Back again and today we see a global thermonuclear war and a terrifying VR experience. Fun all round!
On an unknown world a young woman is peeling the bandages off an injured person to reveal a still torn-up Daniel, having suffered an unknown cataclysm and escaping a nearby city. Over the course of a few days or weeks the woman continues to care for Daniel while the backstory is filled in.
We flashback to months earlier where it turns out that the planet they’re on is of a similar level to Earth and had discovered the Gate but with no DHD to activate it, thereby assuming it to be some kind of archaeological curiosity. While the initial contact goes well with the nation they arrive in, the Rand Protectorate, after a month of contact tensions between the Rand and their opposing superpower, the Caledonian Federation, begin to heat up due to the potential of the Stargate Network and that a new religious cult is spreading fast after their belief about the Gate was shown to be true.
After Daniel regains the ability to move around he finds out that the woman caring for him is Leda Kane the wife of senior Rand military officer Jared Kane, who helped Daniel and SG-1 on the planet and has been clearly distant to her for some time. It turns out that at some point the religious nutters have managed to take control of the Gate, with Daniel stranded on the planet while the rest of the team are blocked by their fundamentalist leader Soren.
Some six weeks previously Rand, while presenting a strong face, is falling apart fast with Soren having used the opportunity to begin taking control of urban centers while Caledonia state that if Soren begins to gain control of the country further they’ll launch a first strike to eliminate Rand’s atomic weapons and other WMDs to prevent them falling into Soren’s hand, effectively causing a state of war. When Jared arrives back at the house in the country he fills in the final parts of the tale. As the situation grew worse in Rand Caledonia launches their attack as promised after Soren’s rebels take a missile facility, leading to a full-scale nuclear exchange between the two countries and that in the confusion Soren attacked the Rand control bunker while Jared and Daniel as well as a few others are able to make it out though Daniel is hurt in the process.
Meanwhile at the SGC O’Neill has Soren and two of his men invited to the base to try and conduct negotiations but these go nowhere, with Soren refusing all offers of help and the SGC being turned off by his obvious intent to commit war crimes. As they leave however the base finally makes contact with Daniel on the planet, who sends them a joint battleplan using Goa’uld which suggest an attack by surviving Rand forces while SG teams infiltrate via the Gate.
The joint assault goes according to plan, with the combined force easily securing most of the Rand control bunker leaving just a few Soren followers with their leader in the central hub. Soren, refusing to admit defeat first executes one of his troops who questions him and then walks out the door, only to be killed himself by Jared. While this enables a quick securing of the facility Daniel worries this may lead to a movement behind Soren as a martyr. While Jared assumes control of the facility the SGC promises to supply them with aid to help.
For a largely light-hearted show entering its eighth season Icon is a surprisingly serious and timely episode to have been made. There’s no real laughter in this standalone episode but rather a quite glum and cynical look at not only the Cold War but also the growing media presence of religious fundamentalists such as the then growing insurrection in both Afghanistan and Iraq.
The story revolves largely around a very similar planet to Earth called Tegalus which is split between two rival superpowers who have been in their own Cold War for decades according to the show. While the arrival of SG-1 has caused some problems before this is the first time where it’s been so terrible for the planet, as the instability leads to a global nuclear war. What’s interesting however is that the final destabilising effect that causes the war is extreme fundamentalism that takes advantage of the vacuum of power as the fact the Stargate is a portal gives legitimacy to an extreme religious group operating in one of the superpowers.
This is very similar to the extremist groups that actually exist in reality at the time and in the past, with many using small facts to justify extreme ideologies of their own, such as the presence of a certain occupying country being related to small passages in holy books as a justification for holy wars.
Later on in the episode following a catastrophic nuclear war we see the SGC take part in a liberation operation against the leader of the religious rebels that sees him killed by one of the survivors of the old regime, with Daniel expressing concerns that all they’ve done is solidified that movement’s image. Again this is similar to events that have played out in real life where the detention or deaths of major movement leaders have for a short time crippled the movement subsequent events have seen them turned into martyrs and made more powerful than ever before as a symbol for resistance.
A well-known example from recent decades was the detention of prominent members of the IRA and INLA in Northern Ireland during the civil conflict known as “The Troubles”. Many IRA and INLA prisoners ended up staging hunger strikes over their treatment as non-political prisoners and ten prisoners died in the process, with the most well-known being the prisoner Bobby Sands who was elected as an MP while in prison. While the crushing of the hunger strike was initially seen as a victory for the Conservative government the deaths of the ten led to then being seen as martyrs for the Republican cause, with Sinn Fein going on to win many Northern Irish seats in subsequent elections on the back of increased support among nationalist communities.
Another big point that is made relates to the volatility of nuclear weapons as a deterrent. In the episode we see in only a time frame of just over a month the planet ends up experiencing a full scale nuclear exchange between the two superpowers. While the two had maintained a cautious standoff for several decades the introduction of a new unforeseen factor immediately made the old balance of power fall apart quickly with neither side able to maintain control despite attempts to. When a group of rebels manage to take control of a missile site in a surprise attack all attempts at halting an attack end and both sides end up launching at each other, rapidly escalating from targeting each other’s military sites to total warfare.
Again this reflects the stage in the 80s where Reagan, wanting to act the strongman to make up for his lack of ability in office, put the world on the brink of nuclear war through his rhetoric and attempts to create systems like SDI that would’ve destabilised the doctrine of Mutually Assured Destruction. It’s only when the Russians realised that SDI would never actually work that tensions were reduced back down.
While all this commentary goes on the episode thankfully does very little of some of what it does do, such as having Daniel in yet another romance subplot, really do take away from the seriousness of the episode.
Overall the episode works very well as a piece of commentary and an action-heavy episode, with comments around nuclear weapons and civil unrest placed front and centre. Despite some poor characterisation the episode thankfully doesn’t lose its footing and ends on sombre mood, an unusual place for a standalone episode.
· Hmm, I think Jared might be a Cylon infiltrator.
· That bunker door seems like a poor design.
Quote of the episode: “Daniel, we’re always sticking our collective noses where they don’t belong. It’s what we do.” – O’Neill
The SGC has come under attack from Ba’al’s force of Kull Warriors, one of which easily cuts through the gateroom, killing O’Neill before Teal’c takes it out. It turns out however this is an advanced virtual training exercise built by the SGC using one of the chairs taken from The Gamekeeper. While Teal’c is impressed with the feel of the world he points out that the simulation is too easy regarding the enemies Teal’c faced, volunteering to help the team improve the quality of the simulation. Before starting again Carter cautions the Jaffa for being so cocky regarding the outcome of the scenario.
Inside the simulation Teal’c, despite easily winning before, begins losing again and again with the chair shocking him in real life whenever he dies in the simulation with the cumulative effects of the shocks beginning to damage his body. When Teal’c finally manages to seemingly win a scenario however he finds that the game is rapidly altering the makeup of the mission based on Teal’c belief that it isn’t realistic enough. This includes increasing the number of Kull Warriors, making some of them invisible, and inserting a Goa’uld infested base member into the mix.
After finally realising the danger he is in Teal’c goes for the in-built failsafe in the elevator near the gateroom only to find that the game has removed it due to Teal’c belief that you can’t just quit. Eventually, given the constant failure and unending objective changes Teal’c just gives up, letting himself be killed again and again by the drones.
Outside the simulation the base scientists try to find someway to extract Teal’c from the game without harming him further but struggle to do so. Eventually a comment by O’Neill gives the team the idea of connecting a second chair to the system to give Teal’c support. Also the way the second chair is hooked up means that lag that is present in the first chair will no longer be present, giving whoever occupies the second chair a 2 second head start on events, allowing them to react before they happen. Daniel, as he isn’t needed on the science side, goes into the simulation.
Inside the new simulation Daniel tries to help Teal’c but is repeatedly killed by the Jaffa due to the fact Teal’c is now conditioned by the game with Daniel as the Goa’uld. Eventually Daniel is able to break through to Teal’c and the two begin working together but still fail a few times, putting Teal’c on the edge of death. During what may be their last chance to win the two slowly work through the simulation, taking out the Kull Warriors before heading to the overloading Naquadah generator where they find O’Neill and Carter along with a claimed dead Goa’uld Silar of all people. While the group end up in a standoff Daniel’s ability gives him the ability to see that Silar is merely faking his death, allowing Teal’c to shoot the engineer and end the simulation.
Much like the previous episode this one is surprisingly serious once again, this time focusing on Teal’c as a character and how much he’s changed over the last few seasons.
The story sees Teal’c trapped inside one of the chairs last seen in The Gamekeeper, which also saw Teal’c trapped inside the chair funnily enough. However this time rather than a nefarious and slightly sociopathic force keeping them stuck inside terrible memories it instead sees Teal’c’s subconscious at work in seeing him trapped. It turns out that while Teal’c had always presented a stoic face to the team he had major doubts about their ability to defeat an enemy like the Goa’uld for years and some lingering doubts may still exist.
These doubts are quite literally played out as the simulation and how it changes, with every win being viewed by the machine as unachievable due to the belief that the Goa’uld couldn’t really be defeated. This is played out by the game in the form of the constantly changing scenario that is designed to be almost unbeatable, always adding one more thing for Teal’c to defeat. Teal’c’s personality also influences his inability to escape due to his strong sense of duty and tendency to fight to the bitter end rather than give in. This all serves to break down Teal’c as a character, who had always been presented as the rock of the team who was never vulnerable and could survive anything, making him more human in the process.
It’s only with the introduction of Daniel into the system that Teal’c finally sees the proof that the Goa’uld can be defeated, with his longtime friend reminding him just what they’ve accomplished over the last 8 years as a team, snapping Teal’c out of his morose. Together they’re able to slowly work their way through the scenario using their differing skills to work together as a team, with Daniel using his knowledge while Teal’c uses his combat ability. It feels this focus on teamwork is the moral of the episode with Teal’c unable to complete the mission with the fictional versions of the team until his current teammates can provide the backup and support he needs to complete the mission.
The episode also seems to have been a teaser for what was meant to be a videogame based on the show called The Alliance but it was cancelled, a surprisingly common thing for such a successful franchise. Given all the potential there the lack of a successful mainstream game is actually kind of sad while nowadays every show on TV seems to have a game.
In the end the episode is a nice focused look at Teal’c, who has been lacking in personal episode for the last season or so, seeing just how he’s grown from the Shol’va back in season 2 all the way to the experienced leader of the Jaffa Rebellion we see now.
· I love how this episode always reminds me how bad games used to look in 2004.
· See, this lag is why you use dedicated servers rather than peer-to-peer setups.
· Silar was the true evil all along, deliberately sabotaging the base for the Goa’uld.
Quote of the episode: “Carter all I heard was “Matrix”, and I found those films quite confusing.” – O’Neill