By Debra Kraft
Finally, we see some Russian involvement in the Stargate program, something that has been strangely absent since the supposed signing of an agreement after last season's "Watergate." We also see a return to examining true archeological wonders, something I am very prone to delight in. However, despite these giant steps in the right direction, "The Tomb" tends to stall rather than race forward.
With music a little too reminiscent of last season's "The Curse" (a well-told tale in its own right, styled in the manner of a classic mummy movie), "The Tomb" also seems to strive towards the classic genre. It wants to be a horror movie. It almost succeeds.
The stage is well set: two teams at odds with one another locked in a dark, ancient temple (or ziggurat, as Daniel would correct) with a mysterious, man-eating creature skittering about in the shadows. These elements should provide a pretty good foundation for horror. Just keep it dark, keep the viewer in fear of an unknown, and success can be fairly well assured.
As a viewer sitting in the safe comfort of my living room, I like a good scare on the screen now and then. And nothing beats the fear of a shadowy presence. Having recently seen the movie Pitch Black, I was hoping for the same nervous tension, encouraged by the idea of a hidden creature so thorough in its ability to strip the flesh from human bones. Yet "The Tomb's" creature had a very small role. There was only one, not an entire nest. And it died too soon, giving way to a more tangible, more known, and thus less frightening threat: a Goa'uld.
Sure, the Goa'uld are the enemy we most love to hate; but they lost their "monster in the closet" mystique long ago.
In addition to the early demise of our rubbery, fanged fiend, "The Tomb" constantly teases us by stealing away promising moments of tension. One scene particularly disappoints. Daniel is left alone in a dark chamber with the stricken, Russian lieutenant. Another Russian has wandered out of that same chamber into an even darker corridor to seek out the source of a scarcely heard noise.
Yet do we sense Daniel's natural fear? No. We get a little sarcasm -- which has become typical of a nervous Dr. Jackson -- but nothing more. He is deserted by the camera as well as the Russian. When we return, Daniel is seen working away on his translations, utterly oblivious to the unguarded entrance at his back.
The potential tension of Daniel's isolation is not exploited. We're further deprived of the Russian's tension as he eases cautiously into the corridor, his weapon held ready. Instead of staying with him, fearing what he fears, we're pulled away from his point of view. We're now looking instead through another creature's eyes.
The scene ends abruptly here, too quickly to inspire breathless anticipation. And we know all too soon that this time the creature is a Goa'uld, and that it has taken the Russian as a host. There is nothing undefined to fear anymore.
Nonetheless, even lacking the better elements of horror, "The Tomb" does not entirely fail to tell a decent story. I enjoyed the interactions between the Russian team and SG-1; and the implications of the Russian general's demands and accusations at the end of the episode encourage me to anticipate future joint missions -- even while Hammond and O'Neill are both greatly discouraged by that same anticipation.
The two colonels have some striking similarities, despite their glaring differences. I was amused by their initial meeting, when the Russian colonel states that his team had taken the "precaution" of eating before their arrival, suggesting he might not trust the S.G.C.'s food supplies. This is an error -- probably a calculated one -- the likes of which could come out of O'Neill's own mouth under different circumstances, and one that is quickly corrected by the Russian major in much the same way Daniel might be seen correcting Jack in order to maintain political correctness.
The Russians are not unlike the Americans. In fact, the similarities may be more apparent than the differences, a concept well-depicted as the tale climaxes with each colonel believing the other has been taken over by a Goa'uld.
In some ways it is unfortunate that Colonel Zukhov is also shown pursuing a secret agenda, thus justifying O'Neill's unshakable distrust. However, it would be unrealistic to imagine that Colonel O'Neill might come to trust his Russian counterpart during a single mission, even without the deception. After all, O'Neill would have been raised in an era ripe with Cold War deceptions, and his military training would have occurred before the collapse of the Soviet Union. Trust in the Russian military would be hard won, indeed.
The reverse is also true, and is particularly well-depicted by the Russian general in the closing scene. Casting of this general could not have been more on-target. The actor's performance was intensely believable. Having lost 75 percent of his team while SG-1 returned with barely a scratch, how could the man not question the accuracy of O'Neill's report? Surely Hammond would have the same reaction, had the statistics gone the other way.
Yet at the same time, the Russian team's sole survivor is a young lieutenant clearly trained by a post-Cold War military. She makes some very subtle eye-contact with O'Neill as she leaves. There is no salute, no statement of thanks or farewell; there is only that eye contact and the slight trace of a smile.
Still, it is enough to suggest she does not share her superior officer's distrust. She respects Colonel O'Neill, and likely the rest of his team as well.
Stargate SG-1 often provides us with intensely gray scenarios that are seen from several angles to show that each one can be simultaneously both "good" and "bad." There is no clear "right" way to solve a particular problem, there is only what feels right for each member of the team. Adding a Russian perspective to S.G.C. expeditions could make such scenarios even more intense.
"The Tomb" emphasizes that Stargate SG-1 excels in telling tales that are political and moral in nature, yet it can't quite make the grade where horror is concerned. But that's alright. Horror is not what this particular program is all about.
Now, if they could just avoid glaring errors like the complete lack of sweat on a planet with an average temperature of 135 degrees ...
Rating: * * 1/2