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SG-1 arrives on a planet in the middle of a volcanic cataclysm, with ash raining down and lava approaching. They weren't expecting this bad situation and immediately prepare to leave, when they realize that there are some other humans around. Many of them are dead, but a few are alive. SG-1 manages to evacuate ten people to the Earth.
The refugees are all in bad shape because of the ash and poisonous air on the planet, but eventually they are able to communicate. The leader of their group is a man named Omac. Omac is surprisingly ungrateful for their rescue, claiming that there was a rescue ship on the way (despite the fact that many of his group were already dead). He is very unwilling to share any information, dismissing the humans from Earth as being too primitive. He recognizes Teal'c as a Jaffa, but only says that his people don't interact with the Goa'uld. He demands that they be returned to their planet, which he has at least revealed is called Tollan.
However, all of the Tollans are not as uncooperative as Omac. One of them, Narim, asks to talk to Carter. General Hammond is so hopeful that she might be able to get some more information from him that he allows Carter to take Narim to Earth's surface. Narim reveals that his first glimpse of Carter, while on Tollan, reminded him of ancient legends similar to angels - a not-so-subtle hint of why Narim is interested in her. Narim does seem quite talkative and curious, and he is amazed to see living animals on the Earth - he says there have been none on Tollan for generations.
Further remote study of Tollan through the Stargate shows that lava will soon overrun the Stargate, and the atmosphere is getting more poisonous. There is no way the Tollans would be able to survive. Omoc says that the new world the Tollans have settled is not within the Stargate system, so they would need a ship to get there. Obviously this is beyond the Earth's currently capabilities, so Hammond orders SG-1 to begin asking other worlds if they might be willing to take in the Tollans. This is a very nice touch, because as O'Neill points out, they have helped out a number of other worlds, so those worlds now owe the Earth a favor.
Carter and Daniel prepare some temporary accommodations for the Tollans. Carter brings Narim a cat, following up on his fascination for living animals. The cat is named Schrodinger, and Carter explains the quantum physics hypothetical experiment after which the cat is named. Narim gets the joke, but brushes the quantum concept off as a typical scientific misconception, which blows Carter away. Their discussion is stopped short by Omac, who doesn't approve of Narim chatting so much with Carter.
During the night, Hammond summons SG-1 because the Tollans have escaped somehow from their quarters. SG-1 commands a number of soldiers and dogs to track the Tollans down on the surface. Omac says they were simply observing the stars and complains that they are being treated like prisoners, but they all return to their quarters in the SGC.
O'Neill has arranged for Tuplo from the Land of Light (from "The Broca Divide") to meet with Omac. Tuplo graciously offers for the Tollans to live on his planet, since the Earth has asked it as a favor. Omac very ungraciously says that the people from the Land of Light are even more primitive than those from the Earth and says the Tollans cannot go to that planet. We don't get to see it, but Hammond must do some serious diplomatic work to make up for this snub with Tuplo.
Later, Narim finally explains why Omac is so stubborn and so paranoid about sharing technology with more primitive cultures. Some time ago when the Tollans first began exploring their planetary system, they discovered that their neighboring planet, Surita, was also inhabited. The Tollans shared with the Suritans a device to produce unlimited energy, which the Suritans promptly used to make world-wide war. Not only did the Suritans destroy their own planet, the war changed the orbit of Tollan, setting in motion the events that caused Tollan to become uninhabitable. Narim says that Omac is afraid that if they give technology to the Earth or other worlds that aren't as advanced that the same sort of thing would happen.
Sometime later, Davis shows Hammond and SG-1 how the SGC's surveillance footage has been "augmented" to show how the Tollans escaped the previous evening. We watch the surveillance footage as the Tollans use one of their devices and then just walk right through the walls o the base. As Teal'c remarks aloud that their technology is even more advanced the the Goa'uld's, a person from the National Intelligence Division (NID) walks in and says that's just what they want.
The NID representative is Colonel Harry Maybourne. He has arrived on behalf of the President and the Joint Chiefs of Staff to take custody of the Tollans. The NID wants to interrogate and study them in order to get advanced technology from them. SG-1 immediately and loudly protests the virtual imprisonment of the Tollans, but Maybourne assures them that the Tollans will be treated extremely well. Hammond puts Maybourne off for the time being, claiming that the Tollans have not yet been through quarantine, but he knows the delay won't last long, and in fact, it buys them about a day.
Carter tries to explain to Narim about how another, very paranoid, part of the government is going to take the Tollans away. She wants to get Narim to convince Omac to agree to relocate to one of the other planets they've contacted. However, Omac is set against going to a more "primitive" planet.
SG-1 brainstorm again. They put the onus of their attempt to get the Tollans away from Earth on Daniel and Teal'c, since they are not in the military and thus are technically not in the chain of command. Daniel tells Omac that he knows a planet where the Tollans can go, where the society may even be more advanced than the Tollans', but the Earth can't contact them any more. He means the Nox (from "The Nox"). Omac has some type of communication device that he uses to achieve faster-than-light communication with the Nox - we don't know the Nox's answer right away.
Narim uses his travel-through-walls device to visit Carter, telling her they will be leaving soon. He expresses his reluctance to leave Carter and gives her a device that has recorded his feelings for her. She can use the device to feel what he feels when he thinks of her. This is a bit overwhelming for Carter, but clearly she reciprocates his feelings. They kiss.
The next morning, Maybourne is waiting for the Tollans to be escorted out of the base. A soldier informs Hammond and Maybourne Tollans have escaped from their quarters again. Maybourne is livid, but things just get worse for him. The Stargate is activated by someone off-world, and the SGC cannot stop it, nor can they close the protective iris. The Tollan and Daniel and Teal'c are in the gateroom.
The Stargate activates, and Lya of the Nox steps through. Lya takes in the soldiers with weapons drawn and chides the Earthlings for having learned nothing. She tempers her judgment with a smile for Daniel, saying that he's at least learned something. She welcomes the Tollans to join the Nox.
Maybourne becomes increasingly agitated and threatens to shoot the Tollans and Lya. Lya realizes a show of power is needed. She activates the Stargate instantly, causes the Tollans to disappear as they approach the Stargate, and makes the soldier's weapons disappear. Maybourne has been nearly literally had his fangs pulled and storms out. SG-1 congratulates themselves for successfully spiriting the Tollans away.
This episode was important for the world-building within the Stargate SG-1 universe. We had already known about the powerful races of the Nox and the Asgard. Now we are introduced to the Tollan, who we will eventually learn are not one of the races that met in the "United Nations" recorded in the technology in "The Torment of Tantalus". The Tollan have amazing technology, which we see demonstrated in the episode, plus we know they managed to relocate their entire civilization.
There were some similarities between this episode and "The Nox" in that SG-1 spent the episode spinning their wheels trying to accomplish something, but not really succeeding and being looked down upon (more or less subtly) by the more advanced society. Here, however, Omac at least made no bones about making it clear that Earth society was much less advanced than Tollan. Of course, the story of how the Tollan's sister planet destroyed themselves provided an excellent reason for Omac to refuse to share technology. It seems that Omac is developing a "Prime Directive" a la Star Trek for interacting with other cultures - is this backed up by Tollan society/government, or is he doing this completely on his own authority? While Narim didn't completely agree with Omac's orders, he didn't really divulge any information, either.
Of course, the arrival of Maybourne, salivating over the Tollans' superior technology, did nothing to convince Omac that his views might be wrong. We can understand why the US military wants to gain some advanced technology, given the Goa'uld threat, but Maybourne takes his zeal for his goal to extremes. Hopefully the President didn't really realize how Maybourne intended to achieve his goal - by possibly torturing the aliens, who are, nonetheless, humans. This episode portrayed Maybourne as a bit of a one-note character, but he will return throughout the series and prove himself to be a clever manipulator. I had forgotten that he joined the series in the first season.
By the end of the episode, it was a pleasure to watch Maybourne's impotence as the Tollans left the Earth against his wishes. SG-1 did cleverly set things up so that events were effectively out of their control, creating plausible deniability in their involvement. But it also showed just how powerful some of the other races are. Once the Nox knew about the Tollan and decided to pick them up, there really wasn't anything the SGC could do to stop them. The Nox can control the Stargate, make people invisible (which we know from "The Nox" is sort of a cloaking device), and make objects actually transport away. This means that the Nox could only have been stopped by the power of persuasion, and clearly Maybourne did not have the wining attitude and argument on his side.
What is even more interesting about this is how the SGC and SG-1 in particular are making powerful allies. In this case, the Nox were helping SG-1 (without Hammond's knowledge, apparently) spirit the Tollans away from paranoid elements of the US government. Would the Nox (and now maybe the Tollan) help SG-1 themselves if they had some kind of problem? We also saw that Lya approved of Daniel's "learning" since they had last met - it can't hurt for advanced races to see SG-1 as maturing. This could open a lot of possibilities for SG-1, the SGC, and the Earth in the future.
Like the last episode ("Singularity"), Carter got a lot of attention, albeit in a less painful way in this episode. It was interesting to see how much she fascinated Narim, but I have to wonder if his feelings for her would really last very long, despite the feel-good device he gave her. While they both do have the drive to understand things, their backgrounds are so different that it's hard to see how they could have much in common. This was demonstrated by how casually Narim mentioned that quantum physics was wrong - and Carter was floored. If he was able to share "correct" physics with her, would she be able to understand it and be as brilliant as she is with Earth's contemporary physics? Would he care for her as much if he was not necessarily her intellectual superior?
Speaking of quantum physics, will Carter let anyone know that contemporary model of physics is wrong at a fundamental level? After all, if the right physicists knew that without a doubt, they might be inspired to develop new ideas and figure out new physics more quickly than might happen otherwise. Despite Omac's best efforts, the Tollans may have affected Earth science at least a little bit.
This episode was fun to watch, and my rating of it may have been a bit affected by my knowledge of how it will affect the show in the future. I look forward to seeing some of these characters again.