THE KAWALSKY EFFECT
The Death of Innocence at the S.G.C.
WARNING: This article contains spoiler information for episodes through Season Four's "The First Ones." Proceed at your own risk!
The last year of adventures for SG-1 has seen a lot of death. It isn't hard to see a pattern form when several supporting characters are killed off -- some with seemingly little purpose beyond dramatic flare.
Before Season Three reached it's midpoint, Sha're (one of the driving forces behind the series since the pilot episode) was killed ("Forever In a Day"). Only a few episodes later, her brother Skaara's character was forever changed when he was freed from the Goa'uld Klorel ("Pretense").
Soon after that, Colonel Makepeace was revealed to be in league with Maybourne's renegade team; he was arrested and, presumably, courtmartialed ("Shades of Grey").
To that point, the pattern wasn't a pattern of death. We simply saw that the writers of the show were deliberately wrapping-up old plot lines (such as Sha're and Skaara), rather than extending them the length of the series. This seemed an acceptable direction for the show, as new plot lines were always being planted and explored.
A Pattern Emerges
The sudden and apparently pointless death of Martouf, though, threw up red flags ("Divide and Conquer"). Now there was a pattern: supporting characters were being deliberately killed off. Did actor J.R. Bourne want off the show? Of course not; he's a guest star who has appeared in only six episodes. He gets paid for what he does, and has no commitment to the series beyond those appearances. He wasn't being cut loose -- just killed for dramatic impact, to make the diabolical threat of Goa'uld mind control seem, suddenly, much more serious.
Most recently, Dr. Robert Rothman (who has established himself as a well-known and unique character, in spite of his small number of appearances -- only three) was killed. His death was quite violent, being riddled with bullets by Colonel O'Neill after being taken over by a Goa'uld parasite.
Now, there is no mistaking it. Secondary characters are being butchered left and right. Rothman's death was sudden and quite unexpected (deliberately so), and served no purpose other than a brief moment of drama.
But this trail of blood -- Sha're, Martouf, Rothman -- is not the whole story. Their story harkens back to the inception of "Stargate SG-1," when one of the film's strongest characters -- Major Charles Kawalsky -- bit the dust in only the show's second episode ("The Enemy Within"). Thus, we should call this wretched "weeding out" of supporting characters the "Kawalsky Effect."
(For the purposes of the Kawalsky Effect, we will ignore villains for the time being. Apophis -- the series' chief antagonist -- was killed, sure. But that was planned to set up the drama of his resurrection. Hathor has been killed at least twice, but this is natural in the course of a story about overcoming an evil adversary.)
Kawalsky's death most certainly served an important purpose. It put a face on the Goa'uld threat. The Goa'uld had now not only captured SG-1's friends and loved-ones, it'd killed one of them. The episode further established that a host infected with a Goa'uld -- such as Sha're and Skaara were -- had little hope of being freed by the S.G.C.
It is not simply that these men and women have died (or gone away), but that they have died (or gone away) in such a relatively short period of time -- three deaths and two other character "eliminations" (though we can hope that Skaara will return to play a new role in the saga) in less than one year. It is almost as if the writers are quickly pruning out the supporting characters they are no longer interested in.
And what's the best way to get rid of them? Death, of course. It's a shocker. It's emotionally jarring. It's entertainment.
Marked for Death?
While just about every supporting cast member ought to be saying his or her prayers nightly at this point, there are a few in particular who may be marked for death.
Take the Tollan Narim, for example. As a potential romantic interest for Sam Carter ("Enigma," "Pretense"), Narim may be the next target for the writer's machete should they decide to continue marching onward with Sam and Jack's relationship. It is no coincidence, mind you, that Martouf (another of Sam's possible suitors) was zatted into oblivion literally moments after Jack and Sam professed their feelings for one another. It was, to be sure, a statement about removing obstacles that might stand between O'Neill and Carter.
With the death of Martouf and the apparent disappearance of any regular Tok'ra character (Anise, according to executive producer Brad Wright, will not be back), one must wonder how long Jacob Carter can count on being among the living. He had a close call a year ago, when he was imprisoned and tortured by Sokar ("Jolinar's Memories").
Now, he's the only Tok'ra still around whom we actually know -- and like. Watch your back, Jacob: the show's writers have been building a dividing wall of hostility between Earth and the Tok'ra this year ("Upgrades," "Crossroads").
If the Tok'ra alliance itself is still in jeapordy after the summit ("Divide and Conquer"), be sure that the direction of that thread may choose the fate of Sam's Tok'ra father.
Finally, Teal'c's wife Drey'auc may need to fear for her safety. The show's producers have already begun toying with the idea of Teal'c as a swinging bachelor ("Crossroads"). Eliminating the "old ball and chain" might open a road for brand new character development.
Daniel? A Murderer?
Here's a prediction: expect to see Daniel Jackson be forced to kill someone in the near future. When we look at the deaths of the supporting characters above, an interesting pattern emerges. They were all killed by a member of SG-1.
Kawalsky was killed by a joint effort between Teal'c (who wrestled Kawalsky into the Stargate's event horizon) and O'Neill (who conceived the plan and ordered the gate shut down). Sha're was shot by Teal'c. Martouf was zatted by Carter. And Rothman was gunned down by Jack.
Daniel seems to be the only member of SG-1 without friendly blood on his hands. Add to that the character development that such an event could bring (Daniel is a peaceful, diplomatic archaeologist who looks awkward even holding a gun), and it seems almost certain that he is next in line for the Killing Game.
If Daniel was forced by circumstances to kill anyone, it would certainly be a terrible, emotional struggle for him to deal with. But what if it were someone he was personally attached to? The depth of his sorrow could be endless, and drama would be served. Some possibilities: Skaara, his brother-in-law now freed from the Goa'uld; Nick Ballard, his grandfather with whom he is finally back on good terms ("Crystal Skull"); or Catherine Langford, a mother-figure who first brought him into the Stargate program more than four years ago ("Stargate" the movie).
This event may be a ways off, though. Actor Michael Shanks has stated that his character has happier days ahead of him, after being trapped in the seriousness and pain of the last three years. We should see Daniel laugh more and smile more, before he is forced to pull that trigger.
Some Final Thoughts
The above may seem cynical, the result of my own personal irritation with the blood on the deck. That's true in part: I see at least one terrible thing about the Kawalsky Effect, and at least one good.
It's disappointing to consider that the brilliant writers who bring us our favorite show week in and week out may be falling back on the hackneyed television devise of killing off Bobby Ewing. Need drama? Kill somebody. Need a real shocker to make the audience gasp and talk about it the next day over the water cooler (now known as Usenet)? Make sure someone they know and like is the one to get it.
If that's the truth of things, I'm disappointed. This show is better than that. We don't need to kill someone to wrap up their character development, and we don't need sudden death as a way of keeping us entertained or hooked. There is more to good drama than who lives and who gets run over by a car at the end of the season cliffhanger.
But the Kawalsky Effect may, in fact, have a very bright side to it. It's realism.
Consider, for a moment, one rumor about the future direction of "Stargate SG-1." Co-creator and executive producer Brad Wright has been quoted as indicating that an all-out war with the Goa'uld is coming. Things will get much, much more serious at the S.G.C. A year from now, it may not be relaxed planetary expeditions and learning about new cultures that we see.
We may see Earth at war -- and thus darker episodes that reflect that war. New security measures designed to blow up Cheyenne Mountain at a moment's notice, should hostiles invade through the Stargate. The briefing room converted into a war room. The enlistment of the Tollan or the Asgard to patrol the solar system. It could become a very dangerous game.
The death of supporting cast members -- characters we have come to know, to understand and to like -- serves to continually remind us about the reality of war. The Goa'uld aren't nice, not nice at all. In war, people die. People die a lot.
If that is the message that is finally engrained in the minds of viewers, it may be for good. Perhaps we should trust the writers to work out this story as they see fit. And perhaps they should trust in their own abilities to entertain, to shock and to engage without resorting to another familiar corpse on the ground.