Overall Rating: 9.8
Even as someone who is not, as most in fandom are, a Michael Shanks/Daniel Jackson uber-fan, I must conclude that this episode represents one of the great achievements in Gate history...in this one, the Goa'uld is actually scary, the supporting cast is very impressive, and the script is deep.
The full story can be read here, courtesy of the Stargate Wiki.
We praise Michael Shanks for his brilliant rendition of sarcophagus madness in "Need", but I think RDA does it even better. His descent in madness is so gradual and so subtle that after several viewings of this episode over the years, I'm still noticing nice touches. For example, in his first confrontation with Daniel, Jack is still trading humorous barbs with a sort of life that can only come from his real persona. By the second argument, his sarcasm just seems...bitter. And by the third sequence, he leaves it behind entirely. You start to hear despair in his voice...even when he remembers the heroic reason that Canaan came back here...he spits the words angrily...with an almost hateful sound - "he came back to save her" never was uttered with such disgust. If Daniel hadn't been there, I'm quite certain the slave girl and Jack would both have been lost and it's only clear like that thanks to a show-stopping performance by RDA.
Ba'al is BY FAR the best Goa'uld...I think it's because he's the most human. His emotions seem less over the top ridiculous and more gently evil. Hard to describe brutal torture as gentle anything, but there's something about the pragmatic and almost happy way in which Cliff Simon doles out his punishments and even his rewards that just screams pure evil. It's like you're chatting with the guy in the next cubicle politely while he plots to remove your spine one bone at a time to make a xylophone and make you watch while he does it. He even acquires a humorous sort of evilness in later showings that make him a fan favorite. But this, his coming out party, is his best performance.
And you can never get tired of the white hot concentrate awesome rays that beam out of Teal'c and Hammond when they hold that bastardly Tok'ra hostage until he gives them the intel they need. It's like a day at the beach...with no sunburn. :) The bottom line...this episode oozes pathos and virtue at every turn...you feel every painful stab and every drop of acid, because RDA and Shanks (and the rest in their moments) pour their emotional attachment to their characters into the act like you very rarely see on TV.
BTW, I would also like to comment on the setting for this play. The title of this episode is "Abyss" - referring both to the maw of death and to the bottomless pit into which a person's soul falls under torture. The screenwriter apparently chose to reflect that theme in the (incredibly creative) gravity-bending labyrinth that was Ba'al's secret lab. O'Neill's torture always took place over a precipice (and yet face to face for full emotional impact)...his cell was a hole in the ground...and the deed that would have undone his soul - revealing the slave girl's betrayal - was nearly done over that chasm. I thought that creativity was worthy of praise.
The scenes between Daniel and Jack were about as good as anything that's ever appeared in Gate canon beacuse they were entirely about character - the gate writers developed all of these characters slowly rather than devoting whole episodes to that end (as a general rule), but it sure is nice to see them take a moment and let us revel in those wonderful characters now. The philosophy underpinning the Ancients' decision not to interfere with the lower plains waits for later episodes - this is entirely about Jack and Daniel and their friendship.
Acting: 10.0 with a Mach 20 Rocket
I spent most of the skinny talking about the acting...I could say more, but when you see the episode, you'll understand.
I'm taking half a point off because Daniel's insistence that Jack was "a better person" than to kill Ba'al and go after the Goa'uld if he had the power was mildly grating. Sorry, but if you have the power to stop injustice...you should, Daniel. You'll figure that out though at the end of this season, which will be fun.
THORAN: You accuse an honored Tok'ra of behaving as a Goa'uld.
CARTER: I wouldn't exactly phrase it like that...
THORAN: You claim we're your allies, yet you spin the word symbiote like it was a disease. Whatever you may think of our way of life, General, Canaan was as a brother to me.
QUINN: As Colonel O'Neill was to us.
THORAN: The Tok'ra High Council has already accepted the possibility that Canaan may be lost to us.
HAMMOND: That's the big difference between us, Thoran...we don't leave our people behind.
BA'AL: Who are you?
JACK: You first.
BA'AL: (picking up a large blade) You claim you do not know me?
JACK: Well no offense there, skippy. I'm sure you're a real impressive, powerful guy where you come from. It's just that I'm not real in the loop on the whole snake head thing.
BA'AL: I am Ba'al.
JACK: That's it? Just Ba'al...as in bochy?
BA'AL: (stands and holds the blame into the gravity field) Do you not know the torment you will suffer for this impudence?
JACK: I don't know the meaning of the word. Seriously...impudence...what's it mean? (and Ba'al releases the blade)
BA'AL: Death will only offer you a temporary escape. I can revive you again and again. Only when you have told me everything I need to know will you be allowed to die...one last time. (and he releases a third blade, presumably aimed at Jack's heart...this is legitimately scary stuff)
DANIEL: It's good seeing you again, Jack. Though perhaps this isn't the place for happy greetings.
JACK: Yeah...I'd be glad you're here too. Shame you're just a delusion.
DANIEL: No, I'm here...I'm really here.
JACK: Yeah. Sure you are.
DANIEL: Jack, it's me. (Jack takes off his shoe and throws it right through Daniel's body) Here in the sense that my consciousness is here if not here in the physical sense, which is really more of a state of mind, anyway.
JACK: I just threw my shoe through you. (LOL)
DANIEL: Yes you did...that's because I've ascended to a higher plain of existance. Remember? The whole Oma Desala thing. You helping me out? I couldn't have done it without you?
DANIEL: I'm energy now.
JACK: So how's that workin' out for you, huh?
DANIEL: Good, actually. Really really good. You on the other hand...
JACK: Yeah well you know how it is. Coming back from the dead...it takes a little while to get the color back in the cheeks.
DANIEL: Yeah. (seems extremely worried that Jack isn't taking his plight seriously)
JACK: So...not a delusion?
JACK: Well OK...show me your stuff...bust me out of this joint.
DANIEL: I can't.
JACK: Why not?
DANIEL: I'm not allowed to interfere.
JACK: You're interfering right now!
DANIEL: No I'm not.
JACK: Yes you are. (I love that they still fight like 6 year olds...LOL)
DANIEL: No...I'm consoling a friend.
JACK: What good is having the power to make the wind blow or throw lightning bolts on command if you can't use it to spring an old friend out of jail?
DANIEL: I can't do that.
JACK: You can't do that stuff?
DANIEL: I can...I just..can't.
JACK: Well great. Thanks for stopping by.
DANIEL: Ba'al is torturing you and I wasn't just going to stand by. All he wants to know is why you came to this planet. You really have no idea?
JACK: Do you?
DANIEL: Well all I know is that you - or more accurately your symbiote - congratulations, BTW - left the Tok'ra home world undetected and came here.
JACK: I can't believe I left them do this. Me! I agreed to this!
DANIEL: The sybiote really didn't share with you what he was planning to do?
JACK: There was no sharing! I was sick...they did the implantation - a phrase I hope never to use again - and I woke up here. That's...pretty much my week so far.
DANIEL: So you really don't know.
JACK: (thinks hard for a minute) Something about a slave girl? I got a visual, but I've never met her before.
DANIEL: No one knows you're here. And even if they did, they wouldn't be able to pull off a rescue - this place is too heavily fortified. Ba'al's just going to keep torturing you and reviving you in his sarcophagus over and over until...either he finds out what he wants to know, which is impossible because you don't remember, or you're not worth reviving anymore. But you'll cease to be the Jack O'Neill we know long before that.
JACK: Wow...thanks for that picture.
DANIEL: No I can't let that happen!
JACK: But you can't do anything about it.
DANIEL: No...I can't help you escape any more than Oma could heal my radiation sickness. But I can help you ascend. (Jack looks very dubious)
THORAN: This Jaffa threatened my life.
TEAL'C: I merely informed you that any further attempts to activate the Stargate would result in physical injury. (LOL)
THORAN: So I am a prisoner.
HAMMOND: We'd prefer it if you thought of yourself as our guest. Until such time as you hand over the mission reports we requested under article nine of our treaty.
THORAN: Such a request must be made to the Tok'ra High Council in person.
QUINN: Why? This control facility is fully capable of relaying your request on multiple frequencies.
HAMMOND: And if you should choose not to avail yourself of that service, we will be happy to provide you with comfortable quarters until you decide to change your mind.
THORAN: You threaten continued peaceful relations with my people, General.
HAMMOND: If our relations continue in the manner they're heading right now, frankly, I don't give a damn. (HA!!)
JACK: So you wanna be my Oma.
DANIEL: You could put it that way...I mean I wouldn't, but that's just me. (LOL)
JACK: And then what?
DANIEL: I don't know.
JACK: You don't know?
DANIEL: No...ascending doesn't make you all knowing. I really have no idea what comes next.
JACK: If I'm hopping the next bus out of this existence, you gotta give me something.
DANIEL: It's your life, Jack. I can't tell you what to do...all I can promise is that it will be an incredible journey.
DANIEL: Once you release your burden.
JACK: Daniel, so help me, if you start talking like Oma...(LOL)
DANIEL: I am not talk like Oma Desala...
JACK: (crosstalk) It sounds like Oma to me...
DANIEL: (crosstalk) No no no, see, Oma would say something like...if you immediately know the candle light is fire, then the meal was cooked a long time ago...or something like that.
JACK: (puzzled) Why?
DANIEL: To open your mind.
JACK: Though a candle burns in my house...there's nobody home. (ROTFL!)
DANIEL: OK...let's take this one step at a time. This has to be something you want to do.
JACK: One step at a time.
DANIEL: One step at a time.
JACK: There has to be another way out of here...
JACK: What if you did a little scouting for me.
JACK: I'm not asking you to knock down walls...just...do a little recon.
DANIEL: Jack, Ba'al's just going to torture you again.
JACK: (crosstalk) That's when we move...when they come for me...
DANIEL: (crosstalk) It'll be much worse this time!
JACK: (crosstalk)...or get me a zat gun...anything!
DANIEL: (crosstalk) You can't fight your way out of this, Jack!
JACK: Then help me!
DANIEL: Not that way!
JACK: If the Daniel Jackson I knew was really here...
DANIEL: I am.
JACK: Alright, look...(gets to his feet)...I don't want to go through that again, Daniel. If you really cared about me and you had the power to stop it...you'd stop it.
DANIEL: The hardest thing about being who...or what...I am, is having the power to act and yet knowing that I can't. Even when I'm certain...even when it seems absolutely clear to me...even when it affects the people I care about. Because for all I can do...I'm no more qualified to play God than the Goa'uld are.
JACK: (not buying this excuse at all) Right. (bangs his hands on the light fixture)
DANIEL: Ba'al will keep this up.
JACK: Yes...he will.
DANIEL: So we don't have an unlimited amount of time.
JACK: Gotta be somewhere, Danny?
DANIEL: No! There must be something you can remember about all of this. Why did you come back here...was it for the woman? The one you were just talking to? She must have something to do with all of this.
JACK: Ah, screw it. Carter and Teal'c will think of something.
DANIEL: There isn't always a way out, Jack.
JACK: Hey, if that were true, I'd be long dead.
DANIEL: How many times do you think you can go into that sarcophagus before it starts changing you? How many times has it been already? It can revive you again and again...make you strong enough to go through that all over again, but all the time it's destroying who you are. And once that happens, you won't be able to ascend no matter how much you might want to.
JACK: Hey! Look, I appreciate what you're trying to do for me, Daniel...
DANIEL: Jack, I wouldn't be here if I didn't think you could do it.
JACK: C'mon, Daniel, this is me we're talking about.
DANIEL: Yes it is! Now please...just try to open your mind.
JACK: Daniel, please...stop it!
DANIEL: Oh come on, Jack! Do you think the Asgard named a ship after you because they thought it was a cool name? This isn't the time to play dumb, Jack, you're a lot smarter than that. They saw our potential in you because of what you'd accomplished. Human potential! That's what Oma saw in me.
JACK: I am not...you.
DANIEL: And since when has that ever stopped you from doing anything.
JACK: OK...put yourself in my place and me in yours.
DANIEL: You'd be there for me.
JACK: Damned straight! I'd have busted you out of here in no time...I'd have torn this place apart and I'd have made sure he suffered for this!
DANIEL: The others would stop you.
JACK: They'd have a hell of a fight on their hands.
DANIEL: (crosstalk) Jack, you wouldn't...
JACK: (crosstalk) Ba'al would be dead! And don't think I'd stop there.
DANIEL: (crosstalk) Jack, you're a better man than that.
JACK: That's where you're wrong!!
DANIEL: (after a long staring contest) Right now, I can't imagine being anything other than what I am...but it was my choice. Even when Jacob was trying to heal me, I chose this. But you don't have another choice. Ba'al's going to keep torturing you and this is your only way out. This is it! This isn't your life we're talking about, Jack...this is your soul!
JACK: You're wrong. There's another way.
DANIEL: What are you talking about?
JACK: There's another choice.
DANIEL: (realizing what he means) No...
JACK: Any minute now they're going to come for me, and when they do, they're going to kill me again. You can make sure it's the last time.
DANIEL: Don't ask me to do that, Jack.
JACK: I'd do it for you...and you know it.
DANIEL: I won't do it, Jack. (the guards arrive)
JACK: I don't want to see this cell again, Daniel!
DANIEL: I'm here, Jack.
JACK: You were gone...
DANIEL: I know, I'm sorry; there was something I had to do. But I'm back now, and I promise I'll stay with you until this is over.
JACK: It'll never be over. (absolute despair rising)
DANIEL: Yes it will, Jack.
JACK: You have to end this, Daniel.
DANIEL: No, Jack...you just have to hang in there a little longer.
JACK: Daniel...I can't go back there. If I go back, I swear to God...I'll tell him.
DANIEL: Tell him...tell him what?
JACK: That he loved her.
DANIEL: Canaan...loved the slave girl?
JACK: He came back to save her.
DANIEL: Ba'al doesn't know this.
JACK: If he finds out, he'll do to her what he's doing to me. If I go back, I'll tell him. You can't let that happen.
DANIEL: You won't have to go back...it's almost over.
DANIEL: You were right...there's always a way out. Or at least there's always a chance.
JACK: What did you do?
DANIEL: I didn't do anything...it was Sam and Teal'c...and...Jonas too. They thought of something.
DANIEL: You're journey's not over yet, Jack. You'll get your chance.