Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Stargate SG-1--"The Sentinel"

“The Sentinel” revisit’s the storyline of the rogue NID teams stealing technology from Earth’s allies. It does so with subtle retroactive continuity--the “previously on Stargate SG-1 is edited with two NID agents featured in this episode replacing two who were actually arrested in the original scene. Oftentimes, I would be irritated by such a move, but somehow it feels clever here instead. Maybe it is because I want to like ’The Sentinel’ in spite of a number of glaring mistakes.

The SG-9 team has been diligently working to restore relations with the people of Tolana after an NID team tried to steal the Sentinel, a defensive weapon that has kept the Goa’uld from invading for centuries. Instead of stealing the device, the team allegedly took it aprt and put it together again to see if they could figure out how it works. Something went wrong, because the Sentinel no longer works. Jaffa have successfully invaded the planet and are holding steady until the System Lord Svarog arrives.

The SG-1 team is set to go to Tolana and fix the device, but it is determined they need the two NID operatives along with them. Reluctantly, Jack allows Grieves and Kershaw to go along, unarmed, to help in exchange for commuting their death sentences for high treason.

‘The Sentinel” presents an odd role reversal from this point on. Jack assumes the diplomatic role of convincing the tolana leader, Marul, the Sentinel may never work again and he needs to evacuate his people before Savrog arrives. Sam, the brains of SG-1, joins Teal’c in defending the Sentinel device while Grieves, Kershaw, and Daniel work to figure it out. Daniel is the one who figures out the mathematical harmonics whatsis of the force field surrounding the Sentinel, so he is the hero of the day. So Jack the Career Soldier, is the diplomat., Sam the Scientist, is the soldier. And Daniel the Archeologist is the scientist. Weird.

The twist is Grieves and Kershaw are hiding the truth. There is normally a hermit caretaker who has to become part of the Sentinel in order to get it to work, but grieves killed him the first time they were on Tolana. There is no way to get the Sentinel to work without a human taking part. When Savrog’s forces arrive and overwhelm Tolana, Grieves decides to become part of the Sentinel himself in order to seek some sort of redemption. His plan works. The Goa’uld disappear in a wave of light. For the sake of convenience, Kershaw dies from a staff weapon blast to the back and the tolana refuse to deal with Earth any further, so there is no sharing of the Sentinel technology.

“The Sentinel’ is an exciting, action oriented episode, but the best part of it is something quite subtle. Marul is played by Henry Gibson. He was in his 70’s at this point and it looks like he has even shrunk some from his already small stature in his old age. That this meek little fellow the Tolana leader implies they are a race completely incapable of defending themselves without the Sentinel. Marul is bullied in several scenes by Savrog’s first Prime, a man who towers over him. Marul is evidently executed off screen when he refuses to tell the First Prime how to shut off the force field surrounding the Sentinel. I felt angry these huge Jaffa were bullying a tiny elderly man and even worse they pretty clearly murdered him. Those are some powerful images.

I recall a final season episode of MacGyver in which Gibson played an aging silent film star. One wonders if he and Richard Dean Anderson are buddies, and the latter got him the part. That might explain why Jack is the only main character who has scenes with Marul. It is just a hunch. I have no proof one way or the other, but it is not like Gibson is normally a Vancouver like the rest of the guest cast usually is.

“The Sentinel” does have flaws. No one seems to know whether Grogan is a sergeant or a lieutenant. He answers to both. As an Air Force Academy graduate, he should be a 2nd lieutenant. The role reversals of the SG-2 team members do not feel right. Jack threatens to shoot Grieves three times, once out of general principle, yet he does not stand over his shoulder at any point. Why is he serving as the diplomat instead of Daniel? Why is sam providing cover fire instead of working her physics skills on the Sentinel? Daniel’s role is largely to just stand around and get yelled at for being in the way. Nothing is quite what you would expect. On a humorous note, the scene of Teal’c pering out from behind a natural barrier to fire his staff weapon is used every single time the battle scene cuts back to him. There is a way to save on the special effects budget.

“The Sentinel’ is still watchable in spite of its oddities and outright mistakes. I hasten to mention that when the guest star--in this case, Gibson--is the highlight, one should be prepared to be disappointed. There is a definite vibe of “The Sentinel” having been thrown in there as a action yarn to give the audience mindless entertainment before the big season-ending episodes.

Rating: ** (out of 5)

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