Stargate SG-1, following the 1994 film directed by Roland Emmerich, has become a huge hit in its own right. Currently venturing into its eighth season, and recently spun off into Stargate Atlantis, the series borrows from other science fiction and horror narratives, and frequently references pop culture. Most provocatively, the series mixes what appears a reactionary militarism with parodic excess.
In Season Seven, the SG-1 team—Colonel Jack O’Neill (Richard Dean Anderson), Major Samantha Carter (Amada Tapping), archaeologist Daniel Jackson (Michael Shanks), and enigmatic extraterrestrial Teal’c (Christopher Judge)—continue to use the Stargate device to travel to distant worlds, usually to defend Earth from wicked adversaries. MGM’s DVD set doesn’t offer much in the way of explaining this seeming ideology. Four of nine featurettes are dedicated to the principal actors, by way of mostly superficial interviews. Other lackluster features collect anecdotes on the making of selected episodes. Similarly, the audio commentaries focus on trivia; discussing the episode, “Death Knell,” for instance, director Peter DeLuise and actress Amanda Tapping reveal information that might interest fans.
Drawn from horror and science fiction films, the SG-1 team’s adversaries range from rampant cyborgs in “Evolution” and unruly computers in “Revisions,” to godlike creatures in “Lost City,” competitive spaceship drivers in “Space Race,” and deceitful politicians in “Inauguration.” The series’ distinction is a story arc about the war against the malicious Goa’uld. As the mythology goes, thousands of years ago, godlike creatures built the Stargate system to travel instantaneously between planets. When the parasitic Goa’uld took control of the Stargate system, they initiated human slave trade across the galaxy.
Stargate: SG-1‘s racial politics emerge in this strand, as the Goa’uld on Earth became Egyptian and South American gods, while the friendly Asgaards became Nordic deities. (The series is indebted to Erich Von Daniken’s pseudoscientific books, including Chariots of the Gods , proposing, among other things, that friendly aliens taught the Incans, Egyptians, and Mayans how to build pyramids.) After a revolt in ancient Egypt, the Stargate remained buried until its discovery and repossession by the U.S. Air Force.
Just as most of the planets visited in Star Trek resemble Southern California, the SG-1 team usually explores planets that look a lot like British Columbia. Indeed, according to SG-1, all the planets connected by the Stargate support human life and are populated with descendants of those enslaved by the Goa’uld thousands of years ago. This story explains why most of the intelligent life forms across the galaxy by SG-1 are humanoid, though it’s not clear why all speak perfect English.
Repeated pop cultural references make SG-1‘s imperialism less odious than it sounds: O’Neill’s use Spock’s Vulcan salute with an unfriendly Jaffa in “Evolution,” Sam and Daniel’s discussion of the film Signs in “Orpheus,” and, perhaps most delightful, Sam’s whistling the Stargate SG-1 theme in “Chimera” all suggest the series might understand its roots and effects.
So, when O’Neill, like Captain Kirk, tries to impose contemporary U.S. ideologies on other cultures, the series seems aware that such an attitude is troubling. In “Birthright,” O’Neill convinces a race of Amazonian warrior women to stop depending on the Goa’uld larvae and instead use a drug developed on Earth. In return, he asks for their alliance in the fight against the Goa’uld. So, now that the Amazons are independent of the Goa’uld, they are now dependent on drug supplies from Earth.
A more dramatic example of the SG-1’s intergalactic imperialism is presented in “Enemy Mine” (borrowing its title from Wolfgang Petersen’s strangely progressive 1985 movie.) A Stargate team goes on a mining operation, as a rare mineral unique to this site is necessary to build weapons. Unknown to the miners, they are digging on the sacred ground of the ferocious Unas. Initial confrontations between humans and aliens give way reconciliation, when Jackson convinces the Unas to allow the humans to develop their mineral resources. A punch-line of sorts emerges when, in exchange for food and other basic supplies, Jackson enrolls the Unas as the main labor force in the mining operation.
Most alien societies the team encounters are conveniently ready to be exploited by either the Goa’uld or the human team. By the same token, the advanced races are hesitant to share advanced technology or scientific knowledge with O’Neill. And well they should be suspicious: O’Neill’s principal interest is neither exploration nor humanitarian support, but the search for novel weapon technologies. As an “ambassador” from Earth, he is always wearing his military fatigues and carrying his high caliber assault rifle. This makes for bizarre situations. In “Revisions,” O’Neill and his comrades meet with the high council of a serene town of peaceful, Amish-looking aliens, never losing grip of their powerful weapons—just in case. Not so much a joke on the reactionary SG-1 team, guns are continuously presented as an integral component of Earth’s diplomatic protocols.
With all its handguns and rifles, SG-1 seems a poster show for the National Rifle Association. (This is odd, considering that Anderson advocated for gun control when he starred as MacGyver, who famously relied on intellect rather than weapons.) Overseen by the Pentagon, SG-1’s mission to defend Earth recalls The X-Files, but with the moral equation reversed: now the good guys are the secretive members of the military.
In this regard, Stargate SG-1 resonates with current world events, as Stargate Command operates deep within the Cheyenne Mountain complex, the same place that hosts NORAD and tracked the kidnapped airplanes on 9/11. As well, the Goa’uld and their “Jaffa” warriors appear to be of Middle Eastern descent, in contrast with the show’s mostly white characters.
In the season’s late episodes, “Heroes,” “Inauguration,” and the two-part “The Lost City,” a complex story arc concerns a nefarious Vice President (Ronny Cox), bent on using the Stargate and the war against the Goa’uld for his own financial gain. When independent contractor Richard Woolsey (Robert Picardo) is hired to investigate the reliability of the Stargate Command, he asserts, “I think it is reprehensible that the taxpayers of this country are paying enormous sums of money to wage a war they know nothing about and get little, if anything, in return.” His earnest protest is to no avail, however; the plot eventually proves him wrong. The military tends to do right in SG-1: in “The Lost City: Part 2,” General John P. Jumper, U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff, plays himself, here a firm supporter of the Stargate Command, underlining that this is the only TV series currently endorsed and supported by the Air Force.