Friday, June 8, 2012

Stargate SG-1--"Avatar"

At first glance, “Avatar” should be an awful episode. It is attempting to cash in on virtual reality video games, which is always a risky prospect considering how quickly the graphics can look dated. There is also that need for the characters to abandon all logic in order to set up the conflict for the story. Honestly, who believes it is a good idea to hook a person up to a simulation device which he cannot be removed from by anyone but himself, then allow the device to create more and more difficult scenarios to defeat him? As a bonus, an electric shock is administered every time he is defeated. What could go wrong? Why do they not ask the nearest five year old child/ he most certainly has the answer.

But when episodes turn out well in spite of some flaws, said flaws can be overlooked. “Avatar’ is not some mindless action flick designed to cash in on the video game craze. It is actually a look inside the mind of Teal’c. a look inside his mind is very welcome change from the usual way Teal’c is handled in any episode not written by Christopher Judge himself. In other words, he is not fading into the background as stoic as a house plant, nor immersed in Jaffa politics or family drama.

Praise for “Avatar” does not come easy. Teal’c is my least favorite character. It is not a reflection on Judge so much as the writers appear to have no idea what to do with him. As it is, he stands in the background a lot when he is not getting captured and tortured by various Goa’uld. I am also not much of a video gamer. I have not touched a video game system since the GameCube was still popular. If I had my druthers, I would play an old 8 bit NES game out of nostalgic rage than any on the market right now. So Teal’c and video games is not a combination that sounds like chocolate and peanut butter to me. But preconceived notions are often wrong

‘avatar” features Teal’c taking part in a virtual reality training exercise in a device adapted from the second season‘s “The Gamekeeper.” The return of the Gamekeeper’s technology is not only a nifty bit of continuity, but it is not the only reference to the episode in recent times. It has been suggested the house from which Daniel recovered from his injuries in the previous episode was the one from the simulated botched mission Jack was on in East Germany. Decide for yourselves whether that is true. The simulation of a Kull incursion into Sgc is too easy, so the device is modified to adapt to Teal’c’s thought in order to make the scenarios more difficult.

Unfortunately, the scenarios become impossibly difficult. Teal’c fails to reach his objective continuously, and each time he dies, he gets an electric shock. The cumulative effect is killing him. The reason for this is a combination of teal’c doubt the Goa’uld can ever be defeated and his never give up ego. He is willing to die for a lost cause, so the game will allow him to do so indefinitely. Teal’c is not rescued until Daniel enters the game with the foreknowledge of a two second delay between Teal’c’s and the game’s response. It is only with that x-factor is disaster averted.

“Avatar” is packed with action. As a non-gamer, I found much of it exhausting after a while. The repetition of high energy scenarios is one of the reasons I am not a gamer. Lack of variety during the mastering process turns me into Sisyphus. Real life does that to me enough. My entertainment should not. But the high points of “Avatar” involve character moments. I have already talked about the revelations of Teal’c inner thoughts. There is also bill lee, who I earlier suggested plays the mad scientist well, hamming it up. Daniel dying several times before getting the hang of the game is a funny nod to his frequent departures from this veil of tears. One of the most amusing bits is siler, who rarely gets anything to do, being possessed by a Goa’uld and killed as the final objective of the game. Poor guy cannot catch a break.

“Avatar” is a heck of a lot better than you might think at a glance. Yes, the characters have to drop about twenty IQ points in order to not see trouble coming. Yes, I personally found the repetition of the video game overwhelming because of its violence. (Something that does not often bother me, by the way.) both there is enough insight into characters, especially a refreshing look at Teal’c, and nods to the past to make "Avatar” an enjoyable experience.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

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