Thursday, September 10, 2015

Stargate SG-1 S1 Ep5: The First Commandment

"Does it say Colonel anywhere on my uniform?"
-Colonel Jack O'Neill after receiving a second "no" response to one of his directives-

The stargate money shot of the episode. Beautiful.
Analysis of the arguably low tech first season of Stargate SG-1 (1997) is fascinating when you consider where Stargate SG-1 (1997-2007) developed technically and, of course, where Brad Wright inevitably took the franchise with Stargate Atlantis (2004-2009) concluding with the incredibly beautiful, high tech production values to be discovered on the meticulous Stargate Universe (2009-2011).

One could watch these early era Stargate SG-1 entries and easily dub them dinosaurs in the relatively fast-paced tech world of science fiction ironic given SG-1 was always exploring in the hopes of discovering new technologies to the benefit of the American military industrial complex. These early outings spark the imagination to be sure and easily connected to those long-buried, inner childhood fantasies.

There is an almost primitive, unpolished, but still cinematic cinematic veneer to the action looking back now. It is not a meticulous work of production art by any stretch of the imagination.

Still, as budget conscious as an episode like Stargate SG-1, Season One, Episode 5, The First Commandment, appears to be it was actually quite expensive to make notes Stargate SG-1: The Illustrated Companion Season 1 book. Sadly, despite this fact, this is a visually uninteresting affair served by a lackluster story. Certainly, it holds up well enough as a straightforward military-oriented action adventure tale with a playful backyard quality. As I alluded to earlier, the outing has all the trappings of childhood make believe fun. This simple tale with seemingly low overhead is a bit like war games in the neighborhood with your friends as a kid. This journey into the woods of British Columbia is less true sci-fi than a recollection of backyard mayhem. But, sadly, as fun as something like this was as a small child, it's not a particularly exciting viewing experience.

The First Commandment is also a relatively simple story given to heavy drama and suffers from limited intellectual engagement as first year Showtime (the first five seasons) entries go. Dialogue is still a bit unnatural for this beloved quartet. It's all a little forced for the characters given the expected dynamic of the quartet of Jack O'Neill, Samantha Carter, Daniel Jackson and Teal'c. All continue to work out the kinks for their characters and attempt to establish a more comfortable groove. Carter and the rest are still not sitting quite right here in the early going. As creator Jonathan Glassner noted in Stargate SG-1: The Illustrated Companion, these early episodes attempt to "figure out what the hell sort of show Stargate SG-1 was!" Adjustments in tone, dialogue and other components are clearly in evidence.

Interestingly, The First Commandment would also be writer Robert C. Cooper's first foray into writing for the franchise. This is certainly not his finest hour when you consider what a great writer/producer Cooper would become for the series and as a writer/creator on Stargate Atlantis and especially Stargate Universe. But we all get our start somewhere and The First Commandment is Cooper's first for the series.

Additionally noteworthy, Martin Wood, a significant player in the franchise, makes his first appearance in the series as a first unit director. It's not something you would normally make too much of, but Wood's imprint on Stargate SG-1 and Stargate Atlantis were indeed significant.

The man who would be a king or god concept comes in the form of Captain Jonas Hanson (a rogue SG-9 team leader). He is adored by the primitives and is actually a former lover of Sam Carter.

The human primitives across different worlds seeded by stargates is a standard convention in the Stargate SG-1 franchise. A variation on the primitives theme has already been culled for S1, Ep3, Emancipation and Ep4, The Broca Divide with many, many more to come. The primitive peoples concept is one that would be mined throughout the series run to varying results and to tiresome routines for fans of space-based science fiction. The primitives here are given giant mud-based paper masks to give the illusion of sci-fi aliens.

Short on a good story, good dialogue or the natural banter and good humor that would become a trademark of Stargate SG-1 The First Commandment becomes a generally ludicrous and dull affair. It's so preposterous that even when Captain Jonas is tossed into the active and horizontally laid stargate to be killed (the metallic iris isn't open on the other end), everyone including the SG-1 team is pretty ho hum about the whole matter. Bad.

The First Commandment definitively holds a spot alongside Emancipation (Ep3) and Politics (Ep21), another lemon written by future SGU genius partner Brad Wright, as one of the arguably three worst episodes of Season One.

The First Commandment should not be a defining starting point to hook someone to the franchise like a fish at the end of one of Jack O'Neill's fishing poles. Anyone who could gripe about the arrival of Ben Browder and Claudia Black for Season Nine and Ten need look no further than The First Commandment to have them rethink their criticisms. Every episode of those seasons and beyond in the franchise is infinitely better than this. Move along because this is just not good. As bad as this entry is I still get giddy over the prospect of a potential Blu-Ray release of the entire series one day. And Season One still has some highlights, but The First Commandment would be last on the list. Not recommended.

Director: Dennis Berry. Writer: Robert C. Cooper.

For those who enjoy our The World According To Jack O'Neill segments here at Musings Of A Sci-Fi Fanatic there was one highlight in the entry. Take it as Jack's advice on smiling and, well, keep on smiling.

A vulnerable but strange moment from Samantha Carter as characters attempted to find their footing.

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