Of all the hit 90s television shows to watch for the first time ever, I picked the one that lacks an adorable mascot character. But this is one of the longest running science fiction franchises of the last 20 years, maybe they make up for that.
Spoilers below the cut.
Stargate SG-1 is the direct sequel to Stargate, a movie by Robert Emmerich (Independence Day) released in 1994. The year is 1997 and the Stargate has fallen to the wayside until a mysterious army of men in snake costumes attacks and kills a small group of soldiers playing poker on the DL, capturing one of their number. Colonel O’Neill is brought out of retirement to go back through the Stargate and investigate the cause of the attack. His team is his old team from the movie plus Captain Samantha Carter who had been working on the Stargate for years before it was shut down, because we need a lady on the team for diversity points.
Stargate SG-1 runs for ten seasons with 20-21 episodes in each, totaling over 200 episodes. It spawned two spin-off series–Stargate: Atlantis and Stargate: Universe–as well as three direct-to-DVD movies. The Stargate franchise is one of the longest running science fiction franchises of the last twenty years.
Do you need to watch the movie before watching the television show? I did, and I recommend new people do the same. The movie lacks the sense of fun of the television show, opting for a more serious and dramatic feel. What caught my attention were the quiet moments of development in the movie–like the scene where O’Neil gives Skaara his lighter–that are often missed in current high-budget science fiction blockbusters. The movie also introduces several secondary characters that become important in the television show.
The television show does change some things from the movie, most notably the fact that Ra is no longer the last species of his kind. The old woman whose father first discovered the stargate is gone. Minus one for diversity points–an influential old woman who knows a crapload about the stargate’s influence on Earth would be freakin’ badass. There is still hope she might turn up in later episodes, however. Finally, the planet Abydos was supposedly halfway across the galaxy in the movie but was given a closer location to Earth for the sake of a reasonable scientific explanation.
On its own, the pilot episode of Stargate SG-1 had a very movie-quality feel to it. The plot flowed nicely from one point to the other, and it took its time in figuring things out. It was at least half an hour before anyone realized the stargate can travel to different worlds. The action was dramatic and accompanied by a big symphonic score. The dialogue has a very 90s television cadence to it, but it is by no means grating or uncomfortable. The special effects and costumes and tech looks dorky now, but with the big score and variety of locations and the amount of special effects and the quality of the actors, this is a very high-budget show for television.
I liked the better characterizations of people who are not Daniel Jackson, particularly Colonel O’Neill and Captain Kowalski. In the movie, Colonel O’Neill had one scene that gave him a tragic past and he was a stoic albeit flat badass the rest of the film. Captain Kowalski, who had more attempted but failed characterization in the movie, is more rounded. Skaara is given more spirit and can finally communicate with Colonel O’Neill, who he affectionately hangs on like O’Neill’s favorite nephew. The dynamic between Skaara and O’Neill changed from movie to show, with O’Neill being more expressive towards Skaara. Kowalski, meanwhile, was supposedly on rocky terms with O’Neill, but this dynamic is also treated with affection by the characters.
Finally, there are the characters that weren’t in the movie. Teal’c was a side character who gets more and more screen time as the episode progresses, finally resulting in him turning traitor and joining the SG-1 team in the final half hour. I love how he’s mostly stoic but the cinematography clues you in on what his thought processes must be. This sets up him helping the captured humans in the final act.
Then there’s Captain Carter. Captain Carter has a whole scene where she has to prove herself to her male colleagues, which grinds my nerves a bit. She points out the sexism of that situation, which gives her some brownie points in my book, but then O’Neill (whom she is talking to) says he has a problem with scientists not women. Part of me likes that she’s a scientist because I love me lady scientists in media. However, another part of me dislikes that she’s a scientist because of course the woman is the smart one. So maybe the problem is me and over-analyzing everything that has to do with lady characters in everything I watch.
Or maybe not. Captain Carter may be a main characters, but the show fails its secondary lady characters big time. The female sargeant kidnapped in the first scene is all but forgotten by her superior officers and later killed in a super rapey way. The only other (named) female character is Shau’re, who is also kidnapped and possessed and, before that, super into PDA/possibly territorial with her husband Daniel because of the presence of Captain Carter. I had issues with Shau’re’s role in the original movie as well, but every opportunity to redeem the movie’s treatment of her character doesn’t even make it on the television screen. Other than that, women are in the background but not the forefront. There are a bunch more named male characters than female characters, so that’s a sad but unsurprising ratio.
Similarly, anyone who is not-white is an enemy or becomes an enemy, with the exception of Teal’c who is the only enemy-cum-ally in the show so far. Everyone on Earth involved with the stargate is white, everyone off Earth involved with the stargate is mostly not-white. Minus points for lack of representation at home.
Since this is the first episode of the season, here are my predictions for the upcoming season:
- Saving Shau’re and Skaara from the Big Bads will take all season. Daniel promised the people of Abydos that he will return in one year’s time, which gives us a deadline for this. Which means this will probably not happen until the season finale.
- The giant room of coordinates on Abydos and having to adjust for interstellar drift (expanding universes never keep their shape after 5000 years). Thus, I predict the show will be episodic but with an overarching plot that appears once in a while, much like Star Trek: The Next Generation.
- Finding the home planets for all the refugees the SG-1 team acquired. This will play into the giant room of coordinates.
- Teal’c gaining the trust of the US military officials that do not go into the field. I expect this to be a thing until halfway through the season where he does a Big Deed in a Plot Relevant Episode that ends up saving the Earth in some way.
- The secret alien inhabiting Captain Kowalski, head of the SG-2 team, will be revealed in a Plot Relevant Episode leading up to the season finale but will not be in the season finale.
Sadly, there was no cute animal sidekick introduced in the first episode. I remain hopeful but doubtful.