Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Stargate SG-1: Crystal Skull

'Crystal Skull' is one of my favourite episodes of SG-1, partly because I've had a fondness for 'out of phase' episodes ever since Geordi and Ro thought they might be ghosts in TNG's 'The Next Phase' but mainly because it's so delightfully dappy. Ever since I saw this episode, I've chosen to blame all unsolved historical mysteries (particularly the question of what happened to the Mycenaeans) on 'GIANT AAAALIENS!', in suitably ludicrous accent.*

The MacGuffin for this episode is a Mayan crystal skull and the aforementioned Giant Aliens have something to do with the Mayans. I know absolutely nothing about Mayan civilization other than that their calendar comes to the end of some sort of cycle in 2012, so I can't comment on anything relating to them - though I will say I'm pretty sure they never built any Egyptian-style pyramids, as seen on the alien planet here, only step pyramids.

This episode follows the classic template, on which the entire series is based, of a supposedly mad archaeologist's crazy theory turning out to be true. It has to be said, Daniel thoroughly deserves all the grief he goes through here, since he apparently laughed at his grandfather's Giant Aliens story while claiming that the pyramids weren't built by the Egyptians (and his grandfather was just as bad). Just as, in sci-fi and fantasy, all folktale creatures are real and all myths are true (albeit often in a skewed way - the gods usually turn out to be aliens), in SFF all completely insane theories propagated on the internet about the pyramids being built by aliens and the world ending in 2012 are also true. Needless to say, this is not the case in real life. In a way, the pyramids-built-by-aliens stuff isn't too much of a problem, as it's so obviously batty - more problematic are the more plausible but, from an historical and academic point of view, equally daft ideas that float around the internet; something Egyptology suffers from in particular, because it's so popular, and because mummies and pyramids lend themselves so easily to the crazy.

Since Daniel is temporarily out of commission during this episode, the team have to turn to their second archaeologist, Dr Robert Rothman. Over the course of three series, the show had been gradually evolving Daniel from the stereotypical nerd he'd been presented as in the movie. His allergies hadn't been mentioned since the pilot episode, he was fitting in more and more with his military companions and becoming more like Indiana Jones and less like Professor Frink and most importantly, between season 2 and season 3, he'd cut off his floppy hair and gone for a shorter, tougher style. When Daniel is indisposed in this episode and the earlier 'Forever in a Day', the writers take the opportunity to bring back the classic nerd in the form of Rothman, who seems to have even worse allergies and even more trouble communicating, and makes it worse by adding utter incompetence to the picture (goodness knows why the military hired this guy for a super-important, top secret assignment). I suspect the representation of Rothman is supposed to show how much Daniel has grown as a character over the past couple of years, but all it really does is imply that archaeologists are all huge geeks with allergies. Honestly, if your hay-fever was that bad, I'm not sure you'd choose digging as a career.

One of the things I like about these episodes is the way it makes 'ghosts' of regular characters. It's always fun giving a regular a chance to snark at everyone else when they can't hear him. The scene where Daniel listens to Hammond's phone call with his grand-daughter and hears how much he means to the general is lovely and there's a great payoff when it turns out that Nick could see Daniel all along and heard every word. I also like the metaphysical and philosophical crisis the characters are plunged into when they're forced to consider the possibility that they've died and are hanging around as a ghost. And I'm a sucker for a good ghost story in any form. (By the way, Daniel starts to think he might be dead because he isn't hungry or thirsty. Presumably he doesn't need to pee either, but is too polite to say so, even when no one else can hear him). The Giant Aliens bit of this episode is utterly daft, and I think we're starting to learn that crystal skulls as MacGuffins are not always overly effective, but the 'out of phase' elements, and some touching scenes between Daniel and his grandfather, raise this up and make it a solid, fun installment of the series.

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*Jan Rubes, who was in Witness, is using his own, perfectly sensible accent - my imitation of it is ludicrous.


  1. This wasn't one of SG1's better episodes, although it was a lot of fun! :o)

  2. I've only ever seen the original film, which I thought was brilliant (the final fight sequence was particularly clever, I thought -- makes you wish they had tried something like that once or twice with the Star Trek transporter!). I thought all the characters were quite good. So it's a shame that they felt a need to 'man up' Daniel the archaeologist -- I thought James Spader's portrayal of a soft-spoken, slightly distracted geek was wonderful, and very much against the grain in modern action film protagonists. Which explains why he had to be testosteronised for television, I suppose. *Sigh*

    I -- or, rather, my son -- does have a series 1 collection lying about, so I suppose one of these days we might get around to watching it.

  3. I quite like slightly-cooler Jackson, but it does get confusing when Ben Browder joins the cast in season 9-10. IIRC, the fact they look like clones was addressed at one point...

  4. I rather liked this episode of the series.

  5. I like the "cooler" Daniel also, and he's still the intellectual and the conscience of the group!

  6. Juliette: random crystal skull sighting!!! It appeared on an episode of "The Secret Circle" this week looking just like this one, until it goes all black! :p

  7. Cool! everything's crazier with crystal skulls ;)

    1. I guess not cool enough... the show just got cancelled! I guess giant aliens works better than evil magic? :p

    2. Oh dear! This is the lesson people - if in doubt, add some GIANT ALIENS! ;)

  8. This episode was actually connected with Arthur's Mantle episode in season 9. Based on his similar experience, Jackson knows where Sam disappeared.


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