Review by Alli Snow
In Greek myth, Orpheus was the son of the god Apollo and the muse Calliope. His greatest talent was the lyre, and it was said that neither man nor beast nor inanimate object could resist his music. Orpheus' love was named Eurydice, but their marriage was short-lived; Eurydice was bitten by a snake and died.
Orpheus made his way to the regions of the dead and begged the inhabitants there to let him reclaim his beloved, charming them with the music from his lyre. Moved, they agreed, but set one condition: that Orpheus could not look at Eurydice until they reached the surface. The two made the climb, Eurydice following Orpheus, but he looked back too soon and she was taken away again. No matter how much Orpheus pleaded, the denizens of the underworld would not give him another chance.
Grieving, obsessed with his mistake, Orpheus pulled away from all women ... a fatal mistake, as it turned out, for the Thracian maidens killed him for rebuffing their advances and threw his dismembered body -- and his lyre -- into the river Hebrus. The Muses were able to collect the pieces of his body, which they buried, and his lyre, which they placed in the stars. Orpheus' soul, meanwhile, was able to pass into the underworld and find Eurydice, where they were finally happy together.
Which Stargate character corresponds to each mythological role is, of course, a matter of interpretation. But it seems altogether possible that Teal'c fulfills the role of Orpheus, both Rya'c and Bra'tac are in Eurydice's shoes, and the death camp Erebus -- itself a name for one of the levels of Hell in Greek mythology -- is the underworld in which Orpheus sought his beloved.
The episode "Orpheus" deals primarily with Teal'c's adjustment to life without Junior (his larval Goa'uld symbiote), which -- as we learn -- he has been struggling with for some time. Although tretonin keeps him alive, it leaves him with a feeling of weakness ... perhaps not providing the same pep that a symbiote would. Raised in a culture where weakness is synonymous with death, this is a major stumbling block for Teal'c and severely impacts his self-confidence.
Also struggling with his own issues is Daniel, who is still foggy about exactly what he was up to while ascended. But while in meditation he recalls a foggy memory of Rya'c and Bra'tac trapped on Erebus, where rebel Jaffa are literally worked to death.
SG-1, including the dispirited Teal'c, travel with Rak'nor to Erebus. They locate Rya'c and Bra'tac but are captured as well. Finally, in the face of his son's faith, relied upon by the other captured Jaffa and aided by the rest of the team, Teal'c manages to fight back against his captors, regain his dignity, and bond with Daniel.
"Orpheus" is probably the most Jack-light episode of the season thus far, and Sam's role was minimal as well. But this can be forgiven in the light that it was primarily a Teal'c-and-Daniel episode. And even if you're not particularly enthralled by those two characters, there was plenty else to keep you interested: the classic Peter DeLuise explosions and fight scenes, further references to Jell-O (green this time), and the sly joke referencing Mel Gibson's Signs.
Perhaps the most novel thing about the entire episode is the period, in the beginning, where we witness Teal'c's recovery from his injury. It's rare that we see the recuperation period for any member of the team, but for Teal'c -- who, prior to "The Changeling," was about as close to invincible as a mortal can be -- it was especially uncommon. The bed rest, the pep talks, the physical therapy sessions and the all-around angst were almost reminiscent of hurt/comfort fan fiction. The very novelty of this is in fact exactly what drives home to the audience what is so obvious to Teal'c: were he is old self, this would not be happening.
Although Orpheus never made it out of the land of the dead, both he and Teal'c have a happy ending in that they are reunited with those they love.
What's great about this episode: Christopher Judge's acting. The man can do so much with a few lines and an eyebrow raise that sometimes, when an entire episode is devoted to him, it can be a little overwhelming. But in "Orpheus," we see such a different side of Teal'c that the extra focus is exactly what's needed. The opening scene: when we see General Hammond sitting behind a table so much of the time, it's refreshing and fun to see him barking orders ("Watch your friendlies, safeties off, clean target, clean background!"), not to mention that it's about time those gate room guards had something to shoot at.
The teaser is exciting, suspenseful, and the opening credits roll on a definite cliffhanger. Jack in command: in "Orpheus," Jack has to make some tough choices -- first letting Teal'c decide when he's ready to go back to work, and later deciding not to go in immediately after Teal'c and Rak'nor are captured. He didn't have a large role in this episode, but when he was there it was at least thought-provoking. Daniel, a changed man: there is already a very obvious difference between the character in Season Five and the character in Season Seven. It seems that the year off was good for him.
What's not so great: Daniel reveals at the end of the episode that he never felt that he belonged. While it's true that he did leave SG-1 in "Meridian" for what he then thought were greener pastures, it seems unrealistic that never in five years did he feel he had a metaphorical "soft place to fall." And if he had felt such isolation, is it feasible that simply Teal'c and Bra'tac's thanks would remedy all that?
What remains to be seen: How often will Daniel's "Ascension Cam" come into play this season? Could it be the Seventh Season's version of "Jolinar's Memories?"
Rating: * * *
Review by Lex
It's possible to write a wish-list of elements that should be included in a great episode, but even with all of those elements in the mix it takes excellent writing, directing and acting to make it a success. However, while the story, the action, and the menacing bad guys were all excellent, they don't take the top spot for this particular episode. For a master class in character development, look no further than "Orpheus."
Teal'c's struggle to come to terms with his perceived weakness, having lost his symbiote and become dependent on tretonin, was beautifully played by Chris Judge. Daniel's frustration at his inability to remember what he knew was important, his search for clues, and his surprise each time someone mentioned their trust of his intuition was extremely moving. The support Daniel and Teal'c showed for each other as they worked through their personal challenges was the perfect demonstration of the respect and friendship these two very different men share.
Of course, the character insights weren't limited to these two alone. Jack accepted that he couldn't act to stop Teal'c's torture, paralleling how Daniel must have felt during "Abyss." Rya'c, a character who has consistently irritated me up until now, finally showed his move into adulthood with his caring for Bra'tac and his mature reactions to his situation. Rak'nor is simply charming, and is developing well as a leader of the free Jaffa.
The story encompasses heroism, sacrifice, honor and love -- the love of a father for his son; of a son for his father; and of friends for one another. Its themes are vast and powerful, and it is impressive that they fitted into such a short space of time without any feeling of it being rushed or crowded.
One particular thread of the story -- that Daniel doesn't know if he chose to be back in human form -- was poignant. At the start of the episode he was still not sure of his place, something that's so very understandable for anyone who's felt they've lived on the periphery of acceptance for years. It's not about who accepts you, it's about believing in that acceptance, and it can be a hard step to take. In "Meridian," he didn't think he was worthy of ascension, worthy of his friends. Each time someone gave him their trust during "Orpheus," their thanks, it built a little more of his confidence, and by the end of the story he believed it. His sense of peace with himself was palpable and touching.
Jack was in form as a true leader, showing his understanding side when confronted with Teal'c's missing mojo, and demonstrating how quite capable he can be as a military strategist when he puts his mind to it. Sam was somehow more natural than she is frequently written, ranging from joking and sympathetic to efficient and proficient. And the wonderfully reliable Tony Amendola gave Bra'tac yet more depth as he suffered, supported and cajoled, becoming responsible, in quite a significant way, for Teal'c's return to faith in himself.
Almost a character in its own right, the Jaffa work camp was bloated with threat, fear and dignity. The prisoners were there to be worked to death, nothing more, and yet they kept their honor and self-respect. The head Jaffa guard, truly a nasty piece of work, was excellently portrayed as he epitomized all that was evil about the camp. This was a place where hope should have curled up and died. The battles for survival by its inmates, both psychological and physical, were impressive. And the Three Musketeers moment where Teal'c, Bra'tac and Rak'nor took out their enemy was a much-needed feel-good scene after so much intensity.
Having said all that, was there anything at all that disappointed me? Not a lot. The mothership didn't quite have the sense of realism in the vicinity of trees and hills that they always do in the darkness of space. Bra'tac being treated for his injuries in the gate room was a little contrived. But those were the only flaws that I spotted, even after several viewings.
A couple of outstanding questions: Will Daniel remember any more of his time as an ascended being? And just how much money does Teal'c spend on candles for his kelnorim sessions?
From the dramatic beginning to the fulfilling conclusion, "Orpheus" was packed with a wonderful mix of truly excellent character interaction, character development, action, and angst. Tightly plotted, beautifully written, wonderfully acted, this is what Stargate is all about.
Rating: * * * *