Stargate SG-1 was from a time when television was far less serialized and more episodic, but that did not mean that there were not continuing threads for character or world development.
Science fiction has long been a small but persistent staple of television ranging from The Twilight Zone to Star Trek to the modern bevy of superhero shows. You can see with each of the examples presented the difference in how stories were largely told at those times. The Twilight Zone was absolutely episodic to the point were entirely separate and featured new actors (including a pre-Star Trek William Shatner) with each story being told. Star Trek moved into a series that was still episodic, but was still within a world and while there were not necessarily arcs, details would occasionally resurface and bonds were form between and with the characters through their weekly interaction. Modern storytelling is much less forgiving though with the serialization of even the most pedestrian of shows which makes picking up a series late into its run is basically impossible.
Stargate SG-1 fell somewhere between the original Star Trek and modern serialization. The fact that the franchise was on the air for nearly a decade and a half meant that these trends in storytelling actually show through in the franchise itself, though not significantly in SG-1 specifically. SG-1 was a show that was relatively episodic and you could pick up any given episode and likely not be too in the dark given that it is a sci-fi show and some things are just taken at face value without the need for the lore behind them. Take the stargate itself: you only really need to know that you go through on Earth and come out somewhere else to enjoy the series, but if you watch the entire series they go into the science behind it including wormholes, event horizons, time limits, and a plethora of other quirks of the gate network. Even when these slightly more technical issues are prominent to a given story, SG-1 is usually very good about giving a quick refresher on the issue at hand, both for new watchers as well as to remind long-time viewers of something that may have occurred multiple seasons prior. This makes Stargate SG-1 a relatively easy show to introduce to people as you are generally able to pick some highlights from the shows ten seasons and give a person a good representation of the best of the series without them being entirely lost or having to sit through the rougher early episodes that plague most shows.
So, we are going to try and give a brief synopsis of the ten seasons of the show along with the two direct-to-DVD movies after the series went off the air. The key word being “try” as there is a lot to cover, but I will try and give a synopsis for each season along with some personal episode recommendations from each season and why I love them. I love the series, but I also know it has some problems too, so I may also point out some particularly bad episodes that you may want to avoid as well. It goes without saying that there will be spoilers from this point onward so…
Many shows have a rough first season since the cast and crew are still working out how everything is going to work. SG-1 is no exception when I look back on the episode list for the first season. There are some obvious high points and there are some really low points as well, but things level out over time and some major themes and plot points are established that would run for several seasons or even the entire series.
Most of season 1 is pretty unimportant to the overall plot of the series in terms of lore, but it does a lot to develop the characters and their relationships. The bulk of the plot for the season stems from the restarting of the Stargate Program early on as well as the early mistakes and lessons learned while the program is getting its footing as it moves out into the galaxy. Over the course of the season, we are introduced to a number of new alien species, both ally and enemy alike. As the season comes to a close though, we start to see the real threat that the Goa’uld present to the Earth and how different factions on Earth react to that threat.
- Episodes 1 & 2 - Children of the Gods
Season 1 starts with a two part episode which starts with a minor attack on Earth, the discovery that O’Neill falsified his original report that the gate was destroyed, and that Dr. Jackson had discovered an archive of gate addresses which meant that the gate travelled to more than one place. The characters of Captain Samantha Carter and former First Prime of Apophis, Teal’c, are introduced in part 1 and part 2 respectively. In this episode, the personal motives for a number of the characters are also introduced via Skaara and Sha’re are abduction and subsequently taken as hosts by Goa’uld parasites.
- Episode 10 - Thor’s Hammer
This episode first teases the fact that in addition to Egyptian gods, there are other gods who were masquerading as divinity in ancient history. In this case, we are introduced to a Norse influenced planet. It was untouched by the Goa’uld and the natives explain that it is because they are protected by the god of thunder, Thor.
- Episode 11 - The Torment of Tantalus
I include this episode with this caveat: this is an episode for lore lovers. The basic plot of the episode is nothing to write home about, but they establish some early things in the lore that would continue to go on including the mention of some powerful ancient races as well as a small incite into gate functionality.
- Episode 15 - Singularity
This episode introduces a minor character, Cassandra, but how she interacts with and affects the main cast is the bigger takeaway.
- Episodes 17 - 22
Each of these episodes either establishes a new force in the galaxy, rules regarding the stargates, establishes a story point which will be returned to, or are part of a multi-episode arc which makes them required viewing. Episode 19 in particular is a good take of the sci-fi trope of “self”.
Episodes to Avoid
- Episode 4 - Emancipation
- Episode 5 - Broca Divide
- Episode 13 - Fire and Water
- Episode 14 - Hathor
Season 2 picks up where the cliffhanger of season 1 left off. The arc of this season can be summarized as going from being under threat of assault by the Goa’uld, to establishing allies with powerful or knowledgeable races, learning a bit more about the Ancients who built the stargates, and the unsanctioned actions of rogue elements on Earth out in the galaxy.
The quality of the episodes in season 2 are of a much more even quality and major duds, though there are some less interesting episodes. There are not however any I would suggest avoid outright.
The episodes listed below all either follow-up on previous storylines, establish recurring characters or factions, or push the overall narrative. We are introduced to the Tok’ra which has long lasting implications for the SGC and Carter specifically, a portion of Daniel Jackson’s storyline is addressed once more, we get more exposure to the rouge elements of the NID, and over the course of the seasons brings SG-1 face-to-face with the Asgard. We also are introduced to a new villain to replace Apophis.
- Episode 1 - The Serpent’s Lair Part 3
- Episode 2 - In the Line of Duty
- Episode 3 - Prisoner
- Episode 6 - Thor’s Chariot
- Episode 9 - Secrets
- Episodes 11 & 12 - Tok’ra
- Episode 14 - Touchstone
- Episode 15 - A Matter of Time
This is a recommended of an extremely personal nature. As you will probably notice as I go on, episode revolving around the stargate and some of the stranger things that happen around it are almost universally my favorite episodes as they fascinate me immensely.
- Episode 16 - The Fifth Race
- Episode 17 - Serpent’s Song
- Episode 21 - 1969
Not an exceptionally great episode alone, it does however establish an aspect of the stargate and wormholes which will be used even up to the last season of Stargate Universe.
Season 3 is the epitome of consistency in terms of quality. Again, there are no episodes that I recommend avoiding, but there are only a handful of episodes that are must watch in my opinion. That should not be taken as a case of these episodes being lesser or in any way. At this point in the series, there really are few if any episodes that are bad in my opinion. Rather, this season just happens to have very few episodes that I would consider as milestones for the series in regards to lore or character development.
The arc of the season is relatively shallow in terms of the changes in the status quo from the season’s beginning to season’s end. There are a great many episodes this season that tell interesting stories and make important commentary on real or imaginary societies. Below are some arc important episodes:
- Episode 10 - Forever in a Day
Not a personal favorite as it is a bit dull and not a lot of science fiction or action, but it is a very important episode in the life of Daniel Jackson.
- Episodes 11 & 12 - Jolinar’s Memories & The Devil You Know
Despite having unique titles for each episode, episodes 11 and 12 actually constitute a two part story which sends SG-1 to the closest thing to a literal Hell in the series. It gives a bit more lore about the Tok’ra as well as the history of Sokar, the Goa’uld version of Satan.
- Episode 15 - Pretense
Pretense returns to the story of Skaara, but also revisits the Tollans as well. It is a sci-fi court scenario, so there is of course moral stories and philosophical arguments made.
- Episode 18 - Shades of Grey
This episode sees Jack go off the rails and starts working with the NID on unsanctioned missions after resigning from the SGC.
- Episode 22 - Nemesis
This is the episode where the Asgard really join the show as a regular ally to the Tau’ri, but more importantly, it introduces a new threat that will continue for the next several seasons: The Replicators!
Season 4 is yet again a very shallow arc for the entire season. The story highlights of the season are a follow-up to season 3’s ending with the Replicators, the formalizing of the alliance between the Tau’ri and Tok’ra, as well as more of the continuing saga with the NID, Maybourne, and Senator Kinsey...oh, and they blow up a sun!
- Episode 1 - Small Victories
Not exactly a two part story, but certainly a follow-up to the event with the Asgard and Replicators.
- Episode 6 - Window of Opportunity
This is a favorite among the fandom as it is the Stargate take on the movie Groundhog Day. While other series, including Star Trek have done the requisite “time loop” episode, Stargate SG-1 possibly does it the best. There is little to no impact on anything outside this episode and yet it strikes this particular balance between serious, depressing, and outright hilarious throughout the episode’s runtime...a likely unintentional but soberingly appropriate gamut of emotions given the madness that would likely fall into given that scenario.
- Episode 15 - Chain Reaction
This season’s requisite politically themed episode. NID, ex-Col Maybourne, and Senator Kinsey.
- Episode 16 - 2010
A “what-if” episode that shows the Earth after a decade. It shows a world that has seen the revelation of the stargate and Stargate Program.
- Episode 17 - Absolute Power
Dr. Jackson finds the Harcesis and attempt to learn from him the secrets of the Goa’uld and how to defend the Earth from and ultimately defeat them.
- Episode 22 - Exodus
Part 1 of a trilogy that will continue in season 5. This again is one of the episodes that highlights some of the peculiar things that can be done with the stargate itself as a plot device beyond simple travel.
Next week, we will cover the remaining six seasons and their overarching story which I feel moves more significantly season-to-season since they introduce several different villains in the second half of the series.