Episode Review of Stargate SG-1 Season 1: "Politics"

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Episode Information

Title: "Politics"
Written by: Brad Wright
Director: Martin Wood
Rating (out of 4 stars): **
Reviewed on: September 1, 2014

Synopsis from GateWorld


A US senator shuts down the Stargate program by refusing to fund it.

This episode begins just where "There but for the Grace of God" leaves off, with Daniel getting patched up in the infirmary. He's breathless from telling the other members of SG-1 about the alternate universe he visited and how he knows the Goa'uld are about to attack the Earth, and, oh yeah, he's got the Stargate address for where the attack is coming from! Unfortunately, the other members of SG-1 aren't buying it. Maybe they are too distracted by Daniel mentioning that O'Neill and Carter were engaged in the other universe. O'Neill: "That's impossible!" Carter: "No, the laws of physics allow it [the alternate universe]." O'Neill: "But it's against regulations!" Clearly they were not on the same wavelength at that moment!

But before SG-1 can decide if Daniel's Stargate address even merits investigation, General Hammond arrives with now-Lieutenant Colonel Samuels to let SG-1 know that they are meeting with Senator Kinsey, from the appropriations committee. (I think then-Major Samuels was last seen in "The Nox", escorting the Secretary of Defense at the SGC.) Senator Kinsey refused to allow funding for the classified project under which the Stargate program was listed in the budget. The President thought that if he let Kinsey in on the secret of the program, he'd allow the funding, but that did not happen. Kinsey is dead set on shutting the program down.

The Senator, however, acquiesced to the President's request to visit the SGC and meet with SG-1. The President is clearly hoping that SG-1's charisma and experience will awe Kinsey, but Kinsey is impervious. Kinsey claims that he's against huge secret projects, and he doesn't believe the Goa'uld are as much of a threat or as powerful as the SGC says they are. He has read SG-1's mission reports and insists on going through them.

Kinsey points out the events of "Children of the Gods" and "Singularity" to show how SG-1 was able to escape from Jaffa warriors and Death Gliders, using these events as evidence that the Goa'uld are not as powerful as SG-1 says they are. SG-1 points out how the Goa'uld have destroyed entire civilizations, referring to events in "Cold Lazarus" and "Singularity". They even point out how Apophis killed them (temporarily) in "The Nox" and how powerful Apophis's shielding technology was then.

Kinsey is not impressed and goes on to point out the dangers that SG-1 has inadvertently brought back through the Stargate: Kawalski with a Goa'uld in "The Enemy Within", a disease that spread throughout the SGC in "The Broca Divide", and nanotechnology infecting O'Neill in "Brief Candle". In the end, SG-1 cannot convince Kinsey to change his decision to halt the SGC's funding. The discussion between the parties becomes more and more antagonistic. Teal'c even speaks up to give some intimidating declarations about the power of the Goa'uld, to no avail. Kinsey continues to believe that if the Goa'uld do attack, the US will be able to fight him off. He almost seems eager for such a confrontation, which is bizarre - even if the US were to win, certainly many lives would be lost.

In desperation, as Kinsey prepares to leave, Daniel volunteers his information about the attack by the Goa'uld that he believes is imminent. Of course, he loses credibility with Kinsey as soon as he mentions the source of his information - an alternate reality. (I did appreciate how O'Neill knew this would happen and had earlier advised Daniel not to bring it up.) Kinsey storms out in disbelief.

The looks on SG-1's faces as they realize the Stargate program is going to be shut down says it all - they are devastated. Teal'c requests to be sent off-world via the Stargate so that he can continue his fight against the Goa'uld, and O'Neill offers to go with him. However, General Hammond reveals that the President ordered him to cease Stargate operations immediately if Kinsey was not persuaded by them. They will wait to receive a couple returning SG teams, and then the program will be discontinued; from Kinsey's comments, the Stargate may be buried. The episode ends with the characters gazing forlornly at the Stargate and "to be continued"...

Well, this episode is certainly not very exciting. It's the series's first flashback episode, and I'm not sure they have that much stuff worth flashing back to yet - it all happened too recently. The "present day" scenes are all within standing sets at the SGC, which presumably let the producers save a lot of money in this episode in order to have a good season finale in the next episode.

I do appreciate, however, that the plot of the episode and motivation for the flashbacks is quite reasonable: a political review of the Stargate program. It's a bit unbelievable that the Stargate program could have lasted even this long in secrecy (let alone the 10 seasons the show will continue for), and it's very logical for high-level politicians to want to see where all the money is going. It also gives us an alternate point of view of past events, although I think Kinsey's point of view is a bit too extremely opposite that of the SGC. SG-1 and the SGC have in fact made some questionable decisions, and they get called on the carpet for it here; they have been lucky to have been so lucky, if that makes sense.

I wanted to look more closely at the budget numbers given in this episode. The Stargate program is said to cost $7.4 billion, which is certainly no small amount. It could be very helpful in relieving poverty, helping with medical research, or aiding education, for example. But in the context of the US budget, how significant is it? In 1998, when the episode originally aired, US federal government expenditures for that fiscal year were $2.09 trillion; the Stargate program was 0.35% of that budget. In that year, the Department of Defense budget was about $268 billion (13% of the federal budget); the Stargate program was 2.8% of that budget. So the Stargate program was a distinct, but relatively small, portion of the Defense budget and really pretty insignificant in the overall federal budget. (For comparison, NASA's budget in 1998 was about $14 billion.) It's not impossible to think that a Senator like Kinsey might get a bee in his bonnet about a mystery allocation like this, but I would've thought the President might have been able to do something better about it, since it is a relatively small cost.

To compare the 1998 costs with more recent numbers: the 2013 federal expenditures were $3.45 trillion, and the Defense Department received $625 billion (18% of the federal budget). As I write this in 2014, one spending controversy in the Defense budget is spending on the new F-35 fighter, which is now estimated to have a development cost of over $56 billion! And while the Defense budget has increased significantly as a percentage of the US budget, NASA's has not, since it is about $18.5 billion (it's gone from about 0.6% in 1998 to about 0.5% in 2013). When I look through the numbers like this, I'm not sure Kinsey would be quite so upset about the Stargate program's funding level; however, it might look good for him politically to be able to say that he's promoting government transparency and cutting down wasteful spending.

At any rate, this episode starts the hate-hate relationship between the SGC and Kinsey. While he won't be able to keep up his ignorance of the Goa'uld threat, he'll never become friends with SG-1. As viewers, we are simply waiting for the other shoe to drop and have Daniel's Goa'uld attack prediction come to pass.

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