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Old TV Review: Stargate SG-1 Season 9

Stargate SG-1 changed. A lot. Season 9 has brought numerous changes to cast, storyline, and flow of the show. Also, FarGate.

O’Neill (Richard Dean “MacGyver” Anderson) stepped out of the show this season and with the change last year they had to replace him in two parts: as head of SGC and as leader of SG-1. They brought in Beau Bridges as General Hank Landry for the first part and Ben Browder as Lt. Col. Cameron Mitchell for the latter. Also Claudia Black is back as Vala Mal Doran (i.e. black leather pants lady) apparently filling in as the team’s female member because Amanda Tapping (i.e. Carter) was out on maternity leave. The funny thing is Claudia Black then goes away and she (and her character) come back at the end of the season pregnant. Farscape watchers will enjoy the nickname “Fargate” applied to this and the next season because of Claudia and Ben’s appearance.

Other than cast, there is a lot of tone shift this season because the Go’auld are gone (sort of). They’re not organized anymore, and Anubis is gone. There are still some Go’auld around, though they don’t really get going as a force this season, just seeds for next, I guess. The main problem is the Ori which are (I gather) the people left behind by the Ancients who then found their own way to evolve themselves and have whipped together a hardline crusading religion around it. Thus the main evil in the universe is religious fundamentalism. One can say that’s been true for a while on the show and in real life.

Oh, because the Go’auld are gone the Jaf’fa are trying to organize themselves. As a result Teal’c has more hair and seems to have mostly dropped the slow-talking mode. Also, much, much less staff and zat-gun action. Teal’c is usually dual-wielding FN P-90 sub machineguns. Hardly a warrior’s weapon.

There’s also a heavier use of the space-traveling ships which is exciting and interesting but at the same time a bummer because it feels so much of a lift from Star Trek and Battlestar Galactica– especially with how much the newest ship (Odyssey) looks like a hybrid of both.

Because of all the changes, it was hard for me to get into this season. It almost feels like they should have spun this off as a new show because there we so many changes. The saving grace is with the new Ori-focused storyline they are doing a good job of setting up a large arc. The season finale was a big cliffhanger which could mean more story arc and more interest in the show and especially the characters.

Avalon (Part 1) was a reasonable season opener introducing as many of the new things as possible as a bridge to the previous season which ended in a very final way. Mitchell’s “getting the band back together” theme is nice to watch but you can’t help but see many of his jokes and beats as belonging to O’Neill and they just didn’t rewrite them for the new character. The tests in the ancient cave feel a little Indiana Jonesy.

Avalon (Part 2) wraps up part 1 with a nice swordfight, though the swords are surprisingly non-lethal. When Daniel and Vala get mind-transported out to the world with the followers of the Ori it’s funny but the tone shifts very rapidly when they burn Vala to death. In fact, that might be one of the worst deaths ever on TV. The show as a whole really allowed a lot more death, doom, and gloom this season. I’m guessing it’s the BSG effect.

Origin formally introduces the Ori as the big badguys with their big column of fire and crazy-eyed missionaries. Also Gerak (Louis Gossett Jr.) comes to power as one of the Jaffa high councilmembers, and immediately is untrustworthy.

The Ties that Bind is a nice characterization episode for Vala as they follow a chain of cons and trades to separate her and Daniel who are linked by snap-bracelets. Nice cameo by Wallace “Inconceivable!” Shawn as the snap-bracelet expert and former lover of Vala.

The Powers That Be is another nice characterization episode for Vala as she returns to the planet where she used to be a god (she apparently had a Goa’uld symbiote for a little while) and an excuse to get her in even more revealing clothing. This is also the first instance of the Ori plague which is magically started and stopped by their missionaries (Priors).

Beachhead has an Ori Prior killing an entire world, collapsing it into a black hole to serve as a power source for a massive super-stargate ring, ostensibly so the Ori can travel through it with big ships from their far off place. Vala interrupts it, sacrificing her ship to block the ring from fully forming and causing the whole thing to blow up. A neat episode the first real direct action of the Ori rather than simply gaining followers.

Ex Deus Machina sets up another arc for the show: the return of Baal. He’s apparently trying to pass himself off as a corporate megalomaniac having infiltrated the former “Trust” companies which were former “NID” companies… anyway, Baal’s on earth so Gerak tries to take him down… and succeeds… only for there to be many Baals because he’s cloned himself. Also, his second in command wears impossibly short skirts. Baal continues to muck things up as a secondary badguy this season, though it never really crystallizes and it’s just more of an annoyance.

Babylon introduces the Sodan warriors which are legendary warriors of the Jaffa who are like the Jaffa from early SG-1 who actually fight with staves instead of being locked in political BS and shoot guns now. Oh, and they can turn invisible. This ends up being a heavy Mithcell episode as he is caught by them and forced to participate in a blood-battle to avenge some guy that got killed. For some reason they are compelled to train him to do this, and it’s hardly a surprise his training partner is the person with whom he’s doing the blood-battle.

Prototype brought in another distraction to the Ori — they find a frozen being and it turns out to be an experimental clone by Anubis. They decide to kill it, then study it, then kill it, then refreeze it, then kill it. Possibly some characterization of Daniel in that it cements him as someone that can kill… which was established many, many seasons ago.

Fourth Horseman 1 & 2 were actually 2 parts of the same story correctly mixed. This is opposed to the opener Avalon which was billed as part 1 & 2 but were two different stories and really were two different episodes. The main bits here are there’s an Ori plague on earth and Gerak is getting too powerful and apparently follows the Ori. It’s wrapped up nicely in that Gerak uses his power to close off the plague on earth. There are some unnecessarily creepy bits about Orlin (former Ancient and boyfriend of Carter from a few seasons back played by Sean Patrick Flannery now returned as a young boy with all the memories). I liked this as a story episode, but for almost the entire episode the main members of SG-1 are helpless. The plague problem isn’t contained on earth by Mitchell, the vaccine isn’t discovered by Carter (it is figured out by the doctor offscreen), Teal’c can’t stop Gerak’s rise to power but does return him to the fold (offscreen, come on!), and where the hell is Daniel? On the plus side, cameo by Don Davis as General Hammond.

Collateral Damage is a Mitchell episode where he is accused of murder on a planet where they have figured out a machine that can muck with a person’s memory. Hmmm, I wonder what the problem could be here? There’s some misdirection about who the murderer is and there’s a characterization bit that Michell’s a conflicted soul. This was shot well, and the initial drama is good, but other than the opening, everything else is predictable.

Ripple Effect is a nice episode. SG-1 comes in and they’re ahead of schedule, then another team comes in on time and it’s SG-1. Then another. And another. Soon the base is full of SG-1s with slight differences. Mostly in choice of camouflage colors. They bring in Martuf (Carter’s Tok’ra boyfriendish person) and Dr. Fraser! In a surprise to nobody the team in black were acting with devious purposes and the real SG-1 fixes it up. This had a nice old-school SG-1 feel, complete with the annoying “Carter is dating someone… maybe O’Neill?” moments.

Stronghold was another throwaway for me. They give Mitchell another characterization episode where he pals around for half the episode with his dying friend (played by Reed Diamond) before going to lead a team to save Teal’c who was captured and under attempted brainwashing (again). I’m not sure what I’m supposed to get from Mitchell that we haven’t already. I prefer he proved himself in missions rather than learning about himself on leave.

Ethon revisits my favorite plotline from SG-1. The planet where Rand and Caledonia are fighting because SG-1 activated the Stargate. Previously this began a coup by religious fanatics that touched off a nuclear war. Now the Ori have exploited the fanaticism and built an orbital weapon which handily destroys the Prometheus. The ending stinger about how they can’t dial the gate anymore and that it’s likely buried because of further planetary war is awful. This is definitely a doom & gloom episode, and SG-1 needs to find a way to redeem themselves after this FUBAR planet.

Off the Grid starts out with the team in trouble then rewinds. The team is captured while investigating some weird psychoactive corn because someone’s stealing Stargates. That someone’s Baal and he’s working with Neerus (big fat guy with lots of gluttony jokes). I suspected the’d do something with the corn with him, but they did not. The team is saved (beamed away at the last second) by the Odyssey which is earth’s newest fancy ship. Anyway, after an improbably long hallway firefight the gates are beamed off and the team escapes through one of the gates just before Baal’s ship blows up. I’ve decided I really, really, dislike the beaming. Too much trek influence.

The Scourge puts the team on the planet babysitting a delegation from Earth overseeing the “Gamma” site where they’re checking out a bug that looks suspiciously like a scarab from the Mummy movies, and indeed, they eat flesh and crawl under the skin and explode from the host’s mouth just like them. The team takes a very long time to escape to safety. Other than introduce another bug like creature which doesn’t really get affected by gunfire to replace the Replicators, this episode just kinda sits there.

Arthur’s Mantle shoves Mitchell and Carter into another dimension such that they’re invisible while working on an Ancient device of Merlin’s. Tealc, meanwhile, is hunting a Sodan warrior that has gone crazy and killed everyone. Oh, and that guy’s invisible. And it’s the guy that Mitchell thought he killed in “Babylon.” The guy who trained Mitchell on the planet (the crazy guy’s brother) died offscreen. Lame. Mitchell decides to go through the stargate even though he’s invisible in order to help Teal’c… by being invisible. Turns out the gear the Sodan use to make themselves invisible cancels out the other dimension invisibility so…. yeah, he and Teal’c kill the crazy guy. And the whole point of this was the thing they were studying at the beginning describes a weapon that can kill Ori (as well as the Ancients for that matter).

Crusade is a very heavy exposition episode. Vala returns, she’s pregnant, and she’s taken over Daniel’s body using some communication thingy. She’s in the galaxy of the Ori having been thrown there when she destroyed the super-gate in Beachhead. For some reason the Ori have decided to impregnate her, and they’re also starting a (wait for it) crusade against the non-believers. I don’t mind this episode, but I mind how they did it. It’s like a clip show! It’s all flashbacks of Vala’s while she was missing. Incidentally, the true believers in this are genuinely scary. Interplanetary religious fanaticism needs to get rooted out NOW.

Camelot follows up Crusade and Arthur’s Mantle in that SG-1 has to find the Ancient weapon (cue more sword in the stone style fighting) and there’s another super-gate and the Ori are coming through. Cliffhanger on multiple ships exploding putting multiple SG-1 personnel in danger as well as Vala who’s apparently seconds from giving birth while on one of the Ori ships. An impressive looking episode to be sure!

9 down, 1 to go!
9 down, 1 to go!
My final thoughts are the team is so scattered during the cliffhanger (and has been all season) that I don’t feel the same level of SG-1 camaraderie I did in other times. This reinforces my thought of this as a different show than when SG-1 started out which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it’s a very large shift in expectations. Annoyances from Baal and the weird bugs aside, The Ori are not an enemy that can be vanquished in the next episode (or two or three, given the amount of warmup — practically all of season 9), so it’s likely that this will be a big problem all next season. Given that this season was definitely a transition season, there’s a lot riding on season ten (the final one) going out with a bang.

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