Episode Review of Stargate SG-1 Season 1: "Cor-Ai"

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Episode Information

Title: "Cor-Ai"
Written by: Tom J. Astle
Director: Mario Azzopardi
Rating (out of 4 stars): ** 1/2
Reviewed on: July 23, 2014

Synopsis from GateWorld


Teal'c is put on trial for one of his past acts as First Prime for Apophis.

SG-1 arrives at a new planet to explore; when the arrive, Teal'c realizes he's been there before, as First Prime. The planet is called Cartago. Teal'c reports that the Goa'uld consider Cartago a favorite place to find human hosts. This explains why the village is deserted.

After SG-1 explores for a bit, the natives return and surround them with primitive weapons. O'Neill explains that SG-1 means to harm, and everyone lowers their weapons, until the natives realize Teal'c is a Jaffa. And not just any Jaffa - one of the men, Hanno, recognizes Teal'c as the Jaffa that killed his father years ago. Teal'c is taken prisoner, but the other members of SG-1 remain free.

The situation develops into a trial for Teal'c - called the Cor-Ai - where he one he has harmed - Hanno - will decide what his punishment is. O'Neill does not want to allow the Cor-Ai, but for the moment has been persuaded to let events proceed. Teal'c himself seems almost eager for the Cor-Ai. He does not want to leave, because he feels like he must pay some price for all of his evil acts as First Prime.

When a native woman arrives to listen to Teal'c's side of the story and represent him at the Cor-Ai, O'Neill chases her away and says they (the rest of SG-1) will represent him.

The Cor-Ai does not seem to go well for Teal'c initially, as Hanno as declared that he is guilty and his punishment will be death. I will admit that it doesn't seem like there's much left to do, but I guess the idea is that everyone in the village needs to hear what happened. O'Neill protests the proceedings on the idea that Teal'c is innocent until proven guilty; I appreciated that Daniel quickly pointed out my own thoughts: in most societies, the reverse is usually presumed to be true. O'Neill needs to broaden his cultural knowledge a bit. Teal'c reveals in the Cor-Ai that he does remember killing Hanno's father.

There is a break in the Cor-Ai, and O'Neill questions Teal'c about why he is essentially giving up. This is where we get a good look into Teal'c's thoughts. Clearly he has been thinking a lot about his past actions as First Prime and the ramifications of turning against Apophis and the Goa'uld. He obviously feels a lot of guilt about what he did, even though in some cases he tried to mitigate Apophis's evil. I think that Teal'c has come to feel the need to atone for his actions, even if it means that he will die. His death would not be without consequences, as O'Neill and the others point out. He would not longer be a source of information for the SGC to fight against the Goa'uld. He would not be able to help the Jaffa free themselves of Goa'uld slavery. He would not be there for his son. Even so, Teal'c has decided that if Hanno and the Cor-Ai decide that he must die, then he will not oppose it.

O'Neill is not so content. He refuses to let Teal'c die. He and Carter return to Earth to get more soldiers. O'Neill is hoping that a show of force will get Teal'c released, but if not, then he is prepared to use that force. Neither Teal'c nor Daniel thinks this is the best plan, but they don't get a say.

While O'Neill and Carter are gone, Daniel finds out a bit more about the native culture. When their Stargate begins to light up, indicating an incoming traveler, they immediately flee into hiding areas, like caves. They don't leave anyone behind, not even the sick or crippled.

Daniel puts this knowledge to use in the next part of the Cor-Ai, along with a strong personal character reference. He puts forward a convincing argument that Teal'c is no longer the evil person he once was, by telling the people how Teal'c was the one who took his wife to Apophis to become a Goa'uld host, but now Daniel trusts Teal'c and they work side-by-side to fight the Goa'uld. Then Daniel goes on to demonstrate how Teal'c killing Hanno's father was calculated to be the least evil act he could get away with under Apophis's eye: Hanno's father was missing a leg, so he would slow down the villagers when they hid from the Goa'uld; in addition, Apophis had said (in another language) that if Teal'c did not kill one person, all of the couple dozen captives they had would have been killed.

Daniel's speech clearly has a strong effect on the villagers, but Hanno is not swayed. He declares that Teal'c will die at noon the next day.

Back on Earth, O'Neill is having no luck getting extra troops. While Hammond is sympathetic, he says that it's not Earth's place to interfere with other cultures. I almost laughed out loud at that, and I was glad O'Neill responded with "Since when?" Ha! The writers nicely got around this issue by saying the change was due to the change in presidential administrations. I suppose that could explain the visit by the Secretary of Defense in "The Nox", too. At any rate, the President himself turns down O'Neill's request. Hammond remarks that Teal'c is a war criminal, which is jarring, but essentially accurate.

O'Neill and Carter return to the planet, only to find that a Goa'uld party has arrived. Separately, Hanno blames O'Neill for bringing the Goa'uld, even though earlier in the episode the natives had remarked that the Goa'uld were overdue for a visit. The villagers have been taken a bit off-guard by the visit, since they are in the middle of the Cor-Ai, and Hanno leaves some children to stay with Teal'c and hide, while the adults plan to distract the Jaffa and lead them away from the hiding place.

While the adult villagers do this (and start to get shot by the Jaffa), O'Neill and Carter jump into start fighting the Jaffa. Some Jaffa burst into the hiding place with Teal'c and the kids, and the kid in charge cleverly gives Teal'c a knife to cut through the rope tying his hands. The Jaffa leader that recognizes Teal'c is Shak'l, from "The Nox". Teal'c stabs and kills him, clearly feeling he has avenged Shak'l's attack on the peaceful Nox people.

Teal'c joins into the main fight between the Jaffa and O'Neill and Carter, managing to intervene at just the right time to save some villagers and take a staff weapon blast to the leg. O'Neill kills the last Jaffa, and the village is safe (for the moment).

O'Neill prepares to get all of SG-1, including Teal'c, off the planet while they can, but Teal'c refuses to go. He turns himself into Hanno for his punishment. Hanno claims that Teal'c has killed the person who killed his father, and so Hanno cannot do so. Now that no one wants to kill Teal'c, O'Neill is happy to make new allies and promises that Earth will help the villagers defend themselves from the Goa'uld in the future.

This episode had a lot of good things going for it. The look into Teal'c's past actions, via flashbacks, was helpful. It underlines the evil nature of the Goa'uld and provides more background into the kind of things that they did to the helpless people around them.

The evolution of Teal'c's conscience is also gratifying to witness. When he changed sides to fight the Goa'uld, he probably had not thought it all through - who could have? But now we have seen him take some responsibility for how his actions have affected his family (in "Bloodlines") and others. While he had not previously said that he felt guilty for his past acts, it definitely fits his strong sense of justice for him to feel that he deserves to be punished.

And does he deserve to be punished? We, of course, only really know Teal'c as a "good guy". In this role, clearly he is a valuable source of information on the enemy, as well as a strong member of SG-1. But Hammond is correct that many might consider him to be a war criminal, and US society, at least, does not consider later actions to mitigate war crimes. The US and world society have prosecuted and punished war criminals years after their crimes. Is it fair for the SGC to be giving safe harbor to Teal'c, just because he is useful? This is a morally ambiguous situation. Since Teal'c has not committed huge crimes against the Earth (only the incursion at the beginning of "Children of the Gods"), the US government apparently considers his usefulness worthy of protecting him from retribution - at least, when it's convenient. In this episode, it wasn't convenient.

It was also very much in character for O'Neill to refuse to let Teal'c die, no matter what. He clearly feels that if Teal'c has a guilty conscience, he can assuage it better by fighting against the Goa'uld, not by dying. However, O'Neill was stymied by his superiors here. What was he planning to do when he returned to the planet?

The big drawback to this episode was the horribly cliched ending. It was pretty obvious that the Goa'uld were going to arrive and that Teal'c was somehow going to save the day. At least it was properly set up, with the mention that the Goa'uld visit frequently and were overdue. The other aspect that sold the cliche a bit better was Hanno's attitude at the end, after Teal'c had saved them. He had a bit of a goofy smile, as if he had experienced a complete revelation. It doesn't seem like Teal'c's good actions should have been such a total surprise to him after all of SG-1's testimony, but I guess that's what the episode was trying to sell.

The other problem I had with the episode was with the set up. The villagers hide whenever the Stargate lights up. Why don't they move away from the Stargate? If their hiding places weren't right around the Stargate, then the Goa'uld might not find them at all. It's not clear exactly how often the Goa'uld visit, but it seems that there may be weeks between visits. Why don't the villagers start moving away from the Stargate immediately after one visit? They could gradually migrate away, finding other hiding places. If they make it difficult for the Goa'uld to find them, then the Goa'uld might start getting hosts on different planets. Of course, it's also possible the Goa'uld might just raze the planet as punishment. At any rate, it seems like there is something the villagers could do to change the situation.

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