By Tere Campbell
Okay, I admit it. I occasionally read spoilers. Not the really in-depth kind, but the kind to whet your appetite for an episode. And more often than not when I read spoilers, I come away disappointed in the episode.
"Descent" was one of those episodes for which I couldn't keep from reading the spoilers. And, I have to say, the real deal far surpassed my imagination. Between the action and special effects were tucked touching character moments that focused on fears of failure. Not enough to be preachy in a "here's the moral" sense, the fear of failure theme carries forward aspects introduced last season.
Written by Joseph Mallozzi and Paul Mullie, "Descent" is reminiscent of their Season Five episode, "The Tomb." The mothership's maze-like corridors and blocked passageways seem to be stand-ins for the ziggurat's tunnels and crumbling infrastructure. However, instead of a forced pairing with political adversaries, the emotional bar is raised by enlisting Jacob and long-time liaison Major Davis to assist SG-1 with the ship's reconnaissance and recovery.
And, in this version of the story, the team fights to avoid death by drowning within the ship versus death by the hands a psychotic Goa'uld. With the exception of three easily-dispatched ninja-like Jaffa, the only enemies to SG-1 in this outing are water and time.
Peter DeLuise puts his Seaquest DSV experience to good use in directing "Descent." Intricate in their simplicity, the water effects go beyond just sinking a set. From quiet shots of the water quickly rising to the claustrophobic near-drowning of Carter and O'Neill, the water adds dimension to what could have easily been another "escape the trap" episode. The pièce de résistance has to be a swimming Jonas and gallons of water unceremoniously splashing to the floor after being ringed from one level of the ship to another. It has to be one of the neatest effects I've seen in a while.
Both Carter and Quinn continue to deal with personal insecurities introduced in previous episodes. Carter gave voice to a fear of failure in "Redemption, Part 1," which shows here when she's under the gun to get the force shield up so that the team can escape.
Recent incidents with damaging the K'Tau sun ("Red Sky"), reconstituting Teal'c from the gate buffer ("48 Hours"), and dealing with the loss of Daniel ("Meridian") all support the rehumanization of Carter. Far too often, she's been the only one to provide the solutions to save the day; it's only reasonable that she begins to doubt herself in the face of many too many life-or-death close calls. O'Neill realizes she's struggling under the pressure of yet another countdown (one of several in recent months), and reassures her by patting her on the back -- something we rarely see Jack do.
Jonas struggles to fit in, and to deal with his lack of action in "Meridian." His eagerness and excitement for the mission covers his big fear that he won't be able to react in the heat of the moment. And his fear is realized when he doesn't react to the ninja Jaffa. To some degree, Jonas romanticizes Teal'c's position within the team and has an image of fitting Teal'c's mold. Between that and having seen Jack in action, Jonas has a slight case of hero-worship -- and, because of this, he really needs acceptance from Jack. In his mind, "intellectual exercises" are not enough to redeem his past actions. However, it's his intellectual gifts, along with an amazing ability to hold his breath, which saves SG-1 and earns sincere thanks from Jack.
Jacob informs Jack that he's afraid of his favorite planet being wiped out. Jack's response of "What planet is that?" makes me wonder if they're discussing recent close calls with SG-1 and, particularly, Sam. Sounds like a paternal warning to Jack; especially with Jacob's later confession that he's inadvertently responsible for releasing the Jaffa and that he could have gotten his daughter killed. Not often that you hear a Tok'ra admit when he's wrong.
Not only was Selmak absent in voice, he seems to have been asleep the majority of the episode, because Jacob came across more human than we've seen him since his blending. This is especially noticeable when his voice cracks as he thinks Sam has drowned because of his failure to override computer protocols and open the door that traps her. I wholly expected Selmak to assume control and make the save.
Major Davis's presence on the mission is never explained as he's paired with Dr. "Red Shirt" Friesen. He provides some computer assistance, solving the mystery of the squeaky shoe sound coming through the ship's intercom system, and is a great foil for Jacob while Carter and O'Neill are drowning. Past that, he seemed superfluous.
Future implications from this mission are great. One Asgard brain, two death gliders, and three ninja Jaffa are nothing to be sneezed at! Thor's consciousness is now on ice in a Goa'uld computer core, and I wonder what kind of favor Jack will be able to cash in on with the Asgard now. Anubis's mothership blew to smithereens, but the S.G.C. now has two slightly damp death gliders (hope the salt water doesn't cause too much corrosion). And Teal'c single-handedly captured three of Anubis' Jaffa -- I say "captured" because we only saw him zat the boys once, and then Jonas seemed to be standing guard over them. It will be interesting to see if the plight of the ninja warriors is followed through.
"Descent" allows Jack to play with explosives, poke fun at pesky scientists, and finally give orders that are followed ... well, kind of. He also seems preternaturally disposed to keep an eye on Carter, something that's been happening on an increasing occurrence since her kidnapping last season.
Incredibly fun to watch, "Descent" is a standout episode which had me applauding the television at its conclusion. An underwater striptease and the glimpse of bare feet along with some amazing water sequences are the icing on the cake. "Descent" was, to quote Jack, "excellent!"
Rating: * * * *