Another two episodes today. The former quite serious and the latter thankfully less so.

Prisoners

Synopsis

While finishing up the exploration of a planet SG-1 run into a scared man who is ranting about something called the Taldor who moments later teleport them away. Daniel concludes the Taldor are a form of judicial group who reveal that the man with them is a murderer and finds SG01 guilty of not only helping him but also a series of other crimes, sentencing them all to jail on the otherside of a Stargate for life.

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They arrive through the Gate to a cavern where they are immediately surrounded by the other inmates but are interrupted by an elderly woman, Linea, who commands the respect of the others and says the team are under her protection. Pretty quickly they find how bad the conditions are, with prisoners seemingly free to kill each other and the only order being strength of individual prisoners.

The team split up into two groups with O’Neill and Carter going to Linea to get more information about the situation, with it being inferred her position of power is tenuous at best, and that they’ll bring her with them if she helps them to escape using her knowledge and basic cold fusion technology to power the Stargate. The other half doesn’t find much however, with Daniel concluding the structure predates human civilisation and Teal’c ends up beating a prisoner or two. As they plan however the Gate activates and the prisoners set up a series of contraptions, revealing that it’s feeding time with the food being a slurry of some kind seemingly designed to be barely edible.

At the SGC they finish initial contact with the Taldor, who returned all of SG-1s equipment, to find that under their legal system practically all crimes are immediately punishable by life imprisonment and that unintentionally helping a criminal or not being aware of the law isn’t a defence. Despite misgivings at the system it is said that they have an almost zero crime rate due to how harsh the measures are. Hammond decides to go through the Gate himself, for the first time, to conduct diplomacy.

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In the prison Carter converses with Linea to discover why she was sent him. According to her she created a would be cure for a disease that was ravaging her planet but it instead caused the disease to progress faster and kill more, leading to her being charged with murder and sent to the planet. Back in the entrance the Gate is dialling again, with a group of prisoners, who think the vortex is a means of escape, standing in the way. Daniel tries to tell them they’ll die but is not only unsuccessful but causes more trouble with the brutish kingpin Vishnoor, who proceeds to choke him. In the process of helping him Linea shows that she most likely gained control by means of torture.

I the Taldor chamber Hammond tries to get SG-1 released, first by attempting to use the chain of command to assume responsibility for their actions and then by declaring that their continued imprisonment will be seen as a hostile act. Both methods are unsuccessful however.

Back in Linea’s chamber the team are recovering, along with the most recent person sent to the planet, a blind man who stole food as he was starving. Linea uses medicine to restore his eyesight but when it works he recoils and runs in fear once he sees who helped him. Confused at this but not seeing it as a priority the team instead focus on their plan to escape, choosing to leave after the next food run when the prisoners are distracted. The plan goes ahead as planned but the formerly blind man also follows through the Gate unknown to them.

The team and Linea head back to the SGC after rendezvousing with SG-3 off-world and Carter proceeds to study Linea’s technology when it comes to Cold Fusion and show her how the Stargates work as they promised to do. The others start to debrief Hammond on what happened but SG-3 turn up with the formerly blind man. The man reveals that Linea is known as the ‘Destroyer of Worlds’ and that she started, not attempted to cure, the plague that ravaged the planet. Before they are able to apprehend her however Linea manages to activate the Gate and escape, leaving a message that all debts have been paid. The team are left to contemplate on the fact they let a mass-murderer go free.

Analysis

There are a number of reasons why this episode, despite the issues it has in terms of pacing and the fairly dry setting, is actually very good and the first of these is the fact it’s one of the few times the team end up getting it wrong so badly. Throughout the episode there are many hints to the fact Linea is not the kind old lady she appears to be, with her not only ruling it over the other much stronger prisoners, but also the fear many look at her with and her near confession midway through the episode that Carter overlooks. Instead all of them ignore these hints and instead look solely at her technology which is what helps them escape and it’s only at the end of the episode that they realise what their ignorance has wrought.

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The episode is also largely a reflection on the Justice system split into both looking at prison conditions and also how we deal with crime. The former is done with the setting of the prison itself, where it is clear the obviously mentally challenged inmates are left to fend for themselves with zero attempts at rehabilitation or safety for at risk prisoners, instead allowing the extremes of a prisoner-led environment establish itself with a clear social hierarchy based on intimidation and strength. The latter is done by the role of the Taldor who reflect one extreme of views on the system which is extreme emphasis on deterrent rather than punishment where any and all crimes are dealt with severely and immediately with minor criminals being placed with hardened counterparts, which in this case works. It also raises however the question of whether people can be charged with crimes if they weren’t realistically able to be aware of the laws in the first place, an issue that is likely to become more prevalent in reality as different ethnicities and their cultural views move around more and more, especially in large influxes such as the Syrian refugee crisis.

Overall this is a good episode that touches on a number of issues that affect modern society and raises some interesting views on them.

Assorted Musings

· I’m surprised the Taldor even bother to feed the prisoners at all given how they don’t seem interested in an appeals process for those sent to prison.

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· Cold fusion makes an appearance in this episode but is never mentioned again it seems for unknown reasons.

Quote of the episode: “The things I do for these people” -Hammond

The Gamekeeper

Synopsis

The episode begins with the team prepping to head out to a planet that not only looks advanced but also a relative paradise. On the planet they head into a large biodome structure to find many people stuck in chairs, alive but unresponsive. The find a group of empty chairs nearby and are forced into them when they get close by the chair’s cables.

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We come back to find Teal’c and O’Neill on farmland both in old US military uniforms. While discussing their predicament an army truck pulls up with other airmen, including Kowalski who died in the 2nd episode of the first season, with O’Neill realising that it was a mission during the Cold War East Germany that went badly, with O’Neill’s then commanding officer dying. To try to convince the airmen this isn’t real he shows them Teal’c head but both are stunned to find he has a full head of hair and no golden emblem. Given the situation the two of them go along with the scenario, with O’Neill immediately trying to correct what caused the death when he was on the mission. All goes well until they assault the final objective, a farmhouse, where a group of armed men pop up from behind a hedge and kill the commanding officer, leading O’Neill to sound the retreat. O’Neill and Teal’c fall back to where they started only for the truck to pull up again and the scenario to restart.

We switch to Daniel and Carter, both in civilian clothes, who are in the New York Museum of Art, where Daniel works out it’s the incident when as a child he saw his parents crushed in an accident while assembling an exhibit.

Back in O’Neill’s scenario he and Teal’c try to work out what is going on to no avail but Teal’c states that they should at least try to change the outcome if this is a chance to change the past, however when they get to the farmhouse they witness others observing them dressed in black gowns. Ignoring this they go ahead, with O’Neill this time spraying the hedges with fire, only for the armed men to appear on the roof and kill commanding officer, leading to yet another retreat and the scenario starting over again. O’Neil is greeted however by an oddly dressed man who calls himself ‘the Keeper’ who speaks cryptically and flippantly, only giving away that he knows O’Neill regrets what happens but deliberately keeps changing what happens for fun. O’Neill and Teal’c decide their only choice is not to play the Keeper’s games and do nothing, forced to listen to the deaths of the others.

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In the other scenario Daniel and Carter are having a similar discussion with Carter working out that it mustn’t be real and simply a simulation due to several things not making sense, such as Daniel still being his adult self. Daniel tries to convince his parents to come out to no avail while Carter notices the same people in black from the other scenario are watching. The Keeper appears before them and once again acts flippantly, going so far as to describe the scenario as fun. After failing to save his parents again Daniel, like the others, refuses to take part in the Keeper’s game.

Seeing no choice the Keeper brings O’Neill and Teal’c to Daniel’s simulation where they confront him. The Keeper still doesn’t understand why they refuse to play, only instead offering to send them to other simulations but the team simply want to go home, something the Keeper refuses to do. The Keeper reveals he and the others have been there for 1000 years and that their inventory of scenarios has run dry and that the Keeper desperately wants more scenarios for the chairs as ‘entertainment’ for the others. Upon confronting the others however the situation becomes clear in that the Keeper is deliberately keeping them stuck in the simulation, telling them that the world outside is a wasteland and therefore can’t leave, to maintain control over them. After threatening to tell the others they can leave the Keeper seemingly lets them go.

Back at the SGC the team are checked out in the infirmary to be given a clean bill of health. At the debrief however things start to seem odd with Hammond repeatedly encouraging them to go back into the chairs to get more ‘intel’ on the Keeper and the team work out they’re still in the machines, with the fake Hammond giving up the game by calling the people ‘residents’, a term the Keeper used, and having SG-1 arrested. While discussing what to do in the holding cell one of the guards shows itself as Kowalski, who also tries to convince them to stay in the chairs, but the team instead break out the room and run into the residents of the simulation who they proceed to tell them the truth of their situation.

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They attempt to go through the Gate to show the residents what their world looks like but the fake Hammond closes it before proceeding to transform back into the Keeper as he runs away. After giving chase they find an exit to the simulation and proceed to chase the Keeper outside as well, catching him in the garden. The Keeper tries to state he never forced anyone to stay but merely didn’t tell them where the exits were but SG-1s escape has given the residents a way to leave the simulation. The team, now free, say goodbye to the residents and witness the Keeper suffering anxiety at the actions of the residents in the garden.

Analysis

This is one of the episodes I find the funniest out of the whole of the show because of how deliberately non-serious it takes itself. Things like Teal’c’s terrible wig and Daniel being dragged away by a grown man just look so stupid and hilarious along with the actions of O’Neill in the debriefing where he not only physically looks for a mask on Hammonds face but also pats him on the head to brilliant reactions from Don S. Davis which are made more hilarious by how serious their interactions are usually.

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The character of the Keeper is both funny but also in ways sociopathic, with him displaying almost zero empathy or caring for how his actions affected others, only caring about how he can benefit and find fun in life, going so far as to trap his people in machines so he could tend to the planet as he sees fit. When his plans unravel however he practically suffers an aneurism with the line ‘They’re ruining the garden’ still being one of my favourites given how it’s delivered.

Also this episode makes me annoyed they killed off Kowalski back at the start of the show as his characters writing and Jay Acovone’s acting are always put to good use, with his scenes always being humourous, this time the main example being his reactions during the holding cell scene, such as his little eye movements after he states that ‘I’m me’.

Overall this is a fun little episode that lets its hair down after the very serious start to the season with a fairly fun story with characters who aren’t that evil or overly complicated and several laugh out loud scenes are some of the most memorable of the show.

Assorted Musings

· Why is the chair technology not immediately used at the SGC given how it can keep people sustained without aging for 1000 years easily?

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· This episode seems like where Bethesda got inspiration for Tranquillity Lane in Fallout 3 which also featured a bunch of people unaware of what their sociopathic controller was doing.

Quote of the episode: “You are ruining the garden!” – The Keeper