Saturday, March 26, 2011

Classics: SG1 5:7 - Beast of Burden

Overall Rating: 7.5

Nice attempt...but I feel that the writers showed enough moral relativism and incoherence to be disconcerting in this installment.

Plot Synopsis:

A good summary can be found courtesy of the Stargate Wiki.

The Skinny:

First the good news: one of the things that I like about the Unas story arc is that, at all times, it comes down on the side of the inalienable rights of sentient beings and yet portrays the opponents to that position in ways that are understandable enough so that the viewer doesn't feel like he's bludgeoned to death by the 2X4 of righteousness and so that the story feels real (and thus has a real emotional impact). The story behind the slave trade of Unas makes perfect sense...lowly human slaves overthrow their Unas/Goa'uld oppressors, kill most of them, turn the rest into slaves as retribution, and then as the generations pass, those Unas - who are just primitive enough in social development to seem animal-like most of the time to the untrained eye - become thought of as nothing but animals. This makes the slavery allegory effective, rather than insulting. Daniel's real reaction when one of the Unas is brutally gunned down just because he won't be silent lands perfectly...I definitely felt a bit of the same anger and sadness seeing it unfold.

It is also truly intriguing that, because of Daniel Jackson's influence (through Chaka)...his steadfast belief in the infinite value of all life - a very Western philosophy indeed - the Unas evolve before our very eyes. The next time we see them, they'll be organizing a trade negotiation and preparing to make war in self-defense. The last time we saw them, they were little more than cave-dwelling Neanderthals...hunter-gatherers with limited social development behind them. And here, Daniel (and Chaka) teach them to love freedom and to organize...even to fight for it. This is not too different from the impact western ideology has on people allowed to flourish within the free nations of the west who have their origins in less developed (yes, I said less developed) cultures from other parts of the world, where freedom is a luxury, not a right. It's amazing how the mere idea of freedom - exemplified so that a person can see how it works - can topple an evil regime...this is something Stargate got quite right.

On the the hand (now for the bad news)...I have to wonder why the writers felt the need to emphasize over and over again that it was wrong to interfere in the slave-trading barbarism of another culture (Why was Jack so worried about upsetting their economy and changing their unjust society? Didn't we fight a war to prove that such injustices must be fought and ended?) much that in the end, when the Unas take up arms and launch an attack, Daniel feels the need to equivocate, pointing out that SG-1 didn't arm the Unas...they did it themselves, so therefore it's OK. So...let's see...helping the Unas escape tyrannical oppression is fine...allowing them to pick up the weapons of their oppressors and start a war...that's fine too. But had we handed one of them even a single staff weapon...that would have been evil? Sorry...not buying it. Stargate is usually better about refuting the Trekkian non-interference dogma with practical examples from a more realistic universe, but this time they fell short.

Writing: 7.5

The plot was a little unsubtle, but generally engaging...the way that Daniel, in particular, was written was fantastic. Jack...not so much.

Acting: 8.5

Dion Johnstone (Chaka), Michael Shanks and Larry Drake (slave-trader Burrock) were all fascinating and satisfying to watch.

Message: 6.5

On the pro side, this is yet another loud defense of freedom...Stargate's biggest contribution to sci-fi canon philosophy. But my enthusiasm is marred by Jack's insistence that "we didn't come here to start a war." Therefore, it winds up being a par effort on the message front.

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