Thursday, September 12, 2013

Stargate SG-1 S1 Ep3: Emancipation

"How is it that you always manage to come up with the worst case scenario?"
-Daniel Jackson-
"I practice."
-Jack O'Neill-
The chemistry of Stargate SG-1's primaries is indeed fascinating in its debut season because it is so strong.  Understandably, only in its initial first few episodes do the relationships between the cast feel just a touch awkward as connections are made.  But unlike some television, Stargate gets it right more than it gets it wrong out of the gate, so to speak.  With that said, the first season chemistry ranks among the very best of first seasons (Firefly, Battlestar Galactica).  Unfortunately the writing is a little less attractive in spots on par with the first season of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Interesting enough, those two seasons do share one factor in common in scriptwriter Katharyn Powers.  Powers was a story editor for Stargate SG-1's first season.  Her feminist leanings sometimes comes across a little heavy-handed and that is evidence in her script for Star Trek: The Next Generation's, Season One, Episode 4, Code Of Honor, of which she penned.

Her influence is indeed felt during the launch of Stargate SG-1 Season One.  Whether to her credit or not, Stargate SG-1 had its fair share of moments that left one squinting.

The Pilot, Children Of The Gods, recalls that memorable but cringe worthy remark exchanged between Samantha Carter and Jack O'Neill when Carter replies sharply to O'Neill, "I'm an Air Force officer just like you are, Colonel. And just because my reproductive organs are on the inside instead of the outside doesn't mean I can't handle whatever you can handle." The harsh response is a bit heavy-handed. Certainly an argument can be made both in defense of her retort and to the contrary. O'Neill replies as only O'Neill can with humor to defuse what is clearly an uncomfortable situation or would be if it actually transpired in an actual meeting room. "Oh, this has nothing to do with you being a woman. I like women. I've just got a little problem with scientists." How else could O'Neill possibly reply? But that line of dialogue felt a touch antiquated and perhaps a little forced the moment it was spoke.

Clearly, Carter was a female scientist playing hardball in a man's world within the U.S. military and perhaps a case can be made that such a reply wouldn't be outside the realm of possibility, but as a viewer it never felt entirely right.

So this fourth installment of Stargate SG-1 takes that line, a warning shot, and stretches it into a full-length story in arguably one of the weakest of the series entire ten-year run. This time, Stargate SG-1, Season One, Episode 3, Emancipation, plays up the angle of female equality for the entirety of the episode.  Having a message is one thing, but spelling it out can feel a little ugly as entertainment goes.

The latest offering is graced with the appropriate title that directly references the historical legacy of women's rights and the women's suffrage movement.  Females were granted the right to vote in 1920 in the United States.  The movement for women's rights has certainly been much more difficult in some parts of the world even more symbolic than substantive in some countries.  The episode deals with the idea of freedom and certainly echoes the power of the executive order by Abraham Lincoln to free slaves, here in Emancipation female slaves, with the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863.  In spite of history, that movement for freedom and the rights of women continues globally and my negative reaction to these sometimes preachy episodes in no way intends to demean these still very real issues.

Amanda Tapping's wardrobe in the installment should give you a visual cue regarding cultural problem areas across the planet today.

So, it seemed a rather fitting opportunity to post this entry as a recent reader requested to see more Stargate SG-1, and also because this episode precisely mirrored the failures of a similar refrain echoed in the recent post for Star Trek: The Next Generation, Season One, Episode 14, Angel One. Of course in Angel One the roles are purposely reversed to tell a tale of men's suffrage on the planet Angel One, but the message is no less obscured.

With regard to Emancipation, in retrospect, actress Amanda Tapping made note of some of the scriptwriting in these earlier entries in Starlog Magazine #249 [1998]. She had relatively strong feelings about the tech-talking Carter that really didn't fall in line with the original conception of the character. "She's a fully realized human being, without having to state anything. The mistake, if you will, that I think we made at the beginning of the series was making her too much of a hard-nosed feminist trying to prove herself in a man's world. I just think that's a really tired argument. Being a woman, I certainly understand the gender war, but I think pulling the old sexual organ argument out of the bag was not the way to go."  That's precisely the effect too. Tapping is right on and this approach in SG-1 feels unnatural, too deliberate and unnecessary.  But, in fairness, the series was just beginning.

As writer John Kenneth Muir noted commenting on Angel One's problems, "It's funny how episodes -- which are apparently designed to undercut racism and sexism -- come out feeling utterly racist and sexist."  The result is applicable here with Emancipation and certainly maybe not as veiled.  The impact is certainly not the desired effect.  The Sci-Fi Fanatic recommends abolishing these stories.  All such scriptwriters should be put on notice.  Presenting such blatant and leaden stories will result in firings.

Roman J. Martel found the obvious irony in it.  "It is so strange that an episode trying to make a point about sexism comes across as really sexist."  Handling issues of race, sex, class are tricky subjects and generally turn into stinkers if they aren't written with grace.  It's a fine line too.  A few lines of dialogue or an overtly glaring scene is all it takes to spoil a message and feel like an agenda-driven How To Guide.

Take the description on the DVD itself.  That even leaves a bad taste. At the very least you know what you are in for.  "On the planet of Simarka, where the fierce race of Shavadai mistreat females, Carter challenges their misogynistic ways in a thrilling battle of wits that may bring women equality or forever keep them as second-class citizens."  Yuck.  Based on Children Of The Gods, it's clearly safe to assume Carter will challenge them.  Unfortunately, if a plot is spelled out to reflect women's rights in 1997 like Emancipation, never mind through an inverted mirror tale like Angel One in 1988, you know the viewer is in trouble.

In general, Powers approach to these stories feels heavily message-based by design and any sense of fantasy or adventure is sucked out of them in a vacuum. Still, messages aside, nomadic tribes descended from the Monguls and another Code Of Honor-like hand-to-hand duel is hardly riveting science fiction, so there's another strike.  Remember, it failed the first time around.

Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa has had an impressive career.  Apart from a delightful role in Hachi: A Dog's Tale (2009), Tagawa has appeared in Star Trek: The Next Generation (Encounter At Far Point), License To Kill (1989), Babylon 5 (Convictions), Mortal Kombat (1995), the lovely Snow Falling On Cedars (1999) to name a few. He will aslo have a role in the upcoming 47 Ronin (2013) alongside Rinko Kikuchi (Pacific Rim).

Even Tapping noted in Stargate Sg-1: The Illustrated Companion Season 1 And 2, that "none of us really liked the episode."  Executive Producer Jonathan Glassner also realized, "It was too preachy, and we quickly realized we shouldn't be that preachy.  Science fiction is a very good medium for having little moral tales and subtle messages built into the stories, and that's hat we were trying to do.  We just went way too far with that one; so we pulled back afterwards.

The good news is Glassner started getting the balance right.  Additionally, Tapping was pleased to point out that executive producers Glassner and Brad Wright began to get her as an actress and a personality. She credits them with injecting humor into the character and lightening up the sexual politics angle of the character's initial showing. This, of course, was necessary especially with a character forced to recite deep passages of techno babble founded in astrophysics and text books. "I told the writers, 'Please don't write girlie dialogue for Captain Carter. Don't make her a bitchy woman. She can be a fun, great person.'"

There are some interesting moments in the episode where the quartet argue about the rights of cultural intervention or interference which spoke directly to the influence of such Star Trek ideals such as the Prime Directive.  It also spoke directly to American interventionism be it Vietnam, which Star Trek: The Original Series so effectively channeled or the questions that always surround American foreign policy whether it be Iraq or Syria or challenges to come.

Surprisingly, if I had to choose between Angel One and Emancipation I might fall in favor of the latter on sheer entertainment value alone thanks to the dry comedic edge of Richard Dean Anderson's unfailing humor in the face of adversity.  Stargate SG-1 isn't quite as precious and certainly not as smug as some of those early ST:TNG episodes.  And for those who feel I might be dumping a bit too harshly on Katharyn Powers input, it's worth noting that she also penned some truly solid stories as the series progressed.  We'll take a look at some of those much stronger tales down the road in the form of Season One's Thor's Hammer, Fire And Water, Enigma as well as Season Two's Thor's Chariot and Season Three's Pretense, to name some, all by Powers. Fortunately, Emancipation was indeed the exception to the rule on Stargate SG-1 amongst a fairly raw and gritty first season.

Emancipation: C-. Director: Jeff Woolnough. Writer: Katharyn Michaelian Powers.

For those tuning in for The World According To Jack O'Neill thread, enjoy the following clips for all the latest in worldly world views and good, practical, common sense.

Jack O'Neill on how to greet the alien locals when the facts aren't exactly clear.

Jack O'Neill on how to approach the opposite sex on a world where females are valuable but only as property.

Finally, Jack O'Neill on how to prepare for war when one of your own is taken by force.

You have to love Jack O'Neill and we will continue to do so with The World According To Jack O'Neill.

No comments: