Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Classics: SG1 4:17 - Absolute Power

Overall Rating: 9.7

The way in which the lesson in this story is told is both truly alarming, and yet...very organic (which makes it even more scary!). The writers here show a command for characterization that is critical to the telling of a story where the good guy goes over to the dark side.

Plot Synopsis:

SG-1 is called to Abydos by Kasuf - who reports a strange recurring dust storm hovering over the desert near the pyramid. When SG-1 heads to the location where strange things have been seen, a twister springs up out of nowhere, and as it dissipates, a preteen boy appears in the center. He declares that he is Shifu - the harcesis! Excited to have a chance to access the knowledge of the Goa'uld, they hurriedly take Shifu back to Earth and give him a thorough exam. But when they try to ask him what he knows, he refuses to speak on the subject, saying he has willfully forgotten. Daniel tries again a bit later and Shifu tries to explain that he cannot go under hypnosis or do anything else to access those genetic memories, but Daniel doesn't understand. To make Daniel understand the nature of his gift, Shifu touches his forehead and knocks him out with a blast of energy.

When he regains consciousness, Daniel is in the infirmary and begins having flashes of memory...disturbing, powerful imagery from the long history of the Goa'uld. Shifu later explains that he's given Daniel the gift and that the flashes he's experiencing will get more detailed. "Dreams teach," he advises. During his debriefing Daniel starts to recall technical information on Goa'uld gadgets...and a lot of other dark and disturbing things that make it difficult for him to stay grounded. Nonetheless, some time later, he gives a briefing during which he makes some rather lavish demands of the US Military in exchange for his help creating a planetary defense network he promises will protect Earth from the Goa'uld.

He grabs total control of the Stargate program and palatial accommodations for he and Shifu, who he takes under his wing. During his time at the SGC, he insists that he hasn't changed at all, but he is seen whimsically playing with a ribbon device and wishing he could control it (you need Naquadah in your blood to use it), driving Teal'c (with whom he is seen clashing) into more and more dangerous missions until he ends up dead, and forcing Carter out of the defense network project when she objects to how much control he'll have over the system. Of course, with the bigwigs, he denies that control, but once they bring the system online (with Jack watching as his "guest" - he intended to kill Daniel to stop his reign of terror, but Daniel was prepared with a personal forceshield), he locks the world governments out and responds to Russian demands that the system be powered down by nuking Moscow! Holy cow!

When this piece has played out entirely, Daniel again wakes in the infirmary. We're back in the present day and Shifu explains that Daniel was just dreaming, because dreams teach. Daniel, having watched his soul eroded before his eyes upon grasping their power, understands why no one on Earth can possess that knowledge. Shifu turns himself back into an "Oma Desala" glowing energy thingy and vanishes through the gate.

The Skinny:

SABR Matt - Three things this episode does well:
  1. Dramatic tension - Daniel changes gradually enough that we get a sense for how evil can corrupt even the best of us when our ambition and intentions can easily play on our emotions. Not only that, but the revelation that it's a dream comes just late enough in the game that for a while there, we are all legitimately worried that Daniel is going to change for the worse. That's hard to accomplish when it involves a regular cast member.
  2. The moral depiction of the nature of evil and temptation - I particularly like that everything Daniel does is motivated by things that seem perfectly reasonable! After all, everyone is in fact motivated by the desire to protect Earth, including Daniel. At least at first. He makes a great point when arguing with Jack early in his transformation...and he's RIGHT! And wrong. The way he is going about it isn't selfless...while trying to do good, he's not seeing how his efforts impact others (or not caring) I've said previously, I believe that intentions matter at least as much as the actual actions, but that your intentions need to be selfless or your actions will ultimately be selfish (and self-destructive). Sure enough, Daniel drives away anyone who ever loved him and is left hollow, just like the Goa'uld.
  3. A good end to a bad plot concept - As I said in our review of "Forever in a Day," I never was a big fan of the concept of a Harcesis as the way to motivate Daniel to rejoin the Stargate Program. You can't really use that as a motivator for very long and have us believing that's all it takes to keep Daniel involved. It begins the long-running decay of Daniel's personal stake in the program and I don't think they ever really got that back. BUT, at least they put the Harcesis to good use to tell a wonderful story. Good save!
The acting and direction of this episode is very effective as well, and you know, I ahve to say that Michael Shanks plays one hell of a scary bad guy...he should do Bond movies...he's make an awesome adversary for 007...I mean...he's even got the awesome evil lair thing going here. :)

Stephanie S. - The scenes my co-author has highlighted below are justifiably famous, but I would like to direct our readers' attention to another seemingly inconsequential moment that I believe contains the key to this episode's overall success: the conversation between Daniel and Jack in the front room of Daniel's mansion. Daniel is minutes away from achieving world domination in the scene in question, yet he and Jack talk about watching the launch on a big screen as if they're planning a Super Bowl party. Their behavior is so utterly normal -- and that normalcy by itself has the power to shock.

This episode works as well as it does because the writers, the actors, and the director make conscious choices to downplay, downplay, downplay the drama of the story. Shanks never chews the scenery; instead, he lets Daniel's actions speak for themselves.

Writing: 10.0/10.0

The script is fabulous...the timing of the revelation of new information and the order of events make it among the best hours of entertainment ever produced by this franchise.

Acting: 10.0/10.0

Major Davis, Hammond, O'Neill, Teal'c, Carter...they all get their moments to shine, but of course, this is Daniel's episode. Although big props to "Male Technician"...or at least to the director...that tech was so spooky. "Target has been eliminated..." Yeesh!

Message: 9.0/9.0

The message that absolute power corrupts absolutely has been done many a time, but this is a very effective rendition in that we see the devastating personal consequences the power doles out to DANIEL...not just to the people around him. Bravo.


DANIEL: Shifu, this is General Hammond. He's the leader of this facility.
SHIFU: A spark lights a flame, but the candle will only burn as long as the wick.
HAMMOND: (stares blankly at O'Neill)
JACK: I believe what he means is that the wick is the center of the candle...and it's basically essential to the...whole...ball of wax. Basically, he's saying it's always better to have a big...long...wick. (LOL!)
DANIEL: Don't look at me.

DANIEL: Even if he can remember, can we really ask him to?
HAMMOND: I understand your concern, Dr. Jackson...
DANIEL: Think about what we'd be exposing him to, sir. We'd be flooding the mind ofg a twelve year old boy with the memories of a thousand of whom happened to put a snake in the head of his Mom. Look I know we're talking about the future defense of Earth and possibly wiping out the Goa'uld entirely, but I just think we need to consider what's best for the boy.
HAMMOND: From what I've seen, Shifu seems wise beyond his years. Isn't it possible he'd comprehend the situation if you explained it to him?
DANIEL: Maybe, but even if he did, I don't think he'd be willing to remember. Think about what it would do to him.
SAM: Well if he forgot once, maybe he could forget again? (and this is the only thing that convinces Daniel to try to talk to Shifu about the knowledge).

SHIFU: Oma teaches the true nature of a man is decided in the battle between his conscious mind and the desires of the subconscious. Oma teaches the evil my subconscious is too strong to resist and the only way to win is to deny it battle.
DANIEL: Yeah, see the thing is we can't deny the battle against the Goa'uld forever. The information contained within your buried memories could really help us.
SHIFU: You have chosen a path that leads to me because of this?
SHIFU: You must release your burden before you will find your own way again.
DANIEL: Yeah someone else once said that to me. Thing is, this is my way. I chose this path to honour Sha're's strength and ultimately it isn't just about me. Or you for that matter.
SHIFU: I understand.
DANIEL: The Tok'ra have a way to help you remember only certain things. How the Goa'uld technology works, their weaknesses. And then afterwards maybe Oma can help you forget again.
SHIFU: If the instrument is broken, the music will be sour.
DANIEL: The music does not play the musician.
SHIFU: Normally there is truth in that.
DANIEL: Really? Good. Cause I really didn't have any idea what I was talking about. All I know is this is very important or I wouldn't ask.

DANIEL: Bottom line is, it's going to require the entire resources of the entire SGC to focus on the retrieval of raw naquada for the time being.
CARTER: Well, if we ask the Tok'ra for help…
DANIEL: Major Davis, you've prepared a budget and timetable based on the data?
DAVIS: The Pentagon had budgeted the construction and launch of the satellite network at $80 billion, estimated time of completion to be two years after the start date.
DANIEL: That's unacceptable.
DAVIS: Well, if we involve the Russians in a cooperative effort…
DAVIS: I'm sorry?
DANIEL: I said no.
DAVIS: The Russian government has agreed to stop using their Stargate on the condition we share all information gathered by the SGC. Now we have to tell them.
DANIEL: No we don't.
DANIEL: It's okay. I have a way of rendering their Gate inactive.
CARTER: You do?
DAVIS: That's really not the point.
DANIEL: The point is we don't know if the Russians are turning round and trading those secrets. This project is too important to get screwed up by petty Earth politics. We're talking about protecting this entire planet from Goa'uld occupation.
DAVIS: I imagine that several of the so-called petty nations of this planet are going to be very curious when we start launching satellite weapons into orbit two years from now.
DANIEL: One year from now.
DAVIS: That's impossible. It would double the cost.
DANIEL: Then it's not impossible, is it? Obviously most of the workload will have to contracted out to the private sector so they'll have to be a strategic division of labour in order to maintain the security of the project. Major Davis, if you could also see to this.
DAVIS: What is this?
DANIEL: Just a few personal requirements. I'm sure the Pentagon will be happy to provide me with given the nature of my continued contributions. Please see that it gets approved as soon as possible. Gentlemen.

O'NEILL: Hey! What's going on? What are you doing?
DANIEL: I know exactly how this works now, but you need naquada in your blood or you can't make it do anything.
O'NEILL: Have you considered that maybe that's a good thing?
DANIEL: Something on your mind?
O'NEILL: Your behaviour, as a matter of fact.
DANIEL: What about it?
O'NEILL: Well, for starters, who gave you the authority to give orders around here?
DANIEL: Actually, the Pentagon. Look, maybe I haven't exactly been patient lately, but I'm just doing what has to be done. I have the knowledge; I have to make sure it gets used properly. Now I can elevate us to the point of wiping out the Goa'uld or I can watch it all go to waste.
O'NEILL: You're under a lot of pressure, I understand.
DANIEL: I recommended you to oversee the entire naquada retrieval operation.
O'NEILL: Oh yeah, thank you very much by the way. I can either accept the position or retire!
DANIEL: Why aren't you behind me on all this? I mean, I'm finally taking your position. Let's build weapons. Let's kick some Goa'uld ass. Because it's me saying it, I'm suddenly a bad guy?
O'NEILL: Where's Teal'c?
[Focus on Daniel. Flash to Daniel using the ribbon device to blast O'Neill across the room into the wall.]
DANIEL: He's on a mission.
O'NEILL: What mission?
DANIEL: The one I sent him on.
O'NEILL: When's he going to be back?
DANIEL: When he's done. Jack, I've got a lot of work to do and so do you. So, please help me, or leave. (ooooh)

DANIEL: This is all leading to a full-scale nuclear attack, though, isn't it?
VIDRINE: Unless we comply with their demands, yes, that would be a high probability.
DANIEL: Shouldn't we just nip this in the bud?
VIDRINE: Given our new ability to defend ourselves, we don't see the need to jump the gun. The president is currently rethinking our position on unilateral control of the system.
DANIEL: I see.
[Daniel pushes a button. He now has override control of the defence system.]
VIDRINE: Dr. Jackson, what are you doing?
DANIEL: As I suspected, the president is obviously failing to overcome a lack of necessary leadership abilities. So I'm going to have to step in and prevent a global nuclear war.
[O'Neill is sitting on a raised platform watching the events.]
VIDRINE: You're not supposed to be able to do this. You can't do this.
DANIEL: I've already done this. This bunker is well protected. Don't even think about sending a cruise missile our way.
VIDRINE: Dr. Jackson!
[Daniel turns off the communication.]
DANIEL: I don't know about the rest of you, but I've had about enough of that guy.
O'NEILL: Daniel. What are you doing?
DANIEL: Proportional response only makes sense when the playing field is even. We have a distinct advantage here. Problem is the other side just doesn't realise how wide the gap is. What they really need is a visual aid.
MALE CONTROLLER: AG system targeting Moscow.
O'NEILL: Daniel.
DANIEL: Don't worry, there's no threat of residual radiation spreading. It's quick and clean—it's like cutting your enemy's heart out with a scalpel.
[O'Neill pulls out a gun and shoots at Daniel. A Goa'uld force field protects him from the bullets. Daniel looks disappointed.]
DANIEL: Don't you think it was strange you got through security with a loaded gun?
O'NEILL: A little.
DANIEL: You never were that bright.
[Several weapons all turn to one target.]
O'NEILL: Daniel, think about one thing before you do this. We never proved that kid was a Harcesis.
DANIEL: What are you talking about?
O'NEILL: Everything he put in your head. The Goa'uld have used mind control before.
DANIEL: You think this is some elaborate Goa'uld plot to get me to destroy the world?
O'NEILL: We've seen them use kids too.
DANIEL: They used Shifu to put a bunch of stuff into my head in order to get me to build the weapons, only to eventually turn them on Earth?
O'NEILL: It's possible.
DANIEL: There's only one flaw in that theory. You're assuming this is not what I wanted all along.
O'NEILL: Don't. Don't.
MALE CONTROLLER: System is firing.
[We see Moscow being destroyed.]
MALE CONTROLLER: Target has been eliminated. (wow...awesome!)

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