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Alternate History and Stargate. Part 4

By Tom Anderson

What this team needs is a fashion designer.

Picture courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Last time on this series , we had reached the end of season 2 of Stargate SG-1 and the cliffhanger finale Out of Mind, which seemingly presented an alternate possible future but was, in reality, a fake scenario engineered by Hathor. This story is continued in Into the Fire, the beginning of season 3, but does not build on the AH elements. Both Hathor and Teal’C’s wife are killed off quite unceremoniously, while Teal’C and Bra’tac plot to rescure the other members of SG-1 – with unexpected help from Hammond operating independently, and a ‘needle-threader’ craft that fits through the Stargate. This idea would further be developed in the spinoff Stargate Atlantis much later on.

Seth, the second episode, is one of the most interesting stories. We’ve already seen some of the potential that the Stargate setting has for stories beyond travelling to other worlds; the fact that the Goa’uld were present on Earth in the distant past hints that some could still be around. Granted, the previous attempt at doing something with that was the disappointing Hathor, but the idea is used to much greater effect in Seth. The malevolent figure from Egyptian mythology by that name (also called Setesh) has stayed on Earth for thousands of years leading a succession of exploitative cults, and his latest version is running a classic 90s American Jim Jones/Branch Dravidian/Waco type cult with a compound and everything. When Jacob alerts the team to his existence, they had to partner up with a confused guy from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (whose son got brainwashed by the cult) to tackle Seth and free his mind-controlled followers. Only tangentially AH, but a great concept, showing how Stargate could do X-Files like Earth-bound stories one week and Star Trek like adventure ones the next.

Fair Game is also worthy of mention for how it changes the status quo – Carter is promoted to Major, and Thor visits Earth to negotiate a treaty with the Goa’uld, who otherwise would unite against their squabbles to destroy the new threat of Earth humans, the “Tau’ri”. The three System Lords sent are Nirrti (the one responsible for planting the bomb in Cassandra), Cronus (who killed Teal’C’s father, then his First Prime, and Teal’C devoted his life to becoming Apophis’ First Prime so he could destroy Cronus in battle) and Yu (as in Yu the Great from ancient Chinese mythological history). Puns on you/Yu abound in later episodes, and all three System Lords will reappear. Also reappearing in this episode are the Tok’ra weapons used to expose the Reetou, here used instead to find a different invisible foe. The treaty signed with the Asgard protects Earth from Goa’uld attack, but any SG teams found away from Earth are still considered fair game to the Goa’uld.

In a small continuity note, the episode Legacy ties in with the seemingly self-contained season 2 episode Holiday, as one of Ma’chello’s “inventions to fight the Goa’uld” is encountered and threatens to kill Teal’C.

We now come to Point of View, which is one of the most direct invocations of Alternate History in the whole of the Stargate franchise. The ‘quantum mirror’ from There But For the Grace of God, kept in Area 51 (of course), activates and an alternate Carter and Kawalsky arrive from a different timeline. That timeline is clearly supposed to resemble the one that Daniel accidentally visited in the earlier episode, but (as is acknowledged in the dialogue) can’t be the exact same one, as it was already being destroyed when he left. Similar events are playing out in this timeline, though; Teal’C is still loyal to Apophis and Earth is being invaded and enslaved by the Goa’uld. Alt-Carter, who’s a civilian scientist and the deceased alt-Jack’s widow, and living Kawalsky have arrived to plead for help. A decision must be made soon, because two Carters can’t occupy the same timeline without “entropic cascade failure” starting to kill her. This is obviously not very scientifically rigorous and is just a plot device, but is decent writing because they explain why it doesn’t happen to Kawalsky and didn’t happen to Daniel in the earlier episode – their counterparts in the timeline they visited are deceased.

Our heroes devise a plan to contact the Asgard in the alternate timeline for help. To do so, they need to be able to dial the Gate with an eighth symbol (as seen in The Fifth Race) and therefore need an extra power device; they no longer have the knowledge of the Ancients in Jack’s head, but it’s handwaved that two Carters working together can reverse engineer it. The team travels to the other dimension (except ‘our’ Carter, because that would just exacerbate the two Carters in one timeline thing) and Teal’C confronts his alternate counterpart, urging him to defect. In what’s probably an intentional joke aimed at Star Trek’s Mirror Universe, both alt-Teal’C and alt-Apophis have goatees! Alt-Teal’C refuses to comply, so our Teal’C kills him and assumes his identity. Meanwhile, they lose the frequency for the home timeline so Daniel has to flip through dimensions trying to find it. At one point he thinks he has, but then notices Carter on the other side is still a Captain. This does feel a bit can-of-worms; as with Sliders, how can he really be sure he found the ‘actual’ timeline and not one that’s exactly the same except that the Golden Gate Bridge is blue?

Anyway, although Apophis tortures alt-Hammond to death, they do manage to get through to the Asgard. An Asgard ship shows up to do to the Goa’uld what one did in Thor’s Chariot, as well as resurrecting Hammond. While, as I said, it’s explicitly stated that this is not the same dimension as the one Daniel visited before, just a similar one, it does feel like a nice sense of closure that even that dystopic ending can be undone. Hammond threatened during the episode to have the mirror destroyed lest this happen again, and surprsingly, they actually go through with it off-camera. An unintended side effect from this shows up in a Stargate Atlantis spinoff novel, and the mirror is mentioned once again when alternate realities show up through other means, but it was genuinely destroyed and never appears again. That’s actually quite impressive, given the writing of shows like these tends to want to leave things open and unresolved.

Deadman Switch, on the other hand, is full of potential for future stories, including a bounty hunter played by Sam J Jones who did a great job of seeming alien but is never followed up on.

Demons interestingly features a planet with displaced Christian settlers. Teal’C, who has read the Bible, notes that no Goa’uld could possibly show the necessary compassion or benevolence to imitate God. Instead, Sokar (remember him?) is posing as Satan. While this episode does have some of the usual tired Salem witch trial tropes that one often sees in this kind of fiction, I do like that level of nuance, and it’s something that was sadly lacking from some of the later series of SG-1. Also, the envoy Sokar sends to threaten the Christians is an Unas rather than a human, as previously seen in Thor’s Hammer, and we’ll see more from them in later episodes.

Demons in Space.

Picture courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Rules of Engagement is a weird episode. We’ve already had the classic Cold War plot of “you think you’ve woken up in the future but actually it’s a fake by your enemies to put you off guard”. This is the related one of “the Soviets have built a fake American village in Siberia to train spies and it’s weird walking around it.” Or in this case, Apophis had a planet where he was training fanatics with replicated SGC uniforms (with ‘SG-X’ insignia) and stun training weapons made to look like P-90 submachine guns. Jack has to find a way to convince them to stand down and that Apophis is dead. In the end, he does, by abusing Apophis’ gigantic holographic recording thing and instead playing a video of Apophis dying in Serpent’s Song. Great, except at the end of that episode it was said that Sokar could resurrect him with a sarcophagus and (spoilers) literally three episodes later, we’ll find he’s still alive? What? I mean, OK, Jack’s strategy makes sense regardless, but the writing of this episode suggests the team actually think Apophis really is gone. Strange. Anyway, future episodes do make use of the nifty alien stun training weapons shaped like real Earth guns, which is a cool concept in itself.

Rules of Engagement - a weird episode.

Picture courtesy Stargate Wiki fandom.

Forever in a Day is an important episode for the myth arc, as we get a conclusion to Daniel’s efforts to try to rescue Sha’re. He finds her on a planet, but Ammonet is in control and starts torturing Daniel with a hand device. Sha’re is somehow able to send her thoughts through it to Daniel, leading to one of those psychological thriller episodes where you’re not sure what’s real. It turns out it’s all in Daniel’s head, and Sha’re pleads with him not to hate Teal’C when the latter is forced to kill Ammonent and Sha’re together to save Daniel.

The two-parter Jolinar’s Memories and The Devil You Know set up a new status quo. Jacob has been captured by Sokar and SG-1, together with the Tok’ra Martouf (who was Jolinar’s lover) have to infiltrate the (literally) hellish moon of Ne’tu to organise a rescure. Jolinar was the only one to make it out of Ne’tu alive, so Carter has to try to recover her memories with Martouf’s help. It turns out that Jolinar was forced to seduce Bynarr, a lesser Goa’uld who runs the moon for Sokar. However, this time around, Bynarr is killed by his own First Prime, the masked Na’onak. At the end of the episode, we learn that Na’onak is really (drum roll) Apophis! See what I mean about Rules of Engagement?

Jacob has learned that Sokar has built a fleet to destroy the other System Lords. However, in a moment that some fans found surprising, after they’ve built up Sokar as a huge threat and given him a distinctive evil look that’s a bit Emperor from Star Wars but still original (Disney take note), Apophis is able to kill him and seize control of his huge army. Apophis then becomes the main antagonist again for the rest of the season. I don’t have strong feelings about it myself, but I can see why people thought this was a mistake. Anyway, our heroes manage to rescue Jacob and get away.

Foothold features shapeshifting (or rather holo-disguising) aliens successfully taking over the SGC. Carter has to seek help from Colonel Maybourne, who I’ve not mentioned thus far but is a recurring mostly-antagonistic member of the NID with shady view on stealing technology from aliens. The episode introduces the concept of a ‘Foothold Situation’, which describes when the SGC has fallen to aliens this way, and reappears in future episodes. The surprising thing to my mind is that the aliens were so well-developed but never appear again. They strongly resemble the Zygons from classic Doctor Who in their tactics and, to a lesser extent, appearance, with the people whose appearance they are emulating hanging from the ceiling in restraints. Another nice bit of writing in this episode is that Carter is in a plane with aliens emulating Daniel and O’Neill, and a bit of weather turbulence causes their holo-disguises to flicker, alerting her to their true form. Nowadays it’s so common to portray the antagonists in a scenario like this to be all-powerful and never making mistakes right until the deus ex machina conclusion, it’s refreshing and another bit of Stargate’s ‘robust realism’ that simple random chance can hurt their plans like this.

We’ve seen Sha’re’s fate, but in Pretence, Skaara/Klorel crash lands on the Tollan planet and the host and symbiote have to argue in a trial for which one gets to keep the body. As our forum member Erik ‘Ciclavex’ noted, here the Stargate writers present a ‘WEIRD ALIEN COURT SYSTEM!’ which is actually just based on real life Mexican law! It’s an interesting courtroom drama, with the Goa’uld represented by a minor Goa’uld called Zipacna, here seen in a silly hat fashion disaster mode befitting the pantheon he’s emulating; he gets a better sense of style later. Really, of course, the Goa’uld have their own side plot, using the trial as an excuse to ‘paint’ the Tollans’ ion cannon defence guns so they can all be taken out by a mothership. Fortunately, our heroes are able to persuade the neutral Nox judge to make one cannon invisible so that it survives the onslaught, allowing the Tollans to destroy the mothership. Of course, this comes with no thanks from the arrogant Tollans, other than ruling in favour of Skaara.

After two unrelated episodes, that story continues in Shades of Grey (fortunately, no connection with the execrable Star Trek TNG clip show!). O’Neill seemingly gets understandably frustrated with the Tollans and tries to steal their technology. For this, he is forced out of the SGC, but of course it was all a ruse so O’Neill can infiltrate a rogue SG team with NID connections, run by the aforementioned Maybourne. This team has been operating in the shadows to steal technology, with the help of a mole in the SGC. O’Neill’s real mission is to find out who that mole is. It turns out to be the squeaky-clean Colonel Makepeace, who had appeared in a few other episodes previously and even helped rescue the team in Into the Fire.

New Ground is an interesting episode whose core concept is basically “fight between evolutionists and people who think ancient aliens brought us here, except in this case the second group are right!” As I said in my Star Trek articles , Stargate does it way better than Voyager did in Distant Origin. The other thing I always remember from this episode is that the Optrican and Bedrosian (named after people on the production staff!) weapons have a really cool spreading-ripple effect which I wish had been used for weapons we saw more often.

Maternal Instinct is a strange episode but one with very important seeds for the future. Daniel has learned that the Harcissus child, the biological son of Apophis’ host and Sha’re, is on a planet which, Bra’tac informs him, is the place Jaffa believe their souls go after death. There, they find a stereotypical Zen monk who teaches them about ‘Ascension’, which will eventually tie in with much bigger events. One such ascended being, Oma Desala, saves the child.

Crystal Skull is a fun episode in which the team find a Mayan ziggurat with a crystal skull (this was before Indiana Jones used them). The skull changes Daniel so his body phases out of existence; the others think he has gone altogether. Daniel’s grandfather, Nicholas Ballard, is brought in as he’s an expert on the skulls. Ballard was ostracised from the archaeological community for claiming that touching one such skull briefly transported him to another world where he saw ‘GIANT! ALIENS!’ Ironically, Daniel and Ballard both thought each other’s theories were crazy, but they both turned out to be right! Fortunately, Ballard having touched the skull before attunes him enough that he can see Daniel; then Daniel just has to convince him he’s really there, and get him to convince the others. There’s a very funny scene where jack doesn’t believe until Ballard relays Daniel’s disgusted: “Jack, don’t be an ass!” to him. They return to the planet and, indeed, meet the ‘GIANT! ALIENS1’ who inform them that they are foes of the Goa’uld, and “the enemy of my enemy is my friend”. It’s a shame this story was never followed up on, while the crystal skulls are now obviously known to be a hoax, it was a cool concept.

I will leave this review at this point, as the final cliffhanger episode to this season is better dealt with in concert with season 4.

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Tom Anderson is the author of several SLP books, including:

The Look to the West series

among others.


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