Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Classics: SG1 1:16 – Enigma

Plot Synopsis:

The members of SG1 arrive on P3X-7763 and find that the area in the vicinity of the gate is in the midst of a severe volcanic eruption. Scattered around the gate are dead and dying humans who are all wearing curious devices on their arms. The team takes the few survivors back to the SGC, where they discover that the arm devices in question far outstrip any technology currently extant on Earth. When the apparent leader of the group, Omoc, recovers, we learn that his people are the Tollan.

Omoc immediately demands that all their technology be returned and that they be sent back to their home planet; he absolutely refuses to respond to any of Daniel’s polite inquiries. In the meantime, Narim, another Tollan, seems to take a strong liking to Sam and asks to be introduced to her world. Sam obliges, taking Narim to the surface and, after Narim expresses astonishment that Earth still has living animals, bringing him a cat as a gift.

When it is discovered that the gate on Tollan will very shortly be buried by a lava flow, the SGC begins to search for another place to send the Tollan refugees. The Tollan, meanwhile, astonish all by escaping from the confines of the base; it is later discovered that they accomplished this by walking through the walls. Sam learns from Narim that they were merely attempting to locate their new homeworld; she also learns that the Tollan once gave their technology to a neighboring people known as the Sureeta, and that the Sureeta subsequently destroyed themselves in a single day, in the process knocking Tollan out of orbit. This, explains Narim, is why Omoc is so hostile.

Unfortunately, Colonel Maybourne of the NID picks this precise moment to appear with orders to transfer responsibility for the Tollan to Intelligence, thus seemingly confirming Omoc’s prejudices. Daniel then has a brainwave and helps Omoc contact the Nox, who agree to welcome the refugee Tollan to their world.

The Ratings:

Overall: 1.2 – Give me my plastic bag.

Writing: 0.5

Key safety tip: if you wish us to be at least a little receptive to the concerns of a race of incredibly advanced human beings, it helps if the apparent leader is not a hostile, culturally chauvinistic jerk. Omoc has to be the most despicable guest character outside of the Big Bads in Gate history. Whatever happened in his home system, that categorically does not give him the right to assume from the get-go that all less developed cultures are bound to go the way of the Sureeta – and it certainly does not give him call to be so unbelievably rude and ungrateful. Given a choice between Omoc and, say, Tuplo, I pick Tuplo – at least he knows the meaning of human decency and courtesy.

Speaking of the Sureeta - wow, is that a ridiculously improbable scenario! A culture that has developed a level of technology akin to that of late-20th/early-21st century Earth is not going to be stupid enough to annihilate themselves in one day after receiving new technology (unless we’re talking the Biblical days of creation). We’ve had fission technology for more than half a century and still have somehow managed not to destroy ourselves.

And upon the above are stacked other insultingly bad bits of characterization and storytelling. Love at first sight? It’s here. Government officials supporting the exploitation of human beings? That’s here as well. Poorly researched history? I’ll discuss that momentarily. This episode is marginally less tiresome than The Nox, but it’s equally outrageous.

Acting: 6

I can’t think of a single performance that stood out as either horrendous or excellent.

Message: You’re going to make me bust out Stanley O’Toole again, aren’t you?

All modern science operates according to an invisible assumption: that the laws of nature are consistent everywhere in the universe and are accessible to human reason. Why should even the most secular scientists today believe that we can crack all the secrets of the cosmos? From where did this conviction originate? Answer: while the pre-Socratics were the first to theorize that the universe is rational, it was in Christian Europe that the idea truly began to flourish, supported by an increasingly sophisticated theology. Scholasticism, which used human reason in a systematic manner to address thorny theological questions, paved the way for science as we know it. Contrary to the popular myth promulgated by this episode, the centuries before the Renaissance were, intellectually, quite fecund – and for that, we can thank the much maligned Church, for it was within medieval “Christendom” that the first Western universities were formed and the first scientists pursued their studies.

And another thing: this idea that there are people within the modern-day U.S. government who are willing to out-and-out enslave other sentient beings in order to gain access to their resources and/or technological knowledge is pure leftwing paranoia. Interest in superior technology and concern for national and planetary security do not automatically evolve into Simon Legree-style villainy. FAIL, writers. EPIC FAIL.


  1. The NID always managed to piss me off. Every appearance of the NID and eventually the rogue NID / "The Trust" operatives there ever was in the entire history of the gate franchise has made me uncomfortable in the extreme. And not the good kind of uncomfortable where I am legitimately questioning some aspect of human nature...the dissonant kind of uncomfortable where I feel like the bounds of credible villainy are being stretched too far in order to make a heavy handed point. The Gate writers have an obsessive need to constantly re-emphasize the fact that being nakedly acquisitive (doing what needs to be done to acquire resources) is always always ALWAYS!!...bad. While diplomacy is always good - resulting in friends and faster gains. So they set up this chunk of our own government who are unquestioningly evil and uncomplicated so we can all properly hate them and their damned capitalist natures...they even go so far as to always set up the NID to look really REALLY stupid.

    Second key safety tip...if you want to make a point with me, please do not do it with insultingly one-dimensional straw-men to beat to a bloody pulp with your superiority. Try a little complication in your bad guys.

    All of which is why I like the later development of Colonel Mayborne's character.

  2. You know...I think the thing that really annoyed me most about this episode was not the academically imprecise assertion that the medieval period was without scholarly works or progress (while my sister is correct that the Catholic Church inspired many of the first scientists to appear in Christendom, it is also true that humanity did indeed take a giant step backwards in knowledge and civilization after the fall of Rome and it did indeed take 800+ years to get back to where we were), or the appearance of the NID (as discussed above, I feel they are a straw man, not a real jumping off point for lively discussion of the finer points of ethics...the IOA, while annoying, was far better when it comes to ethical dilemmas)...

    It was the stench of supreme arrogance. We have Narim (a protagonist figure in this episode...we're supposed to like him) saying "in the age before reason, we had these silly ideas about God...", we had the Nox arriving to blather "your species has learned nothing." You gave us all of three weeks, you arrogant twit! We had the aforementioned straw man used to bludgeon us with the "fact" that non-interference is morally superior...the show was 45 minutes of sneering at anyone who disagreed with the writer.

    All of which is why I found it so delicious when the Tollan got annihilated four seasons later by Annubis. :D