Beneath the Surface


Summary | Analysis | Characters | Questions | Production | Review

The members of SG-1 are used as forced labor in an underground alien facility after their memories are erased by the ruling elite.

DVD DISC: Season 4, Disc 3
WRITTEN BY: Heather E. Ash
DIRECTED BY: Peter DeLuise
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By Debra Kraft

"Beneath the Surface" was aptly titled, describing both the underground facility in which SG-1 has been trapped as part of a willing slave labor force, and the memories of the team members which have been buried under new personalities. This story played itself out very well. I stayed interested, and any doubts I may have had about believability were responded to adequately as the plot unfolded.

At first, I was unsure about the concept presented here. Why would the administrator of a culture anticipating trade negotiations with the S.G.C. essentially kidnap the team members, stamp their minds with false memories, and hide them away as laborers? Yet as Jack began to remember, the reasons became only too clear.

The character of the administrator is a perfectly portrayed autocrat with a massive superiority complex. The workers are nothing to him. They bring power to his great, domed city, and as such they are no better than machines themselves. They are not welcome in his city. They are not welcome in his presence. He won't even deign to dirty his hands by physically touching the reports given him by Brenna, the woman in charge of the plant; he will only accept them from her once he has carefully arranged a red cloth between his flesh and the file.

His actions with SG-1 are therefore easily understood. Made aware of the slavery, Colonel O'Neill not only refuses to promote the trade negotiations, he also passes "judgment" on the administrator and his ways. This is, of course, completely unacceptable to the administrator.

I was also a bit uncertain initially about the interactions between the members of SG-1 when they appear as strangers to one another. I was most taken back by the early fight between Jack and Daniel. Even having no recollection of any prior friendship, I would expect some sense of familiarity. Yet, on retrospect, Jack was simply trying to help out Sam, while Daniel was trying to help Kegan, a woman he had been finding companionship with. As the episode progressed, and it became clear there was no real animosity between them, I became far more accepting and understanding of the incident.

The progress of remembering that was experienced by the team members was intriguing, and well-handled. Teal'c is the first to remember. Given his extreme physiological differences, attributed to the larval Goa'uld he carries, it makes sense that the memory stamping would affect him differently. Further, his failure to remember his need to perform kelnorim, and the subsequent illness this failure caused, added credence to the story.

That Daniel is the only one to actually listen to Teal'c's claims is understandable also. The memory stamping focuses on a deep sense of commitment, the "honor to serve," as the workers continuously state. Jack and Sam, as members of the military, were both familiar with and accepting of this notion long before their arrival on this planet. They both have long had a deep commitment; they both believe in the "honor to serve." The memory stamp did not need to instill this sense into them, it needed only to alter the direction of their commitment, i.e. the establishment which they are so honored to serve.

Daniel, however, is not military. His commitment has long been simply to understand cultures, and to map out histories. It is little wonder, therefore, that once he realizes he can not see his own history as complete, that there are holes in his awareness, he needs to fill those holes. Thus it is Daniel who pursues Jack and Sam, and tries to find his memories with them.

Like Daniel, Sam is a scientist, a person who is used to asking "why." Even despite her militaristic sense of duty, I liked that she listened to Daniel, and that she shared his dreams about a glowing "puddle."

Jack, on the other hand, is not used to asking; rather, he is used to doing what he is told. His dreams are more mundane, and, presumably, somewhat sexual in nature, given his persistent attraction to Sam, one that could not be blocked with the rest of his memories. He is the last to remember, though when he does so his memory comes through far more vividly than it does for the others. And it becomes very apparent, painfully so, that he is disappointed to remember that his relationship with Sam must remain platonic.

The last piece to the puzzle of this well-conceived story is the S.G.C. Hammond's attempts to be diplomatic with the administrator -- despite his obvious misgivings -- was in keeping with governmental obligations. Major Griff's off-the-record report that Colonel O'Neill would never have allowed his teammates to explore the glacier under such harsh conditions answered another question that I had considered early on, and that surely the general would have wondered as well.

Still, my question went one further: if SG-1 did feel the need to explore the glacier, even against the advice of the administrator, wouldn't the administrator, given his own involvement in diplomatic obligations, have sent guides with them, and otherwise attempted to ensure their safety? Though this was not touched on in the story, I have no doubt it would have been on the general's mind, and would surely have increased his suspicions.

Yet, while the major's revelation might solidify General Hammond's suspicions, it would not untie his hands. He would remain obligated to do what his superiors require of him, and until he can provide them with any concrete evidence of foul play, they would continue to require the negotiations to proceed. Nonetheless, I expect that if SG-1 had not managed to free themselves, the general may well have authorized the covert mission alluded to in his discussion with Dr. Fraiser.

The storyline in "Beneath the Surface" is not among my favorites. However, this is certainly among the most well-written episodes. There were no holes evident in the plotting. There were no poorly handled threads. Rather, it was well and tightly woven.

My only complaint is in the utter failure to link SG-1's memories in any way with the skylights in the underground facility. When the special effects team designed these lights, perhaps the resemblance they bore to the Stargate was overlooked. That is unfortunate. I expected any one of the teammates at any time to look up, see the blue sky and the ice beyond those distant windows, and envision a pool of shimmering water.

Rating: * * 1/2