Thursday, May 24, 2012

Stargate SG-1--"Grace"

I was anxious to finally get to “Grace.” While I knew very little about Stargate SG-1 before beginning these reviews, I was aware “Grace” was famous for being the Sci Fi Channel’s highest rated first run episode of any series up until that point. Given the subject matter, the promos Sci Fi runs into the ground must have tantalized the Jack/Sam shippers. It is doubtful they are disappointed with the final product. I am not.

The Prometheus hyper drive is finally repaired with parts from the ship Jack and Teal’c stole from Ba’al’s forces back in “Avenger 2.0” (so there is your proof the episode was not a Felger daydream.) Sam joins the crew for the ride home when they are attacked by an unknown alien vessel. The Prometheus ducks into a nebula for safety. Sam is knocked unconscious as the alien vessel continues its pursuit. When she awakens, she finds herself alone.

As you might have guessed, “Grace” is a very Sam-heavy episode. She struggles throughout to discover what happened to the crew, how long can she hold out to possible rescue, how to get the ship fully operational, and eventually how to save herself when the shields begin failing against the nebula’s radiation. She is helped along by hallucinations of her teammates and father, as well as a strange little girl named Grace.

Exactly what those hallucinations are is left up to interpretation. The Daniel hallucination speculates they are projections from the nebula, that it may be an alien trying to communicate with Sam. The other possibility is the hallucinations are a result of Sam’s head injury. They are the personification of aspects of herself helping her to cope with her current predicament while exploring her inner self. I like the latter interpretation much better. I like if for no other reason than, if true, the episode was headed down the path of a tired Star Trek plot, but kicked it to the curb for something for more introspective. The interpretation is the one I am definitely going with.

What I find unique are the subtle touches. The Teal’c hallucination, who is the one warning Sam not to fall asleep with her concussion and introduces the possibility she is being held prisoner and mind probed, calls her Samantha for the first time rather than the formal Major Carter the real Teal’c always does. Even while expressing suspicion, there is a certain warmth for Sam we know is there, but rarely overtly seen. Daniel is the absolutely logical scientist who forces sam to work on every problem at hand until a solution is found. It is that scientific curiosity that forms the connection between the two of them in real life. Next, her father appears to her as the hallucinations shift towards the personal. Jacon/selmak expresses sorrow that her drive to succeed has forced her into a very lonely life. Shippers should be happy that Jsck, who is the only one to appear out of uniform, has a talk with sam in which she reveals she holds out for a relationship with him because she knows one can never be. He is her safety net, assurance she will never get hurt in a relationship because she will never pursue one.

What is Grace? Good question. I am inclined to think she represents sam’s fun side. Since grace is still a little girl, her fun side must have died long ago. Considering Grace’s fascination with learning abourt Sam’s solution for escaping the nebula, she might lend credence to Daniel’s suggestion the nebula is alive and trying to communicate with Sam. I want to dismiss that idea and stick with my fun side of sam theory. You may kick them both around, but considering Sam heard grace singng in the SGC infirmary in the final scene, the idea Grace is a manifestation of Sam’s own mind is a strong one.

There is no way to avoid mentioning the similarities between “Grace” and Star Trek: Voyager’s “One.” I did not want to taint anyone’s perspective by mentioning the similaritites in the introductory paragraph. My disdain for all things VOY should not reflect my opinion on “Grace,” which I enjoy very much--and I am not even a shipper.

There are some fine points to “Grace.“ I am not attempting any point of Grace jokes, there. This is another episode in which there is not much teamwork. The rest of the cast outside of Amanda Tapping has little screen time, but makes the most of it. The atmosphere is appropriately eery. Sam is on a large, empty ship. There are long stretches of time with no musical accompaniment to emphasize the dead silence surrounding Sam. As the effects of her head injury worsen, we get weird, disorienting camera angles to go along with her perspective. What we do not get--and I am grateful for this--is a lot of weird, dreamlike images that are supposed to be profound, but are really just artsy, fartsy. This stuff is straightforward. Jacob/Selmak is in uniform, rigid and still a bit distant. Jack is out of uniform talking to her informally as a friend. No pretentious symbolism there. I will bet someone has written a master’s thesis on “Grace” regardless.

“Grace” is a thought-provoking, engrossing episode. It does start out slow, and one grows wary when Star Trek plot staples are hinted at, but the latter two-thirds more than make up for those points. Tapping carries the story almost completely by herself, yet the relative absence of the other cast members is not keenly felt. I did not feel shortchanged by the near exclusive focus on one character as I have with other single character episodes this season. That means “Grace” is done right.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

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