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Stargate SG-1, the TV Series


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All right, if there are any fans of the series Ancient Aliens who are following this blog, raise your hand.

I cannot see you, but I know you have probably just perked up right now and are paying attention. Personally, I cannot stand Ancient Aliens. I have been around when it is on the television, and sooner or later, I end up snarling at the screen because someone said something with which I disagree. And every time someone on Ancient Aliens or another show like it brings up Ancient Egypt, I immediately moan and groan, “Not them again!

You might think this means that I hate Ancient Egypt. I admit to having my fill of it – especially from people who do not know what they are talking about, but who act like they do. That drives me crazy anyway, but in relation to the Ancient World, it is a good way to get me mad. I like history, so I know a lot about it. For example, I happen to know that the Ancient Greeks wore thick bronze and linen armor when they went into battle, not fancy leather suspenders like you see in 300. Catching five minutes of that movie had me raving for two to three whole days with fury.

So I know my history. I am no Egyptologist, but I know my history. So why do I moan and wail whenever someone on the History Channel or Ancient Aliens turns to the subject of Ancient Egypt? I wondered about that and, with the help of El Rey just a little while ago, I finally figured out the problem: I have heard practically all of these people’s theories before. Specifically, I heard them when I was a child watching and enjoying Stargate SG-1.

Yes, I was a child when the show first came out. And I watched the show until its final season’s finale. I even watched two or three of the made-for-TV movies that came out with it. I watched the sequel series Stargate Atlantis to its conclusion, but I managed to miss Stargate Universe and Stargate Infinity. From the sounds of things, I dodged a couple of bullets when I missed those related shows.

After Star Trek, Star Wars, and probably the Marvel media I was exposed to, Stargate SG-1 was my go-to sci-fi fix. I already knew Richard Dean Anderson from the reruns of MacGyver, but I found I liked him a whole lot more as Colonel Jack O’Neill (with two L’s) in Stargate SG-1. I had never heard of Michael Shanks or Amanda Tapping before, but I found I liked them as well. I also think, rewatching the television series now, that Tapping’s character, Samantha Carter, grew as the seasons progressed. Some of her first appearances were waaay too stiff and full of “girl power” motifs, and the writers wisely stopped being so heavy-handed with this stuff as the series ran its course.

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Finally, we had Teal’c. Christopher Judge was the best possible choice for the character. It turns out that I heard him in X-Men: Evolution as the voice of Magneto without ever knowing who he was until years later, when I realized his voice was oddly familiar. Teal’c was the fish out of water before Thor, and Judge did a perfect job pulling off the confusion, shock, and outright clumsiness an alien in modern times would experience. It took the reruns on El Rey to remind me how much I liked him and the rest of the crew – and how much I missed them.

Of course, I cannot leave out the star attraction of the series. This was the alien Stargate for which the series, and the movie that spawned it, is named. But this Stargate is nothing like the Star Gate in Andre Norton’s novel of the same name. (You can find a post on that book here, too, readers.) This Stargate generates an artificial wormhole that connects two points in space together for up to thirty-eight minutes, less if you know how to shut the device down on your own.

To make the device work, you have to “dial out” by inputing some of the symbols inside the ring through a DHD or “dial home device” connected to the Stargate. Like an old dialing telephone, these symbols will rotate through the circular Stargate and stop beneath one of the red “Chevrons,” which will open and glow to lock in the coordinates as the gate “dials out.”

When the necessary seven “chevrons” are “locked,” you had better not be standing directly in front of the Gate. That watery substance may look pretty as it “flushes” out at you, but anything organic and most metals that touch that initial “flush” of liquid-like material will be incinerated by it. The same sort of thing will happen if your hand, arm, leg, or head is in the portal when the Gate is shut down; part of you stays on one planet while the other part comes back to Earth.

If you are thinking this was awfully gross for a kid to watch, no worries, my parents made sure I never saw the really disgusting stuff. This meant that I did not get to see much of the main alien antagonists for the series, either. These aliens were the snake like parasitic/symbiotic Gou’aould. They were intelligent and could not survive in their regular forms outside of water or some liquid like it. So to get aruond, they would highjack human bodies.

They did this often enough that they set themselves up as deities in Ancient Egypt – the deities all those Egyptologists and Ancient Aliens people like to rave about. According to the story, the Ancient Egyptians eventually rebelled against their Gou’aould controlled oppressors, who went off into the galaxy in search of greener pastures, continuing to play gods as they did.

Now, readers, we must fastforward to the time of the movie. In the film Kurt Russell plays Colonel Jack O’Neill and James Spader plays Daniel Jackson; these are the roles which Richard Dean Anderson and Michael Shanks eventually took up. (And boy, in the early days, was Michael Shanks a ringer for young Spader!) I have never seen the film, but through the TV series I gather that Jack and Daniel, along with other Air Force soldiers, passed through Earth’s Stargate to a world called Abydos. On Abydos they found a civilization that was like a page out of an Egyptologist’s dream book – which is to say that Daniel loved it, because he was an Egyptologist.

While they were there, one of the Gou’aould, using a new host but the old name of Ra, dropped by to collect tribute from the Abydosians. Long story short, the SG team killed him, came back home minus a few members, and pretended that they had blown up Abydos and the gate before they came back. Daniel was supposed to have died in the conflagration with Ra, too, but this was a lie; he actually married one of the Abydosian girls and did not want to leave the planet, so the SG team left him behind to live happily ever after.

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Enter the TV series. In the first episode, a new Gou’aould, Apophis, visits Earth through the Stargate to see what can be seen. He picks up an Air Force officerette who was stupid enough to approach the device the Gou’aould threw through the Gate to see if Earth could support life. She did not last long, in case you were wondering, in Gou’aould land.

Well, Apophis’ arrival blows a big hole in the story Jack and his team told command about Abydos. So a new SG team, headed by Jack and including Samantha Carter, goes back to Abydos to ask Daniel’s help in figuring out Apophis’ identity – because who in the Air Force can tell one Ancient Egyptian inscription from another?

Well, Daniel’s been living happily with his wife, Sha’re, and the Abydosians for two years, but he has not been idle. He has deciphered a series of inscriptions in a place near the main Abydosian settlement, and he thinks there are a whole lot more Stargates out there. A whole galaxy full, to be exact.

But while Jack, Daniel, and Sam are out at this location, Apophis pops in to the main Abydosian camp and kidnaps several of the people there. This includes Sha’re and her younger brother Skaara, who is close to Jack. Our team Gates back to Earth, gets permission to go on a rescue mission, but arrives too late to save Sha’re from being made host to Apophis’ wife.

Daniel does not take this well, as you might imagine, and Jack does not take Skaara’s being turned into one of the “children of the gods” any better. But it looks like they may not have a choice about any of this when Apophis orders his guards, led by Teal’c, to do away with SG-1 and the other captives.

Only Teal’c has other ideas. Forced to serve the Gou’aould with all the other Jaffa, Teal’c is one of the few who knows the Gou’aould are false deities. But he and the others who know this are not in a prime position to do anything overt about it because the rest of their people are firmly under the Gou’aould’s thumbs. And since most of the other peoples in the galaxy that Teal’c has met are technologically inferior to the Guo’aould, he has not been able to defect to a stronger side to stop the false gods from doing what they are doing.

That is, he had not met anyone to whom he could defect until Jack, Daniel, and Sam showed up. Recognizing their technology to be superior to the other races’ – though not the Gou’aould’s – Teal’c decides the time is right to strike back at the slave masters who control his race. He frees SG-1 and the others in the room with them, but has nowhere to go after this until Jack tells him, “For this, you can stay at my place. Let’s go!”

Thus begin the epic adventures of Stargate One, SG-1 for short. This “army of four” manages to often single-handedly defeat the Gou’aould at every turn during the series, and it is a thrilling ride to run with them. They kind of lost me after Richard Dean Anderson left the show.   Seasons eight, nine, and ten also went a little weird…but it was still Stargate, and I could not find anything better that I liked at the time. I had to see the show through to the end, and I did, though I liked everything up to season seven or eight better than what I saw in season nine to ten.

One of the really appealing things about the series for me, early on, I think, was the fact that SG-1 was going up against false gods. Now, even at a young age, I loved history. I learned about Cortez and his march through Mexico, how he stopped the Aztecs’ bloody worship of stone idols and tore those stone statues down. I have since learned more details about the Aztecs’ sacrifices, and I can say with all certainty that the Spanish did us a favor by putting a stop to their murderous mayhem.

SG-1 reminded me of that a lot as a little child. Everyone around them believed that the Gou’aould were actual deities and, time after time, SG-1 would have to prove that the Gou’aould were anything but gods. It was a fun series with plenty of great sci-fi and character exploration, but one of the things I will never forget about the show is that it presented a group of modern “Conquistadors” who were not afraid to knock down idols others treated as divine and show them who the man behind the curtain really was.

If you are wondering if this is why I end up screaming at the History Channel and Ancient Aliens, you come close to the right answer. The fact is, all those theories the people on those shows have about Ancient Egypt have been thought of before – and I should know, because I saw them played out in Stargate SG-1. I do not need them repeated to me, and so when I hear someone waxing eloquent about these things, I cannot help getting a little…testy. That is why I usually avoid those shows. 😉

Well, readers, that is all I have for now. Other than to shamelessly plug the fact that El Rey is rerunning one of my favorite series, that is. If you have never seen Stargate SG-1, then this is your best chance to catch it on television. So what are you waiting for?! Dial up that Gate and go have an adventure!

Jaffa, kree!

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Spotlight: Avengers – The Incredible Hulk

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“Hulk SMASH!!!”

I am not Big Green’s biggest fan. I like him, but he has never been my favorite superhero. Most everyone who likes the Hulk recognizes the words I have used to open this post. Hulk is best known for his smashing, after all.

For some time now a friend and I have been catching reruns of Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno’s The Incredible Hulk television series. While I have read about the series before, I have never seen it. My friend had even less exposure to the series than I did – until recently, of course.

After watching a few of these episodes, my friend commented that the stories within each show were good, and I agreed. Though the special effects are hardly that special today, that was not what my friend and I meant when we concurred that the series was good.

What we meant was that the stories themselves were good. Usually, The Incredible Hulk could be counted on to turn out a good story. There have been a few episodes that I would say fell flat, but that has more to do with the story itself than with the actors or the special effects. On the whole, however, The Incredible Hulk was reliable entertainment for its time and, I daresay, for ours.

This conversation with my friend led me to mention what I had always found likable about the Hulk while I was growing up. It was never his size, strength, or unparalleled ability to “smash” that made me an appreciator of the Hulk. I liked the Hulk because, despite his rage and general tendency to break stuff, he was still a gentle giant to the innocent and/or the helpless.

This is something that later stories in the comics have largely abandoned. In the original comics, The Incredible Hulk television series, and the 1990’s Hulk cartoon, Big Green would never hurt an innocent person. Not on purpose, at least. Someone may have been standing in the wrong place at the wrong time when the Hulk got into a fight and was therefore hurt, but Big Green never deliberately injured someone who was not a threat to him or who was a good person.

For instance, the Hulk always had a soft spot for kids in the shows I saw and in The Incredible Hulk. I can remember a cartoon episode or two where Bruce Banner befriended a young child, only for the Hulk to later manifest himself in order to protect said child. Hulk would also avoid hurting someone who had befriended Banner or who had demonstrated that they were a nice, good, and kind person.

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And in the Bixby/Ferrigno series the Hulk had a knack, as he did in the comics and cartoons, for ending up in the right place at the right time to help people in bad situations. Cursed with a power and alternate personality he did not want, forced to wander the world as an outcast, Banner would lament that he could not have a “normal” life. I sympathized – and still do – with that, but I also think his focus on the negative meant that he did not often see what a great gift he had also been given.

Originally weak and unable to help others, the emergence of the Hulk gave Banner the ability to play the knight errant. No, he could never have a so-called “normal” life, and that could be annoying and sad. But how many people would have been harmed or might even have died if Bruce Banner did not have the Hulk residing within him?

This is a plot and character device which the comic book writers have gravitated away from since the House of M storyline. Those earlier stories hinted at a provident Will behind the Hulk’s appearance and his subsequent, well-placed position in the lives of others where he invariably helped make those he encountered safer, happier people.

As a young viewer I sensed this about the Hulk. Misunderstood by Thunderbolt Ross, the general public, and even Banner, the Hulk was nevertheless a force for good in the world and not a monster of destruction, as he has often been described. Yes, he broke a lot of stuff more often than not. But he never did it just for the heck of it; he did it to protect others or stop the bad guys. I can accept destruction when its main aim is to protect good people and stop bad people. Buildings can be replaced and the land is always shifting. Individual humans are utterly irreplaceable.

Though the comic book writers have fallen away from this understanding of the Hulk, the cartoon and film writers seem to have begun to re-explore this side of the character. Oddly enough it was Joss Whedon, the proclaimed atheist, who led the charge for this change. This is made plainest in The Avengers, where the famous director/writer has Tony Stark point out that the Hulk may have saved Banner’s life in the Gamma explosion for a purpose.

Marvel’s writers have subsequently shifted their portrayal of the Hulk in the cartoons to show him as a thinking and usually coherent character, instead of a rage monster with the vocabulary and intellect of a four year old child having a righteous temper tantrum. This is a nice change but it takes away, for me, a little of the gentle prodding we had in earlier stories about the Hulk. The idea that Providence intervened to save Banner’s life and granted him the power to back up his will to help others is what made me fond of the Hulk. I think this is one of the reasons why I drifted away from the character as I grew up – my own inclination toward precision in place of wholesale attack notwithstanding.

This providential element in stories about Big Green is the reason why I enjoy watching the reruns of The Incredible Hulk on El Rey when I can. These stories, as Bill Bixby said, were made for adults but “children can watch them, too.” He was reportedly very upset when the show was described as mere children’s entertainment.

I have to agree with him on that. The Incredible Hulk and other, older Marvel fare was made for adults and children alike. Both could read it and learn lessons about life from the stories the company told. This is one of many things that Marvel lost after House of M, sadly, and one of the things I wish they would work to rediscover. They will tell better stories if they are only ready to relearn what will make a great story.

If you can, readers, try to catch a few episodes of The Incredible Hulk on El Rey. They are “retro” and dated, and this is not a television series which modern special effects fans will take very seriously. But if you like a good story, The Incredible Hulk can be counted on to deliver nine times out of ten. That is all any of us can and should ask of a storyteller; a good story, well-told, and appreciable to a wide audience.

Have fun smashing with the Incredible Hulk, readers!

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