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SG-1 has arrived at a very barren world. It appears to be covered with garish yellow sand dunes. The only break in the monotony is a scattering of broken, blue crystals. Carter and Daniel begin studying the crystals while Teal'c and O'Neill scout around the area.
O'Neill gets out of sight of the others and finds what appears to be intact, rather large, crystal. He's drawn to try to touch it (he should know better!), and the touch flings him backward, either knocking him out or killing him. Immediately afterward, a duplicate of him stands over him. We get the impression from the views outward from the crystal and then after the incident that an alien in the crystal has duplicated O'Neill.
The duplicate O'Neill returns to Stargate Command with SG-1 and some samples of the broken crystals. No one seems to realize that O'Neill is not himself, although they do notice that he is acting rather quiet and terse.
After rifling through O'Neill's locker and seeing pictures of his dead son, Charlie, duplicate O'Neill leaves the base. He goes to O'Neill's ex-wife Sara's house and asks her where Charlie is, apparently not realizing that the kid is dead. Sara and Jack had divorced out of grief and anger after Charlie's death, so Sara does not take this question well. She does eventually show him to Charlie's old room, which she has kept "as is" as a shrine to him.
The duplicate O'Neill seems to realize from Charlie's room that the child died and spends some time there, apparently grieving. Afterward, he and Sara talk a bit, with the duplicate's conversation giving Sara the impression of wanting to mend their fences a bit. They go to a local park and talk some more about Charlie's death and their reactions to it.
At the SGC, Carter and Daniel have been studying the broken crystals. Carter thinks that the crystals may have been shattered by a Jaffa staff weapon, so she arranges a not-totally-approved test of this by having Teal'c shoot one in the gate room.
Shortly thereafter, Daniel is peering closely into one of the crystals when it seems to activate: it changes shape a bit to mimic Daniel's face. It scares the heck out of him, but fortunately the action is repeatable, as Carter sticks her face close and the crystal mimics her, too.
They are interrupted by someone returning through the gate. No one is scheduled, but the returning person has a remote control for the gate iris. Of course, it is the real O'Neill, and boy, is he ticked at being left behind on the planet! Everyone at the SGC thinks he's some kind of imposter, since the duplicate returned with SG-1. However, after much medical examining and even more attitude from O'Neill, they concede that this one is the real one. Which begs the question: who or what was the duplicate that returned with SG-1?
Carter and Daniel bring up the newly-discovered mimicking capabilities of the crystal, so they adjourn to studying it again. They make contact with a being inside the crystal. It confirms that the Goa'uld had destroyed them, because they accidentally injured a Goa'uld. They were afraid to make contact with SG-1 for the same reason. The crystal that they have doesn't have enough energy to communicate further.
Carter and the others make the intuitive leap that the first O'Neill that returned really was a duplicate created by one of the crystals. And brand-new tests reveal a problem: the energy in the crystals is decaying and producing radiation that could be harmful to people close by. That means that they need to find the duplicate O'Neill before anyone is injured.
Meanwhile, in the park, the duplicate O'Neill and Sara are still discussing the past. The duplicate begins having seizures that appear to involve electricity, from the special effects. Sara takes the duplicate to a local hospital.
Carter remembers that the duplicate was looking through O'Neill's pictures, and O'Neill immediately tries to contact Sara, with no luck. As they head out, General Hammond tells them someone under O'Neill's name has been admitted to the hospital, so they go there. Teal'c is disguised with a hat.
At the hospital, the duplicate's seizures are starting to be dangerous to those around them because of how his energy affects the medical instruments, lights, electrical systems, and so on. We see Sara flee and witness an evacuation of the hospital starting.
SG-1 runs into Sara, who is amazed to see another O'Neill; she is directed to safety. SG-1 approaches the duplicate in full radiation gear.
After another seizure, Carter says the radiation level is low enough to be safe for awhile. O'Neill asks his duplicate what's going on. The duplicate reveals that he hurt O'Neill accidentally on the other planet; when it tried to heal O'Neill, it realized that O'Neill's biggest injury was emotional - relating to Charlie - so it came back to Earth to try to bring Charlie back. It didn't realize that physical death is permanent for humans.
Now it is clear that the being is dying. It turns into a duplicate of Charlie. SG-1 escorts duplicate Charlie out of the hospital, stopping briefly by Sara. At the SGC, we watch O'Neill take the duplicate Charlie back through the Stargate to its original planet.
The most interesting thing about this episode is the backstory it gives for O'Neill. In the feature film, we knew that O'Neill's son was killed accidentally by O'Neill's own gun at home, and we know O'Neill blamed himself for his death. Daniel knows this story, but Carter obviously didn't, and it's not clear how much O'Neill had told Teal'c. It's nice to "meet" Sara and get her point of view of Charlie's death - she clearly has hard time moving on, since she still has a lot of his stuff, even though it's been several years.
However, the episode cheats us a bit, because almost all of the interaction between Sara and O'Neill is really with his duplicate. It seems like O'Neill is trying to mend his relationship with Sara and obliquely apologizing for how he reacted after Charlie's death, but it's really O'Neill's duplicate trying to "fix" things. If the real O'Neill and Sara were to discuss Charlie's death now, would the conversation be similar at all?
We don't know how much Sara is told after the events of the episode about what really happened. She's had the Stargate mentioned to her, she's seen good evidence of two O'Neills at the same time, and seen what O'Neill firmly tells her is "not Charlie". How can this all be explained to her? Does she have any idea that her reconciliating conversation with O'Neill didn't really happen with him? What will happen with their relationship in the future?
The plot device of the alien crystal creating a duplicate human has a lot of issues, although in honesty, I can overlook most of them, since it is science fiction. First, there is a problem with mass conservation. When the duplicate of O'Neill is created, where does the matter come from? The crystal doesn't seem to transform into the duplicate (and it's not clear they are the same mass, anyway), and we don't see the matter coming from anywhere else.
Second, how did the duplicate manage to "copy" some of O'Neill's memories, but not all of them? It copied enough to know what SG-1 was doing, to be able to return through the Stargate with them and function acceptably. It copied the memories of where Sara's house is and that Charlie died. But it didn't copy O'Neill's knowledge/memory of what death means? Or O'Neill's knowledge that SG-1 and the SGC are there for exploration, not for conquest? There were some odd gaps in what the duplicate had copied from O'Neill.
The SGC has a serious security issue somewhere here. The real O'Neill returned to the SGC later in the episode by dialing home and using his remote to keep the iris from closing. First, it seems like a bad idea to have a "remote control" for the iris - couldn't a bad guy just steal it and use it? I think that this is remedied later in the series by teams transmitting a recognition code and then the SGC opening the iris.
Second, if the real O'Neill had his remote for the iris, does that mean duplicate O'Neill did not have a remote? If so, then this is a serious security lapse - critical equipment like this should be inventoried every time an SG team returns. What if someone accidentally dropped one on another planet and an enemy picked it up? If the duplicate O'Neill did have his own remote, it's also worrying, because it means this alien being was able to instantly replicate it, meaning that it could open the iris. The SGC needs to re-think this security, which, as I said above, I believe they do.
I complained above that the character development of O'Neill in this episode was a bit of a cheat, since most of the "development" was via his duplicate. However, one character that did get some good development was Teal'c. It was satisfying to see him following up on O'Neill's offer to show him Earth - hopefully he won't give up on that.
One good thing about science fiction is its ability to give us a look at ourselves from an outsider's perspective. When Teal'c turns on his TV and gets news coverage of wars, local violence, and music videos, it makes me want to shake my head at our culture. Hopefully he has had the chance to see other sides of Earth culture on TV, although they may be harder for him to understand (game shows? soap operas?). Apparently he has seen some things worth remembering, since when General Hammond gives him a Chicago baseball cap to use as a disguise, he quickly lists sports teams from Chicago and other facts on the city. It would be interesting to see Teal'c interact with human society without the filter of the rest of SG-1.