By Tom Anderson
Time to look butch. Time to look at Stargate.
Picture courtesy Wikimedia Commons.
When we last left this rundown of Alternate History in the Stargate franchise, we were part way through Season 4 of Stargate SG-1 and had just covered 2010, which is one of the most AH-relevant episodes – albeit at the time it was presented as an alternate future history. Well, oddly enough, 2010 is followed back-to-back with another episode presenting an alternate future history.
You may or may not remember that Apophis and the possessed Sha’re had a human child known as the Harcesis, which is forbidden to Goa’uld because that means the genetic memory of the symbiotes is passed onto an un-joined human. Don’t ask how.
"I don't know. Maybe he needs an obligatory age-up."
Picture courtesy Stargate Omnipedia.
The Harcesis child, named Shifu, was previously taken away for safekeeping by the mysterious Oma Desala, but is now rediscovered (after the obligatory plot-relevant age-up) on the planet Abydos (from the original film, and Sha’re’s homeworld). In practice, Oma Desala has helped him suppress the memories of the Goa’uld because, as Daniel puts it, otherwise his mind would be “flooded with the thoughts of a thousand Hitlers”. Teal’C notes that being born with such memories is “why the Goa’uld are all evil” – a kind of statement which is often found problematic nowadays (even Tolkien struggled with it for the Orcs, not that most modern commentators bother to read his essays about it and think they’re the first to make the same tired points) but which is arguably justified well by this trope. Yes, there are the Tok’ra, but they are pretty much all descended from one ‘deviant’ hive queen. Anyway, the team are put in a moral dilemma about whether to try and awaken the memories to learn about the Goa’uld’s secrets and technology or not. While Daniel is talking to Shifu, the boy touches his forehead. Daniel collapses and later realises the Goa’uld memories have transferred to him!
That's better, I guess.
Picture courtesy Stargate Omnipedia.
The rest of the episode is a cleverly-written account, set over an extended period of time, of Daniel using the Goa’uld knowledge to defend Earth – eg, building satellites armed with advanced energy weapons – while also showing increasing signs that he is morally degrading and is no longer Daniel. It starts from the very beginning where, fresh with the new knowledge, Daniel comes up with a convincing reason for why they should cut the Tok’ra out of this deal. He also refuses to share information with the Russians, in violation of the US Government’s agreement to share information in return for the Russians ceasing to use the Stargate in their possession. Gradually, O’Neill and Carter realise he’s ordering them about. When Daniel has the armed satellites launch, the Russians (and Chinese) suddenly go on high alert and begin bringing in anti-satellite weapons. O’Neill, realising Daniel has gone full megalomaniac, manages to break into his elaborate control centre and shoots him, only to him protected by a Goa’uld forcefield. Daniel promptly uses the satellite weapons to fire on Moscow and destroy it, ready to neutralise humanity’s nuclear arsenals and effectively take over the planet as a System Lord himself.
Then, of course, he wakes up to find it was all a vision given to him by Shifu, an explanation of why he can’t hand over the information. As the title implies, absolute power corrupts absolutely. Of course, in hindsight this episode has some unfortunate tankie undertones of the Russians (ironically, considering the current situation in Ukraine) being presented as the heroic underdogs, but at the time – as I said in the last article – it was so refreshing to even acknowledge the existence of nations outside the US at all in genre science fiction.
This episode is followed by the very forgettable The Light, which is the exact same plot as the existing episode Need only more boring, and then Prodigy. This episode sees Carter discover a brilliant young Air Force cadet named Jennifer Hailey, clearly seeing something of herself in her, and recruiting her for a mission to a planet with life forms like swarms of fireflies. Hailey will reappear in a subsequent episode. The next story, Entity, is not bad but again feels like a bit of a rehash of past ideas – an electronic data-based life-form, like a virus, comes through the wormhole to infect the base’s computers and then takes over Carter’s mind instead.
We then reach the last two episodes of season 4, and a return to form with some of the most brilliant and original ideas of the show’s run. In Double Jeopardy, O’Neill, Carter, Teal’C and Daniel arrive through the Stargate on a planet named Juna. Everything seems a little bit off to the viewer. SG-1’s form of dress looks a bit different, a bit more like they did in previous seasons? And the local people of Juna, who have a mediaeval level of technology, claim that SG-1 visited them before. The viewers have never seen this, but then, there are a lot of off-camera missions. But this time, the members of SG-1 also don’t remember visiting them before. The people of Juna are now angry because they helped SG-1 fight off Heru’ur’s Jaffa and then bury their Stargate to protect them, but the Goa’uld – in the form of System Lord Cronus – returned via starship instead, and have now enslaved them all over again and restored the Stargate. SG-1 still don’t know what they’re talking about. They are taken captive by Cronus’ servant Sindar, and discuss amongst themselves, worriedly, that this mission is approaching 8 hours. What’s that all about, we wonder?
Double Jeopardy. The uniforms were slightly old school. Deliberately.
Picture courtesy Wikimedia Commons.
Cronus himself then arrives and, in a typical Goa’uld move, has Darien, one of the Juna people whom SG-1 had worked with before, turn on them and execute Daniel with a staff weapon. And he does!... But when the smoke clears, Daniel’s head is on the floor and we can see gleaming technology inside, much to the shock of both the Juna people and the Goa’uld. (And, indeed, the wavering Darien now realises that Cronus cannot be a god because, as his wife Hira points out, how could a god be surprised by anything?)
Yes, SG-1 has once again pulled its party piece of doing a call-back we never expected to a seemingly standalone episode. This only other example I can think of this being done so well in television science fiction is the Star Trek Deep Space Nine episode Defiant, and I won’t say more as it would be a spoiler. It turns out that this version of SG-1 are the robotic clones created by the lonely Harlan in Tin Man, way back in season 1, whom we probably expected to never reappear again. Juna was freed from Heru’ur by SG-1, the real SG-1, at some point off-camera.
Now Harlan travels to Earth and begs the real SG-1 to follow the robots, who have ignored his orders and started doing their own missions. Hammond agrees to send SG-1 through (accompanied by an amusing argument between the two O’Neills over the radio!) Cronus, meanwhile, decides he wants to gain the unexpected technology of the robots, and (in a very rare case of the Goa’uld actually being shown to have any independent scientific expertise) tasks a subordinate named Ja’din with trying to puzzle out how robot-Carter works.
SG-1 takes the fight to Cronus with help from the Juna again – including Darien, who shoots Sindar with a crossbow in the process. As we can probably guess, to tie up loose ends, all three remaining robots end up dying during the ensuing fight. Robot-Carter tricks Ja’din into blowing herself up and then dies as a result of sabotaging a power unit; Robot-O’Neill succumbs to his injuries, and – in a great moment – real Teal’C and robot-Teal’C team up to kill Cronus. Just when Cronus is about to torture real Teal’C to death, the dying robot-Teal’C hits Cronus three times in the back with a staff weapon, his eyes glowing in time with each shot, and then Cronus falls away to reveal robot Teal’C behind him: “For our father.” It’s a brilliantly directed shot.
Double Jeopardy ends with a wordless scene of SG-1 piloting Cronus’ Ha’Tak pyramid ship to land atop the pyramid on Juna, just like in the original film. I did laugh when I realised that the reason why they carefully fade to black at a strategic moment is that nobody realised that they made the pyramid on the planet an Egyptian square-based pyramid, but the Ha’tak hull is a tetrahedral triangle-based pyramid that wouldn’t actually fit over it! Nonetheless, it was still a great sequence that carries an important implication: humanity has now acquired its own Goa’uld starship...
No prizes for guessing that it features in the next episode, the season finale, Exodus. Apophis has a fleet on the way to destroy the Tok’ra on the planet Vorash. The Tok’ra have been using Tanith (the Goa’uld who killed Teal’C’s former lover Shan’auc, remember?) as an unwitting double agent, feeding false information to Apophis. Now they plan to trap him and destroy his fleet. To do this, Carter and her father use a Stargate that’s been dialled to access the planet with the black hole from A Matter of Time and drop it near the system’s sun, where it will drain mass and cause the sun to go nova, destroying Apophis’ fleet. OK, I’m not sure that quite how that works, but it’s fantastic. For the rest of the show, Carter will keep being reminded that she once blew up a sun.
The plan works, but Tanith escapes, Teal’C is captured by Apophis and both Apophis’ giant ship and SG-1’s Ha’tak find themselves flung four million light years away. (Which is way too many. The Andromeda Galaxy is only 2.5 million light years away. When will sci-fi writers learn that the whole point of using light-years as a unit is that it becomes a convenient small number... well, anyway).
Actually, there is a reason why the two ships find themselves in another galaxy. Although they didn’t put it in the cliffhanger for some reason, we learn in the opening episode to season 5, Enemies, that they have arrived in a galaxy with a presence from the Replicators...
We will continue this look at SG-1 and Alternate History in the next article.
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Tom Anderson is the author of several SLP books, including:
The Look to the West series