By Tom Anderson.
"You blow up one sun, and everyone expects you to walk on water." Sam Carter.
Picture courtesy Stargate Wiki.
Last time in this article series, we had reached the end of the tumultuous and generally high-quality season 4. Sam Carter had just blown up a sun and sent Apophis – and SG-1 and Jacob/Selmak’s own ship, salvaged from Cronus – to another galaxy. Meanwhile, Teal’C has been captured and tortured by Apophis.
Season 5 opens with Enemies. The team discover that this other galaxy includes a shipful of Replicators, which rapidly begin consuming Apophis’ ship when he fires on them. Apophis self-destructs his ship but escapes to Cronus’ smaller ship with his Jaffa – including Teal’C!
The rest of SG-1 are horrified to learn that he has been brainwashed into serving Apophis again. It’s a subtle brainwashing where Teal’C is able to rationalise everything he’s done working for the team as being ultimately in the service of some imaginary plan of Apophis, like a conspiracy theorist. He also keeps his knowledge; when the Jaffa use energy weapons to try to fend off Replicators who have followed them, but the energy weapons prove to be ineffective (a nice bit of continuity to Thor saying so in earlier episodes). Teal’C knows that human projectile guns will be more effective and so equips his Jaffa (who call the Replicators “demons”) with them.
Brainwashing is one thing, but where did that tiny blond beard come from? Teal'C in Season 4.
Picture courtesy Stargate Wiki.
The ship’s hyperdrive is burned out but, as Jack points out, this is academic considering it would take 100 years to get back even with hyperdrive anyway. Meanwhile, back on Earth, a Tok’ra representative visits to brief Hammond, thanking him for SG-1’s ‘sacrifice’ which has disrupted the Goa’uld as they had hoped, and calling Jacob/Selmak a war martyr. Hammond notes that he’s not quite so ready to give up on SG-1, as they have a surprising habit of beating the odds. It’s arguably an unnecessary scene from a plot standpoint, but one which adds to the solidity of the worldbuilding. The only part that makes it hard to suspend disbelief is the fact that it’s (nearly) always a new Tok’ra played by a new actor every time his happens.
You (like the viewer) may be wondering how SG-1 are supposed to get home. I found the answer to be less of a cop-out than I had expected, though your mileage may vary. The Replicators which followed Apophis onto the ship assimilate it. They take it over in a way totally different to the Borg, and they are able to not only repair the hyperdrive, but also enhance it so that it is over 30 times faster than before. Everything we’ve seen of the Replicators before this helps me suspend disbelief for the plot convenience of this. Of course, it also makes the team worried that the Replicators will get a foothold in our galaxy, a genuine existential threat that makes a later plot idea even sillier, but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.
Using their experience on Thor’s ship, SG-1 sabotage the sub-light engines so that the ship can’t decelerate once it exits hyperspace, meaning that it will plough straight into Sokar’s old home planet of Delmak and annihilate it. Apophis, who earlier had an amusing scene where he disparaged Cronus’ sense of taste for the aesthetics of his throne, now watches in impotent fury as Replicator bugs crawl all over his energy shield. His Jaffa dead or abandoned (the team have managed to secure Teal’C), he is alone as the ship crashes, destroying both him and the Replicators, while SG-1 escape with Jacob/Selmak and Teal’C.
Asgard mothership, for those who like the design of spaceships.
Picture courtesy Stargate Omnipedia.
What greatly surprised me was that this is genuinely the final end of Apophis. He is never brought back, and his actor Peter Williams only reappears a couple of times via Teal’C’s flashback hallucinations. I’m not saying I prefer villains escaping deaths they obviously shouldn’t be able to survive, but it is a surprise considering they already reversed his earlier and far more dramatic death. I was fully expecting them to bring him back later in the series, especially when they had dramatic retools and sometimes ratings were a concern.
If one watches the episode knowing Apophis isn’t coming back, however, it makes the ending all the more poignant. Despite everything, Teal’C remains brainwashed and denies that Apophis is dead, for ‘gods cannot die’. Jack is genuinely distraught. His story continues in the next episode, Threshold – continuing the Stargate tradition of using iconic (or infamous) Star Trek episode titles for totally different stories and confusing me no end.
After human psychology tries and fails to undo Teal’C’s brainwashing (with possible unfortunate implications), Bra’tac uses his own methods, basically torturing Teal’C into reliving his past memories by removing his symbiote until he starts to die. This is really just an excuse to do a lot of flashbacks centring around Teal’C’s backstory. At least it’s not a clip show as they’re new clips, until the end.
Actually, they pull it off pretty well from what I remember. For example, in an early scene we see Apophis in flashback with Bra’tac as his First Prime and Teal’C as one of three junior officers being considered for promotion. Apophis looks nothing like the version who just died, but clad in grey Jaffa-type armour with three scarab symbols on it, much more like he appeared in the early seasons (but different). As we’ve heard before, Teal’C fights for Apophis to seek revenge against Cronus, who slew his father. Early on, he gets disillusioned because Apophis insists his father was the one to fail Cronus by failing to win an unwinnable battle, and tortures Teal’C in the process. Teal’C begins to doubt Apophis in front of his friend Va’lar, unsettling him.
I am quite impressed that they featured Drey’auc in the flashbacks (whom I think I mistakenly said died in Into the Fire before – mixing up two episodes). Via training montages, Teal’C begins to realise Bra’tac does not believe Apophis is a god, and agonises over whether to rat on him.
Meanwhile, Va’lar does much the same as Teal’C’s father did, retreating from an unwinnable position (fighting against Ra, a nice reminder that this is the past!). Apparently disgusted with him, Teal’C accepts Apophis’ order to go and kill Va’lar. However, he allows Va’lar to escape, though Va’lar believes that Apophis, being a god, will know what Teal’C did.
It’s clear that Teal’C is putting him to the test and, of course, he fails. Teal’C becomes distraught to Drey’auc about the war crimes he has committed in Apophis’ name. However, he is then made First Prime and goes to Bra’tac to show off his gold forehead tattoo – only for Bra’tac to be dismissive of it. Teal’C realises that Bra’tac has been preparing him for this day for many years, finally accepting that they are serving a false god.
Bra’tac explains that he seeks to moderate Apophis’ rule where he can, waiting for the day when an uprising can succeed, but that he still regrets the many horrors he has committed in the process. In the final flashback, the two of them observe SG-1 being taken captive in Children of the Gods, the pilot episode, and debate whether they have the technology that could challenge the Goa’uld – though Bra’tac is sceptical, Teal’C agrees.
Teal’C is finally cured as a result of internalising these flashbacks. They’re all well done, with good use of camera temperature showing both a different era and a sense of coldness and bleakness.
The only slight problem is that they have a hard time making Teal’C look younger (but, of course, Jaffa live for over a century, so maybe it doesn’t matter). Not unlike the Star Trek TNG episode Family, it feels good that we have this episode for closure, rather than Teal’C jumping straight back into the team after being brainwashed.
The episode Ascension continues the background meta-plot about mysterious and powerful beings like Oma Desala, which will become more important later. Carter finds a mysterious stranger on a devastated planet named Orlin, along with a weapon that could fight the Goa’uld. Though Orlin seems to only be in her head, he is, in fact, a member of Oma Desala’s race and helped the inhabitants of that planet to build the weapon to stop the Goa’uld. However, this goes against his people’s non-interference clause (like Star Trek’s Prime Directive) and they actually destroyed the civilisation themselves as the “should” have been by the Goa’uld. Orlin was trapped in a human body.
Now, trying to avoid the same thing happening to Earth, he helps Sam prevent the weapon being used again. As part of this plan, he builds a miniature Stargate in her basement out of stuff he bought on eBay and Sam’s toaster! The reveal of this is great – “So you BUILT one?” It is also a very nice subtle piece of background worldbuilding and a hint to the future. The show won’t reveal for many years that the ascended beings like Orlin and Oma Desala are the same race called the ‘Ancients’ from The Fifth Race. However, the discerning viewer might remember that the Ancients were described in that episode as ‘the builders of the Stargates’ and start putting two and two together. It’s nicely subtle writing. In the end, Orlin is allowed to ascend again for his actions.
The Fifth Race is an interesting concept. In these shows, we’re used to our heroes being right if something weird is happening, and everyone else being wrong. This time, however, most of SG-1 comes back through the Gate warning that they were attacked, and two members are still there on the planet – Jack and Tyler. Naturally, everyone is confused. Who’s Tyler? As far as SG-1 are concerned, there must be some strange phenomenon changing history or people’s memories because nobody remembers the rookie new team member they’ve been training.
In reality, Tyler is a member of an alien species called the Reol, who can use chemical means to plant false memories of themselves in others. Refreshingly, they are not antagonistic, but just use this technique to hide themselves from the Goa’uld. So it was SG-1 who were affected, not the base crew. A Pentagon busybody named Frank Simmonds (who was also involved in the attempt to use the weapon from Orlin’s planet) decides all this is evidence of problems at SGC and plots to take Hammond down.
Red Sky is also an interesting episode, for different reasons. The episode opens with the same full wormhole sequence as seen in the original Stargate film – which, we’ve been told, signifies the Gate being set up manually by supercomputers, a great in-universe explanation for why the usual sequence in the series takes up less time. This time, it’s because SGC had to override some safety protocols to get there – another planet that worships the Asgard.
Unfortunately, this is because their wormhole went through the planet’s sun and carried with it traces of plutonium that affected the sun and is red-shifting its light, threatening the planet’s agriculture and survival. The episode is a weird mixture of good science and bizarre, far-fetched nonsense. The problem with the idea, of course, is that how can a tiny trace of an element possibly affect something the size of a sun in the space of a few minutes?
Anyway, the team find the Asgard temple of tests on the planet (like the one on Cimmeria that led them to contacting Thor) and, amusingly seen-it-all in attitude, breeze through it and contact the Asgard. There’s a thought-provoking realisation that while the team think they know the Asgard, they only really know Thor, who isn’t available, and they don’t get on as well with Freyr, who blames them (accurately) for damaging the star.
Fixing it is against the Asgard’s non-interference rules, so it falls to our heroes to try and do it themselves. It swings back towards classic Stargate prosaic logic again with them simply building a basic space launch infrastructure on the planet and bringing the rocket through in parts, while Carter’s plan involves adding even heavier elements to the star to bind the plutonium. Her friend Dr Douglas MacLaren has spent 5 years making a tiny amount of an artificial element with a molecular weight over 200 and she plans to use this.
Maclarium (HU2340). I don't know. You may call it a container for a super-dense, trans-uranic element, but it looks like a jam jar to me.
Picture courtesy Stargate Wiki.
I do like the space launch and the nod to how difficult it is to make super-heavy elements, but we’re again into scientific nonsense territory here because – again – how could a tiny amount possibly even find the plutonium in a giant star, and while it is possible to make super-heavy elements, they don’t stick around long enough to put them on a rocket.
Really, it’s just an excuse for a rather tired, offensive, and overdone anti-religious plot where some of the locals deliberately sabotage the rocket as an affront to Freyr or whatever. Yawn. Carter ends up in a desperate back-of-the-envelope plan, trying to use the wormhole itself to the sun and switch it off halfway – which shouldn’t work. It does, but it’s implied that it only does because the Asgard quietly intervened in the background where they have plausible deniability. It’s a shame because this episode did have potential, but it is an indication that SG-1 is starting to lose the kind of nuance towards religion it had back in Demons and is heading towards silly territory.
In the next episode, Rite of Passage, Cassandra (remember her?) starts developing telekinetic abilities, presumably related to how Nirrti experimented on her people, at a time when she’s going through teenage angst – bad combination.
They are able to get her cured by tracking down Nirrti, in part using those Tok’ra anti-cloaking weapons used against the Reetou in the past, which is a nice bit of continuity. The team do have to release Nirrti as part of the deal, who promises she will start agaon to develop the perfect host, worryingly. Unlike Apophis, she will be back.
This is followed by Beast of Burden, featuring a planet where humans have enslaved Unas. Daniel’s friend Chaka (the Unas from the original Unas/Goa’uld homeworld, remember) has been kidnapped, and now the team must rescue him and confront the inhumane system.
The Tomb is a classic sci-fi horror plot, with a Russian team having gone missing in a ziggurat and SG-1 go after them. This starts a pattern of the Russians tending to all (or mostly) die every time they appear in an episode, which fans used to complain about back in the day, but which seems to be all too in keeping with reality considering current events in Ukraine.
Between Two Fires is a radical shake-up episode. After several stories where the Tollan refused to share their technology with Earth, they now suddenly make an about-face and offer to share an ion cannon – or even lots of them – in return for trinium. Omoc, the leader of the Tollans from their original appearance, has died, and Narim suspects he’s been murdered. (A nice way of acknowledging a figure whose actor can’t reappear). SG-1 investigates along with Narim and discover that the Tollan ion cannons failed to penetrate the shields of a Goa’uld ship – some Goa’uld has a new and more advanced shield that protects them, rendering the Tollans defenceless.
They also discover that the Tollans are secretly working on a new weapon, a warhead that can phase-shift and pass through shields, or an iris protecting a Stargate. Narim initially thinks this is the new replacement weapon for the ion cannons (and really, he has a point. Wouldn’t this work on the new Goa’uld ships?) In reality, the ruling Curia has cut a cowardly deal with Tanith (remember him?) who has a new, currently unnamed Goa’uld master. The Tollan weapons are actually intended for Tanith to attack Earth with through its Stargate’s iris.
Distraught at how their once-utopian civilisation has turned on itself, Narim destroys the new weapons as Tanith turns on the Tollans, destroying their civilisation once and for all after the second chance they had been given. It’s a shock and one that feels heartfelt rather than gratuitous, as we’ve seen this people and their planet several times before, been annoyed by them sometimes, but certainly got used to their existence in the background. They really are gone and will not appear again, but they are mentioned a couple of times in future episodes as being lost. Clearly, things are about to change in the Stargate universe.
Thus far in the series we have not seen much that can be called relevant to Alternate History. However, all that will change with the next episode 2001, which picks up the alternate future history seen in the last season’s 2010. That deserves a fuller treatment, so tune in next time as I give it one.
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Tom Anderson is the author of several SLP books, including: