Lest we believe the powers that be have forgotten the many plot threads left from the first two seasons, "Fair Game" delivers a tense intertwining of some of those threads and new exposition of the characters and the Stargate universe.
Despite its title, everything about the situation encountered in this episode seems unfair. The Asgard Thor whisks O'Neill up to the ship and promptly drops the bomb: the System Lords have decided that the death of Hathor at the hands of S.G.C. forces indicates Earth may be a threat to their power, and are considering launching an attack on Earth one hundred times greater than Apophis' assault.
In short order it is made clear that the Goa'uld will negotiate with the Asgard for the protection of Earth, but only if both Earth and the Asgard are willing to make enormous concessions - including limiting human development and ending Gate travel. The area between the rock and the hard place grows even smaller after Cronus is attacked, apparently by Teal'c, and the remaining members of the System Lord delegation demand to leave and take him to a sarcophagus to be healed.
If allowed to leave, the Goa'uld would surely attack Earth, yet keeping the System Lords would lead to the same result.
These impossible situations serve to show just how precarious Earth's position is in the universe, and to highlight the absolute ignorance in which we first stepped through the Gate. General Hammond asks the $64,000 question: "What do we really know about the politics out there?" Indeed, as Jack pointed out in "The Fifth Race", we are out there, but as "Fair Game" shows, we are woefully ignorant and unprepared.
The Asgard's low-key warning in "The Fifth Race" that humans have a long way to go did not convey the depth of doo-doo available for Earth to step into. "Fair Game" demonstrates the complexity of the Stargate universe and the immediacy of the danger to Earth. "Stargate SG-1" has come along way since the first season of tripping merrily through the galaxy, solving problems and defeating enemies in time for supper.
"Fair Game" is an episode rich in detail and development, a treat for fans looking for a show with more than cool effects and big explosions. I enjoyed the exposition of the politics and history of the Goa'uld and Asgard, and hope this information is utilized in future plots, particularly the mysterious enemy of the Asgard and tenuous nature of the System Lords alliance.
The complexity of the relationships and motivations shown lend the show a real world feel. The nature of alliances and the availability of resources play as important a part in this episode as they do in actual international relations.
One of the best features of this episode was the weaving together of various plot lines from the previous seasons. The summit is brought about because of SG-1's tangles with Hathor and Apophis. It brings back Nirrti, the Goa'uld responsible for the extinction of an entire planet and the death of four S.G.C. members in "Singularity." New baddie Cronus is introduced and tied to the history of Teal'c and Carter.
The frustrating "limited benevolence" of the Asgard is finally explained by the revelation that much of their resources have been diverted to fighting an even more threatening enemy in their home galaxy. At the end of "Thor's Chariot," the viewer might well ask herself if the Asgard are so technologically advanced as to almost effortlessly remove the Goa'uld from Cimmeria, and are concerned for humans (as evidenced by their creation of the Hammer and the safe planet), why haven't they simply removed the Goa'uld altogether?
A less well-written program might consider producing a magical solution to the plot problem posed in "Thor's Chariot" and then returning to previous assumptions. Fortunately, Stargate avoids this temptation; when alien technology is acquired it comes with strings and drawbacks, and the ethical considerations surrounding its procurement are considered.
I was particularly moved by the revelation of the murder of Teal'c's father and the explanation of his motivation in serving Apophis. Christopher Judge's expressions and inflections were excellent. I hope we see more of this storyline.
I was confused by Thor's choice of Jack as representative for Earth; but then, so was Jack. It could be that he was chosen because he traveled to an Asgard world in "The Fifth Race," becoming the only human with whom the Asgard have had significant personal contact. It might also have been a cultural assumption on the part of Thor that Earth would send its diplomat out to make contact with them and lead their team in exploring the galaxy. The only explanation offered by Thor is that Jack is the leader and that he "believes [Jack] has it in him to make the right decision."
Jack's frustration with Thor when he asks for advice as to whether to accept the System Lords' proposal embodies all of the frustration of Earth's experience with the Asgard. The feeling that something is being left back and hidden, the feeling that a superior knowledge is there but unattainable by their decision, the frustration of seeing a means of salvation but being unable to grasp it.
I was really impressed with the effects used to create Thor, who got up out of the puppeteer's chair and walked around the S.G.C. Did you know that's Michael Shanks as the voice as Thor? Me neither, but Joseph Mallozzi (writer and producer for SG-1 in later seasons) insists it is true.
Of all the questions left from this episode, there is one that I don't think the powers that be will address, though they should: What is it in the Goa'uld genetic memory that makes these people such fashion criminals? The System Lords look positively ridiculous, as do Heru'ur and Apophis. I imagine it might disrupt the worship sessions to have congregants giggling over their god's gold miniskirt, but that's just me.
Seriously, I did have an issue with the character of Cronus, which seemed flat and cartoonish.
My favorite line is Jack on Daniel: "That boy can really grovel when he has to."
Rating: * * * 1/2