this time by a Zat blast. Again, Elliot has learned his lesson, and makes sure to get Grogan out of the briefing room before their explosive charge on the alien device goes off.

However — the explosive charge doesn’t go off. They return to the briefing room, to find General Hammond, O’Neill and the SG-1 team waiting for them. It is explained that the foothold was indeed another training situation. But wait — where is Hailey? She’s in the gateroom, attempting to close the iris, when the wormhole activates again with an off world activation, and the panel shorts out, electrocuting Hailey. SG-1 goes to the control room, and Sam discovers that she can’t close the iris, and that gamma radiation is coming through the Stargate. Level 28 is ordered evacuated, and Hailey is deemed KIA.

SG-1 and the trainees head up to the level 16-security office. However, Elliot has appropriated Carter’s access card, and heads back to the gateroom to rescue Hailey. Upon entering the gateroom, Elliot manages to close the iris, and determines that Hailey is still alive. He lifts Hailey from the floor, turns around, and discovers the control room is filled with SGC personnel. They applaud Elliot’s actions. Yes, this was another part of the training process, and Hailey was a mole, assisting the SGC in setting up the trainees.

Hammond and O’Neill enter the gateroom and advise Elliot he will be assigned to SG-17 under Major Mansfield. The other trainees will be assigned to SGC teams as positions become available.

As O’Neill and Elliot leave the gateroom, O’Neill asks if Elliot wasn’t aware that everything was a test. Elliot replies that he suspected, and O’Neill asks how he knows the testing is over as the gate activation alarms go off.

I find the training of Air Force Academy graduates for inclusion as SGC personnel implausible — what are they doing to do with the trainees who don’t pass the training? The SGC is a top-secret project — supposedly only the president, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and unfortunately Senator Kinsey — are supposed to be aware of the SGC’s existence.

Wouldn’t the SGC teams want new team members who were seasoned military veterans? And in the case of scientists, scientists who have had years of practice in their field, and had established some merit? Granted the trainees would have signed a confidentiality agreement — but having the knowledge of the SGC, the Stargate, aliens and alien worlds is a pretty tough secret to sit on.

One of the more pleasant elements of this episode was the return of the comfortable relationship between O’Neill and Carter. Their Jell-O scene in the commissary was a welcome return to a relaxed camaraderie between them — it’s been sorely missed this season.

According to the GateWorld review of 48 Hours:

“48 Hours” is a complex episode, tying in the rescue of Teal’c — trapped within the Stargate itself — to several plot lines from previous episodes’ story arcs. In this episode alone, the SGC must confront: 1) Tanith; 2) another problem with the Stargate interfaced with SGC technology; 3) the Russians, and the possible threat of a dominant Russian Stargate; 4) Colonel Frank Simmons; 5) Colonel Harry Maybourne; 6) the SGC’s lack of a DHD; and 7) the Goa’uld formerly known as Adrian Conrad.

The SGC is also introduced to a possible new threat: Dr. McKay.

I’ve wondered what would happen if someone was trapped/lost in the wormhole since the first season’s “Solitudes,” when Daniel and Teal’c were discussing where O’Neill and Carter were:

      Daniel: “Okay, so if they are not there [P4A-771], and they are not here [Earth] …”
      Teal’c: “It is possible that they might have perished within the wormhole.”
      Daniel: “Yeah. In which case they’re gone. I know, I thought of that.”

(It’s similar to when Star Trek‘s Dr. McCoy asked Spock (“The Gamesters of Triskelion”), “Can people live that long [an hour] as disassembled atoms in a transporter beam?” Star Trek fans didn’t find out the answer until 24 years later, when in Star Trek: The Next Generation‘s, “Relics”, Scotty was rescued from a crashed ship after having survived 75 years as being disassembled atoms in a transporter buffer.)

“48 Hours” provided at least one scenario of what could happen if someone was trapped or lost in a wormhole. In this case, Teal’c’s energy signal had arrived at the SGC Stargate, but the wormhole closed down before his energy signal could be reassembled. (In “Red Sky,” in contrast, the wormhole was deliberately shut off as the energy signal of the Maclarium reached the K’tau sun — it never made it to the K’tau Stargate to be reassembled.)

As in “Red Sky,” the SGC learns more information here on how the Stargate works. With Teal’c trapped, and the SGC unable to use their Stargate (as it would erase Teal’c’s energy pattern), Daniel heads off to Russia (with Major Davis) to negotiate the return of SGC teams that are off-world — and eventually the loan of the Russian DHD to the SGC.

That brings the immediate question to mind: what ever happened to the Antarctic DHD the SGC found in “Solitudes?” We saw it being used in Season Two’s “Touchstone” by the rogue NID team — has it been stolen or lost? It’s a pretty significant plot point in the history of the show, but it goes unaddressed.

Meanwhile, Colonel Frank Simmons has turned up at the SGC with Dr. McKay — introducing him as the foremost expert on the Stargate. Carter is assigned to work with McKay to formulate a plan to reintegrate Teal’c. We learn that it’s from Dr. McKay’s input that the SGC is only given 48 hours to rescue Teal’c; McKay believes it is the time frame before entropy would cause the crystals to lose Teal’c’s energy pattern. It’s somewhat obvious that McKay hadn’t been brought in to provide assistance, but to hinder any progress.

Colonel Harry Maybourne is used in this episode to help Jack track down Adrian Conrad, as Conrad’s Goa’uld may have information about the Stargate that will assist Teal’c. My question is this: What happened to both Adrian Conrad and Harry Maybourne after this episode? As Simmons was arrested, who has custody of Conrad now? Was Maybourne taken back into custody, or did he escape again? Both of these plot elements were left unaccounted for at the end of the episode. Hopefully, we’ll see a resolution to these two plot elements in episodes yet to come.

Daniel, Major Davis and the Russian colonel return to the SGC with the Russian DHD. To obtain the loan of the DHD, the Russians have apparently forced an agreement that a Russian team be assigned to the SGC in the future, and that information be shared regarding naquaada generator technology. The DHD is needed to created an event horizon without the wormhole vortex, so that Teal’c’s energy signature can be reassembled.

Fortunately, the Russian DHD works. Unfortunately, it’s heavily damaged in the process. As the Russian Stargate now doesn’t have a DHD to operate, that leaves the SGC with the dominant Stargate.

When Teal’c does materialize, he advises the team that Tanith has been eliminated. It seems a shame that Tanith was dealt with so summarily, but apparently the actor, Peter Wingfield, was unavailable for the episode.

“48 Hours” is a well-paced episode, and very entertaining, with some spectacular photography by director Peter F. Woeste. Take another look at the scene with Carter and O’Neill in the control room. As the camera moves across the glass of the control room, we can see the reflection of the Stargate superimposed over the galactic map in the Control Room. It’s quite striking.

According to the GateWorld review of Summit:

“Welcome to the dark side,” responded Colonel O’Neill to the Tok’ra Ren Au’s plan of taking out the Goa’uld System Lords. The events of “Summit” seem to forecast what could be dark days ahead for the SGC and their allies, the Tok’ra — and for the Goa’uld as well.

“Summit” was a busy episode, not only in plot exposition and character development, but also in the introduction of new characters; an update of what happened to Martouf/Lantash after “Divide and Conquer;” the return of some characters introduced in previous episodes; and sadly, the loss of several semi-recurring characters. It’s so busy, in fact, that the events are to be continued in the next episode.

From the moment Apophis and his Jaffa stepped through the SGC Stargate, killed four SFs and kidnapped a sergeant, Earth has been fighting an undeclared war against the Goa’uld. Over the last five years, we’ve seen SG-1 encounter and defeat (some more than once) a number of major Goa’uld System Lords (Apophis, Cronus, Hathor, Heru’ur, Sokar). And various minor Goa’uld players (the Ashrak, Amonet, Klorel, Marduk, Nurrti, Seth and Tanith among them) have either been eliminated or neutralized.

With “Summit,” a new player enters the battlefield — the Goa’uld Anubis (as yet unrevealed) — and the battlefield itself transforms into several new fronts. Anubis, Zipacna (“Pretense”) and Osiris (“The Curse”) have allied themselves to go up against not only the Tok’ra, but also the surviving System Lords. And, apparently in a cowardly move for Goa’uld tastes, they do so covertly.

Daniel, who in “Absolute Power” learned it was time to turn to a new path, has seemed somewhat adrift at the SGC ever since. To add to the burden of moral dilemmas he has countered, now the Tok’ra recruit him to implement their plan. His concern over the ethics involved is resolved by the fact that there is no better option available in overthrowing the Goa’uld. Given their past history — particularly in the death of Sha’re (“Forever In a Day”) — it is significant that it was Teal’c who approached Daniel to discuss this issue.

Sam, we discover, has been following up on the status of Martouf/Lantash for months after the events of “Divide and Conquer.” Martouf’s body was kept in stasis … until the Tok’ra determined that Martouf’s body couldn’t be repaired, and Lantash was removed. Lantash is still recovering from its injuries when Zipacna attacked the Tok’ra base on Revanna. I found it interesting that having the choice of a healthy Sam or an injured Lieutenant Elliot (“Proving Ground”) nearby, Lantash chose Elliot to blend with. Elliot needed him to survive, and Lantash would not blend with Sam even though he would have had a much better chance at his own survival.

Jack’s distrust of the Tok’ra is tweaked throughout the episode: the unveiling of the Tok’ra plan by Ren Au; his discussion with Jacob in the Tok’ra tunnels about the eradication of the entire Goa’uld population (watch Jack work his jaw — his trouble radar alert just went off); and to confronting Ren Au about the depth of the Tok’ra personal commitment towards their goal. Are they willing to sacrifice themselves, as they have asked SG-1 to do on numerous occasions?

Among the new characters we met are the Goa’uld System Lords Bastet, Kali, Baal, Morrigan, and Svarog. I liked Daniel’s comment about a “Goa’uld Mardi Gras” regarding their appearance. And Anna-Louise Plowman’s performance as Osiris seemed to lend itself to high camp in theme with the Mardi Gras reference.

We were also introduced, briefly, to SG-17. Unfortunately, Major Mansfield and two others under his command were killed on Revanna. Also killed in this episode were the Tok’ra Aldwin and Ren Au (among many other Tok’ra), both recurring characters.

“Summit” is a virtual SG-1 reunion. Other returning characters included were Osiris, Zipacna, the impressive Yu (“Fair Game”) and the remarkable Jacob Carter. It was curious to hear Jacob address Daniel as “Danny,” as they hadn’t appeared to be that convivial with each other in the past.

The special effects, sets, costumes, matte paintings and the space station model for this episode were outstanding. Yu’s palace was splendid — both the exterior and interior shots. It always intrigues me how the Goa’uld blend advanced technology (space ships) with anachronistic features: using torches for illumination, for example.

I was also fascinated in the Chinese language characters on Daniel’s lo’taur costume (on his armbands and about his waist). I noted at least eight different characters, and wondered what they represented. The one character on the armband — the square box with the vertical line intersecting it — appears to look like the shu character, which has a meaning of “enclosure, bind or tie,” which aptly describes a slave’s status.

As this episode is to be continued, hopefully the main plot questions we were left with will be answered in “Last Stand.” However, I am wondering about a few things in particular.

Ren Au makes a comment about a dying symbiote releasing a poison that kills the host. This is new information, and yet it was announced as an established fact. In “Crossroads,” we learned that Teal’c’s father, Ronac, was killed when Cronus crushed Ronac’s symbiote, allowing the blood of the symbiote and Ronac to mix. Is this toxin in addition to the danger of mixing the symbiote and Jaffa blood?

And — if this has been an established fact — why haven’t we seen it used by the Goa’uld before as deterrent against being removed from their hosts? For example, in “Pretense,” between Klorel and Skaara; or in “Exodus,” between Tanith and Hebron?

“Summit” was an episode filled with Machiavellian twist and turns, not only for the politics of the combatant organizations, but also for the affect on the individual combatants. I look forward to watching “Last Stand” — to see if anything, or anyone, unravels.

According to the GateWorld review of Fail Safe:

Julius Caesar may have been more succinct with Veni, Vidi, Vici (“I came, I saw, I conquered”), but Jack O’Neill accurately provided a pithy synopsis of the endeavors in “Fail Safe” with, “We came. We saw. We planted the bomb. We had a little fun with a meteor shower. We went home. It’s a great story, isn’t it?”

Although O’Neill mentioned that he has never seen “Star Wars” (“Ascension”), apparently he has seen one or more of the Earth vs. Asteroid / Meteor movies, because when informed of the pending danger to Earth, Jack remarks to Daniel, “I’ve seen this movie. It hits Paris.”

Not only does SG-1 out-do “Armageddon” and “Deep Impact” (and other films of this genre), but SG-1 had to contend with a booby-trapped asteroid! (I can hear Jack now, “Oh, how arch!”)

After the angst of the last several episodes, and watching the SG-1 team working divided either individually or into smaller component units, it was a joy to watch the team work together in this episode that was, despite the scope of its potential impact, a little more light-hearted in its delivery.

While some viewers may dismiss this episode as a bit of fluff, the episode gained significance when it was revealed that 45 percent of the asteroid’s total mass was made up of naquaada. Naquaada, according to Teal’c, is not native to our solar system, and the presence of it established that the asteroid was brought in from somewhere else. Therefore, the evidence pointed to a Goa’uld plan to circumvent the protected planets treaty (“Fair Game”) by eradicating Earth with a manufactured natural disaster. Apparently Anubis has immediately begun the process of fulfilling his promise to the System Lords to eliminate the threat of the Tau’ri (“Last Stand”).

The one element in the plot that I found inexplicable was that all the wires in the bomb were yellow, when Sam clearly expected the designated wire to be red. Was this an indication that the bomb had been sabotaged, perhaps by the NID? In the movie “The Abyss,” the fact that Virgil ‘Bud’ Brigman couldn’t distinguish between the colors of white and yellow on the bomb wires was due to the extreme depth that he was at (no natural light) and that he was using a yellow glow stick for illumination.

Both Joel Goldsmith and Richard Band contributed to the music in this episode. I don’t know which composer contributed which segments, but there were a couple of new themes (it sounded like to me at least) in this episode, and they were very interesting. In the scene when Jack and Teal’c first do their space walk, and we can see Earth rising above the asteroid’s horizon, I thought the theme sounded similar to the opening movement from Maurice Ravel’s “Balero.”

Supporting actors Don S. Davis, Teryl Rothery, Gary Jones and Colin Cunningham provided excellent emotional support back at the SGC. Particularly moving was General Hammond’s stunned reaction to the news that SG-1’s cargo ship must have impacted on the asteroid; his announcement that “I haven’t been relieved of my command;” and his quiet, reserved wait for the fail safe deadline.

Special effects were again in top form. Interwoven among the space program footage provided by the NASA Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center, were the impressive matte paintings by Jeremy Hoey. The hyperspace effect of riding the asteroid through the Earth was quite imaginative. The cargo ship descending the asteroid crater was fascinating — reminded me of a falling snowflake.

The new EVA space suits were impressive, definitely an upgrade since “Nemesis.” I noticed that Teal’c and Jack’s ear receivers were held in place with tape — a nice attention to detail, as they certainly couldn’t open their helmets to replace them while on EVA.

I wonder if this recent effort in saving the planet will get Jack another invite to the White House?

“Fail Safe” helped remind us that even though SG-1 travels all over the galaxy, sometimes the biggest threats show up at our own backdoor — unannounced, and uninvited.

According to the GateWorld review of Menace:

Season Five has been busy tying up some of the loose plot threads. In “Menace,” SG-1 learns the origin of the Replicators (“Nemesis,” “Small Victories,” “Enemies”). They continue the exploration on the themes of artificial life forms — and human consciousnesses stored in artificial environments — (“Tin Man,” “Double Jeopardy,” “Scorched Earth,” “Entity”), and the use of nanotechnology (“Brief Candle,” “Learning Curve,” “Absolute Power”).

Granted, these themes are familiar territory. What makes “Menace” an outstanding and absorbing episode is the strong emphasis on the dynamics of friendship and the power of teamwork — not only by the personnel of the SGC, but also on camera, and behind the camera, by the actors and crew of Stargate SG-1.

On camera, we were treated to some simply superb acting, marvelous directing, and outstanding special effects. Foremost was the brilliant casting of Danielle Nicolet as Reese. To heighten the mystery of Reese, we are presented with a visual dichotomy — a robot with a child like mentality, housed in a very feminine, womanly form — however, a very petite form, putting a subtle emphasis back on Reese appearing to be a child again.

Danielle Nicolet’s powerful performance alternately intrigued me by Reese’s seeming naiveté, angered me by her indifference to anyone else’s welfare, and annoyed me with her petulance. (Perhaps interestingly enough, from the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, one of the definitions of “menace” is one that represents a threat or a person who causes annoyance.)

Performances by Michael Shanks (Daniel Jackson) and Richard Dean Anderson (Jack O’Neill) were solid, deeply rooted in each character’s basic traits, and their deep understanding of each other. As mentioned by Daniel in “Entity,” Jack’s first instinct is to protect, whereas Daniel’s first instinct is to communicate. It is Jack’s nature to think in absolutes — good or bad, right or wrong, safe or dangerous. It is Daniel’s nature to think in the abstract, he is able to see the shades of gray, or read between the lines. Daniel has more respect for other cultures, beliefs and ideas. Daniel is the diplomat that Jack is not.

In those final seconds before Jack enters the Gate room, his main concern is containing the Replicators and maintaining the security of the SGC — and the planet. Carter had just advised him that the Replicators were possibly acting on their own and that Daniel was likely in trouble in the Gate room with Reese.

Then Teal’c calls out for O’Neill; listen to that note in Teal’c’s voice — it’s not one you’ll hear often. Plus, we have the countdown continuing on the self-destruct device. Responding, Jack enters the Gate room, and eliminates the threat — Reese.

Daniel responds to the loss of Reese, who was possibly the key to the destruction of the Replicators battling the Asgard, by telling Jack that he is a “stupid son of a bitch.” And Jack takes the comment in stride; he knows how much Daniel wanted to be able to communicate with Reese. Jack knows that Daniel is angry at the situation, at the fact there were no other choices available to them. How wonderful to see adult characters act as adults, who are friends, and yet can still have disagreements with each other without losing their respect for one another.

Among the other on-camera treats, we finally got to see our General Hammond in action. (We’ve seen an alternate reality Colonel Hammond in action in “There But For the Grace of God” and the alternate reality General Hammond in “Point of View.”) And it was satisfying to see Colin Lawrence return to reprise his role as Major Warren (“Children of the Gods,” “Prisoners,” “Foothold”), Gary Jones as Technician Davis, and to see Tracy Westerholm again as the ubiquitous SF.

Director Martin Wood provided us with some chilling scenes. Among them were the first Replicator crawling up from behind the toys and onto Reese’s arm in the isolation room; Reese walking into the Gate room, surrounded by her Replicator “toys”; and Reese standing on the Stargate ramp, the lights down in the Gate room, the only illumination coming from behind the Stargate.

Also fascinating was the use of the three monitors in Carter’s lab, showing us the interior of the isolation room. It was interesting to watch Carter and Teal’c observing the action unfolding from three different points of view — looking from the camera mounted above the isolation room doorway towards Reese; from the camera mounted in the isolation observation room towards the doorway; and a horizontal view of the isolation room.

Special Effects Supervisor James Tichenor (who also wrote the story) again brought to life the Replicators and highlighted the menace that they represent. It’s astounding to know that the Replicators are computer-generated, and the detail it takes to create each one, their shadows, and matching their movements to either the actors or the firepower being directed at them.

It was also refreshing, for once, not to be shown the remaining time on the self-destruct device. (However, I did reset the elapsed time on my VCR, and adjusting the time to that shown on camera at several points, determined that there was about 10 seconds remaining.)

“Menace” provided some answers, yet also left us with some questions — especially, why was SG-2 unable to contact the Asgard? If Reese holds the key to their salvation from the Replicators, could it be too late for them anyway? It was fascinating story-telling, and a prime example of why Stargate SG-1 is first-class entertainment.

According to the GateWorld review of Meridian:

The heroes of all time have gone before us. The labyrinth is thoroughly known. We have only to follow the thread of the hero path, and where we had thought to find an abomination, we shall find a god. And where we had thought to slay another, we shall slay ourselves. Where we had thought to travel outward, we will come to the center of our own existence. And where we had thought to be alone, we will be with all the world.
Joseph Campbell, The Hero With a Thousand Faces

For five years, we have watched SG-1 embark on their heroic journeys — not only through the Stargate, but through their personal lives as well. In “Meridian,” SG-1 suffers their first permanent loss of a team member, when Daniel Jackson is mortally injured preventing a naquadria-powered device from exploding, and killing millions of people. And in a smart bit of multiple episode and character resolution, Oma Desala (“Maternal Instinct”) returns to help Daniel ascend, to continue his personal journey on the Great Path that he began on Kheb.

Written by the marvelous Robert C. Cooper, “Meridian” provides an emotional catharsis, not only for the viewer, but also for all the characters involved. And as the drama unfolds, we are allowed to see some unusual role reversals for our characters.

Daniel Jackson has been both student and teacher while with SG-1. As a student, he has learned to defend himself (and his team) with weapons and to act in a situation (and not react). (I found it interesting that Daniel thought to use his sidearm to shoot out the window, so that he could gain access to the lab and stop the explosion.) As a teacher, he has taught Jack (more by example than anything else) the finer points of diplomacy that Jack used in defending his dying friend’s honor.

Another example of role reversal was at the second briefing with General Hammond, O’Neill and Carter. It was Jack who was so passionate about saving Daniel at any cost, and Sam who remained pragmatic in regards to the need to obtain some of the naquadria. Only a series with quality of Stargate (in all respects) would prevent their characters from falling into stereotypical responses to an emergency of this nature. (How easy it would have been to have had Sam passionate and Jack the pragmatic cynic.)

And could you have imagined the Jack O’Neill of five years ago arguing against a weapon of mass destruction? It was Jack himself (in “Stargate” the movie) who covertly brought a nuclear device to Abydos, to destroy their Stargate.

Redemption was the central theme of this episode. Daniel felt he wasn’t worthy of ascension, because he had never managed to atone for his failures to save his late wife, Sha’re (“Forever In a Day”), and his ex-lover, Sarah / Osiris (“The Curse”). It was only after Oma reminded him that the only thing we can truly control is whether we are good or evil that Daniel realized his failings were simply that, and that he could continue his efforts for good more effectively in ascension.

However, as Orlin (“Ascension”) mentioned, Oma was possibly banished from “their kind” for breaking one of their more sacred rules — to not accelerate the natural ascension process of those beneath. Will this have any affect on Daniel’s status as an ascended being?

Jonas Quinn (Corin Nemec) started on his path of redemption by listening to Jack’s entreaties — not only about defending Daniel’s honor, but also about the dangers of a weapon of mass destruction. Quinn steals as much naquadria as he can and brings it to the SGC, thereby branding himself as a traitor to his government and essentially stranding him on Earth.

The acting by our regular cast was extraordinary in this episode. From Daniel Jackson’s (Michael Shanks) blunt recital of the progression of the radiation effects on his body; to Sam Carter’s (Amanda Tapping) and Teal’c’s (Christopher Judge) tearful farewells to Daniel; to Janet Fraiser’s (Teryl Rothery) alluding to euthanasia as a possible course of action; to General Hammond’s (Don S. Davis) torn devotion to duty; and to Jack O’Neill’s (Richard Dean Anderson) fierce attempts to contain his fear, anger, loss and denial.

William Waring, who has worked on the Stargate crew as a camera operator, received his first directorial credit for this episode (according to the Internet Movie Database). His minimal dressing of the ethereal Gate room is impressive — the normal equipment lining the walls (including the 50 caliber machine guns) was removed.

My only quibble with this episode was the casting of Mel Harris as Oma Desala (as well as Oma’s costuming). Harris came across as too bland in this role, and I admit I was thrown by her appearing in a pantsuit, complete with earrings and a necklace. Unless … as Daniel was in industrial crisis mode, the bland appearance was meant to be soothing (in contrast to the mystique appearance in “Maternal Instinct”).

Goodbyes never seem to be said in science fiction. In the Stargate movie, the last line of dialog is from Jack O’Neill to Daniel Jackson: “See you around … Dr. Jackson.” In “Meridian,” Jack O’Neill echoes similarly with, “So, what? See you around?” We’ve been very lucky to know Daniel Jackson, and I know I will miss him as a regular character during Season Six.

Daniel Jackson, and Michael Shanks — we wish you well on your journey.

According to the GateWorld review of Revelations:

With the end of its fifth season, Stargate SG-1 broke its tradition of cliffhanger finales. Instead of being trapped aboard a ship in space as in the cliffhangers of Seasons One (“Within the Serpent’s Grasp”), Three (“Nemesis”) and Four (“Exodus”); or taken prisoner as in Season Two’s cliffhanger (“Out of Mind”); in “Revelations” SG-1 is called upon once again by the Asgard to take on a rescue mission — and completes the mission in time to go to out for dinner.

While the episode did provide answers to some prior questions, it produced several new questions that hopefully will be answered during Season Six. And a wonderful, emotional scene between General Hammond and Major Carter illustrated the fact that in life some time there are no answers, and we must learn to live with the mystery of not knowing.

“Revelations” was a fascinating episode, with some remarkable performances by our SG-1 cast, a complex script (which touched on episodes from every season in tying up plot threads), captivating special effects, a beautiful new interior look to the Goa’uld ships, a hint of the smoldering Jaffa rebellion against their Goa’uld false gods, and finally our first glimpse of the evil Anubis.

I liked the new interior look of the Goa’uld ship. The torches have been replaced by new light panels along the walls, the color scheme has included a deeper (and more of it) shade of purple, and the hieroglyphs on the doors seemed to be missing. I also noticed that Osiris’ hand device (gold in “The Curse”) is now silver — but maybe Osiris donned a silver hand device to match that charming silver cloth thrown over his throne.

We were also introduced to a new Asgard — Heimdall (voice provided by Teryl Rothery, who plays Dr. Fraiser on the show). I rather enjoyed Heimdall, who has a more quirky personality than the other Asgard we’ve met. Heimdall’s voice inflection and body movements, particularly the tilting of her head, reminded me of the late Nancy Kulp (Miss Jane Hathaway from The Beverly Hillbillies).

There are five stages in the grieving process (a concept introduced in 1969 by Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross) — denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. O’Neill, Carter and Teal’c all appear to be at different stages in their attempts to cope with the loss of Daniel Jackson. O’Neill, however, was the only one who had the opportunity to converse with Daniel in the ethereal gate room (“Meridian”). And now, added to their grief for Daniel Jackson, was the apparent loss of Thor.

Their actions aboard the cargo ship while in route to the Adara System to rescue Heimdall were telling. O’Neill finds refuge in duty; he cleans his P-90 apart from the others. But his suppressed emotion is betrayed by his cough. Carter doesn’t understand how she feels, and looks for support from her team. Teal’c takes solace that Daniel Jackson has achieved something that all Jaffa aspire to in ascending to a higher plane of existence (“Maternal Instinct”).

What an emotional roller coaster SG-1 goes through during this episode! Once they arrive at the Adara System and are beamed down into the Asgard laboratory, SG-1 discovers that Thor is not dead, but held prisoner by the Goa’uld. O’Neill and Teal’c mount a rescue mission, while Carter remains with Heimdall to guide them and to assist Heimdall in preparing to leave with the Asgard research.

It seems that, for the past 1,000 years, the Asgard have only been able to reproduce by cellular mitosis (cloning). And as clones, they are a dying race due to genetic degradation. But the Asgard research project turns out to be the 30,000-year-old Asgard ancestor who may be the key to their survival.

Aboard the Goa’uld ship, O’Neill and Teal’c are taken prisoner. Thor, however, is able to free them from their cell. As O’Neill and Teal’c look on helplessly, they see Carter zatted by Osiris’ Jaffa. I marveled that Teal’c reached out to catch the falling Carter hologram. And then SG-1 is rescued by Heimdall, and all four are later rescued at the last second by the arrival of Freyr and friends.

I was intrigued by the interaction between Osiris and her Jaffa. By questioning her orders, it seemed to me that the Jaffa were also questioning their belief in Osiris as their god. And what is Lord Yu up to now? He let Teal’c escape (“The Warrior”), and now has mounted an offensive against the powerful Anubis that is going so well that Osiris has to dispatch reinforcements.

And who, or what, has Anubis taken as a host? Was that a black event horizon in place of his face? What significance was there that his Jaffa had a tattoo on each temple instead of his forehead? And at the end of the episode, when advised that Thor had escaped, and Anubis points towards his Jaffa — is that Jaffa a bounty hunter like Aris Boch (“Deadman Switch”), or Boba Fett (“Star Wars”)? Did Anubis get any information from Thor?

And why did Anubis retreat so quickly? Were the Jaffa unable to repair the damage to the ship caused by O’Neill? Were they bluffed by Freyr’s assertion that the O’Neill class Asgard ships were superior, and could defeat the new Goa’uld shields and weapons? And if the Asgard ships are superior, why let Anubis escape? Or can the Asgard not afford a two-front war against the Replicators and the Goa’uld?

And the final question — was that Daniel Jackson that caused the slight breeze in the SGC tunnel? Or was it a ventilation system malfunction?

Hopefully, these, and other questions, will be explored in Season Six.

The Worst:

Beast of Burden, Wormhole X-Treme!, and The Warrior

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Also:

  • The Unas stories, which include Beast of Burden, have never been my cup of tea, honstly;
  • The 100th episode, Wormhole X-Treme!, features Martin Lloyd, from Point of No Return, whom I just can’t stomach; and
  • The Warrior was a somewhat ridiculous story with a Goa’uld Imhotep possessing his own First Prime, K’Tano, in order to kill Teal’c and maybe the Taur’i.

According to the GateWorld review of Beast of Burden:

This summer, “Planet of the Apes” returns to the big screen. I have yet to see this remake, but “Beast of Burden” takes me back to Charleton Heston’s classic original. The Earth astronaut in that movie inspired a revolution, encouraging mankind to no longer accept life in slavery, and thus rebel against their ape overlords. Here, in “Beast of Burden,” Daniel Jackson takes the role of that astronaut, though it is the “beasts” he inspires, rather than his own humankind.

It is fitting, of course. Dr. Jackson earned the trust of Chaka, the Unas friend he met at the end of a short rope in “The First Ones” last season. Now, because of that trust, Chaka has been abducted into slavery by a group of pre-industrial-age humans. Daniel must do what he can to save his new friend. And though it is not his intent to inspire the Unas slaves to revolt, Daniel Jackson’s morality would never let him ignore their plight.

This episode is a wonderful study of morality, a subject few television shows dare to examine. The slavers in “Beast of Burden” justify their actions because the Unas had once enslaved them. At some time in the past, this world had been ruled by a Goa’uld, who in turn was served by the Unas. When the Goa’uld left, either due to a rebellion or for some other reason, the people of this world subjugated the Unas. How that was accomplished is neither explained, nor pertinent to the story at hand.

What is pertinent is the moral issue of this circle. Can it be broken through natural evolution? And will SG-1’s intervention help or hinder that process?

Daniel’s focus in not on the future. He is looking at what is happening now. The evolution of the circle is not an immediate concern. The Unas need help now. Chaka needs help now. Although Jack cannot deny those needs, he is looking ahead. And what he sees there is not pretty. He does not see far enough to examine the evolution either, but he does see revolution.

Revolution means fighting and dying. What’s more, Jack refuses to accept the possibility that humans might be required to die on behalf of enslaved Unas.

Here we address another moral issue, the concept of “beasts.” That Unas might be considered beasts was a concept I doubt any would have argued prior to last season’s “The First Ones.” Previous experiences with that species (“Thor’s Hammer,” “Demons”) have not been pleasant ones. Like Jack, we would see the Unas as evil creatures, pure and simple. But Daniel has seen a different side.

In “The First Ones,” Daniel was able to communicate with Chaka, and it was precisely that communication that lead Chaka to see Daniel as a friend, rather than just “meat.” Perhaps with another Unas that communication might not have been possible. For example, an Unas that was older and wiser — definition: more set in his ways — might have forced Daniel to silence during the long march to the cave. But the communication did occur; and it gave Daniel an entirely new insight into Chaka’s species.

Jack, however, has not shared that insight. Unconcerned with Daniel’s desire to save Chaka, Jack’s willingness to go to the planet is based instead on his interest in finding out how these people have managed to obtain Goa’uld weapons and utilize the Stargate. The Unas, to Jack, are just “beasts.” While he does exhibit a sense of sympathy for the beasts upon arriving at the planet, he remains unwilling to risk human lives on behalf of Unas lives.

By the end of the episode, a few Unas have been freed, one of whom has already been recognized by the others as a leader. These Unas are armed, and have demonstrated a willingness, even an eagerness to use deadly force — as Daniel realizes when he cannot stop Chaka from killing an injured man who no longer even presents a threat. Daniel then hands Chaka a zat gun, telling his Unas friend, “ka keka” — they don’t have to kill. But how well will his short message be remembered after he disappears back through the Stargate?

Chaka is, after all, from a primitive, tribal culture that practices animal (or human) sacrifice and selects its leaders through combat. Can this primitive Unas evolve quickly enough to strive towards co-existence with humans rather than another conquest of them, thus continuing rather than breaking the circle?

“Beast of Burden” comes off very well. The settings, costumes and characters are all immensely believable, with the big-screen qualities we’ve come to expect and probably even take for granted. Still, it is the question of morality and the interaction of humans and Unas that I cannot help but focus on. One Unas gently leads a child away from the imprisoned troublemakers, while another acts out in a rage and is cruelly tortured. One human nonchalantly tortures an Unas, while …

Perhaps that’s what is missing from this episode. It would have been nice to see one human (other than SG-1, of course) act gently with an Unas. I might be more willing to share Jack’s concern for this human populace if I could have one true glimpse that they are worthy of it.

“Stargate SG-1’s” producers must be commended for consistently going where others fear to tread. They bravely take us into the gray, murky waters of morality. In “Beast of Burden,” the issue is slavery. In last season’s “The Other Side” (and even “Scorched Earth”) it was genocide.

In “The Other Side,” Jack O’Neill virtually murdered a Nazi-esque leader by ordering the iris closed when he knew the man was coming through the wormhole behind him. You could say that action was justified, that the man deserved his fate. You could be equally right in saying that murder is never justifiable.

It’s a debate you cannot win, regardless of which side you take. There are too many people, cultures and religions out there to contest your thoughts. Nor does “Stargate SG-1” attempt to show us that one side of this or any other debate is right or wrong. Rather, they show us what a certain character might do, and how the others around that character might react. In “The Other Side,” Jack allowed a man to die, knowing he could have prevented it but choosing not to, while Sam Carter stood aside, her wide eyes showing she was appalled — though she would not voice her complaint, perhaps because she couldn’t help but agree with the action in her own way.

What makes “Beast of Burden” so poignant is just that type of character interaction in an un-winable debate. Both Jack and Daniel clearly recognize the enslavement of Unas as wrong. However, Jack also recognizes the inevitable, devastating result of any attempt on behalf of SG-1 to free even one of those slaves, while Daniel cannot or will not accept that conclusion. Can the Unas be freed without killing any humans? Daniel insists they can; but Jack lost his rose-colored glasses long ago.

According to the GateWorld review of The Warrior:

What do you do with an unemployed Jaffa? “The Warrior” is a dark primer into the murky politics, conflicts and shifts in the balance of power underway in the Stargate SG-1 galaxy, and continues the saga of the rebel Jaffa fighting for their freedom against their Goa’uld false gods.

Assembled on Cal Mah are the remnants of the Jaffa armies that previously served at least six Goa’uld System Lords. (I observed ten different battle standards and identified the emblems for Ra, Cronus, Hathor, Heru’ur, Setesh, Imhotep and Apophis.) There, the former First Prime of Imhotep, Kytano, is forging the former opponents into a single Jaffa army.

The Jaffa army, however, is apparently no different in their battle plans that their former Goa’uld masters. As Colonel O’Neill points out, Kytano is using the same tactics that the Goa’uld have used for centuries. Assassinate your adversary, absorb the conquered resources, and continue on to your next adversary. The Jaffa will continue to exist to be used only as a resource.

The tactics that include the practice of using the Jaffa as cannon fodder (“Rules of Engagement”), and as suicide teams, fall within the Jaffa personal code of dying for their cause. It is these tactics, and this belief, that conflict with the rules of engagement, and beliefs, that Colonel O’Neill adheres to.

O’Neill and Bra’tac are in agreement regarding the status and value of individual combatants. Bra’tac advises, “When one over-commits, one becomes vulnerable to counter-attack. When one achieves balance in combat, one will survive to achieve balance in life.” O’Neill stated in”The Serpent’s Lair,” “I think a better idea is to get the other guys to lay down their lives for their world first” — in direct contrast to Kytano’s belief that “one must strike with single-minded purpose towards victory without regards for one’s survival.”

However, this is not the only conflict. There is also the ongoing conflict within Teal’c. As seen before in various Teal’c-centric episodes (“Bloodlines,” “Family,” “The Serpent’s Venom” and “Crossroads”), Teal’c’s desire for the freedom of his family, and his fellow Jaffa, conflicts with his service to Earth. And this conflict is not resolved in this episode; indeed it is heightened, as Teal’c is now the de facto leader of the Jaffa due to his victory over Kytano.

On my first viewing of “The Warrior,” I was alarmed by the seeming indifference by Bra’tac to what was transpiring — not only the inconsistencies in Kytano’s behavior, but also the conflicts that Teal’c was experiencing. It was in watching again, and recognizing Bra’tac’s anguish that I realized that Bra’tac understood too clearly — all his hopes and dreams for the Jaffa were in jeopardy, and he had no solution. (Tony Amendola turned in another marvelous performance in this episode.)

In “The Warrior,” we learn that apparently Zipacna survived the symbiote poison on Revanna, as Kytano mentions that his warriors had just done battle with Zipacna’s Jaffa. Also, apparently Nirrti is still a player, as she has her own Jaffa transporting weapons-grade naquadah. And it was a pleasure seeing Rak’nor again (“The Serpent’s Venom”).

And … what is that crafty, wily Yu up to? Was his attack on Cal Mah a solo effort against the Jaffa, or was he in league with the other System Lords? If his sole intention was to destroy the rebel Jaffa, then why wasn’t their escape through the Stargate blocked (as the Tok’ra escape on Revanna was blocked in “Last Stand”)? If, however, after the events of “Summit” and “Last Stand,” Yu is now battling the remaining System Lords and Anubis, it would make sense to have the rebel Jaffa available to be a thorn in his opponent’s side.

Kudos to both stunt coordinator Dan Shea for the set up of a fascinating display with the mastaba fighting, and to director Peter DeLuise for using the “Matrix”-style effects to highlight the sequence. Again, the attention to detail by the Stargate SG-1 staff is amazing — especially the battle standards in Kytano’s camp. I loved the pyramid-shaped tents.

In the words of William Wordsworth (“Character of the Happy Warrior”), the warrior “finds comfort in himself and in his cause.” And our warriors, Teal’c, Bra’tac and O’Neill, do as well.

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Next in the best and worst is Season 4.

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