Is the stoic Jaffa warrior Teal’c one of the greatest sci-fi heroes of all time? In-deed.
Portrayed for more than 10 years by actor Christopher Judge, Teal’c is a father, a friend, a fighter, a leader, a lover, and a diplomat. He is wise beyond his years (all 158 of them, after the events of “Unending”). Teal’c is the one you want to have your back when you head off-world, when you find yourself in a firefight, or when you’re hurtling away from Earth in a modified death glider.
But which episodes of Stargate SG-1 are the very best for Teal’c’s character? Let’s count down the Top 5 episodes that focus on this amazing character.
It’s not an episode of Stargate SG-1, so we’re going to disqualify it for this particular list. But, c’mon — “Midway” is one of the best episodes of Stargate to feature Teal’c. In this case it comes in the fourth season of Stargate Atlantis, with Christopher Judge turning up as a guest star.
Teal’c travels where no Jaffa has gone before: the Pegasus Galaxy, where the Satedan warrior Ronon Dex (Jason Momoa) is preparing to travel to Earth to be evaluated by the I.O.A. Ronon has to pass this test if he’s going to remain a trusted member of John Sheppard’s team, and new Atlantis base commander Samantha Carter (Amanda Tapping) hopes that her old friend can help Ronon navigate the scrutiny of human bureaucrats.
After Teal’c deliberately gets under Ronon’s skin, the two try and answer that great question fans have been asking for years: Who would win in a fight? But alas, when Carter interrupts their sparring match ends in a draw … after only an entire hour of hand-to-hand combat. Then it’s off to Earth via the Midway Space Station, located in the void between galaxies, where Teal’c and Ronon quickly realize they are the last line of defense amid a Wraith invasion of Earth.
Our second honorable mention goes to “Talion,” an often overlooked episode from late in the show’s final year that showcased Teal’c’s darker, ruthless side. The title of the episode comes from the Latin word for “retribution,” and this story sees a furious Teal’c leave his teammates and strike out on his own to take revenge on a fellow Jaffa.
Following a terrorist bombing of a Jaffa summit, with he and Master Bra’tac nearly killed, Teal’c is convinced that his people have been betrayed by one of Bra’tac’s former pupils: the Jaffa Arkad (guest star Craig Fairbrass), who has converted to the religion of Origin and who Teal’c believes is without honor.
The climax is one of the most brutal and bloody fights ever seen on Stargate, as Teal’c and Arkad face off — not just over different ideologies or agendas. No, this feud is deeply personal: as First Prime of Apophis Teal’c once led a campaign that killed Arkad’s family, and Arkad admits to murdering Teal’c’s mother in revenge. With no symbiote to strengthen and heal him, it may be the toughest fight Teal’c has ever fought.
Now, on with the Top 5 Teal’c episodes!
Number 5: “Sacrifices”
Season Eight – Episode 9
Written by Christopher Judge himself, “Sacrifices” is the follow-up to the seventh season episode “Birthright,” which introduced a tribe of Jaffa women who lived under the oppression of the Goa’uld Moloc. Here Teal’c is reunited with Ishta (Jolene Blalock), Earth nurtures its alliance with the Hak’tyl, and Teal’c stands beside his son at his wedding. In fact, as Rya’c departs as a happily married man, it is the final appearance for Teal’c’s son.
In this episode Ishta seeks help in relocating her people after the secret Hak’tyl homeworld is discovered by Moloc. She also wants to finally go after Moloc himself, who has been demanding the ritual sacrifice of Jaffa girls for generations. But Teal’c warns her that killing one Goa’uld won’t win the war. With a head full of steam Ishta declares that she will not rest until Moloc is dead, to which Teal’c replies with the memorable line that defines him to his core: “I will not rest until all Goa’uld are dead.”
Ultimately the two of them find themselves under attack when Moloc discovers the new Hak’tyl world. Ishta is captured and tortured by the enemy, Earth sends in some tretonin by U.A.V., and Moloc is finally annihilated by a spectacular missile strike. Another Goa’uld bites the dust!
Number 4: “Orpheus”
Season Seven – Episode 4
The show’s seventh season was a turning point for Teal’c. He had recently lost his symbiote (whom Colonel O’Neill nicknamed “Junior”), and was now being sustained by the Pangaran drug tretonin. Though it provided him with a functional immune system and helped fight disease, tretonin is much less effective than actually having a symbiote. After living for decades with a symbiote that rapidly healed him and gave him great strength and stamina, Teal’c now faced a life where he was more ordinary — or, as Teal’c feared, weaker.
After sustaining a major injury Teal’c initially pushes his friends away during his long road to recovery. In his culture, for his whole life he was taught that when one is weak one may as well be dead.
But after Daniel recovers a memory from his time as an ascended being, Teal’c and the team embark on a mission to save Bra’tac and Rya’c from the brutal Jaffa work camp on Erebus. He brings Bra’tac a desperately needed dose of tretonin, and together they liberate the camp — saving lives and winning more warriors to the cause of the resistance. And Teal’c learns that he doesn’t need a symbiote to be a great warrior.
Number 3: “Avatar”
Season Eight – Episode 6
Teal’c is such a strong and capable warrior that, when he finds himself in a situation where he’s actually the underdog, or even faces a seemingly unwinnable battle, it makes for great drama. How does the Jaffa who never loses handle a no-win scenario?
That’s the premise behind Season Eight’s “Avatar,” in which Teal’c enters the virtual world of a combat scenario against a Kull warrior who has infiltrated Stargate Command. Area 51 scientists have been tinkering, and they’ve repurposed the VR chairs from P7J-989 for training S.G.C. personnel in a virtual environment. But taking out a rampaging super-soldier isn’t so easy when the rules of the game keep changing.
Teal’c continues to adapt, only for the enemy to turn the tables and shoot him dead again and again. If he kills one Kull, another shows up. If he discovers a Goa’uld who wants to destroy the base, the next time it’s in a different person. And if he tries to escape the base, the scenario simply resets. Outside his friends realize the problem: the simulation is programmed to terminate if Teal’c gives up, but because of his character he never will. Deep down, he might truly believe that the Goa’uld can never be defeated.
The experience is taking a toll on his physical body in the real world, and his warrior’s heart is slowly worn down. Ultimately his friends hook up another chair to make it a two-player game, and Daniel goes inside the simulation to help his friend. They work together to finally defeat the virtual Goa’uld, and escape this relentless prison.
Number 2: “The Changeling”
Season Six – Episode 19
There’s no surprise that the episode that featured Teal’c as the star of the show in virtually every shot, the hour that did the most to explore the character’s deep psyche, was also written by Chris Judge. In “The Changeling” the audience is left trying to keep up with a world that is constantly changing around Teal’c. Is he a Jaffa warrior serving alongside SG-1? Or is he “T,” a firefighter who is living an otherwise normal human life on Earth?
“T” worries that he may be going crazy. But he is committed to going ahead with his decision to donate a kidney to “Bray,” a father figure who needs a transplant in order to live. As Teal’c moves back and forth between these two worlds, uncertain which one is real and which is the dream, the truth is finally revealed to the audience. Neither of them is real.
It’s a brilliant twist.
In truth Teal’c and Bra’tac are lying critically wounded in a field of fallen Jaffa, victims of an ambush of the Jaffa resistance. Drifting in and out of a dream state, Teal’c has been moving his symbiote back and forth between them to keep them alive. Only his strength of will, and some much-needed comfort from an ascended Daniel Jackson, enabled the two to live long enough to be rescued.
Number 1: “Threshold”
Season Five – Episode 2
We weren’t quite sure what Teal’c was all about when the character was introduced in SG-1‘s premiere. Here was the right-hand man of the evil Apophis, helping him abduct innocents and find a host for his queen. But when Teal’c saw Jack O’Neill, Daniel Jackson, and Sam Carter inside the palace prison on Chulak, he realized that these people were different. Many had tried to stand against the Goa’uld in Teal’c’s years of servitude. Many had claimed that they could save the innocent. But these … these were the first he believed could do it!
Where did Teal’c’s willingness to betray his people come from? How did he rise to the position he held, and why did he choose this moment to turn against his master? Season Five’s masterful episode “Threshold” finally tells Teal’c’s backstory, by way of flashbacks that are loaded with emotion.
And also Teal’c shirtless in the snow.
Teal’c has been brainwashed by Apophis, and while SG-1 got his body back it’s going to be harder to save his mind. Bra’tac removes Teal’c’s symbiote, forcing him into the deadly Rite of M’al Sharran. As he draws closer to death Teal’c’s life will flash before his eyes; he will see the true path that he has walked these many years, and in the end he will once again choose freedom … or he will die.
“Threshold” is a wonderful team story, as Teal’c’s friends gather around him to remind him of who he truly is. And it’s the very best of Teal’c’s character, showing us where he came from, how he was shaped by Bra’tac, and why his freedom matters to him. We see him rise through the ranks, show mercy on a fellow Jaffa, and discover finally that Apophis is not an all-knowing God. Teal’c chooses freedom.
What are your picks for the best of the best Teal’c episodes? Or maybe an episode with a really great Teal’c scene? Post your Top 5 favorites in the comments!
Next Up: Check out this recent list of our five favorite John Sheppard episodes of Stargate Atlantis.