Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Stargate SG-1--"Serpent's Song"

I am going to have to start giving Katharyn Powers more credit than I have been. After fumbling through some clumsy early scripts, she has managed to grab me as of late. Never more so than with “Serpent’s song,’ an episode that does a lot with a little by allowing the audience to use its imagination in visualizing horrors rather than outright showing them. It is very effective, as is what little is shown. The difference there will make more sense in a moment.

The SG-1 team is left waiting on a desert planet when they are sent coordinates to go there. They assume their presence was requested by the Tok’ra, but soon a Goa’uld ship crashes on the planet while being pursued by other Goa’uld ships. The pilot of the crashed ship is apophis. He is severely wounded and requests help. Teal’c wants to kill him. Jack does, too, but sam convinces them both Apophis is more valuabler alive. They escape with him back through the stargate before his pursuers can kill them all.

Apophis has been a prisoner of a Goa’uld named Sokar. Sokar is the original Egyptian god of death--Satan, daniel points out. He has been torturing Apophis for no other reason than his amusement, and he wants his new plaything back. Apophis is now dying due to the torture. When he escaped from sokar’s grasp, he sought out the humans for two reasons. One, he thought their compassion might grant him a new host to survive. Barring that, he figures sokar will be angry enough with the humans for offering him asylum that sokar will destroy earth is revenge. Plan a obviously does not work. Plan b, however, swings into full motion when Sokar begins assaulting the stargate with the implied fires of hell while demanding Apophis be returned to him.

Initially, SGC refuses to hand over Apophis because of the potential intelligence value. Virtually no one thinks he will reveal anything since he is dying anyway, so all but Frasier say toss him through the stargate. Frasier, for her part, looks at the situation through the Hippocratic Oath. The episode dwells very little on that, however. Jack wants Apophis dead because of his Goa’uld hatred. Daniel threatens him over Sha’re’s kidnapping. Teal’c believes his death will at least symbolically free the Jaffa he has subjugated. Even the death of the symbiote and the subsequent re-emergence of its original host does little to sway opinion. As Sokar nears the destruction of the stargate, they hand over apophis’ dead body in the hopes seeing him dead will appease sokar. Instead, sokar has a sarcophagus with which he will continually raise apophis from the dead and torture him into perpetuity.

There are some incredibly disturbing elements to ‘Serpent’s Song.” what is great about it is the method of presentation is done for maximum effect. We never see Sokar. We only hear of him described as the ruler of the underworld with a serpent motif. All we hear is his booming voice and see is the power of hellfire through the stargate. It is all left to the imagination. Contrast that with Apophis, whom we see rapidly deteriorating in the infirmary. As his symbiote fades away, he ages, becoming more guant and gray with a increasingly whispery voice. What tops it off for me is after the symbiote dies. The original host, a scribe from ancient Egypt, emerge. His last words describe how horrific it is to be a prisoner in one’s own body for thousands of years. He only wants to die so he can see his family in the afterlife. The thought of his experience is erry, and made even worse when it is revealed Apophis is going to be revived again and again to face more torture, seemingly forever.

"Serpent’s Song” is the first episode directed by Peter DeLuise, son of the late Dom. DeLuise occasionally utilizes a technique wherein he films an action sequence from a first person perspective. The first time he uses it is from jack’s perspective as he backs through the stargate while firing his weapon at approaching Goa’uld ships. The second is from a soldier taking up position in front of the stargate as an unauthorized visitor, which turns out to be the Tok’ra, come through. It is a neat way of putting you in the heat of the moment, but suffers diminishing returns. It is much like when the accompanying theme is too overdone for the scene it overlays. The technique is cool out times, though.

“Serpent’s Song’ is a very good, very disturbing episode. For all intents and purposes, it is a bottle show which utilizes only one set beyond the SGC, but it does not feel cheaply made. Such is the mark of a good budget saving episode. I find it creative enough to award four stars. I believe this is the first occasion of four star episode coming back to back in the time I have been reviewing television.

Rating: *** (out 5)

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