Two great episodes from Season 3 today. One involving the trial of a Goa’uld and another where a famous comedian invades the team’s minds.
We enter the episode with the sight of a Death Glider under attack from a Ha’tak above a planet moments before said Ha’tak is destroyed by ground fire, with the heavily damaged Death Glider crashing onto the surface, to reveal that it’s being piloted by Skaara/Klorel.
At the SGC the base experiences a strange visitor when a cat comes through the Iris unharmed. It’s revealed to be the cat, given to the Tollan Narim by Carter way back in Enigma, with Narim shortly following as well. It turns out that Narim is there to inform the SGC that Skaara had crashlanded on their new home, Tollana, and that Skaara has requested SG-1 to be his character witnesses/defence team.
On arrival to the planet they find that the Tollans have already built much, including their own Stargate and fields that remotely disable weapons. Inside the triad building itself they meet the leader of the Tollan people, Travell, and Skaara, who has been fitted with a device that allows both the host and symbiote to speak separately. In conversation with Skaara and Narim it becomes clear that Klorel was a prisoner of Heru’ur but Skaara had been trying to learn what he could while being stuck as a host. The meeting is interrupted however by the arrival of Klorel’s council, the Goa’uld Zipacna, and the neutral council Lya of the Nox.
The triad itself begins but while O’Neill thinks the idea of Skaara getting back his body is an easy one it quickly becomes a complicated matter of perspectives, with the perspective that the Goa’uld view humans as cattle and therefore theirs to do with as they wish being accepted as a legitimate one to hold if objectionable. The fact that Skaara used to be a slave to the Goa’uld and therefore could be considered their property anyway also skews the argument towards Klorel. O’Neill’s counter-arguments, based around sentience and intelligence, fail to make a difference as Zipacna is able to pull them apart due to being subjective in nature while Daniel’s argument of taking a host more akin to theft holds some weight amongst the court.
Outside Teal’c and Carter make themselves useful by tailing Zipacna’s Jaffa entourage, who seem to be very interested in the Tollan’s defensive weapons. To get help Carter meets with Narim to find out what they’re doing. Narim however, still trusting (and to some degree aloof), refuses to believe anything is wrong and informs Travell, who gets experts to prove they haven’t been tampered with. Travell as well, refuses to accept any concerns of SG-1, believing themselves to be completely safe from attack, and instead believes the accusations of tampering to be an attempt to alter the outcome of the triad. Despite being ordered to let the matter go Teal’c decides to go to Lya to obtain her help in preventing any attack by the Goa’uld, using Lya’s illusion abilities in the process.
At the Triad the subject of debate moves onto the issue of whether the host personality survives to begin with, with Zipacna claiming that because the symbiote takes complete control nothing can survive while Daniel claims that Skaara being able to talk at the trial proves that the host does indeed survive. Zipacna however manages to turn things in his favour by conceding that the host survives but also claiming that as Tollan has no death penalty the only way to keep both alive is to allow Klorel to remain in Skaara. To this point Daniel responds that live as a slave would be the same as no life at all and therefore be death for the host. The triad is interrupted however by the arrival of another Ha’tak vessel.
The triad itself moves to the final judgement after arguments about the intent of the Ha’tak, with the triad arguing two to one in favour of Skaara gaining control of the body. Teal’c’s accusations however turn out to be founded, with Zipacna signalling a coordinated strike on all the Tollan Ion Cannons before launching Death Gliders. Teal’c and Lya however have hidden one of the cannons nearby which they use to take out the attacking Death Gliders and Ha’tak. Despite her earlier anger Travell is thankful, but still refusing to give them technology, and Lya explains the fine line she had to walk, only hiding the weapon but not using it herself. Skaara however returns finally rid of Klorel and free at last.
So there we have it. SG-1s first foray into the courtroom drama genre and what an absolute corker it was. What could’ve been a straight forward episode ended up increasingly philosophical and had some great commentary on the idea of superiority through a debate on what makes a person that person and how complacency can be dangerous.
The big one of the two of course was the big philosophical debate that was the triad and the issue of what counts as a self-aware person, central to the idea of host as slave and Skaara’s situation. What the viewer and O’Neill sees as straightforward (Skaara’s body ergo Skaara wins) quickly descends into an argument about the nature of the problem. Many of the arguments that Zipacna uses are arguments that, while horrible and ethically wrong, are factually correct in the situation, such as that Skaara’s status as a slave of the Goa’uld and as a human being means his place on the food chain is below that of the Goa’uld and therefore the Goa’uld do have the right to do with their property as they wish, much in the same way humans use animals as they wish, regardless of what that animal actually wants. While we are dealing with a creature that is actually self-aware rather than living out basic biological urges the fact remains it’s still lower in the hierarchy. This issue is resolved in a way that gets around the issue in that while Skaara is a slave being a host removes all that makes Skaara himself, meaning that it’s tantamount to death and therefore should be allowed control of his body which is hardly a complete win to be honest.
The lesser of the two main issues in this episode is the reintroduction of the Tollans and their continued belief they are superior to the SGC in all ways simply due to their advanced technology. This means that while they have incredible defensive technology they’re inflexible in practice, relying on a single method of defence. Here we see that the destruction of the Ion Cannons, which they refuse to admit is even possible, leaves the planet at the mercy of two Death Gliders. Despite the continued insistence they’re vulnerable throughout the episode the leader of the Tollans remains aloof throughout and only in the end when she sees that their concerns were justified she sees their view, but even so still snobby to a degree.
The only real negative about this episode that I had was the depiction of the character of Zipacne. Maybe it’s just the voice dubbing or the strange clothing but it comes off as a bad gay stereotype. There’s just something that really feels off about the character and I’ve never been able to get past it when he appears as it always looks like a bad joke/stereotype thrown in.
Overall Pretense is a bloody good episode that is definitely one of the best standalones the show ever did, displaying a complex problem and solution underneath a fair simple premise, and is a great way to show people the show at its best.
· I love how the Tollans building their own Stargate never comes up ever again. So many problems in the future could’ve been solved with their help.
· Pretty sure blowing up three Ha’tak in an episode is the new record, and this is when they were still pretty rare on the show before the giant fleets start appearing.
· Tollana is sited on the campus of Simon Fraser University, which has also been used as Caprica Market in Battlestar Galactica and Corbulo Military Academy in Forward Unto Dawn.
Quote of the episode: “Ours is bigger.” – O’Neill regarding the Tollan Stargate.
We begin with the team prepping to visit what appears to be an ‘untouched paradise’ only to seemingly appear right back in the SGC met by an armed response force, with the team having been gone for 15 hours they don’t remember. The team try to work out what happened, with Carter working out that the image of paradise is a façade placed to cover up the lab actually shown. The rest of the team however start acting strangely, with Teal’c draining an entire pot of boiling hot coffee and the team eating all the desserts in the Mess, much to the confusion of other base personnel. Having taken scans of them Fraiser manages to find some kind of device placed inside all their heads which is the likely cause of their issues and Hammond decides to place them in quarantine as a result.
After a while the team all start to hear the voice of someone who reveals himself to be a rather stout man, called Urgo, who only they can see and is able to read their thoughts. Urgo largely talks about how boring the environment is and repeatedly tries to liven things up, showing he can suggest people to things by making Teal’c want to use the defibrillator on himself, and refutes the idea he can be removed at all, dissuading all attempts to talk to his creators. Carter theorises that he’s a flawed way of obtaining information on other peoples without putting themselves at risk.
Over the next few hours Urgo slowly drives the team round the bend by wanting to play games and being generally annoying while the rest of the base is forced to deal with the team talking to an invisible being. Carter thinks she’s found a way to remove him via an EMP blast, with Urgo trying to distract her from the task repeatedly, accidently lightly burning her with her coffee in the process. After activation Urgo however disappears without a trace, with Fraiser backing up the results but Hammond remains cautious, asking them to take a week off. This precaution is proven wise when all members of SG-1 start singing ‘row, row, row the boat’ simultaneously in their respective quarters, with Urgo reappearing when the proof is shown to the team. The team, with little to lose, decide to try and meet with the creator of Urgo, who calls himself Togar, to remove the errant program which he agrees to do. During mission prep though Urgo comes across as sentient and therefore an actual person with Carter and Daniel agreeing they should find a way to guarantee he survives being removed.
On the planet itself the team are teleported to a lab where they find Togar, who looks the same as Urgo but a polar opposite personality wise. Togar wants to correct his mistake and remove the errant Urgo personality, managing to convince Togar to place Urgo inside himself as they’re exact opposites and could help each other as a result through a combined world view. While they’re sceptical at first that he went into Togar his frustrated reactions confirm the presence of Urgo. The team however return to the SGC, yet again without memory, this time only having been gone 10 hours.
Urgo is quite a divisive episode amongst the fans, mainly regarding the character of Urgo himself, but honestly I really do love this episode. The character of Urgo, played by the brilliant Dom DeLuise, is not only consistently funny and humourous in his delivery of lines and actions but also comes across sympathetically. He displays an almost childlike innocence in his desire to explore and learn new things about the world and, unlike many other adversaries, is never a real threat in anyway, just a mild inconvenience and possibly source of later psychosis for the team.
It’s an episode with many memorable moments, lines, and performances that are fun and stupid and something that the show frequently indulges in, and after the last few episodes where stakes have been high the idea of an adversary that just tries to make you eat cake and have fun is something that the show needed.
· Supposedly Christopher Judge has the least scenes out of the main cast in the episode as he couldn’t stop corpsing in the scenes with Urgo. During the defibrillator scene you can see the extra in the door behind Urgo trying to hide a smile several times in the scene.
· This episode has so many great quotes, including the opening conversation and Carter’s frustrate ‘oh I wish you could’ line when Hammond refers to the lack of seeing Urgo’s presence.
Quote of the episode: “Doctor, are we entirely sure that the members of SG-1 are... what’s the word?” “Sane?” “That’s the one.” – Hammond and Fraiser.