[Contains plagues, pestilence, and SPOILERS!!!]
While I was working through the previous season of Stargate: SG-1, I kept thinking I should give more credit to Amanda Tapping, who’s delivered consistently strong and charming performances across all eight seasons, in both her dramatic and comedic scenes… but then I got to the two-part finale (which is easily the worst thing the show has ever attempted), and my good intentions were scuppered by her pitiful attempt to portray an ultra-nerdy alternate-timeline version of Sam. Instead of taking the character seriously, and simply playing her as timid and frumpy, she seemed to be doing a broad “comedy” caricature of a stereotypical, socially-dysfunctional nerd that bordered on “mentally-challenged child”, and really made my teeth grind. Even putting that aberration aside, I find it hard to get too excited about Samantha Carter… clearly she’s a strong, smart, confident and capable scientist-soldier, so I admire her for all of that, and her upbeat attitude can be very refreshing at times, but overall she’s just too white-bread for my tastes. Which is why I wasn’t particularly upset to learn that Tapping was largely absent from the first half of season nine, and that Claudia Black had been drafted in to cover her colleague’s maternity leave!
Obviously I’m biased by my pre-existing fondness for Farscape, but I thought Black’s return (alongside former cast-mate Ben Browder), was a real shot in the arm for this series, bumping it from a pleasant time-passer to a must-watch romp. And it’s not just because ‘Vala Mal Doran’ looks so sexy in those figure-hugging, cleavage-flashing outfits of hers… she also brings an abundance of fresh energy and humour to the show, whether she’s vamping it up, gleefully grinning over a new scheme, or casually shrugging off a lie. Those first few episodes, where she’s leading the remnants of SG-1 on a merry dance across the galaxy, were by far and away the funnest, and laugh-out-loud funniest eps they’ve ever produced. I also appreciate how Vala’s rock-and-roll rebelliousness offsets the all-American, authority-salutin’ conformity of the other characters. Clean-cut, country-lovin’ military-types have always left me a little cold… so I welcomed the chance to cheer for the sort of cheeky, subversive con-woman who would pose as a benevolent Goddess, simply to boost her own ego and bank balance. For the record, I would’ve gladly worshipped her as such, even after she admitted her mortality!
But Vala wasn’t the only new character introduced this season… we also got Beau Bridges as ‘Major General Henry Landry’, the SGC’s new quote-happy commander, and Lexa Doig as the base’s new chief medical officer, ‘Dr. Carolyn Lam’. She also happens to be his estranged daughter, though frankly I could have done without that pointless subplot… especially since it took them a couple of eps to clarify the relationship, leaving me to wonder if they were supposed to be ex-lovers instead! Although Doig’s casting might seem a little suspect, since she was married to series star Michael Shanks at the time (and still is, for that matter), I thought she brought a lot of personality to the part, and ably proved her acting chops.
As for the supporting cast: April Amber Telek appeared in ep #9.02 (“Avalon”, Pt. 2) as ‘Sallis Cicera’, a woman living on a distant planet, who Vala inadvertently possesses using the Ancient communication stones, leading to our first encounter with this season’s shiny new baddies, The Ori. Considering how small the role actually was (we mostly just saw Sallis in mirrors, when Vala chose to look at them), I was a little surprised to see so many other credits on Telek’s resume… including the lead role in a film about a fading B-movie actress famous for playing warrior-princesses, titled Amazon Falls, which sounds great, but sadly doesn’t seem to have had a very wide release on DVD. Nicola Correia Damude appeared in ep #9.05 (“The Powers That Be”) as a local actress portraying Vala in a devotional play…. and she did her Goddess proud. Brava! Teryl Rothery returned in ep #9.13 (“Ripple Effect”) as an alternate reality ‘Dr. Janet Fraiser’, and I have to admit to getting a little sniffly when she showed up on-screen, alive and well. Bless her. Still, I couldn’t help chuckling over the fact that even in a constantly expanding multiverse, in which anything and everything is theoretically possible, the writers still couldn’t conceive of a straight-up Evil SG-1 team coming through the Gate… so they wimped out and gave us a slightly-selfish-but-still-quite-civil one instead. Meh.
Veena Sood appeared in ep #9.14 (“Stronghold”) as ‘Dr. Kelly’, a concerned SGC-affiliated medical-type overseeing the treatment of Cam’s dying comrade-in-arms. Tamlyn Tomita appeared in ep #9.17 (“The Scourge”) as ‘Shen Xiaoyi’, a Chinese Ambassador representing the International Oversight Advisory… who, like so many pesky civilians on this show, was nothing but a hindrance to the heroic flyboys-and-gals charged with escorting her. Tch! At least we got to hear Daniel concede that if the Chinese (or any other non-American country) had owned the Gate back in the day, he would have been just as happy to work with them to get it up and running. Shen returns in a later ep (#9.19, “Crusade”), hoping to form a coalition with the Russians… but they’re only using the threat of reclaiming their loaned Gate in order to leverage more concessions from the Yanks. Boo! They’re rewarded with a box-fresh 304 battle-cruiser to call their own (the “Korolev”, named after a Soviet rocket engineer from the 1950s/60s), but it’s completely destroyed by The Ori shortly after its launch! Gah! Ep #9.19 also sees the return of Vala… who has become impregnated with a “miracle baby” in the intervening months. Wackily enough, this storyline was conceived (pun!) to cover the fact that Black herself had become pregnant in the interim, believing that she wouldn’t be needed once Tapping returned from her own baby-birthing break.
And last, but certainly not least, Katharine Isabelle appeared in ep #9.20 (“Camelot”), as ‘Valencia’, a sword-slinging tomboy, who aids Cam in fighting Merlin’s Black Knight, by removing the enchanted sword from the stone. Hurrah!Nice to see her being hailed as the heroine at the end of that sequence, even though she let Cam do all the actual rolling around in the mud and fighting. Tee hee.
In closing: If a hard-core fan told me they thought the show jumped the shark after Jack left, I could understand that perspective to some extent, because it definitely became a different show once the Gou’ald System Lords were finally defeated, and half the original cast were replaced… but personally, I’d say it was a marked improvement, overall.