Stargate SG-1 seasons 1-7: An Appreciation

I was going to continue on to review SG-1 season 8, but I decided I really have to pause and look back first.  SG-1 is actually three different shows:

Seasons 1-7 have a single big story arc, with main and supporting characters that continue through all seven seasons.

SG-1 season 8 is really SG-1: Coda.  General Hammond is mostly gone, Dr. Frasier is totally gone, Jack is in command.  It’s an echo of what 1-7 were but it no longer has the same dynamic.

SG-1 seasons 9-10 is really Stargate: The Ori, a kind of SG-1 sequel.  It’s not the same show at all.  The mythology is different (Arthurian rather than Egyptian), there are three new main characters and one new minor character, the tone is different, the enemy is different.  I won’t be reviewing seasons 9 and 10 at all for this reason.

Stargate SG-1 seasons 1-7

The series opened on July 1997 with the appearance of Apophis through the gate, and ended in March 2004 with the death* of Anubis.  The Goa’uld are basically defeated, the Replicators are defeated, Anubis is defeated.  The overall arc is the Goa’uld coming to Earth, seven years of trying to find technology and trying to keep them from attacking Earth, and a grand CGI battle finale where it turns out the weapon they needed was on Earth all along.  This is a reasonable arc particularly considering it wasn’t pre-written and pre-planned from the beginning.

The show has General Hammond as the father figure and a kind of symbol.  He represents ideals of morality, honour and self-sacrifice.  There is a reason he wears a white shirt, he is basically an embodiment of Good, in the same way that the Goa’uld are embodiments of Evil.  Hammond holds the fort while his children, if you will, go and explore.  His anxiety for them is our anxiety for them.  He keeps us grounded on Earth even as SG-1 explores the galaxy.

To a lesser but still important extent, Dr. Frasier plays a motherly role, soothing the team’s cuts and bruises when they return home.

The team of SG-1 has a really strong dynamic, with Jack bringing humour, Carter as an incredible character bringing intelligence and strength, Dr. Jackson bringing humanity and moral clarity, and Teal’c as the silent warrior.

The recurring minor characters give a sense of continuity and round out the cast.

As with all good shows, this character chemistry and continuity creates a family, a community that we want to be a part of, a place we want to visit once a week.

SG-1 does things that will never be done again.  First of all, it is a big-budget show.  Despite being considered “secondary scifi”, it had a budget of over a million dollars an episode.  This was a serious production; they spent over 150 million dollars in the first seven seasons of SG-1.  Second of all, due to the era it spanned from 1997 to 2004, almost everything in the show is real, rather than computer-generated.  This gives a very different feel to the show.  The set is real – there is a physical gateroom with a gate, facing a first level control room and an upper level briefing room attached to Hammond’s office.  When they step through the gate, they go to real locations (mostly in the woods of BC).  When they dodge explosions, they are real explosions.  The combination of set and on-location shooting with live effects give a sense of solidity and brings reality to the off-world adventures.  No one is ever going to spend this kind of money on an SF show again, and no one is ever going to build real sets and shoot on location again like they did.

They did a very difficult thing, which was maintain the show and let the characters and situations evolve over time based on each episode.  They manage the transition from early mystery to ongoing adventures with a good conclusion, a transition which both Lost and Battlestar Galactica blew completely.  They also behind-the-scenes managed to transition from Showtime to Sci Fi channel, and to keep the show on track despite the events of September 2001.

They had their mis-steps, in particularly the lost years of seasons 5 and 6, but they did get back on track for a strong finish in season 7.

Overall the show manages to be fun and interesting, and to do real world-building, where the canon of the show builds up over time and there are both standalone episodes and story-arc episodes.  SG-1 is solid science fiction.

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