Another two episodes today. One in which they have to choose between two races and another where they one again become slave workers.
We start off-world, with the team at a celebratory dinner with the Enkarans, a people who the SGC had evacuated after their previous world grew unsuitable for them. The dinner is interrupted by a man who finds the village, speaking of something approaching, revealed to be a large spaceship that is systematically setting fire to the planet. The team return to the SGC to try and think of a solution, with another evacuation being put forward but is likely to result in Enkarans being left behind and others dying while the team try to find another world. The only real progress the team make is in the lab, where they work out that the ship that is destroying the planet is a terraformer that is building a sulphur-based ecosystem in its wake.
On return to the planet the team find that the Enkarans are refusing to evacuate, deciding to instead die or survive together on the planet. While setting up instruments to learn more about the ship the team are teleported aboard, by beings unknown, finding themselves inside a storage room for storing genetic samples of various lifeforms. Before they can go further they’re interrupted by an Enkaran man, Lotan, who reveals himself to be a creation of the ship to act as an intermediary between the ship and the team. Lotan explains that the ship is working on autopilot, having been built as a last resort by a doomed race, with the mission to find a safe planet to convert to the required atmosphere for them. The ship however is only able to convert one planet and given its mission has already started it can’t stop, despite knowing it’ll result in the deaths of the Enkarans, which Lotan deems ‘unfortunate’.
Back at the SGC the team are conflicted about what to do over the ship. While Daniel believes that Lotan can be reasoned with O’Neill believes the effort is futile and force will be required. Hammond however is unwilling to commit large amounts of resources to fighting the ship and therefore SG-1 alone have to resolve the issue. On return to the planet O’Neill decides to have Carter rig the Naquadah reactor as a makeshift bomb but this has multiple risks given they don’t know what it’ll do to the ship.
While O’Neill is busy setting up the bomb Daniel goes to speak to Lotan, who has been learning more about the race on the ship. In an attempt to get Lotan to understand the Enkaran situation he brings him to the planet’s surface to better learn about what he is destroying. Bringing him to the village Lotan meets the Enkarans, learning more about their plight. While Lotan is sympathetic to their situation he is unable to stop the ship, having been programmed to ensure that it completes the mission. O’Neill, fearing there is no over option, sets the bomb detonation sequence off but Daniel and Lotan, agreeing to halt the terraforming temporarily, send it into the air to avoid it harming anymore. Knowing that the halt is only temporary Daniel gets Lotan to scan every planet searched previously and instead look for ones that can suit the Enkarans, finding that one of the planets was the lost homeworld of the Enkarans.
Returning to the surface the two sides agree to a compromise, Lotan will transport the Enkarans to their homeworld using the ship before it comes back to finish terraforming. The Enkarans however choose to allow Lotan to come with them and live on the Enkaran homeworld with them.
Scorched Earth is an interesting one to look at as while there are some very good points to it many also suffer from problems at the same time.
The core conflict of the episode is the situation between saving one of two races, seemingly at the cost of the other one’s survival. This is an interesting moral dilemma for the team as it means there are inherently no good or bad choices. The problem emerges however when at the eleventh hour a way to save both sides emerges. While this is of course a happy end to the dispute it’s a shame that the show hadn’t decided to take that step of actually having a grey outcome to the episode.
In terms of the characters the conflict between O’Neill and Daniel is in many ways similar to that of The Other Side, with Daniel supporting a more nuanced information-heavy approach while O’Neill goes headfirst for a military solution as usual, with it ending with Daniel being proved right. This reduces the impact of the resolution as it has been done so recently.
Overall the episode is one that puts forward a number of conflicts and problems but ends up pulling some of its punches towards the end, blunting some of the impact as a result.
· Unrelated to the episode but on the same DVD it’s stated that O’Neill/Carter was blocked by the Air Force itself (likely due to potentially bad press if breaching fraternisation regulations was glorified) which is why it only appears as a relationship in alternate universes where Carter is a civilian.
Quote of the episode: “Should we really be opening drawers and things?”
*Daniel opens a drawer* “What did I just say?” – O’Neill
Beneath The Surface
We begin in some kind of makeshift barracks at the start of the day, containing what appears to be industrial workers including members of SG-1. From the conditions and a speech by overseer Brenna it appears to be part of some kind of underground sanctuary on a world undergoing an ice age. While waiting for meals to be served an argument between O’Neill and Daniel (identifying as Jonah and Karlan, while Carter goes by Thera), who don’t seem to recognise each other, over the lack of food spirals out of control, with Teal’c (known as Tor) attempting to get them to ‘see the truth’ before he is taken away by the overseer’s men.
At the same time the SGC, trying to locate the team who have been missing for some time, is currently talking to a man calling himself Administrator Calder, who is claiming that the team have disappeared with no trace while exploring his planet. While he repeatedly tries to warn them off Hammond resists, instead choosing to send specialised rescue teams to search their last reported location. The rescue team returns with no sign at all of SG-1 and states off the record that Calder’s story makes no sense.
Back in the shelter Daniel begins to dream about the SGC. Confused he goes to talk to Teal’c, who has returned to the work force, but is now insistent he doesn’t know who Daniel or the others are. Elsewhere on the planet Brenna is meeting with Calder, revealing that the whole ‘underground shelter’ scenario is a ruse with SG-1 having had false memories implanted to convince them they’re from the planet, to discuss ideas Carter had for improving productivity in the industrial area. While Brenna is supportive of the idea, seeing the use of indoctrinated workers as a necessary evil, Calder refuses, viewing the workers as disposable waste who ‘wouldn’t fit in’ if automation made their jobs redundant.
A few hours later the plant start to go into meltdown as the pressure goes critical after Teal’c collapses at the controls. Despite their new identities the members of SG-1 quickly fall into old habits, managing to successfully release the pressure and save the plant. After these events the three of them start meeting up as they begin to remember events and details from their actual lives, such as remembering the Stargate and Carter calling O’Neill ‘sir’. During this time Brenna and Calder meet again, with Calder having decided to cast SG-1 into the wastes as they’re becoming a liability. That night O’Neill has a dream revealing how they arrived in the first place. During opening negotiations SG-1 stumbled onto the underclass Calder was keeping secret and when O’Neill confronted him about this he had the team thrown into the plant as well.
The next morning Brenna has the team, including the now comatose Teal’c, to her room. Having decided that Calder has gone too far she decides to instead help the team reveal the truth of the situation to the workers, revealing their true identities. Calder, having realised Brenna intends to betray him, interrupts the meeting, shooting his former lackey in the arm. Teal’c disarms him however, having faked his condition after realising his true nature once again the night before. While the team rally the works they initially refuse to believe the team until O’Neill shoots one of the skylights, revealing the city above. Calder tries to claim that the workers will never be accepted in the city so the team instead choose to evacuate Brenna and the workers while leaving the upper class to fend for themselves.
Beneath The Surface is an episode that builds itself around the idea of class systems, lifting a lot of inspiration for the central plot from celebrated works of dystopic class-based fiction, most notably the 1927 Silent film Metropolis and HG Wells classic The Time Machine, both of which depict societies that have devolved into distinctly separate classes, a well-off and leisure focused upper class and a downtrodden and hidden away worker class, with the former inspiration similar to the start of the episode while by the end the scenario of the latter inspiration, with the workers rising up and becoming the dominant class, has come to fruition (if without the violence of the source material).
Outside of these the characters introduced in the episode also fit those seen in many other media examples based around Class systems, with Calder being the representation of the aristocracy who believe that they are naturally better than the underclass yet depend on that same underclass to provide for their every whim while Brenna is someone trapped between both worlds, initially believing that the use of the underclass was a necessary evil before coming to the conclusion that the exploitation was deliberate and systemic rather than a sad fact of life. For the usual cast however much of their progression through the episode makes sense, with Daniel and O’Neill having issues with each other, before they match them up with their real history plus some humour mixed in as well.
Overall the episode is a good one that functions partly as a homage to the dystopia genre while having enough of its own identity thrown it to prevent it feeling like a complete copy.
· Bet Judge loved the paycheck for this episode given how for 3/4s of it he was on a bed being (not so) asleep.
· I’m surprised the dome city and the Stargate didn’t end up getting buried under the snow and ice, similar to the Stargate in Antarctica and the real life Amundsen-Scott Station Dome.
Quote of the episode: “There’s a man, he’s bald and wears a short sleeved shirt and somehow he’s very important to me. I think his name is... Homer?” – O’Neill