Stargate: Season 5 Review

In this review, I discuss Michael Shanks dissatisfaction with Stargate, the problem of spoofiness (when it works/when it doesn't), Stargate's best 2-parter, and why Jack is such a great leader.

Enemies: Jack, Daniel, Sam and Sam's dad are stuck millions of miles from earth and . . . they run into the replicators. Ugh. There are few things more boring than mechanical insects. This is one reason the Borg were so cool—technology PLUS a human face. However, this episode does prepare us for one of the most interesting Stargate episodes . . .

Threshold: As Teal'c fights his brainwashing by Apophis, we get to see his history/conversion to the Teal'c we know and love. The vignettes are well-done as well as believable: Teal'c's original story is one of slow self-discovery as he evaluates his personal theology against his own observations and cultural beliefs. His is less the act of a rebel and more the act of a mature man. He doesn't replace his old beliefs with anti-ism but rather with a new way of thinking (or, rather, he is waiting and hoping for a new way of thinking when he runs into SG-1). Very cool.

Ascension: Nice alien-visitor episode starring the very sexy Sean Patrick Flanery. It is also a Carter episode that takes place outside the base, which is a nice change. And this episode tells us more about Teal'c's likes: Star Wars!

This episode also includes a great line by Jack. When Carter expresses surprise that he has never seen Star Wars, he says, "Well, you know me and sci-fi."

Absolutely! Sci-fi would be totally normal, everyday life to the people living it.

The Fifth Man: Interesting episode about a being that can insert its way into people's lives and thoughts. This episode establishes a technology/ability that will show up later in a very cool 2-parter. John de Lancie does a great job as the suspicious, antagonistic Colonel Simmons (a kind of terse "Q").

Red Sky: An episode that deals with potential bad consequences of SG-1's gate-travel. Me, I just always figured there was a mop-up crew who came along later to clean up SG-1's loose ends, kind of like the Federation diplomatic core that comes along after Picard ushers a new planet into the Federation and takes off in his ship. (Although in general, SG-1 is more than willing to clean up its own loose ends when it knows about them.)

Rite of Passage: So, little girls from prior seasons do grow up to be obnoxious teenagers. (It is a different actress playing Cassandra although four years can make that big a difference!)

This is one of those episodes which is resolved with people breaking rules in a way that, if the SG-C wasn't such a secret organization, would result in a court-martial.

Beast of Burden: An interesting episode about slavery. The writers did an excellent job demonstrating the matter-of-fact attitude of the slave trader. It is despicable but true to life.

The episode ends in a fairly messy way, but it is one of those episodes where a non-messy solution really isn't possible.

The Tomb: The bugs are back! This time, it is a real bug. Ho hum.

Between Two Fires: This starts out as a murder mystery, morphs into a political-oriented suspense, and turns into preparation for later military-type episodes. In general, this season seems to be about the outcome of unintended consequences.

2001: Nice episode referencing the episode "2010" from Season 4. It also has the feel of Season 4 episodes with Daniel doing archaeological research, Jack pointing out the obvious commonsense solution, and Carter saving the planet.

Desperate Measures: Not a totally uninteresting episode that sets up political and military conflicts for later. However, this episode reminds me that this is the season where Michael Shanks decided to leave (he then came back because in Hollywood a consistent income is harder to come by than even fame and fortune, and he's not an idiot). His decision, or at least part of his decision, was Stargate was no longer telling planet-based narratives, and he was right. The show was beginning to be more about BIG BAD ONGOING PROBLEMS than cohesive "figure out the issue on this particular planet" single story-lines. Episodes still had strong individual arcs but more and more episodes depended on prior events and had military or diplomacy themes.

Wormhole X-Treme: One of those episodes that spoofs itself. This sort of thing is only possible in later seasons, and it doesn't always work. The problem with a show spoofing itself is that the writers risk losing the show's fans. I think Stargate fans are fun and relaxed enough to grin at some spoofiness. But that's largely because the directors and writers of Stargate are pretty fun and loose people.

When Buffy mocked itself, on the other hand, there was always this feeling that the writers and director Really Meant It. They were using the spoof to comment on the wackiness of fans or the nature of reality. This sort of spoofiness is just tiresome.

In order for a spoof to work it needs to be either fun and cute (not take itself seriously at all) or have heart. When reviewing Princess Bride, I realized that although Goldman is sort of spoofing the fantasy genre, he does it with so much love and affection--heart--it doesn't feel like a spoof. The same is true of Galaxy Quest's spoof of Star Trek. These spoofs are tributes rather than mockeries.

"Wormhole X-Treme" is fun and cute. It has some classic moments like the moment when the director and Martin can't explain why a person out of phase wouldn't fall through the floor; when Peter DeLuise keeps shouting "Bigger" at the prop guys; and when Jack, as the Air Force consultant, keeps suggesting that the characters "just shoot" the aliens ("Sure, why not?").

Proving Ground: One of my absolute favorites with Hailey (Elizabeth Rosen) and Lieutenant Elliott (Courtenay Stevens) plus Grace Park from Battlestar Galactica! (This was actually before BG.) I love the ending—a wonderful rite-of-passage-meets-heroism moment.

48 Hours: Another diplomatic/military quagmire where Simmons puts pressure on Hammond to reopen the gate, Daniel deals with angry Russians, and Carter works with McKay to save Teal'c.

Stargate does diplomatic quagmire episodes very well, but I get a tad tired of them. However, this episode does one thing very, very, very, very well: Rodney McKay. I've always been impressed that they let McKay stay McKay. He becomes more likable in Stargate: Atlantis, but he is still McKay.

And I always love it when Maybourne shows up.

Summit & Last Stand: This is one of the few military two-parters that I really, really like. Daniel is used intelligently in this episode as an undercover agent skilled in diplomacy and fluent Goa-uld. Courtenay Vance shows up as Lt. Elliot in a marvelous and touching pay-off for "Proving Ground" (the character really should have his own fan fiction). The mission that SG-1 is on makes sense; it also makes sense to abort it. The new bad guy is introduced in a clever way. Compared to Stargate's 2-part season enders, this 2-parter is in a class by itself.

Fail Safe: An asteroid is going to hit the earth! I like the use of the SG engineers in the beginning of this episode. Otherwise, it is a pure action episode with a little bit of a twist. Again, it shows the growing difference between this season and the earlier SG-1 seasons. Not a lot of investigating-a-new-place going on!

Warrior: This episode deals with an ongoing issue: what will become of the Jaffa once/if the Goa'uld are destroyed? It also addresses the problem of replacing one obsession with another. The ending is something of a let-down since it fails to address the problem, falling back on "hey, he was a Goa'uld all along!" However, there are two things I like about this episode: (1) Jack's unrepentant attitude that his modern, American, Western, secular view of the universe is in fact a darn good way to view the universe; (2) the explanation for why SG-1 continues to use guns rather than staff weapons even though staff weapons look cooler: guns are just way more practical.

Menace: This is one of those "bring an impossibly dangerous item back through the Stargate" episodes. You'd think General Hammond would stop allowing this to happen.

But it does put a face to the replicators (finally).

The Sentinel: Another ongoing issue episode (in this case, the N.I.D's nefarious behavior). There is a nice character arc/pay-off. Otherwise, this episode definitely confirms Michael Shanks' belief that Stargate was heading in a new direction. The end of Season 5 is considerably different in tone/style from Seasons 1-4.

Meridian: Daniel's death/ascension and the introduction of Jonas Quinn. As a leave-taking, this episode is very well-done with a great heroic sub-plot. Also, we get to see how much Jack's personality/views have rubbed off on Daniel, and I like that Daniel turns to Jack to explain his final decision.

Revelations: And . . . it's back to another military episode. And . . . I already miss Daniel. It's sad that he's not there to deliver deadpan looks when Jack starts rambling ("Don't you think we should put a seat back here?")

The new problem with the Asgard is fairly interesting, but Anubis as the new bad guy is fairly boring. Again, no face. Ho hum.

I do love the little smirk Jack gives at the end of the episode, indicating that he knows Daniel is nearby. Jack's inner certainty dovetails with the Asgard's belief that despite Daniel's more philosophical nature and Carter's genius level intelligence, Jack is representative of the future of the human race. He is both down-to-earth and open-minded, rooted in the present and more than ready to take on the future. His leadership is based on letting other people do their thing, getting input, then making a concrete decision. And he always backs his people.

In fact, Jack is one of the best leaders/centers I've ever seen in an ongoing series. He never fails to interest/amuse, but at the same time, he doesn't hog the story. He's a non-sagging-the-storyline center.

Even with Season 5's new direction, Stargate is still great sci-fi!

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