Friday, February 12, 2016

Stargate SG-1 S1 Ep6: Brief Candle

"Wouldn't you rather know the truth?"
-Jack O'Neill-

There's an infusion of a touch more humor and flow within the latest entry to Stargate SG-1's (1997-1998) inaugural first season with Stargate SG-1, Season One, Episode 6, Brief Candle.

The SG-1 team lands itself on a world, Argos, which is given to an appearance and flair for the Greek lifestyle centered around a statue of Pelops. Pelops is not a god but a front for an alien experiment by the Goa'uld. It is a place where beautiful people reside and elders are nowhere to be found.

Brief Candle doesn't exactly break new ground choosing instead to riff on old (no pun intended actually) ideas that can be found in everything from Star Trek: The Original Series (Miri) and Star Trek: The Next Generation (Justice) to Space:1999 (Black Sun) with concepts found in films like Logan's Run (1976). Brief Candle certainly doesn't ape these stories outright and offers its own Stargate flavor to the proceedings. It was always about the wonderful ensemble that developed for the series. The personalities and dynamics of their relationships always elevated the material and bolstered even the weakest stories. Tales were always entertaining thanks to the chemistry of Richard Dean Anderson, Amanda Tapping, Michael Shanks and Christopher Judge.

Jack O'Neill delivers on his potential as the resident James T. Kirk of the Stargate universe (not the series of course, but generally speaking) bedding a beautiful woman. And with Brief Candle Anderson arguably delivers the best performance of the season to date as a transformative, aging, crusty O'Neill.

100 days (the name would be applied to S3, Ep17, A Hundred Days). Here, 100 days is the brief celebration of life when the end comes, life ends and the candle is symbolically snuffed out. Given its thematic content the title for Stargate SG-1's latest, Brief Candle, is a fitting and beautiful allusion to the story.

Like a dog's life in dog years, people are born and grow to maturity only to die in roughly 100 days exaggerating and accelerating the equivalent of 100 years. Ironically and for the historically minded, Argos is also a reference to the old and faithful dog of Odysseus who died upon the final sighting of his master in Homer's ancient, epic Greek poem The Odyssey. So there is much to allude to age in Brief Candle.

While Carter returns to the SGC (Stargate Command) to find a solution, Jack O'Neill is indeed aging at a rapid pace. At the rate he grows older O'Neill has roughly two weeks to live as a result of already being a middle-aged man. Offering my best O'Neill impression, well that would suck.

In a strange coincidence the episode, Brief Candle, channels the old English nursery rhyme Jack Be Nimble (1815), but with the lyrics inverted.

Jack not be so nimble. Jack not be so quick. Jack not jump over the candlestick. Am I the first to think of this? I wonder these things sometimes. Or sheer coincidence?

Carter determines O'Neill's affliction is a form of nanotechnology or nanocytes. In effect, Brief Candle introduces viewers to the earliest form of machine replication or what would become more prominently referred to in the series as the beloved Replicators. These things even attempt to spread at the SGC. Did the Goa'uld in effect spread the Replicators? Is this the invasive enemy that would remain a crucial component of the series? Did the replicators actually first appear here in Brief Candle?

In an interesting character moment, O'Neill is growing old on Argos (like the dog wwaiting for Odysseus), waiting for Carter, and he understands death is approaching. With a pad and pen he attempts to formulate thoughts for a letter he has addressed "Dear Sara." Sara is O'Neill's ex-wife and Brief Candle considers the idea of regret and in effect foreshadows events that would take center stage in Stargate SG-1, S1, Ep7, Cold Lazarus.

I have never understood those that say they live without regrets or never consider regrets of past decisions. It certainly doesn't consume me, but they exist in my life and perhaps they even shape us to a degree. I can't help but ponder them from time to time. I think of what might have been. O'Neill does for a time on Argos too when the shining light at the end of the tunnel grows near and becomes an impending reality. In effect, O'Neill attempts to make amends or find closure in what he expects are final days when he considers writing Sara. Again, Stargate SG-1 digs a little deeper beyond the adventuring here.

Meanwhile at the SGC, the late Don S. Davis infuses the episode with considerable gravitas (sorry I hate that word too, but he does) as Lt. General George Hammond who recognizes the nano technology is artificially intelligent and a threat to life on Earth requesting O'Neill's rescue be aborted. He makes an unpopular, hard command decision further lending a genuine credibility to the realities surrounding Brief Candle. There is a sense of consequence and potential risk in what these men and women do and Brief Candle is successful in parlaying that intensity and tension to the viewer. Hammond's command decisions are also generally respected. The actions of this man are in stark contrast to the relatively unpopular command decisions of one Colonel Saul Tigh in the reworked Battlestar Galactica, notably the mini-series (2003) as an example. Once again, leadership has everything to do with the man (or woman).

Anderson conveys a real sense of loss and heavy heartedness in the tale. Brief Candle is light on technobabble despite a fairly preposterous conclusion (as if the initial transformation wasn't preposterous enough). O'Neill's octogenarian condition results in a reversion back to middle age. What, no Benjamin Button hat trick?

Brief Candle is an outing with outstanding make-up and prosthetic work for Anderson compliments of Jan Newman to boot. For a TV series it's worth mentioning.

Brief Candle is a significantly better story than its predecessor, The First Commandment (here), and like that story, Brief Candle zeroes in on the idea of worshipping false gods, another Stargate theme, tearing them down and opening hearts to truth, but does so rather eloquently here rather than preaching the ideas. Themes of age and regret and religious indoctrination allow Brief Candle to be a more thoughtful and reflective affair than one might initially experience on first viewing. It's also one of those stories that holds a mirror to our own mortality, an always frightening consideration, but one that is endlessly fascinating. At the very least the story is filled with a certain emotional investment and resonance complete with a sweet ending. Things continue to develop rather nicely for the SG-1 team dynamic. And that concludes our brief look at Brief Candle.

Director: Mario Azzopardi.
Writer: Steven Barnes/ Katharyn Powers (teleplay).

And of course fans of The World According to Jack O'Neill will enjoy this bit from the lovable old curmudgeon.

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