Friday, 25 February 2011

Stargate SG-1: The Curse


Quick plug: I have a new article out at Sound on Sight, on Five Films that Blur the Line Between Fantasy and Reality (I must try to come up with a snappier title next time!).

This episode of SG-1 is one of those mid-season episodes that serve to re-direct the main Goa'uld plot a bit and set up the season finale. In this case, we are introduced to a new Goa'uld, Osiris, another Egyptian deity, in the form of Daniel's ex-girlfriend Sarah (because his wife/another Goa'uld was killed off the previous year, so of course, we need to pile some more emotional trauma/sexual tension on top of Daniel). The audience ought to realise immediately that the unfortunate Sarah will end up Goa'ulded by the end of the episode as, like so many American bad guys, she has an English accent. We also see Osiris' consort Isis, in a way - her dead worm-y body is dissected by Doc Frasier.

This is also the episode that introduced us to Colonel O'Neill's cabin by the lake with no fish in it. When Daniel calls Teal'c for some translation assistance, Teal'c delivery of the phrase 'banished to oblivion' is priceless, as are his repeated offers to return to the SGC.

Events in the episode are kicked off by the mysterious death of Daniel's old archaeology professor in an lab explosion. I can't help wondering what an archaeology professor is doing is a laboratory with explosive potential. Archaeologists do work in labs sometimes, but they don't usually have to share them with the chemistry department. (Please note: this is a joke. I am aware that chemistry labs do not spontaneously conbust on a regular basis). The episode makes several references to a 'curse' of Osiris that does not, as far as I know, have any basis in any belief, ancient or modern - I presume the writers were inspired by the supposed curse of Tutankhamun. In this case, presumably, the 'curse' is down to the fact that Osiris is a Goa'uld in hibernation.

Osiris was worshipped both in ancient Egypt and later, together with his sister-wife Isis, in Greece and Rome as the object of a mystery cult. Judging by the artefacts Daniel's old professor is working with, he's focussing on Osiris' Egyptian incarnation, which, of course, fits with Stargate's general focus on ancient Egyptian mythology. I suppose, in the Stargate universe, the quite different Greco-Roman cult of Isis and Osiris developed independently as a relic of the Egyptian cult after the Goa-uld left... but I digress.

As usual, Daniel's descriptions of Osiris' mythology and attributes (chiefly the crook and flail) are fairly accurate, up to the point where the myth needs to be changed to fit Stargate's plot, and the wall painting that Steven finds looks like it properly depicts Isis and Osiris. Daniel's description of the Osiris myth conforms fairly well to Plutarch's version, which is the most coherent version we have of Isis and Osiris' mythology (evidence for the narrative from ancient Egypt itself is very scanty; Plutarch was a Greek who lived and wrote in the second century AD). For some reason Daniel insists on referring to a 'magic box' rather than a coffin or casket, which would be more accurate. Is this a dumbing-down thing on the part of the writers? Surely their viewers know what a coffin is! Perhaps they're just using a different translation of Plutarch. The punishment/banishment bit is an alteration to make the myth fit Stargate's plotline and does not appear in ancient mythology.

Daniel describes a canopic jar that he finds as belonging to Isis (he calls it an 'Egyptian burial jar' - perhaps he's just simplifying things for Carter?). In real life, a canopic jar would 'belong' to the dead person whose organs are stored in it, but the purpose of the jar has been altered for this episode - rather than storing the organs of a human being buried in the tomb, this one stores the worm-form body of a Goa'uld symbiote. It belongs to Isis because it's Isis' symbiote that is stored in it, complete with alien technology to keep it alive (except it's broken).

One of the nice things about this episode is that is presents archaeology in a reasonably accurate way, and in a much less sensationalist way than usual. One of the handy things about archaeology for TV scriptwriters is that archaeologists often have to work against genuine deadlines, and the (1990s) Egyptian government's request for the artefacts seems a perfectly plausible one. Daniel's ex-colleague Steven's book is apparently on the bestseller list, which seems unlikely - though ancient Egypt is always popular so I suppose, if it was a general introduction rather than an academic tome, that might be possible. Daniel and Sarah's envy is certainly realistic!

Given that they obviously wanted a new female Goa'uld to play with, one can't help wondering why the writers went for the male Osiris over his female consort Isis. Presumably this was because Osiris, who was killed by Seth (a god/Goa'uld the team have already encountered), dismembered, then brought back from the dead and associated with death and resurrection seemed like a more interesting choice than Isis, who is among other things healer, mother and life-giver.

This episode is a bit functional, moving the plot to where it needs to be later in the season. On its own, it works reasonably well as a murder mystery, but the simplest kind. There are two suspects (i.e. people who may have been taken over by Osiris - Daniel's colleagues are probably not natural murderers!). One looks very obviously like the guilty party so, of course, it turns out to be other one. It is lovely to see Daniel actually being an archaeologist though, and we get a trip to Egypt thrown in too! (Well, some sand that looks like it could be Egypt. It makes a change from Canadian forests anyway). Not an all-time classic, but a fun enough way to pass forty-five minutes.

5 comments:

  1. Teal'c is one of the best things about this ep!

    And I always get very confused by the fact that they have a male Goa'uld in a female body. I think I may have seen later eps with Osiris in before I saw this one, because I definitely remember thinking during those eps 'they know Osiris was male, right? Why do they have him in a female host?' (I realise there's no particular reason why a male Goa'uld should have a male host, but as I say, it confused me!)

    This is much more intellectual that the Stargate thing I was reading yesterday, that charted the changes in Daniel's fashion sense over the course of the series... ;)

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  2. Oooh, send the link, I want to read *that* one!

    This ep was better than I remembered, but not amazing - and I don't really get why they killed off Isis without doing anything with her either - they could have had a male and a female!

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  3. Poor Daniel! Thank goodness Vala finally came along! ;o)

    I imagine Isis would have been a queen, and so one of the goauld to produce more symbiotes... would have been nice to see another one of those!

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  4. I love Vala - I really liked their storyline in 'Unending', just a shame that it never happened!

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  5. I wish they'd get on with it and give us another SG1 movie!!!

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