And here we are with another two episodes from the SGC. The former with child labourers and destruction of artifacts and the seeing another shot up alternate reality.
We start inside a Stargate temple on the planet Orban where native children alongside SG-1 are conducting archaeology on the ruins to study who once ruled there and who may have brought the people to the planet. The children are seen as ‘apprentices’ who study different topics to become experts on them. It turns out the expedition is also functioning as a research exchange, with the SGC helping them study their history while the Orbanians exchange Naquadah reactor technology, which gives the hope for almost limitless clean energy, in return. One of the Orbanians, a young girl called Merrin, is their expert on the reactor so stays behind to help Carter research it.
On Orban the Orban liaison sends another apprentice, Tomin, to learn all he can from Teal’c about the Goa’uld and that the previous child Teal’c was talking to has gone for ‘graduation’. Daniel tries to explain his findings about who the Orbans descended from to the liaison but he is indifferent, asking Tomin, who is much more receptive, to take over.
In the SGC Merrin, during standard medical screening, finds it hard to understand the idea of schooling and learning that Fraiser and Carter had to go through to learn their trades as she was always clever. During this time she accidentally insults O’Neill as not being as smart as the others but he tries to pass this off by saying while they were learning he was out having ‘fun’, something Merrin doesn’t get. After these results come through Fraiser informs both Carter and O’Neill along with Hammond that Merrin is full of nanites. When confronted about this Merrin comes across indifferent, explaining that the nanites are what give her people their advanced learning capabilities.
On Orban Tomin requests to undergo his ‘graduation’ early due to the knowledge he has acquired and feels that it’d be useful for them all to understand the threat they potentially face. The next morning Teal’c and Daniel find evidence confirming Goa’uld occupation in the past and asks Teal’c give his knowledge of fighting the Goa’uld to another boy, Solen, but Teal’c demands to find Tomin instead. Upon finding him Tomin appears to be in a simple like state, unresponsive to Teal’c’s questions. The Orbanian liaison reveals that the ‘graduation’ involves taking a child’s nanites and dividing them amongst the general population which, while spreading the knowledge, renders the child essentially a blank slate.
At the SGC O’Neill, despite seeing the process that Carter and Merrin have made, is starting to display annoyance at what he perceives at the lack of childhood Merrin has had. It is at this point the SGC find out about the truth of the ‘graduation’ and while the others agree they have to let them take Merrin back O’Neill takes a more hardline approach and wants to forcibly keep Merrin here to stop her from suffering a similar fate to Tomin. After diplomatic methods fail O’Neill effectively kidnaps Merrin, taking her to a nearby school to show her what kids normally do on Earth, where she spends the day painting.
Despite eventually having to return her to Orban it appears O’Neill’s point has been made, with her gladly accepting a gift of crayons before she departs. Hammond admits that he has enough to court-martial O’Neill but doesn’t do so, most likely agreeing with O’Neill’s intent if not the actions themselves. The team later return after Merrin’s ‘graduation to find everyone, including the adults, are playing and are being taught in the old fashioned way, clearly showing that Merrin’s graduation has effected mass change in their society. O’Neill goes to play with Merrin who is drawing on the walls nearby.
Learning Curve is an interesting episode where the main dilemma seems to be one that focuses on whether extensive, regimented teaching from a young age is a good thing and to a lesser extent using it in an extreme collectivist environment. In this we see the people of Orban who follow an extreme ideology of ‘the good of the whole’ that functions effectively as a hive mind, with young children being used to harvest as much knowledge as possible which is then shared with everyone but leaves them in a simple minded state until they themselves regain enough knowledge from other children who undergo the same process. This means that many Orbanians have knowledge of many topics but aren’t experts in their fields.
The main conflict of this method of teaching comes in the form of the alternative view presented by O’Neill which is that children should have a more creative teaching experience, especially at a young age, as opposed to the idea that children should learn everything about one area and give up fun activities as a result. This is a topic that still comes up many times even today, usually to do with arguments around exams and curriculum decisions as it’s felt schools are becoming workhouses. This conflict comes to a head in the episode when O’Neill accidentally uses the Orbanian collectivist method against itself after Merrin’s nanites share the individualist creative methods throughout the population, seemingly destroying the entire society at the same time with people drawing everywhere.
Apart from this main area there is once again a look into the fatherly habits of both O’Neill and Teal’c, with them both becoming protective of Merrin and Tomin respectively when they feel they’ve been mistreated by their elders, with O’Neill forcibly taking Merrin to the school on Earth and Teal’c getting angry at how Tomin has been treated as a thing rather than as a child.
Overall this is a good episode with more of a philosophical debate than an evil monster at the heart of it that remains relevant even today.
· Can’t help but think Daniel at the end of the episode would have a reaction similar to the Gamekeeper in that episode when he saw the Orbanians drawing all over priceless artifacts.
· This episode really takes liberty with the timeline of the Goa’uld as the society the Orbanians evolved from is from a much later date than the Ancient Egyptians.
Quote of the episode: “You aren’t a scientist?” “Oh, no.” “Then you are not as smart as Major Carter and Doctor Fraiser?” – Merrin and O’Neill
The episode starts inside Area 51, which the SGC use to store off-world artifacts, where we see the quantum mirror from There But for the Grace of God activate, with an alternate reality civilian Carter and Major Kowalski on the other side. They proceed through the mirror clearly under fire and are arrested by Area 51 staff before being brought to the SGC for an examination where they reveal to a confused O’Neill that in their reality they just lost against a Goa’uld invasion.
The rest of SG-1 meet in the briefing room and watch an interview with alternate Carter (who I’ll be calling Sam from now on) who reveals what is going on, with the Goa’uld already making people slaves. Sam and Kowalski are brought into the briefing where Kowalski first tries to attack Teal’c, seeing him as the First Prime again, while Sam comments on Carter’s Air Force look and resulting culture shock. The two new arrivals ask for asylum to stay at the SGC, as they have no way to get to their ‘Beta Site’ for safety as they buried their Gate when the evac was finished, which is granted by Hammond. Later, in her quarters, it’s revealed Sam was married to her version of O’Neill who died during the invasion.
Sometime later Sam is moved to the infirmary after she starts experiencing severe reaction to the fact that no reality can support two copies of the same person (which explains why Kowalski isn’t effected. Given the fact Sam will die if they don’t do anything the SGC decide to help the alternate reality by getting their Asgard to help their Earth. Despite the risks of longterm exposure to another timeline Teal’c agrees to go as well, saying that he’ll either succeed or be dead before he starts suffering the effects of exposure. Sam and Carter use the time before the mission to build a device to allow them to dial an 8 chevron address while Kowalski and Daniel try to dial their address again, which they manage to eventually find after several wrong tries.
The team, now ready, proceed to the alternate timeline, where all the evil versions of them have facial hair, but are forced to disconnect the mirror to hide which means they’ll have to try and refind their reality in it. In this reality Teal’c manages to corner his opposite number who he is forced to kill and then takes his place after applying a fake beard, with him taking Sam ‘prisoner’ to get close to the control room, while Kowalski and O’Neill move to the generator room to install the power device. After Teal’c arrives at the control room it’s revealed the alternate Hammond is still alive and being tortured for the location of the Beta Site, who they rescue.
Back in the mirror room Daniel thinks he’s found the right reality but sees that the Carter on the other side is a Captain. He, along with the others, are captured after Sam makes it through the Gate after they successfully dial the Asgard and, along with Kowalski and O’Neill, is brought to the control room to be interrogated. During interrogation Hammond is killed after Daniel delays in giving information who is then zatted himself. However before any further action can be taken the Asgard arrive and begin removing any Jaffa who don’t make it through the Gate to escape, also sending back Sam and a healed Hammond. With their work done the members of SG-1 return to their reality, with Sam giving O’Neill a goodbye kiss as well, which causes Carter to react saddened.
And here we have yet another great foray into alternate realities. Not only does this episode once again show a version of Earth that lost the war with Apophis but shows how that effected some of those caught up in it with the alternate versions of both Kowalski and Carter who are having to deal with the effects of not only losing people they cared about but also having to deal with working alongside one of those who alternate selves did the damage in the first place. Even with the variables to work with they manage to keep the plot fairly concise with much of the action being over quickly which does prevent it going overboard and causing further complications.
One of the main points of this episode is that it once again makes me realise how bad an idea it was to kill off Kowalski back in season one as Jay Acovone once again delivers a brilliant performance, with him sprinkling humour throughout with his delivery of lines but also a believable anger with Teal’c when he first meets him, only accepting him after he see him fight alongside him against the Goa’uld.
Overall this is a great standalone episode that not only takes an makes fun of clichés of other Sci-Fi shows, such as the facial hair mad mirror universe of Star Trek, but also has a brilliant story of its own that sees characters exploring paths not taken in their lives but also realising that they themselves have been fortunate in how their world turned out.
· Someone finally said what Kree means and it turns out it means practically anything for calling attention to people.
· It’s a shame we never see this alternate reality again as I’d like to have seen how things turned out in the long run once the Goa’uld were driven out.
Quote of the episode: “Loosely translated, it means “attention,” “listen up,” “concentrate.”” “Yoo-hoo?” “Yes. In a manner of speaking.”– Daniel and O’Neill on ‘Kree’