By Tere Campbell
The last time they were in Antarctica, Carter and O'Neill barely escaped alive. "Frozen" marks their return trip to the continent, but this time one of them doesn't escape unscathed. "Frozen" is a quiet, fill-in-the-blank episode working to answer many of the series' questions and set up a major storyline for the remainder of the season. And for all that it's required to do, "Frozen" does an okay job.
The episode -- the third Cooper / Wood collaboration of the season (and we're only four episodes in) -- is satisfactory despite all of the science thrown about. Cooper consistently foreshadows events that occur at the end of the episode through veiled lines, like Janet's, "Some of us, or all of us -- who knows?" and Jack's, "Not a snakehead, right?" There's no question that he's dropping hints about what's yet to occur.
Cooper also references events from as many as six previous episodes to answer long-standing questions -- and yet the biggest question is never completely answered. Who is Ayiana?
Much of "Frozen" is a discussion of the science behind the theories, which is all well and good, but staid as heck. For nine people who are rapidly becoming seriously ill and are trapped in an Antarctic bio-dome for nearly the entirety of the episode, there's not a lot of empathy between them, especially those who've worked closely together for the past five years. Cooper is usually known for writing personal touches between the characters. With the exception of a connection between Jonas and Ayiana, "Frozen" is bereft of these touches.
"Frozen" is also lacking both action and technical effects. The external views of the bio-dome remind me of the much, much larger one in "Beneath the Surface." Inside, the scenes are mostly two-character discussions to get across all of the exposition.
Something I missed when the characters were in the entry tunnel to the living and science quarters is visible breath. Cold enough to have snow underfoot, but no visible steam when the actors exhaled as was seen in "Solitudes," this minor thing bugged me throughout the episode.
The medical action scenes with Fraiser barking out orders included a bad camera angle in which it's obvious that she doesn't insert the laryngoscope into Ayiana's throat to intubate. Instead, the slight of hand is apparent; the tool slides to the outside of the actress' cheek.
Much of the episode is without background scoring, which adds to the sense of isolation from the rest of the world. The wind roaring in the background when Jonas asks Ayiana to do her healing on Michaels and Osbourne provides eeriness as the tone of the episode changes from scientific to wary. A partially-thawed Ayiana, still encased in ice and the mirroring of action within the quarantine lab on the flat screen monitors within other areas of the observation room, are among the highpoints of technical effects within this episode.
Kudos to Wood's directing choices with mirroring images throughout the episode. He opens with a woman within a coffin of ice and ends with Jack in a quarantine transport box which resembles a coffin. On the exit through the gate, Carter, Jonas, Teal'c and the Tok'ra Theron are carrying Jack in the quarantine box -- the image mirrored is that of pallbearers carrying a casket. Are they carrying him to his death? Is it symbolic of the death of the character we have come to know and love for the past five years as he becomes something else?
Wood also mirrors the separation of Carter and O'Neill much in the same way he did in "Divide and Conquer." He has Carter again asking for Jack to leave in order to save his life and, again, there's a physical barrier (her bio-hazard hood versus the force field) between them representing the emotional barrier that still exists.
However, Wood falters when he directs Amanda Tapping not to show more of the emotion Carter must be feeling when asking her dying commanding officer to accept a symbiote. Tapping usually conveys Carter's feelings very well through her facial expressions, belying what her lines say. Carter showed immense grief when Daniel lay dying only a few months ago (in S.G.C. time). It's not a huge leap to reason that she'd show similar grief for her commanding officer, any personal feelings between the two characters notwithstanding.
Corin Nemec finally shows his dramatic potential with Jonas in wonderfully sweet scenes with Ayiana. His mildly irritating eagerness from the first episodes of the season is tempered by his curiosity about Ayiana, and Nemec plays distress at Ayiana's death very well. Guest stars Venus Terzo as Dr. Francine Michaels and Ona Grauer as Ayiana also log stellar performances. Grauer's nearly wordless Ayiana emoted beautifully, so much so that my four year old was scripting her scenes through her body language.
Slow and plodding at times, complemented with shots that include watching ice melt and water drip, "Frozen" only picks up at the end. The characters take getting desperately ill thousands of miles away from a medical facility with little more than a raised eyebrow. In addition, even the characteristic banter was markedly absent.
I know the theories bandied around about the origins of the Stargate and of Ayiana will be of great importance later. I recognize there are future plans for the character of Colonel Jack O'Neill that this episode set in motion. However, because of these many goals, "Frozen" came across very much as a tooled episode, written only to bring questions about the Ancients back to the forefront and to provide a reason to "Tok'ra" O'Neill.
Rating: * * 1/2