Saturday, March 31, 2012

Stargate SG-1--"Ascension"

“Ascension” is an odd duck. Its general theme feels like filler--an alien falls in love with sam and follows her back to earth--but the secondary plot is the obviously too good to be true discovery of an ultimate weapon to be used against the Goa’uld. We can already figure that the discovery of an uberweapon as the main plot is going to fall flat somehow. It is even worse to make it the b-story. But that is not the big question. Weighing more on my mind is why Sam would fall for an alien who looks like David Spade.

The SG-1 team is exploring a planet which has been devastated by a conflict from long ago. The only thing that remains intact is a large device which is far more advanced than anything else in the civilization. While studying the device, Sam is knocked unconscious. Back at SGC, she is diagnosed with exhaustion and given time off Reluctantly, she agrees. The truth of her condition is an ascended being named orlin tried to communicate with her on the planet, but she could not handle it. He stalks her overnight, watching television in order to learn how he should look and act in human form. Hence that whole David Spade thing.

Look, before any pedants start up--I know orlin is not supposed to actually be spade. But there is supposed to be an awkward vibe about him in that he does not understand human culture, so he chose a form not quite right. He certainly does not look or act like the kind of man Sam would go for, and that is part of the reason the episode is not as good as it could be. Maybe you can see Sam falling for an incorporeal Joe dirt from a higher plane of existence, but I cannot. Hence, the spade references for emphasis on how implausible his hold on sam is.

Orlin is definitely a creepy stalker, but Sam forgives him for staying over secretly in her house. Odd, considering he watched her preparing for bed and sleeping. As I mentioned, she falls for him way too quickly. He explains to her that he intervened against his people’s rules and helped aliens build the weapon in order to defeat the Goa’uld. When the aliens decided to use the weapon to be conquerors themselves, the acended beings wiped them out and banished Orlin as punishment. So he has been isolated for heaven only knows how long and gone completely nutty. Yes, he and sam are a love story for the ages.

Orlin urges sam to convince col. Frank Simmons, the Pentagon bad guy for the season, from using the weapon for fear the ascended beings will wipe out humanity. He builds a stargate in sam’s basemen through materials bought online--sam’s got one heck of a credit card bill coming--to travel to the planet. He sacrifices himself in order to stop SG-16 from firing the weapon by destroying it. The ascended beings consider this an act of redemption and allow Orlin to ascend with them again. Sam is upset her perverted, nutty stalker alien David Spade is gone. I am not.

One big question--why did the ascended beings destroy the civilization rather than just the weapon/ it seems less harsh and far more in keeping with their pledge of non-interference. Even if another one was built, they could have destroyed that one, too. Eventually, the message would have gotten across without resorting to genocide. The ascended beings appear to acknowledge this in the end, as they are satisfied when the weapon is destroyed and do not care the humans have enough data to perhaps build another eventually. Not only a a bit of a plor hole, but a tacit admission the ascended beings did not think their original actions through.

Several points of note: One, Orlin is played by Sean Patrick Flanery. While he may be most famoud for The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, he also played the title character in Powder not much different than Orlin. I have yet to meet anyone who watched Powder and did not like it. Take that for what it is worth. Two, this is the first appearance of Simmons, who is played by John de Lancie. De Lancie may be most famous as !, but he costarred in a blink and you missed it sci fi western called Legend with Richard Dean Anderson. Legend was one of UPN’s numerous failed shows back when Star Trek: Voyager was carrying the network. Let that sink in. Three, while Sam is on leave, Jack and Teal’c show up at her door with pizza and a copy of Star Wars. It is Teal’c’s favorite movie because of the parallels between the rebellion v. the empire and SGC’s battle against the Goa’uld. Flanery worked for George Lucas on The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles and Orlin has some jedI elements in his storyline.

“Ascension” is not particularly impressive. Maybe if Orlin had not been such a creepy weirdo or took a human form more suitable to Sam’s taste, their relationship would have been more meaningful. As it is, sam comes across as an old maid willing to accept any guy who compliments her no matter how many screws he has loose. I have already talked about the issues surrounding the weapon, so there is no need to rehash. I do not think I will consider “Ascension” one of the worst episodes of the series when it is all said and done, but it definitely ranks below average.

Rating; ** (out of 5)

Friday, March 30, 2012

Stargate SG-1--"Threshold"

Anything associated with science fiction entitled ‘Threshold” ought to make any geek wary. But as Brannon braga has nothing to do with the script, I bravely give it a shot. It is a Teal’c centric episode. I do not find teal’c all that compelling a character, but after my complaint in the preceding review his development as reached a dead end with his conversion back to blind faith for Aoophis, props must be given for the effort to deepen Tealc’s devotion to freeing Jaffa instead. Autocorrect keeps changing Teal’c to talc. This is going to be an annoying review to write.

Weeks have gone by since Teal’c returned to SGC. He is a prisoner under the care of a psychologist helping him work through his deprogramming. Teal’c pretends to be well, but it is a ruse in order to make an escape attempt. He is recaptured by SC-1 and Bra’tac. Bra’tac realizes teal’c is a near hopeless case, so he rips out Junior in the hopes when Teal’c sees his life flash before his eyes as he nears death, he will accept the truth about Apophis’ false godhood.

As his friends take turns keeping vigil, Teal’c remembers the past. He recalls the day he was introduced to Apophis by Bra’tac whereupon he challenges Apophis when his father is called a coward in his failure to kill Cronus. Later, Teal’c befriends Va’lar, a true believer in Apophis who is not being trained by Bra’tac to doubt Apophis’ divinity. When Va’lar is forced to retreat in a hopeless battle with the forces of Ra, Teal’c is charged with killing him because of his cowardice. He cannot, however, because of what happened to his father. He spares va’lar, directing him to a safe haven village, and takes a sybiote from a dead Jaffa as ’proof” he killed Va’lar. Apophis does not know the difference. Teal’c wonders about apophis’ omniscience.

Teal’c is eventually forced to raze the village to which he sent Va’lar. He makes certain va’lar is dead to cover up his deception. The selfish act weighs heavily on his conscience. When his victory prompts Apophis to make Teal’c his First Prime, Bra’tac reminds Teal’c what the Goa’uld are and what apophis will call upon him to do. He must try to make a difference the best he can. Which leads us to Teal’c in his death throes remembering how he betrayed apophis in order to join SG-1. The epiphany has him choosing freedom in the moment just before he should die. Ergo, everything is back to normal.

I have to mention again that I am not a big Teal’c fan. It bears repeating because if you are a fan, “Threshold” is probably one of your favorites. It is a well-crafted story that explores the characters motivations in what I am certain is a poignant way--assuming you are interested. I recognize the episode’s quality, but am on the outside looking in. At least they did not try shock therapy on Teal’c like they did with his brainwashed kid. I guess electroshock is reserved for bratty young ones.

Rating; *** (out of 5)

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Stargate SG-1--"Enemies"

“Enemies” serves as the fifth season premiere. The episode feels like it is overcompensating for a lackluster fourth season finale by throwing in everything but the kitchen sink; Apophis, Tok’ra, brainwashed Teal’c, and the Replicators just to name the biggies. Even the Asgard are named dropped to make sure all bases were covered. But are they? The answer is yeah, pretty much.

Our heroes and Apophis are in a face off 150 years journey from Earth when another ship appears from nowhere and attacks Apophis’ mothership. Not willing to look a gift horse in the mouth, our heroes flee to the orbit of a nearby planet to be shielded from sensors while making repairs. When the radiation shielding the ship from detection reaches unsafe levels, they have to flee unrepaired. They discover Apophis’ ship with no life signs. When they board, they discover it has been overrun by Replicators.

Back safely on their ship, they are contacted by Teal’c in a shuttle. It is a ruse, however. Apophis revived Teal’c with a sarcophagus, but he is back as apophis’ loyal first prime. Apophis and the surviving Jaffa take over the ship, but inadvertently bring Replicators with them. They begin altering the shop to make more of themselves. The chaos allows SG-1 and Jacob to escape.

Conveniently, the Replicators learn of Apophis’ base of operations and decide they want its technology. They are able to enhance the ship’s engines to get them there in a short period of time, which solves just about everyone’s problem. The SG-1 team arranges for the ship to crash into the planet in order to both kill apophis and destroy the Replicators. Teal’c is recovered, but is still brainwashed into believing Apophis is his god.

I am curious if, like so often happened with Star Trek, the season finale cliffhanger was written without a conclusion in mind. The Replicators showing up out of the blue and being the catalyst for the return home has a writers room “Okay, how do we fix the problem/” vibe to it. Not to say it is terribly contrived, but it does feel odd the Replicators suddenly decide Apophis has a lot of cool stuff they would like to have a century and a half’s journey from here.

Is it just me, or is brainwashing Teal’c back to his old loyalties an admission there is not much left to do with the character? His conversion is more poignant considering he was allowing himself to be tortured to death a few episodes back than declare Apophis a god, but the regression is...well, a regression. A step back in Teal’c’s development. A development which is glacially slow in the first place. I single out Teal’c because Apophis has reached the end of what can be done with him, so he is killed off. The writers can tell when a character arc is done. Why are they not doing a better job with Teal’c?

Speaking of Apophis, his final scene with the personal shield keeping the Replicators off him, but his screaming at the realization his ship is going to be completely destroyed on planetary impact was one of the best death scenes I have scene in a while. It reminded me of Anna Sheridan’s in Babylon 5’s “Za’ha’dum.” Indulging my sci fi geekiness there.

“Enemies” is an entertaining episode in spite of it cliffhanger resolution appearing to have been unplanned from the beginning. It is far more interesting and action oriented than its first part. It also utilizes every character this time around. In the first part, Jack was there to do nothing more than crack sarcastic joke. Daniel was there for even less. I am beginning to see why Michael shanks wanted to leave the show. But--ding dong--apophis is dead. I hope some more interesting arch villain takes his place.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Stargate SG-1--"Exodus"

“Exodus” is the fourth season finale. The episode deals with the Tok’ra related threads that have been running through the season. It tries to end the season on a big splash, and in many ways it succeeds, but I have been under whelmed by the Tok’ra running threads. I think like Jack--outside of Jacob/Selmak, I do not see much value in these guys. As usual, your mileage may vary.

The SG-1 team arrives on Vorash with the ship stolen from Cronus with plans to let the tok’ra use it in order to evacuate the planet for a safer location. With the arrival of the ship, it has become necessary to end the spying career of Hebron/Tanith so he cannot inform Apophis of the Tok’ra’s new ride. In his cell, Hebron/Tanith fakes his death to lure a guard in, then makes his escape. Hebron/Tanith is not recaptured in spite of a manhunt, so it is assumed he has already tipped off Apophis. The timetable for the evacuation must be moved up.

Sam and Jacob/Selmak brainstorm a plan that may wipe out Apophis’ fleet when it arrives on Vorash. The lan is to cause Vorash’s sun to go supernova by dialing up the black hole planet on Vorash’s stargate and releasing it near the sun. The black hole would suck up enough mass to cause the sun to go supernova. The plan inspired the following underused internet meme:There really ought to be more of those.

Teal’c is simmering during all this because Hebron/Tanith’s continued survival has denied him revenge for the murder of Shan’auc. But when he and Jack are forced to take a glider out to destroy a lone wolf Goa’uld ship, teal’c crashes it on Vorash. The two eventually encounter the wandering Hebron/Tanith, but are overpowered. Hebron/Tanith takes Teal’c prisoner as a gift for apophis when his fleet finally arrives.

Jack is rescued from vorash before the sun goes supernova, but the ship’s escape goes awry when they come out of hyperspace in another galaxy altogether. From their current location, it would take them 150 years to get home. To make matters worse, Apophis’ ship shows up right behind them. To be continued.

For someone who is supposed to be a fierce warrior, Teal’c gets his butt kicked on a right regular basis. Maybe he and Worf should form a support group. At least Worf has a knack for avenging his murdered girlfriends and father. In terms of his actions in “Exodus,” I have to marvel at the reckless behavior Jack is willing to tolerate. Teal’c is not only a loose cannon, but a psychotic one who disregards Jack’s safety altogether in his quest for revenge.

"Exodus" is an entertaining episode, but does not feel big enough to be a season finale. Maybe it is because Earth is not threatened this time around. The episode centers around Vorash, which I have little emotional attachment, and ends with our heroes stranded, which does not hold much drama. I do not think it is a bad episode by any means. It jusy feels smaller than it should.

That is a problem that has plagued the fourth season. There have been episodes that will probably hold up well enough to make my top ten list, but they have been fewer and further between than in the previous three seasons. There has been more of a quality consistency problem than before. I will give some props for unique aliens, however. We have witnessed intelligent robot spiders, water parasites, an ancient civilization exiting as Dna strands, and aggressive fireflies. The powers that be are at least pushing the envelope for villains. I am still engrossed in Stargate SG-1, but I am hoping the fifth season brings more adventures like the first three seasons instead of a lot of tok’ra drama.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Stargate SG-1--"Double Jeopardy"

I recall way back in my review for "Tin Man" wondering if the inevitable return of Robot SG-1 would be an improvement over their mediocre first appearance. The answer is yes. “double Jeopardy” is a humorous, action oriented episode that fits in well as a breather before the season finale tomorrow.

The Robot SG-1 has not kept their word and buried the stargate. Instead, they have been out exploring, fighting the Goa’uld, and generally acting as the real SG-1 would. On a mission to Juna, they are captured by forces loyal to Cronus. More pointedly, Juna is a planet that was previously freed by SG-1 and convinced the Goa’uld are not gods, only to have Cronus come along and re-conquer the planet. One can imagine the SG-1 team is not welcome there.

Harlan arrives the SGC to request help in rescuing the Robot SG-1. They are reluctant to assist, not wanting to risk their lives for robot duplicates. But after MALp recon encounters the escaped Robot Jack and Darian, who explain the situation, they give it a go. It is not much of a secret the motivation is to clean up the mess they caused by encouraging a rebellion that has been brutally put down by Cronus and not the Robot SG-1. The real motivation makes sense, and I appreciate it. Another series might have had the main characters jump in to save their robot duplicates with no questions asked for the sake of getting the plot rolling. On SG-1, our heroes blow that idea off immediately. Such an attitude is a breath of fresh air, much like when no one wanted to her Frasier’s concerns over destroying the timeline a few episodes back.

Jack immediately butts heads with his double. He is the only one who does clash with his robot double, but that makes sense considering his stubburn, sarcastic personality. The other thing that makes sense for the sake of convenience, but is terribly predictable nevertheless, is Robot SG-1 sacrifice themselves individually in order to defeat Cronus and his forces. All right, their fate had to be wrapped up permanently. I understand that. I thought their sacrifices were poignant except for robot Tealc’s. the real Teal’c wants to kill cronus in revenge for his father’s death, but fails when cronus not only overpowers him, but slowly tortures him to death until Robot teal’c intervenes and kills Cronus as his dying act. The resolution robs Teal’c of satisfaction. The way it ends is with him failing to avenge his fathe nearly being killed himself before robot Teal’c comes along and shoots Cronus in the back. So teal’c is too weak to gain revenge, cannot fight back, and is apparently willing to shoot a man in the back to get the job done, albeit via his robot double. One would hope for more from the character.

“Double Jeopardy” is the only episode to be directed by Michael Shanks. In fact, the episode is his only directing credit ever. He must not have enjoyed the experience. I did not sense that he did a bad job with it. Considering Shanks was becoming restless in the role of daniel, I wonder if he was given the chance as a way of placating him. He would not leave the show for another season, but I am unsure of exactly how long or obvious his dissatisfaction was. It was awkward that the real daniel was absent and robot Daniel was killed early in the episode so shanks could devote himself to directing the episode. Does the robot’s demise count towards the Many Deaths of Daniel?

Richard Dean Anderson died his hair brown to play his robot double, which is not so bad, but Amanda tapping wears a wig to mimic her first season hairstyle that makes her look like Leslie Stahl. It is very distracting. I also feel the need to mention Belinda Bayworth plays one of Cronus’ henchwomen. Her biggest role in a fifteen year acting career is in the worst major film of the decade--Meet the Spartans. poor girl must have missed her true calling. Acting does not appear to be it.

“Double Jeopardy” is an enjoyable action oriented episode. It has some technical flaws like Tapping’s wig that can be excused because of the lighter tone and Teal’c’s faltering because…well, no one seems to like teal’c all that much. Penultimate episodes are often throwaways not to be harshly judged. Such is the case here.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Monday, March 26, 2012

Stargate SG-1--"Entity"

We have a couple things firmly established in regards to the writers’ room influences--they are fans of comics and Michael Crichton. “Entity’ shares some similarities with Crichton’s novel Sphere, including the alien referencing itself as the Entity and communicating via computer with the message “I am here” on screen. At least the episode has no similarities to the novel The Entity in which an invisible demon repeatedly sexually assaults a woman. Thank heaven for small blessings, no? I could not have watched sam experience that.

“Entity” is one of those bottle shows that come towards the end of a season when the production budget is running low. I view those with trepidation. When the creative team has limited resources with which to work, they often get limited results. As far as bottle shows go, “Entity” works decently in spite of its limited scope by emphasizing the differing philosophies and priorities of the main characters as they face a crisis in their own ways. There are some definite flaws that strain credibility, but they are not enough to kill the episode.

The SGC sends a MALP to a planet from the Ancients’ address listing. Upon arrival on the planet, the MALP is taken over and literally flown around until crashing. An electric surge between the MALP and the SGC shorts out much of the Cheyenne Mountain base. The surge was an alien entity making its way to the SGC. It remains hidden in a part of the base for 36 hours while it builds a nest out of the computer system in order to sustain itself. The entity reads through everyone’s file in order to learn about them. Sam and Daniel suggest this proves intelligence, so it ought to be communicated with. Jack suggests blowing the nest up. Hence we have the Jack/Daniel philosophical conflict back in full dust up with sam on Daniel’s side this time for good measure.

When Sam attempt to communicate with the entity via keyboard, it takes over her mind. While in Sam, the entity reveals radio waves from the MALP severely damaged its planet’s environment, so it was sent to Earth in order to destroy those who sent the MALP. Daniel apologizes for the error and promises it will never happen again, but that is not good enough. Jack pipes up and promises they will send one MALP right after another to destroy the planet entirely if sam is not freed. The entity forces sam into sam sort of spectacle light show before jack shoots her twice with a zat weapon, apparently leaving her brain dead. In fact, she is still in the nest, and once Frasier establishes a conduit between the nest and sam’s body, is restored.

Shippers should take note of the strong Jack loves Sam oundertones. Some of them work, but others do not. What works is Hammond pulling Jack aside and asking how he is going to handle the tough decisions that may have to be made in order to keep the entity from using sam to kill everyone. The other is that jack never leaves Sam’s bedside, even when her mind has apparently been completely replaced by the entity. What does not work is sam was specifically chosen as the host because she is cared about too much to be killed solely to stop the entity’s plan. It is specifically implied it knows Jack will not let her be killed because of something in his personnel file. Like what? Surely his file would not say he has some romantic interest in Sam. If such was enough of a liability in needed to mentioned in his personnel file, she would not be under his command. I doubt the military would risk any potential problems. I am not aware enough of how the military deals with potential romantic relationships within the ranks to know how they deal with it, but I am skeptical jack love Sam is specifically written in his personnel file in the first place. If one of my active duty ort veteran buddies can weigh in the comments section, it would be much appreciated.

The best point that I take away from “Entity” is that Jack’s point of view of blowing up the alien before it can cause more trouble is correct while the Daniel position of trying to communicate with it set in motion not only Sam’s predicament, but the potential death of everyone. So far, Daniel has won out twice thus far this season with jack looking extremely bad both times. Specifically, Jack was tacitly in cahoots with the Nazi-like Eurondans and risking court-martial by blowing up the Gadmeer ship, thereby destroying their civilization. So it is good to see Daniel making a mistake here, albeit with good intentions, and jack having the right idea. Not just having the right idea, but not by accident. The entity is hostile from the get go. Defending the SGC by destroying it first is perfectly reasonable. In the grand scheme of things, it is great to see that daniel’s idealism is sometimes flawed rather than it constantly teaching jack to be less cynical about situations. The occasional reversal keeps the show from becoming too preachy like that other franchise which shall remain nameless.

One a note of personal taste, the series continued its tradition of a main cast member voicing aliens. Michael Shanks voices Thor. Christopher Judger has voiced an Unas. Amanda Tapping voices the entity through a Stephen Hawkings computer filter which is incredibly grating. It does not enunciate anywhere near as well as Hawkings or the one roger Ebert now uses, if you have heard it before. I am not certain if the voice was purposefully altered to make it less obvious it was tapping’s, which makes no sense when you think about it, or to make it more otherworldly. Whichever the case, I was on the verge of needing subtitles to understand what is going on.

Overall, “Entity” is a decent use of low budget in spite of its flaws. There are still a couple I have not mentioned, such as why the SGC do not appear all that concerned when they are on lockdown with the computer systems damaged and why Sam does not disintegrate when she is shot a second time with the zat. For the former, our heroes give off the demeanor of folks sit around playing cards until the IT folks get there rather than on edge that an alien just attacked. For the latter, has it not been established one shot from a zat stuns, two completely destroys? Has that now changed? I will not mind as long as the rule does not switch back and forth based on story convenience. But all that is not a huge deal. ‘Entity” is in the good, but not great category when rated against the bottle shows that have come before. Shippers may rate it higher. At least it is not a clip show.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Stargate SG-1--"Prodigy"

Sam gets few episodes centered on her, and those that are have been rather lackluster. The problem has improved much since the first season when she started as a harem girl for a Hun and ended locking a little girl in a reinforced room so she could explode safely to graduating as the brains of the operation from then until now. At least now stories centering on her deal with her superb scientific mind. ‘Prodigy’ is a case in point. Sam sees herself in a promising, but arrogant young cadet and mentors her down the right path. Does the story work/ not as well as one would hope.

Sam is brought in to give a lecture on astrophysics at the Air Force Academy. She is a legend there for having been a top student. Sam obviously basks in the attention she earns there, so she feels burnt when a young Cadet Jennifer Haley corrects one of her equations and turns out to be correct even after the professor scolds her for accusing Sam of a mistake. Haley is brilliant to the point she feels no need to follow rules or care what anyone else thinks. She is also on the verge of expulsion from the Academy for breaking the nose of an upper classmen who was taunting another cadet. Sam takes Haley under her wing to keep her from throwing her career away.

To clarify an important point, Haley privately told Sam her calculations were wrong and was right on the matter, but apologized to Sam when her professor wrongly scolded her for the accusation. That is the only decent, proper thing Haley does the entire episode. She is not Sheldon cooper, a socially awkward genius whose rudeness you overlook because of his childlike innocence. Haley is an arrogant brat you want to to whom you want to hold by the ankles and give a swirlie. The writers could have made her a sympathetic character, but chose otherwise, and it is an interesting choice.

The thing is, I do not think Sam sees a lot of herself in Haley. Sam has always been humble about her intelligence. Her battle has been more of a woman in this man’s military. Yes, she takes pride in her accomplishments, but not in an abrasive manner. Haley does not seem to care about the battle of the sexes. In her arrogance, she thinks such a petty conflict is beneath her. Everything is beneath her, for that matter. The two do not share much of an emotional connection at all. Haley resents living in the shadow of Sam’s academic accomplishments, even. They butt heads throughout the entire episode until Haley learns not everyone is going to do what she wants just because she is the smartest person in the room.

The question of why Sam wants to help this brat is not as big as why she takes her to Sgc, shows her the stargate, and allows her to travel to a moon upon which jack and teal’c are guarding a scientific survey team. It does not matter how promising a cadrt is, letting her in on the best kept secret in the world is not plausible.

Nor is the incidental conflict on the moon. The science team encounters some tiny energy beings that appear friendly until one is captured for study. The others become enraged and act as a swarm. Only electricity appears to stop them, so everyone holds up in a building that is converted into a giant bug zapper. Ebergy from the stargate can repel the critters, but someone has to get there. Sam suggestion wins out over Haley’s, so Jack is shot with Teal’c energy weapon and runs for the stargate with the critters reluctant to attack.

Much more work probably went into creating the critters than I am allowing, but tiny energy do not feel all that creative. I was distracted by the similarities between the resolution on the MacGyver episode “Trumbo’s world’ and the film The Naked Jungle, both of which dealt with saving a plantation from an invasion of army ants. “Trumbo’s world” borrowed lots of footage from The Naked Jungle which did not match up to the episode’s story, so I may be lumping everything together as cheap. Your mileage may vary. All this stuff stretches back 58 years. Sixty-four, if you count the short story on which The Naked Jungle was based.

Further proof the United states military love Stargate SG-1; Gen. Michael E. Ryan, the real Air Force Chief of Staff at the time of filming, puts in a cameo as himself. Richard Dean Anderson famously asked Ryan if the Air Force had colonels who act as insubordinate as Jack. Ryan assured him it does and worse.

“Prodigy” does not feel well thought out. Sam and Haley did not make much of an emotional connection, so you really have to stretch to find any meaning there. Perhaps if they had worked together to tackle a big problem rather than a bunch of angry bugs that haley turns out to be wrong about. Not that I do not get some satisfaction from seeing her wrong. She is a highly unappealing character. But that is not enough to make ’Prodigy’ feel like anything more than filler. Watchable filler, but nothing particularly interesting.

Rating: ** (out of 5)

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Stargate SG-1--"The Light"

I suppose the string of good episodes had to end at some point. “The Light” ends the streak with a loud thud. Even the basic premise--the SGC discovers an abandoned Goa’uld opium den and SG teams become addicted--does not hold much promise. The execution has some serious issues of logic, plot holes, and the occasional straining to be poignant, but failing. Quite disappointing.

Daniel has joined SG-5 on a survey mission to an abandoned Goa’uld palace. The team leader of SG-5 returns to the SGC acting strangely, then commits suicide rather than go back to the palace. Daniel return with SG-5 excited about a light show device that has mesmerized them. Both he and SG-5 begin falling in with some sort of brain disorder. The SG-1 team travels to the palace and encounters a teen boy named Loran, whom everyone missed the first time around, and get hooked on the light show themselves.

Back at the SGC, every member of SG-5 dies. Under the rules of television which give main characters every possible chance of survival, Daniel hangs on long enough for Jack to carry him back to the palace. He quickly recovers from near death, so Sam surmises they must all stay there until they can figure out how the light show has effected them and if they can break the effects. Loran is not very forthcoming with help until Jack blows up at him. Then the truth comes out.

Loran’s parents were explorers who got hooked on the light show to the point loran could not get them out of the light room, so he stopped bringing them food. Instead of forcing them to leave, they starved to death. The light show is merely a distraction. The device running the show emits an addictive radiation which Loran shuts off. Conveniently, daniel is finally able to translate the Goa’uld writings to figure out they can wean themselves off the radiation by decreasing the dosage over a matter of weeks. So they stay there and bond with Loran for a month.

Oh, dear. Where to begin?

I can only think of one scene that sticks out in my mind. The withdrawal effects of the radiation cause severe depression. It is the depression that caused the SG-5 member to commit suicide. Daniel begins suffering from severe depression and does not report to work. When jack goes to his apartment, he finds Daniel standing on the ledge of the balcony about to jump. It is a tense, well done scene filmed in the early morning hours under a gloomy Vancouver sky. The beginning is filmed from daniel’s perspective as he stares down at the sideway below upon whih he is about to splatter. The sequence is haunting. It is about the only good part of the episode.

There are too many questions. If the radiation is so addictive, how did Daniel and SG-5 return to SGC in the first place? No one can tear themselves away from the light show later on. Loran’s parents starved rather than leave. How did Loran survive alone all this time/ he looks like he is fifteen, but acts emotionally like a ten or twelve year old. Where did his food come from all these years? How did SG-5 not know he was there? If he knew how to cut the device off, why did he not say anything? I would assume he wanted to keep the SG-1 team there for company, but he knew they would die just like his parents. This is all too much to overlook.

“The Light” is pretty bad. I will give the suicide scene with Daniel some major kudos. Krystian Ayers does a good job of playing Loran with childlike innocence and tragedy where appropriate, but there is not much else in the episode to recommend.

Rating: ** (out of 5)

Friday, March 23, 2012

Stargate SG-1--"Absolute Power"

I am still a sucker for alternate timeline stories, even if they are awkwardly aired back to back, so “Absolute Power” is right up my alley. One of the most peculiar things about what if stories is how one alteration from the norm has apocalyptic results. Sometimes it is a bit much--doomsday for the sake of doomsday--but when done well, it is highly amusing. How can you not love an episode in which mild mannered idealist Daniel becomes the supreme, iron fisted ruler of Earth?

The SG-1 team finds the hacesis child prematurely aged on Abydos and brings him back to SGC to utilize his knowledge of the Goa’uld. Shifu, as he is now called, has had the memories suppressed for his own well-being. Daniel has trepidations about using the Tok’ra memory extracting device on shifu, but is willing to talk to the boy and convince him accessing goa’uld knowledge is worth the risks. Shifu warns daniel the subconscious desires cannot resist the temptation of power and shows him through a dream how disastrous events could play out.

“Absolute Power” makes little effort to disguise that the bulk of the story is a fantasy sequence installed in Daniel’s mind the same way Sha’re previously convinced him to both seek out Shifu and forgive Teal’c for killing her to save his life. I am fine with that, if for no other reason than the over the top weirdness is so amusing. Daniel takes on the arrogant genius of someone you might expect would pose as a god. Utilizing goa’uld knowledge, he develops a satellite defense system that could detect and wipe out a Goa’uld invasion fleet. To build it, he practically enslaves military and private sector engineering outfits, cutting out all allies, and demanding in return the lifestyle of a megalomaniacal billionaire.

The story shifts to a year in the future. The satellites are ready to launch. Daniel has had Sam so she cannot reveal her suspicions Daniel is going to use the satellite system to take over the Earth. Somewhere along the way, he has killed Teal’c for his maquadah rich blood to use Goa’uld personal technology, though you have to read between the lines to figure that out. Jack attempts to kill Daniel before he can retaliate against a Russian missile attack on the satellites. He fails because of Daniel’s Goa’uld personal shield and Moscow is destroyed. Daniel awakens from the dream convinced they cannot handle the memories of the Goa’uld, so Shifu is allowed to ascend with the memories safely suppressed in his mind.

Events are definitely implausible. I doubt anyone could gain the power and influence Daniel managed so easily. But I would not count that as a criticism against ‘Absolute power.” it is a dream sequence created by the half-alien alien Shifu about an unrestrained id. Of course it is going to be off kilter. If there is any major flaw, it is that the Teal’c subplot ought to have been made more obvious. It might have made the episode more poignant. Michael Shanks appears to be having a ball chewing up the scenery William Shatner-style. He even gives off a certain Captain Kirk vibe while presiding over his new empire fro his comfy chair in his secret, underground lair it is contagious. “absolute Power” is not one of the greatest, but it is one of the most fun to watch.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Stargate SG-1--"2010"

Tale a moment to appreciate an episode that was once considered to have taken place in the far future now features events taking place two years in the past. The story deals with an alternate timeline. I have already mentioned I am a sucker for those, but there are many other elements that make “2010” one of my favorite episodes thus far.

Sometime in 2000, SG-1 makes contact with a highly advanced race called the Aschen. An alliance is formed in which the Aschen freely share their technology with earth. By 2010, the Goa’uld have been defeated, Aschen medicine has wiped out all disease, and the earth is seemingly a utopia. The stargate is now used for commercial travel rather than military use. The SGC has been dissolved with everyone going their separate ways. Sam has married Amb. Joe Faxon and the two are trying to have children, but to no avail. The Aschen assure her to keep trying. When Frasier shows up for the anniversary celebration of the alliance formation, she offers to examine Sam and discovers she is barren. Why have the Aschen been lying to her?

Tricking her aschen coworker into allowing her use of the computer meant exclusively for aschen use, she and Frasier discover the planetary birth rate has dropped 90%/ the two surmise the vaccine the aschen have given humans to double their lifespans is also sterilizing them. It is a bloodless way of taking over Earth. Sam gathers together SG-1, minus Jack, to talk about what to do next. Sam suggests utilizing a solar flare to send a message through the stargate in the same manner they were once sent back to 1969. The message will warn them not to go to the Aschen planet.

I have to mention one subtly humorous bit here. Sam gathers together Daniel and Teal’c at a cafĂ© to discuss her findings about the Aschen Frasier is there, too, just to drop the info that Hammond once tried to contact her with some secret about the Aschen, but died of a ’heart attack’ before he could tell her in person. After the plan is hatched to send a message into the past, Frasier pipes up to ask if they have the moral right to destroy the last ten years of events. Sam metaphorically slaps her in the back of the head before they go through with the plan--mostly without Frasier’s involvement. I loved how a Star Trek moral dilemma was almost introduced, then got beaten down with essentially a ’we don’t have time for that crap.” heh.

Sam visits jack at his cabin in Minnesota to recruit him, but he is even more bitter than ever. He never thought people were making a mistake by handing over their health and security to the ashen in exchange for longer lives. Now that he has been proven right, he thinks the world is getting what it deserves. There is also an underlying bitterness that Sam married Faxon whichever burns him more, Jack initially refuses to join in.

Comic book geeks should note the similarities between sam and Jack’s encounter in “2010” with Wonder Woman’s attempt to bring superman out of exile in Mark Waid’s popular 1996 miniseries Kingdom Come. There are some stand out parallels. In Kingdom Come, Superman has shut himself off from the human race and holed up in the Fortress of Solitude when they treat him as outdated in favor of more aggressive, amoral vigilantes. When those vigilantes grow in number and run amuck, eventually causing Midwest farmland the become irradiated to the point of mass starvation, Wonder Woman attempts to bring him out of his self-imposed exile to help,he refuses because he was right all along but no one listened. He is also bitter over lois lane’s death, rub boning him of a woman he loved even though he had not yet acknowledged it to her. In “2010,” Sam attempts to bring jack out of his self-imposed exile. He was right along, but no one listened, and he is bitter to have lost her, even though he never really acknowledged his love.

I am not certain how much I am reaching with the allusion. The episode certainly has all the elements of Kingdom Come. It is set in the not too distant future. There is a promised utopia if regular people give up control to other powers, but the result is apocalyptic. The main character is a Cassandra who reluctantly returns to save everyone from their mistake. Along with his old allies. Considering the increased number of comics references this season--spiderman’s motto of with great power comes great responsibility inscribed on those wristbands which granted super powers and the archeologists named after various Green Lanterns a few episodes back--I would not be surprised.

Jack eventually changes his mind, so the SG-1 team can execute their plan. To make things even easier, it is revealed Faxon new about the sterilization, he just did not know how far the project had gone. As far as he knew, it was only going to be undesiables sterilized to maintain sustainability. No one will be upset his marriage to sam will be erased with the last ten years. He helps steal the dialing device from the oval office and SG-1 in a particularly brutal action sequence, are all killed trying to reach the stargate with the handwritten message. Sam succeeds in her dying act. Back in 2000, the message is received. Hammond orders the Aschen planet off limits, no questions asked.

While I will not claim Stargate SG-1 has a conservative philosophy, I note three key points in “2010” that criticize progressive ideas. One, the Aschen disarm the human race so they exclusively have the power. They use it, too, by murdering Hammond and SG-1. Two, the Aschen given humans food, medicine, and long life in exchange for control. Three, the aschen have implemented forced population control. Why have we learned, folks/ gun control is bad, entitlement programs are enslavement to the government, and social engineering though control of birth and death is evil. How often does the entertainment industry admit those realities?

There is a unintentional treat for us baseball fans, too. When jack reads the note to be sent throyh the stargate, he asks specifically if they can include the winner of the 2004 world series in it. The joke may or may not be a reference to Biff Tannen’s get rich quick scheme in Back to the future II, but it is funny that the 2004 World Series was unexpectedly won by the Boston Red Sox breaking the alleged Bambino Curse that has ’prevented” the team from winning a world championship trading babe ruth to the New York Yankees in 1918. That the 2004 world series might be something special to wager on was a fortunate guess by the writers back in 2000, no?

‘2010‘ is a real highlight of the generally uneven fourth season. There have been some great episode, but they have been fewer and further between than in previous seasons. At least the season is winding down on a strong note.

Rating: **** (out of 5)

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Stargate SG-1--"Chain Reaction"

Stargate SG-1 has no problem experimenting with its stories. What other series would have a huge outer space battle in one episode and then immerse itself in political cloak and dagger intrigue on the mean streets of Washington Dc the next? With subtle references to The Silence of the Lambs thrown in for good measure. There are some plausibility issues involved, but “Chain Reaction” is a nifty change of pace.

After the SG-1 team narrowly escapes a Jaffa ambush, Hammond decides he has had enough of sending good people out on highly dangerous missions and abruptly retires. Jack senses there is another reason, and he is correct. The NID has been putting the pressure on Hammond to be more aggressive in acquiring alien technology. A couple weeks ago, some agents picked up his granddaughters from school. The less than subtle threat was enough to force him into retirement.

Jack recruits Maybourne, whom we finally learn is in prison for his treasonous actions with the Russian stargate, to tracj down the power people behind the NID. It is with Maybourne The Silence of the Lambs homage comes in. He plays Hannibal Lector to Jack’s Clarice Starling in both cutting the deal in prison to help Jack and the phone call from a tropical vacation spot at the end. They wind up threatening a senator (Kinsey) rather than rescuing one’s daughter from a serial killer, so the similarities only go so far. The two blackmail Kinsey into getting Hammond his job back.

Meanwhile, the SGC adjusts to Gen. Henry Bauer. Bauer’s tenure is the weakest link of the episode. He comes across as the stereotypical my way or the highway guy who refuses to listen to anyone else’s advice even when it is obvious they know best. It is not clear whether he is in on the NID take or a patsy they believe can be pushed around. On the one hand, he is adamant about sam building and testing a new bomb on another planet without concern or safety precautions. On the other, he does not listen to reason, so how easily can he be controlled? I did not dwell on the question much. Bauer has all the air of a one off, never mentioned again character, so who cares? I spent more time thinking he looks ten minutes older than dirt. Far older than the man he replaced. He reminds me of a freakishly aged Tobin Bell.

Richard Dean Anderson’s dog, Oscar, makes an appearance as Kinsey’s dog. He spends an unusually long time playing with the critter onscreen. Anderson is an animal rights supporter who caused a mini-bruhaha with tweets criticizing mitt Romney over strapping his dog carrier on the roof of a station wagon for a long car trip. I am a cat person, but I have trepidations about Romney’s lack of empathy in the matter, so I cannot fault Anderson for his concern. Who thinks torturing a dog like that is a good idea?

I remarked earlier “Chain Reaction” has plausibility problems. They start coming right out the gate. (Literally.) If the SG-1 team is under desperate barrage, who do they coming charging through the stargate while standing tall? Laser are still blasting behind them into the SGC! Threatening Hammond’s grandchildren is the technique of mustache twirling stereotypes. Come on. If the NID is that ruthless, it seems strange they will just let Hammond return and allow Jack to keep the blackmail info on them without taking any action. There are a lot of elements in “Chain Reaction” one has to overlook to wnjoy it.

There are a couple saving graces. Jack’s darker sense of “chaotic good” is put to fine use with him blackmailing the bad guys. Judging by his and maybourne’s method of escaping Kinsey’s mansion, does Jack inadvertently lead to knisey’s rise to the vice presidency/ It would appear so. The other pint is the bomb story does not end with sam making an heroic act to save everyone as you would expect. The only way the radiation from the bomb does not eventually infect the Sgc and Colorado springs in general is dumb luck--the stargate on the bombed planet automatically closes after 38 minutes. It is a nice touch to see our heroes cannot always pull off a miracle to save the day.

“Chain Reaction” is an odd duck with some flaws, but not bad viewing.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

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

“The Serpent’s Venom" is one unpleasant episode to watch. Who would have thought with a comforting title like that? The episode is pure tension from beginning to end as neither of the two stories--Teal’c under torture and the rest of SG-1 arming a mine--offer relief for any period of time. Considering the dark ending, the screws do not stop tightening until the credits roll.

Teal’c sneaks his way unto chulak to meet with old friends Rak’nor and Terok to forment a Jaffa rebellion. It is a trick, however. His Rak’nor and Terok are working with Heru’ur, who plans to hand teal’c over to Apophis as consideration in a proposed alliance. Jacob/Selmak relays intelligence of the proposed alliance to SGC. The alliance summit is going to take place in a mine field left over from an extinct race. The mines activate at the first burst of energy from a weapon, so it is the ideal place for meetings between those who do not trust each other. Our heroes plan to reprogram a mine to attack Apophis’ ship to make it appear Heru’ur tricked him. Hopefully, the two sides will wipe each other out.

The episode is split between the ongoing stories. One of Here’re’s henchmen tortures brutally tortures Teal’c to renounce his belief the Goa’uld are false gods. The torture sequences are particularly violent and gruesome. The other half is SG-1 transporting a mine to a tok’ra cargo ship and translating an alien language similar to Phoenician, but not similar enough Sam and daniel do not nearly blow the mine up before successfully reprogramming it.

In the end, Rak’nor, impressed with talc’s resolve to die rather than renounce his beliefs, helps him escape. The mine trick work in convincing Apophis Heru’uc has betrayed him, but Apophis has ten ships cloaked. When they uncloak, they overwhelm Heru’uc’s ship. The plan is ultimately a failure since Apophis and Heru’uc were supposed to destroy each other. Instead, Apophis takes command of Heru’uc’s forces to become the most powerful System Lord.

Do not expect a good time while watching “The Serpent’s Venom.” It is a brutal experience barely broken up by a nervous joke or two from SG-1 when reprogramming the mine goes badly. It is not the mine story that is going to stick with you. It is the long, difficult to witness torture sequences suffered by Teal’c. Unless Rak’nor returns later with loyalty to Teal’c’s cause, then the torture scenes were gratuitous as opposed to those Picard suffered at the hands of the Cardassians in TNG. There was an underlying message in Picard’s torture that torture was pointless as a political tool. It was only his torturer taking out his deep seeded anger on others. There is nothing like that in ’The Serpent’s Venom” to elevate the torture bits beyond--well, I do not know. Does anyone find that sort of thing entertaining just for the sake of watching it happen?

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Monday, March 19, 2012

Stargate SG-1--"The Curse"

I like the atmosphere of “The Curse.’ it has the feel of a classic Universal or Hammer Horror film with a murder mystery surrounding an ancient curse with fantastical elements. I became engrossed in the story, particularly with its geeky connections, both intentional and otherwise. Explanations forthcoming.

Daniel’s old archeology professor, Dr. David Jordan, dies mysteriously after discovering artifacts from an unusual Egyptian tomb. Daniel attends the funeral, but earns the cold shoulder from Gardner’s graduate assistants, Steven Rayner and Sarah Gardner. Daniel left all three years ago when he disgraced himself with his theories about aliens building the pyramids. They have had to live with the professional embarrassment since. Unfortunately, daniel cannot tell them he was right all along, even when the artifacts Jordan discovered contain Goa’uld symbiotes.

The story takes on a murder mystery that culminates in an encounter in an Egyptian pyramid with the Goa’uld Osiris who has taken over Sarah and eventually escapes to menace our heroes again in the future. I am irritated at myself for falling for the red herring of Steven, who was a jerk throughout the entire episode, being the murderer possessed by Osiris. It is never the obnoxious graduate assistant, folks. It is always the pretty girl who is possessed by the murderous alien. The situation just goes to prove we always give more attractive people the benefit of the doubt.

There is a lot of cool stuff going on. Jordan was a professor at the University of Chicago, which is the the foremost university to study Egyptology in the United states and arguably the world.

On a less serious notes, many of the character names are an homage to Green Lantern, a DC Comics character who is granted powers through an alien ring. David Jordan is a nod to Hal Jordan, Steven Rayner is named after Kyle Rayner, and sarah Gardner is named for Guy Gardner, respectively. She may also be a tribute, as Guy Gardner is, to Gardner Fox, a science fiction and comic book writer who, like the Stargate SG-1 writers, liked to utilize history, mythology, ancient languages and such in his stories. This stuff perked my comic book geek attention.

You may also recognize Anna-Louise Plowman, who played Sarah, as Goddard in the Doctor Who episode “Dalek.” There, too, she played the assistant to a man who discovered alien technology that wound up in tragedy. It is interesting how similar the plots of “The Curse” and “Dalek” are. Both involve an eccentric guy discovering a presumed long dead alien that eventually runs amok. The body count wound up exponentially higher in “Dalek,” but the killer pepper pots apparently have less self-control than ancient aliens posing as Egyptian deities. Plowman is revealed as a stealth villain in both episodes.

I enjoyed “The Curse” immensely. It is not just the homage to old horror films or geek references, but the unique feel from much of the rest of the series. After a lot of tok’ra politics and heavy-handed moralizing in recent episodes, it is cool to see something different, but still done so well it does not seem out of place. Oh, and poor daniel has no luck in his personal relationships, does he?

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Stargate SG-1--"Tangent"

There is a firmly established pattern for Stargate SG-1 plotting--take the premise from a popular film, then add enough stargate elements to call it an homage. “Tangent’ is Speed in Space. Without Sandra Bullock, but still entertaining.

The Air Force has adapted death glider technology to create a hybrid Goa’uld-fighter jet capable of taking on Goa’uld invaders. Jack and Teal’c are testing out the ship when a device installed by Apophis takes control and sends them on a slow ride to Chulak. With Chula a centuries long journey and only 24 hours worth of oxygen, the two are doomed. An attempt to slingshot the ship around Jupiter to head back in the general direction of earth fails, but the effort to get Jacob/Selmak there is time to rescue them succeeds, although Jack and Teal’c must endure the vacuum of space for the transporter rings to grab them.

Oh, dear…the scientific inaccuracies! Teal’c says the ship is flying at 1 million mph, but it reaches Jupiter in a matter of hours. Even at that speed, it should have taken at least two weeks. When Jacob/Selmak arrives, Jack has to awaken Teal’c from oxygen deprived sleep. He does so by flinging a pencil at the back of his helmet. The pencil hits hard enough to bounce off. In the zero gravity of space, this would be impossible. Jack and Teal’c eject from the cockpit out into space briefly without space suits before the transporter rings grab them. It is possible to survive the very brief time the two were exposed, but they kept their eyes open in the vacuum of space, which is not advisable. Odd that Sam gave them full instructions on how to survive the environment, but failed to mention that little tidbit. I hasten to mention there is no sound in space, but explosions are heard on science fiction series so much, it is not worth mentioning.

Just about every television show does a variation on the concept of main characters trapped and unable to save themselves while awaiting an inevitable disaster. It happens so much, the audience can only judge the execution of the old plot. “Tangent” executes the story quite well. It is certainly not particularly creative. It is not particularly accurate, either, but it is fun to watch. Interesting the story can create the tension it manages when you know Jack and teal’c will make it in the end regardless.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Stargate SG-1--"Point of No Return"

“Point of No Return” is an odd duck. It is mostly a lighthearted, humorous episodes with a tragic ending that should hit the audience between the eyes, but is not played quite well enough to accomplish it. Instead, the episode winds up being a fun ride through all but the final three or four minutes. I actually feel sorry for the episode so pitifully running out of steam.

A nebbish little guy named martin Lloyd contacts SGC asking for Jack. Martin is a conspiracy nut who happens to know an extraordinarily large amount of information about the stargate. He wants to meet jack one on one, so SG-1 plays along in order to discover how he knows anything about the top secret program. Jack meets with martin at a diner while the others, who have tracked down martin’s address, search his house.

Martin tells Jack he is an alien. His memory is flawed, but he feels an urge to go home through the stargate and wants Jack to take him. He is afraid shadowy government elements are after him on earth. While Jack jeeps him talking, the others discover martin is a heavily medicated psychiatric patient. Big surprise.

The story keeps us going for as long as possible believing martin is an insignificant person who has created a fantasy world in which he is the center of a conspiracy in order to make himself feel important. The feeling is complemented by funny, sometimes subtle character moments. There is a scene in which Teal’c bums a quarter off Jack to indulge in a vibrating motel bed and another in which Daniel is inadvertently posing as The Thinker beside a mini-replica of the famous statue. Perhaps the most telling bit is Jack watching The Day the Earth Stood Still. it is one of my favorite films. It also happens to be about an alien hiding on earth as a human.

Which is exactly what Martin is. He really is being stalked, but not by the government. It is three other aliens like him. They were soldiers who escaped to Earth when the Goa’uld attacked their home planet. When they discovered humans could not help in the war effort, they decided to stay in hiding rather than go back to face certain death. Martin had second thoughts, so they began drugging him to repress his memory. The psychiatrist Daniel and Sam visited was one of the aliens. In the end, they disappear, leaving martin to go with jack to his home planet to learn the truth--their people have been wiped out by the Goa’uld.

What a strange combination of comedy with a tragic ending. The mix has been done well before. The X-File’s “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose” comes to mind immediately. But Bruckman’s journey from a comedic character at the center of a brutal crime investigation to his suicide when the case is solved is done with all proper emotion. Martin is a goofy geek right up until he learns he and his compatriots are the only survivors of his planet--and he shrugs that off. Worse yet, now that he has alienated his fellow survivors, he is completely alone. The final scene should have an air of tragedy it misses because Martin takes the news with all the negative emotion of a guy who just missed his bus and has to wait another fifteen minutes for the next.

There are a few picks to nit, as well. How can martin know so much about the SGC, down to Jack being a part of it, but his buddies spying on him know nothing? When they scan Teal’c and see his symbiote, why do they not recognize him as one of the Goa’uld attacking their planet instead of an unknown alien? Why are the aliens tall, tough, and menacing like soldiers when martin, who is also a slodier, is a short, nerdy guy? I understand it is in order to sell the initial idea he is a mentally ill conspiracy nut, but Martin’s appearance makes his true nature laughably implausible.

I cannot consider any of these issues a huge problem, but they are enough to make the episode one that can be skipped in good conscience. The episode does not take itself seriously, so neither do I. “Point of No Return” is a frivolously entertaining episode with flaws the viewer is almost too embarrassed to critique because of the lightness of the overall content.

Rating; ** (out of 5)

Friday, March 16, 2012

Stargate SG-1--"Beneath the Surface"

I had some nasty flashbacks to Star Trek: Voyager’s ”Workforce” while watching “Beneath the Surface.” After a little time delousing in my happy place, I am okay with writing a review. “Beneath the Surface” owes more to Fritz Lang’s Metropolis than VOY, so there is a bonus.

Before any sticklers show up, yes, “Beneath the Surface" aired months prior to “Workforce.” However, “workforce” was filmed for the sixth season of VOY, but was moved to the seventh so the final season could have a two part episode.. While I am not inclined to call plagiarism, the premise of ’workforce” had been circling fandom on the internet for months prior to the time “Beneath the Surface” would have been produced. There is no need to compare and contrast the two episodes, but they are remarkably similar.

The episode opens with SG-1 wiped of their memories and given new identities in order to work as miners. They are given different names, but I am going to stick with their real ones for the sake of simplicity. Shippers take note that Jack sam appear to have a romantic relationship in their new identities. Otherwise, they do not know or hang out with Daniel and Teal’c. they are part of a labor force which is powering a luxurious, high tech domed city which is the only oasis on the planet otherwise enduring an ice age.

Teal’c is the first one to begin realizing who he is, probably because of his symbiote. He is taken off to the infirmary quickly to keep his memories repressed. Daniel and sam begin having dreams about the stargate. Jack makes some references to a past life which sound suspiciously like a couple episodes of MacGyver. at one poin the references either Hammond or Homer Simpson. Take your pick.

The most significant point is that Sam retains much of her physics genius. She devises improvements in worker technology they may eventually eliminate the need for human labor altogether. Brenna, the sympathetic supervisor, takes the idea to Calder, the administrator. He nixes the idea. He is in power as long as the status quo remains. It looks like the SG-1 team is going to be a pain with their memories slowly returning, so he orders Brenna to dump them outside the domed city to freeze to death. Brenna tries to help them escape instead, but they are all captured by Calder. Fortunately, everyone’s memories return at this very convenient moment. Jack reveals the truth to the workers and offers to take them to a new planet. Calder and company will have to shovel their own coal for the foreseeable future. No Prime Directive to worry about. Cool.

I am puzzled how poignant “Beneath the Surface’ is supposed to be, which is not a good sign. A lot of the technical details are glossed over. The city is not even named, for one thing. How did the people build such a city in the middle of an ice age nothing could survive in? It does not matter, because we are supposed to dwell on the relationships between SG-1 members. Their wiped memories cannot keep the connections from surfacing. However, the Jack/sam romance is toned down to the point it cannot even be called teasing. The bond between Teal’c and Daniel is not particularly strong, either. If the emotional connections between the main characters are going to be the main focus of the straight, they should have been done more poignantly. Jack should kiss Sam. Daniel should feel some pangs that Teal’c is not well. But there is much of nothing until calder’s men shoot Brenna and the SG-1 team suddenly remembers they are the good guys.

There is one nice touch of subtle continuity. After their memories return, Jack suggests making their way to the stargate. Daniel stops him and suggests they cannot leave without freeing the workers by telling them the truth. Jack immediately agrees. Jack has learned to trust daniel’s sense of idealism more rather than self-interest. In fact, Jack takes the exact opposite position right off the bat than he did with the Erondans a few episodes back. He refuses to trade for their higher technology because of their slave labor force. Of, course he subsequently winds up part it, but he has learned from his previous mistake.

‘Beneath the Surface" is decent, but could have been much more. One thing I have not mentioned is Daniel’s friend Tegan, whom might have been a love interest, but is not developed, either. These issues make me wonder if “Beneath the Surface” wa intended as a two part episode, but got condensed into one. Had it played out like “Workforce” with part one establishing the crew’s new lives and part two featuring the action oriented escape, a lot of the problems could have been eliminated by having room to develop in the same. Alas, ’twas not to be. Still, I give it a decent score. The episode is anemic, but watchable.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Stargate SG-1--"Scorched Earth"

“Scorched Earth” brings us back to the philosophical confict between Jack and Daniel when it comes to moral decisions regarding civilizations. In a refreshing twist, Jack has the better argument, yet Daniel wins out yet again. Funny how that works out. The episode also features Alessandro Juliani four years before his more famous role as Felix Gaeta on Battlestar Galactica.

The SG-1 team is part of a celebration thrown by the Enkarans, a race taken from their home world by the Goa’uld to one in which the radiation levels are damaging, to honor their relocation to a planet with heavy ozone. A giant ship arrives and begins terraforming the planet from suitable for carbon based life forms to sulfur based. Attempts to communicate with the ship result in it creating a life form based on Enkaran physiology named Lotan to inform the SG-1 team the ship was built by the last of the Gadmeer, an ancient race, this planet is the only place suitable for their rebuilt civilization, and the Enkarans are out of luck.

The options are weighed. Jack wants to blow the ship up. The Gadmeer are long since dead while the Enkarans are a thriving people who have every right to live on their new planet. Daniel insists they try to compromise with Lotan. He is based on the Enkarans, so perhaps they can appeal to his empathy. Hammond will not authorize a military strike, so it is compromise or nothing. Jack will not settle for that and disobeys orders to force Sam to jury rig a bomb to blow the ship up anyway.

Jack does have the stronger argument, which is probably why the writers added the complication of him disobeying orders in order to muddy the moral waters. The Gameer are a long dead race. Only genetic samples of them remain. There is no logical argument the Enkarans should be killed off so the Garmeer can return. To his credit, Daniel is not saying they should, either, but his idealism on seeking a compromise between Lotan and the Enkarans feels like he is chasing rainbows on the off chance he can study the Gadmeer civilization.

To put the situation in real world terms, no one would allow the Dutch to be exterminated in order to bring the Hittites back. Not much is known about the Hittites,. A chance to learn about their civilization would be enlightening. But the Hittites have been dead and gone for thousands of years. The Dutch are here and thriving as much as they can with Europe crumbling economically and socially. Whatever genetic material is left of a long dead people is not worth a currently living civilization. Blow ’em up!

Daniel sneaks off to the ship in order to appeal to Lotan’s sense of empathy. It should be noted Teal’c and Sam agree with his actions, but is more of a nothing left to lose by trying rationale. Jack cannot bring himself to blow the ship up with Daniel on board. Good thing, too, because Daniel not only succeeds, but helps Lotan find the Enkarans original home world. Both the Enkarans and the gadmeer can have their ideal living environment needs met. Well, there you go. A happy ending that does not result in court martial.

I did not become engrossed in the conflict in “Scorched Earth.” Jack was right up until he decides disobeying orders is the best solution. Only in television could pursuing such an idealistic notion as Daniel’s result in such a completely perfect ending. There is nothing wrong with the episode at all. It is quite good, particularly in terms of special effects. But that sweet ending might cause cavities, so brush after viewing.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Stargate SG-1--"The First Ones"

"The First Ones” is Stargate SG-1 meets Hell in the Pacific. Or, if your film references run only towards the science fiction, Stargate SG-1 meets Enemy Mine It is the story of two adversaries brought together who, though separated by culture and language, gain a mutual respect. The main plot does not play out as obviously as one expects at first glance, and the B story drags it down quite a bit, but “The First Ones” is a decent viewing experience.

Daniel has joined the SG-11 team on an archeological dig on an original Goa’uld planet. The camp site is attacked and Daniel is dragged off by an aboriginal Unas. Rothman, Daniel’s archeological colleague, makes it back to the SGC to get help in rescuing Daniel.

The bulk of the episode involves the long journey the unas forces Daniel on to the cave in which the rest of his people are living. Although he does not speak the language, Daniel attempts to communicate with the Unas in order to find some way to save himself. He discovers the unas have taken to the caves in order to avoid becoming hosts to the Goa’uld who inhabit the waterways and can leap far enough to attack someone on the banks. Unfortunately, he appears to be part of a rite of passage in which an Unas must capture prey and bring it back to the others as a prize. By the time Daniel is brought before the rest, he has won the respect of his captor, who is forced to battle the current leader to spare his life. The leader is defeated, making our boy the new head honcho. He invites Daniel to join them. Daniel politely declines.

The scenes of the interaction between Daniel and the Unas are broken up by the SG teams searching for Daniel. The SG-11 team has only one surviving member other than Rothman. It is Hawkins, who is clearly shown early on to have been infected by one of the water dwelling Goa’uld. He is exposed by Teal’c, and in a twist, Rothman is also infected by a Goa’uld. The Rothman revelation was a surprise, but one wonders the point of it. He was infected since SG-11’s initial search for Daniel before he headed off to Sgc to recruit the others. Was his motive to make the others host, too/ if so, he blew enough golden opportunities to render the subplot all but meaningless. The episode could have broken up the main plot with the drama of the SG teams looking for daniel without adding the Goa’uld subplot.

I will grant “The First Ones” two points for featuring the Goa’uld. One, it is an incredibly disturbing scene to watch one fly out of the water in order to attack someone. Two, although you do not realize this until later, the Unas saves Daniel from becoming a host when he refuses to allow him to lap water from, instesd insisting Daniel scoop the water by hand. A Goa’uld jumps out of the water anyway, but the unas stops it from borrowing into daniel’s neck. I nearly jumped out of my skin regardless. It is a very effective scene.

The Goa’uld subplot drags the episode down, but the main plot is engrossing. It is probably moreso if you are into the anthropological aspects of the series. Daniel is far more in character here than in the previous episode. He ifar more interesting in learning about the Unas than being frightened of him. Contrast that with his contemptuous attitude towards Markov’s Russian background in yesterday’s episode. The special effects are good with both the CGI Goa’uld and the make up job on the Unas. “The First Ones” is a decent episode that could have been better if the subplot had been better thought out.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Stargate SG-1--"Watergate"

Titling an episode in which aquatic aliens hold the stargate open indefinitely “Watergate” is only the first indication it was written at four in the morning while the vodka was running low. There is a definite feeling the main plot is incidental to the establishment of a Russian stargate program for future storylines. A couple saving graces exist, like Marina Sirtis and the special effects for the water aliens, but otherwise…’Watergate’ is poorly thought out.

When SGC attempts to dial out, nothing happens. An energy surge from Siberia indicates the Russians have salvaged the stargate from Thor’s destroyed ship and have been using it. The Russian government requests SGC’s help now because they cannot close their stargate’s wormhole to another planet for some reason. Dr. Sevetla Markov, played by Marina Sirtis, joins the SG-1 team in Siberia to infiltrate the base and shut off the stargate.

All 47--a little Star Trek: the Next Generation reference there--have been killed. Several were shot, but the rest died by nerve gas released if the base has been compromised. No one can figure out why the few who were shot before hand were killed. The stargate is permanently opened to a water world. In order t shut it down, Markov, sam, and daniel travel through the stargate in a minisubmarine to shut off the communication device from the drone the russkies sent in and whose power source is keeping the stargate open. The submarine is held in place and threatened with implosion by water pressure.

Meanwhile, Jack and Teal’c find Maybourne frozen solid and full of water aliens in a storage freezer. The aliens were brought back inadvertently by a science team that did not realize the water was a life form. The water can take over humans to use in an attempt to get back through the stargate. The Russians who were shot had been possessed by them. They took over Maybourne and hi in the freezer to escape the nerve gas. The aliens jump from Maybourne to Teal’c, then make their way to the stargate. Simultaneously, they go through as Markov, Sam, Daniel are cast out before the submarine implodes. Jack quips a hostage exchange must have taken place. End credits.

Wait…what? That is kind of abrupt. The aliens do not get developed at all. We do not find out anything else about the Russian stargate program. What about maybourne/ Is he a traitor? One would think so, but the audience has to fill in the blanks. The ending is way too unsatisfying.

The entire episode has quite a few issues beyond the brick wall slam of a conclusion. How did the Russians salvage the stargate off the ocean floor without the Americans knowing about it/ why would the Russians allow the US Air Force to infiltrate their top secret facility in the first place, much less without making it a joint operation. Why does SG-1 have to parachute into the base? You cannot land? I would think air travel is the only way to usefully travel the barren Siberian tundra. Where did Daniel learn to skydive/ It cannot be from US military training, because Teal’c played the comedic role of having to be pushed out the plane because of fear. Surely if Daniel got training, so did Teal’c. The entire parachuting sequence should have been taken out so the time allotted could have been devoted to crafting a more solid conclusion for the episode.

Going back to Daniel for a moment…for a archeologist very much in tune with respecting other cultures, he snarks at Markov over Russian technology and know how repeatedly. What gives/ he is usually sweet natured in general, but would certainly be the one most considerate of Russian culture. He acts very weird here.

I did say there are a couple of high points. The first is Sirtis. She is not a particularly good actress, but since I have seen her play little else than troi, I enjoy the novelty factor. The plotting doom moose and squirrel fake Russian accent--Sirtis is of British and Greek descent, not Russian--is painful at times, but mostly it is so bad, it is good. The special effects for the water aliens are quite good, too.

As an avid X-Phile, I cannot help but notice similarities with ’Watergate” to the first appearance of the Black Oil Alien in that series. The French retrieve a World War II era American bomber from the Sea of Japan thinking there is an atomic bomb onboard. It is actually the Black Oil Alien, who invades, controls, and then exits humans through the mouth in the same manner as the water aliens. I am not accusing ’Watergate” of being a rip off. That would be kicking it while it is down. But the similarities are there if one is looking for them.

I would skip “Watergate” unless you have a serious crush on Sirtis or are hang up on the Russian stargate storyline and are compelled to get the whole thing. The story is not well executed on any level. There are way too many implausible elements within for me.

Rating; * * (out of 5)

Monday, March 12, 2012

Stargate SG-1--"Window of Opportunity"

‘Window of Opportunity” can best be described as Groundhog Day meets Stargate SG-1. It is often cited as a fan favorite for what is--ironically--comedic scenes filmed after principle photography because the episode ran short because of the recycled scenes. The episode also stands out because Jack and Teal’c are forced to intellectually work through their dilemma whereas normally Sam and Daniel would put their heads together for a solution. The switch is a refreshing change.

While investigating a solar storm from a nearby planet, the SG-1 team meets an archeologist named Malakai who is intently studying a device left behind by the Ancients. Daniel, too, is absorbed in examining the device. Malakai is obviously in a hurry to get rid of Daniel for some reason. He is finally forced to knock him unconscious in order to turn on the device. Jack and Teal’c rush to Daniel’s aid, but are caught up in some sort of energy blast from the device to the stargate.

The two of them wind up reliving the ten hour period from the time the SG-1 team was eating breakfast that morning until the energy burst. It takes a few loops to get the pattern set, but the two eventually convince everyone at the SGC the ten hour cycle is repeating, they are the only ones who realize it, and have to shut off the machine on the planet in order to do so. The device was intended to be a time machine by which the Ancients were going to rewrite their past to save themselves from impending extinction All it managed to do was create a repeating time loop. The Ancients eventually gave up on it and accepted their fate. Malakai now appears to be trying to repair whatever the Ancients could not.

Daniel teaches Jack and Teal’c Latin and then the Ancient language in order to understand which button does what. Once they have the language down pat, they go back the planet. MakakaI has blocked them from using the device. Malakai reveals he wants to use it to travel back in time to be with his wife again. She died some time ago of a congenital heart condition. He cannot save her, but he can see her again. Jack convinces him to stop by reminding him watching his wife die again will be too painful to bare. Jack empathizes, because he could not live through his son fatally shoot himself again even if traveling back in time meant he could see him again. Malakai gives up his effort, thereby ending the loops.

Theoretically, both the Ancients and Jack could have gone back in time to change their respective tragedies if the device worked properly, but Malakai could never save his wife from a disorder she had since birth. It does not really hold water that Jack can completely relate to Malakai with that in mind. But I suppose Malakai was too distraught in his grief to think it all the way through. Maybe the guilt of causing all living thing in a nearby radius to repeat the loop into infinity was a strong, but less poignant, factor.

If the above summary is all there was, “Window of Opportunity” would be very straightforward with a melodramatic ending. But the episode ran short because repeated scenes in each loop. A sequence was added after the fact wherein Daniel offhandedly mentions Jack and Teal’c can do anything they want and since it will be as though the day never happened, they would suffer no consequences. Jack learns to juggle, takes up pottery, rides a bike through the SGC, goes golfing into the stargate, and resigns his commission in order to plant a big, wet one on Sam. The scenes add color to the story and a contrast to Malakai’s sad quest that I cannot imagine the episode doing well without. So much so, I am skeptical including the scenes were a happy accident because there was time left over. I do not know for a fact, mind you, but they feel so necessary, the scenes had to have been planned all along.

“Window of Opportunity” is a good episode, but it will probably not wind up one of my favorites. I cannot begrudge anyone who counts it among the top tier episodes, but for me it feels like a nifty idea that is a cool change of pace, but little else. I do like the touch that jack, even though his actions will have no consequences, offers his resignation before kissing Sam in order to stay within military regulations anyway. That is a nice character moment.

Rating; *** (out of 5)

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Stargate SG-1--"Divide and Conquer"

A scene from “Divide and Conquer’ in which Jack admits he cares about Sam more than he is supposed to appears in at least two dozen YouTube clips if you do just the right search. Considering MGM went on the copyright warpath three years ago, I suspect that number was far higher before the avalanche of DMCA notices. So brace yourselves, folks. This is shipper paradise.

At a meeting on Vorash to arrange for a summit between the Tok’ra and the US President to finalize a treaty of alliance, a member of anoher SG team attempts to assassinate the Tok’ra High Councilor. When he can only wing the Councilor thanks to Jack’s intervention, the would be assassin commits suicide. Anise/Freya--yep, her again--espouses her theory the Goa’uld have developed mind control technology that turns victims unknowingly into Za’tarcs who will fulfill a mission like robots when triggered. If only Charles Bronson was a member of the SGC.

Anise/Freya arrives at the SGC ahead of the treaty signing with a device that can detect Za’tarc programming within the subconscious mind. The device discovers a young member of an SG team recently ambushed by Jaffa is a Za’tarc. She goes crazy during a dangerous procedure to eliminate the programming from her mind and commits suicide because her mission to assassinate a high official has been threatened. Worse yet, Jack and sam and tested and found to be Za’tarcs. The two are confined to quarters until something can be done. The procedure is obviously out.

I will spare you many excruciating details. The two are suspected of having been captured and brainwashed into Za’tarcs when sam was trapped bekind and force field on apophis’ new ship. They are suspected of beind Za’tarcs because they are holding something back from the incident. It turns out to be that jack refused to leave sam behind because he loves her. When he finally reveals that under another test, he and sam both are deemed clean. Instead, the Za’tarc is martouf, who is gunned down by SG teams and the Secret service before he can kill the president.

Ah, man. I liked Martouf. He and Selmak are far more interesting Tok’ra than Anise/Freya. Why did they have to kill him off?

The answer is quite clear. It is not because he was a character the audience cared about and would therefore be upset over his fate. It is because he has hinted at a romantic interest in sam because of her connection with jolinar. He even dies in sam’s arms. Combine that with a peculiar scene in which anise/Freya comes to Jack during his confinement and professes love for him because he has saved her twice. He rebuffs her. He rebuffs her without offering any solid reason. So sam has her potential love interest die while jack pushes his away. Clearing the path there, folks. Clearing the path.

Say, if Anise/Freya was assigned to test everyone who was going to participate in the treaty signing ceremony, why did she not test Martouf// is this another incident of the Tok’ra being like the Asgard in their overconfidence that nothing can sneak up on them, only to be rescued by “inferior” humans? You would think they might have seen the light by now.

I like that the audience only gets quick glimpses of the gray haired president. They are just enough to give the hint it is Bill Clinton. It may sound odd, but I have always liked those kind of real world connections in fiction. Comic books do that sort o thing all the time, but you do not see it happen too often in television. I know there is going to eventually be a fictitious president featured on the series--William DeVane, who will concurrently play the Secretary of State on The West Wing--but it is fun while it lasts.

In spite of shipper overburden, “Divide and Conquer” is an enjoyable episode. The story could have gone the predictable route of every character overcome by paranoia with a preachy lesson in the end about trust. I am happy the conclusion was more action oriented. It does not make much sense no one bothered to test Martouf or that Jack and Sam can throw off the test results by hiding an emotional exchange from everyone, but neither bother me enough to downgrade the episode.

Rating; *** (out of 5)

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Stargate SG-1--"Crossroads"

Heh. Anise/Freya returns only to screw over the SG-1 team yet again. As far as allies go, the tok’ra really suck. Or maybe it is just Anise/Freya. Selmak/Jacob and Martouf seem all right. The Tok’ra en justifies the means bit is only part of the story. Shan’uac, one of talc’s old flames, visits earth with important news about her symbiote.

Shan’uac, a high priestess of Chulak, visit’s the SGC at the suggestion of Bra’tac. Shan’uac has learned to communicate with her symbiote through meditation and has convinced it the goa’uld is evil. She wants to get into contact with the Tok’ra so the symbiote can be placed in one of them, in doing so, all the secrets of the goa’uld will be in the hands of the Tok’ra.

Teal’c and the rest of SGC are skeptical, but anise shows up eager to accept Shan’uac’s offer. The Tok’ra have had a difficult time finding new hosts before their symbiotes die. Converting Goa’uld is a promising prospect. The tok’ra find a willing host named Hebron. Once blended, the Goa’uld symbiote pledges loyalty. When in private later, Hebron reveals his intention all along was to become a spu within the Tok’ra. He murders shan’uac to keep his secret.

Teal’c realizes Shan’uac was murdered through the same mediation vision method in which he confirmed Shan’uac was telling the truth about her symbiote’s conversion. He vows to kill hebron, but Anise stops him. The tok’ra want to keep him around and in the dark long enough to discover the Goa’uld’s long term plans. Anise swears she did not know the Goa’uld was meant to be a spu before Shan’uac was killed. Teal’c vows to hold his peace…for now.

“Crossroads” is not a bad episode overall, but it does drag in places. Almost two-thirds of the episode is the main characters with their thumbs up their butts trying to decide if Shan’uac is telling the truth. The brief rekindled flame of love between she and teal’c is so fleeting, it is difficult to appreciate the emotion supposedly behind it. Nevertheless, ‘Crossroads” is strangely entertaining because it feels like it is setting up big events down the road. The episode effectively brings on the anticipation of future events. There is a lot to be said for that. I am not that big a Teal’c fan, so it is difficult for me to muster must enthusiasm for episodes centered around him.

Hebron is played by Peter Wingfield. You have seen him in every Vancouver filmed television series over the last twenty years except for The X-Files. It is strange how he missed that one. He has a tendency to play weirdly sinister characters. He would have been a natural.

Rating: *** (out of 5)