Learning Curve

Summary | Analysis | Notes | Characters | Questions | Production | Review

SG-1 discovers a planet where children are used to acquire knowledge for the entire population, then discarded.

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FAN RATING - 7.51 
EPISODE #305
ORIGINAL AIR DATE: 07.23.99
SYNDICATION AIR DATE: 10.30.00
DVD DISC: Season 3, Disc 2
WRITTEN BY: Heather E. Ash
DIRECTED BY: Martin Wood
GUEST STARS:

Andrew Airlie (Kalan), Brittney Irvin (Merrin), Lachlan Murdoch (Tomin), Stephanie Shea (Solen), Diane Stapley (Mrs. Struble), Rob Farrell (SF Guard), Sarah Goodwill (Student), Laara Sadiq (Technician)

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An excited Daniel Jackson studies the planet of Orban, a developed culture that has made significant scientific advances in just a few decades, while it took Earth centuries to accomplish the same things. Jackson believes the Orbanians are the descendants of the Teotihuacan, an ancient South American people who vanished around 750 AD.

The S.G.C. arranges an exchange of knowledge with the people of Orban: Teal’c will teach them about the Goa’uld threat, while Merrin, an 11-year-old genius girl, visits Earth to teach Major Carter about the Orbanians’ naquadah reactor technology.

Teal’c is asked to provide his knowledge to a young boy named Tomin, son of Kalan, a leader on Orban. The information greatly concerns the people, and they ask for methods to fight the Goa’uld. But soon Teal’c learns that Tomin is gone, and he is asked to speak with a new child. Teal’c and Jackson demand to see Tomin, and discover that the boy is now in an infant-like state. He has gone through the “Averium,” an Orbanian ritual.

On Earth, Merrin does her best to instruct Carter on building a naquadah reactor. But she and her people are unfamiliar with even the concept of teaching, or of representing something in an artistic, imprecise way. Merrin rejects O’Neill’s suggestion to take a break from her work and have some fun, and proceeds to draw an elaborate collection of sketches depicting the inside of the reactor. These allow Carter to construct a working model.

There is another interesting thing discovered about Merrin. Dr. Janet Fraiser discovers the existence of nanites in her blood stream. General Hammond puts the base on alert, since SG-1’s last encounter with nanites almost ended in disaster (“Brief Candle”). Merrin explains, however, that her nano-processors are harmless: she was implanted with millions of them at birth.

The Orbanian society acquires knowledge by selecting a few children — called “Urrone” — and implanting them with nanites at birth, before the brain has fully developed. The nanites act as additional synapses, allowing the children to learn vast amounts of knowledge very quickly. When an Urrone child has reached 12 years of age, his or her nanites are harvested in the Averium ceremony, and one is given to every Orban citizen. The child’s knowledge is passed on, but the child is left in an infantile state. They are cared for physically, but not taught or interacted with.

SG-1 finds the practice intolerable, especially after witnessing it firsthand in Tomin. They hold Merrin on Earth against her will, trying to convince Kalan not to harvest her nanites. But the Orbanians do not see anything wrong with the practice, and Kalan comes to Earth to demand Merrin’s return.

This prompts Jack O’Neill to, in effect, kidnap Merrin. He takes her to the surface, to a local grade school. Merrin spends the afternoon playing with other children, and painting a picture in art class.

When she returns to Orban and goes through her Averium, Merrin’s new experiences are passed on to all of her people. The society is transformed, as children now play in the streets and adults draw pictures. Merrin herself has regressed to mental infancy, but O’Neill remains at her side, willing to get to know her all over again. Now, Kalan promises, all the past Urrone children will be taught in the “old fashioned way.”

ANALYSIS

  • Because of the accidental death of his young son Charlie, O’Neill has a special place in his heart for children — especially children who don’t get to experience childhood to its fullest. He therefore takes a special liking to Merrin, just as he has to other such kids (“Singularity”, “Show and Tell”).
  • The Goa’uld have been on Orban sometime within the past 100 years. It is unknown why they left, or if they will return.
  • The Goa’uld may have been on Earth as recently as the eighth century AD, causing the downfall of the Teotihuacan, the people from whom the Orbanians are descended.
  • Merrin studied naquadah technology for some 10 years — meaning she began before the age of 2.
  • Merrin made a mistake in her statement to O’Neill. The first time she asked for paper, the dimensions requested were 48 centimeters by 23 centimeters. The second time she asks, Merrin requests paper 43 centimeters by 28 centimeters.

NOTES

  • The S.G.C. now has a functioning naquadah reactor. The initial tests used up their entire supply of naquadah, however. They will need to secure more in order to put the device to use.

CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT

  • Jack O'NeillJack O’Neill – Colonel O’Neill again demonstrates his compassion for children, especially those who do not get to do the things that kids are suppose to do. This has its roots in the death of his son, Charlie, who accidentally shot himself with Jack’s gun (“Stargate” the Movie). O’Neill violates orders and risks a court martial to spend one afternoon showing Merrin how to be a kid. His final, somber line to Hammond is telling: “If you want to punish me … go ahead.”

UNANSWERED QUESTIONS

  • To what use will the S.G.C. put their new reactor?
  • Will O’Neill be punished for his insubordinate actions?
  • Will the Orbanians continue to use nanite technology to acquire knowledge?

PRODUCTION NOTES

  • Production error: The edge of the leaf that Merrin painted before being stopped by O’Neill (and told to paint it bigger) has disappeared altogether from her final painting.
  • Dr. Fraiser’s name is misspelled “Frasier” at the top of the report on the computer screen where she shows Merrin’s MRI scan results.