Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Memoirs of Stargate SG-1

     It began one summer with a new friendship. I had met a certain guy who shared my love of science fiction and through the combined efforts of my new fellow nerd and my roommate, I entered into the ten season relationship of Stargate: SG-1. Having grown up on the movie Stargate, I had always been curious about the series spin-off but had been unable to watch the series. Until 2009. One Sunday afternoon, my roommate and I settled down and she put in the first of many discs from her deluxe box set. One episode led to another, and then another. Soon our numbers grew from two to three to six, convening once a week to watch and enjoy together.

     I will admit that the pilot episode did not immediately evoke devoted following. The TV-level special effects were dated and unimpressive by 2009 standards—the quality of the special effects seemed to pick up technologically where Star Trek: The Next Generation left off. Still, I was generous with my judgments, allowing that this was a product of late 1990’s television. When the premiere villain Apophis made his grand entrance however, it was more difficult to excuse the campy costumes and overdone makeup. My companions advised me to focus on the story rather than the visual efforts, as they did have a smaller budget in their earlier seasons. Beyond that, the “visual efforts” involved content more suited to an HBO type series. So I suspended judgment despite thinking deep within myself “it’s going to be like this for a few seasons?” I pushed through with the hope that better entertainment lie on the other side of season one. I was right.

     As in most TV series, the actors involved took some getting used to in that first season as they settled into their characters. At times I wondered if they were being prompted or reading their lines off a faraway wall. But eventually as the actors became more comfortable with their characters, I became more comfortable with them as well and began developing impressions of each and guessing at their motives, personalities, and destinies. I latched on to Jack O’Neill and his sardonic humor. I sympathized with Daniel Jackson and his quest to rescue his wife from her captivity. Teal’c gained my interest as I pondered his loyalties and dark past. Even Samantha Carter gained my approval once I got past her Princess Diana haircut and frequent tendency to play the exposition fairy with her ridiculous knowledge of… everything (thankfully all these characteristics were toned down as the series went on).

     Season two came around and as the story improved, so did the special effects, costumes, and writing. The actors, now comfortable in their roles, carried their parts naturally and effortlessly. Events were now happening that would carry ramifications lasting several seasons or at least revisited multiple times. Sam became host to Tok’ra symbiote Jolinar, Daniel began his long track record of attracting abnormal females, both the formidable and the ridiculous Goa’uld made appearances and reappearances, and Sam’s father Jacob was set up as a returning guest character. Not only did SG-1 have alien threats to deal with, they now fought domestic politics on their home turf, developing strained and cantankerous relationships with the corrupt Senator Kinsey and the hated Maybourne. Finally, the plot was thickening!

     One storyline would lead to another and then taper off, birthing a greater arc, or even memorable stand-alone episodes. As the series went on, the relationships deepened and even Jack and Daniel developed a certain respect for one another despite what ought to have been irreconcilable differences. Teal’c grew a sense of humor and Jack actually had sensitive moments. Sam became a strong leader, but retained her femininity and never crossed the line into becoming Jane Bond. Thank goodness. I will say that the writers went overboard playing with my heart in terms of the Jack-Sam dynamic, because they became in my opinion the most frustrating “will they, won’t they?” couple in TV history, but without the satisfaction of a definite resolution in one direction or the other. The obvious affection swelled to breaking point and then... was brushed off. Unlike Captain Picard and Dr. Crusher of Star Trek: The Next Generation, whose relationship was left open for possibilities at the finale of the series, Jack and Sam just forgot about their feelings and then Jack left. Simple as that. I suppose I can give the show props for not getting soapy, at least most of the time. Sam’s relationship with Pete was not a high point for me.

     One thing I would say Stargate: SG-1 did better than most shows would be able to in a ten season run, is excellent continuity. One of the most satisfying things about continuity is getting to say with a simultaneous sense of dread and anticipation “you again…” When SG-1 introduced an antagonist, it was sure as tax that he or she would be seen again in some capacity or another if they got away. While Linea, Destroyer of Worlds yielded a somewhat anti-climactic one-episode reappearance, the encounter with Fifth the Replicator brought far-reaching consequences and an unexpected tangent to the Replicator arc, spanning several episodes. Likewise a seemingly insignificant episode centered on a relationship between Daniel and an old colleage released a new Goa'uld enemy, leading into one of the most intense story arcs.

     As in most sci-fi, you could never depend on someone actually being dead. Would Apophis ever die for good? Would Maybourne ever stop popping up at the worst possible time? And die? Would Kinsey ever do the world a favor and get himself assassinated? And just when I thought the team could relax a bit, having not heard from Apophis in some time, we were dealt Sokar and an Apophis encore. The Goa'uld held legendary grudges, and would never forget a grievance dealt them, be it a few seasons ago, or a few millenia ago. While certain story points that seemed like they would be monumental trailed off without too much ceremony, thinking back I can't recall a real loose end anywhere.

     The fall of one Goa’uld would give rise to the next, each one strikingly unique in his, her, or its own vein of evil. I was just about to grow tired of the endless reappearing schemes of Apophis when the writers wrote in a timely and truly fitting end for the villain. Appropriately, Apophis had one of the most glorious exits of all SG-1 nemeses, and watching the fiend helplessly face his demise was just spectacular, not to mention poetic. With Apophis now out of the way, new overarching threats needed to be created that did not repeat Apophis. SG-1 came through fantastically with Osiris and his alliance of system lords, Anubis, Ba’al, and the rise to prominence of more Replicators. While more minor villains such as the insipid Nirrti or overly sensual Hathor were not even fun to hate, the dominating powers of evil became every bit as essential to the sagas as SG-1 itself, and I even had favorites among the adversaries.

    Among the greater adversaries of Stargate SG-1, my favorites were the classics. Anubis, a seemingly unbeatable entity with an evil so pure that other Goa’uld considered
Anubis’ ways unspeakable, brought a supernatural element to the Goa'uld threat. As an ascended being, his powers of evil operated on a level outside the realm of reality -- a different dimension if you will, making him an especially formidable foe. Ba’al, so arrogant and yet borderline charming in his unexcitable manners and elegantly brutal mind games (such as his repeated killing and resurrection of Jack) seemed a straightforward enough Goa'uld, but he had more on his side than legions of fear-bound followers; he was cunning. Ba'al was a true strategist and tactical artist, constantly surprising. Even in the face of certain defeat, Ba’al remained maddeningly poised and unwaveringly superior in all his mannerisms. Lastly, I had to love the presence of the Replicators. Until the encounter with Fifth, the Replicators were a mindless destructive machine without a face or a heart. This in itself made the Replicators an entity that forced a new battle-mode. Fighting an enemy that does not bleed or hurt proved to be a challenge that even the superior Asgard found daunting. When the SG-1 team lands on a Replicator planet, the machines entered a new level of dangerous destroyers: they were shown to be self-aware. Soon SG-1 was not just dealing with mechanical spider-like Replicators, but they had Fifth and Repli-Carter-- a Samantha Carter replicator impostor.

     In ten seasons of character development and progression, certain emotional wrenches are inevitable. There was a certain tightness in my heart as Daniel tearfully bid goodbye to Jack and departed this world in Meridian. Eyes were wiped as Sam delivered her honoring speech at Dr. Frazier’s funeral in Heroes. While I never cared for Sha’re (or the dreadful acting her character was doomed to), I couldn’t help but sympathize with Daniel as he grieved over the loss of his wife in Forever in a Day. During Jack’s captivity under Ba’al, I couldn't help but understand his caving to hopelessness with his daily death and resurrection in Abyss. And as previously mentioned, it was hard not to hope that somehow Jack and Sam would stop ignoring their feelings. Teal’c may have been the strongest of the team both physically and emotionally, but he sensitively displayed feeling torn as a warrior, father, estranged husband, and friend. While his loyalties were often at odds with one another, Teal’c proved time and time again that he was an invaluable member of the SG-1 team, saving the lives of his comrades on numerous occasions. At times he frustrated me with how determined he was to pay penance for his past as First Prime of Apophis, but Teal'c remained a sterling hero.  

     In time, SG-1 moved on from the predominantly Egyptian mythologies and turned its attention to Arthurian and Atlantian themes. Unfortunately, with the final defeat of the Goa’uld came the unannounced departure of Jack O’Neill to be replaced by younger and inexperienced Cameron Mitchell. After eight seasons with O’Neill at the helm, it was hard not to feel like Mitchell was a cheap substitution. He dropped onto the scene suddenly and conveniently, bringing with him a few more new characters that just didn’t quite mesh with the eight previous seasons of development. General Landry was a far departure in leadership style and personality from the straight-laced General Hammond. And then there was Vala Mal Doran who was just… a fish out of water to put it most politely. Mitchell was not a bad character, just thrust forward as the lead a little too quickly. Despite character replacements being a little disappointing, the story continued, introducing an arc that might have lasted multiple seasons with the new threat of the Ori. Most of seasons nine and ten drew on basic Arthurian legend, adding the sci-fi twist and incorporating the Ori into the mix. And a timely reappearance of old nemesis Ba’al, just in time to keep things interesting. And then, just as I thought to myself that this Ori arc with the insatiably evil Adria could set up the show for a few more seasons, it ended. 

     After ten seasons of tension, rising action, falling action, new enemies, old enemies, secret enemies, gains and losses, and a just a little drama within, it is hard to envision what an appropriate ending would be. Truthfully I appreciated that the universe was not saved once and for all, leaving all the SG-1 members to go on and lead a quiet life hereafter. Nor was everyone conveniently bumped off in some horribly dramatic fashion. Unending took a different, more contemplative approach to finish off the series by allowing the remaining SG-1 characters to live out their lives in a time dilation bubble, trapped in what some would consider a fate worse than death. Warriors were now caged, helpless, and unable to even die in battle. Stuck with nothing but decades of time, age and hopelessness set in as day after day of analyzing proved fruitless. Of course they get out and get to be young again and continue their missions with only one of them retaining any memory of the events. The series ends with a “business as usual” tone, and SG-1 steps through the gate for yet another adventure just before the credits roll one last time.

     When Unending ended, SG-1 was over, and ten seasons worth of time were now complete. The stories were told, the battles were fought, and the book was closed. Yet thanks to the wisdom of the writers, although it was clearly the end of an era, I did not feel that it was truly the end. There were still undefeated enemies out there, and more planets in need of emancipation. The team would continue saving the universe one planet at a time, even if their escapades would no longer be available on DVD. No sooner had the Stargate activated one last time and hosted the heroes through the event horizon, I wanted to start over again. Now with the knowledge of how one thing affects the next episode to episode, I wanted to go back. Stargate SG-1 had many high points, a few low points, some fantastic comedic points, and some stirring dramatic points. Stargate SG-1 is a truly fine specimen that does justice to science fiction in all the best ways. A great show indeed.

~Special thanks to "Ecarganna" for sparking my interest so long ago during our long, nerdy sci-fi talks, "Freckles" and "Spud" for getting it started, and "Potter", "Jonface", and "Imspecial" for many, many nights of sharing the experience, as well as the friends who occasionally popped in~

1 comment:

  1. I MISS IT SO MUCH!!! And by "it" I mean watching this (and other sci-fi) with you & the group on Friday nights, with all the conversations, wise-cracking, and hysterical laughter. I've been waiting for this post and, as usual, you didn't disappoint. Also, I'm honored to be one of the people who got you involved in this fabulous series. :)