Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Stargate SG-1 S1 Ep7: Cold Lazarus

"Parents shouldn't outlive their children.
It isn't natural."

-Stargate SG-1, S1, Ep7, Cold Lazarus-

The differences between the tough, hard-edged Jack O'Neill of the film and the softer, sometimes cynical leader of the TV series team becomes most evident with Stargate SG-1, Season One, Episode 7, Cold Lazarus.

If there was ever an explanation for the walled off, wise-cracking Jack O'Neill of the series, one masked by humor and a flippant good nature, it would come down to the understandable, cold, hard truth of Cold Lazarus.

Cold Lazarus centers on the emotional/psychological devastation to loved ones following the loss of a child. People who have experienced any kind of torment or personal pain will often suppress it with emotional barriers and to some degree humor. O'Neill's character combined with his own personal suffering demonstrates who he is. There's no formula for how one is affected or damaged as a human being by loss, but if ever the question lingered about O'Neill's irrepressible humor one need look no further than the answer found here in Cold Lazarus, a brutally honest story centering on Jack O'Neill and his ex-wife Sara.

This entry offers evidence to the contrary that Stargate SG-1 (1997-2007) was mere fluff. Cold Lazarus dispels any belief that Stargate SG-1 was more concerned with action adventure than character. It was indeed both. Certainly it was an action-adventure series within science fiction, but it rarely shied away from a significant character story. Cold Lazarus stands as one of the very best of Season One.

The Jack O'Neill of the series is fleshed out in much greater detail and with understanding through the arrival of Cold Lazarus.

The installment offers a poignant back story the loss of Jack and Sara O'Neill's son and the indirect responsibility for his loss. It is an affecting tale with a strong emotional core that rings true to some unfortunate realities.

Actor Richard Dean Anderson expressed some wonderful insights about the characters of Stargate SG-1 and why the ensemble worked so well. He reflected back in Starlog #289 (2001). His words are applicable to the tenderness found in Cold Lazarus.

"I've felt from fairly early on that the cast, the characters they portray and their interactions exude a humanity that comes off on screen. I read somewhere that that was the most unique thing about the show, and I agree---our characters are human and they act with humanity toward each other, and yet we're in an SF show." Warts and all, the reactions to one another are indeed human and natural taking Stargate SG-1 well into dramatic territory. Jack's connection to Sara following the life-changing event surrounding the loss of their son is indeed painful and real.

Cold Lazarus may have science plausibility issues (i.e. talking crystals), but then it was always about serving the action adventure portion of the series.

In the opening moments, out of view from his SG-1 team, O'Neill is duplicated by a blue crystalline alien entity. It's always a mystery when these life forms not only are able to mimic flesh but clothing too. A virtual carbon copy of O'Neill is created and the alien life form returns back through the stargate with the SG-1 team sans the real and unconscious Jack O'Neill who is left behind on the yellow sands (a sulfur pit) of this foreign planet once seeded by the Ancients.

O'Neill's doppelganger thumbs through a shoe box of images at the SGC and finds pictures of Jack's son and his ex-wife Sara O'Neill.

Here we find Samantha Carter discovers O'Neill had a family for the first time and is enlightened further through Dr. Daniel Jackson. O'Neill's son, Charlie, died resulting from a self-inflicted gunshot wound utilizing Jack's weapon. Jack has since separated from Sara, the woman he loved but whom never completely understood Jack's work with the military.

O'Neill's double keeps dialogue to a minimum as his colleagues sense something isn't quite right about Jack. Anderson again gets to push the boundaries of performance expectations here in step with his turn in The Broca Divide (Ep4) here. In fact, there are moments where Anderson sort of channels his eccentric best similar to the eccentric Starman (1984) vibe once embodied by actor Jeff Bridges for the John Carpenter sci-fi, love story found here.

The facts surrounding his son's death might come off preaching another message story, a la Emancipation here, in this case one underscoring an anti-gun agenda, but the fact is these kinds of events do happen. Stargate SG-1 has also found a kind of grace in its writing.

It is an event that clearly riddles O'Neill with guilt and haunts him. Cold Lazarus eschews the preaching and simply reveals the content of the narrative and the life-altering and chilling effect it has had on two people who loved one another, Sara and Jack O'Neill. The story is handled with a good degree of sensitivity and the maturity of the story still holds up with sobering power.

Though awkward, O'Neill's alien counterpart makes contact with Sara. In doing so, the alien life form takes a very difficult issue for Jack and meets it head on by facing the loss with Sara and coping with what are clearly and again understandably unresolved issues. This is a clever approach to a very difficult concept penned by Jeff F. King who had previously penned Brief Candle (here) and alluded to the significance of such long held pain.

When Cold Lazarus first aired on Showtime it actually preceded Brief Candle, but it follows that episode on the DVD release. When will we ever see a Blu-Ray release? It's on my Top 3 wish list.

Despite the obvious intent of many of Stargate SG-1's action adventures, Cold Lazarus presents the science fiction series tackling an extremely sensitive topic with real humanity. This is a rare and risky entry in a series that seemed to be taking some risks during Season One in an effort to find its rhythm as it established its foothold and identity as a sci-fi series.

As the alien assuming O'Neill's identity revisits Sara, Teal'c, Carter and Jackson attempt to uncover the mystery surrounding O'Neill and the crystal planet.

The electro-magnetic clone of Jack in effect channels Jack's masked grief by revisiting Charlie's things in his bedroom. What may be an alien attempting to understand comes off as what might be considered the trauma of a real man coping with the loss of his son. The alien Jack is escorted by Sara's father to Charlie's room where the creature attempts to come to terms with new information, but in effect presents a man seeking closure at the pain and suffering of what can only be one of the greatest sufferings in a human life---the loss of a child. While certainly not something one could ever let go until that last breath, efforts are made to makes sense of what one can only imagine would be an all-consuming grief, but, for our personal health on this journey called life, we all need some kind of closure.

As the story continues, again, the creature absorbs memories of the painful events surrounding the loss of Charlie. There is a cathartic quality here for Sara too who finally sees the mask or armor covering Jack's pain removed and witnesses his own burden of guilt through his own emotional struggle even if it is the alien. Alternate Jack provides solace for Sara and ultimately Jack upon his return. "Your pain comes from an empty place in your heart where Charlie once was."

The moment is made all the more cathartic when the being transforms from Jack into Charlie allowing both Jack and Sara to say goodbye and have a chance to say the goodbye they never had that fateful day. This transformation of Jack to Charlie and a kind of figurative resurrection clearly refers to the miracle of Jesus upon Lazarus of Bethany. As noted in the Gospel of John Jesus restored Lazarus back to life following his death four days earlier. The raising of Lazarus is suggested in the symbolic rebirth of Charlie.

There's even a moment when the real Jack cautions Sara, out of love, that the being representing Charlie isn't actually Charlie, but Sara discards his concern out of love for the moment. Though she understands it entirely Sara chooses to let go and live in the fantasy of that moment as if basking in the glow of her own child's revival.

The real Jack returns and with it a touch of humor but returns without distracting from the tone of the story or ruining the established sobriety of mood.

The talking crystal brought back to Earth by the team reveals they were once visited by the Goa'uld who destroyed much of the crystalline race.

Cold Lazarus also witnesses the team leave Cheyenne Mountain, not through the stargate, but externally to civilian life. General George Hammond implores them to keep the mountain and the SGC a secret. Teal'c must wear a Chicago hat.

There is an absence of any real humor normally attributable to the real Jack O'Neill in the entry, but with subject matter involving the loss of a child there really shouldn't be. Flashbacks even take us back to the actual event that took Charlie's life. That's no joke. Cold Lazarus has a real emotional weight and heft to the proceedings and takes it all seriously. Anderson delivers an understated and touching performance that lures viewers into the story without being overly sentimental. This writer thought Sara would certainly hug Charlie goodbye and even that doesn't happen.

In the end, the story surrounding Jack, Sara and Charlie is the one that is most involving and anchors Cold Lazarus as a special viewing experience for fans of Stargate SG-1. The trauma and loss of Charlie gives Sara and Jack a chance to heal a little. Unfortunately, with it, as beautiful and lovely as Sara is, it appears their lives have moved on and will certainly never be the same. The loss of Charlie changed everything and life goes on for both. They are forever linked by the child they once shared but apart they will endure.

The bulk of the Stargate SG-1 is often complimented or criticized as a plot driven series unlike the equally criticized or complimented Stargate Universe as a character-driven incarnation of the franchise. Ultimately though both have their moments. Here, Cold Lazarus is indeed happy to slow things down for a more melancholy and pensive, character-based story. It's indeed one of the most beautifully penned and poetic tales to be written for Season One. Cold Lazarus is a beauty that warms the heart.

This particular emotional component of Jack's mythology is never really revisited apart from Sara's mention in Brief Candle and a photo of Jack's family in SG-1, S7, Ep3, Fragile Balance, but the story is a deeper affirmation of who Jack O'Neill is and what makes him tick and informs that character throughout the series.

Writer: Jeff F. King. Director: Kenneth J. Girotti.

And that is the sulphur pit used for filming the alien planet. 

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