Dispatches from the Suburbs of Hell

Heaven is for the obedient. Hell is for the wrathful. What of the ones in between? We wind up in the Suburbs. Our sin is individuality. Our punishment is boredom. But at least we're in good company.

Location: New England, United States

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Closing the Gate

Alas, tis a sad day in Geekdom. "Stargate SG-1" closed its doors Friday night, after ten years of galactic adventure. It's always sad to see a favorite TV program get taken off the air, but I don't shed too many tears for it. I mean, ten years is a damned respectable run for any TV program, let alone a work of science fiction; no single Trek show lasted that long. Besides, it's no secret that the show was getting a little long in the tooth. It was simply time to say goodbye.

Stargate's unprecedented longevity is a thing to speculate upon. I think it was largely due to its relatively light tone. The show never managed to get as deep and thought-provoking as Trek good be at its best, and it never became as relentlessly grim and troubling as Battlestar Galactica (no small feat, since the crew of SG-1 faced planetwide annihiliation on an almost weekly basis). There was a good humor throughout the show, a sense of, dare I say, swashbuckling adventure, that carried our characters through situations that could have been played with far more seriousness. A small group of intelligent and well-trained heroes taking on galactic overlords with superior technology and delusions of godhood could make for a very grim show, but somehow Stargate managed to be consistently entertaining and largely light-hearted. It also helped that the show was predominately a character piece, much of the drama and comedy coming from the interaction between our team members. It always seemed like the actors were having a really good time. Especially Richard Dean Anderson; he brought a deadpan humor to the character of Jack O'Neill that was frankly necessary. You can't save the world every other week and not develop a sense of humor about it. In a weird way, Stargate had more in common with a sitcom than a sci-fi drama. The coworkers as surrogate family, facing the challenges of everyday life. It just so happens that their everyday challenges involve foiling Apophis or Anubis's plans to annihiliate the Earth.

(Of course it also helped that Sci-Fi Channel has a history of crappy original programming, so that when they get their hands on a decent show they milk it for all it's worth. Makes you wonder why they finally decided to cancel it, especially in the light of the news that their latest cash cow BSG will be ending next season. Feh. I stopped questioning the wisdom of Sci-Fi Channel programming execs when they cancelled MST3K.)

That being said, having the show be cancelled at the end of the tenth season was a bit...awkward. You'll know what I'm talking about if you've watched the show faithfully. It was a clumsy point at which to end the show, thematically speaking. In truth, the show could have ended at the end of the eighth season. It reached a logical termination point: the Goa'uld had been overthrown, the age-old struggle for Jaffa independence had been realized, Anubis had been neutralized, and Carter and O'Neill were on the verge of finally consummating their long-standing romantic tension. It could have ended then and there; some say it SHOULD have.

But when the ninth season rolled around, there were some good things. Some new cast members stepped in, which is always a good thing when a show is on the air for so long. I've always been a fan of Beau Bridges, and as General Landry he was a nice blending of Hammond's grandfatherly warmth and O'Neill's wry wit. And while I have...issues...with Ben Browder (I've always been of the opinion that Farscape was an acquired taste), as Cameron Mitchell he brought a younger energy and an almost fanboy level of enthusiasm to the SGC. And Claudia Black, showing more humor and charisma than she ever did as Aeryn Sun...and the leather outfits didn't hurt either.

(Now that I think about it, in its last couple of seasons Stargate became a sort of foster home for orphaned sci-fi actors. In addition to Ben Browder and Claudia Black, Lexa Doig and Robert Picardo had recurring roles. Morena Baccarin slipped into the role of arch-nemesis Adria in the tenth season. Jewel Staite and Jolene Blalock popped up as well. Even Michael Ironside made an appearance. It was both entertaining and disturbing to see them here. My one regret is that the never managed to get Brad Dourif on the show.)

And of course the new enemies, the Ori. A lot of people criticized them as just being substitutes for the Goa'uld, being advanced alien beings who have set themselves up as gods and direct their fanatical worshippers to conquer and kill in their name. But I liked them. I thought it was a logical progression from Stargate's established mythos: as we learned more and more about the Ancients, the original race who built the stargates, it was not hard to see them as these godlike builders. Possessed of extraordinary intelligence and ingenuity, capable of actually seeding humanoid life, ultimately ascending to forms of pure energy...the Ancients were like titans in the mythology of the show. And that level of absolute power often leads to absolute corruption. Gods then become dark gods, and thus were the Ori. They brought a different kind of menace than the Goa'uld. The Goa'uld were a race of vain egomaniacs, squabbling with each other for dominance as much as they put down rebellions. The Ori were unified, focused, and far more powerful; the were interested in destroying everyone who did not worship them...and they actually had the ability to do it. Many of the ninth and tenth-season episodes that dealt the Ori were surprisingly dark and serious affairs, highly appropriate, and more than a little discomfiting given the current state of organized religion in the real world.

The new enemies were, of course, only the biggest of the new story devices. Many new threads were taken up, addressing the new political climate of the galaxy following the fall of the System Lords. The growing pains of the new Free Jaffa Nation were realistically portrayed, as groups of Jaffa who had been mortal enemies since time immemorial suddenly found themselves uneasy allies, and as political strongmen took advantage of the situation to further their own ambitions. The Free Jaffa were subject to damaging political machinations as well as devastating setbacks, and there was a whiff of realism to the whole thing. Politics is politics, no matter where you go in the galaxy, it seems.

Also introduced was the notion of several Goa'uld hiding out on Earth, assuming the identities of high-powered industrialists (if there was anything more evil than a galactic overlord...). Now that's a great idea, made even more so by the fact that their leader was the former System Lord Baal. My favorite of all the System Lords. Let's be honest; of all the System Lords, it WOULD be Baal who would adjust best to life on Earth. He was always the smartest of the Goa'uld, and always the one with the firmest grip on reality. He had no delusions that he was god, he was never the most powerful, but he was always very very sneaky. So when the other System Lords had wiped each other out in infighting, of course he would be the last one standing. And of course he'd enjoy living on Earth, right under the noses of his enemies. With his intellect, his charisma, and his considerable financial resources, Baal made the perfect supervillian. And the fact that he managed to create several clones of himself just added another level to his Doctor Doom-esque persona; even if SG-1 tracks him down and kills him, there's no guarantee we've seen the last of Baal!

And of course, finally there was addressed the growing role of Earth as a galactic superpower, gradually assuming the mantle as custodians of the galaxy as the super-technological Asgard declined. Reverse-engineering alien technologies was always a part of the Stargate universe, and toward the end that reached a peak, as the SGC built starships and designed new weapons to help in the defense of the human race. This process came to a conclusion in the season finale, when the Asgard faced extinction and decided to pass on all of their knowledge to Earth. It was a noble and satisfying gesture...but somehow devoid of heart. There was very little emotional content to the loss of the species that was an integral part of the Stargate mythos for so long. They simply blew up their planet, and that was that. I can't speak for every Stargate fan, but I know that I'm going to miss them. Especially Hermoid, the Asgard member of the Atlantis team. I loved him, because he was so un-Asgard-like. All the other Asgard characters were very helpful and magnanimous; Hermoid was just constantly pissed off by all these stupid humans around him. He was a fun character...and unfortunately his potential was wasted.

That sums up my mixed feelings on the end of Stargate SG-1; wasted potential. The series ended in a curious place: somewhere between going on too long and ending too soon. With the new characters and new themes, the show could very well have gone on a lot longer; indeed, it probably SHOULD HAVE. We could have gotten to know Mitchell and Landry and Vala a lot better. We could have explored the mythos of the Ancients a little more deeply. We could have gotten to see Baal in action a few more times. Unfortunately, as it happened, the show ended before any of this could happen. The ending felt rushed and unsatisfying, as if too many loose ends were left undone. But I guess that's what the upcoming DTV movies will be for.

Between the cancelling of SG-1, and the apparent big changes happening over at its spinoff Atlantis (rumors abound that Tori Higginson will be replaced by Amanda Tapping as Atlantis leader; just when I was starting to like Doctor Weir, too), I can only feel somewhat bemused. Not only is the universe that entertained me for so long going in strange new directions, but now I have to find something else to do with my Friday nights. Cuz Painkiller Jane ain't doing it for me.

Adieu, Stargate SG-1. At least until the DVDs come out


Anonymous Portrait in Flesh said...

Friday night...no Stargate...withdrawals, man, withdrawals.

I had fun with Stargate, even when Shanks and Browder started looking way too much alike.

But now, on Stargate-free Friday nights...bah, I'll have to find another reason to yell "KREE!!"

...at least a reason that will let me still respect myself in the morning.

7:56 PM, June 29, 2007  
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9:30 PM, January 16, 2010  

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