Review by Alli Snow
"You dare mock me?"
"Baal, you should know ... of course I dare mock you."
- Baal and Jack O'Neill
Continuing in the same vein as last week, "Zero Hour" takes us inside a day in the life of the S.G.C.'s newest commander. Actually, we get to see five days, all counting down -- we learn at the end -- to the President's endorsement of General O'Neill. It's not a smooth road for Jack, but it's a fun journey for the audience, and in the end more effective than last week's "Lockdown."
I actually found myself comparing "Zero Hour" to "Lockdown" several times during the hour. It seemed that the goal of the episode was something of a repeat of last week: showing us the frustrating minutiae that General Jack is forced to deal with, from bunting and personnel files to an assortment of other trivial annoyances that all add up to big problems. "Zero Hour" is also dependent on a host of guests to help Richard Dean Anderson carry the episode's weight.
But where "Lockdown" tended to stutter, "Zero Hour" sails. On top of the little bothers Jack is faced with a new assistant, bickering ambassadors, an out-of-control plant, and three friends who seem at least a little irritated by his caution. Sam in particular seems to misinterpret his protectiveness as a lack of confidence in her abilities. When SG-1 is apparently captured by Baal -- someone with whom Jack has no small amount of history -- it seems as though it may all be too much for him to handle.
Although we've seen Jack in situations beyond his control, we've rarely before seem him so out of his element. The quiet desperation in his letter to Hammond opened up an entire facet of his character that we don't usually see outside of fan-written stories.
Jack's command style, as it was introduced in "Lockdown," is reinforced here: he is not afraid to be unconventional in his tactics, and he's not shy about bluffing to try and get his way. He is also smart enough to recognize the diplomatic properties of Krispy Kreme doughnuts. But he is also extremely careful when it comes to his former team, and smart enough to outsmart Camulus with regards to the booby-trapped Z.P.M.
A great deal of the credit for this episode's success goes to the host of minor characters provided for Jack to play off. Eric Breker's Reynolds further endears himself, coming across as surprisingly sympathetic and leading the real tear-jerker scene of the episode. Mercifully mobile for the first time in a long time, Gary Jones (Walter Davis) is hysterical, and he seems to know it. David Kaufman's Mark Gilmor, Cliff Simon's Baal and even Colin Cunningham's Major Davis all add extra depth and dimension to an episode that is devoid of three-fourths of the main cast for most of the hour.
Only two things stand out as drawbacks in this episode. First, the pacing is slower than the average Stargate episode, which probably has a lot to do with the lack of action. Considering the idea behind this episode that was unavoidable, but it is also very noticeable to viewers. (The seemingly never-ending commercial breaks didn't help minimize this either, and "Zero Hour" is a much better experience when one is able to fast-forward.) There is also the matter of the anti-climatic ending: Although I suspected that Baal was just as big of a bluffer as was Jack, the fact that all of O'Neill's angsting was for naught took some of the wind out of the episode's sails.
All in all, however, this is a very good episode: funny, a little stressful, with lots of good one-liners and plenty of memorable moments -- and, just as importantly, lots of Jack. Although Sam, Teal'c, and Daniel are incommunicado for most of "Zero Hour," there is a nice scene at the end where Sam reveals some of her insecurities and Jack reaffirms his faith in her. It's the kind of moment that would have seemed out of place in an earlier season, but seems just right at this point in time.
What we know: Jack is shaping up to be a fine base commander, one who knows he has limitations, but also knows that he has the support of his people and the official approval of the President.
What we don't know: Will handing over Camulus come back to bite the S.G.C. in the derriere? Will Jack ever let an alien plant on his base again? And did the ambassadors leave any Krispy Kremes for anyone else?
In short: If we wind up with a slew of Jack-light episodes in the future, as we surely will, we at least have this one fun episode to look back on fondly.
Rating: * * * 1/2