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

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For previous installments:

 

Above is the first introduction we have of Major Carter, to Colonel Jack O’Neill. By Season 8’s “Moebius, Part 1,” feminism shown by Major Samantha Carter would not only be long forgotten, but smoothed over by a romance with the one person most critical of her from the get go (Jack O’Neill), and this comment would be joked about:

carter

Just because my reproductive organs are on the inside instead of the outside doesn’t— God that’s horrible! Who would ever say that?

Feminism in this reality is meant for those who have little courage, and have unrealized potential appearing “deliberately unattractive.” Her alternate in this episode also gets sexually harassed by Dr. Rodney McKay, which is depicted as intending to be funny.

Furthermore, throughout the series, Samantha Carter is a Smurfette (see Feminist Frequency‘s #3) within the show, being the only principle female cast member throughout most of the series’ run, alongside Teal’c (Seasons 1-10), Colonel O’Neill (Season 1-8, guest 9-10), Dr. Daniel Jackson (Seasons 1-5, 7-10, recurring season 6), General George Hammond (Seasons 1-7, guest 8-10), Lt. Colonel Cam Mitchell (Seasons 9-10), and Jonas Quinn (Season 6), with the only other female lead during Season 10 being Vala Mal Doran, of which they are shown to have little interaction, and honestly, Carter often seems annoyed by her most of the time anyways.

As this is hardly the only sexism to occur, let’s take a look at Going Rampent‘s post on The Broca Divide, “Acting Like Cavemen“:

Following this rather overtly preachy episode is “The Broca Divide”, which involves an alien disease that essentially causes humans to go 1,000,000 years B.C., turning them into cavemen-like hominids. These diseased humans, called the Touched, regress to primal instincts of aggression and lust, losing civility and eventually all language. When SG-1 first observes a group of them, several Touched males are situated around a campfire with an Untouched (person free of disease) girl. The Touched clearly intend to rape her in a show of dominance. Carter wants to rescue her, but Daniel advises against it.

Carter: “We have to stop them.”
Daniel: “No, that’s how prehistoric males probably always had sex. Forcibly. The strongest male gets to mate, that’s survival of the fittest.”
Carter: “Well, I call it rape and I think we should stop it.”

They’re interrupted as native Untouched arrive to the rescue, providing an easy way out of this confrontation. Frankly, I think Daniel’s completely wrong here. As a person who studies foreign cultures and lives among them, he has to be careful not to be culturally imperialist in most respects. This is an exception. Carter is right; rape is rape. They’re there, with their guns and their uniforms, already imposing themselves in the environment so they should do something about it.

Later in the episode, SG-1 has returned to the Cheyenne Mountain Complex, unaware that they’ve brought the disease with them. The first stages of the disease start to hit them, messing with their aggression while leaving their physical forms intact for now. Carter becomes extremely sexually aggressive, and she goes after O’Neill while he gets dressed in a locker room. She immediately starts kissing him, saying she wants him. He pushes her away, saying that’s way out of line. He implies that he might want to at some point, but definitely not here and now. She doesn’t listen and continues to pursue him aggressively, until he pins her and forces her to come with him to the infirmary. The next shot shows Carter strapped to a bed, actively struggling against the restraints.

Okay, this is an attempted rape. Carter, Touched, was clearly not going to take no for an answer. Were it the other way around, with a Touched O’Neill coming after Carter, it would be taken with deadly seriousness. However, because O’Neill is a man and Carter is a woman, the attempted rape is treated simply as a sort of attack that shows Carter isn’t in her right mind. O’Neill discusses the incident with Daniel:

Daniel: “What happened to you?”
O’Neill: “Oh, I got into a little wrestling match with Carter.”
Daniel: “Why?”
O’Neill: “I guess she’s got whatever Johnson got. I had to drag her off to the infirmary.”
Daniel: “What, she start a fight with you like Johnson did with Teal’c?”
O’Neill: “No, she uh, she tried to seduce me.”
Daniel: (sarcastic) “Oh, you poor man.”
O’Neill: “No, it wasn’t like that. She was like a wild animal, she was nuts.”

Yes, Carter was nuts. The thing with phrasing like “seduce”, though, is that it fails to convey the seriousness of this matter, that this really was a sexual assault. Even his addition where he calls her a wild animal is inaccurate, as it makes her just sound hypersexual without the menace her attack really held. Immediately after this bit of dialog, O’Neill succumbs to the effects of the disease and becomes super territorial in his attraction to Carter, attacking Daniel for expressing an interest in her well-being. This, coupled with a later exchange between Untouched Carter and O’Neill, makes the whole thing come off as just a crazy expression of the attraction they have for each other, without the seriousness that should come along with the subject of rape.

Teal’c , meanwhile, fits the Token Minority, to boot being the only main cast member of color throughout the entire series run.

One of the worst episodes this season is Hathor, with, you might have guessed, the Goa’uld Queen Hathor. She is, of course, notably an Evil Demon Seductress (see Feminist Frequency‘s #4) every way, right down to ambitiousness. According to the Lady Geek Girl blog post, “Stargate SG-1 and the Evil Seductress“:

“Hathor” is my least favorite episode of the entire series, as it encompasses the very worst of science fiction and fantasy. This is yet another episode that attempts to show female empowerment, yet it’s filled with sexist clichés. It adheres strictly to the gender binary. And worst of all, a main character—and possibly numerous minor characters—are date-raped, and the episode plays off what happens as humorous.

In “Hathor”, the Goa’uld Hathor ends up at the SGC. As she is the first real female villain on the show to be evil incarnate, she is an evil seductress, because why not? She uses pheromones to brainwash all the men and have sex with them—and then she attempts to take over the earth.

Yeah, this episode was really terrible.

First of all, I have a few questions on how Hathor’s pheromones work, and the whole concept also seems a little cissexist. How is the show even defining the difference between men and women? Is it based on their physical body parts? Their amount of testosterone and estrogen? Their chromosomes? As far as I can tell, there are no humans in Stargate who don’t adhere to the gender binary. As this episode takes place in the 90’s on a military base, I can understand why there are no openly non-cisgender SGC personnel, and indeed, every person in Stargate is also unfortunately heteronormative until the spinoff show Atlantis. And even after Atlantis, there’s not much representation going on. Considering that this is a show based on biologically asexual aliens taking over human bodies, I find it entirely odd that everyone is cisgender. Even the Goa’uld, despite being genderless, all identify as strictly male or female and tend to be particular about which humans they take as hosts based on gender. This is something that Stargate does a bit better with in later seasons, but for now we have the villain Hathor, who not only adheres to the gender binary, but also enforces heterosexism. Her character is made more unbearable by being an evil seductress.

The evil seductress trope is wrong for so many reasons. First of all, our female villain is unnecessarily sexualized, to the point that just about every scene she’s in she uses her sexuality and pheromones to manipulate and enslave men. The other women are “good”, so they don’t use sex as a weapon of enslavement. And while I like that they are not overly sexualized—though they do at one point use their sexuality to manipulate the men under Hathor’s control—the message the show presents is clear regardless: a woman’s sexuality is evil, and men are helpless victims to it. This is also apparent because, if I recall correctly, Hathor is the only Goa’uld who has this power. Additionally, the pheromones that she uses during her seductions are not a drug that she slips to the men, or something she injects them with. It’s something that she literally breathes out through her mouth. It makes no sense.

Furthermore, not only is this sexist against women, “Hathor” is harmful to men. This reminds me of the recent Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. episode, “Yes Men”, which also had an evil seductress character. At one point in the episode, Sif remarks that women have a natural strength that men do not. What that strength is is never explained, though it seems to be derived from not having a penis, which is still incredibly cissexist on S.H.I.E.L.D.’s part. As far as I’m concerned, “Hathor” comes from the same mindset. The women are the ones who have to fight back against Hathor, while the men are Hathor’s helpless victims. This is also offensive, as the women are only presented as strong because the men are presented as weak. They aren’t strong of their own accord.

And the evil seductress trope is hardly the worst this episode has to offer. At numerous points in the episode, Hathor rapes Daniel Jackson. She additionally alters Jack O’Neil’s body against his will in order to turn him into a Jaffa—a Goa’uld’s slave solider. She violates both these characters in horrific ways. However, whereas Jack is presented more as a victim, Daniel is not. Never at any point do the characters, or even Daniel, mention that what happened is rape. Hathor has sex with Daniel numerous times during the episode while he’s under her control. Daniel could not have consented to Hathor since he was being brainwashed, yet as the episode ends, the show presents this as being more comedic and as something Daniel should be ashamed of. Rape victims are discredited so much in real life that it’s really upsetting that the show isn’t even aware that that’s what they did as well.

And no, Stargate is not just dismissive of male rape. As the show is literally about parasites taking over people’s bodies and forcing those people to do whatever they want—including sex—Stargate ends up with a lot of rape victims, and unfortunately, it doesn’t always address this issue very well. It’s been a while since I’ve watched Stargate in its entirety, but I can’t remember any other villain as offensive as Hathor. However, I’m a little peeved that Stargate enforces cissexist, heteronormative, and rape-apologist ideals as much as it does. We eventually do meet various other Goa’uld in later seasons—including one who identifies as male while in a female host—so as I continue watching the show, I can only hope that some of these issues will improve. Despite all its problems, Stargate is a wonderful show, but “Hathor” is certainly another episode it could have done without.

Another blog, Going Rampent, also addresses the inherent problems with this story, with the post, “Breathe the Nish’ta (Stargate)“:

In the Stargate SG-1 season one episode “Hathor”, the titular character appears as a Goa’uld “goddess” who attacks the Cheyenne Mountain Complex. The one who formed the basis for the Egyptian goddess of “sex, drugs, and rock and roll”, to quote Jack O’Neill, Hathor is essentially a serial rapist who contributes to the System Lords by breeding Goa’uld through mating with humans. Hathor is an evil female presence capable of being defeated only by the women of SGC. While I suspect “Hathor” was written with the intention of being feminist, it flopped in its message and came out with a very poor portrayal of rape.

Hathor’s first order of business is seizing control of the Cheyenne Mountain Complex so she can control the Stargate. She does so with the aid of the pheromone nish’ta secreted from her breath, which enthralls men. Any man who inhales or comes into physical contact with the nish’ta becomes infatuated with and devoted to Hathor, making nish’ta the Goa’uld equivalent of a love spell, which in itself is equivalent to a date rape drug.

Armed with such a drug, she proceeds to literally rape Daniel and metaphorically rape O’Neill. She takes a liking to Daniel because he is the first to display a desire to help her when he, under the impression she’s a confused human woman, takes off her cuffs without nish’ta encouragement. She comes to appreciate O’Neill when she learns that he is responsible for killing Ra, her husband and rival for power. She repays them by making them her top servants, using Daniel’s DNA to create the next generation of Goa’uld, and using O’Neill’s body as host to a larval Goa’uld as her jaffa. Her first attempt to seduce Daniel fails, so she makes a second attempt with liberal use of nish’ta that proves successful off-camera. We next see him in a catatonic state, apparently from the effects of the drug. On-camera, she engages in a sensual jaffa-making with O’Neill, which also involves nish’ta. Stargate clearly implies that this is like sex with heavy breathing and Hathor pushing her lower belly into him. She wears a glowing jewel there, which causes the marsupial pouch that Hathor calls his “womb” to form in his stomach region. It’s a pretty obvious sex metaphor with the role reversal of him being the one to use his body to take care of her offspring.

Because all the men of the complex are compromised besides Teal’c, whose symbiont protects him, it’s up to the women with Teal’c to launch a counter-assault to retake the facility. After their initial attempt fails and the women are locked in a cell, they have a brief discussion about sexism in the military. Dr. Fraiser’s ex-husband once criticized her decision to join the Air Force, claiming it’s a “man’s army” apparently not knowing the difference between the Army and the Air Force. Carter chimes in about how she can’t fit in with the men of SG1. This gives Dr. Fraiser an idea of how to get out: draw the guards in by pretending to seduce them, which amounts to bad slapstick. The scene was probably intended to promote women in the military by pointing out the sexism involved in the institution, but it is ultimately self-defeating by having the characters resort to acting out some sexual fantasy. I think these elements could be done well given the right quality of writing, but that’s not the case here.

After their slapstick routine, the women go to rescue the men from Hathor. Hathor is in a Jacuzzi giving birth to numerous Goa’ulds, while Jack and Daniel hang around worshiping her. A battle scene commences, results of which include the baby Goa’ulds being torched, Jack healed, and Hathor escaping through the Stargate. As she gates away, the men come out of the spell, and things go back to normal. Dr. Fraiser collects the dead Goa’uld residue hoping to get some DNA, and Daniel notes that most of it will be his, which grosses out O’Neill. The sentiment expressed is something like “Eww, you had sex with the gross alien enemy!” or maybe just “Eww, I don’t want to think about you having sex!” rather than an acknowledgement of the seriousness of rape.

The plot of “Hathor” focuses almost exclusively on female characters, and it along with “Emancipation” was likely written to be feminist. I’m a little skeptical if it achieved such a goal, however, given the nature of Hathor’s threat. Hathor is essentially a succubus, hurting men with her promiscuous sexuality. In real life, these succubus myths historically were used as excuses to promote the subjugation of women. While I think it’s possible to have a villain of such characteristics and still have a progressive message, I don’t think that Carter’s group had enough of the right portrayal to make that the case here.

Elements of the plot presented in “Hathor” also appear in the season three episode “Seth”, featuring the titular Egyptian “god” (who I learned about as Set, but whatever) as a cult leader. Much like Hathor, Seth controls his people with nish’ta, but with a more powerful synthesized version that affects both men and women. It’s also worth note that the nish’ta variants are gender coded, with Hathor’s appearing the traditionally feminine pink/purple and Seth’s appearing a more traditionally masculine green. After Carter gets drugged with the nish’ta, she joins his harem and at one point sits with other women at the foot of his throne, looking up at him submissively. I would say that this is supposed to evoke discomfort in the viewer, as it is well understood how men have power to victimize women. This is in contrast to the “Hathor” scenes of men being victimized by women, in which I suspect we are supposed to see it as bad for the characters but enjoyable to watch for Hathor’s sex appeal.

In conclusion, while “Hathor” attempts to promote the female characters by having the men be taken over, the end result is rather problematic. The few points about challenging sexism are overshadowed by the poor portrayals of sexual assault. In order for society to become less sexist, these things have to be taken more seriously.

The Best:

The Enemy Within, Emancipation, Brief Candle, Cold Lazarus, The Torment of Tantalus, Fire and Water, Singularity, Enigma, Solitudes, Politics, and Within the Serpent’s Grasp

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Brief:

  • The Enemy Within is an episode that really did more to solidify the Goa’uld threat than even Children of the Gods, which I think made it much more enjoyable;
  • Emancipation certainly has several issues, but I credit it at least for talking about gender in some capacity. I would say it has similarities to Star Trek: The Next Generation‘s Code of Honor;
  • Brief Candle has several issues, but it definitely made the series more than just travelling through the Stargate, which would be better depicted in other episodes this season;
  • Cold Lazarus is worthwhile episode which is willing into Jack O’Neill’s past and make it presently relevant;
  • The Torment of Tantalus has always been a cherished favorite episode well worth watching again and again. I have always enjoyed this one;
  • Fire and Water is an episode that I felt tried to show some of the aliens encountered as having more human qualities, as with Nem in this episode, who was searching for his mate, Omoroca;
  • Enigma introduces the Tollan with this great episode;
  • Solitudes has Major Carter and Colonel O’Neill believing they are stranded on some ice planet, but actually are trapped in Antarctica;
  • Politics of course introduces Senator Robert Kinsey, who would be an occasional presence throughout the next eight seasons; and,
  • Within the Serpent’s Grasp is a pretty awesome season finale with cliffhanger. At the end I was like, “Oh sh*t!”

According to the IdiotBox review of Hathor:

When you do a rewatch there are episodes that surprise you and end up being better than you remember, Fire And Water  was one of those and then there are some you really enjoyed that end up faring not quite as well, Hathor falls into the latter category. For starters the script is as clunky as hell, this episode contains some of the most woeful dialogue I recall Stargate SG-1 having and the bulk of it coming from the mouth of the titular character, I don’t care how attractive she looks (very) but no spell on Earth would make me stick around after the 50th “our beloved”. And having all the men as simpletons for the bulk of the episode is not nearly as fun as it sounds (it doesn’t sound fun at all really) as they are all just irritating, Daniel in particular which is a real shame after the performance Michael Shanks put in during the previous episode. Only Don S Davis really comes out of that group well, it was sweet to see him turning on the charm as Hammond and he also caused a real concern being the man with all the power  who happened to be blinded against what he would normally know is wrong.

And then there’s the elephant in the room, the elephant that doesn’t get mentioned when everyone is all happy and smiling at the end, Daniel was forced to have sex with someone against his will, in other words, Daniel was raped. Even typing that sentence I had to stop and think whether I was being a touch dramatic but no, it’s exactly what happened and it’s a problem that any show that does this type of story fails to highlight, the same thing happened to Agent Ward recently in Agents Of Shield and again it went unmentioned.  It’s a bit difficult to take and you’d think that at least someone would have had a quiet word with Jackson to make sure he was OK, but no it’s all smiles and commendations and not only is it a missed opportunity to really delve into a character but it’s quite irresponsible writing and caused my enjoyment of the episode as a whole to really suffer as a consequence. Where this episode does succeed is the establishment of the friendship between Carter and Janet, despite the sub par story going on around them the chemistry that Amanda Tapping and Teryl Rothery have makes the scenes the two of them share a breath of fresh air. Their friendship goes on to be one of the most true relationships the show has and it’s a treat to see it forming in these early episodes, whether it’s just the banter between the two or watching Janet with a gun it all just works and it’s a real highlight for the episode, although the attempt to seduce the guards so they can escape was a little too ‘Carry On’.

As is Teal’c, it makes sense that he is unaffected by Hathor’s powers and seeing him take up arms against the men was a joy to watch, in a way this was one of his first opportunities we have seen to work with just Carter from SG-1 and seeing as these two form a very close bond as time goes on it’s another nice watch. But other than learning a little more about Ra that is really where the good ends with this one, not following up on Daniel’s welfare aside this all just feels so inconsequential, moments like Jack ‘becoming a Jaffa’ are instantly undercut by the fact we know they now have a sarcophagus lying around, a sarcophagus that of course is conveniently destroyed moments after restoring him back to his old self.  And Hathor is just so, for want of a better word, cheesy, Stargate SG-1 has times where it does cheese but usually it’s the kind of Stargate cheese that makes the show a nice watch but here it hits all the wrong notes and leaves a very bitter aftertaste. And can we never have someone discuss the sharing of their DNA ever again please?

According to the IdiotBox review of Tin Man:

Comtrya! Comtrya! Comtrya! And by the fourth comtrya I was ready to find a zat gun and zap myself three times, so I would never have to think of it again. Harlan was one of those characters who at times you think of as a sympathetic lonely old man while just a few seconds later you don’t ever want to see him again, mainly down to that one word and irritating accompanying hand gesture. Other than that though this was a solid episode with some interesting ideas and a killer twist at the end that I remember knocking me for six when I first watched it, speaking of that this was actually the first episode of Stargate SG-1 I ever saw and as such it’s one that I hold a special place for, comtrya’s aside! I love the notion of discovering you’re a robot, something about that particular notion has always intrigued me whether it be done in a manner like this or a more comical tact like Lister in Red Dwarf it always captures my attention and it was handled well here.

That whole scenario at the SGC where it all starts to unravel for SG-1 was a pretty gripping sequence, from the initial no heart beat to the eventual knife to arm maneuver that Jack reaches, the reactions from Janet and Hammond are perfect too, I love how she doesn’t hesitate in sounding the alarm and his stern orders to accept being detained was perfectly in character and rational; it’s just a shame we didn’t see more of the SGC as watching them try and get their heads around what had just happened would have been an amusing conversation to witness. And then watching SG-1 try and comprehend what had happened to them was a fun character study too with each of them reacting in the way we would expect, Jack of course gets angry and attacks Harlan while the likes of Daniel find the whole thing fascinating, it also raises an interesting question of would you want to live forever and that while death itself is something people are afraid of the concept of not having that can be just as unnerving. Onto Harlan himself and it’s easy to see why he did what he did, to be around for all that time with only your own company must have been maddening, even Jack came to understand  in the end that it was a need for company and pure survival that made him take those actions, it’s quite nice to have the antagonist of the piece not be an actual bad guy just an old man looking for company.

I think what makes the episode though is the ending, I remember on first viewing assuming that we would get a quick fix, ‘bodies found, let’s go home’ kind of deal so it was a nice surprise to discover that it wasn’t going to get tied up in such a neat bow, seeing the real team tied up and awake still stands up as a decent twist and it really throws you off balance to have the SG-1 we’ve been following all episode not actually get to escape. It’s a real bittersweet moment when you watch the team finally return home only to see those that have been dealing with all this left behind and as such you’re left with some real mixed emotions when the final credits roll. Other than *that word* there are some other weak parts of the episode, while Teal’c duplicate going off the rails is explained well it feels jarring compared to the rest of the episode, as if the character study we were having wasn’t enough and an action quota needed to be filled and some of the split screen double shots don’t hold up that well over time, the Carter’s in particular but all in all this is a solid episode to lead us in to, from memory, an episode that could be in the top ten episodes SG-1 has ever done.

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

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