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)

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