Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Classics: SG1 1:22/2:1 – Within the Serpent’s Grasp/The Serpent’s Lair

Overall: 9.3

Rule #1 of TV ratings: if you had fun watching the show, it was a good show. This two part episode is standard sci-fi action with several levels of coolness tacked on, making it an outstanding experience. Good TV comes in many forms, and this is definitely one of them.

Plot Synopsis:

As the SGC prepares to shut down operations, a desperate Daniel persuades the other members of SG1 to violate orders and gate to the coordinates he obtained in the mirror reality. On the other side, they find themselves unwitting passengers aboard a Goa’uld mothership headed for Earth. This mothership is under the command of Apophis’ son, Klorel, whose host is Skaara.

Jack’s thoughts immediately turn to rescuing his Abydonian friend. He orders Daniel and Sam to begin planting C4 throughout the ship while he and Teal’c go to capture Klorel. Once Jack and Teal’c have successfully apprehended Klorel and isolated him from the Jaffa, Jack tries to reach Skaara, an effort that is unsuccessful until Jack, as a last resort, hits Klorel with a zat blast. Klorel temporarily suppressed, Skaara begs Jack to forgive him for what his Goa’uld is about to do. Then Klorel takes control once more, and Jack and Teal’c are captured.

Daniel and Sam watch from behind the Stargate platform as Klorel presents Jack and Teal’c to his father over subspace. Apophis’ orders Klorel to remove Teal’c’s larval Goa’uld, then gives his son free reign to decide Jack’s fate. As Teal’c and Jack are escorted out of the gate room, Sam and Daniel prepare to follow. Sam tells an anxious Daniel that she will set a timer on the C4 to go off in 24 hours if they fail to rescue the others and are killed.

Klorel takes Jack and Teal’c to the peltac. Triumphant, Klorel shuts off the FTL and crows to Jack that he will be home soon enough. On the view screen, Jack sees that the ship is now passing by Saturn. As Hammond and the troops on Earth scramble to respond to the appearance of the Goa’uld motherships within the solar system, Sam and Daniel make their move, setting off a smoke bomb and engaging in a firefight with the Jaffa guarding Klorel. Klorel seizes hold of Daniel and hits him with his ribbon device; to save Daniel, Jack is forced to shoot Klorel (and, consequently, Skaara). Skaara reemerges one more time before he and Klorel die and smiles at an apologetic Jack.

As Klorel’s ship approaches Earth, SG1 prepares to set off their C4 charges. But then Teal’c announces the approach of Apophis’ ship, and the team realizes that taking out Klorel’s ship will do nothing to stop Apophis. They have to come up with another plan. Just then, the Jaffa manage to break through the doors to the peltac chamber, and another firefight erupts. SG1 is knocked unconscious by a Goa’uld shock grenade; later, they come to, temporarily blind, in a prison cell. Daniel is utterly despondent, but Jack refuses to dwell on their currently dire situation. As they sit and contemplate their next move, Bra’tac – who is awesome – promises Apophis that he will personally see to SG1’s execution. He then goes and frees SG1, but not before striking Jack in the face and chewing them all out for ruining his delicate plan to turn Klorel against his father.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch the SGC, Samuels informs Hammond that the Pentagon is preparing to launch two naquadah-enhanced nuclear missiles at the Goa’uld motherships as soon as they enter orbit around Earth. During the subsequent lull, a tech points out to Hammond that a brilliant flash was detected on the bridge of one of the ships. Was it SG1, Hammond wonders? Samuels poo-poohs what is, in his mind, a fanciful notion; he is confident that the Pentagon’s plan is the best course of action. Dubious, Hammond proceeds with briefing those being evacuated to the Alpha Site; he’s going to cover all of his bases.

When Klorel rises from his sarcophagus, the Goa’uld ships continue their approach, eventually establishing a geosynchronous orbit above the U.S. Jack convinces Bra’tac to help them transport to Apophis’ ship before the C4 charges blow. In the meantime, Samuels’ missiles are launched – and fizzle out harmlessly on the Goa’uld shields. (Heh!) Klorel beams to Apophis’ ship; Skaara almost prevented him from activating his shields, and he is concerned that he will not be able to maintain adequate control over his host. Apophis thunders that Klorel is his son and strong enough, and Klorel beams back to his own ship.

Samuels cravenly requests that he be allowed to retreat to the Alpha Site, and Hammond relishes denying his request. (Double heh!) On Klorel’s ship, Bra’tac confronts Klorel and is hit with a ribbon device, thereby buying time for the others. Ordering Daniel to give them cover, Jack attacks Klorel and his Jaffa with Sam and Teal’c, rescuing Bra’tac and taking Klorel hostage. Out in the corridor, Daniel cries out for help and is gunned down by approaching Jaffa. Jack tries to rescue Daniel, but Daniel insists he be left behind. A stricken Jack joins the others and takes the transport rings to Apophis’ ship. Daniel drags himself to Klorel’s sarcophagus.

On Apophis’ ship, a disappointed Apophis berates Klorel for his failure as Bra’tac and the others make their way to the ship’s shield generator. Jack takes out the generator with his two grenades, thereby leaving Apophis’ ship vulnerable to the impending explosion on Klorel’s ship. As the time runs out, Jack’s group makes for Apophis’ death gliders while Daniel dials the gate on Klorel’s ship and jumps through to the Alpha Site. Both motherships explode, but not before Apophis and Klorel beam away to a point unknown. Daniel returns to the SGC from the Alpha Site, while Jack and the others are rescued by the shuttle Endeavor before their damaged gliders burn up in the Earth’s atmosphere. The mood at the SGC is jubilant as SG1 is reunited.

Stephanie S.’s Ratings:

Writing: 9.0

Several things push this otherwise standard action plot to feature-worthy status in my opinion. First, the inclusion of Klorel/Skaara is a stroke of genius, as it adds another layer of personal investment for Jack – and forces Jack to do two very difficult, very painful things. That Jack must essentially torture Skaara to free him from the control of Klorel is very chilling, and the resulting conversation between Skaara and Jack is a deeply poignant moment. Meanwhile, the terrible dilemma Jack faces when Klorel attempts to scramble Daniel’s brains makes for a genuinely compelling bit of television. When two friends’ lives are both at stake and you must injure or kill one to save the other, what do you do?

Second, Bra’tac makes an appearance in the back hour, and I love Bra’tac. His insistence upon taking over everything and his blunt warrior’s attitude are comedy gold, as are Jack’s grumpy rejoinders. As you can see from the highlights below, the second episode of this two-parter contains several absolutely classic exchanges between Bra’tac and Jack that deserve to be enshrined in some SG1 humor hall of fame (particularly that bit about our shuttles).

Third, this two-parter is a Jack & Daniel ampersand paradise. (To explain: Ampersand is a fannish term for an affectionate, platonic relationship between two characters. Think bromance.) It really hurts when Jack is forced to leave an injured Daniel behind on Klorel’s ship. And when they are reunited, the moment is so sweet, it just makes me smile.

Lastly, in the denouement, the second episode inserts a sense of wonder that I have always loved in my sci-fi: when Jack and Sam look up and realize the enormity and beauty of what they have just preserved, something catches in my throat. It is a truly lovely scene.

I suppose the only thing that detracts from the overall quality of this pair of scripts is the overwhelming idiocy and detestability of Samuels, which at times strains credibility. There is so much that is good here, however, that I’m hesitant to be harsh.

Acting: 9.5

Everyone is in top form here. Alexis Cruz is fantastic in his dual role, particularly when he reverts to Skaara and begs Jack for forgiveness. Richard Dean Anderson’s portrayal of Jack’s indecision when Klorel attacks Daniel with his ribbon device is also noteworthy, as is Michael Shanks’ almost tearful rendering of that moment between Jack and Daniel before Jack transports to Apophis’ ship with the others. Moreover, I love the wicked gleam in Don S. Davis’ eyes when Hammond blocks Samuels’ cowardly retreat; you can tell he loved delivering those lines.

Message: 9.0

The dominant theme of this storyline is loyalty - “I stand by my friends.” We see it in the way Jack and the others hold out hope for Skaara’s rescue and redemption. We see it in the way Teal’c defends SG1 before Bra’tac. We see it in Bra’tac’s willingness to endure Klorel’s ribbon device in order to allow the others time to attack. We see it in Daniel’s willingness to sacrifice himself. We even see it covertly in Hammond, who never loses hope in the cleverness of his men, even as he proceeds to prepare for the worst case scenario. Arrogance is punished, as my co-author notes below, but so is disloyalty; the show clearly harbors nothing but contempt for characters – like Samuels – who are solely concerned with saving their own skins. If the writers understand nothing else about the military, they certainly understand what makes a unit function - semper fi!

SABR Matt’s Ratings:

Writing: 9.5

As my co-author points out, this script is filled with several levels of cleverness, especially once Bra’tac arrives. What pushes the rating even higher for me is my love of action plots which revolve around do or die “fate of the world” type stakes. My sister is not terribly enamored with action for action’s sake, but on top of the emotional layers present here which appeal to everyone, even those not fans of action, and the clever dialogue, there is the steadily increasing pace of the story – a script-writing device used in all of the best action scripts and well executed here – and the numerous death-defying dangerous brushes with disaster that very nearly derail all hope. There’s nothing better than facing impossible odds when so badly outgunned and somehow coming out victorious. Early SG-1 seasons were loaded with stories of plucky humans with their pathetic technology stepping boldly into a universe far too big for them and proving the great potential of man to survive and innovate. That’s what sci-fi is all about.

Acting: 9.5

Tony Arnendola (Bra’tac) is one of the best character actors you’re ever going to want on your cast in a recurring role. He raises the bar for everyone around him every time he appears. On top of that, Peter Williams (Apophis) shows more emotional range than just about any other Goa’uld you’ll ever see in Gate canon with the possible exception of Ba’al. Don S. Davis and Richard Dean Anderson are at the absolute top of their crafts in this episode, and Michael Shanks has some major highlight-worthy moments as well. Even the background extras seem sharper than normal this time around, producing a rich two hours of entertainment that engage the viewer and allow them to get lost in the story. The only fly in the ointment is the shaky portrayal of Colonel Samuels. You don’t get to be a Colonel in the military and be that weak of a personality. It just doesn’t happen.

Message: 9.0

It’s an action-packed two-parter, so it’s not heavy on the messages, but we have several threads that are worthy of commentary. First, arrogance, every time it’s displayed in this episode (by Bra’tac, by Samuels, and by Apophis) is immediately rebuffed or punished. Bra’tac thinks his way is the only way, but O’Neill’s team proves to him how impressive they can be at thinking on their feet on several occasions. Samuels’ overconfidence in the superiority of human technology leaves him without any hope of escape as he watches his plan fail spectacularly. Apophis’ overconfidence allows for a very unlikely plan to unfurl which eventually saves the day and leaves open the possibility that, very soon, there may be hope for Skaara.

Second, I believe this story contains the proper perspective on the value of individual lives in the midst of a crisis. We spent a very large amount of air time here trying to rescue one man from enslavement – a very positive message – and then, only when hope of prying Skaara free from his Goa’uld had faded and another man’s life was being put in danger did we even consider killing him as the enemy.

Third, despite Samuels’ overconfidence, the Earth-inspired plan is, for all intents and purposes, the best idea we could have possibly come up with given our limitations, and you have to admire the Pentagon for trying to do something.

Finally, it is nice to see a sci-fi series which shares its fans’ fascination with the beauty of the universe and our optimism about human potential. Star Trek has some of these qualities, but often they come with a notable Hollywood leftism that detracts from the pure enjoyment of telling wonderful stories about us venturing into the galaxy. As well, Trek has always placed humanity somewhere near the top of the technological spectrum, allowing us to be the center of a great Federation – generally insulated from threats to our existence – whereas Stargate, for the first several years, put us near the bottom in galactic technology and forced us to make a lot of hard choices to survive. All of this combines to make this episode in particular (and early Stargate in general) FUN to watch. When rating TV, the first and most important consideration for me is whether I had fun watching it. On that scale, this episode scores a perfect ten.


SKAARA: “O'Neill! Oh, it hurts.”
JACK: “I know, kid. I'm sorry.”
SKAARA: “O'Neill, are you still my friend?”
JACK: “Yes, I am.”
SKAARA: “Can you forgive me for what we are about to do?”
JACK: “What are you about to do?” (Skaara begins to lose control.) “Skaara! Skaara, what are you about to do?”
SKAARA: “Please forgive us.” – A moving scene.

JACK: “What the hell was that?”
TEAL'C: “A Goa'uld shock grenade. Though extremely painful, its effects are temporary.”
JACK: “That's good to hear.” (He feels around behind him, and Sam bites his hand hard.) “Ow—God—ow!”
SAM: “Colonel? Sorry, sir. It's just so dark.”
JACK: “Carter, it's all right. I like your attitude.”
DANIEL: “It isn't dark. We're blind. And we failed.”
JACK: “All right, take it easy, Daniel. We've been in worse situations than this.”
TEAL'C: “Not to my knowledge.”
JACK: (wryly) “Thanks, Teal'c.” – Way to ruin my attempts to boost morale, buddy.

TEAL'C: “Tek ma te, Bra'tac.”
BRA'TAC: “Hello again, old friend. Your son grows strong. One day he will be a great warrior. But you should not have come.”
TEAL'C: “I stand by my friends. I believe this world may be our only hope in one day overcoming the false gods.”
BRA'TAC: “Yes. As pathetic as that may seem at the moment, I agree.” – As soon as Bra’tac enters the scene, the dialogue instantly gets funnier.

HAMMOND: “For all we know that flash, whatever it was, could be part of the ship's normal function.”
HARRIMAN: “Except that the burst came from within the ship itself, sir, and it was fairly powerful.”
SAMUELS: “Maybe an explosion? An accident?”
HAMMOND: “Or sabotage?”
SAMUELS: “I hardly think so. For one thing, it's impossible to gate to a ship. Forgive me, sir, I know how important SG-1 is to you, but this is wishful thinking.”
HAMMOND: “So's your plan, Colonel. That hasn't stopped us from going ahead with it.” – Zing!

BRA'TAC: “I knew it would delay their attack until he arose. Perhaps when the warships of your world attack…”
SAM: “Um, excuse me, did you say ‘the ships of our world’?”
BRA'TAC: “Surely you have such vessels?”
DANIEL: “Well, we have a number of, of…”
JACK and DANIEL: “…shuttles.”
BRA'TAC: “These shuttles—they are a formidable craft?”
JACK: “Oh yeah. Yeah.” – ROTFL! An absolutely classic exchange!

JACK: “How many in your wing?”
BRA'TAC: “Three.”
JACK: “Three?!”
BRA'TAC: “Teal'c makes four.”
JACK: “Oh well, four.”
BRA'TAC: “I have trained these warriors since they were Chal'til. They have sworn their lives to me. It is no simple thing to ask.”
JACK: And we appreciate it, believe me. But what are the odds of taking out a ship like this, with four gliders and ... maybe a shuttle?”
TEAL'C: “A Goa'uld attack vessel is heavily armed, shielded and capable of launching a legion of gliders against us. I would say slim.”
JACK: “Okay, call me a pessimist, but I think it's time for a new plan.”
BRA'TAC: “We offer to lay down our lives for your world, Human. You cannot ask more.”
JACK: “No, I can't. But I think a better idea is to get the other guys to lay down their lives for their world first, hmm?” – Sounds like a good plan to me!

SAMUELS: “Well, sir, since I am no longer wanted or needed here, I respectfully request permission to join one of the teams headed for the Alpha Site, at least there…”
HAMMOND: “Permission denied! The idea is to send the best and brightest, Colonel. When the time comes, you will stand alongside the men and women of this Command, in defense of this facility.”
SAMUELS: “But, sir!”
HAMMOND: “I ask no more or less of myself. Dismissed!” – MUAHAHA! YES!

(After Daniel is shot down.)
JACK: “I am not leaving you here, Daniel.”
DANIEL: “Get out of here! You're just going to blow up with the other ship anyway. What difference does it make? Go! Just go! I'll stay—and watch your back.” – Awww.

BRA'TAC: “The shield generators are far below. There, in the very bowels of the ship. We must climb down several decks, through the length of the ship. Then, taking our weapons, we must…”
(Jack takes out two hand grenades and nonchalantly drops them into the shield generators, blowing them up.)
JACK: “Grenades.” –Heh.
TEAL'C: “This vessel is no longer protected by an energy field.”
SAM: “So that's it?”
TEAL'C: “That is it.”
JACK: “I think what the Captain is asking is, ‘What now?’”
BRA'TAC: “Now we die.”
JACK: “Well, that's a bad plan.” – LOL! Indeed!

SAM: “We got cooked pretty bad in the explosion.”
JACK: “Captain?”
SAM: (continuing with her negative litany) “We're low on power and in a fairly low orbit, so I don't imagine it will be too much longer before we burn up in Earth's atmosphere.”
JACK: “Captain, take a look up.”
(They look up at Earth.)
SAM: “It's beautiful.”
JACK: “Yes, it is.”
SAM: “We saved it, sir.”
JACK: “Yes, we did.” – A nice moment.

BRA'TAC: “We die well, Teal'c.”
TEAL'C: “More than that, old friend—we die free!” – And another nice moment.

(After Jack and the others return to the SGC and are applauded.)
HAMMOND: “SG-1—there's someone who'd like to see you.”
(Daniel emerges from the back of the room.)
SAM: “Daniel!”
(Jack smiles broadly and pulls Daniel into a hug.)
JACK: (with affection) “Spacemonkey! Yeah!” – Awwwwww. I be meltoring!

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