greatest hits from outer space

I never watched SG1, even when all my Farscape fannish friends hopped over into SG and even when the artist formerly known as Maayan started writing fic. And EVEN when the artist formerly known as Maayan and I drove out to the desert just to lie down beneath this bowl of stars, and, over the course of eight or ten big-sky hours, M. told me the entire tale of Daniel Jackson, from Sha’uri and that, wossname, wise Ancient caretaker, to Daniel ascending and then getting the boot and coming back with big biceps to play with Ben Browder. And I’ve seen the movie and I’m comfortable with the rule that any new Stargate starts with a hot alien babe showing some scruffy antihero her, erm, cave paintings, but my fannishness about SG1 extends to how hot Jaye Davison was as Ra the sun god in the movie, and, pressed, I couldn’t pick a Goa’uld out of a lineup, despite the fact that I think Peter Stebbings played one once.

This is our first Star Trek free television year since 1987. And I’m not complaining, I can’t very well complain considering the preponderance of genre TV this year, but when a gal who grew up watching Picard seek out new lives and new civilizations needs a sci-fi fix, she needs a FIX, yo. And thus we have Stargate: Atlantis.

SGA is not a profound show, by any means, nor groundbreaking in any way, let’s just get that straight right off the bat. BSG is undoubtedly smarter and more elegant, more dangerous and unique. And BSG is a damned good show; we’ll get that out of the way straight off too, despite the fact that it’s really not very funny at all. But it’s not our space show, not any more than Threshold or Invasion or the new Dr. Who; it didn’t pick up the Star Trek spill. That, there, is for SGA.

Because, okay.

So what SGA does for us is give us everything that was ever delicious about Star Trek (and Star-Trek-related space shows, see also Babylon 5) without any of the hamhanded morality or unwieldy world-building. Every season on every Star Trek has a handful of yummy plots (the bodyswap plot, the trapped-in-an-elevator plot, the killer bugs plot, the power-outage plot) that lend themselves to thoroughly, relentlessly enjoyable television, and then a handful of useless boring plots (the requisite Klingon episode, the requisite alien one-off love affair episode) that never really hold up upon the fortieth or fiftieth rewatch. And so SGA, cleverly, has saved us that trouble by ONLY recycling tried and true FUN space plots. Yes, every arc and every decision and every character or alien race on SGA has its ancestry among the Star Treks, but oh! how wonderful to see them strung together like this, like a greatest hits album recorded by ONLY the good characters, the clever, snarky, slashy characters, with the tongue-in-cheek humor that gets to come from being set in the present, as opposed to in a nebulous future where we don’t have money or racism anymore.

Every character on SGA also has his or her ancestry among the Star Treks, which is kind of a handy shorthand for us because it doesn’t matter if the characters themselves actually live up to their obligations because we BELIEVE they do, since we’ve grown up simmering in these paradigms. To wit — play the drinking game “What Does Weir Do?” sometime and see how sober you end up. Weir, darling Weir, has never once done ANYTHING, not a THING to demonstrate that she’s the ass-kicking chick leader we want her to be. BUT, I’m willing to BELIEVE she is, even if she doesn’t show me, because Janeway was, and that’s where her ancestry springs from. Here, observe a chart, where Star Trek: Voyager is (almost) arbitrarily selected from any of a set of space show paradigms:

Which brings me to why it doesn’t matter if McKay’s science is pseudoscience, because he’s been TAILORED as a genius, we BELIEVE he’s a genius, and so we can use that for our fannish pursuit of tasty slash. And it doesn’t matter if Sheppard’s got nothing but his pointy ears and his belt to set him apart from John Crichton or Tom Paris or anyone else who likes to take a little space ship for a joyride and come home cracking jokes about pop culture, because we BELIEVE he’s a kickass soldier and pilot and commander.

So those of us who wanted so badly to slash our space boys now get a better slash pairing than Paris/Kim (or Crichton/D’Argo!) ever offered us. Those of us who want hot girlslash can take Weir and Teyla to places Janeway and B’Elanna have absolutely gone before. Those of us who want smalltime bottle eps can hang out in Atlantis (which I always accidentally refer to as “the station” when I want “the city,” see also, DS9, B5) while those of us who want mytharc with gravitas have the Wraith a more serious and satisfying threat to Earth than the Borg or the Scarrans ever were. It’s like space shows for DUMMIES over here, with all the lines drawn for us, but FUCK ME the lines are good.

Which is to say: there is nothing unsatisfying about SGA. It is comfort food, it is a legacy, it is in the dictionary next to SPACE SHOW. Mm!

All of this leads me to suspect — and this is where my complete ignorance of SG1 could get me in trouble, so feel free to take this with a grain of stupidity salt — that the creators of SGA were Trek fans themselves, and that they SEE the opportunity SGA has to be the neo-Trek for this generation. Which leads me to “Aurora.”

The Ancients, at least in Aurora, resemble Star Trek so much that I can’t imagine it’s unintentional. Which is partially upsetting, because I want the Ancients to be omnipotent, or at least paranormal, and Star Trek-ifying them makes them almost too underdeveloped for my taste, but let’s table that for now.

John shows up in the virtual environment only to get faced with a phaser and thrown in the brig behind a forcefield. He travels down brightly lit corridors that could be on Voyager, the Defiant, or the Enterprise, and faces off with the Captain in an all-white version of Picard’s bridge.

And perhaps we’re spoiled, those of us who marinated in space shows most of our lives, because we don’t see Star Trek’s universe as tremendously radical; we’ve seen it all before. But with SGA we get an opportunity to see the technology and civilization created by Star Trek in a new light, through the prism of folks who stepped right out of 2005 just like we do. And, like John Crichton faced with little yellow bolts of light, it IS pretty damned amazing what the Ancients came up with, what with transporters and force fields and phased-energy weapons and traveling faster than light. And considering they were defeated by the Wraith, or at least overwhelmed, it makes sense they shouldn’t totally outstrip the Borg, right? I mean, if the Wraith race of bee people was too tremendously advanced from the Borg race of bee people, we’d expect the Ancients to be similarly advanced, and unstoppable opponents don’t make good TV.

But, we can kill a Wraith with only moderately more difficulty than we can kill a Borg, and we are similiary outnumbered, out-hiveminded and out-expendable; the Borg don’t care if they lose a million drones if they take Earth in the process and neither do the Wraith. Which makes sense, and makes the Wraith, like the Borg, a compelling foe. If we could kill them too easily they’d be boring, but if it were impossible to kill them at all, they’d be unwieldy. And thus, we give them bug-minds and greater numbers and we let them rape and pillage the galaxy destroying worlds, while somehow being the only four people in the universe who can conceivably stand up to ’em.

Point being, SGA’s taking a whole team, a whole planet worth of people and doing to them what Farscape did to Crichton; plopping them in the middle of space technology WE (the audience) are not unaccustomed to, and watching the cast members flounder around learning as they go, dwarfed by this impossible futuristic tech and this battle of giants in the playground (watch as I mix my space show metaphors!). And thus, we get everything fun that Farscape did, along with everything fun that Star Trek did, along with everything fun that B5 ever did, stuck between order and chaos, between the Shadows and the Vorlons, between the Ancients and the Wraith, between the Federation and the Borg.

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