Review by Alli Snow
"We're always sticking our collective noses where they don't belong. It's what we do."
- Jack O'Neill
Ah, Jack. Truer words were never spoken. Indeed, throughout the years as the members of the S.G.C. have fulfilled their roles as explorers and adventurers, there's been a whole lot of nose-sticking going on. It's sort of inevitable. Typically the society on the other side of the gate would be suitably impressed with SG-1's miraculous arrival, or mystified, or amazed, or some other reaction generally genteel in nature. But in "Icon" the paradigm shifts as SG-1, ably commanded by Colonel Carter, comes across a world rife with internal conflict -- the beleaguered camel waiting for the proverbial final straw.
It's a risk that General O'Neill accepts that they take, but Daniel is characteristically prone to pangs of personal guilt over the matter. He takes it upon himself to make the adversaries see reason (ostensibly by standing around listening to two leaders duke it out over the speaker-phone). Then things, as they are wont to do, go wrong.
I begin with this quick recap because the premise of "Icon" is solid. It's also fresh, it's a new spin on an old concept; and yet the audience can well believe that Boy Scout Daniel would feel responsible for the situation by proxy. It's "The Weight of the World Rests on My Shoulders" syndrome, and he's very much like Superman in that way (or maybe I've been watching too much Justice League lately).
The concept isn't the only refreshing thing about this episode. The sets that are used are spectacular, not immediately familiar from past episodes, and the scenes outdoors don't scream "Welcome to British Columbia!" The little details are appreciated: the incorporation of the Stargate symbol into contemporary fashion, the conversations fluttering in the background during the bunker scenes, the wash hanging out on the line ...
And yet several technical and logistical problems mar this episode's impact, annoyances that kept popping into my head and distracting me from the flow of the story.
The episode has a "World War movie" vibe to it ... perhaps a little too much. The gilded lapels of the military's uniforms, the radio equipment, the weapons, the black and olive drab attire of the paramilitary, the fact that Air Force hand gestures appear to be universal -- it all seems too Earth-like, too derivative.
Meanwhile, the enemy is unimpressive. Although Soren exudes the properly-creepy militant / religious fanatic vibe, the threat he poses feels unreal. After a month or more has passed, after taking control of every major city and setting up patrols such as the one that harasses Leda, Soren's forces are still so badly organized that his only stronghold of power is the underground bunker.
This is the man Kane declared everyone too afraid to fight? Soren must have a great PR service out there exaggerating his achievements.
There is much talk in the beginning of the episode of how the believers' numbers grew following the opening of the Stargate, creating civil war, leading to full-scale attacks, executions, and even mutiny within the armed forces of the planet. We are told that they hold fast to the nation of their gods' return. Yet by the end of the episode, the men in the bunker with Soren (men you would figure would be part of his inner circle, and therefore almost as crazy as he is) simply stand around looking like misplaced extras.
Wow. With that kind of dedication, it's amazing they didn't just give up and go home while he was away on Earth. This is the vanguard of a revolution which supposedly conquered a nation?
Daniel intimates that the riskiest move Kane made was to kill Soren, perhaps turning him into a martyr for his -- ahem -- devoted comrades in arms. But then there is only talk of blame and rebuilding. Ask anyone who hasn't been living under a rock these past few years: a religious war is not about a single figurehead such as Soren. It's about so deep a dedication to a system of beliefs that anything -- even crimes against humanity, as Jack says -- is justifiable. Unless all the believers, all the revolutionaries, are as lethargic as Soren's misplaced extras, Kane's people should have a serious fight on their hands before the issue of rebuilding even comes up.
Finally, what garnered this episode an average rating? Although I can't deny that it got me thinking, it didn't make me feel. It didn't get my pulse racing, and it didn't inspire strong feelings for either side. The endless nitpicks, as well as the frequent skipping around in place and time, made this episode philosophically intriguing ... but mechanically a clunker.
Rating: * *
Review by Lex
Most theories dealing with the evolution of intelligent species into space-faring beings incorporate the many ways a species might die out before it attains such an advanced level of technology. Possibly without specific intent, Stargate has dealt with many of the disasters -- natural and otherwise -- that can befall a civilization before it can begin to travel to other planets. And while those species that succeed through their own struggles are generally portrayed as peace-loving, all are likely to pass through the stage where conflict can potentially destroy them.
The possibility that we humans will destroy ourselves by war is extant, and "Icon" draws on those fears to weave a modern morality tale.
I'm sure I've mentioned before that I love the moral dilemmas Stargate brings us every so often. This episode is a little different, however, in that SG-1 themselves aren't dealing with the problem, but rather with the aftermath. And knowing that the situation might not have occurred if the S.G.C. hadn't traveled to this planet -- that thousands, possibly millions of people would still be alive -- is quite a burden to bear. And it is not a new burden.
"Icon" brings up an issue that has been facing the S.G.C. since its inception: Is it right for them to travel to other planets, possibly causing mayhem by their very presence, because the S.G.C.'s own goals are considered more important? In this case Daniel tries to assume blame, and it's difficult to say whether he is right to or not. Was the opening of the gate that small push that sent various factions into action? Would we have faced the same fate if a small push had happened when the superpowers were facing one another in the Cold War? Deep considerations, indeed.
That the story was so well written as to prompt these thoughts is a credit to Damian Kindler. Not only did he dive into the complexities of war and religious fanaticism, he managed to handle a myriad of flashbacks without the episode tumbling into confusion -- or worse yet, predictability. Many have tried the same trick, and failed. Here we saw merely smooth transitions with nary a second of confusion.
Helping separate out the scenes is the manner in which they were filmed. There is a richness of colour in the scenes at Leda's house that we haven't seen in a while, likely helped by the warm natural light in the area. Compared to the dim and cold lighting in the bunkers and the stark brightness of the S.G.C., the warmth in the countryside seems to support the trace of hope in a bombed-out world that Daniel gives first to Leda and then to Jared.
While the camerawork and lighting adds to the story, the command bunker set-up feels rather like movie shorthand: See the old-fashioned radios? This culture isn't as advanced as Earth. See the screen to display the path of the missiles? Well, it worked in "War Games," so we'll do the same. And the large collection of sandbags seem to be there just so people would have something to hide behind in the final fight scene. Sometimes there is a need for that kind of shorthand, due perhaps to lack of time or lack of budget, but it pulls the episode down a little.
There are more guest characters in "Icon" than I'm usually interested in, but they are well fleshed-out and work nicely with the regulars, allowing both Michael Shanks and Amanda Tapping to let go a little. And boy is there some letting go. Colonel "large and in charge" Carter is a sight to behold in the final shoot-out, finally demonstrating why she was given her promotion.
A few nitpicks and a few memorable moments: Daniel coming up with the battle strategy was a nice touch, something that fit the situation perfectly. I have no idea why Sam questions Teal'c's translation of Goa'uld. Is she having a senior moment? And while I think it is gently amusing that Jack stops Carter's techno-babble to make her explain things in simple terms, she should know by now what he needs from her. Of course, that would change the dynamic between the two of them, and I reckon she's doing it on purpose just to annoy Jack.
A definite thumbs-up to Damian Kindler and the team, here. And one small request to the wardrobe department: if they have no further need of Daniel's leather jacket, I'd appreciate them sending it over here. Much obliged.
Rating: * * *