Although "Demons" has some enjoyable highlights, this episode left me distinctly underwhelmed.
Michael Cassutt, Season Four writer and television veteran, says that given the demands of television shooting schedules, it is an achievement that programs get made at all -- that they should come out good is a virtual miracle. Familiar as I am with the tight production schedule for Stargate SG-1, I'll buy that argument and attribute what I perceive as this episode's shortcomings to this factor. (The theory seems a sound one -- what else could explain why I have 120 channels yet almost every fictional series is an atrocious pile of horse manure?)
Stargate SG-1's constantly high-quality writing has spoiled viewers. Unfortunately, the smart, engaging dialogue featured in most of the show's episodes is notably absent from "Demons." Jack's attempts at humor fall flat. His religious jokes come off weak and borderline tacky, and his directives to Carter should he or Daniel ever get the urge to help anyone again are mirthless and without the usual sarcastic bite.
In fact, it seems as though Jack had a world class case of PMS throughout the episode. I'm not certain to what we are supposed to attribute his bad mood. His reaction to the villagers, even Simon, seemed much less sympathetic than I would have expected (at least, before Teal'c was "killed"). Given his interaction with Teal'c about the Bible, his other God jokes, and his reaction to the villagers' beliefs, I thought his behavior might indicate some bad experience with Christianity or religion in general -- which would certainly be interesting to explore, since one of the major premises of the show is that the Goa'uld impersonate gods and exploit religious belief.
However, Jack's foul mood was in evidence from the moment they stepped through the Gate, leaving me uncertain as to the true cause.
The other characters seemed as uninterested in the episode as I was. Sam seemed almost a non-entity. The sequence of trials and Teal'c's reunion with the rest of the team should have been powerful and moving. I'm afraid I felt nothing like that.
The spluttering, barking Canon was annoying and predicable -- a stereotype straight out of the beginning writer's handbook. The character made the attempted surprise ending unsurprising. The moment the Canon said that they had "opened his eyes," every weapon should have been on him. Anyone that rigid couldn't have his eyes opened without the Jaws of Life. Other episodes' maniacal baddies have inspired my fear and captured my interest. For the Canon, I could barely be bothered to muster some contempt.
This is not to say that the episode is totally devoid of good qualities. I enjoyed the performance given by David McNally in the role of Simon. The part called for the expression of complex motivations and concerns. McNally vividly brought to life Simon's fear and bravery, doubt and faith. The performance was a bright spot in an episode filled with flat and cartoonish characters. In an episode where the actors seemed to trudge through, marking time, McNally was a welcome relief.
I loved the incidental music used in "Demons." The low chanting was both evocative and haunting. It suited the mood of the episode perfectly, particularly during the preparation of Teal'c's body. The scene was reminiscent of Teal'c's preparation for trial in "Cor'ai," when he was also attended by a group of young females in headscarves. Though that scene was also somber, the music in "Demons" really makes a difference.
I also enjoyed Jack's opening remark about the very green universe we live in. It is amazing how many planets bear a striking resemblance to rural British Columbia, where the show is filmed!
Watching this episode, I wondered how it was that the Goa'uld gathered the knowledge necessary to impersonate the deities (or devils) of so many very different cultures. Surely they don't walk up to random human settlements, distributing forms that read "Greetings! We're the Goa'uld and we'll be your conquerors for the next millennia. Please fill out this short survey of your culture's major beliefs so that we may more easily impersonate your gods. Number 2 pencil only, please." I'd like to hear more about how the Goa'uld came to infiltrate so many human cultures.
Although I enjoyed Demons' guest hero and ethereal incidental music, most of the episode seemed flat and unremarkable. That said, a mediocre episode of Stargate SG-1 is one hundred times more enjoyable most anything else on television.
Notes: I paraphrase Michael Cassutt from one of his semi-regular columns, "We Do This Every Day," which appeared in issue 172 of Science Fiction Weekly. The article is an interesting look into the daily life of a television writer. Cassutt authored one of my favorite episodes of Season Four, "Tangent."