Through the 'gate

In 1994, Stargate hit theaters, as well as the auditorium at my university where we caught a lot of movies for free. It was a decent bit of science fiction that connected Egyptian mythology to an alien race who could travel from their world to ours through a metal ring that opened wormholes between planets. The government discovers one of these on an archaeological dig, figures out how to “dial”, and steps through to adventure. I liked it, but was surprised when it spawned a television series, Stargate: SG1, three years later.

I caught a few episodes on weekends, in syndication on broadcast television. I liked it, though it didn't fall into a “must see” category, just something I watched when there was nothing else to do. I caught bits of episodes here and there, enough to have a sense of the show, but not enough to follow the overall plot. I'd miss a few episodes and suddenly a major character would be dead, but not really, as friends explained to me. Ten years the show ran before being canceled, though two direct-to-DVD movies are on the way this year and their spinoff Stargate: Atlantis seems to be going strong. I'm long overdue in catching up, and lately I've been working to remedy that. I'm watching the series from the beginning, in order, even episodes I've seen before. I'm almost through the second season, so at this rate I'll probably be caught up before the end of the year. It's a good thing there aren't many new shows on right now.

Along the way, I'll check out episode reviews after the fact, careful to avoid spoilers although I already know a lot of major plot points, just not where they fit into the grand design. I'm enjoying a lot of the in-jokes, some more obvious than others. In the first or second episode for example, a character mentions ”MacGyver”-ing something to make it work, a reference to Richard Dean Anderson's previous series. In Stargate, he plays Colonel Jack O'Neill, leader of SG-1, a team of four who routinely explore other worlds through the Stargate. In one episode he tells a reporter to make sure he gets his last name right, as there's another “Colonel O'Neil” who spells his name with one “l” and doesn't have his sense of humor. In the original film, Kurt Russell played as Colonel O'Neil, with one “l”, and without the sarcasm Anderson brought to the role. The injokes are great, and for all the ones I've caught or read about, I'm sure there are others I've missed.

In going through the series, I can't help noticing an obvious superficial resemblance to the Fantastic Four, and wondering how I missed it before. These four explorers don't have the same powers as the cosmic comic book heroes, but they are three guys and a girl who adventure into the unknown on a regular basis. O'Neill isn't the brain that Reed Richards is, but he is a competent military leader. His wisecracks are closer to the younger member of the FF, Johnny Storm, while the “kid brother” on his team, Dr. Daniel Jackson, serves as the guy who explains things to everyone else. Jackson, portrayed by James Spader in the film and Michael Shanks in the series, is the archaeologist and expert in ancient languages and cultures. His skills were not only useful in figuring out how to use the symbols on the gate to dial addresses for wormholes to other planets, but help them when they meet new cultures. One premise of the show is that a lot of the life they find on other planets are descended from slaves taken from Earth in the past by their primary enemies, the Goa'uld. For more scientific and technological knowledge, the team can depend on their female, Samantha Carter. Finally, there's Teal'C, who isn't a monster like the Thing but does have a symbiotic worm in his belly. A former servant of the Goa'uld, he turned on his masters when he recognized them as false gods enslaving his people, and joined O'Neill's team.

SG-1 is one of about 20 or so teams that are sent through Earth's gate on a regular basis to explore new worlds, discover new technologies and civilizations, and gain all the assets they'd need to defeat the Goa'Uld. I think they eventually do, and face a more powerful enemy, but I've got about 8 seasons left to see that play out firsthand. I like the dynamic of how the various characters interact, and with each episode I'm impressed with each new story. I didn't think that movie had enough to spawn a whole series, or that the premise wouldn't become repetitive. Sometimes an episode deals with the overarching plot with the Goa'uld, and sometimes it just involves an interaction with some new race. They often find new and unique twists, and the episodes aren't always set offworld. There are challenges at home, such as rogue government agents and greedy politicians. In one episode, the gate is stuck open to a world being consumed by a black hole, and the result is a time dilation effect on their base in which time moves more slowly there than in the outside world. There are a lot of awesome scientific concepts like that throughout the episodes I've seen thus far. Best of all, the good guys don't always win. They're flawed and human, and may screw up from time to time. I've seen them free an old woman from a prison only to learn she was a disease spreading “destroyer of worlds.” They befriended a race descended from Native Americans, and planned to harvest minerals from them. Unfortunately the “spirits” this race spoke of turned out to be quite real, alien shapeshifters protecting them. I couldn't believe I was watching a show in which the actions of antagonists were actually justified.

Even knowing what I know, between talking with friends and episodes I've caught through the years, the show still manages to surprise me and offer new mysteries. Will Daniel Jackson ever save his wife from Goa'Uld possession? In real life, Shanks actually hooked up with the actress who played her, and they have a daughter. She's also only credited with four episodes, which I hope doesn't answer my question. I really should stop reading things about this show. Shanks is currently married to Lexa Doig, who I know best as the hot artificial intelligence of the ship in Andromeda. For someone playing the young nerdy guy, he does okay for himself in real life. Doig apparently joins the show in its ninth season. Again, I have to stop reading before I spoil every mystery. The biggest one right now is why someone like me wasn't watching this sooner. Time though, as I've learned, is all relative.


Blogger Lorna said...

I've had nightmaresabout the wraith in "SG-Atlantis"

3/07/2008 12:59 AM  
Blogger Rhodester said...

Lorna, coffeesis points out that dreaming about the wraith is indicative of wraith dna.. and you DO have long white hair and cat eyes..

3/07/2008 4:24 AM  
Blogger cube said...

I always liked the Stargate show better than the movie. There are a lot of Trek references and guest appearances by Trek actors too.

Sam Carter moved over to Atlantis replacing Dr. Weir but not for long. Carter will be replaced by the actor who played the EMH on Voyager because she's going to get her own show.

3/07/2008 1:24 PM  
Blogger cube said...

BTW if you really want to get the behind the scenes stuff & inside jokes, a good source is a book entitled, "Beyond The Gate", by Keith Topping.

3/07/2008 1:26 PM  
Blogger Kev said...

I loved the Stargate movie when it came out. I was very apprehensive when I heard they were going to make into a TV series starring MacGyver, and resisted watching for quite some time, until I read several favorable reviews a couple of years after the series started. Then I started watching and got HOOKED! I love SG1. The last two or 4 seasons weren't nearly as good as the earlier seasons, but still had some good episodes. The spinoff series SGA, like most spinoff series, kind of stumbled along the first couple of years trying to come into its own. But SGA is really making a good showing of being its own show lately, even though they've been treading into SG1 territory ocassionally since SG1 was canceled.

3/07/2008 6:56 PM  
Blogger Rey said...

Points to IMDB for having the worst picture of Lexa Doig on the internet as her main profile image.

3/08/2008 6:37 PM  
Blogger MCF said...

Yeah that does her NO justice. I don't know what's up with IMDB; it seems like most people have the worst possible profile pics. It's user-maintained, right? Maybe people intentionally vote on horrible photos?

3/08/2008 8:45 PM  

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