Episode Review of Stargate SG-1 Season 1: "Brief Candle"

Warning: all of my reviews contain spoilers.

If you have any comments on this review, please email me at the address at the bottom.

Episode Information

Title: "Brief Candle"
Written by: Steven Barnes (story), Katharyn Powers (teleplay)
Rating (out of 4 stars): ** 1/2
Reviewed on: April 8, 2014

Synopsis from GateWorld


O'Neill is infected by nanocytes on the planet Argos and begins aging at an extremely rapid rate.

SG-1 arrive on Argos, where the Stargate is in a temple. They come upon a young couple; the woman is in labor. Daniel, of course, knows something about helping with labor and aids in the birth; the happy couple names the baby after him. (I love that everyone looks at Carter for help with the birth, but she doesn't know a thing about it.)

The couple (now with baby) take SG-1 to the village where everyone lives. There seems to be some kind of celebration going on, although we will learn later that this is just every day life for the Argosians. One of the young women, Kynthia, takes a shine to O'Neill and gives him a cake, which is for O'Neill only. This raises red flags to the viewers, if not to SG-1. I did find it unsettling that SG-1 was uncritically eating any food offered to them. After all, they've already encountered one planet of humans where many of the humans had a virus and others did not ("The Broca Divide"), so you'd think they might be more cautious.

O'Neill starts acting a bit odd and passively goes along with a special dance that Kynthia does for him. She then takes him inside a building, where they have sex. The rest of SG-1 tries to intercede, but are gently rebuffed. O'Neill had been drugged by the cake and comes to his senses just before sunset. SG-1 finds him dragging himself out of Kynthia's bed. At sunset, all of the Argosians essentially pass out; O'Neill does soon after, and the others on SG-1 realize something is wrong.

The next morning, everyone awakens at sunset, including O'Neill. O'Neill is still not feeling well. He orders Daniel and Teal'c to explore the temple where the Stargate is located and Carter to do some investigating in the village.

In the temple, Daniel and Teal'c explore with help from the young man they met when they arrived originally, Alekos. Alekos says that Pelops is their god, and he brought them to Argos, because they are the Chosen. (Boy, that sounds familiar already, similar to the humans in "The Broca Divide". The Goa'uld need a new modus operandi.) Daniel and Teal'c realize Pelops must be a Goa'uld, and Teal'c opens a secret chamber that has a record-keeping device.

After some work with the records, Daniel and Teal'c figure out Pelops's goal in bringing humans to Argos: he genetically altered them to have lifetimes of 100 days. He did this so that he could see how human evolution might proceed, but on an accelerated timescale. So all of the Argosians have lifetimes of 100 days. Apparently Pelops was satisfied with his experiments, because he seems to have left quite some time ago.

Meanwhile, Carter has discovered the short lifetimes on her own. She encounters the mother of the new baby Daniel, who is already standing, even though he is one day old. The mother reveals that she is 21 days old and Kynthia is 31 days old.

At sunset, O'Neill collapses along with the other Argosians, so they realize he's got more problems than just being drugged. He orders the others back to Earth to try to figure out what's wrong with him.

The rest of SG-1 travel back to Earth, apparently with blood samples and other items for study. Carter and Frasier get right to work. They find unknown small objects in the blood of the Argosians and O'Neill. O'Neill has many more of them - Carter speculates that somehow he got them from Kynthia and they are more numerous in order to bring his condition in line with the other Argosians.

The rest of SG-1 go back to Argos to update O'Neill. Even in just a few days (we don't know the exact amount of time), he is visibly much, much older. Carter tells him that within 2 weeks, he will have aged to about 100 years, which will effectively be a death sentence for him. She wants to set up a lab on Argos to work on the problem, but O'Neill forbids it and sends them back to Earth until they've figured it out. At least someone has learned from their previous experiences!

On Earth, Carter and Frasier eventually figure out that the objects in O'Neill's blood are nanotechnology - what they call "nanocytes", that replicate themselves. Somehow they are causing O'Neill (and the other Argosians) to age rapidly. They have a scare where the nanocytes eat away at Carter's gloves, proving how dangerous they can be. Frankly, I don't know how they are certain right away that none of them got on Carter (her quick handwashing doesn't seem like it would be effective).

General Hammond forbids them to return to Argos, since he is afraid the nanocyte "plague" will be brought to Earth. He knows that this will probably cause O'Neill to die soon, since it's unlikely a cure will be found on Earth, with little access to the native surroundings.

On Argos, O'Neill mostly sits in the temple and waits by the Stargate. In a fit of anger at his situation, he tells Kynthia of Pelops's purpose in creating their colony. Some time later, the Argosians come to the temple and after O'Neill repeats this information, they decide to pull down the statue of Pelops in the temple. Frankly, they seem way to trusting that O'Neill is telling the truth, but I suppose if each of them only lives 100 days, they don't have time to experience or develop much deviousness.

O'Neill also tells Kynthia and Alekos that humans should live for years, or "thousands of days". Alekos imagines being able to explore beyond Pelops's limit of the village and teaching others about what he sees. O'Neill seems happy to have sowed some seeds of discontent with a Goa'uld society.

O'Neill and Kynthia go for a long walk away from the village (very slowly, because he's quite old now). They are away past sunset. Suddenly O'Neill realizes that they haven't passed out at sunset. They return to the village, and the others are sleeping as usual. However, they don't awake at sunrise.

O'Neill realizes that there's something in the village that is controlling the Argosians; Pelops's rule not to go beyond a certain distance was to ensure that they would alway remain under control. He explores the temple and finds a device inside the now-broken statue. He contact Stargate Command.

The rest of SG-1 returns to Argos in full body gear to prevent contamination. Carter examines the device and determines that it sends out a radio frequency to signal the nanocytes to "turn off" and "on" the Argosians each day and night. She sends out the signal to wake them up. Apparently the wake-up signal turns off the nanocytes. They are turned on when the Argosians sleep, which is when they cause the rapid "aging". If they are no longer turned on, then the Argosians will no longer age rapidly. O'Neill's immune system is strong enough to kill off the nanocytes if they are inactive.

O'Neill has been saved in the nick of time, as he is now very old. However, Carter says that he should be fully recovered in a couple weeks. He gives Kynthia a fond good-bye, promising that Stargate Command will check in on them occasionally.

This episode was interesting, but not very compelling to me, even though it did pose a mortal danger to O'Neill. Something about it seemed too predictable, although it's hard to say if that's just because I've seen this episode before.

The background of this episode gives us more information about the Goa'uld: some of them are experts at genetic manipulation; they also have extensive talents with nanotechnology; they have no qualms about reducing humans' lifetimes to 100 days; they have a tendency to just leave their "experiments" running. Stargate Command gets their hands on more Goa'uld technology, such as the record-keeping device and the broken transmitter. I'm not sure if they got any nanocytes for study - that may be too dangerous.

The episode does illustrate an answer to the question: if you know you have a short time to live, what should you do? The Argosians knew they only had 100 days of life (although they didn't know that was unusual), and so they treated every day as if it was special and wonderful. The interesting thing to me is how happy and kind each Argosian was - they tended to be helpful and compassionate, and not selfish and mean. I see one main reason for this: none of them are much more mature than children, so they haven't really experienced much pain or suffering - their environment is very pleasant - so they don't have a reason to be bitter and unpleasant themselves. It was striking to me how Kynthia continued to be kind to O'Neill and seemed to genuinely want to be with him, even when he was getting quite "old" and cranky.

It would be interesting to return to Argos in a few years to see how their society has changed now that people no longer die after 100 days. I would predict several significant changes. First, their population should increase pretty rapidly as the adults continue to have kids; previously they've had no reason to consider whether or not to procreate, since people died so quickly. In 100 days of life, with perhaps days 20 - 50 being fertile (roughly 20 - 50 years in regular life), a single woman wouldn't probably have that many children. Now they've got years to add them up, so to speak. Since children will take longer to mature now, that may counteract this, but I still think there would be a population boom.

Second, the increased population will make the Argosians need to find new resources for food, ways to build new housing, and so on. This will probably cause some conflict in the community, so they will need to find a way to handle that. In addition, now that people can have relationships, good or bad, for years instead of just days, it's more likely that there will be emotional conflicts as well.

Last, it seems that the population will need something to do. Perhaps the issue of resources will keep them busy, but it seems that they'll need to develop some art, culture, science, industry in order to occupy themselves. Perhaps some people can party every day for 100 years, but that might be difficult for most. Maybe Alekos really will go exploring. I wonder what he might find? Is the rest of the planet as pleasant, or did Pelops create an especially nice place?

In the end, it seems like Stargate Command would find the Argosians worth studying as their culture transforms. And I believe they have an obligation to the Argosians, since they were the ones who completely upset their society.

Return to my Stargate SG-1 reviews page.

avondale@astr ;o.umd.edu