There aren’t many sci-fi series that get 10 seasons. Stargate SG-1 is a special show, not only because of the terrific writing, acting, and visual effects but because production on SG-1 spanned an entire decade.
And that’s not even counting the two follow-up movies and spin-off shows.
So how do you get a show to go 214 episodes? A bit of luck and a lot of talent, no doubt. But Stargate also benefited from some strategic business moves behind the scenes, as well as a willingness to recast and reinvent itself along the way.
But it wasn’t always clear to the Powers That Be that the show was coming back for another season. From 1997 to 2006 that highly coveted network renewal was rarely a certainty. Although Showtime launched the series with a four-season commitment, by the time the fifth season came around it looked like it was the end of the road for Jack O’Neill, Daniel Jackson, Samantha Carter, and Teal’c.
And most years after that, writers had to plan for the show to end. Because principal photography sometimes wrapped months before SCI FI Channel made its renewal decision, the writing team frequently opted to script a season finale that would suit as a fitting series finale if the axe fell.
Here we’re going to explore four times during production that a finale was written to end the show … and how even the actual final episode of the show couldn’t keep the team down.
As we covered in our short history of Stargate SG-1, the series played a pivotal role in Showtime’s early foray into original scripted programming. The pay cable network ordered two seasons right from the start, and then added another two seasons to the order before the show premiered.
SG-1 was renewed for a fifth season on Showtime, but during the 2001 production year executives let the producers know that it was the end of the road. The show was cancelled.
MGM and the Stargate team, though, were not ready to give up just yet. Even before the first signature on an online petition they found a new broadcaster in SCI FI Channel, who picked up Stargate SG-1 for another season.
With his contract up, though, co-star Michael Shanks decided he wasn’t going to return. Because the writers had another 22 episodes ahead of them, Daniel Jackson had to be written out, resulting in his heartbreaking death and ascension in the penultimate episode, “Meridian.” (Corin Nemec would join the cast on SCI FI as Jonas Quinn.)
In this case the writers found out about their new home before the season finale was written. But out of respect for Showtime and its subscribers, they opted not to end Season Five on a cliffhanger — like they had done for all four previous years. So the last episode of the season, “Revelations,” is kind of a halfway series finale. Anubis flexes his muscles in taking down the Asgard Thor, SG-1 makes another narrow escape, and in the final shot the team departs the base with a whisper of hope — that Daniel Jackson is still out there, and might be watching over them.
Going into Season Six in 2002, the show’s writers were operating under the assumption that it was going to be their last year. While SCI FI had rescued SG-1 from cancellation, there were no expectations that the series would have as long of a life on the network as it ended up having.
It seemed as though the team’s TV adventures would soon be coming to an end. But Stargate started on the big screen, and executive producer Brad Wright had designs on returning there. He wanted to follow the sixth and final season with a Stargate SG-1 feature film, which MGM would distribute in theaters. This major movie event would in turn set up a spin-off TV series.
After a slow tease the previous year Anubis now came into his own as the show’s chief villain. And he was going to be the Big Bad in the movie, too. So this planned series finale had to do two specific things: wrap up the show (and avoid a cliffhanger), but also leave the threat of Anubis intact and sow the seeds for a movie.
The result was “Full Circle,” a fantastic hour of Stargate that honestly has one of the show’s … more awkward endings. SG-1 returns to the planet where it all began, Abydos, and with help from an ascended Daniel they find a crucial piece of technology Anubis needs to complete his new super-weapon. In the process, though, Anubis attacks and SG-1 finds a tablet that tells of a lost city of the Ancients — surely a treasure trove that the team must find, at any cost.
Daniel convinces Jack to hand over the Eye of Ra to Anubis so that they can prioritize the Ancient city instead … with disastrous consequences. Not only does Skaara die in the fight, but upon SG-1’s exit Anubis goes back on his word and uses his new weapon to obliterate the planet.
In the final scene the Stargate reconnects to Abydos, miraculously, and SG-1 learns that Oma Desala has helped Skaara and the other Abydonians to ascend. Their world is now gone, but they will live on. And SG-1 will go on to a big-screen adventure searching for Atlantis. Jack says, “Let’s go home,” and the screen fades to black. It’s the end of the series.
Except, then … the ratings! As it turns out, Stargate SG-1 was a smash hit for the basic cable channel, and SCI FI renewed the show for a seventh season.
The story of Season Seven was in many respects the same: the writers planned to end the show, only to again be victims of their own success. Brad Wright and fellow executive producer Robert C. Cooper plotted a new story for the SG-1 movie, only to have SCI FI order not just an eighth season of the show but also their planned spin-off, Stargate Atlantis.
The story intended for the movie became the outstanding two-parter, “Lost City” — with some changes. Instead of finding the lost city buried under the ice of Antarctica the team would find only a lonely outpost, left behind when Atlantis flew away millions of years ago. That’s because the two shows were now going to be produced simultaneously, and so Atlantis was moved from Earth to another galaxy in order to keep the shows and their storylines cleanly separated.
By the time it was re-written, “Lost City” wasn’t intended to be a series finale.
No, our third series finale belongs to the ending of Season Eight. Long-time series lead Richard Dean Anderson was retiring from the show, and it seemed like a logical time to wrap things up. Producers were not necessarily anticipating another renewal … but that was OK. Atlantis would bear the franchise flag moving forward on television, and maybe SG-1 would finally get that big movie.
The decision was made to deal a final blow to both of the show’s ongoing antagonists — the System Lords and the Replicators — in the epic two-parter “Reckoning.” That was followed by an hour of denouement in “Threads,” which saw the death of a beloved character and the final end of Anubis.
With the galaxy saved once again (and twice over), the episode ended with that scene we had been waiting for since Jack O’Neill first invited Sam Carter to go fishing with him, back in Season Three. The whole team gathers around the dock at Jack’s cabin for a little R&R.
This was followed by the actual season finale — the two-part, time travel romp “Moebius.” After some shenanigans that break the timeline and create alternate versions of themselves, all is right and restored to normal, and the season closes with the same exact scene of the team fishing at the cabin. (Except this time there are apparently some pesky fish in the pond. “Close enough.”)
For many, “Moebius” is the ending of Stargate SG-1 — since the next season would introduce a new villain and new cast members, effectively relaunching the series. And the writers recognized that from the start. They nearly re-titled the show Stargate Command. That would have made Seasons Nine and Ten a different show altogether, and left “Moebius” as SG-1’s swan song.
A new creative direction and a strong performance in its ninth season earned Stargate SG-1 another renewal, and with it one of the biggest cliffhanger endings that the show ever did. The Ori invade our galaxy with a fleet of warships in “Camelot.”
The show’s tenth year would, finally, be its last. SG-1 marked its two-hundredth episode with “200,” and a few weeks later entered The Guinness Book of World Records as the longest-running science fiction show ever produced in North America. (Doctor Who still held the global record.)
“200” premiered on SCI FI Channel in August of 2006, and productions threw a big party for Stargate‘s cast and crew to celebrate. Filming was well underway on the second half of the season, and the writers’ room was hammering out the final scripts — actually looking ahead for a change, not to the show’s end but to an eleventh season!
It was at that party that the word from the network landed with a thud: Stargate SG-1 was cancelled. Again.
It didn’t end the Ori storyline, but it was a fitting send-off. Under constant assault by the enemy, and following the destruction of one of Earth’s closest allies, SG-1 and General Landry find themselves in a time dilation bubble on board the Odyssey. While the rest of the universe appears frozen in time the team live out their lives, growing older — and closer together — as the days turn into years, and the years turn into decades. Sam can’t find a solution to their predicament, and so it looks as though they will all live out the rest of their days inside the ship.
After a spectacular escape that is in keeping with the best of Stargate‘s clever ingenuity, the series finally closes — for real this time — on the team assembled in the Gate Room. Only Teal’c remembers their many years together, and he isn’t talking. SG-1 walks through the Stargate, and while for us in the audience it’s the last time, for Sam, Daniel, Teal’c, Cameron, and Vala, their adventures will continue.
TWO MOVIES, TWO MORE ENDINGS
That’s four times that the writers of Stargate SG-1 intended to end the show. Only one of them stuck … but even the series finale wasn’t the end of the story.
As Stargate Atlantis continued on into its fourth season, SG-1‘s sets stayed up. The team finally got its movie, though with a more humble direct-to-DVD release. In 2007 they filmed a pair of movies, with a bigger budget and grander scale than weekly episodes could provide. This allowed Stargate to wrap up its loose story threads, and gave them two more endings to the show.
Stargate: The Ark of Truth achieved what an eleventh season was meant to do. It concluded the Ori story arc, bringing SG-1 to the Ori’s home galaxy to search for a lost piece of technology left behind by the Ancients when they lived there long ago.
The ending here is, again, hopeful. SG-1’s adventures through the Stargate will continue, and once again they have made the galaxy a safer place and freed many worlds from the oppression of false gods. It’s fitting that the final scene matches “Unending,” with the team assembled in the Gate Room to depart on a new mission. The adventure continues!
The SG-1 team’s final production was Stargate: Continuum. While a stand-alone story, it does serve to wrap up the story of another popular bad guy from the TV series: the deliciously evil Baal (played by Cliff Simon). Viewers who were watching closely remember that Baal stole data from the S.G.C. back in Season Ten (“Insiders”), and from this he learned how to use solar flares to make a Stargate send him back in time.
Baal’s plot is to visit Earth decades before the Stargate program is created there. He destroys the ship that was ferrying the gate from Egypt to the United States, and alters the timeline — making sure he is in charge, of course. By the time the present day rolls around Baal is the Supreme System Lord, with a coterie of villains from the TV series now bowing at his feet.
Continuum tells a great sci-fi story, as Sam, Daniel, and Cameron are stuck in an alternate reality with no way to fix it. But of course the writers planned for many more adventures on DVD, and so eventually the team finds Baal’s time travel machine at Praxeon and sets everything right once again.
This final installment for the team might not be the most emotional send-off at the end of eleven years of adventures, but the team leaving Baal’s extraction ceremony on the new Tok’ra homeworld is full of wonderful little character beats. Sam wants to talk to Jack about the new moon base, Vala wants to help Baal’s surviving host, and Cameron … well, Cameron might know a little more about the averted crisis than he is letting on. The final shot shows an old photograph hanging up in his locker — his grandfather, the captain of the ship Baal attacked, posing with another version of Cam himself.
Which “series finale” was your favorite? Where would Stargate be today if SG-1 had ended with Season Five, or Six, or Eight? Add your thoughts to the comments below!