Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Stargate SG-1--"Secrets"

“Secrets” deals with the subject of family far better than the previous episode which was actually entitled “Family.” the episode has many interesting touches, among them Sam’s struggle that she can never please her father, Daniel’s willingness to risk everything in the near hopeless cause of recovering Sha’re, and talc’s loyalty to daniel being so strong, he will take the risks right along beside him. My inner X-Phile also appreciates the appearance and conspiratorial fate of Armin Selig, played by Jeffery Spender’s Chris Owens.

Exactly one year to the day Daniel promised to return to Abydos with the rescued Sha’re, he feels compelled to return anyway to explain to her father he has not given up the search. Teal’c agrees to go with him as back up. Jack and Sam are due in Washington to be awarded medals for their meroism in destroying Apophis’ ship, though the cover story is they are being awarded for research efforts. On Abydos, Daniel and teal’c discover sha’re has returned some time ago expecting apophis’ child. In Washington, sam is confronted with her cancer ridden father who is trying to guilt her into joining NASA so he can die knowing she is an astronaut. Jack is confronted by a journalist who knows all about Stargate Command and what has transpired there over the last year.

Two Goa’uld are forbidden from having a child together because the child would inherit the genetic memory of all Goa’uld, so Apophis incapacitated Sha’re’s symbiote in order for her to have a child. Apophis’ hid her away on Abydos to keep his rivals from taking the child. Daniel is devastated, but eventually comes to decide he should take Sha’re and the child back to Earth. Once Sha’re gives birth, she will revert back to Amaunet and have to be imprisoned so as not to harm anyone, but both she and her child will be free from Spophis’ grasp.

In Washington, Sam is surprised to see her major general father attending her ceremony. There is a definite vibe that he wanted a boy to be just like him, and nothing sam has ever accomplished has satisfied him. He reveals that he has pulled some strings to get her into the astronaut program, but she refuses. Her father drops the bomb on her that he is dying of cancer and wants to know she is going into space before he passes on. He leaves her with that guilt trip. The bitter part being if he knew what role she really played in top secret SG-1, he would think a career as an astronaut is child’s play. Or not. There probably is no real way to please him.

Meanwhile, jack encounters a journalist named Armin Selig who knows all about the stargate program. Selig is played by Chris Owens, who had been playing the young Cigarette smoking Man on The X-Files for a couple years and had just begun playing Jeffrey Spender a few months before “secrets.” Selig has shades of Fox Mulder. He is a guy who has stumbled across a government conspiracy involving aliens that he is determined to unravel even though no one would likely believe the truth. Selig is killed by a hit and run driver after confronting for the second time. It is unclear whether selig’s death was an accident or someone murdering him to keep the stargate a secret. Nifty homage there, but I cannot help but think it was thrown in for the sake of giving Jack something to do in the episode. He is the only main character who does not have emotionally difficult decisions to make regarding someone he cares about.

Sha’re gives birth. Her Goa’uld reemerges just as Heru’ur arrives to kidnap the child in order to spite Apophis. Daniel gives the child to Sha’re’s father to spirit away, and the rest of SG-1 arrive just in time to rescue Daniel and Teal’c from Heru’ur. Apophis arrives after his defeat to “learn” the child has been stolen by Heru’ur. She does not reveal SG-1 is hiding in the pyramid from Apophis, thereby proving she is fighting against Goa’uld control.

“Secrets’ is a solid episode. It is packed with great character moments which also further the overall story arc while including an action oriented ending. If there is any flaw, it is the inclusion of Selig feels forced. Either the threat of the stargate’s exposure is thrown in to give Jack a more pivotal role in the episode, which still does not exactly measure up, or it was meant to be an wink to The X-Files and nothing more, it is still the episode’s weak spot. But not weak enough to be considered a serious detriment.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Monday, January 30, 2012

Stargate SG-1--"Family"

“Family” revisits Teal’c’s family situation back on Chulak while showing us the aftermath of Apophis’ failed attempt to conquer Earth. If you are a big teal’c fan, this is the episode for you. Or maybe not. He gets roughed up pretty badly on an emotional level.

Bra’tac comes through the stargate, something he is only supposed to do in an emergency, to warn Teal’c Apohis has kidnapped his son apophis’ army is now in tatters, so he is looking for a way to maintain his hold on Chulak. The theory is to use Rya’c to lure Teal’c to chulak and arrest him as a traitor. Knowing full well this is a trap, Teal’c opts to rescue his son anyway, with Bra’tac and SG-1 for back up.

When they arrive on Chulak, Teal’c discovers his wife Drey’ac has married one of his closest friends, Flo’tac. Faster than you can say kiss my grits, Teal’c disowns his wife and promise to kill Flo’tac once his son has been rescued.. Bra’tac convinces Teal’c his wife and child are better off now without being forced to live with his disgrace, and reluctantly agrees. But he gets another shock when the palace rescue attempt fails because rya’c is brainwashed into a loyal minion to Apophis.

Speaking of palace intrigue, Teal’c and Drey’ac rekindle their romance while flo’tac secretly watches. In response, he decides to turn Teal’c in to Apophis. Jack stops him from doing so, but has to kill him in the process. Drey’ac shrugs his death off like a trooper. When Rya’c appears on a televised speech with apophis in which he supposedly sends a coded message to Teal’c about where to rescue him tomorrow, he shrugs off his son’s earlier betrayal like a trooper, too. I am rather amused at drey’ac coming across as an opportunist throughout the episode while Teal’c has such a genuine love for his son, he is willing to believe anything. I will bet when they were married, Drey’ac chewed Teal’c up and spit him out on a regular basis. It does not matter how big you are, a woman can take you down.

Teal’c is being naïve, of course. Rya’c is not only brainwashed, but booby trapped with poison gas in two false teeth which is potent enough to kill all life on earth within a week. Even the incredibly easy rescue does not prove anything until Frasier discovers the false teeth back on Earth. But the whole human genocide thing is glossed over in favor of Teal’c attempting to reach his brainwashed son. Frasier gives up rather quickly on Teal’c trying to reach him and skips sending in a cult deprogrammer, which you would think should be the next idea, to head straight for Electro Convulsive Therapy. Look, I know the Cult Awareness network, the experts in cult deprogramming, were sued out of existence by the Church of Scientology over a decade ago, so now deprogrammers attached to CAN fret over Thetans, but should counseling really be skipped in favor of frying a kid with electrodes?

But wait, it gets worse. Teal’c decides that it is his responsibility to heal his son, so he opts to shoot him with a Goa’uld energy weapon rather than let Frasier sedate Rya’c and administer shocks medically. I suppose it turns out to be the right decision. Rya’c writhes in pain after being shot, but wakes up fine. A few brain cells friend, but otherwise fine. He and Drey’ac go live with the People of Light, who apparently do not hold a grudge over that whole Hassan are incredibly rude thing a few episodes back.

The choice to use ECT on Rya’c piqued my curiosity. Put aside for the moment Teal’c decided to perform ECT by shooting his son. We can chalk that one up to dramatic embellishment. The question is whether ETC is used as a treatment for brainwashing. I had to look it up. Needless to say, ECT is controversial. Only about 100,000 are performed each year and only in cases of mood disorders in which suicide is imminent. Within that criteria, there is sharp division as to whether ECT ought to be performedi have only taken a superficial scan of the issue from Google search results, but the bottom line appears to be ECT is as close to a reset button the brain has. Psychologists are not even certain why it works or are confident of the long term results. Nevertheless, it is considered a last resort under at best and a human rights violation at worst. I invite anyone interested to search the issue.

“Family’ is questionable up one side and down the other. It is scripted by Katharyn Powers, so what do I expect? All I can say is the decision was not only made to perform ECT on a child, but that was not good enough, so they opted to shoot him instead.--and it worked! Frasier must have graduated from the Katharyn Janeway School of Psychology.

Rating: ** (out of 5)

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Stargate SG-1--"Message in a Bottle"

“Message in a Bottle,’ an ironically titled bottle show, can also justifiably be called Sttargate Meets The Andromeda Strain. I will be generous and call it an homage, but one wonders if writer Brad Wright was hoping no one watching the episode has ever seen the movie or read the novel. I will grant some originality in the episode and a creative, non-violent resolution, so thumbs up for SG-1 not shooting its way out of a problem.

The SG-1 team encounters an orb on a dead planet resembling Earth’s moon. They find an orb that dates back from an advanced civilization 100,000 years ago. They debate whether it is dangerous to take the orb back to earth, but conclude any power source than can keep it running for such a long period of time must be studied and hopefully utilized. Back at SGC, Daniel and Sam attempt to decipher microscopic writings on the ord to no avail. When it begins emitting high levels of radiation, Jack orders the stargate opened to send the orb back to the planet. The orb instead locks itself in place with extended “arms,” one of which spears Jack through his left shoulder.

The arm infects Jack with a glowing pathogen that soon infects everyone and everything else in SGC. The whole facility is put on lockdown quarantine and an auto-self-destruct countdown called Wildfire is begun to destroy the pathogen rather than allow it to spread beyond SGC. Efforts to destroy the orb by shooting it with Teal’c’s staff weapon and depriving it off oxygen fail until it dawns on Daniel they have been going about this all wrong. They have been treating it like a disease when it is actually an intelligent alien that trying to communicate. Once they feed it more energy, the alien reveals through Jack that it has no desire to harm anyone, but will not go back to the dead world on which iyt was found. Hammond compromises with the aliens, because when SGC blows, it will release enough energy to cause infection across the entire planet, to send the aliens to a primordial world in exchange for regaining control of SGC. It is a deal folks.

“Message in a Bottle” is pretty much The Andromeda Strain. In the novel/film, there is an alien pathogen that feeds off energy introduced to earth. There is a quarantine similar ro Wildfire. The heroes have to prevent a nuclear explosion that will give off enough energy for the pathogen to infect the entire Earth. I have never read the novel, and I could take or leave the film, so I am not all that bothered by the similarities with “Message in a Bottle.” If there are fans out there who consider the episode a rip off, so be it. On its own merit, it is an exciting episode that creatively gets around what could feel like a throwaway budget-saving story. The story instead emphasizes the skills of the main characters to resolve the conflict. Of note is the loyalty teal’c demonstrates to jack as he spends the entire episode pinned to the wall through his shoulder. Ouch. If there is any real detriment, it is the self-destruct sequence being stopped with exactly one second left to go. Come on--is that not a little too cliché at this point?

Rating; *** (out of 5)

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Stargate SG-1--"Thor's Chariot"

I had mixed emotions going into “Thor’s Chariot." The Asgard are my favorite alien race. I am a devoted X-Phile, so how can I not appreciate the Roswell aliens? Any episode I have not seen yet which features the Asgard perks me up. But oh, no--the episode is written by Katharyn Powers, aka the Lisa Klink of Stargate SG-1. My fears were put to rest almost immediately. “Thor’s Chariot” is a solid arc episode.

Stargate Command receives the ’message’ of an object coming through the stargate without opening the iris. An analysis raises speculation it was the box from the Sagan Institute left behind on Cimmeria to be given to the Asgard should they ever return. Assuming the Asgard have returned, SGC sends a probe through the stargate to Cimmeria only to discover the people are being slaughtered by the Jaffa. With their only defense, Thor’s Hammer, having been destroyed in order to save Teal ’c on SG-1’s first visit, the team feels responsible for the slaughter and go to help.

What is interesting about “Thor’s Chariot’ is how the SG-1 team splits up in order to maximize their particular talents. Jack and Teal’c engage in a guerilla war with the Jaffa in order to keep them away from the cave in which the Cimmerian survivors are hiding. The battle is classic firefights, and explosions on a surprisingly grand scale for a cable series. On the other hand, Daniel, Sam, and Girwyn, who we met on the last trip to cimmeria, go off in search of the perhaps mythical Thor’s Hall of Might to see if it has any useful weapons. The three of them are caught up in some Indiana Jones’esque traps which test their spirits and minds more than anything else. So the main cast members are utilized perfectly.

The two tests, by the way, involve crossing a narrow bridge which is intended to set up the opportunity for one waking on the bridge to risk his life to save another as a test of character. The other is to identify pi from markings on separate walls in order to figure out to press a circle on a far wall to make Thor appear in his true grey alien form. One point I liked about the latter is Daniel, brilliant archeologist though he is, needs Sam to point out that pi is the solution and relate it to the circle on the wall. Daniel is not the Sam Beckett uber-genius who knows every minute detail of every intellectual subject. He--and all the characters--are real people who need help when backed into a corner, either physically or mentally. I will admit this is a personal appreciation. My experience in law school was the more expertise a law professor had in his subject, and I am talking brilliant men and women here, the less likely they could pull out a simple fist year concept from another subject. That sort of thing happens, and it is neat to see it on television after all this time of every character on Star Trek knowing absolutely everything they need to know for every conceivable situation. Your mileage may vary.

The two teams rendesvous with each other in disappointment. Jack and teal’c do not have the firepower to defeat the Jaffa. The Asgards had no weapons in thor’s Hall of might, either. Solving the tests was to prove maturity of the Cimmerians. The SG-1 team is forced to surrender in order to prevent the Cimmerians from being slaughtered, but the Asgards intervene in a huge spaceship--the real Thor’s chariot--and put an end to the Jaffa threat.

‘Thor’s Chariot” is a highly entertaining episode. As I noted above, it is well split between action and clever brain teasers. It is also monumental for the overall story arc. We meet Heru’ur, son of Ra and Hathor, for the first time. We get a glimpse of Thor in his true form and discover how powerful the Asgard are. Finally, we learn, thanks to her connection with Jolinar, Sam can operate Goa’uld technology with concentration. Powers has surprised me here with an impressive script. Do I need to cut her more slack for the future?

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Friday, January 27, 2012

Stargate SG-1--"Need"

“Need” is a peculiar critter. In an episode that would otherwise be often poorly conceived filler, two major plot points are dropped in. One, Sam does have the permanent ability to sense goa’uld symbiotes, which makes the previous episode’s revelation her bonding with Jolinar affected her body chemistry not one of those typical comic book continuity glitches of a never before mentioned and hereafter ignored convenient plot device. Two, it is revealed continued use of a sarcophagus when healthy, such as the Goa’uld use for extension of their lives, causes psychosis. The psychosis explains why the Goa’uld are so evil. It also explains why the Tok’ra are not. They do not use a sarcophagus to extend their lives. Important points, but otherwise “.meh” on “Need.”

The SG-1 team is observing Jaffa deliver naquadah, a mined metal, through a stargate. They decide to swipe some to research its possible military applications. In the midst of recon, Daniel spots a woman heading off alone. He follows her only to discover she is planning to jump from a cliff to her death. Daniel stops here, but she screams for the Jaffa to help. The SG-1 team is captured. Unable to tell her father, Pyrus, she was trying to kill herself and SG-1 saved her, Shyla allows him to believe they are Goa’uld spies and sends them to work in the mines.

Daniel is gravely wounded in a failed escape attempt from the mine, but shyla uses a sarcophagus to revive him up proper. She has developed a thing for him because she believes his rescuing her from death was destiny. Daniel works to gain both her and her father’s trust in order to free the rest of SG-1. In order to secure her trust, Daniel agrees to use the sarcophagus again even though he is perfectly fine. Using the sarcophagus under such circumstances has a narcotic effect on the user. Daniel becomes more deranged as time goes on.

His agreement to marry Shyla allows SG-1 to go free. Daniel returns with them to Earth, but promises to return to marry Shyla. Back on Earth, Daniel begins suffering withdrawal symptoms. He is held against his will while working it out of his system. He escapes at one point, determined to return to Shyla, but when it would be necessary to shoot Jack in order to get away, Daniel cannot bring himself to do it. He breaks down in tears.

After his recovery, he returns to the planet to find Pyrus has died. Shyla is now in charge of her people. Daniel convinces her to destroy the sarcophagus, end the slavery in the mines, and open peaceful relations with Earth. Oh, and call off the wedding. Shyla agrees.

At the risk of alienating devout Gaters, I am disappointed to learn the Goa’uld are evil because of artificial mind altering techniques. If the running theme of the series is what makes a god worthy of worship, then it is more poignant for those gods to be struggling with the issue of power corrupting and absolute power corrupting absolutely. If the drug addiction allegory is not glossed over in the long run in favor of the moral argument of the power corruption, I am going to be disappointed.

As for the episode itself, I am not all that impressed. It feels way too much like filler, and it is way too early in the season for something like that. The story is rather frivolous. Pyrus is a senile old man putting up the appearance the Goa’uld still rule the planet in order to keep himself in control. Shyla just happens to decide to off herself right when SG-1 arrives. Her falling for Daniel is as convenient as his injury setting up the opportunity for them to hook up. The moral lesson drugs are bad does not much resonate for whatever reason. Poor execution, I guess. Poor acting, too. There is a scene in which Daniel, completely out of his mind, pounds a guard with his fists, but obviously never lands a single blow. It is an unintentionally funny scene that takes me right out of the upcoming dramatic moment in which he pulls the guard’s gun on Jack. I do, however, enjoy the joke in which Shyla takes daniel out to admire the forest. She believes trees are so beautiful, hers must be the only planet that looks like the forest outside Vancouver. Heh. Not quite, honey.

Rating: ** (out of 5)

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Stargate SG-1--"The Gamekeeper"

Those of you suffering from Star tTek withdrawal should rejoice. Dwight Shultz plays the title character in “The Gamekeeper,” the caretaker of a virtual reality world which serves as a velvet cage for the inhabitants of the planet until SG-1 comes along to disrupt the status quo. The plot is reminiscent of several Reginald Barclay episodes of Star Trek spin offs which deal with his addiction to holodeck recreations. I imagine the similarity is why he was cast.

The SG-1 team arrives in a beautiful garden after a recon operation shows people are strapped into some sorts of machinery. Teal’c does not think it is Goa’uld, but the team checks it out anyway. Naturally, they become stuck in the machines themselves. Said machines turn out to be virtual reality devices.

Jack and Teal’c find themselves in 1982 East Germany on the most botched black ops mission Jack in which Jack ever took park. (Hmm...maybe he was not part Operation Eagle Claw after all.) Charles Kowalski, who died last season, and John Michaels, who is going to die on the mission they are about to undertake are alive and well. The two seem to believe teal’c is a regular member of the team named Thomas. Thinking they may have traveled through time--hey, it happens--Jack and teal’c go along with the mission. It turns out to be the same ambush in which Michaels is killed. Jack and teal’c find themselves repeating the scenario immediately, but are unable to change the outcome. Daniel and Sam wind up in the New York Museum of Art sometime in the mid-70’s. Daniel quickly realizes this is the day his parents, Melburn and Claire, die when a large stone collapses on them. As with Jack and Teal’c, he and sam relive the event over and over and are unable to stop Daniels parents from being killed.

The SG-1 team refuses to continue going through the scenarios, which prompts the Gamekeeper to appear and explain things. He has created a virtual world for his people, who have been casually observing both scenarios while wearing black veils for the proper somber effect, one assumes. The Gamekeeper says their world was environmentally damaged beyond habitability a thousand years ago, so they now exist in this artificial world that can create scenarios from their minds. After a thousand years, they have gotten bored with what they have to work with and need SG-1 to stay and share their experiences. The SG-1 team not only refuses, but lets the cat out of the bag the world outside is a paradise. The gamekeeper is lying to the inhabitants in order to keep them there.

Rather than allow SG-1 to spoil what he has going, the Gamekeeper lets them believe they have escaped the virtual reality world and gone back to Earth. But when Hammond orders them back to the planet to further investigate the virtual reality world, they realize they are still trapped. They manage to chase the Gamekeeper through the exit to the garden. The people follow them out, whereupon they realize their world is perfectly fine. The gamekeeper just wanted to keep his garden pristine. No such luck any longer.

I have mixed emotions about ’The Gamekeeper.” It is a neat idea which is in many ways well-executed, but in other ways, not so. There are some small touches which are really good. Kowalski is included on the Eat German mission instead of a guest star to show how far back his friendship with Jack goes. Daniel is dressed in children’s clothes. Not so much to be laughably silly, but enough for you to know he was a young boy when he watched his parents die. Then some other aspects shake you out of the mood. Teal’c is wearing a hairpiece that looks like Charlie Murphy’s in the rick James skits for The Dave Chapelle Show. In order to plausibly only have two person’s memories to deal with, it is explained that Goa’uld symbiotes can resist the mind probing. That explains Teal’c easily, but Sam cannot be probed because Jolinar altered her mind. Still/ Is that not something she should have some lingering concerns about rather than a convenient plot device?

The biggest problem is the premise. The inhabitants are bored because they have been experiencing the same memories over and over again for a thousand years. That would sound reasonable if the gamekeeper did not tell SG-1 they can create anyt environment in which they can imagine from their memories while in the virtual reality world. If som then the minds of an entire plantary population ought to be able to create a infinite number of possible worlds to play in forever. How could they run out in a thousand years? Unless they are just dull people. That may be the case, since they appear most entertained by the strong emotions involved in observing people watch their friends and families die. Or perhaps the gamekeeper was lying to SG-1 about the infinite possibilities that can be created in order to convince them to stay. He does tell them they can change the scenarios if they try, but SG-1 has been unable to thus far. At which point is he telling the truth? I am not particularly certain which is the case.

I have to bring up the same point as I did back when I reviewed “Better Than Life” for Red Dwarf. Scott Adams, creator of Dilbert, speculated that if you could create a fantasy world, there will be no further inventions. What would be the point? You could just imagine whatever you want. Since hearing that, I have had a difficult time with the idea very many people, much less everyone, would be satisfied to remain in reality if they no longer had to do so. Perhaps that is a choice one has to actually face in order to understand the value of living reality versus living your dreams come true. It is a theoretical question with no definite answer otherwise.

I am not certain I can count that confusion against the episode, because I still enjoy it. As I said above, it is a good idea with some care takern for subtle aspects to tug at the emotions just right. One should--ironically--accept the plot at face value rather than analyzing it too much. There is an added entertainment value if you are familiar with Barclay and his feelings towards the holodeck. “The Gamekeeper’ is worth a view. Just do not analyze it too much.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Stargate SG-1--"Prisoners"

“Prisoners” takes a subtle jab at the zero tolerance mindset of justice and a not so subtle jab at the wisdom of trusting people you do not know simplu because they look like they should be baking cookies for their grandchildren rather than creating a plague to wipe out an entire population of people for the sake of scientific curiosity. Also, Hammond gets to take his first journey through the stargate.

On uey another planet that looks far too much like the forests outside Vancouver--I note it this time because jack Jokes about it--SG-1 aids a panicked man running from Taldor. Taldor turns out to be justice. The man is a fugitive. The SG-1 team is immediately sentenced to life on the prison planet Hadante. They arrive in the underground prison via a stargate with no dial home device.

Sam is immediately attacked by a couple men, but the fight is broken up my the arrival of an elderly woman named Linnea. It is quickly established that even though she is an old woman, she is at the top of the pecking order. Even the burliest men fear her. Jack surmises they need to get on her good side if they are to find a power source to get the stargate working and use the outer ring to travel to the planet SG-3 is currently surveying.

LLinea empathizes with Sam as a woman trapped forever with a bunch of criminally minded men, so it is natural for the two to bond. As it turns out, linea is a scientist, too, and she has conveniently created a power source that can run the stargate. Daniel is not too thrilled with the idea o working with linea since thery do not know why she is in prison. Keep this in mind, because it is the only wise thing said about Linea the entire episode. Jack assures Daniel it is fine to trust her. The justice system probably screwed that sweet old lady over just like it did them. Sam even buys linea’s story that she was a doctor who tried to cure a plague, but wound up making it worse. The power source works. The SG-1 team and Linea escape to the planet SG-3 is surveying. Another inmate, Simeon, hitches a ride before the stargate closes.

All right, here is where it all gets blown to smithereens. Sam, thinking that Linea is a brilliant scientist who can help Earth utilize her clean energy power source, grants her access to the main computer, the stargate controls, and all known addresses to thousands of worlds. She knocks sam out and heads for the stargate. Simultaneously, SG-3 captures simeon, but he reveals Linea is not a doctor who was trying to cure a plague, but a researcher creating one just to see what effects it would have on people. Yes, she is quite insane. She escapes through the stargate before anyone can catch her. She has also sabotaged the controls to keep anyone from immediately coming after her. Well, crap.

I think the truth about Linea and her clever escape from Hadante is a neat twist, but I really hate that Sam yet again looks like a rube for being conned. Sy least she is not alone this time. Jack fell for the sweet granny routine, too. You still have to wonder why no one thought the fear she caused in the entire inmate population did not raise SG-1’s suspicions. She is a famous mass murderer. You would think they could ask any prisoner at all who she was and why she was imprisoned. But that would have eliminated the climactic twist, so no go.

That is a minor gripe. While the episode is not particularly thrilling, there is not much to complain about, either. The SG-1 team has to think its way out of a dilemma rather than shooting their way out. Hammond sees some action by negotiating futilely with the planet’s leadership, though he thankfully does not get as preachy as Picard with his absolutes cannot be just argument. Even in some sense, the fact SG-1 was duped is good, as it shows they can be as flawed as anyone else. In all, a decent, but not great episode.

Rating; *** (out of 5)

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Stargate SG-1--"In the Line of Duty"

“In the Line of Duty” manages to take the frequently emotionally manipulative plot of putting a pretty woman in danger while hinting the male lead has a more than just friendly concern for her well-being and turn it into something unexpected. In this case, sam is possessed by a Goa’uld and Jack appears to take it personally. But all is not as it seems. The episode introduces us to new allies known as the Tok’ra, hints Sha’re’s fate will soon be known, and an even larger Goa’uld plot against earth is afoot.

The episode opens on an impressive action scene as SG-1 is aiding the Nasya from a Goa’uld onslaught. While the rest of the team evacuates refugees through the stargate while under fire, Sam is performing CPR on a fallen Nasya. During mouth to mouth, a symbiote enters her. (yake a minute to go “Edew.”) The symbiote takes her over in order to hitch a ride to earth and eventually somewhere else.

Sam’s remains a secret back on earth, although those around her think she is acting strangely, but not enough to suspect anything but shellshock. Dr. Frasier invites sam to visit the Nasya patients at the air Force Academy Hospital and to see Cassandra again. Cassandra somehow senses Sam is possessed and locks herself in Frasier‘s office. She refuses to come out until she can see Jack. How Cassandra can sense a Goa‘uld symbiote but no one else, particularly Teal‘c, is an interesting question. Is this supposed to be one of those silly you cannot lie to a child things that popular entertainment likes to push on us? I half expected to see dogs growling or a cat hissing at sam as she left. Cassandra convinces Jack, which means she has one up on her namesake, and he helps capture Sam before she can go through escape through the stargate.

While under arrest, the possessed sam reveals herself to be Jolinar, a member of a rogue group of Goa’uld called the Tok’ra who oppose the evil ways of the System Lords. Teal’c has heard of the Tok’ra. They are hunted dwn by the goa’uld with extreme prejudice because of their opposition. The Goa’uld were attempting to wipe out the population of Nasya in order to kill Jolinar. Without proof Jolinar is who he says or that he can safely release Sam, SG-1 cannot let him leave Earth.

Meanwhile, Ashrak assassin posing as one of the wounded Nysa makes his way to SGC in order to kill Jolinar. He manages to make it to his holing cell, assault Sam, and nearly get away through the stargate before being killed by teal’c. Sam recovers from the Ashrak attack, but only because Jolinar sacrificed his life to save her. She knew along along Jolinar was genuine. At one point, he even let her take over her body again to convince Jack to allow him access to the stargate, but he was convinced it was a trick. The bitter tragedy of it all is too much for sam to take. She is only brought out of a near catatonic depression by Cassandra.

“In the Line of Duty” is an interesting episode. It features a lot of exposition about new allies in the battle against the Goa’uld with plenty of foreshadowing interrupted by some over the top drama. One suspects Jolinar could have been less obtuse and aggressive. He might have been able to escape with both his life and new allies with SG-1. Then again, the distrust of the Goa’uld from SG-1 contributed to the impasse. There is a lesson there somewhere, I suppose.

Rating; *** (out of 5)

Monday, January 23, 2012

Stargate SG-1--"The Serpent's Lair"

“The Serpent’s Lair” is the second season premiere of Stargate SG-1. Quite a strong start to the second season it is, too. The resolution to the first season ending cliffhanger is more engrossing than its build up. I have noted in my television reviewing experience that is a rare thing. How do you top saving the world in the very first episode?

The episode begins right where we left off previously, with SG-1 on the flagship of a Goa’uld invasion fleet about to strike Earth. The only thing they can do is set off the explosives Sam set, killing themselves in the process, and hope the explosion is big enough to halt the attack. Even that is not guaranteed as Apophis’ well-shielded ship arrives. Before they can set off the explosives, they are captured and imprisoned Jaffa. The explosives are still set on a timer, but there are 24 hours left to go before the big boom. Fortunately for SG-1, Bra’tac is on this mission. He frees them from their cell to assist him and several free Jaffa in thwarting the attack on Earth.

Meanwhile, Col. Bert Samuels, Sen. Robert Kinsey’s right hand man in closing down the stargate program, arrives at Stargate Command with news the pentagon has developed a missile made of sleath bomber material to destroy the Goa’uld ships. As you might expect if you have ever seen a plot like this before, the missiles do not do the job. If that was not cliché enough for you, there is another scene set to break up the action on the Goa’uld ship where Hammond sends a group of ’foremost experts in their fields” through the stargate in order to establish a colony that will preserve humanity. One wonders if these intrepid souls really are the best or just whatever could be scrounged up on short notice. Okay, I mock it, but the scene is intended to show the direness of the situation and in that regard, it is effective.

In the interim, Bra’tac bought enough time for the military to attack by placing Klorel in a sarcophagus to be brought back to life. He knew Apophis would wait until Klorel was back among the living before attacking Earth. Bra’tac originally intended to attack apohis’ ship in Klorel’s name in the hopes they would destroy each other in the confusion of the rebellion. Instead, they plan to sneak aboard apophis’ ship and find a way to destroy it along with the ship rigged with explosives they are currently on.

Daniel is mortally wounded and opts to stay behind to cover the others. It is a suicide mission, anyway, so what difference does it make if he dies on the same ship as the others? Proving he is the Rory Williams of Stargate SG-1, Daniel crawls to the sarcophagus and is fully healed. He leaves through the stargate just as apohis’ ship, which has had its control systems destroyed by SG-1 and Bra’tac, collides with the other just before the explosives go off. Ye olde earth is saved.

There are quite a few nifty points of interest in “The Serpent’s Lair.” For one Klorel not only recovers from being fatally shot by Jack, but escapes with Apophis before the ship collision. It looks like the powers that be course corrected after fans expressed displeasure over Klorel/Skaara’s fate. Two, whrn things looked at the bleakest, Samuels suggested sending a nuke through the stargate to Chulak as an eff you to the Goa’uld. Hammond nixes the idea. In the alternate universe daniel visited, that universe’s jack decided to go through with nuking Chulak with disastrous results for Earth. Finally, the episode name drops the real space shuttle Endeavour as the ship which rescues SG-1 and Bra’tac after they flee the explosions in small gliders. I also note Jack is a hero in the Robert A. Heilein mode. Rather than wait for apophis’ ship to be destroyed with them on it, he suggests taking the gliders to escape. He and his team will then be stranded in space to either suffocate or burn up in orbit. He has traded one certain death for another, but his buys them a few more minutes. You have to appreciate the tenacity of cheating certain death as long as possible.

You also have to appreciate “The Serpent’s Lair.” Highly tense and action oriented, it is a slam bang way to begin the sophomore season.

Rating: **** (out of 5)

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Stargate SG-1--"Within the Serpent's Grasp"

“Within the Serpent’s Grasp” serves as the first season finale. It is a direct continuation of the previous two episodes and ends with a cliffhanger. As such, its main purpose is to build up enough tension to convince us to come back next year. As far as I am concerned, it does its job.

Stargate command is only the verge of being shut down by order of Sen. Kinsey. The Sg-1 team, while desperately trying to find some way to convince Kinsey the value of keeping SGC going, finally decide to try out the coordinates of the alleged attack fleet daniel discovered in the alternate universe. They will be AWOl once they make the unauthorized trip through the stargate, but they are willing to risk court martial. Assuming they survive, that is.

The coordinates take them to the lead attack vessel of the Goa’uld known as a Death Glider. (Seriously/ Death Glider? Is that the best name the writers could brainstorm?) The death Glider is leading a fleet towards Earth. Apophis has placed his son, who turns out to be Skaara possessed by a Goa’uld symbiote. He is now called Klorel and looks even more like Lenny Kravitz than before. What is up with that? Death to all humans--except Lisa Bonet!

Upon seeing Skaara/Klorel and learning of the attack plan, jack split’s the team up. Sam and Daniel are to set explosives all over the ship while he and Yeal’c capture Skaara/Klorel. The plan to capture him is rationalized weakly with the claim they can force him to call off the attack if Skaara can regain control over the symbiote. It is mostly Jack’s vain hope he can recover his friend.

Sam and Daniel are successful, but Jack and Teal’c are captured when the attempt to recover Skaara fails. Still, he does seem to reassert some control over the symbiote, as he refuses to carry out the execution of Jack and Teal’c when ordered by Apophis. The two are rescued by Sam and Daniel, but when Daniel is about to be killed by Skaara/Klorel, Jack is forced to fatally shoot him. I am aware the shooting is extremely unpopular with fans made all the more tragic because skaara had reasserted himself before, but not when it would have counted to save Daniel and himself.

The cliffhanger features the US military mobilizing its forces after the fleet is spotted by NASA flying passed Saturn and the SG-1 team looking on as the fleet descends towards Earth.

I think it is exciting to end the first season on a huge cliffhanger. The story is executed well by showing a massive invasion force from the perspective a small group of men (and one woman) on a mission. It is tough to do a massive alien invasion on a cable television budget. Some corners were definitely cut. In scenes in which SH-1 is sneaking around the ship while hiding from Jaffa, the same group of Jaffa passes by them every time in the same hallway, it is just that SG-1 switches sides to designate they have moved to another part of the ship. Hey, I am amused by it.

Maybe I am being cold here, but I think Jack being forced to kill Skaara/Klorel is a good piece of drama. Perhaps it should have come earlier in the episode instead of right before the attack on Earth so that we would have had time to better absorb it before being hit with something else, but it still works. I have no emotional attachments to the character. His death does not mean as much to me as Jack’s agony over the decision to pull the trigger. He had to kill a lost friend in order to save another who could recover. That is powerful. Whether Skaara got a good send off matters naught to me. That is my two cents worth for any fans upset over Skaara’s death.

“Within the Serpent’s Grasp’ successfully builds up tension. I am definitely eager to see the conclusion. I am not certain the dramatic moments all hit the proper mark, but I have no large complaints, either. Perhaps not as many future episodes will be, but a worthy end to a more solid first season than I expected after listening to fan buzz over it.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Stargate SG-1--"Politics"

“Politics” represents the unfortunate drawback of a relatively low budget show that has not produced a true bottle show this season and an expensive finale--the only way to save money on producing it is to make a clip show. Fans do not generally hold ’politics” in high regard. I can see why even if the episodes the clips originate from were not so fresh in my mind. The episode feels like it is adding a boring and unnecessary chapter to the final arc of the season.

The episode begins right where the previous ended. Daniel is having his wounded tended to while trying to convince the rest of the team he has visited an alternate reality and learned the location of a Goa’uld military build up in anticipation of invading earth. His teammates are not buying it, but before Daniel can further plead his case, the team is called before visiting Sen. Robert Kinsey, as head of the Senate Appropriation Committee, he wants to shut down SGC as an overly expensive boondoggle.

Kinsey is plated by Ronny Cox, who has made a career out of playing arrogant jackasses who have attained positions of power beyond their talents and who refuse to listen to any subordinates who can lead him in the right direction. The most relevant example for readers of the eye is Jellico, the temporary captain of the Enterprise who abandoned Picard as a forgotten POW, relieved riker of command, and nearly sparked off a war with the Cardassians. There is quite a bit of Jellico in Kinsey. Kinsey will have a recurring role as leading the political opposition to the SGC program.

The SG-1 team makes its case of how important the SGC program is through clips from previous episodes. The biggest problem with this is not dragging out scenes with which we are already familiar, but that SG-1’s argument they need to continue exploring other planets for technology to fight the Goa’uld is not strengthened by their past adventures. They have not brought back any technology to fight the Goa’uld, but they have antagonized Apophis. In that regard, Kinsey’s argument that Pandora’s box needs to be closed is a decent one at first glance. He wonders why spend %7.4 billion a year to learn nothing more than the history of alien planets?

The writers appear to know SG-1 has a weak argument, so they make Kinsey an idiot. He insists on the one hand that if Apophis comes, the fact they have buried the stargate will convince him to leave. On the other hand, he invokes god’s protection over the United States and the military’s ability to fight off Apophis’ forces. Any alien military force that can travel light years towards earth is not going to engage in a protracted battle the military can fight. They will logically destroy population centers from Earth. Kinsey ought to know that. Even if he is upset SGC has not brought back any technology to fight Apophis, he would be wiser to threaten to eliminate the funding after a certain time period to light a fire under SG-1 to find such technology. But Kinsey is an idiot, so there.

“Politics” has few virtues, but one of them is the subtle jabs it takes at Independence Day, the alien invasion film also by Stargate’s Dean Devil and Roland Emmerich. In the film, the military implausibly defeats an invasion by a superior alien invasion force just as Kinsey falsely believes can happen with the Goa’uld. Sam notes the huge Goa’uld ships can destroy cities from orbit, which is a reference to the ship’s massive size in the movie. They were so large, they could have affected the tides. The aliens could have flooded coastal cities simply by flying around, but chose an protracted battle instead. At one point, Daniel sardonically suggests sending a computer virus to disable the Goa’uld ship. The movie had a similar plot point with the mother ship even though it is difficult to believe humans could create a virus that would affect such advanced alien technology. Funny, but certainly not worth sitting through the episode.

It would not be fair to judge an episode of television from 1998 in terms of today, but since I am going to give “Politics” one star, what the heck. I cannot help but see the now quaint pre-9/11 attitude in Kinsey. His argument is the Cold War is over, so there are--his words exactly--”no more barbarians at the gate.” He refuses to see the Goa’uld as a threat. As a nation, we should have seen the barbarians at our gate, but shortsighted politicians ignored the 1993 World Trade Center attack, the embassy bombings in 1998, and the USS Cole attack, acts of war all. It is bemusing to see Kinsey in hindsight considering how much our government ignored warnings when I know what is coming on both Stargate SG-1 and real life.

Rating: * (out of 5)

Friday, January 20, 2012

Stargate SG-1--"There But for the Grace of God"

I am a sucker for alternate reality stories, except for those mirror universe DS9 episodes, but that is treading old ground, so “There But for the Grace of God” is right up my alley. The episode differentiates itself from others like the DS0 mirror universe because “There But for the Grace of God” has real world consequences because of the ending.

The SG-1 team is exploring an alien complex when Daniel comes across an artifact which--sigh--looks like and has a similar function to the Guardian of Forever. I just cannot escape from Star Trek, can I? Daniel touches the artifact, which we later learn is a Quantum Mirror, and is transported to an alternate dimension. He does not realize this at first. When he discovers the rest of the team gone, he assumes they left without him and dialed home. When Daniel arrives on earth, he is taken prisoner.

It takes a while to sort out the situation. In this reality, Daniel never joined SG-1, Jack is a general, Hammond is a colonel, Sam is a civilian advisor engaged to Jack, and Teal’c is Apophis’ loyal right hand man. (Teal’c’s loyalty is something of an assumption. He is leading an attack on the Stargate Association in retaliation for Jack sending a nuke to Chulak. Teal’c’s family died in the explosion. There is some doubt whether Teal’c would have betrayed Apophis here if not for his family being killed.) I suppose the preceding parenthetical already reveals the Goa’uld have attacked earth. One and a half billion people are dead, including virtually ever major city. Among the dead is likely this Earth’s Daniel, who was serving as an archeologist in the new destroyed city of Cairo, Egypt.

Daniel is able to convince the alternate versions of his friends that he has traveled from an alternate earth by showing them a (very convenient) film of his version of SG-1 exploring the complex with the Quantum Mirror. Convenient because Daniel has never been seen filming these expeditions before. Sam confirms the possibility with a nerdy explanation of the theory that somewhere in the universe, every possible decision that could be made in every situation in played out, creating divergent realities. Daniel also realizes a transmission sent from the Quantum Mirror complex is the stargate address of the planet from which the Goa’uld attack on Earth originated.

Daniel convinces the alternates that he should be able to use their last shot at using the stargate before the Jaffa overrun SGA to send him back to the complex so he can return to his reality and warn Earth of the impending attack. The alternates are reluctant, as this means they will not have any means to evacuate anymore people, but like good alternate universe doubles, realize they are not as important as a world they did not even believe existed twenty minute ago and sacrifice themselves one by one to buy Daniel time to escape. He is shot by teal’c on the way through the stargate, but makes it to the quantum mirror and returns to his reality with evidence of the impending Goa’uld invasion.

I like that the alternate versions of SG-1 are not different just for the sake of being different. There is a reason why each took a different path. Jack is dark and brooding because he has not had his Abydos experience which alleviated his suicidal the suicide notions he was suffering because of his son’s death. It is strongly hinted by her reaction to seeing herself as an Air Force captain in the video Sam wanted to join the Air Force, but did not think she would have much of a career as a woman. I already spoke that teal’c may have wanted to betray Apophis, but Jack hardnosed order to nuke Chulak killed his family, thereby destroying any that may have been within him. I am not certain why Hammon is a colonel instead of a general, but the demotion gives him a chance to be at the center of the action for once. That is pretty cool.

Funny how these alternate realities are always worse than the one from our heroes originate. I guess that is the only way to convince them they need to go home. There would not be a story otherwise, no? “There But for the Grace of God’ tickles a personal fancy. It takes one of my favorite science fiction concepts and more importantly, does it well.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Stargate SG-1--"Solitudes"

It is a safe assumption “Solitudes” is the beginning of the ‘shipper theme between Jack and Sam. Geez, what took so long? Fans were on the Mulder/Scully thing by the second episode of The X-Files. in all seriousness, “Solitudes” features the story of characters, injured and stranded in a survival situation, waiting for rescue. With all the cliché elements.

The SG-1 team hurriedly escapes through the stargate on a far off planet while under attack by the Jaffa. A Jaffa weapon strikes the stargate simultaneously with them entering. The result is a power surge that sends Daniel and Teal’c back to Stargate Command while sending Jack and Sam to an unknown destination. Other teams are subsequently sent out to a number of planets upon which the two could have landed.

Meanwhile, Jack and sam have wound up on what they think is a desolate ice planet. Jack’s leg and a rib are broken, supplies are limited, and sam cannot get the nearby stargate to work. It will crank up, but will not allow her to dial home. The two wind up huddling together in an effort to stay alive as it becomes less likely they will escape.

Sam’s attempt to dial home causes a reaction within the SGC’s stargate. Daniel catches it and surmises the reaction was the equivalent of a busy signal. There are two stargates on Earth. Noting the first use of the stargate caused much seismic activity, SGC looks for instances of seismic activity that coincide with SG-1’s return and the “busy signal.” It is plausible to find such instances in Antarctica quickly, but it is implausible a rescue team could Make from Colorado to Antarctica and find Jack and sam inside a cave within the few hours that supposedly elapse. Oh, well. It is a happy end, so who cares/

Obviously, “Solitudes” features the first appearance of the Antarctic stargate. It will eventually become the main stargate for reasons of which I am only vaguely aware. I assume it has something to do with the Russians getting a stargate themselves. I would rather not have it spoiled in the comments, if that is all right with the more well-versed Gaters.

Jack reveals in was in a parachuting accident along the Iran/Iraq border in 1980. This implies jack was part of Operation; Eagle Claw, the disastrous attempt to rescue the Iranian embassy hostages. The operation occurred in April 1980. Jack’s brief comments about his accident do not exactly fit with the desert One incident and sam does not press him on details to keep him talking, so it could be a television embellishment that viewers are supposed to recognize, but not dwell on, so I will not. It is an interesting factiod nevertheless.

“Solitudes” is a good episode in spite of its clichés. I like it because sam gets another chance to be the hero. As I have said before, the first half of the premiere season was really rough on her. I could have done without the bit in which she climbs out of the cave onto the snowy tundra, then declares to Jack, “It’s an ice planet!” We kind of got that idea when they landed in a frigid ice cave that this was not a tropical paradise. Daniel, too, gets the chance to save the day using his unique skills. The time frame of events stretches credibility, but otherwise, a solid effort.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

I cannot cover “Solitudes” without including the famous practical joke Amanda Tapping and the crew played on Richard Dean Anderson during filming:

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Stargate SG-1--"Tin Man"

"Tin Man" is the first of many references to The Wizard of Oz. specifically, the theme of the episode and the tin man character in the film is the desire of mechanical beings to feel human. The episode also owes a nod to the Cybermen from Doctor Who. the Cybermen wwre intended to be a way of preserving human life by transferring it to a machine. It was a misguided idea that went horribly wrong. Twice, technically speaking for any Wholigans who are sticklers for accuracy.

The SG-1 team arrives on a planet that appears to be an abandoned facility. They are stunned by some sort of energy beam. When they awaken, they meet Harlan, the caretaker of the place who oddly reminds me of Joe Besser. Harlan insists that he has not only improved them while they were unconscious, but they must stay with him now. They naturally refuse and return to Earth. Upon their return, medical exams reveal they have been turned into robots. They are imprisoned until the situation is sorted out, but when they begin malfunctioning, SG-1 is allowed to return to the planet as Harlan had originally insisted.

They demand Harlan return their consciousness to their normal bodies, but Harlan insists that is impossible. The new bodies are not only permanent, but they will have to remain close to the battery in order to continue functioning. The episode commences with a large amount of navel gazing about the meaning of life, the value of living forever, and whether never having physical desires to satisfy are good things. For the recoord, daniel is open to the idea and Jack and sam hate it while Teal’c loses him mind and becomes violent for the sake of the episode having some action in it.

Harlan eventually reveals the truth under pressure. The consciousnesses inside the robots are only copies of the real deals, whom Harlan imprisoned. The real SG-1 is free to go, but the robot duplicates can never leave. Though the robots feel they are human and therefore connected to their ’real’ lives, they resign themselves to staying to help Harlan run the facility.

“Tin Man’ is boringly uneventful. There is no reason given for Harlan not revealing the truth to the robots right off the bat other than to offer a chance for a philosophical discussion over the meaning of life. That is a discussion which never gets off the ground. The malfunction of the Teal’c robot is a cheap attempt to insert an antagonistic element into a story that does not logically have one. Ergo, it is an awkward fit. I would even go so far as to say some of the camera tricks done when the Real McCoy is standing beside his or her robot double is pretty bad by even 1998 standards. The interaction between them are humorous, but it is not enough to raise “tin man” to a decent score. Weirdly enough, the robots return in the future. With a better story, one hopes.

Rating: ** (out of 5)

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Stargate SG-1--"Enigma"

Katharyn Powers strikes again with another bad script. “Enigma” is an apt title, because it is impossible to decipher what the episode is supposed to be about. The only high point is a major role for Tobin Bell. Bell plays the same character he always does--a gravelly voiced jerk whose arrogance allows him to be extremely cruel. At least he only sneers down as SG-1 as primitives instead of forcing them to play torturous games to find out about themselves.

The SG-1 team visit’s a planet on the verge of destruction by a volcano. They discover a group of survivors from an advanced civilization stranded there. Under protest, SG-1 brings them back to earth for medical treatment. While on earth, lava overtakes the stargate on the planet, so the Tollan, as they are called, are refugees in need of a new home. The tollan are incredibly arrogant xenophobes who have absolutely no interest in discussing their with primitives, much less living among them, so helping them in the first place is tough enough without their constant refusal to settle on a new world with ‘lesser’ people.

To further complicate matters, the CIA sends a new operative, col. Harold Maybourne, to take charge of the Tollan. The Cia has become even more impatient than before over the lack of technology being acquired by Stargate Command. They plan to hold the tollan in protective custody while utilizing their technological skills. Maybourne will become a recurring villain for many seasons to come , so get used to hearing about him and his stereotypical bumbling intelligence agent shtick.

Hammond is ordered to turn the Tollan over, but SG-1 hatches a plan to settle the Tollan on Gaia. The Nox are advanced enough to suit Tollan standards. Well, is that not just ducky? Daniel helps them escape through the stargate ahead of Maybourne. Because Daniel is not in the military, he cannot be court-martialed. Why Daniel ca get away with aiding the Tollan as a citizen in defiance of a presidential order is beyond me. The whole point is to imprison innocent people indefinitely to exploit them, right? If the Cia is willing to do that, why will they just shrug off Daniel’s actions? Oh that is right. It is because Powers wrote this one. Okay. Now I see.

The human element here is Sam kinda sorta falling for a Tollan named Narim. It is awkward, but sweet, in a way.

What I find odd about “Enigma” is the message it is trying to send. The tollan are completely unsympathetic people because they genuinely believe they are so much more advanced than everyone else. Heck, I wanted them thrown into the worst dungeon the CIA could find! It is not a good sign when the audience wants the exact opposite of what the heroes are trying to accomplish. Take them with my blessing, Maybourne. You all deserve each other. The Tollan are said to be so far advanced because they did not experience any historical period similar to the Dark Ages, so perhaps there is an anti-religion message. But wait--the Tollan are incredibly unpleasant, so they cannot be held up as an ideal. You really cannot say the lack of a dark ages made them any better.

Meh. Who knows? Maybe the title ‘Enigma” is meant to be ironic considering what a mess the philosophy beyond the episode is. Or, more likely, Powers is just a terrible writer. I would not think about the question too much regardless. ‘Enigma” is not worth it.

Rating: ** (out of 5)

Monday, January 16, 2012

Stargate SG-1--"Singularity"

"Singularity” finally gives Sam the episode she deserves. Both tough and motherly within, the story makes up, more or less, for some major stumbles with the character. The episode manages to further demonstrate the cruelty of the Goa’uld as well. A sadistic lot, they are.

The SG-1 team arrives on Hanka, an inhabited planet where a team of astronomers has been based in preparation to view an eclipse. The team discovers everyone dead, save for a little girl, from what appears to be a plague. While Jack and Teal’c stay behind under a strained rationale viewing the eclipse is extremely important to human knowledge, the rest take the little girl, Cassandra, back to Earth.

Sam bonds with the child, who clings to her desperately in return. Frasier discovers some sort of device near the little girl’s heart that seemingly was not there. She surmises the little girl is a Goa’uld booby trap. They attack Hanka, killed everyone but Cassandra, and implanted an explosive device that would be activated the moment she went through the stargate. They reluctantly opt to send her back through the stargate to Hanka, but before they can jack and teal’c come through from the other side. They have been attacked by a rival goa’uld faction who have used booby traps like Cassandra to destroy enemy stargates. They cannot send Cassandra back through or else she will destroy the stargate.

The decision is made to place her in an abandoned nuclear facility so the bomb can blow up safely. No one tells Cassandra what is actually happening. The mood is somber, particularly with Sam. She feels as though she is betraying her promise to not abandon Cassandra. When it comes down to it, she cannot. Though she locked Cassandra in the underground vault, she returns to die with the little girl. But the bomb does not go off as planned. The bomb will only explode if she enters the stargate. As long as she stays away, everything will be fine.

Until a suitable foster home can be found, Frasier adopts Cassandra. So much for Take Your Daughter to Work Day, no? ‘and you remember the stargate…” Boom! All right, that is maybe a little too much dark humor. Speaking of humor, I find it funny that yet again Sam is the main emphasis of an episode, yet Frasier is more integral to the resolution. In ”Hathor”, Sam took command, yet Frasier was more pivotal to their escape and eventual victory. Here, Sam spends the entire episode bonding with Cassandra, then Frasier adopts her. Does it not feel odd to build up this emotional connection between the two, then snatch it away at the last minute?

I realize the ‘shippers are big on Jack and sam, but I cannot help but notice an early pull towards Daniel and Sam instead. Daniel is a nice guy who offers support for everyone, but he is right there by Sam the entire episode. It feels like the powers that be are setting the two up for a deeper relationship when Sha’re’s fate turns out to be tragic. I am curious to find out when the focus shifted away from that dynamic. Ot I could just be reading things wrong. Jack and Teal’c are still rather stoic characters. Maybe Daniel just seems more caring in comparison.

“Singularity” does a very good job of ratcheting up the tension. The story puts a child in danger without being too blatant at tugging the heartstrings or being too cheesy. I appreciated the realism involved. In many shows, the characters would have dedicated themselves to saving the little girl at the cost of their own lives, but manage to find a perfect cure at the last second. Here, they are going to lock the girl up so the bomb inside her can blow safely. That is harsh, but it goes against the usual heroic way such things play out on television. After three years of Star Trek handling kid centered stories badly, Stargate SG-1 offers a refreshing alternative.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Stargate SG-1--"Cor Ai"

“Cor Ai” is a compelling episode that deals with the question of redemption of one who has committed evil acts in the past, but is now reformed. The accused in question is Teal’c, who, while under the service of Apophis, murdered a civilian to serve as an example for the rest of a captured population. When the SG-1 team visit’s the planet, Teal’c is recognized and put on trial for the crime.

The subject of war crimes has been of particular interest to me. I have published a law review article on the subject of the Japanese enslaving women from occupied countries to serve as concubines. The “comfort women” system was never directly addressed during the war crimes trials. Survivors from the system were issued a formal apology decades later, but no restitution for their suffering. The United States bares some responsibility for that. Survivors filed suit under the Alien Tort Claims Act in federal court only to have it quashed in the name of Japanese sovereign immunity and the preservation of good diplomatic relations. There is general concern when dealing with war crimes that the change in political winds can render justice obsolete, particularly when there is a question whether it is justice or revenge sought.

The circumstances surrounding Teal’c’s crime are very similar to the ’comfort women” system. Years ago, Apophis lead an assault on the planet Cartago to gather hosts for Goa’uld larva instead of as concubines, but the principle is the same. The military is forcing civilians into service, personally violating them in the process, without fear of retribution in the future. The Japanese even thought they were blessed by their gods the same as the Jaffa.

The people resisted, so Apophis ordered Teal’c to kill a random person to show of power. Teal’c chose a one legged man to shoot dead. His young son, Hanno, witnessed the murder and vowed revenge. It is Hanno that recognizes Teal’c when SG-1 arrives. Teal’c agrees to stand trial for the murder. He even admits he did it. The murder of Hanno’s father is but one of many war crimes Teal’c committed, but never faced punishment for. He believes he ought to do so.

The story nearly backs itself into a philosophical corner with no way out. Not only does Teal’c want to stand trial, he argues against jack’s assertions that he was a0 just following orders and b) is a changed man now. There is an underlying feeling here that jack feels guilty over some of the things he has done in the line of duty for which he will not only never face punishment, but is hailed as a hero. But the bottom line is that jack killed soldiers in the line of duty--some of them fathers, no doubt--but Teal’c committed an atrocity on a civilian.

Hanno sees the difference as well. While he acknowledges SG-1’s testimony that Teal’c has reformed is valid, he nevertheless has committed a crime he has not been punished for. The matter stands even after it is established teal’c shot the one legged man as a matter of choosing the lesser of two evils. Apophis had ordered him to kill one or all of them would die. Hanno wants Teal’c executed. Teal’c cooperates with the sentence.

The resolution is the weakest part of the episode. The goa’uld return to capture more slaves. Teal’c proves himself reformed by defying the Jaffa and killing Shak’l. His actions prove his worthiness to Hanno, who finally admits teal’c is not the same man who murdered his father. Actions certainly speak louder than words, so teal’c fighting on behalf of Hanno’s people is more meaningful than his friends’ testimony, but is a Jaffa attack right before talc’s execution a wee bit contrived?

So “Cor Ai” ends on a weak note. It still produces some thought provoking questions about redemption versus paying the consequences for past actions. Hanno granted teal’c mercy that he does not necessarily deserve. Had we not already become emotionally attached to teal’c, that fact might be more obvious. I am going to award four stars even if the ending does peter out. The issues raised were right up my alley. Your mileage may vary.

Rating: **** (out of 5)

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Stargate SG-1--"Hathor"

“Hathor” has a reputation as one of the worst episodes of Stargate SG-1. It is well earned. Even the writers have acknowledged its weak elements, some of which become a running joke in later episodes such as clip shows and retrospectives. My biggest lament in a wide field of bad aspects from which to choose is that Sam takes center stage yet again, but not only is she the main focus of a bad episode, the side character of Janet Frasier takes the lead before the incapacitated Jack is revived to take charge again. Come on, folks. Let Sam have her moment already!

Archeologists in Mexico uncover a sarcophagus with Egyptian hieroglyphics written on it. A woman emerges in a pseudo-wonder woman outfit, mistakes them for Goa’uld, and kills them when she discovers they are not. The surviving members of the archeological team, who believe the others were murdered by tomb robbers, send the sarcophagus to Daniel. Ergo, it winds up at the top secret Stargate Command. Sure, a bunch of nerdy academics must know all about Daniel’s top secret activities. Did I mention they know the sarcophagus can raise people from the dead? Except for the killed members of the archeological team. Screw them, I guess.

Hathor also makes her way to Stargate Command. What do these people do, dial information and ask where would be the best place to send a stolen resurrection chamber? “what? A secret mountain facility in Colorado Springs? Run by the Air Force? Thank you. Yes, I will look into Pike’s Peak while I am there. And the Olympic Training Center. No, I am not interested in restaurant recommendations. Look lady, I’ve been waiting 3,000 years to take over the world. Give me a break! Goodbye!” As you might expect, Hathor walks right in and takes over by controlling all the men with some pink pheromone gas stuff.

Hathor is the Egyptian god of fertility, inebriety, and music--sex, drugs, and rock ’n roll--so she can make every man fall under her spell. They do, like a bunch of drunken frat boys. Hathor plans to turn them all into a Jaffa army in order to take over Earth and everywhere else. The women are unaffected, so Sam and Frasier take the lead in thwarting Hathor’s plan. Teal’c, whose symbiote prevents him from falling under her control, joins in with the women.

There is a major battle, Janet seducing a guard, Jack being saved from a symbiote by the sarcophagus, the revelation Daniel fathered Hathor’s new batch of symbiotes (ew) and Hathor’s escape through the stargate which breaks the hold she had over the men. Sam gets to play the hero for about ten minutes in all that. It is not enough, but the rest helps establish Teryl Rothery as incredibly hot. Just sayin’.

“Hathor” is pretty bad. It is a bottle show taking place almost entirely inside Stargate Command, and it both looks and feels cheap. I did not get into the plot. The male actors hammed up the lovesick schoolboy thing to the point of camp. I do not even think Hathor is as stunning a woman as she is made out to be. I would skip this one. You would not be missing much.

Rating: ** (out of 5)

Friday, January 13, 2012

Stargate SG-1--"The Nox"

The albino Dee Snider up there is played by none other than Quark himself, Armin Shimmerman. He is the first of many Star Trek alumni to make an appearance on Stargate SG-1. For those suffering from Star Trek withdrawal, the plot of “The Nox” closely resembles that of TOS’ “Errand of Mercy,” wherein the heores attempt to protect a seemingly primitive, pacifist society only to learn in the end they are far more than they appear.

Under increased pressure from the Secretary of defense to bring back more useful technology from their expeditions, SG-1 travels to the planet Gaia on Teal’c’ advisement there is an animal native to the world that can turn invisible. After the SG-1 tram arrives on Gaia, the stargate disappears behind them and they are killed by Apophis and his men., who just happen to be there hunting the invisible creature as well. Great minds think alike, I guess.

The SG-1 team awakens in an Ewok village surprised to learn they are not dead. The village belongs to the Nox, primitives whom nevertheless have some medical skill that can apparently raise the dead, thereby making them a prime target for Goa’uld enslavement. The SG-1 team offers to capture Apophis and take him away in order to keep the Nox’ existence a secret, but they refuse to return SG-1’s weapons because of their pacifist beliefs. The Nox want them to go back to the stargate and leave forever.

In the interim, a captured Jaffa named Shak’l who was also returned from the dead kills a Nox woman and a young boy attempting to track down Apothis himself is killed. Both are brought back through the same process as SG-1 and Shak’l. They are vulnerable during the ceremony. Jack surmises Apothis’ plan was to kill the boy and attack the Nox during the revival process. The Sg-1 team builds bows and arrows to defend the Nox whether they want it or not.

During the battle, the Nox make apothis disappear before Jack can kill or capture him. The Nox refuse to suffer any further violence. They escort SG-1 back to the stargate with the promise they will bury it once they have returned to Earth. Before leaving, SG-1 learns the Nox live in a highly advanced city in the sky. The primitive village is merely a ruse to trick enemies. Had Sg-1 trusted the Nox instead of fighting apothis, a cooperative friendship could have been formed/. Alas, with the stargate buried, such cannot happen. Bridge burned, lesson learned.

I am not sure how much I buy into said lesson. There is something to be said for sending your enemy back home with his ears pinned back that feels much more effective than hiding. One wonders if the Nox might feel that way if they could not easily bring their victims of enemy attacks back from the dead. Suffering loss of innocent life but doing nothing about it is more cowardly than principled. The scenario brings up the question of where would pacifists be if there were not someone with a big stick behind them keeping either cheek from being slapped. I am in the mindset that one cannot be a pacifist until everyone else is, that is a discussion for another time.

A couple of the names used in ’The Nox” beat you over the head with their meanings. The Nox live on Gaia, which is a word for Earth, but has modern connection with the environmentalist movement. You know, the types who live in harmony with nature because of spirit animals and such. The Jaffa is named Shak’l, like shackle, to denote he is a slave to the Goa’uld. Of course, the Nox live in an invisible foating city, so they are not necessarily faeries of the forest. Considering Richard dean Anderson’s heavy involvement in environmental causes, the message Shak’l is a slave to the Goa’uld but the Nox are not slaves to extreme environmentalism is not there. You can make up your own mind.

“The Nox" originally aired as the eighth episode of the first season. It was rushed due to a tight production schedule, so several intended scenes were not in the aired cut and some dialogue from Apothis was edited out because the actor’s voice was not computer enhanced. The DVD episode not only corrects these issues, but moves it back in sequence to the thirteen episode. I am unsure whether there is any impact story arc wise. “The Nox” is contrived, preachy in parts, and very much “Errand of Mercy’ sans Kirk and, but it is still difficult to fault a whole lot. It reminds me of something TNG would have done in its first season before the show found its own voice.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Stargate SG-1--"Fire and Water"

“Fire and Water” helps establish that Daniel, who is not comfortably a part of the military culture, is nevertheless considered an integral part of SG-1. The episode also offers up the opportunity to introduce another weird alien. Since I am struggling to come up with anything else to add as part of an introduction, how about we get on with it?

Jack, Sam, and Teal’c return through the stargate hours ahead of schedule, in shock, and without Daniel. They report that Daniel is dead. He was burned in a fire. The only way they survived is by submerging themselves in a nearby ocean. Daniel is given a memorial service with full military honors. The rest of the team is taken off active duty for a week while they deal with their grief. They continue to feel a nagging suspicion that Daniel is still alive, with the notion becoming much stronger around water.

It is not until the second act we learn Daniel is alive. He is being held captive by an aquatic alien named Nem. Nem forces Daniel to translate some cuneiform fron ancient Babylon in an effort to uncover what happened to his wife, Omoroca. Daniel has no way of doing that, as he futilely explains to Nem. Much of ancient history has been lost to time and fate. It takes time to even get from nem what Omoroca even is. When he does learn Omoroca is Nem’s wife, empathy renews his dedication, particularly as it becomes more Omoroca opposed a goa’uld in Babylon and was killed for it.

Back on earth, it is slowly but surely established the remainder of SG-1 are suffering from repressed memories. Under hypnosis, Sam recalls meeting Nem on the planet, them being captured to implant false memories of Daniel burning to death, and a mental prohibition to never return. Knowing all this to be true, they do. In the interim, Daniel has given up believing all the knowledge he can recall off the top of his head can help determine Omoroca’s fate, so he agrees to submit to the memory device in order to dig it out. The procedure is risky enough for Nem to not want to do it, but Daniel insists. The procedure extracts the knowledge that Omoroca did die at the hands of a goa’uld. The SG-1 team arrives shortly thereafter to retrieve Daniel. They leave in peace with nem.

I liked the emphasis through on memory and emotional connection. Nem has been waiting 4,000 years to learn what happened to his wife. He knows good and well she is dead, but he needs closure even after all this time. All that time not having dulled his love for her. Daniel is willing to risk using the memory extracting device, something even Nem does not want to do, because he empathizes with Nem. His wife, Sha’re, has suffered an as yet unknown fate by the Goa’uld, too. In many ways, SG-1’s reaction to Daniel’s ‘death” is even more poignant. Jack in particular is interesting. All three have supposedly been conditioned to not want to return to the planet, and when he suggests it, Sam and Teal’c forcefully and in unison insist no to a return trip. Jack overcomes the conditioning, though it is unspoken, because of his connection to Daniel. Sam does not come around until hypnosis brings out the truth and she breaks down when she realizes they left Daniel behind.

“Fire and Water” is quite good. I knew good and well daniel was not dead throughout the first act, yet I was drawn into the idea anyway because of how well the characters’ grief was presented. These days, I look back on the fad of “retrieving” repressed memories as a pop psychology fad from the ’90’s, but I can appreciate nostalgia for the dumb stuff, too. While repressed memories are a major plot element, it does not detract much from the story.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Stargate SG-1--"Bloodlines"

“Bloodlines" sees SG-1 return to Chulak in order to help Teal’c rescue his son from bonding with a Goa’uld larva and bring said larva back to the CIA for study. Mission priorities are in that order. This is the first time we meet talc’s family and the recurring character of Bra’tac, talc’s mentor. The episode deals primarily with the weight of Teal’c’s sacrifice in betraying the Goa’uld, but there are other subtle moments for the other main characters.

After a failed experiment to safely remove Tral’c’s symbiote so it can be studied, he suggests a mission to Chulak to steal a symbiote that has not yet been bonded with a Jaffa. Hammond nixes the idea. Jack agrees because of the risks, but notes his refusal appears to have unusually bothered the otherwise stoic Teal’c. teal’c confides in jack that he abandoned his family in order to join SG-1. His son is about to come of age when he will be bonded with a symbiote. Teal’c does not want his son, Rya’c, to become a slave to the Goa’uld. Jack empathizes, though Charlie is not invoked. Hammond eventually relents.

On Chulak, SG-1 discovers the teal’c family home has been burned down. According to Bra’tac, who greets teal’c warmly, his family have become outcasts due to his betrayal. They now live in a primitive, budget saving village . Jack, enhancing the paternal protection notion, orders sam and Daniel back to the stargate while he joins Teal’c and Bra’tac in rescuing Rya’c from bonding.

Teal’c interrupts the bonding ceremony. His wife, Drey’auc, is none too happy. Not only have the family’s fortunes dropped, but Rya’c has contracted scarlet fever. Only a larva could save him. Jack suggests taking him to earth for treatment. Rya’c takes a turn for the worse on the journey back, forcing Teal’c to give his symbiote to his son even though it will cost him his life.

Meanwhile, Sam and Daniel watch as a group of priests arrive through the stargate with a container full of larva for the temple. They follow in order to steal one of the larva. They capture on of the little buggers, but afterwards, Daniel has a crisis of conscience. He wants to destroy then tire container so the larva cannot enslave anyone. Sam says it would be immoral. To kill them would make him no better than the Goa’uld. Daniel seems convinced for the briefest of moments, then opens fire, killing all the larva. The personal pain of losing his wife to a larva motivated him to do so. Sam says nothing about his act. Presumably, ashe understands.

The two meet up with the others in time to offer up the symbiote they took to Teal’c before he expires. He says goodbye to his family, whom he orders to say he kidnapped them against their will, and bra’tac, who helps SG-1 make it to the stargate. Through his actions, Bra’tac establishes himself as an ally for the future.

‘Bloodlines” is a fine example of Stargate SG-1’s strengths, that is to say character driven, rather than plot driven stories. If I have any complaints about the episode, it is that Sam does not get a moment to shine. Teal’c, jack, and Daniel’s actions are motivated by emotional connections to family. Sam is just along for the ride. In fact, there are only two proactive bits for her. One is when she reaches into the tank to grab a larva. It is played for laughs. The other is her appeal to the better side of Daniel’s nature to not kill the larva. She is ignored, and says nothing at any point later over her concerns being dismissed. This even though the next scene with Rya’c’s life being saved by a larva demonstrates they can have a possible benefit. I understand sam is going to become a much stronger, more interesting character, but she is really trampled on in the early going.She is still about about nine layers of awesome, though. she is not the main emphasis of “Bloodlines,’ so I cannot hold her treatment to harshly against the rest of the episode.

Rating; *** (out of 5)

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Stargate SG-1--"The Torment of Tantalus"

“The Torment of Tantalus” alludes to the ancient Greek myth of Tantalus, who could never have that for which he was reaching. From this myth, we get the word “tantalize.” The title refers to Daniel’s quandary, but the episode’s main plot focuses on escaping from a world in which the stargate’s dial home device no longer works. There is lots of foreshadowing and, lo and behold, Jack suggests a MacGyverism that allows the team to escape.

Daniel discovers Pentagon film footage from 1945 depicting early military experiments on the stargate. They got it to working, and the footage shows a scientist named Ernest Littlefield (Played by Stargate: Atlantis‘ Robert McGillion) traveling through the stargate and being lost when it shuts off. No effort to retrieve him was successful, so an official story that he died in a lab explosion was concocted. Daniel is able to extrapolate the address of the planet to which Littlefield traveled. Taking along his now in her seventies fiancee, Catherine, he and Sg-1 go to the planet in search of him.

On the planet, they discover Littlefield is still alive, though a wee bit off his rocker. He has spent the last 52 years living in an abandoned castle on a stormy rock cliff while studying strange alien writing and devices. In particularly, there is a room in the castle which houses a device which projects representations of atoms and the and basic elements. There are four types of writings on each of the four walls, signifying four alien races met here. Daniel becomes obsessed with the idea of translating all of it in order to determine its meaning of life implications. There are two complications. One, the DHD was destroyed some time ago and a huge storm is about to push the castle into the sea.

Sam believes she can get the DHD working by utilizing the power of the atom projecting device. Daniel objects, but is overruled, but it does not matter because the plan does not work anyway. Jack suggests, in full macGyver mode, harnessing the lightning. That does work, and the team goes home with the elderly lovebirds in tow. They are unable to return, presumably because the stargate is now buried under storm debris, but they have Littlefield’s notes from fifty-two years of research. They are untranslatable due to no alien Rosetta Stone, but the notes keep the escapade from being a total loss.

There are a few points about ‘The Torment of Tantalus” which botther me. Littlefield himself is the biggest. For a man who love for Catherine sustained him for fifty years, he3 is quite subdued when he sees her again after all those decades. What did he eat for all this time? No one else is on the planet but him, so he had to sustain himself by his own wit. One would guess he fished, but who knows? The plot complication is way too convenient as well. A storm just happens to destroy the castle a few hors after SG-1 arrives even though it has withstood for at least fifty-two years? I know television drama has to be somewhat contrived, but that stretches credibility to the breaking point.

“The Torment of Tantalus” is a neat idea and is done in an effectively moody setting with the isolated castle and stormy setting, but the story is terribly unfocussed. The decades long reunion between Ernest and Catherine should have had much more emotion. The SG-1 team risked taking a seventy year old woman through the stargate in the hopes her true love is still alive, for crying out loud. (It would have been cruel if they had found his skeleton dangling from where he had hung himself decades before in despair. They could bring two corpses back after catherine suffers a heart attack at the sight.) but the name of the episode, not to mention the dramatic point we are to focus upon, is that Daniel does not want to lose the chance to study the alien writings, even if it means risking the castle falling into the sea before he is done. Both are worthy concerns that could resonate emotionally, but with them both crammed in, neither works as well as it should. Pity. Not a bad episode, but it tries to do too much.

Rating: *** (out of 5)