Stargate SG-1 Episode 1.03: "Emancipation"
This week, we're covering one of my least favorite episodes of the show. But at least it's out of the way early!
The Plot Thickens
SG-1 arrives on its first "planet of the week" and rescues a young man running from a tribe of what appear to be Mongols. The young man, Abu, is immediately horrified to discover Sam is female and unveiled, but he leads them back to his father's encampment. During the night, Abu kidnaps Sam and takes her to a rival camp, where he attempts to trade her for the chieftain's daughter, whom he loves.
Jack, Daniel and Teal'c set out to rescue Sam, with Abu's father guiding them. Sam, meanwhile, struggles against the chieftain, who tries to "tame" her. Jack, Daniel and Teal'c manage to bargain for Sam's freedom by providing the chieftain with a firearm.
The chieftain's daughter tries to escape, but gets caught. According to the law, she must be stoned to death. Sam refuses to leave and goes back to challenge the chieftain to single combat. She wins and makes the chieftain swear not to release his daughter. In Sam's honor, the Shavadai tribe abolishes their restrictive laws and allows their women to walk about without veils.
Themes and Thoughts
I'm not sure I actively hate any Stargate episodes, but I certainly dislike this one. Ostensibly, this is Sam's episode, to prove how capable she is and "earn" her place, but...damn, it just rankles to watch. And it hurts to see Jack and Daniel side with the Shavadai initially, even teasing Sam about how pretty she is in the colorful outfit they give her.
Not to mention the portrayal of Mongol culture can be...careless, at times. It smacks of orientialism, which combined with the general sexism on display makes this episode a cringe-fest.
That said, this episode does set up the trend for the early seasons of the show: the "planet of the week" style episode. It will be the show's primary episode type, interspersed with the occasional on-base episode or an episode that deals with a broader arc. The general plot is:
- Characters arrive on planet.
- Characters encounter displaced humans / aliens / plant life.
- Life-endangering problem occurs for one of the main cast.
- Characters solve problem and leave, sometimes helping the planet's population, sometimes screwing them over.
We'll see this formula repeated in the very next episode, "The Broca Divide."
Sam. Enough said. Her passion and defiance are definitely on display here, something we'll see in future episodes. She can be really determined and stubborn. It's a shame this episode doesn't let her showcase her brains, but we'll get there.
Daniel's fascination with exploring displaced Earth cultures begins in earnest in this episode. The flavor of the week is "Mongol," but we'll get a variety over the season. He gets the play the anthropologist here, fascinated by the people and customs around him. I do love Daniel for this mentality, despite my general dissatisfaction with the episode.
From Jack, we get to see his intense loyalty to his people for the first time. When Sam is taken captive, he immediately transitions from jokey leader to military commander, declaring her capture a hostile act and setting out to get her back. We'll see this a lot from him when any member of his team is in trouble, but with Sam in particular. Get ready, Jack & Sam shippers!
Poor Teal'c. Not much to do here except be the muscle. Don't worry, my dude, you'll do better in the next episode.
He Said, She Said, It Said
Holy Bad Guys, Batman!
The Goa'uld take a backseat in this episode as we move into a series of standalone episodes. Here, our villain is the rival camp chieftain, Turghan. He's...something. Not really frightening, so much as annoying and backward. He's manipulated fairly easily. Honestly, I'd say his portrayal verges on caricature.
It's part of why this episode is so weak--Turghan isn't that intimidating, nor does he seem to have any motivation beyond "be oppressive so Sam can be a hero." And sure enough, Sam bests him without much trouble, when it comes down to a fair fight.
Not much tech to speak of this week, since it's really more about the gender dynamics. That said, the team does trade for samples of a new, plant-based anesthetic--the first example of an SG team bringing back something that will benefit Earth.
New Eyes, New Viewpoint
Not surprisingly, my bestie didn't care for this episode either. She doesn't think a show today could get away with something like this (can't say I disagree, really). She was also mortified, as a Star Trek fan, to discover that the SGC has no prime directive.* She wasn't sure she agreed with the end result of the episode, or that SG-1 had any right to interfere with the Shavadai culture like they did.
Coming soon - my review of "The Broca Divide"!
*In Star Trek, the prime directive prohibits Starfleet operatives from interfering with the internal development of alien civilizations.