Saturday, October 31, 2009

Classics: SG1 1:19 - There But for the Grace of God

Overall Rating: 9.0

This episode serves as a sobering and needed reminder of the very real peril Earth faces in the immediate near future. Early Stargate's strongest episodes tended to play away from the really ugly side of war and this snaps us back into the reality of the military and gives Daniel the opportunity to have at least four different spectacular temper tantrums - always a plus. :)

Plot Synopsis:

SG-1 travels to P3R-233 and investigates what appears to be the lab of a technologically sophisticated race who are no longer present. Daniel finds a treasure trove of alien artifacts and starts cataloging them while Teal'c and O'Neill are scouting around in the gate room. When they stumble on a known Goa'uld warning, Teal'c realizes the planet has been completely poisoned and Jack orders everyone to return through the gate. Daniel hurriedly tries to pocket the entire lab and inadvertently activates an unknown device that resembles a mirror.

When he (in classic Daniel fashion) touches it, he is hit with a jolt of energy and from that moment on, everything is different. His teammates are gone and when he angrily returns to Earth, preparing to chew them out for leaving him behind, he is met with 25 guns and a spot in a holding cell. Here, he begins to realize that nothing is right...O'Neill is the General, Hammond is just a Colonel, Carter is a civilian, and Catherine Langford is in charge of the SGC. What's worse, none of them know who he is or understand how he got SG-1's IDC. As they begin to interrogate him about what he knows of the Goa'uld, he realizes that events haven't played out the way he remembers. They've never been to Chu'lak, they've never encountered Teal'c, Daniel never got involved in the Stargate program, and they seem very preoccupied. Finally, they reveal to him that Earth is under attack. Over the last 24 hours, hundreds of cities have been destroyed by the Goa'uld. Millions are dead, including, as he discovers, himself (he'd been living in Cairo, one of the cities annihilated by Apophis).

Without realizing their plans, he gives O'Neill the address to Chu'lak and O'Neill, desperate for something to strike at through the gate, sends a nuke, killing millions of innocent Jaffa and humans. The Goa'uld respond by blocking the Earth gate, preventing any further evacuation of VIPs to the beta site. While they scramble to dial out fast enough to establish a lock before Apophis does at their next opportunity, Daniel desperately tries to convince them to let him return to P3R-233 and warn his own people of the coming attack. Unfortunately, alerted to their presence, Apophis sends one of his mother ships to land on Cheyanne Mountain and a Jaffa strike team, led by Teal'c mounts an invasion of the SGC. There is not enough time to get the gate dialed - unless they can stall somehow.

It is then that Daniel remembers he has video footage of Teal'c in SGC regalia and a plan is hatched to try to buy some time for Daniel. Jack takes the footage to the enemy front line and fails to convince Teal'c of the possibility that in some alternate universe, he's fighting against the Goa'uld to free his people from slavery. His reward is to meet with the business end of a very large staff weapon. That ploy, along with a rather heroic self-sacrificing maneuver by Carter (who blows herself and about 15 Jaffa to hell in her lab), do buy Daniel the time he needs to escape through the gate (though before he does, we see what's left of all of our old friends murdered by Jaffa troops and Daniel himself is shot in the arm) and get back to own universe. The message is clear - Apophis is coming and there is precious little time.

Cut for Spoilers

SABR Matt’s Ratings:

Writing: 8.8

I notice that SG1 was a bit more maudlin in the early years and it can sometimes be a tad jarring even in the better episodes. They definitely played all of their heroes a bit more extremely even in scripted form. That having been would you react if you were suddenly thrown into a world nothing like your own (yet alike enough to torment you), jerked around and imprisoned, only to find out that everything you know and love about your world is being systematically destroyed by your mortal enemy? The high drama on Daniel's part may actually be called for to some extent. It's interesting that the writers also made the conscious choice to give us a lot of little hints about what life was like for our heroes in this alternate dimension. We see Jack and Sam lovingly embrace - since she's a civilian, there is nothing to prevent them from getting involved. We see Catherine doing what she was cheated out of doing in our reality - leading the expedition to the stars about which she dreamed for decades. We see Teal'c - still very much the man we know and respect in our own reality - making completely different choices based on his completely different experience. It is a very difficult thing to do to get us to care about a world we know isn't our own, but they take the necessary time to force us to realize that all of these people are still just like the ones we've been watching for a year now. And in the end, we see the good in all of them as they make heroic sacrifices to save a world that isn't theirs. It's all very well done.

Acting: 9.0

Apart from Michael Shanks maybe hamming it up a tad too much in a few places, I couldn't find anything to complain about in this episode. In fact, there were some unusually strong performances worthy of mention. I think this may be the second episode where we see Chris Judge's potential acting chops on display (the first being Cor'Ai). His role is limited to a handful of scenes, but he has this way of leading us to believe he might come to trust O'Neill in another existence while seconds away from ordering his execution that's rather remarkable. The rapport between those two characters even as adversaries is not something you can get from lesser performers. It's nice to see Elizabeth Hoffman make a return visit to the show, since she's an accomplished and talented actress in her own right and adds a lot of class to the set. And I have to hand it to Don S. Davis (who is, BTW, awesome in general), who plays the subordinate military tactician just as well as he plays the base commander. In interviews, he's said he loved it when he got a chance to do some action stuff, so it's no surprise that he looks extra focused out there when he gets to shoot some guns and holler orders in a fire fight. :)

Message: 9.1

The only potential knock on this episode from a "right fans" perspective is the suggestion that the military, when faced with total defeat, is likely to strike out randomly at innocent bystanders just to make a point. Even if nuking Chulak wouldn't have helped Earth, it would have been nice to hear Jack point out that a lot of humans out there need us to do as much damage to the Goa'uld as we can on the way out if they're to have any chance to survive, not to mention the possible benefits to the Earth-born humans at the beta site. The show makes up for this little hiccup in spades when it moves on to demonstrating the strengths of all of our people - everyone meets a deadly end in their own heroic and necessary way - even the gate technician, who dies while locking out the computer system as Jaffa storm the control room. One other thing Stargate has never feared to do (besides show the positive side of military leadership) is point out that sometimes, there really are intractable enemies that we cannot reason with at the negotiating table. That Jack goes to Teal'c with real evidence of his counterpart's higher purpose and the stunt doesn't work is a positive in my book.

Stephanie S.’s Ratings:

Writing: 9

This episode touches something very primal. Extremely effective in light of Stargate’s chiefly American audience is the image of Airforce One being shot down by a Goa’uld mothership – not to mention the reports of Washington D.C.’s annihilation. Of course, in 2009, we Americans are a little more conscious of our vulnerability, but back when this episode originally aired, no external force had succeeded in attacking the U.S. mainland for a century-plus, and we were the Earth’s sole reigning superpower. How must those original viewers have felt, I wonder, watching the president’s plane blink out on the radar just like that? I myself find it terribly creepy even now, and I live in a world in which our previous illusion of invincibility has been shattered.

And you know what is also quite effective? Daniel’s final moment: “They’re coming!” Something about those simple words excites – again – an elemental feeling of vulnerability and a terror of a looming threat. There’s a reason why the recent series of Torchwood uses very similar phrasing – “We are coming!” – for the same narrative purpose. It’s a classic horror-based device and a fantastic way to launch us into the climax of SG1’s freshman season.

Acting: 9

I have very little to add to my co-author’s comments here, except to say that I enjoyed Michael Shanks even in his hammier moments. As a matter of fact, my favorite bit of acting in the episode belongs to Shanks: after Mirror!Jack sends the nuke to Chulak, Shanks’ portrayal of Daniel hitting his absolute breaking point is beautiful. He looks ready to cry!

Message: 9

Again, my co-author and I are in complete agreement here. But I think there’s another message embedded in the episode that is so subtle it’s easy to miss: ONE man’s choices – indeed, his very EXISTENCE – ARE significant. A man is NOT simply a cog in a vast and cruel machine of a universe – he COUNTS for something. The point of divergence in this episode’s apocalyptic mirror universe is a simple choice that Daniel makes; his absence from the Stargate mission fundamentally alters the future for the worse. You take out one thread, says the writer of this episode, and the entire tapestry comes unraveled. That’s a strongly Judeo-Christian assumption.


DANIEL: (just after touching the mirror on P3R-233) Guys, I need a hand with this! I can't carry it myself but we have to take it...back? (he reached the gate room and finds it empty and dark) Guys? Sam? Jack? (he looks around confused) Teal'c? (his shoulders slump) Oh I really hate it when this happens. (LOL - then stop touching alien doohickeys before confirming they’re safe, Danny!!)

DANIEL: Catherine?
LANGFORD: Yes. You know me?
DANIEL: Of course. You don't know me?
LANGFORD: Dr. Daniel Jackson. Linguist, ancient Egyptian historian - better known for some of your more radical theories. At the moment I am more interested in how you came through my Stargate.
DANIEL: How I came...wait...your Stargate? What the hell is going on here, Catherine?
LANGFORD: I would address me as Dr. Langford if I were you, young man. You were wearing a remote device when you came through before. You had SG-1's remote IDC. How did you get it?
DANIEL: How did I...(looking very confused)...How do you think I did it? I went through the gate from! I went on a mission as a part of SG-1. I came back a few hours ago...
LANGFORD: What are you talking about? You've never been inside this facility before now.
DANIEL: Uh...huh...OK...I figured out the Stargate recruited me to translate the cartouche found in Giza. I went through on the first mission to Abydos! And unless the last two years have been some kind of wacky...WACKY dream (doing a Jackson-classic temper-hop - LOL)...I am a member of SG-1!
LANGFORD: Not as far as I'm concerned.
DANIEL: What?!
LANGFORD: I supervised the translation of the cartouche in Giza. I admit we referenced your work a lot. I even went to meet you in Cairo and sit in on a lecture. I asked you to join the team but you said no.
DANIEL: I did?
LANDFORD: You were quite rude actually.
DANIEL: I was.
LANGFORD: The MRI confirms you are not a Goa'uld.
DANIEL: Can I...please...see Captain Carter?
LANGFORD: Doctor Samantha Carter, you mean?
LANGFORD: Samantha Carter is not in the military, she's a civilian...a doctor in astrophysics. She has more important things to worry about right now. Don't you have any explanation for all of this?
DANIEL: GOD NO!! Catherine...I mean...Dr. Langford...I know this doesn't make any sense. I know you! I belong here! You...don't!
LANGFORD: Excuse me?
DANIEL: You're supposed to be living happily ever after with Earnest!
LANGFORD: Earnest?
DANIEL: The man you should have married in 1945! The man I helped you find! (this gets Langford's attention)

JACK: We're in the middle of a situation right now...I have no idea who you are, but Catherine says you might be able to help.
DANIEL: OK, this is starting to get a little spooky here. Now a few hours ago, everything was different. Well no, not everything…I mean you’re still…you…sort of.

JACK: What can you tell us about the Goa’uld.

DANIEL: The Goa’uld?

JACK: Snakes in the head, glowing eyes, what can you tell me?

DANIEL: Now maybe I’ve completely lost my mind, here, but as far as I'm concerned, you and I know each other very well. You know everything I do about them. Look! I’m a member of SG-1 (holding out his insignia). Along with you, Captain Carter and Teal’c!

JACK: Teal’c?

DANIEL: Uh…big tall guy, big gold emblem on his head, used to be Apophis’ first prime, goa’uld in his stomach? You can’t miss him. He’s our…our friend!

JACK: A Jaffa?


JACK: Get this man out of here. Now!

LANGFORD: Jack, how did he come through the gate? How does he know the things he knows?

DANIEL: Look, according to Dr. Langford, you still went through the gate even without me? Did you still go through to Abydos with the intention of detonating a nuclear device?

JACK: How did you know that?

DANIEL: You were willing to commit suicide because your son had recently died. Shot himself with your gun. (O’Neill looks stunned)

LANGFORD: I swear…I didn’t tell him anything!

DANIEL: So did you still go through to Chu’lak?

JACK: Chu’lak? What is that?

DANIEL: The Jaffa home world.

JACK: You know the address?

DANIEL: Yes, of course.

LANGFORD: (handing him a pad as O’Neill jams him down into a seat) Write it down.

DANIEL: Why? (looks threatened and consents) So I’m guessing if you never went to Chu’lak, you never met Teal’c.

JACK: Teal?

DANIEL: (angrily slamming down his pen after writing the symbols) No! Teal’c! Everything is all screwed up! Why? (Sam enters and Daniel immediately recognizes her) Sam!

CARTER: Who is this?

LANGFORD: Dr. Daniel Jackson.

CARTER: Of course.

JACK: Report, Dr. Carter.

CARTER: We lost Washington and Philly, sir.

DANIEL: Lost? What do you mean…lost? – (after he realizes what’s going on the look of horror on his face is amazing, too).

DANIEL: You’re sending a nuclear weapon to Chu’lak??

JACK: You have a problem with that?

DANIEL: The Jaffa aren’t your enemies…they’re just slaves!

JACK: Alright, try to comprehend what’s happening here. We estimate the current death toll on Earth to be 1.5 billion. People. Who do you think are the ones flying those ships? You give me one good reason I shouldn’t be striking back?

DANIEL: For one, it won’t do you any good. But I guess you don’t think you have a choice.

JACK: Send the bomb.

DANIEL: This isn’t happening…this is nuts…this is not happening. (grabs Carter by the shoulder emphatically) Is it possible the gate somehow malfunctioned…or…or…went haywire and sent me through to a different…totally screwed up Earth?? (the critical insight…right answer, wrong device)

TEAL’C: Kree’sha!

JACK: Don’t shoot! I’m unarmed! I surrender.

TEAL’C: And you are?

JACK: General Jack O’Neill, commander of this base. And you’re Teal’c, am I right? (all Jaffa begin freaking out)

JAFFA: Haga-sha!

TEAL’C: Arga-kree, Jaffa!

JACK: You’ll be wondering how I know your name. I’ve got quite a story for you. (shift to later)

TEAL’C: What sort of deception is this? (looking at footage of himself as a member of SG-1)

JACK: No deception. This is really you. In another…reality. I know it’s a little hard to believe, but you guys are pretty advanced. You must know this alternate reality thing is possible, right?

TEAL’C: I do not.

JACK: Then how does this Daniel guy know your name? He says this Jaffa – you, I guess, in our world – hates being a slave to the Goa’uld.
TEAL’C: (looking stunned for a moment, but in present company, he cannot admit it) Lies.

JACK: Look, I know this sounds…insane! But you have a chance to change things in his world. We just need a little time, that’s all! This Daniel fellow says the Teal’c in his world is a good man. He gave up everything to free his people from the Goa’uld. To free his family…your son, Ryac!

TEAL’C: We received word moments ago…you sent a weapon of destruction through your Stargate to my world. My family…my son! Are DEAD! (oops)

Just a very well written episode overall…the highlights don’t quite do it justice.

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