Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Approaching The Possible: The World Of Stargate SG-1

This entry is long and is probably for the SG-1 faithful. I felt writing about the book was cathartic after reading it.

My latest Stargate SG-1 reference book encounter finds a work entitled Approaching The Possible: The World Of Stargate SG-1 by Jo Storm. I cannot recall the last time I rolled my eyes as much as I did with this publication. At times, Storm plugs her feminist agenda to the detriment of the material. It started well but quickly took a downward spiral when she analyzed the episodes season by season. It was an infuriating read and since it took up nearly two-thirds of the book I cannot recommend it. In fact, I think a better title choice might have been Approaching The Possible: The World Of Stargate SG-1 According to Jo Storm. Her philosophy just didn't conect with me and I certainly never witnessed some of what she covers in the same way. Were we watching the same show?

Storm purports to be a fan, like us, I think. She clearly and unabashedly offers her own unique analysis, and I do mean unique. We part company here. She covers Seasons 1-8 of SG-1 in an exhaustive episode guide where her insights are seemingly at odds with most of my own. Kudos to her for getting her highly subjective book published, never an easy task [unless you are famous or rich], but we enjoyed the series for very different reasons in many instances. Our tastes were as contrary as night to day and I was left scratching my head often. It was one of my least favorite reads in recent memory. The upside is we both love and appreciate SG-1 despite being completely polarized on the analysis.

Storm's writing is heavy-handed in her scrutiny. She reads into things and makes connections that really aren't there. Her attempts to tie culture, philosophy and historical facts to the show seemed a bit forced. I'm very much a fan of academic level text on science fiction, but I've seen much better and Storm didn't pull it off so I found myself disagreeing with her on many points despite her arguments.

Here is an endless list of reasons why I was not a fan of the book.

"shipper" - Storm loved using this word in describing O'Neill and Carter's relationship throughout the book. I understand it's a legitimate reference for television and it applies, but stop! Example: "Few episodes thus far have caused as much controversy in the Stargate fandom than A Hundred Days, especially amongst the shipper faction." Argh! She clearly doesn't classify herself as one.

"team play"- Storm refers to SG-1 episodes that revert back to the quartet as "team play." ANNOYING!

Hathor. A perfect example of Storm's reaction to anything remotely stereotypical of women. She clearly is sensitive to such "feminine wiles" throughout the series and calls it where she sees it. So her agenda/ perspective is well-represented in the book. She rips into Hathor. Look, as entertainment goes, I enjoyed the episode including the red wig. She is also critical of how the writers employed Dr. Frasier here. She loves the character but is often at odds with the creators on how they utilize her character. I didn't see a problem with what the team was accomplishing with Dr. Frasier. It was fun.

Wormhole X-treme. Storm is overly enthusiastic and overboard here. "One of the all-out funniest episodes of the show, with a carnivalesque atmosphere that's as fun as cotton candy....a delightful, vacuous and expensive-looking treat." Okay, calm down, not that funny and Episode 200 is much better. She loved Episode 100 in "the tradition of Tin Man, Urgo and Deadman Switch." What? All are very different. Deadman Switch is brilliant and Urgo was just plain dumb. As much as I love Peter DeLuise' contributions to SG-1, I'm just not a fan of Dom Deluise' comedy.

"Season two is much more about exploration than the first season was." Storm loves to box individual seasons into categories based on themes or arcs. I'm not sure why. Exploration and/or attaining technology is certainly one of the core tenets of the show throughout the series. And apparently season three is about knowledge. Huh?
"Another of the main themes of season four, along with opportunity, is choices- how we make and implement them, and their consequences." Yah, sure, that's generally what happens with most TV characters. Choices are made. Consequences result. This is deep stuff folks. Look, she backs up her statements concerning these general themes, but there's plenty of material to draw from to make a case. "The theme of politics comes up alot in Season five." What! The theme of politics comes up alot throughout the series. Season 7 is about "identity and belonging... dealing with how we choose and define who we are." Right. "Free will is one of the more encompassing themes in Stargate SG-1." True, but if we're talking philosophy here, free will as an integral part of choices made isn't all that much of a stretch.

Her comparison of the Jack/ Sam relationship to Farscape was priceless. "Unlike many other science fiction couples, neither of the two primary people in the unacknowledged relationship is "other," that is, an alien in some way or another. That facet of alienness relieves the lovers [and the audience] of much of the guilt they feel about acknowledging a 'wrong' but needed union, like Aeryn and John Crichton from Farscape." Guilt never really entered the equation for me and I felt the creators did handle the reality of their association brilliantly throughout the series. Given her implications I pray she won't be writing a Farscape book.

Storm refers to characters within her reviews as "annoying," "unnecessary," "irritating" even "bothersome." Storm won't mind if I apply those same terms to her writing and add "self-righteous," "arrogant" and "wacky."

Storm dubs the Gate as a literal device that is "feeding the audience stories." No shit. It's the avenue to adventure, but hearing her intellectualize it is just tedious. "The Gate does indeed feed us, with the characters, with their universe, with their adventures." Yawn.

Menace. "They are called Replicators because they replicate, rather than reproduce. Self-replication is the process by which something makes a copy of itself." Thank you Jo for that information. I hadn't a clue. Personally I like to think the SG-1 audience is a little smarter? This is really unnecessary stuff. She continued, "The solemn atmosphere surrounding this episode isn't entirely due to the script: parts of it were shot on September 11th, 2001, and it shows." Ummm, no it doesn't. In fact, until you mentioned it, I never would have guessed it was filmed on 9/11. Truly idiotic!

Meridian. Storm sinks her teeth into the episode that temporarily killed off Daniel Jackson. She lets the bologna fly from Greek tragedy, Zen Buddhism, Victorian sentimentality to Humanism. It is absolute horseshit. This is unquestionably a complex episode as character arcs are changing along with the team dynamic as a reult of Daniel's death, but you talk about reaching. She also takes time to criticize the choice of William Waring as the episode director and not someone else. By the way, the man did a mighty fine job with some very difficult material. She is way off base especially after she hammers the guy and proceeds to let folks know that it is "definitely worth watching." "Meridian is both bold and traditional, postmodern, egalitarian, a little maudlin, a little escapist, a little moral, a little easy of the eyes." Verbal diarrhea. Gee, and to think I enjoyed it without putting that much thought into it. Heavy praise from someone befuddled by the choice of Waring as director.

Abyss. A rare instance where I mostly agree. But comparing Baal to Seth. Come on, not even close. Cliff Simon as Baal blows Seth out of the water on the evil-o-meter factor. Baal is also a beloved villian.

Smoke And Mirrors. "Unfortunately, actor Peter Flemming looked more sad than stalwart during this episode. We keep waiting for him to double-cross Sam." I thought that was the whole point of Smoke And Mirrors.

Paradise Lost. "Not only does it borrow from movies like Black Hawk Down and Apocalypse Now, but it gives a nod to wartime photographers with their handheld sequences and close, bobbing shots." Whoa! I've seen Black Hawk Down more times than I care to count and I'm not sure if Storm has actually seen that movie based upon the evidence here. Now, Apocalypse Now perhaps as O'Neill and Mayborne dig into some hallucinogenic plants that reminisce of the period's drug-induced haze. The coloring and jungle feel might allude to Apocalypse Now or Platoon, but overall there is very little handheld camera here save for the 31 minute mark for about 2 minutes. I mean it's a real stretch to make the comparisons. It's still a decent entry in the SG-1 catalogue.

Homecoming. Jo lays it on thick here. "The episode refers to the various homecomings that are occurring on the show; while Daniel is returning to his home- both physical [Earth] and pscyhological [his memory, his mind]- Jonas has to question whether or not he still belongs at the SGC, his new home." She goes on some psychobabble rant about adapting and changing to new environs. I can imagine the actual writers reading this, "hmmm, I really hadn't considered that angle myself."

Birthright. Chris Judge turned writer hits a nerve here with Storm. The tone is way too racy and sexist and stereotypical for her liking. "The veneer of gender role reversal is just thin, since the women still have to rely on what the men provide- in order to survive. The sexualized language only adds to that- as does the very cliched scene of women warriors with gaping cleavages, riding huge black stallions. I mean, really." I kind of liked the clea...I mean stallions. I will fall back upon one of Storm's defenses from Space Race, "sometimes, that's what television is for."

Evolution. Storm and I agree on one point here, the episode is excellent. On how we reach that conclusion I couldn't have been more frustrated reading the following nonsense concerning her analysis of this fine two parter. It's always the means to her ends that completely drive me bonkers. She compares the title of this two parter to the evolution of SG-1. "It's not just Anubis who is evolving but the show itself." She indicated the show is becoming more "sciencey" and that the Super Soldiers liken it to Star Wars thanks to their "Darth Vader-like appearance." Aw come on! I love this thread and I never thought of it as bloody Star Wars. It was a fresh new direction and a lot of fun.

Grace. This is a tremendous entry and performance by Amanda Tapping. It has a kind of 'Ripley' goes it alone in space [a la Alien] feel to it. Following a head trauma, Carter attempts to come to grips with her situation in space where the Prometheus has come in contact with an alien ship. It is haunting and quietly, dramtically executed. Storm indicates "feminine scholars argue that showing the female character always in relation to others is a sign of patriarchal values at work." Here we go. I hardly think writer Damian Kindler and director Peter Woeste, despite being born with a penis, looked at Carter as anything more than the leader that she is. She wonders where Janet Frasier or Cassandra are in her disoriented mental state. All the men are here from her team though must be a conspiracy. "Why is Carter only shown in relation to men?" Perhaps because she works within a male-dominated profession and her best friends that make up her unit are men. Just guessing here Jo. I love this. "Trying to execute a mental state on film is daring, and the writers deserve some praise." Wow, that's pretty big of you. The writers do in fact succeed imho. Once again, Storm delivers her faint praise regarding SG-1 as reality-based science fiction by slamming Farscape. She notes Tapping pre-taped all her narrative voiceovers anwhich is "why the disembodied voice seems a little out of sync." Folks, this is clearly intentional by the creators and part of what makes this episode work so beautifully. It creates a certain disconnect and atmosphere and exemplifies just how out of sorts Carter is in her condition. Storm is off the mark again.

Fallout. Apparently "agenda" is another theme especially in Season 7. Storm would know all about agendas and they aren't exclusive to Season 7.

Chimera. "Sam/Jack shippers screamed for days but some people were quite happy to see something, anything happen to Samantha Carter." Storm clearly loves the concept of the "shipper" and throughout she has been a real critic of how the writers handled the Sam/ Jack relationship to the point of annoying. I admit, I'm an unabashed Sam/Jack fan of exactly how the writers managed that connection. Like any good TV relationship, the fun is in preventing the connection from being consummated. Guess I'm just a chipper "shipper."

Death Knell. This is a solid episode thanks to the writing/ directing of Peter Deluise. Storm merely equates the exercise as a means to the end or "the money shot" as she refers to it. She postulates unfairly, "the entire purpose of this episode was the 'money shot' of Jack and Sam at the end, when,... O'Neill puts an arm around her. It looks suspiciously as though the writers were doing a rather obvious 'see we're still friends!' maneuver." Of course it seems that way to you Storm. You clearly zero in on those Jack/ Sam moments like a heat-seeking missile. I'm beginning to think you're jealous. I simply enjoyed the game of cat and mouse between Carter and one of the Super Soldiers. Good fun.

Heroes [Part 2]. Referring to both parts of Heroes, I concur with Storm that they are "the best two episodes of SG-1, ever." I couldn't agree more. I don't want to give anything away here, because if you haven't seen the series, this is a HUGE episode with all kinds of power. I had trouble with Storm's efforts to tie the actions of all characters to the title of the episode. She describes filmmaker/ reporter Emmett Bregman, "even though he does manipulate emotions for a living..., and though he appears to be looking for something fantastic for his personal gain,...can we really say at the end of the episode that he is not also a hero?" Oh for BLEEPIN' sake Storm are you bloody serious!!? Shouldn't his actions simply be considered as DOING THE RIGHT BLEEPIN' THING!!!??? That is all that happens here and there is nothing heroic about it. He ain't one of the heroes. Furthermore, you might recall from Part 1 that he might have some loyalty to the situation based on a connection he made with that character. That's not heroic. If it was some faceless, nameless person to Bregman his actions might not even be what they were. Moving on.

Lost City [Part 2]. Here is another dig at the writers and their handling of Sam. "Sam's last angsty moment in an episode full of angsty moments was obvious and tasteless...every moment onscreen between her and O'Neill is a replay of every moment they've had from season four on." After eight bloody years of Sam & Jack I didn't find anything tasteless at all about the sequence. What the hell are you talking about?
Avatar. We agree. According to Storm it's "fantastic." My apologies for sounding like a bit of a simpleton here, but this entry KICKS ASS! I remember being drained after watching this one. It was a solid 10 on the intensity scale.

Gemini. Where there is a Carter-centric episode, we are sure to have Jo's agenda to follow. "Tapping does a good job of making Replicator Carter both eerie and approachable, in effect replacing her character with a more feminist version of what Carter could have been." Wow, to think I was enjoying Replicator Carter for just being pure evil. All of it aside, it's a pretty scary proposition to see Carter fighting Carter.

Prometheus Unbound. Storm is surprisingly harsh here. It's also a good example of where we just don't see eye to eye on much of her guide. For me, this was an excellent installment of SG-1 and it was by far the best Claudia Black vehicle throughout her run. Storm subtly links her performance with that of Hathor [and she hated that episode]. She's not a big fan of the "cutesy fight scenes" and appears closed to the physical comedy of this one. I thought the connection between Black and Shanks was brilliantly entertaining and laid the foundation for a relationship that lasted Seasons 9 & 10. I guess Storm will have a few things to say about those. Their chemistry is electric and if it wasn't, this entry wouldn't have worked. One of Storm's favorite things to do is alalyze the title of the episode and how it applies. For some reason she can't for the life of her understand why this one is dubbed Prometheus Unbound. "The episode isn't even really about the ship." Look, unbound means 'no limits' and the ship which is the setting for this episode's no holds barred antics is commandeered and is uncontrolled. The Vala character opposite Shanks is equally unbound in her personality. There is a physical reference to the ship's situation as well as a metaphorical reference to the characters in this episode. I'm not really sure where her confusion is on this. I love her shot across the bow at Damian Kindler as a "hit-or-miss kind of writer." What!? The guy is a hell of a lot more 'hit' than you are, not to mention a bloody genius. She dubs the episode "an updated Deadman Switch." I would say it has much of the humor of that entry and both are excellent, but they are entirely unique. Finally, Storm points out the "cultivation of homophobia" found at the end of the episode regarding the CPR maneuver. She also refers to the ring room scene at the end as being "unbelievably behind the times, and inexcusable." Wow, talk about nitpicking agendas. Kerrazy!

Citizen Joe. This clips episode owes thanks to the performance of Dan Castellaneta. He was a fascinating character study. Storm liked this as much. I think. I guess all in all we liked it for different reasons. Here's her thoughts from the Why We're Space Monkeys section quoting a fan whom she clearly agrees with: "I do have a deep, deep love of the humor episodes, especially those that are meta-commentary on the show itself ('Wormhole X-treme'? Hilarious). It always boggles my mind when I hear fans complain about those episodes, claiming that they're not true Stargate. I end up thinking, 'What show have they been watching?' SG-1 is all about the humor." I often felt the same about Storm's book. Did we both watch SG-1? Humor is good and episode 200 is damn near classic using it in the extreme, but I wasn't all that crazy about Wormhole X-treme. Jo and I tend to agree to disagree on what's funny and what's not. Storm overanalyzes the show and the Joe character as a symbolic version of the fandom or the writers as only Jo can. Did you ever think that satire or not, the appearance of Castellaneta was included for the fans who knew Jack loved Homer and The Simpsons, that it might be funny on its own accord, to have the voice of Homer be an adoring fan of Jack and SG-1. To quote Jack from Evolution Part 1, "do you see the irony?"

Reckoning. Storm goes absolutely ga-ga for this two parter. It is solid. I will say this, she's a bit hard on Season 8 as a whole. Sure, the season was reeling from Richard Dean Anderson's new role, but I thought the creators navigated through some very solid entries without his prominence. It does seem the perfect season to wrap up the eight years helmed by Anderson and moreso than any other season it felt like these final episodes of the season were really bringing things together before the natural break to a semi-new cast for Seasons 9 & 10. Oh, in Storm's view, this is Damian Kindler's best episode to date. I'm sure he'll be happy to hear it.
Threads. I enjoyed the concentration on character and the interplay of this episode far more than Storm. It's a pretty outstanding 90 minute drama tying up a whole host of loose ends, not least of which is the Sam/Jack affair or lack thereof. Storm expounds, as only she can, delving deeply into unintended meanings for this one. To my surprise she doesn't mention much about the Sam/Jack portion of Threads or the "shipper" fanbase she so loves to refer to. A solid entry and one of the last times we really get to enjoy the exchange between the quartet that is the SG-1 we know and love. I gotta say I would have been happy if it ended here. It's perfect.

Moebius Part 1. Stand back and behold Storm's brilliance as she delves into the scientific background of the "Mobius Strip." Snooze. She enjoyed the first of this two-parter a little bit more than myself. I thought it had some interesting ideas but it just didn't convert for me. On the one hand it was a great way to close out eight years of SG-1, but on the other hand it just wasn't one of my favorite finales. Storm comments "the alternate-timeline Daniel/Sam nerdy Dynamic Duo goes a little over the top." Ya think? I actually thought it was a lot over the top and I didn't quite buy the act. Still, it was adventurous. Storm also whines, "a perfect opportunity to resurrect Dr. Frasier gets overlooked." Well, here's a thought Jo, calm down, perhaps they tried and perhaps Teryl Rothery was just a little too busy with her careeer to make it to your "perfect opportunity." Good news though, they resurrect her in Season 9 for Ripple Effect, but then I'm sure you'll write about that in the revised edition of this book which I won't be buying.

Moebius Part 2. I could see this coming a mile away. Remember that "shipper" business. She saved her final thoughts for this entry and the rousing finale of a kiss between Jack and Sam [I love how those creators get it done without really doing it]. I'll say this, Storm is right on one point. Any one of the last 5 episodes could have been a season ender. The one reason I am happy they went the extra step is for the closing kiss scene or "the money shot" [I'm surprised she didn't refer to the scene this way]. It is terrific. It's the kiss scene to end all kiss scenes and it's funny. This is the real highlight of the finale or as Storm calls it "the big splash" [that why she didn't use "the money shot"], but she wants you all to know "it's not all just about the shippers." Ugh! She enjoyed the finale for so much more. Man, I feel so shallow.

I know plenty of examples right? I'm not done.

Each episode entry also includes 4 sub-sections:

Gods & Scientists: blah blah blah- Storm proceeds to spell out the meaning of various dictionary words or historical facts stemming from Egyptian and Norse mythology. I can hear Jack O'Neill now, "stop!" Yes, some of it's educational, some of it a bore and sometimes a complete reach. Here's a great example. She compares Death Knell to For Whom The Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway. "The female character as hero, and the idea of a team dynamic ultimately working together to achieve a larger end, are both contemporary views that have grown out of novels such as For Whom The Bell Tolls. And you thought reading classics was boring." Actually Jo I didn't but your work is another story. This is just a part of her lengthy entry.

Interesting Fact: The best of the four most of the time.

Why We're Space Monkeys: Here is an example of this annoyingly titled sub-section. Metamorphosis: "The women characters are changing. No longer quite so easily slotted into the templates of harlot, black widow, or nice grandmother, the female characters are becoming more complex, with conflicting emotions that are truer to contemporary women than the jaded, patriarchal stereotypes we saw in Emancipation and Hathor." Look Emancipation was just plain bad that much we agree. She refers to Hathor as a "sex goddess." Exactly, that's what she was! Here is her entry from Heroes [Part 2]: "This entire episode is why we're space monkeys, will always be space monkeys, and are defiantly proud of our space monkey status." I'm not exactly sure we're from the same "space monkey" planet after reading your book.

Parlez-vous Gate?: Some good dialogue clips. Some head scratchers.

Despite my criticism, some entries are solid and if anything it'll get you thinking if not frustrated. Making one think isn't necessarily a bad thing. Storm just comes off a bit high and mighty in her analysis of what the writers intended or didn't intend or 'should or shouldn't have done'. It comes off a bit smug for my liking. She does include a nice interview with Darren Sumner, gatekeeper to Stargate's most popular fansite Gateworld.

Storm does a good job conveying exactly what appeals to the diverse cross-section of SG-1 fans. It's varied for various people, which is precisely why this show has blossomed. "From fans who adore the mythology, to the science and technology fans, to the fans of the military aspect. There are so many different types of people who enjoy the show for different reasons" explains one fan quoted in the book. So actually it wasn't Storm who said that but she did include it.

I couldn't help but ponder that thought. You have to give it to the folks who greenlit this show for an extended period. They gave it time to find its footing. They gave it time to relax and find its way. So many shows are cancelled out of the gate [no pun intended] before they get off the ground. It can take upwards of 2-3 seasons to really soar and often times shows never get a chance to get there. So hats off to those involved who allowed a new mythology, outside of Star Trek, the chance to shine for a change. SG-1 [along with Babylon 5] altered the playing field at least slightly. No longer did sci-fi fans have to merely walk in the shadows of Star Trek alone. Now we have more.

At first I enjoyed Jo Storm's book, but it quickly progressed into a very painful exercise for me once I reached her extensive episode guide. It was long-winded, exhaustive and exhausting on overanalysis and reading into aspects of the show that just weren't there. Episodes she did not enjoy I liked. The ones she loved I often felt were weak. I felt she wrote the whole thing from a very different background philosophically and her perspective was quite different. She constantly harped on the "shippers" and the Jack/Sam relationship. I just can't recommend this book. Quite frankly, I'm not sure how she enjoyed the show. Still, if you're interested in provoking a bit of thought by all means. This one's not for everybody, but it may be for you.

Good news for fans of Jo Storm, she's released a new book Frak You! The Ultimate Unauthorized Guide To Battlestar Galactica. I've got news for you. I'm not surprised it's unauthorized or that it's "ultimate unauthorized." Honestly, I'm surprised Approaching The Possible wasn't unauthorized. I can only imagine the world of Battlestar Galactica according to Jo Storm. Will I be buying that book? Frak you!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...


When DO you have time to write this stuff?

I just don't get it....