Another two episodes today, with the first taking a shot at ‘The Establishment’ and the latter watching the Tau’ri screw themselves over.
The episode begins with the SGC during an emergency evac by SG-1, who are under fire off-world. While they initially responded SG-1 go silent resulting in Hammond keeping the Iris open for longer than regulations allow, putting the SGC at risk as Staff weapon shots come through the Stargate. During the subsequent debrief Hammond surprises the team with news that he is stepping down as the commander of the base as he states he is fed up with sending people off-world, never knowing if they’re going to come back at all. Despite attempts from the team to convince him to stay Hammond remains committed to his overdue retirement, reminding O’Neill the SGC was meant to be a quick and painless command to tide him over until he officially reached the end of his contract.
Despite Hammond’s departure the base quickly returns to normal operation with the addition of a new commander, by the book general Henry Bauer who comes across as cold and distant. The new commander, like many officers before him, decides the best thing to do is shakeup the base, splitting up SG-1 in the process by placing Carter and Daniel on base assignments while Teal’c is transferred to SG-3. O’Neill however is forced on leave by Bauer when he goes to complain to the new CO about his decisions to mess about with the command structure.
O’Neill, not satisfied with Hammond’s original explanation, uses his orders as a chance to go and see the former commander. While Hammond is initially resistant to explaining why he left he goes on to reveal that he was pressured out of the job by shadow interests higher up the flagpole at the NID, going so far as to temporarily kidnapping his grandkids just to prove their power if he refuses to do what they want. Placing his family’s safety before his own career Hammond resigned to keep them safe. With the new information O’Neill decides to the jailhouse to recruit the help of old adversary and former NID officer Maybourne.
Meanwhile back on base the team realise what their reassignments were designed to do which is to build and test a new naquadah-enriched warhead as an offensive first-strike weapon against the Goa’uld, with Bauer sending teams on high-risk missions to obtain more weapons-grade naquadah for the program, leading to casualties in the SG teams. Despite concerns raised by Carter during the set-up for the weapons test and dodgy intelligence reports Bauer demands they test it immediately, accidently leaking that he’s being ordered to do so by other parties but is still a willing participant in their plans.
Off-base O’Neill manages to get the help of Maybourne, who provides information that the MID are interested in getting people like Hammond out of the way as they prevent them gaining access to alien tech, in return for getting him out of Death Row. Maybourne brings O’Neill to one of his safehouses from where they can access the NID information systems the organisation use to communicate but are soon found by an NID hit squad who they barely manage to avoid. Maybourne, realising their only shot is to go through a powerful person linked to the rogue NID operation, convinces O’Neill to crash the party of another longstanding enemy of the team, Senator Robert Kinsey.
During the test Carter’s fears are realised as while the bomb successfully detonates the Gate on the planet isn’t destroyed, allowing increasing amounts of radiation to bleed through the SGC’s Gate. Bauer, unable to adapt to the situation, quickly falls to the sidelines while Carter and others take control of the situation from him. At a security station a few levels up Carter and the others have little option but to hope that the Gate disconnects after the 38 minute window otherwise radiation will come through the Gate unabated, even if they self-destruct the base. While the 38 minute initially passes with no effect the Gate suddenly shuts down, preventing a worldwide catastrophe.
At the Senator’s party the duo manage to quickly coerce Kinsey into doing what they say, having been given the opportunity by Kinsey himself when he brings them to the study after an awkward interaction between them and the Senator’s thick as mince wife. While Kinsey refuses to give up the password to his computer, gloating at just how many family members he has making guessing a name highly unlikely, O’Neill manages to work out that the password is of who he loves the most, his dog Oscar. While they are able to find mountains of incriminating evidence about both the NID and Kinsey the duo have been tracked down once again by a hit squad, leaving them trapped at the party. While it initially seems their fate is sealed the duo are able to alter the media, claiming that Kinsey is to run for the Presidency, meaning that they are able to leave easily as the hit team are unable to attack without being caught by the news teams.
Sometime later Hammond arrives back in command of the SGC, O’Neill and Maybourne having been able to use the files from Kinsey’s computer to blackmail the NID to back off. The jubilant mood is slightly subdued however when Maybourne calls the base, having kept a copy of the files to allow himself an easy way to escape custody and escape to a Caribbean paradise, with O’Neill asking Hammond to one day buy back his soul.
Critical Mass is a very underrated episode of the show that seems to miss out on a lot of best of lists sadly. This is definitely one of the more interesting Earth focussed episodes the show had, with it combining the usual Earth thriller theme with the return of old adversaries and criticism of the American political system along the way.
For a show that has in the past admitted to changing story ideas and character development due to Air Force requests I’m surprised this episode managed to get made with how blatantly it look down at not only civilian politicians but also pain in the arse career officers. Henry Bauer as a character is not only shown to be an incompetent leader but also controlled by outside influences such as the NID, ignoring the advice of his personnel and intent on doing things his way, regardless of how stupid those ways are, such as sending teams on obvious suicide missions and splitting up units for no reason. He’s the sort of officer everyone has heard of, being there to only add stars to his rank and then move on without any thought to the longevity of the command or institution itself.
On the civilian side they bring back Senator Kinsey and as opposed to the previous depiction as a wingnut Republican who puts his faith in God to protect the US (because wingnut) this time around he has been made the very essence of a sellout and hypocritical politician, complete with the big house and trophy wife, who is openly corrupt and doesn’t seem to care who knows it, secure in the knowledge that in elections people vote for the Party, not the individual. The fact he manages to so quickly turn around and make use of O’Neill and Maybourne’s lie about him running for the Presidency adds to his slippery nature and ability to put on the façade of a caring leader.
My favourite character of the episode has to be Maybourne. In the past he’s largely been portrayed as a manipulative agent who will do whatever it takes to get ahead. While those qualities remain in this episode they’re supplemented however by more likable traits, such as his willingness to help out O’Neill (even if primarily to get out of a death sentence) and his disdain for those only interested in themselves. His buddy routine with O’Neill is frequently revisited after this episode and does become one of the best aspects of it, with them rubbing off on each other as Mayborune helps ot the team more often while O’Neill more willing to use gray methods to get a result.
Overall the episode is a great one, full of interesting use of characters that everyone knows and detests while also once again indulging in the topic of Earth based politics rearing its head, this time at the very center of the SGC with Maybourne turning out to be the good guy.
· Oscar, Senator Kinsey’s dog, is actually RDA’s pet dog Zoe.
· I do like how often Hammond is played as the doting grandfather, both on and off-base. Makes a nice change to his usual aspect of military commander.
Quote of the episode: “Oh Please, given the chance half of all American citizen won’t even vote and the half that do vote are too stupid to know what they’re doing.”
“Which explains how you got elected.” – Kinsey and O’Neill
We start with Carter meeting an unknown man at a restaurant in an unknown location, having received word that once again Carter isn’t pregnant despite having tried for years. The two of them then teleport to ‘the terminal’, a public reception area for the Stargate, having been moved out of the SGC at some time in the past. It turns out that many years prior SG-1 had discovered a group called the Aschen, a highly advanced civilisation who have moved Earth’s technology forward by decades if not hundreds of years in only the space of a single decade, with improvements such as an anti-aging vaccine and cancer treatments with the only noticeable downside of the alliance is Kinsey as President.
At a meetup following an anniversary ceremony Carter, Teal’c, Daniel, and Fraiser are discussing all that has changed since, with O’Neill alluded to have grown disillusioned with the new ‘perfect’ world and Hammond having died several years earlier of a heart attack. While the others are surprised by O’Neill hatred of the Aschen Fraiser is more sympathetic, knowing what it’s like to have been made obsolete by the advances of Aschen. When Teal’c and Daniel leave Carter confides in Fraiser about her issues with having kids, which she puts down to just being unlucky. Fraiser however comes back with a diagnosis that Carter is unable to have children, not understanding how the Aschen doctors could’ve missed such an obvious diagnosis, with the two deciding something afoul must be taking place and to find out what it is.
Carter returns to work with the Aschen, currently working on converting Jupiter into a star, and is able to get her Aschen colleague Mollem to grant her access to the Aschen computer to supposedly revise her calculations but in reality to allow herself and Fraiser to find out what’s going on. What they find however is that in the last two years the Aschen have managed to use the anti-aging vaccine as a method to sterilise the population, cutting human reproduction down by 91% in two years. The two meetup with Daniel and Teal’c to plan what to do next but are faced with limited options with most of the world’s armed forces having demobilised along with most of their off-world allies and realising anyone who found out the truth on Earth has been killed, such as Hammond. Carter decides their only option is to send a message back in time via the Stargate to stop this future ever occurring.
Desperate for allies Carter goes to see O’Neill, who’s spending his retirement at his fishing lodge in Minnesota. Despite being somewhat sympathetic to her cause O’Neill refuses to help as he was abandoned by his friends and colleagues when he raised questions about the Aschen years prior, preferring to remain in isolation and wait for whatever end comes. Alone with no help Daniel and Carter go to Cheyenne Mountain, now turned into a museum about the SGC, to acquire a GDO while Teal’c goes to Chulak to get any backup he can there. After being subjected to the horrific tour of the facility the two of them find that O’Neill has decided to join them, mocking the tour guide as the break away to the off-limits briefing room. Finding that the GDO and other equipment has been replaced by replicas they’re interrupted by now former sergeant Harriman who has gone to work in the museum. Harriman tells them the GDO is in the White House and agrees to let them go, along with a couple of functioning Zats, in return for them telling him what they’re doing when they return the equipment.
With the plan largely in place they decide to recruit Carter’s husband Joseph, who is also the ambassador to the Aschen, to grab the real GDO. During the conversation however it becomes clear that the US and other nations were aware of what the Aschen were doing to human fertility but thinks the 91% reduction was an innocent error. Despite this he agrees to the plan to get the GDO but upon delivery requests that in return they keep Carter out of the actual fight, to which O’Neill agrees.
At the Stargate terminal they put the plan into motion, with Fraiser travelling to Chulak to give word to Teal’c of when to strike following which Daniel moves down to eliminate the guards at the Gate itself as Teal’c and an allied Jaffa arrive through the Gate. While the guards are dealt with the defence turrets in the walls begin firing, quickly killing the other Jaffa and then Teal’c as O’Neill uses the GDO and then runs for the Gate to send through the message but is killed before he can deliver it. Daniel decides to make a run for it but is also killed before he gets close, leaving it to Carter (who had ignored her husband’s wishes and decided to stay and help) to throw the message through the Gate, which she does before also dying.
Back in our time the SGC experiences an unexpected activation from SG-1, with only a note coming through. On the note they are told not to go to P4C-970, with a bloodstain from O’Neill also on it.
The main twist of this episode is of course the introduction of the alternate timeline into the shows mix involving an evil group of people who use their advanced tech to eliminate their foes in ways people wouldn’t expect.
The Aschen are one of the more unique and sinister groups the show ever had. While groups like the Goa’uld and the Replicators are aggressive in their attacks and clear in their motives the Aschen don’t care if it takes 10 or 1000 years to complete their goals and will use out of the box methods to do so. Here the Tau’ri completely disarmed themselves voluntarily in their treaty with the Aschen, having figured that given they helped defeat the Goa’uld and had given them advanced technology they had nothing to fear, with it only being years later when members of the SGC actually realise what they’re doing in the process by using their advanced medicine as a Trojan Horse to eliminate the human race through drastic population reduction. In fact their ability to trick the Tau’ri was so good that even the governments of the planet agreed to much of their plan if only to receive advanced tech themselves.
There are a couple of flaws with the episode, as with any piece of this nature. Obviously the idea that nobody managed to alert wider society of the massive drop in fertility or side-effects of the anti-aging drug is hard to believe. While it’s understandable to some degree that the Aschen controlled the media the complete lack of news is a stretch. Apart from that much of the final resolution relies on Carter having access to a computer she shouldn’t have access to in the middle of a secure Aschen facility, which for a race who think so far ahead is a bit of an odd one. Given the overall story overlooking these problems for the sake of the whole isn’t too hard however.
Overall 2010 is a nice change from the usual threats we’ve seen, with the ‘invasion’ having taken place without a drop of blood spilt and everyone incredibly accepting of it along with an interesting villain that goes against the grain of the show.
· It never stops being creepy that they had Hammond die of a heart attack during the mid to late 2000s and Don S. Davis would go on to die of the exact same thing in 2008.
Quote of the episode: “It turns out we made a mistake, a big one.”
“Which one? We made a few.”
“Our alliance with the Aschen.”
“Oh, that. Not working out is it? Gosh, I wish I’d seen that coming. Oh wait, I did see that coming.” – Carter and O’Neill