Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Farscape S1 Ep10: They've Got A Secret

It has become readily apparent to me, despite my late arrival to the series, that Farscape [1999-2003] has quickly attained the rank of one of my all-time favorite science fiction adventures based solely on Season One. Whether or not the series retains that affection beyond Season One is to be determined.

Farscape is at once an exhilarating thrill-ride and contemplative journey on ideas old and new. There is often a fresh new resonance to old concepts as well as unanticipated approaches to science fiction principles. there is no question the creators and writers spin ideas on their heads and often leave the viewer with unexpected revelations that defy expectations. The new Battlestar Galactica [2004-2009] took that same approach and worked wonders within Ronald D. Moore's mournful universe and reimagining of the more hopeful original by Glen A. Larson. Farscape defies similar probabilities by plopping our Earth hero in a topsy-turvy, far-out universe where even ships can give birth. Of course, with Farscape, there is a strange, but delicious balance, between the seriousness of situational drama and humor. Stargate Atlantis [2004-2009] and Stargate SG-1 [1997-2007] certainly used humor to great effect as well, but Farscape is just plain odd at times in the most imaginative of ways. That defiance of science fiction convention is what makes the series so special. You relish every unexpectedly colorful turn. Like the classic Star Trek: The Original Series [1966-1969], even some of the weaker moments in the series offer the science fiction fan something the eyes, ears and mind can celebrate. This is why Farscape ranks among the very best even next to the classics.

If there was ever pause to illustrate just how different Farscape is from any other science fiction series, it would have to be the latest installment, whereby the spotlight is on the living vessel itself, a Leviathan called Moya.

Starlog Magazine #261 really delivers on the premise that is genuinely highlighted in this episode. "Farscape is not a typical 'ship' show, like Star Trek. And the Moya is not a typical starship. 'This is not a ship a ship with any form of military hierarchy on board,' says O'Bannon. 'This isn't the Enterprise. This isn't Babylon 5." Indeed, there's rarely anything typical about this sparkling series. Farscape is the real deal and like the unique mothership that is Moya, this is a one of a kind series all its own.

Welcome aboard. It's Farscape, Season One, Episode 10, They've Got A Secret. For a series so utterly filled with aliens and technicolor it never ceases to amaze me how Farscape is perhaps one of the most human science fiction adventures ever created. It takes human ideas, concepts and realities and dresses them up like no other, but it maintains all of the emotion that we as humans connect to. The creators never veer away from the emotional core of its cast of characters making it all the more real.

The entry begins as the crew attempts to locate installed or semi-installed Peacekeeper devices that have been sewn into the ship that is Moya. Peacekeeper technology was integrated within her.
Despite John Crichton's observation that the team remains in the Uncharted Territories, Aeryn Sun wisely cautions that Moya could get close enough to Bialar Crais to cause re-activation of some of the Peacekeeper mechanisms aboard her.

Ka D'Argo informs Pilot he has discovered some on-board Peacekeeper equipment. Despite Pilot's inaudible instructions he attempts to remove it physically. He is shocked, rocked back and thrown deep inside Moya sliding through a long shaft to an eventual halt. D'Argo proceeds to kick out a Peacekeeper plate causing an explosion, which jettisons him outside of the ship purging him like excrement to a potentially grim fate. The episode offers Moya a physical sense of dimension and the sloping effect of corridors gives viewers a genuine feel of space and internal structure to the living ship.
D'Argo is picked up in his floating frozen state and returned to Moya after 30 minutes in a miraculous life-saving attempt. Efforts at reviving D'Argo return him with smiles as he looks into the Delvian P'au Zotoh Zhaan's eyes and recalls his former lover Lo'Laan.

Meanwhile, our dear Leviathan shakes and rumbles. Crichton is concerned about Moya. Pilot is uncertain and Crichton wonders if Pilot is well. Pilot indicates D'Argo's last known location was Tier 21 speaking to a tier system within Moya.

Pilot is attempting to send DRDs [Diagnostic Repair Drones] to assist Crichton and Sun who are investigating. Unfortunately all is not entirely well with Pilot. As a creature sharing a symbiotic relationship with Moya, he is feeling uneasy clearly affected by whatever it is troubling Moya.

Crichton is bemused by the very fact he walks within a living ship and can only make a comparison from his world to Jonah and The Whale. The reference is to an Israeli prophet in the 8th Century B.C. from The Book Of Jonah who was swallowed by a big fish or whale. The same reference could imply the scenario created for Walt Disney's Pinocchio [1940]. There's further suggestions that reminisce of Richard Fleischer's Fantastic Voyage [1966] and the idea of exploring the internal complexity of the living body. Here, each week, we have a team, a family literally living inside a creature. They've Got A Secret amplifies that suggestion as powerfully as any episode to date. Though, Episode 3, Exodus From Genesis is perhaps the greatest complement to this sense of physical exploration, which makes sense given both episodes share the same scriptwriter.

When Crichton and Sun do find the DRDs they are busy repairing a hole in Moya. They in turn strike Sun with a purple glue-like substance. Crichton intervenes before further damage is done. The DRDs, Moya's answer to the human autoimmune system, protect her, but why are they attacking her previously acceptable passengers?

Crichton finds Zhaan who is attempting to work on the unconscious D'Argo. Crichton presents the purple "superglue"-like substance to Zhaan in the hopes she may have some ideas so that he might release Sun who is stuck elsewhere.

Zhaan is unable to raise Pilot. It appears D'Argo ingested some bioparticles that were clearly part of Moya's defense system or body during the explosion.

Finally, Sun is able to break free from the purple jello mold thanks to a Zhaan-concocted solvent applied by Crichton. Sun and Crichton wonder if it's not a viral weapon implanted by the Peacekeepers. Is it bio-mechanoid or something more capable of affecting Moya as well as Pilot and D'Argo. All kinds of hypotheses are bandied about as the crew of Moya is left to scratch their heads.

Escorted to his quarters D'Argo dreams of Lo'Laan and looks lovingly at Zhaan who goes along with his delusions, like a daughter or son might with their aging parent. Zhaan finally asks "Who is Lo'Laan?"

Elsewhere, Crichton learns how Sebaceans are inoculated against "Space-transmitted diseases" as he calls them. Crichton is moved by the advancements in this farscape. "Disease and death are rampant on my world." This is a terrific little scene delivered by Ben Browder with his usual twist of wry humor at the end.

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Things continue to go from bad to worse concerning Moya's functionality within established norms. Refrigeration is down and something smells in Denmark. Pilot reports to Crichton and Sun that he is seeing intentional signs of sabotage to Moya. Crichton even notes the DRDs are repairing one another. The DRDs see their humanoid passengers as something of a foreign, potentially harmful invader to Moya.

Pilot is sick. His vitals are weak. Sun is able to take Pilot's controls and get things stabilized on the rocking ship. In a nice bit of arc-building and story connectivity, Crichton tells Zhaan he suspects Sun has some natural inclinations to work Moya's controls. Thanks to the Pilot DNA insertions made on her while in the care of Namtar in Episode 9, DNA Mad Scientist. There's an interesting interrelationship between Sun and Pilot that will be revealed in Season Two. Zhaan insists Pilot's biological influence was flushed from Sun's body. Crichton isn't so sure.

Moya is quickly usurping all control of her vessel's functions. Atmospherics is all that remains.

Rygel arrives in D'Argo's quarters snooping around the goods because Rygel, to this point, is undeniably the most self-absorbed of the crew. D'Argo awakens and calls him Jothee and demands he come close to him. D'Argo hugs Rygel. D'Argo continues his fantasy speaking with his perceived son Jothee and offers the viewer information concerning of his life prior to his arrival on Moya.

The lights and air are begin to cease function. These facilities merely benefited the crew, as part of the symbiotic connection, and Pilot controlled these functions. Pilot is currently unavailable and Moya is in charge.

Sun reports that Pilot's blood is nutrient-starved. Crichton suspects a virus and humorously pipes to Sun then "get him some nutrients."

Zhaan has determined this is not the work of a virus, and that particles are distinctly Moya-derived. Sun investigates further.

Rygel is tucked in by D'Argo under the illusion that he is Jothee. D'Argo continues pining for Lo'Laan.

Crichton finds D'Argo and tells him things are pretty dire, but Crichton is perceived by D'Argo to be Mackton, the disapproving brother of Lo'Laan, the woman D'Argo married. Slipping from his delusion, D'Argo informs Crichton he saw a Peacekeeper shield "holding something back" down in the shaft tier. His clarity is ephemeral. D'Argo isn't much help as Crichton calls him "short-circuited."

Crichton is blocked by DRDs and must find another route. Sun is doing her best at the controls. Finding another route, Crichton runs into hundreds of DRDs clearly in a defensive posture. It's like Harrison Ford running from the Stormtroopers in Star Wars as they fire upon him and he makes a run back sliding toward the entrance hole where he is greeted by more DRDs on the other side. Sun manages to shut down the DRDs. Sun explains the DRDs are vital to services. There is still a lack of clarity by the crew over the DRDs new found role. Everyone is still in the dark concerning Moya.

Zhaan, Crichton and Sun attempt to make sense of Moya's intentions regarding the DRDs. Is Moya trying to kill the crew?

Crichton wonders if shutting down Moya might not be the only way to save her "and us."

Elsewhere, Rygel is getting a piggyback ride as that subplot continues. D'Argo arrives with Rygel in command and turns to Zhaan whom he believes to be Lo'Laan and he kisses her. It is a sweet, loving moment as Zhaan not only allows D'Argo his brief moment of happy escape, but seemingly allows herself one moment of flight too. It is gentle. It is kind. It is loving. It is Zhaan who gives him that. This is the kind of emotional current the writers find time to inject into the often strange proceedings. Through all of the tension and ignorance over the criticality of their situation the writers find that opportunity to break down the character walls.

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The folks behind The Muppets rarely hesitate to infuse, inject or insert ;) sexuality or sensuality into this Farscape. Amidst all of the crew's problems, D'Argo reveals much about his past in the episode including the death of his wife at the hands of her brother Mackton. Heartbreakingly, D'Argo sent his son Jothee away against his wishes because he was charged with Lo'Laan's death despite his innocence. D'Argo reveals much to his crewmates as they mirror aspects of his past life. Mackton arrested D'Argo. Mackton was a Peacekeeper. Mackton was Sebacean. Lo'Laan was Sebacean. Tears fall from Zhaan's eyes with this discovery. Powerful family secrets are revealed as the running theme in They've Got A Secret.

Sun informs the crew she has found the physical connections to Moya's higher functions. In order to sever the link she must physically cut them. This is significantly traumatic. Once again, the surrogate family is faced with another violent physical act reminiscent of the act forced upon Pilot in DNA Mad Scientist. Sun refuses to do it alone unless everyone agrees. "This isn't my decision alone. If I do this, we all have to be apart of it." They do. This is just one more building block between this group of survivors who continue their journey learning about what each holds dear in their hearts. How far are they willing to go in making dramatic, severe decisions?

Crichton heads into the shaft. Sun has cut through the protective casing of Moya's system cables. Once again, it's worth noting the sets and the colors. Crichton's space suit is exquisitely conceived and is notable in a long line of amazing spacesuits to grace science fiction television from Star Trek: The Original Series to UFO and Space:1999 or Battlestar Galactica to Stargate Atlantis. Each have produced some incredible costume designs. Farscape is populated with beautiful production work.

Traipsing down the inner walls of Moya's (uterus or intestine?) internals, Crichton discovers something very special indeed. As Sun begins cutting Moya's higher functions, Crichton announces something profound. Moya has a baby! Moya is pregnant! All of the the hypotheses that seemed so logical throughout the episode go out the window. Moya has been simply trying to protect its unborn child and its efforts to nurture the baby Leviathan. As Sun nearly finishes the cutting of the life-giving cables, everyone shouts for her to stop! A baby's life depends on it! Sun ceases just shy of inadvertently taking Moya's child.

This is a powerful moment of realization.

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Like Star Trek: The Original Series Farscape is an unabashedly great looking production filled with color. The suggestion of abortion and that accompanying debate is not lost. There is a visual and atmospheric intensity here that speaks to that issue and how life and death here resonates in the future landscape of Farscape and the survival of Moya's offspring will be revealed in time. Such ideas are always powerful and profound. Consider the late Steve Jobs born in 1955. No one can deny the global impact of the man on technology and the way we communicate and yet his parents immediately placed him up for adoption rather than resort to abortion prior to his birth. This is certainly a considerable reality for reflection. In the fictional universe of Farscape, what will decisions of the crew mean going forward?

Crichton reaches Moya and somehow Moya is taught to understand their symbiotic relationship may persist and endure without harming her unborn child.

Pilot explains his role to Crichton that he is there to serve Moya and "she may do whatever she feels is necessary to ensure her survival." This extends to the fetus, which is alive and well.

Crichton believes The Peacekeepers didn't want it to happen. Efforts were made to prevent reproduction.

Sun inquires if D'Argo is okay and he thanks her for saving him in the Prowler.

This is a powerful exchange that speaks volumes about the barriers that are falling between these comrades on the run. Sun is changing and this openness is leading to a softening in others like that of the warrior heart of D'Argo. These are the moments that build friendships and families.

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While the entry tackles the concept of health and disease, it is a red herring for something far more logical and beautiful - the gift of life. This natural reaction of a mother to protect her young is mis-perceived throughout the entire episode. As lives are nearly snuffed away, the secret is discovered that these were but actions of an overprotective mother. What greater presentation of the things we as humans value and connect to so vividly than the maternal nature of a living ship. Once again, as far out as Farscape takes us, it somehow manages to keep us close thanks to its extraordinary ability to present human pain, joy and celebration in such an inventive and magnificently affecting and real manner. Our courageous ship and crew harbor many secrets and, yes, they've all got them from Moya to D'Argo and everyone in between. Don't we all? Does it get more human than that?

Director Ian Watson was brought on board for the entry as a character-centric, performance director. The creative team behind Farscape looked to place some of the action-oriented artists, Tony Tilse, Andrew Prowse and Rowan Woods on hold, to breath life into the entry, and breathe life they did. This would be Watson's first of many directorial entries in the series. Ironically, this solid entry would be writer Sally Lapiduss' second and final outing for the show following her other worthy tale, Exodus From Genesis, but she certainly lends the story a sensitive, maternal touch amidst the general Farscape pandemonium.

Looking at the big picture, They've Got A Secret places the child at the center of the story, D'Argo's son Jothee, and more importantly Moya's baby. Could the symbolism of such a moment be any less significant for the crew that is Moya? Children are at the heart of any family. The crew of Moya are now actively looking to protect one of their own together. With the Peacekeepers on the prowl, they've got a very big secret indeed.

They've Got A Secret: B. Writer: Sally Lapiduss. Director: Ian Watson.

Pop culture reference: John Crichton: "Is there some kind of What To Expect When You're Expecting A Baby Leviathan book - Dr. Spock, Mr. Spock?"

Director Footnote: Ian Watson. Director of 15 episodes of Farscape. Four episodes in Season One, four episodes in Season Two, five episodes in Season Three and two episodes in Season Four.

Monday, November 28, 2011

The Courtship Of Eddie's Father Theme

This will bring back memories for some. This is the delightfully charming theme song to The Courtship Of Eddie's Father [1969-1972]. The series ran for three seasons and 73 episodes. The series starred Bill Bixby.

As an homage to Bixby I intended on putting this up about a week ago. It was November 21, 1993 that Bixby passed away succumbing to cancer at the premature young age of 59.

There are actors, singers and icons in your life that remind you of a significant period in your existence, a time that became part of the fabric of who you are for a span and Bixby, for me, was one of those people. Apart from his, well, incredible run as Dr. David Banner on The Incredible Hulk [1977-1982], Bixby also played Tom Corbett on the unforgettable series The Courtship Of Eddie's Father that switched up comedy and drama with seemingly relative ease. There were moments in that series that spoke to the many childhood dilemmas and troubles one faces in youth. Bixby always handled those delicate quandaries with sensitivity and sincerity. The Courtship Of Eddie's Father remains one of those series that had a profound effect on me as a child. We all have them. As insignificant as the series may be to most, it arrived at a good time in my own life and clearly influenced my own view of the world. And who says TV doesn't influence?

The theme song was comissioned, written and recorded by Harry Nilsson, but was surprisingly never released on record. Here's that classic, elusive theme song, Best Friend, and a sample of the show's always original openings.

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Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving.





Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Star Trek: TNG S1 Ep9: The Battle

As I continue my season long disappointment with Star Trek: The Next Generation, Season One I kept thinking about an interview I recalled with actor Martin Landau concerning his disappointment over the writing and some of the scripts that were assigned to him for his two year stint on Space:1999. As a fan of that series I have always been mildly saddened by his remarks suggesting the stories weren't good enough. Landau may have a point about some of the character elements in that series maybe not getting enough traction as far as development. But, I can imagine Landau, had he been assigned the role of Picard, might have had a few things to say about ST:TNG Season One as well.

Season One of ST:TNG makes the character development on Space:1999 feel like five seasons of Babylon 5. How about even a half season of Firefly? Okay, I'm exaggerating a bit here, but Space:1999 always did get a bum, undeserved wrap.

How is it, for whatever reason, ST:TNG always manages its way into the upper echelons of science fiction lists despite the weight of its first season, an unbalanced second season and a good number of lemons to boot along the way? To quote Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars Episode II: Attack Of The Clones, "Curious?"

With all that Space:1999 achieved in two years as far as establishing an original mythology, a strong vision, a cast of intriguing characters with great potential and amazing visual effects, arriving over a decade before the first episode of ST:TNG aired, I wonder how it is this miracle series is continually relegated to a status far below that of ST:TNG? Would ST:TNG make the top ten lists based on its first two seasons? I suspect those are questions in this universe that shall forever go unanswered floating like endless stardust into the black void of space.

In fact, it's interesting British mastermind Gerry Anderson picked American thespian Martin Landau, while Gene Roddenberry selected British stage actor Patrick Stewart to helm and steer their collective ships. Both are incredibly strong actors. Just as Landau housed doubts about Space:1999 going into that unlikely commitment, Stewart too understood Star Trek: The Next Generation as a healthy pay check and secretly pondered the unlikely potential to go beyond one year, never mind the intended six year plan. You just never know.

What Landau and company achieved in just two seasons for Space:1999 versus what it took those backing ST:TNG to achieve over the course of seven seasons, one could argue Space:1999 was largely a bigger success despite cancellation. Let the debate begin. On the other hand one could argue Space:1999 might have achieved even greater heights had it gone seven years. Can you imagine? Oh the places we could have gone before.

In the meantime, we reach the ninth installment of Star Trek: The Next Generation, Season One, Episode 9, The Battle. Space:1999 delivered a classic called Force Of Life for its ninth installment. Does ST:TNG deliver as big at this point as Space:1999 did back in 1975?

"Ugly, very ugly" declares one of the equally distasteful looking Ferengi, a race of profiteers and traders, over the free offer by one of their own of Picard's old vessel the U.S.S. Stargazer. It's a derelict ship offered to the crew of the Enterprise-D.

The Captain is experiencing mental breaks with reality and reliving moments from his past aboard the Stargazer, abandoned nine years earlier by Picard and his then crew.

The Battle of Maxia. Data retrieves and reveals records that indicate Picard fired upon and destroyed a vessel while under a flag of truce. Audio files reveal Picard's voice, but Picard has no recollection. DaiMon Bok has forged the audio recordings. How?

Picard continues to suffer bouts of headaches. The question remains, how are the Ferengi responsible? Riker intervenes contacting the silly Ferengi prompting one to respond, "I'm all ears."

As Picard experiences mental conflict thanks to the Ferengi's manipulations of the Captain I couldn't help but feel a certain deja vu. The Battle was beginning to exhibit elements of schism reminiscent of Season One, Episode 5, The Enemy Within and Captain James T. Kirk's own psychic battle of sorts from Star Trek: The Original Series. It's very subtle.

Picard transports over to the Stargazer where this tale of revenge becomes more and more evident. Ferengi DaiMon Bok is looking to exact revenge on the Captain who took the life of his son during the Battle of Maxia.

The early boyish look of the always capable Number One. The Stargazer approaches the Enterprise-D. The Ferengi plan, the act of one sole Ferengi, outside the blessing of his comrades, is to see Picard destroyed. A thought maker is discovered in Picard's quarters. The device is altering Picard's good sense as he plans to fire upon the Enterprise-D leaving them no option but to fire back in self-defense ensuring certain death for Picard.

The Ferengi Captain, DaiMon Bok, is incarcerated for engaging in "this unprofitable venture." The Ferengi are clearly disgusted by their colleagues actions in using their resources for a personal motive. It is noted there is no profit in revenge as Picard agrees, "there never is." "Let the dead rest and the past remain the past." The thought makers are destroyed and Picard is saved. The episode does offer a little more information regarding the motivations of the Ferengi, but it doesn't make any more entertaining. No worries though, DaiMon Bok returns for Season Seven, Episode 22, Bloodlines.

Denise Crosby seemingly confused and uncomfortable in her role throughout Season One. There are certain aspects to Stewart's performance as Picard, Jonathan Frake's Number One [often finding himself in the tightest and most difficult of situations alternating between taking orders and giving them at the drop of a dime] and supporting roles from Gates McFadden and others that are entirely natural and strong on their own. Unfortunately, once again, the material here is weak and not entirely convincing particularly with the laughable thought maker as a storytelling device.

Seeing the return of the Ferengi offered me little comfort since their abysmal introduction in Episode 5, The Last Outpost. Thus far, the Ferengi have been poorly implemented as a race within the ST:TNG universe. Where is the Borg when you need them?

In the Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion, writer Larry Nemecek made note of Rick Berman's accurate reflections on the Ferengi dubbing them a "disappointment as a major adversary" and ranking the creatures high on the "silliness quotient." I couldn't second that emotion more.

There is little, credible logic to some of the shifts in the story. Picard verbally shares the famous Picard Maneuver and demonstrates he does indeed have the ball... wherewithal when required. At this point, you can only hope it's not just a story.

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The idea of Picard as a sound tactician and captain has yet to be fully revealed. This is certainly a sticking point regarding the politically correct, ever so contemplative Captain thus far in the series. But far be it from me to be too hard. He is a Starfleet Captain after all and he had to be on the ball most of the time to get there.

Director Rob Bowman returns for his second outing following Episode 6, Where No One Has Gone Before. The Battle is a step back. Stylistically the episode isn't poorly constructed, but Bowman is working with thin material here. Bowman wouldn't truly shine until he took the reins of what I consider to be the season's hallmark, Episode 20, Heart Of Glory.

The Battle is both a mental battle of Picard versus Picard, but is far from the engaging Kirk versus Kirk of The Enemy Within. Mind you, both are entirely ludicrous, but Star Trek: The Original Series sold the idea and made it incredibly entertaining thanks to a script by Richard Matheson. The Enemy Within, did so much more with the dichotomy of the Captain's character, however great the impossibility of its science fiction. At least it was extraordinarily good fun. Even The Battle isn't a very convincing battle as battles and revenge tales go. Granted the title, The Battle, is as much a reference to Maxia as it is any present struggles. Is this the best you've got!? As much as this as much a mental battle as a physical one, Picard's maneuvers aren't enough to engage the viewer. Once again, ST:TNG misfires in its lackluster first season run.

May the legendary Picard Maneuver lead us to the light at the end of a fairly dismal Season One tunnel and right this ship.

The Battle: C-

Writer: Larry Forrester & Herbert Wright. Director: Rob Bowman.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Stargate SG-1 S1 Ep1: Children Of The Gods [Original Cut]

Stargate SG-1's Children Of The Gods. Where the ten year SG-1 run all began.
"Have you thought about writing a book?" -General George Hammond-

"I've thought about it, but I'd have to shoot anybody who read it."
-Colonel Jack O'Neill-

Who would have ever imagined a film by Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin would generate three franchises running a sum total of 17 seasons? Stargate [1994], starring Kurt Russell, was a fine little science fiction excursion. I saw it in theatres once upon a time. It was a solid little idea implementing a device for agents of the military to wormhole through to vast adventures in other worlds. Apart from enterprising vessels, transporter rooms and hurtling moons has there been a more brilliant mechanism for delivering delicious science fiction drama? This, of course, was merely the beginning.

Ultimately it was the initial concept [one of the best ever by the overrated Emmerich and Devlin] that creators Brad Wright and Jonathan Glassner took to new heights in the form of an ongoing science fiction serial that really captured my unquenchable imagination. Stargate SG-1 [1997-2007], the first franchise, lasted ten interstellar seasons and generated a mythology as long and winding as that road The Beatles once sang about. By the time the franchise branched off into new areas, Stargate Atlantis [Five Seasons] and Stargate Universe [Two Seasons] you'd need the memory of a tree to keep up, but that's the fun of it. SG-1 generated four primary, beloved characters and a giant supporting cast of adored guests that remain forever part of our science fiction consciousness and in our hearts.

Each incarnation of the Stargate concept is unique and some would be hard-pressed to select their favorite. SG-1 would likely pull out on top as the original with its steadfast quartet of Colonel Jack O'Neill, Samantha Carter, Daniel Jackson and alien member Teal'c of the Jaffa, but it's a toss up between SG-1 and Stargate Atlantis for this adoring fan. It could go either way on any given day and at the moment Stargate Atlantis is in the pole position for this fan of the franchise. I can't say enough about Stargate Atlantis, a blast of a series on par with the likes of Farscape for me, but that's for another day.

As for the more measured, but equally terrific, military-centric SG-1, it seems like only yesterday it went off the air. It's last airing episode came in March of 2007 in the form of Stargate SG-1, Season 10, Episode 22, Unending. I offered a brief write-up of that ensemble-led SG-1 [sadly minus Richard Dean Anderson, but including the remarkable Ben Browder and Claudia Black of Farscape] over four years ago this month as my second ever blog entry here at Musings Of A Sci-Fi Fanatic, long before I found the rhythms and format I would establish and feature regularly here today with my evolving voice.

Where we stand on these franchises and the various distinct characters that have been brought to life is a debate that rages as endless as a twisting wormhole.

The arrival of Stargate Atlantis on Blu-Ray merely stoked the fires of my desire to see SG-1 achieve Blu-Ray status one day and fill the void on my mantle. We can hope and believe it will one day happen. If it can happen for Star Trek: The Next Generation, can Jack O'Neill be far behind? Beginning with this entry, I can only dream that I will complete a long run of coverage on the Stargate saga.

I got to thinking about what I loved most about SG-1 and, of course, the reasons are many. Still, hold me at the threshold of an event horizon that leads to the cold blackness of space and I'd have to submit to you that it was Richard Dean Anderson who easily convinced me this was a series worth watching. The strong story ideas infused with humor and Anderson's wry, sometimes dry, delivery always appealed to that part of me that yearned for a little joy in my science fiction. After all, shows like Space:1999 and Babylon 5 [save for a few moments here and there] were fairly deadly serious more akin to The Walking Dead than SG-1, and that's the beauty in variety and having sci-fi options.

The American military man, Jack O'Neill, kept things grounded and we loved him for it, week in and week out, in the face of some pretty stiff odds and dark possibilities.

In honor of his contribution to the series, we begin a look at Stargate SG-1, season by season, and the world according to Jack O'Neill. Since O'Neill waxed philosophic or humorous in the face of adversity during life's many moments don't be surprised if our look back at this groundbreaking franchise [the first to truly challenge the stranglehold on science fiction long held by Gene Roddenberry's Star Trek] places an emphasis on all things Jack O'Neill. Call it a man crush, but Richard Dean Anderson spoke to me and often times you too with his world view, matter-of-fact style and plain speaking. He was like the every man locked inside all of us unafraid to come right out and tell it like it is. He cut through the bull crap and nailed it every time. As heroes go, he was like a modern day Harry Truman.

So let's see where this takes us, but for now, we're going to keep the journey light and fun, sometimes short and sweet, just as O'Neill would have it. We're sure to learn a few life lessons along the way to boot front he world according to Jack O'Neill.

Technically, the story began with Stargate, the movie, but the series picks up where that film left off linking to some of the initially open-ended threads of that story. We engage the gate and lock chevrons with Stargate SG-1, Season One, Episode 1, the two hour Pilot, Children Of The Gods [1997], where the great wormhole adventure all began.

Richard Dean Anderson stars as the one and only Jack O'Neill a result of ingenious casting and a bit of good fortune. He replaces actor Kurt Russell, who played O'Neil [with one 'l'] in the film, and the character soars in Anderson's care. Anderson's O'Neill remains affectionately one of the most beloved characters in science fiction television, which explains his popularity and his rare appearances in the other two franchises as well as his part in the final two season of SG-1 and its corresponding films, The Ark Of Truth and Continuum. Anderson claimed the role and in a rare, freak happenstance, Russell is nearly forgotten as the man who first brought the character to life originally. It's no slight of Russell as Anderson is given the wide berth of a series to infuse the character with his personality and own it. Richard Dean Anderson becomes Jack O'Neill.

Colonel Jack O'Neill is pulled from retirement. He connects with Major General George Hammond, unforgettably portrayed by the late Don S. Davis, in charge of Stargate command deep inside Cheyenne Mountain whereby Earth's military travels via an ancient, alien portal called the Stargate. The team's mission: the search and acquisition of alien technology.

We are introduced to astrophysicist, Captain Samantha Carter, played brilliantly with both brains and beauty by Amanda Tapping [I've never fully embraced her role as a Brit in Sanctuary]. Through the Stargate the SG-1 team returns to Abydos to retrieve Dr. Daniel Jackson, played with nerdy, James Spader-like precision early on by Michael Shanks. Finally, the trio is joined by Jaffa warrior and First Prime to Apophis, Teal'c, who betrays head Goa'uld Apophis, an alien being that alludes in name to an Egyptian demon. Teal'c, clearly of good heart, sees something in the resolve of O'Neill in his battle against Apophis, his enslaver, triggering Teal'c's desire to rise up against his oppressors. Teal'c betrays the Goa'uld, viewed as gods, and joins SG-1 as the team exits Abydos in a desperate escape.
Apophis is essentially Ra's replacement, who died in the Stargate film. Ra, an alien lifeform played by Jaye Davidson [The Crying Game], alluded to the ancient Egyptian sun god.

The Pilot to the series is notably strong. Who knew the team that would comprise SG-1 would constitute the chemistry and magic needed to keep the Stargate franchise and viewership engaged for ten full seasons [214 episodes]. Stargate SG-1 surpassed The X-Files for longest-running science fiction series in North America. The cast would remain together with but one replacement for Michael Shanks during Season Six for eight seasons. The final two seasons saw the substitution of our adored Richard Dean Anderson for the talented likes of Ben Browder and Claudia Black of Farscape. The decision to bring those two talents aboard seemed a natural fit given the kind of unashamed humor that permeated both series. Still, it's worth noting that it took four feet to fill Anderson's shoes, but fill them Browder and Black did. Farscape and Stargate SG-1 offered sci-fi outlets capable of walking the fine line of strong storytelling and smart writing infused with humor. It's not an easy tightrope to walk. Both managed the approach to classic success. Stargate Atlantis followed suit.

The show must be taken in stride and with humor. This is entertainment after all. The American military seems to freely intermingle with aliens between Teal'c, Vala Mal Doran [formerly a host to the Goa'uld and matriarch to an ORI leader], the Tok'ra and Jonas Quinn. All work closely with classified information throughout their tenors. Yes, suspend disbelief and roll with it indeed.

With a seamless professionalism the cast immersed themselves into their respective roles. Apart from some minor, awkward moments, the cast immediately connects out of the gate, to use a word, with their parts. The cast grows remarkably strong with each passing episode. But almost immediately the characters fit like hand in glove and merely capitalize on this natural chemistry. It's a pleasure to see an ensemble sell the science fiction so effortlessly. Star Trek: The Original Series, Firefly and Stargate Atlantis are all strong examples, while others have not necessarily had such good fortune.

There isn't one among the cast that didn't embrace the working relationship from the start. There was immediate chemistry and working relationships would quickly become friendships. That natural ease with one another was easily conveyed to the audience in the wonderfully accessible stories of Stargate. Actress Amanda Tapping expressed that sentiment in Starlog Magazine #249 [1998]. "We're all really good friends. We care about and respect one another. The chemistry we have as friends lends itself to the chemistry we share on screen." No truer words have been spoken about a science fiction cast. These guys connect and they all feel that way to a man and woman. I don't normally quote the lovefest between cast members. It's generally boring stuff, but it's important to note with Stargate SG-1, because it is so evident and integral to the nature of the show's success.

This nude scene would be among the many casualties of the director's Final Cut of Children Of The Gods [2009]. While not entirely necessary, the nudity is in no way gratuitous. Christopher Judge shared similar thoughts in Starlog Magazine #251 [1998]. "Shanks is like my younger brother. We get along fabulously.... Amanda Tapping is like my sister. It sounds almost too rosy, I know, but we get along that well."

Richard Dean Anderson expressed his own sense of loyalty to the pack in Starlog Magazine #289. "We all get along famously." He goes on. But, again, the reason for pointing to this excessive praise for one another is to highlight one of the show's greatest strengths–character! The series is filled with it and with them.

Grounding the quartet is unofficial fifth member General Hammond, played with tough believability by the late Don S. Davis [Twin Peaks, The X-Files]. Davis views the series as one of the few that stabilizes the genre within a military reality, through a ranking hierarchical prism. In Starlog Magazine #275, he offers M*A*S*H and China Beach as analogies to the kinds of humanistic portraits of the military characters presented on Stargate SG-1. He wouldn't be wrong. What Stargate SG-1 may have lacked in hard science fiction it more than compensated for with strong stories, an effort to conform to military realities, a sound mythology with smart mythological underpinnings, a sense of humor and crackling interrelationships as they ventured into the vast unknowns of space.

And like the cast of SG-1, Davis too had a tremendous affection for his fellow actors. His regard for Anderson is extremely high. "He is one of the nicest, most honorable men I've ever worked with. And he's tremendously talented." It is without question the casting of the series was the fulcrum by which the creators could explore their fascinating worlds and mythology. Without this chemistry SG-1 might have faltered and failed despite the perfection of the Stargate as a story device. Clearly other factors come into play. Otherwise, how could you explain Firefly's quick dismissal?

The effects and production values are stunningly good for a pilot of this vintage. Are they perfect? No. But they look remarkably good and have a major leg up on Star Trek: The Next Generation for obvious reasons.

The series was filmed in Vancouver, Canada [my personal preference over and above virtual sets]. Of course, the frequent exterior shots never gave that away. That's Stargate humor. Season One through Season Five appeared on Showtime, which certainly accounted for its decent and sizable budget. Broadcasting the series on a cable channel allowed the creators to take their liberties with an adult approach. Nowhere is that more evident than in Children Of The Gods whereby Sha're, Daniel's Abydos' lover, is abducted by Apophis and bears all in several, full frontal shots despite Wright's opposition. The tips of her breasts are standing at attention and it's easy to see by the footage this is not the SyFy Channel, then Sci Fi Channel. Of course, the eyebrow-raising Stargate SG-1 toned things down following the pilot film throughout its five season run on Showtime. Seasons Six through Ten broadcast on Sci Fi Channel to round out its record-breaking ten season run.

The primary story arcs and alien races throughout the series include the Goa'uld System Lords, the Tok'ra, Anubis and the Kull Warriors, the Asgard, the Replicators, the Ancients and the ORI. The latter, a dark version of the ascended beings, would be a departure from the Egyptian-tinged and Norse mythology supplanted with one of Arthurian legend. Concepts surrounding the Ancients, like ascension, and the human physiological connection to the Ancients, builders of the Stargates, would also permeate the series. The Earth-based NID, a shadowy X-Files-like, CIA-like entity would also be a constant thorn in SG-1's side.

Despite all of the variables Stargate SG-1 had going in its favor, it was ultimately derided by a majority of critics. It certainly never received the respect of hardcore science fiction fans or writers. But, not unlike Star Trek: The Original Series in the beginning, the story of Stargate has yet to be firmly established or written. Three separate incarnations of the series have ensured that perceptions of the series will change and the series will endure.

But years ago the franchise opened with Children Of The Gods. Children Of The Gods squarely puts the focus on Egyptian mythology as first created and established in the feature film. The so-called gods are called Goa'uld, a parasitic, snake-like creature that inhabits hereditary slaves dubbed Jaffa. The Goa'uld use the Jaffa and other humanoid races as hosts. The alien race travels via Pyramid-like warships in design. As we discover in the pilot, Teal'c is a host himself. Let us begin with our first notable bit of straight talk from the world according to Jack O'Neill.

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As O'Neill makes efforts to locate the inhabitants of Abydos his no nonsense, sense of humor shines.

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Finally, this very early opening scene between O'Neill and Hammond sets the stage for O'Neill's character.

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From the very beginning the Jack O'Neill character becomes the ever so apparent embodiment of Richard Dean Anderson. Perhaps his work on MacGuyver [1985-1992] had a lot to do with grooming that confidence and his comfort level in a leadership role. Nevertheless, Anderson delivers classic scene after classic scene throughout the series in its entirety.

His no holds barred approach is one of the reasons Stargate SG-1 made science fiction history and became must watch television. Anderson put it quite succinctly regarding his take on O'Neill in Stargate SG-1: The Illustrated Companion Season 1 and 2. "He's a man trained to obey orders, but with the need to follow his own moral compass. I thought it would be interesting to draw out his humanity and sense of humour in situations where he's under pressure." He added fittingly, "I have a very irreverent sense of humour. It's very dry, sarcastic, naughty, and I wanted to give O'Neill that kind of levity. Fortunately, they went along with me."

This approach is undeniable and his character is equally so as he became a personality embraced by millions. Every effort will be made to bring you all of those clever, colorful O'Neill moments remembering that all the wonder of the journey and the sci-fi magic of the series and the franchise began right here. Children Of The Gods: B-

Characters: Colonel Jack O'Neill [Richard Dean Anderson]/ Captain Samantha Carter [Amanda Tapping]/ Dr. Daniel Jackson [Michael Shanks]/ Christopher Judge [Teal'c]/ General George Hammond [Don S. Davis]/ Jonas Quinn [Corin Nemec] [Season Six]/ Lt. Colonel Cameron Mitchell [Ben Browder] [Season Nine and Ten]/ Vala Mal Doran [Claudia Black] [Season Nine and Ten/ Major General Hank Landry [Beau Bridges] [Season Nine and Ten].

Film composition: Filmed in 16:9 Widescreen all episodes. Broadcast 4:3. 16mm film [Season One-Three]/ 35mm film [Season Three finale- Season Eight]/ Digital HD [Season Eight-Ten].