This past week, I re-watched several seasons of Stargate SG1, including both direct-to-dvd movies, and a couple of episodes of Stargate Atlantis. Didn’t find the strength to watch any Stargate Universe, as that was my least favourite incarnation of the franchise. But my re-watch nevertheless brought back to me my intense sadness when SG1 was cancelled. I’m not sure why I miss this show so much, so I thought I’d write about it a bit.
(Check out my review of the SG1 finale, “Unending”, which was broadcast 7 years ago. Sigh.)
I’m not alone in this feeling. Lisa Granshaw has an article about how the original 1994 Stargate movie inspired its cultish love. I think that love has more to do with the TV show than the movie, though; I really don’t re-watch the movie much.
The internet is chock full of discussions, like this one, about how much fans miss the Stargate TV show, so many years later. One fellow in Australia even tried starting a kickstarter campaign to raise $50 million to fund a 3rd season of Stargate Universe. He failed. Around the same time, fans, actors and production staff from SGU started a change.org petition to convince Netflix to adopt that prematurely cancelled show.
This is not the first time I’ve written about this. I bemoaned the loss of my beloved Stargate in an earlier article, and have yet to really accept the loss of that particular fictional universe. With the recent announcement of a “reboot” of the original movie, Stargate will re-enter poplar consciousness. But it won’t be the version that I love. Rather, it will be a new continuity unrelated to the TV shows.
There was some hope when the shows had ended that our beloved characters and story arcs would live on in direct-to-dvd movies. Two were produced: The Ark of Truth, which was rushed to completion, and Stargate: Continuum, which more resembles a good old fashioned SG1 episode.
During SG-1’s magical 200th episode, a during-the-credits scene offered this special meta-moment. “Meta” because the actor interviewed is playing the role of an actor playing the role of fictional depiction of the actor Christopher Judge’s version of the alien Teal’c. Hard to follow, right? I love that these words came out of the mouth of an unnecessary character during a fake off-camera moment during the credits:
To me it bespoke the show’s commitment to the heart of science fiction, its romantic quest for context against the backdrop of intergalactic human travail.
So Stargate’s absence from my TV screen is a saddening experience for me, especially since I feel we were robbed of the promised direct-to-dvd movies that would continue the story or at least offer closure You can read producer Joseph Mallozzi’s blog entry about the plot for the unfilmed Stargate Atlantis movie, Extinction.
I’m not blind to the show’s failings. It suffered from that necessity of TV sci-fi: all the aliens can mysteriously speak English. All alien planets strangely look like British Columbia and have terrestrial flora. No one seems concerned about extraterrestrial micro-organisms, radiation, or any of the other genuine theoretical threats to space explorers. And every intergalactic threat was handled by a handful of six Americans under a mountain in Colorado; you’d think the President would assign some more people to an existential crisis.
Despite all these failings, there’s a reason Stargate retains a special spot in my skiffy heart. And when I say Stargate, I really mean SG-1. Stargate: Atlantis was fun; but it was fairly predictiable space opera. So below I’ve listed some of the reasons I love this stupid little TV show.
1. Samantha Carter
Do you realize how rare it is to find a female character on a science fiction TV show that isn’t a caricature? This was the very first thing I noticed about SG-1. Carter is written and portrayed in such a way that her gender is rarely ever noticed. She is a highly competent officer who dresses like a soldier and comports herself like one. There’s no requirement for her to do ridiculous high-kicking fake martial arts, like so many other ridiculous female “bad-ass” portrayals. In a word, she is believable.
2. Minimal sexism
Following on from #1, one of the glorious aspects of SG-1 is that it effortlessly passes the Bechdel test, which is a test for how sexist a show is. In short, it tests for whether there are two female characters having a conversation about something other than a man. This happens regularly in SG-1.
3. Minimal racism
As the premise of Stargate is that the galaxy is populated by the descendants of humans kidnapped from Earth thousands of years ago, and that those populations are defined by ancient cultures evolved to present day, it’s not surprising that the team encounters people from a variety of cultural traditions.
Mind you, those cultures are often dealt with simplistically. But the fact that elements of Norse, West African, Hindu, Near Eastern, and Mongolian cultures are examined in the course of the show is rare enough.
One of my pet peeves with respect to American science fiction is that aliens tend to be white people. This is still true in Stargate. But it happens a little less frequently than, say, in the various versions of Star Trek. Most of the racial diversity came in the form of the generic jaffa warriors, which is sort of a cheat. And it’s always sort of concerned me that the jaffa were so often black, whereas black actors were underrepresented in other races. A part of me thinks the producers were going for a slave allegory, which is problematic.
4. Introspection of the US Military
Stargate won me over with one line. I don’t remember the words exactly, but it was in a scene with the hero (Colonel Jack O’Neill) and his boss, General Hammond. I’m paraphrasing:
Hammond: It is not the policy of the US government or its military to meddle with the internal politics of another sovereign power.
Jack: Um…. since when, sir?
Hammond: Well, since this current administration, anyway.
In one exchange, they acknowledge the concerns of the educated viewer and re-establish the heroic credentials of the protagonists.
5. Somewhat accurate science
I watch old episodes and compare it to current and more recent shows, like Fringe, and I marvel at how accurate much of the science was. Sure, there were frequent introductions of fictional science elements, like the ubiquitous “subspace”, which is a writer’s cheat to avoid the limitations of sub-luminal travel speeds. But in general, even the advanced physics had a core of truth to it.
I draw your attention the episode titled, “A Matter of Time“, in which the gate is connected via wormhole to a planet being consumed by a black hole. The base is affected by the time dilation affects of hypergravity, with time moving more slowly the closer to the gate you are.
The fact that time dilation was used at all is remarkable. That it was accurately linked to hypergravity and effectively explained thusly to the audience is wonderful. And then there was Carter’s statement (paraphrased) to the effect that “the dilation effects are happening in advance of the gravity wave” conveniently explained away why they weren’t being crushed by the black hole’s gravity. That’s really clever storytelling that doesn’t insult the intelligence of an educated audience.
6. Kick-ass theme song
Yep, and it even has lyrics.
And with that, I think I’m going to go home and dial up some old episodes….