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)

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