Logic of Setting: “Lockdown”

January 31, 2013

What I was trying to get at in my recent post, “The Setting is Wrong,” is that well-developed fictional settings have an internal logic to them, and when a story violates the established principles that govern its setting, it can detract a great deal from the experience. Of course, stories (and even more, films and other visual media) set in real-world settings have the same kind of problem, to an even greater degree. Some fans spend a fair amount of time picking apart stories set in earlier historical periods, searching for anachronisms and other questionable artistic decisions.

However, I recently watched an episode of Stargate SG-1 that demonstrated how applying the logic of a long-standing science fiction setting can lead to an interesting and rather rewarding plot experience. The episode, “Lockdown,” occurs near the beginning of the eighth season, by which time the SG-1 universe (which is different in some rather important ways from the setting of the film Stargate) had been explored pretty extensively.

The primary antagonist of the Earth-based forces shifts over the course of the show. In season seven, it was Anubis—an evil being whose nature is sufficiently strange that I need to explain it in some detail. He began as a member of the race of goa’uld, alien parasites who set themselves up as false gods. At some point in the far distant past, he “ascended” to become a new kind of being—something much more like a true deity. (In his deity form, Anubis is played by George Dzundza—one of the original cops from Law & Order—in a diner. I feel like I should append a comment here that this makes sense in context, but it I can’t quite bring myself to make that claim. In any case, that challenge of logic was in a very different episode.) For his evilness (maybe), Anubis was eventually banished back to something like his former existence; he no longer retains the powers of the “Ancients,” but neither is he bound to a physical body; he can possess whatever matter he finds convenient. In spite of his great power, his space fleet got obliterated at the end of season seven during an attack on Earth, leaving him (seemingly) utterly defeated.

Now, it’s hardly a surprise in most television shows when a previously destroyed super-villain shows up to fight the heroes again, with some cockamamie explanation for how he had managed to survive. For some villains, such as Davros, creator of the Daleks, this is how things work virtually every time they appear. However, Stargate SG-1 was rather different. Generally, when somebody seemed dead, they stayed dead (although they might show up again during a one- or two-episode foray into an alternate timeline). When there was a possibility of an enemy coming back, this was usually shown explicitly at the time of their defeat. (And when a vanquished foe was shown as having possibly escaped annihilation, they did not always make it back; sometimes the bad guy has a chance, but he blows it off screen.)

So when Anubis lost his fleet, he seemed to be gone. With the previous destruction of his main mother ship, he was explicitly shown escaping in a smaller vessel, but there was nothing like that in his season seven finale swan song. However, a few episodes later, some Russian cosmonauts encounter some debris left over from the battle. A strange contagious sickness, accompanied by erratic (or, rather, possessed) behavior spreads from one of the cosmonauts involved. Then, one of the show’s more intellectual heroes, Dr. Daniel Jackson, figures out that the victims are being possessed by Anubis’s disembodied consciousness, which had been hovering around that piece of space wreckage. The first time I saw this episode, I was struck by how much logical inevitability there was behind this revelation. It was totally unexpected, but once the character had enunciated what was going on, it made total sense within the logic of the setting. Over years of watching the show, I had become sufficiently immersed in the setting that I could feel what would be logical in that world and what would be non-sequitur. There are a number of storylines that really felt like organic outgrowths of previous events, but this was most striking to me.


3 Responses to “Logic of Setting: “Lockdown””

  1. I’m not familiar with the material, but question how much setup was necessary–you might consider editing down your posts…

  2. Diapadion Says:

    I think you ought to preface this post with a big ol’ Spoiler Alert tag.

    The second coming of Anubis was a bit of a turn-off for me. I’ll admit that it did “make sense” in Stargate’s unique context, but something about the arc of the second coming didn’t satisfy me. Possibly because the final conflict ended up not really involving SG-1. Sure, Daniel is “there,” but I wasn’t satisfied with his role. Then again, I don’t remember the actual events of “Threads” very well.

    • Buzz Says:

      I don’t really remember the later events of “Threads” either, just Detective Max Greevy in a diner full of disinterested gods. I do remember that it didn’t work especially well. The idea of super-powerful beings being represented as living in a blandly Earth-like environment (rendered in that shape so that the visiting humans can comprehend what is going on) is one I do not find effective. Of course, there are much worse variations on this than the diner; the nadir may have been the Civil War setting of the Star Trek: Voyager episode “The Q and the Grey.” (This is referred to in this post; the first line was spoken by John de Lancie during his stint as a guest star on SG-1.)

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