Stargate SG-1: Season 1 — a review

I began watching this series many years ago. I stopped during the first season.

My memory can no longer be trusted, but I believe I stopped watching because—at that time—I still hadn’t watched all of the episodes of the various Star Trek series. I felt like I was cheating on the franchise that brought me to the dance.

It was Trek that seduced me into the science-fiction fold, back in the day. At least on television. Asimov, Heinlein, Clarke, Silverberg, Bradbury and others had already hooked me through their novels and short stories, of course. Then, The Twilight Zone and—in a less profound way—Lost in Space had me in an outer space frame of mind.

This was back before Star Trek: Discovery , Star Trek: Lower Decks and Star Trek: Picard existed, by the way. I had launched a huge viewing/writing project which I pretentiously dubbed Boldly Going, and I began watching The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager and Enterprise—all at the same time.

Not simultaneously: That would be weird. I was watching a couple of episodes of each series every week, for a long, long time. I had watched most of TNG prior to this, but the other three series were new to me. I also watched all of the Star Trek movies again, including the J.J. Abrams reboots. Then, I doubled back and watched Star Trek: The Original Series and the Filmation cartoon Star Trek: The Animated Series again.

Since then, I’ve also remained current on the latest iteration of Trek shows, and I’m looking forward to Star Trek: Strange New Worlds. I’ve paid my dues and shown my respect. I’ve danced with the franchise more than enough, I’d say.

Without guilt, I started watching Stargate SG-1 again. This series is its own thing, based upon the 1994 motion picture starring Kurt Russell and James Spader. It’s not Star Trek. Sure, there are some similarities, points of comparison common to all science fiction properties. Some of the same topics and themes are in play in both franchises. Some of the same actors, at times.

This may be a controversial opinion, but I think Season 1 of Stargate: SG-1 is better than Season 1 of Star Trek: The Next Generation. I know, this sounds like I’m boasting too much about SG-1. I’m not really. It’s just that the first season of TNG was soooo bad (it really was: watch it again).

Fortunately, decades have passed since I watched the movie Stargate. I experienced zero cognitive dissonance accepting Richard Dean Anderson as Col. Jack O’Neill, a role played by Kurt Russell in the movie. Nor did replacing James Spader with Michael Shanks in the Dr. Daniel Jackson role bother me.

The years that have passed since I watched the movie have also fogged over the details I remember about this film. I have a suspicion that the television series has some key differences from the source material. But, since I don’t know what they are, I also don’t care.

One huge benefit of watching a long-running television series from the beginning is that you get to be on the ground floor of the overarching story’s worldbuilding. Since this series was based upon a feature film, some of this was accomplished before the first episode. I already understood the concept of stargates, alien-manufactured devices that create artificial wormholes to allow interstellar travel over impossible, mindboggling distances without the use of spacecraft.

I’ve spoken at length before about the narrative complications caused by cosmic distances. As we all know, space is big. Science fiction authors have been creating fictional constructs to get around this fact for many decades. Warp drives, hyperspace, Infinite Improbability engines—and, of course, wormholes, of both the naturally-occuring and artificially-created varieties. In the in-game universe of the Mass Effect video game series, this fictional construct is the mass relay. In this one, it is the stargate.

Stargates, actually. For this fictional form of space travel, there has to be a sending and receiving stargate. Fortunately, for the sake of our story, whoever created these devices placed a lot of them around the universe.

What is particularly neat about this concept is that the existence of stargates allows our main characters to journey to different planets and civilizations in each episode, to face new challenges and complications, without having to use spaceships. This eliminates some of the off-camera travel time always implied in a series such as Star Trek.

“During the two-week journey to Alpha Omicron Theta, Data composed an original Klingon opera that he performed in Ten Forward—”

You know what I mean. Even at warp speeds, it always takes time for the Enterprise-D to get from one episode to the next. The viewer assumes that much of this time is uneventful and is willing to skip over the mundane parts to get to the next predicament our stalwart Starfleet officers will face.

In Stargate SG-1, our characters are in the Cheyenne Mountain base complex one second, and on Chulak or P3X-1279 one second later. No real lag time. This is a time saver. As we soon find out, conventional space travel in huge starships does exist, but Earth hasn’t advance technologically to that level yet.

Smarter people than me have pointed out that travel through use of stargates is a lot like matter transporter technology in Trek, only over much larger distances. That sounds about right to me.

The discovery of the stargates led to the creation of Stargate Command and the many-leveled mountain base headquarters. Also, in the beginning, there were nine separate SG teams, each with separate areas of expertise and duties. Our main characters on the series are members of SG-1, the flagship unit.

The commanding officer of SG-1 is Col. Jack O’Neill (Richard Dean Anderson), who was pulled out of retirement to lead the team. Anderson’s O’Neill isn’t quite as serious and military-straight as I recall of Kurt Russell’s flattop version of the character. He’s quick to crack a joke and is frequently borderline insubordinate, if not actually full-tilt insubordinate. As the series forges ahead, we learn a few things about Jack. He was always interested in astronomy. He was also a husband and father. After O’Neill’s son accidentally killed himself with his service weapon, his marriage fell apart and O’Neill still carries the burden of guilt. Similarly, O’Neill lost his surrogate Abydonian son, Skaara, when the boy becomes a host for a Goa’uld, the main alien enemies of the series.

Dr. Daniel Jackson (Michael Shanks) is a civilian research assistant on SG-1. He’s also an archaeologist and linguist, and was the man responsible for deciphering the puzzle of the chevrons on the stargate. Like O’Neill, Dr. Jackson shares a personal loss caused by the Goa’ulds. He lived on Abydos for a year after the events of the movie, until his wife Sha’re was turned into a host by the Goa’uld.

The final human member of SG-1 is Capt. Samantha “Sam” Carter (Amanda Tapping). Capt. Carter is an astrophysicist, engineer and pilot, the second-in-command in SG-1, and is considered to be a leading authority on the Stargate. I am familiar with the actor from her role as Naomi on Supernatural. On this series, at least in this season, she is more of an amalgam of Col. O’Neill and Dr. Jackson, with apparent traits of both characters. That favorite combo of the Dionysian and Apollonian. Of all the main characters in the series, we learn the least about her in the first season.

The fourth member of SG-1 is Teal’c of Chulak (Christopher Judge). Teal’c was First Prime for the Goa’uld Apophis. Essentially, he was the leader of the Goa’uld’s royal guard. Teal’c is also a Jaffa, a race of beings genetically engineered to be living incubators for Goa’uld larvae. The Goa’uld are snake-like symbiotes that take control of other living beings as hosts. The hosts, in turn, have increased life spans and impressive healing factors. Teal’c was convinced, by Col. O’Neill, to desert his post and help the humans escape from Apophis. For his actions, he was given the opportunity to join SG-1, but was branded a traitor by the Goa’ulds. We find out that Teal’c also left a wife and son behind when he defected to Earth.

I feel I should point out the similarity between the Goa’uld and Trek‘s own symbiotic species, the Trill. One may have inspired or informed the other, but there were alien-possession stories that preceded both, I’m sure.

Gen. George S. Hammond (Don S. Davis) is the commander of Stargate Command. Although he is in charge of the entire base, he seems to have a particular interest in SG-1. Davis seems destined to play a man in uniform. I’m not certain that I’ve ever seen the actor play anything other than a military man. He was Dana Scully’s naval officer father in The X-Files, as I recall. He was also Air Force Maj. Garland Briggs on Twin Peaks. He played stern-but-fair very well, I think.

Dr. Janet Frasier (Teryl Rothery) is the Chief Medical Officer during this season. We see her quite regularly, but don’t get more than a cursory glimpse into her personality and backstory. In this, she has a lot in common with Capt. Carter. But, honestly, more in common with Dr. Beverly Crusher.

I guess that’s one of my gripes about the series, so far. The female characters, in some ways, seem like they’ve been placed on a second tier. Capt. Carter’s characterization varies a bit erratically from militant feminist to convenient damsel-in-distress. She begins to feel more fully formed by the end of the season, but it was touch-and-go for a while. Dr. Frasier, similarly, is little more than a pretty woman in a lab coat. Again, the Dr. Crusher comparison is inevitable.

Our male characters don’t gain a whole lot of depth this season either, so maybe it’s not just a gender-related issue.

Another gripe. All the apostrophes in the alien names and terminology. Teal’c. Goa’uld. Sha’re. Tau’ri. Heelk’sha. Bra’tac. Prim’tah. Chappa’ai. Ha’tak. It becomes tiresome, and no two characters seem to pronounce “Goa’uld” the same way. It gets said a lot.

I have the same gripe when I’m reading science fiction stories that use the same apostrophe convention, which became a genre trope over the years. I prefer phoenetic spellings, unless the apostrophe actually stands for a certain sound instead of a pause or syllabic demarcation.

Most of the episodic stories in the first season are okay, but nothing that deviates radically from the science-fiction television I have watched in the past. As with the Trek series, I’ve maintained a spreadsheet ranking each episode from one to five. There are no fives this season. Only one four, in fact: the seventh episode, “Cold Lazarus,” in which we dug into O’Neill’s backstory and the tragic death of his son, actually made me tear up a bit. Emotional manipulation? Sure. But, manipulation that was executed brilliantly, in my opinion.

The remaining episodes are important mainly for the worldbuilding they accomplish. We learn that, through past use of the stargates, humans have already spread across the galaxy (or is it universe? it gets confusing) and their race is known as the Tau’ri. Dr. Daniel Jackson says that translates to “First Ones,” or something like that. But, aside from the Goa’uld, there are other races of beings out there. We’re introduced to the Nox, featuring a non-Trek performance by Armin Shimerman (Quark on DS9). It seems that the Norse gods were also an alien race known as the Asgards. We find out that the Goa’uld, as a scavenger race, did not build the stargates, but we’re not told who did. At least, not yet. One episode suggests that there was a fourth major galactic race—in addition to the Asgards, Nox and Goa’ulds (the Tau’ri are not counted as a major race yet). The fourth major race hasn’t been named yet.

Many of the episodes seem like retreaded science-fiction stories I’ve seen or read before. We get a “Heart of Darkness” episode in which an ex-boyfriend of Capt. Carter goes native and promotes himself as a god. There’s another in which the members of SG-1 are duplicated as androids, with all of their memories intact. The concept of alternate universes hinted at by quantum mechanics is explored. Nothing I can point to as truly original. Often interesting, but not groundbreaking.

There were only three episodes that I scored as subpar, however. One of these was a clip show placed in the penultimate position before the season’s cliffhanger. I’m not going to name the other two. I just wanted to point out that having only three episodes that I judged to be “stinkers” is not a terrible showing.

That’s the thing about Season 1 of Stargate SG-1. It’s okay. Not great, but okay. While this may not sound like a ringing endorsement, that’s higher praise than some series would get from me.

Firewater’s Does-It-Say-”Colonel”-Anywhere-on-My-Uniform? Report Card: B

For me, it is ultimately the ideas behind the various stories that appeal to me, moreso than the individual episodes themselves. By the end of the season, the made-up words and civilizations no longer seemed odd, and the main characters felt like they had real working relationships. While I’m not the biggest fan of the recurring Egyptian motifs, I’m happy to say that this series, unlike the movie, doesn’t dwell solely on this.

I plan to watch all ten seasons of the show.

2 thoughts on “Stargate SG-1: Season 1 — a review

  1. Thanks to Amazon which added the MGM channel to its Prime Video offer, I have started a rewatch of the series: unfortunately for now only the first two seasons of SG-1, the first three of Atlantis and the two of SGU are available, but I hope the others will be added along the way (and the recent news about Amazon looking at the acquisition of MGM fill me with hope…).
    SG-1 is an overall light and carefree show which does not delve too deeply into various issues and happily skips over many details (how come, for example, that there is never a language barrier in any of the visited worlds?), but right now, after the harrowing year and a half we just endured, light and carefree seems to be exactly what I need, and this looks like the perfect exception to the general SF offerings from Netflix & Co, which lean too much toward the dark and grim. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I wrote the language barrier (or lack thereof) off as another version of Trek’s Universal Translator. While I “like” this show, and the characters, I don’t “love” it. At least not yet. I find SG-1 total lack of concern over alien pathogens more troubling. Plus, why only four members in an SG team? That seems to guarantee that they’ll be ambushed and captured every other episode. Here’s where I have to remind myself of Hodgson’s Law: it’s just a show; I should really just relax.

      Liked by 1 person

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