Another two episodes today which see the team free the Unas on one planet and play horror film on another.
Beast of Burden
We start with the episode off-world, witnessing the Unas Chaka, from the episode The First Ones, picking up an energy bar left behind in view of a camera. The Unas however is interrupted by a group of humans armed with Staff weapons and Zats. While Chaka attempts to be friendly with the group they instead zat and capture the creature, taking him through the Gate to their own world with the address being caught on camera. Daniel, feeling responsible due to making him view humans as friends, manages to convince Hammond to authorise a mission to at least explore the planet he was taken to and hopefully rescue their friend.
On the planet they find a large farming settlement which uses Unas as slave labour to carry out menial tasks, such as heavy lifting and plowing. Inside the town it turns out the use of Unas goes even further, with them being bred like farm animals for their bloodlines. It turns out however that the constant inbreeding is causing issues with behaviour, with some Unas going berserk. It turns out much of the Unas population dates back most likely several centuries, ever since the planet managed to successfully rebel against the Goa’uld who were still using Unas at the time. While they attempt to buy back Chaka from the local Unas trader Burrock the man refuses, claiming Chaka as his own property, unless they present him with two equally valuable Unas.
That night O’Neill and Daniel attempt to rescue Chaka, managing to break him out of his cage. Chaka however refuses to leave the others, who have been marked for death. The combined noise of the Unas alerts the locals who manage to easily capture the three of them despite Carter and Teal’c attempting to buy them time. Despite being all chained up in the pens Chaka manages to hide a walkie that they then use to talk with the others who are still on the run while Chaka manages to get the other Unas in the barn to work with them as a result of Chaka’s attempts to save them. Their planning is interrupted however by the return of Burrock who demands that they tell him how to use the Stargate in return for being freed, instead torturing them with a Goa’uld device when they refuse to give him information and then executing one of the Unas with a P90 when it refuses to be quiet. Burrock threatens to kill an Unas every day until they tell him what he wants.
Meanwhile Carter and Teal’c begin their plan, setting off a fire in the center of town and blowing the water tower to buy them time to free their trapped team and the Unas. While they make it out of the village they are confronted by Burrock and other at the Gate itself, who kill another of the Unas in an ambush. Chaka, with help from one of the other Unas, kills Burrock with a Staff weapon to rescue his friend. While SG-1 are ready to go through the Gate Chaka and the remaining Unas decide to stay, wanting to lead a revolution to free the rest of the Unas on the planet.
The main point of Beast of Burden as an episode is to largely explore a still unexplored part of the show which is have other planets successfully rebelled against Goa’uld rule and what happened to them in the long-term.
Here we essentially see a long period over which the subdued have become the subjugators. The people of the planet at no point likely understood that the Unas were hosts of the Goa’uld rather than acting like that so after winning their freedom they used their former overlords as indentured workers. While this may have originally been little more than a punitive measure to make a point by the time the episode has come around their entire society has become reliant on the use of the Unas as slaves, to the point where the breeding of them for desired traits much like dogs has left the Unas population genetically flawed meaning they require new stock. The problem with this is it means introducing previously free Unas directly into the herd and unlike a domesticated animal, such as pets, here we have free-thinking individuals who decide amongst them to be free, ending the episode on a reversal of what happened all those centuries ago with it being the Unas who are the ones this time fighting for freedom.
One of the most interesting pieces of characterisation this episode has to be Daniel. While he’s not been one to be a pacifist, especially when it comes to the Goa’uld, in this episode Daniel takes a much more militaristic line. After seeing the slavery and treatment of the Unas he quickly realises that a diplomatic solution is no longer the option and tat violence will be necessary, going so far as accepting Chaka’s decision to fight a resistance campaign to liberate the other Unas knowing all he can do is try to give advice to not kill if he can. Outside of this there’s a small blip of characterisation I wish got explored further during the barn scene. Halfway through a child comes in escorted by one of the slave Unas, wanting to know why O’Neill hurt his father. While this philosophical side would also be interesting the real missed opportunity was at the end when you see the Unas with the child not only ignore Chaka’s call for violent resistance but also puts his arm around the child’s shoulders, indicating some kind of kinship that goes far beyond that of slave and master.
Overall however the episode remains a good one, showing that not only can a freed society become the very evil that it fought against but that prior evil isn’t an excuse for treating the descendants as the same either.
· For farmer’s running a major slave trade they’re not very smart are they, being outwitted by a P90 reload function and not using their weaponry to advance other technology as well.
· So Teal’c set the village on fire and we just ignore that? Bit of a handwave there.
Quote of the episode: “Daniel, you okay?”
“Ah, I’ve been better.”
“Oh, physically fine. But I’m not expecting a birthday present any time soon.” – Carter and Daniel over the walkie-talkie while the latter is captured with O’Neill
This time the team are off-world at a Ziggurat structure but are unable to open the main doorway. While they think they’re the first there they find a Russian cigarette pack nearby, confirming that the now offline Russian Program went there first. Back at the SGC all they could find was that a group of Russian hardliners may have been running secret ops much like the NID in the US and that one of those teams was the one at the temple. To prevent an international incident the SGC agrees to let a Russian team go with SG-1 to rescue the team, something that O’Neill is not a big fan of. After being introduced to the Russians O’Neill and his foreign counterpart, Colonel Zukhov, repeatedly jostle for command oversight on the mission.
After making their way back to the planet Daniel is able to translate the stone door after several hours, working out that you need to complete the story on the door and press the wrongly placed keys. Inside SG-1 and Lt. Marchenko quickly find a corpse belonging to the Russian team, with marks that reveal they were eaten by something. Elsewhere in the temple the rest of the Russian team and Teal’c find a Goa’uld Sarcophagus. The Russians cause the temple to become sealed when they decide to try to open the Sarcophagus, crushing Marchenko in the main door as he tries to get out the temple. The now combined team decide to open the Sarcophagus, which has been forced open by the previous Russians, to find the dead host of a Goa’uld which also is covered in teeth marks. It turns out that the priests of the Goa’uld Marduk rebelled against him, sealing him inside the Sarcophagus with a creature designed to kill him over and over very slowly.
Deciding to split up into pairs to search for another way out Teal’c and Zukhov find the rest of the Russian team while Carter and Lt. Tolinev find some kind of now empty chrysalis of the creature and continue to hear movement of it before being ambushed by it, managing to bite Tolinev on the neck. Carter however senses a Goa’uld presence, confirming that the Goa’uld claimed the creature as its new host. A journal found by Zukhov on one of the dead bodies reveals that the creature killed the team leader, two others were killed by a cave in and their scientist eventually committed suicide via a cyanide capsule. Sometime later while waiting with Daniel Major Vallarin hears a noise in a passage and decides to enter it alone.
Sometime later Teal’c and Carter are still exploring, only to have the dead body of the creature drop on them. Performing a very basic autopsy they find no symbiote inside, meaning it must’ve taken another host. Upon relaying the news to O’Neill both he and Zukhov turn on each other, each believing the other to be a host. They’re interrupted however by Vallarin who confirms he’s the Goa’uld and has since obtained a personal shield and hand-device. Vallarin demands that Zukhov hand over the Eye of Tiamat, an ancient artefact he pulled off of one of the dead team members. While he initially denies all knowledge Zukhov agrees to hand it over when the Goa’uld threatens O’Neill, but instead throws a grenade at him, trapping both the Goa’uld and Zukhov under a cave-in. It turns out however that the Goa’uld survived.
In the control room the others find an alternate way out with transport rings that were hidden in the ground. The Goa’uld confronts them just as they escape but is finally killed when them leaving triggers the C4 they placed nearby. At the debrief a Russian Liaison, Colonel Chekov, severely reprimands O’Neill for the deaths of most of the Russian team despite Tolinev speaking in the SGC’s defence but agrees to let bygones be bygones due to secret orders and screw-ups on both sides.
Anyone who has watched horror movies from the 70s and 80s can clearly see the inspiration that created The Tomb. Much of it is very much a horror movie, with shots from the creature’s perspective, dark winding corridors, an unknown danger etc. This is one of the genres the show had yet to really do compared to the usual thriller or classic sci-fi and much like with those genres it manages to successfully translate our core cast into that vain of film while maintaining its core identity at the same time.
The most interesting part of the episode for me was the interplay between the Russian and US teams inside the pyramid. Initially the two were split, with the younger members of the team willing to work together while O’Neill and Zukhov were more interested in playing out old Cold War rivalries as opposed to doing what needed to be done. This mistrust not only saw them all trapped in the first place but also causes the two men to be caught off-guard by the Goa’uld in the final chapter. Only is it with Zukhov’s final act of self-sacrifice do they put aside their differences and realise what their stupidity had done so. While I do enjoy the shift I do still think it’s a shame most of the Russian team were killed off as the continued issues of cooperation between the two former enemies could’ve added to the growing pains of the SGC and the international recognition of the Stargate.
Overall I did enjoy the episode. While the ending may have been quite quick it managed to hold the horror tone throughout and put together some interesting friction between the two superpowers on the show.
· The fact the entire set was false stone overlaid onto their Ha’tak set really does speak to how good the crews on set were at reusing old content.
· I did enjoy how Daniel called out the horror clichés a couple of times during the episode.
Quote of the episode: “Wait here.”
“Yes, you go down a dark hallway alone and I’ll wait here in a dark room alone.” – Vallarin and Daniel