Pre-9/11 grieving episode, meet my post-9/11 expectations.
Spoilers below the cut.
We open with unexpected incoming travelers at Stargate Command that turn out to be SG-1, sopping wet and in shock. Well, most of SG-1 anyway. What happened to Jackson? He died. Even Teal’c, stoic space warrior, is at a loss for what happened. Dr. Frasier takes the team under her wing and grows worried about their signs of post-traumatic stress and is the leading force behind their gentle recovery whereas Major General Hammond is keen to get them back in the field to help them get back on their feet.
So what happened to Dr. Jackson? He apparently burned in an unexpected fire geyser. The planet they were exploring had volcanic geysers and Jackson just so happened to be above one when it went off. Each member of the team comments on Jackson’s screaming, dunking in a lake to protect themselves, and then returning through the stargate unable to bring Jackson’s body with them.
There is a funeral, of course. Nice words are spoken and a wreath is sent through the stargate, though where it ends up is a mystery unless Stargate Command figured out how to get the stargate into a random spot in the middle of space instead of at another stargate. To help with their recovery, SG-1 is asked to clean out Jackson’s apartment where they read some of his journals. Hey, he’s dead now, why not? And yet no one can shake the feeling that Jackson is still alive. What’s also interesting is, though Jackson supposedly died in fire, the memory is triggered by staring at bubbling water.
As it turns out, Jackson is still very much alive and somewhere across the galaxy. He’s being held captive by a fish-type alien who can write in cuneiform, an ancient alphabet for the Akkadian language. Because Jackson had studied Babylonian texts, he potentially has knowledge about the alien’s lover who went to Earth several thousand years ago to help ward off the Goa’uld invasion. Jackson insists the alien use the same memory machine it used on the rest of the SG-1 team to modify their memories, but the alien is afraid the machine will kill Jackson. Since he has nothing left to lose, and very little reason to live stuck in an underwater cell, Jackson’s insistence pays off.
Back on Earth, the team realizes that their memories of Jackson’s death are not what they seemed to be. Instead of writing these off as grief-stricken heroes desperate for their friend, Major General Daddy is willing to play along with their gut instincts. Captain Carter volunteers to be hypnotized and reveals that their memory of Jackson’s death was faked. Off to rescue Jackson we go!
Jackson, under the memory machine, reads a text that says the alien’s lover died fighting the Goa’uld. He lives through the process and apologizes to the alien for the bad news. They then surface to receive the rest of the SG-1 team who would have gone in fighting but Jackson prevents any weapons from being used. They part with the alien not exactly unfriendly but with the promise that they might eventually be friends, granted that future interactions are not rooted in hostility.
There is a time when being in the military means you are nothing less than a cold-hearted anti-hero made of cynicism and grunts. This episode is not from this time. From the perceived death of Jackson, the rest of his teammates are in shock, grieving, and desperate to bring him back. If written today, this episode’s premise would have played out a lot differently. Instead of seeing openly emoting soldiers, we would have seen soldiers bottling their emotions and refusing to acknowledge they exist. There are hints that Major General Hammond thinks along these lines, but the wonderful work of Dr. Frasier prevented that sort of thinking from dominating this episode. To be honest, this whole episode was a relief for me and my post-9/11 expectations.
Especially the scene where O’Neill smashes a car window with a hockey stick. Major General Hammond doesn’t scold him for smashing his car window, he approaches O’Neill with a “Are you okay? Why don’t you come relax a bit.”
I wonder if this episode was before the creation of the 7 Stages of Grief because there was no clear cut way to track SG-1’s grieving process. And yet not following that pattern made this exploration of grief all the more real, even if came with wince-worthy lines like “Why is this happening to us?”
I hope show will explore the actual death of a character at some point in the later seasons. Word is the show gets less episodic eventually, which would open it up to changes in the structure and cast of characters. Will Shau’re die in a later episode? Will Skaara? Will Jackson actually kick the bucket for realsies? Who knows?
All I know is this episode was such a relief to watch after the previous one. The plot was straight-forward, it did not introduce more than one objective to achieve, and it was a nice character study in some ways. We saw more emotion from Teal’c which will probably open the door to getting more emotion from him in future episodes. But we also saw that SG-1 are allowed lives outside the stargate command facility. Which leaves the question as to whether Teal’c is allowed to acquire an apartment of his own outside SGC or if he is yet too uninitiated with Earth culture to do so. This was not his first foray outside SGC, but was it the first outside of stargate business? I propose a carefree episode featuring SG-1 guiding Teal’c through a fun day in the big city. All in the name of science of course.
On a final note, it’s uncanny how handsome Jackson looked in this episode.
With that in mind, this week’s adorable mascot is Teal’c in a fedora.