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This episode is a good follow-on to Children of the Gods, in which we saw that Kawalski had been taken over by a Goa'uld. It also gives a chance for Teal'c's status to be determined.
As the episode begins, O'Neill and Kawalski, as the commanders of SG-1 and SG-2, are discussing their next reconnaissance missions to two worlds whose gate coordinates have been calculated. An incoming wormhole is signaled, and we find out that a Goa'uld, presumably Apophis, has been calling them up repeatedly. Because of the iris protecting the Stargate, nothing Apophis sends has been getting through. We hear a bunch of thumps as things run into the back of the iris, before they even finish materializing. We don't know if Apophis is sending troops or bombs or what.
This routine is wearing down the Stargate personnel a bit, since every time Apophis calls, a strike team must guard the gate, and General Hammond orders the base self-destruct countdown started until the threat is negated. The concern is that if Apophis does get through, he could conquer Earth, so the self-destruct should vaporize him (and the entire mountain) before he has the chance to do that.
Kawalski has been having headaches. We as the viewers are immediately suspicious because we know he's got a Goa'uld. However, no one else thinks much about it. He goes to see a base doctor about it. The doctor notices the healing wound on the back of Kawalski's neck from the Goa'uld's entry. The Goa'uld suddenly takes control of Kawalski and kills the doctor. Clearly there is going to be a problem. He ends up in the gate room with no memory of what he's done or why he's there. He's ordered back to the infirmary.
Meanwhile, Hammond has to inform O'Neill that Teal'c cannot be part of SG-1. People higher up in command are concerned that if Teal'c changed sides once, he'll do it again. Plus, they want to take Teal'c away for questioning and study. To that end, Colonel Kennedy arrives to begin debriefing Teal'c for information.
O'Neill visits Teal'c, and we see that Teal'c is in fact being held under guard, if not in a room with bars. Teal'c pledges allegiance to Earth, which is unnecessary for O'Neill, but nice to hear. As far as O'Neill is concerned, he's seen Teal'c's integrity in choosing not to massacre the prisoners on Chulak and his bravery in defying a being that he believes is a god, and that's enough for O'Neill.
Colonel Kennedy begins his questioning of Teal'c. Not surprisingly, O'Neill inserts himself into events so he can be a bit of an interpreter between Teal'c and Kennedy. Teal'c says he'll freely give all information he has. Unfortunately, it seems that the Goa'uld generally don't share much information or technological knowledge with their underlings. In fact, Teal'c calls their technology "magic" and says it's forbidden to others. This makes sense from the Goa'uld perspective. There are few of them, and so their major advantage in keeping all their slaves and warriors under control is that they have such impressive technology and weapons. If they share knowledge of that, then they could possibly lose control. However, because Teal'c doesn't have this information, he doesn't necessarily seem very cooperative to Kennedy.
What Teal'c does have a good understanding of is the Goa'uld personality and attitude. He knows that they think they are superior beings and they will not compromise - they are out to conquer or destroy. They will not negotiate for any kind of truce. This reinforces Kennedy's desire to find out everything possible about the Goa'uld in order to protect the Earth, no matter what it takes.
During Kennedy's interview of Teal'c, Teal'c says that the first human hosts and slaves of the Goa'uld came from one specific planet. The Goa'uld took away some of these humans and seeded them on various other planets throughout the galaxy; they altered some of them to become Jaffa. The humans of the origin world are called the Tau'ri by the Goa'uld. When Kennedy and O'Neill reveal that humans evolved on Earth, Teal'c is impressed and says that they are the greatest hope of humans throughout the galaxy, and also Teal'c's greatest hope. That begs the question, his greatest hope for what? We're still not sure what Teal'c wants to accomplish by joining the Tau'ri.
Meanwhile, Kawalski has an MRI done on him. The doctor sees an image (in what I imagine is much better resolution than an MRI can really do) of the Goa'uld wrapped around his brain stem. The Goa'uld takes over Kawalski, beats up the doctor, and escapes. He goes to the control room for the Stargate and takes Cater as a hostage. When he can't use the Stargate, he takes Carter into the elevator up to leave the base. Sometime while he's in the elevator, the Goa'uld loses control and Kawalski comes back to himself. He's put under guard.
The doctor explains the MRI, and everyone realizes Kawalski has been taken over by a Goa'uld. The doctor tentatively suggests a very risky operation to remove the Goa'uld, which General Hammond approves. While the preparations occur, Kennedy floats the idea of letting the Goa'uld remain in Kawalski so that it can be questioned and studied. Everyone else finds this idea abhorrent, especially O'Neill. Hammond nixes it.
Apparently the Goa'uld cannot control Kawalski continuously because it is not yet mature. It had only infected Kawalski because its original Jaffa "incubator" was killed. Hammond wants to talk to the Goa'uld the next time it takes control. When that happens, we find the Goa'uld is as arrogant as Ra and Apophis, demanding to be allowed to leave for Chulak and making all kinds of threats. Even though it has absolutely no advantages in the situation it's in, it refuses any sort of compromise. Hammond realizes there can be no negotiation and orders the operation to start as soon as possible. As the operation commences, Kawalski asks Hammond to promise to kill him if the Goa'uld cannot be removed, and Hammond agrees.
It's a little weird, but everyone watches the operation from an observing area above. The process of removing the Goa'uld seems to proceed smoothly, and eventually the doctor declares it a success. He is very surprised that not only has Kawalski survived, but he seems to have suffered no damage to his brain or spine.
As Kawalski recovers from the surgery, Kennedy goes forward with his new orders to transport Teal'c off the base for extended debriefing and study. Kawalski asks to talk to Teal'c alone to thank him for saving his life (study of Teal'c larval Goa'uld led to a successful anesthetic for the surgery). When they are alone, the Goa'uld takes over Kawalski and grabs Teal'c by the neck, demanding that Teal'c serve him or die. Apparently the Goa'uld somehow survived the surgery and had the intelligence to "play dead" so to speak. Teal'c refuses to serve a Goa'uld again.
Kawalski leaves Teal'c on the floor of the infirmary and goes on a rampage to the gate room. He throws everyone aside with superhuman strength and activates the Stargate. As he prepares to go through the gate, Teal'c arrives and tries to physically prevent Kawalski from leaving. Teal'c is incredibly strong, but apparently the Goa'uld gives Kawalski similar strength. Teal'c and Kawalski wrestle on the very edge of the wormhole. O'Neill has the wormhole deactivated as Teal'c holds part of Kawalski's head within it. Kawalski is killed when the wormhole deactivates.
Teal'c heroism and proof of loyalty is rewarded with an assignment to SG-1.
There's a lot to like about this episode. I appreciate that the Goa'uld takeover of Kawalski was not prolonged for several episodes, since I don't really think that would be believable. I also liked that this episode was essentially a continuation from the pilot episode, in that it helped tie up some of those loose ends.
One of the character aspects emphasized in this episode was O'Neill's loyalty to his friends. First, we saw how he staunchly defended Teal'c's rights and ran interference for him when Kennedy was questioning him. He repeatedly made a point of how Teal'c saved their lives on Chulak. Although I feel like his loyalty to Teal'c developed very quickly, O'Neill clearly feels very strongly about it.
O'Neill's loyalty and friendship with Kawalski has developed over a much longer period of time as they have served together, but it is just as strong. It's a pleasure to watch their banter in the beginning of the episode as they decide which planets their teams will visit, and some of the faces they make to each other are a riot.
Later, when it's discovered the Kawalski has been infected by a Goa'uld, O'Neill barely leaves his side and is his biggest advocate. When Kennedy proposes to leave the Goa'uld in Kawalski, O'Neill won't even listen to the ethical argument Kennedy makes about killing another intelligent being (the Goa'uld) to save Kawalski. (His point about trying to get information from the Goa'uld is very valid; I'm somewhat surprised that Hammond didn't consider this a bit longer, but perhaps Hammond is still trying to cultivate the loyalty of his subordinates. After all, sacrificing Kawalski would not have looked good to them.)
There are two great scenes underlining O'Neill and Kawalski's friendship. First, just before the operation, Kawalski wants to talk about his wishes if he should die during the operation. O'Neill can't even bear to talk about it, but he sticks through it, even if he deflects the seriousness of the conversation with his typical humor (he wants Kawalski's stereo).
Later, when Kawalski dies at the base of the Stargate, O'Neill's statement is: "My friend died on the table." He knows Kawalski had been aghast and ashamed at what the Goa'uld was making him do, so O'Neill doesn't even want to identify those final acts with his friend. Incidentally, he's also telling Teal'c that he doesn't hold Teal'c responsible for Kawalski's death.
Now that SG-1 consists of O'Neill, Carter, Daniel, and Teal'c, does O'Neill have that loyalty to Carter and Daniel? I think he does to some extent, since they are members of his team. However, I think that they will have to earn the unwavering loyalty that he has for Teal'c through their future actions. It will be interesting to watch this develop.
Carter makes an astute observation about Kawalski that gives Daniels some hope for Sha're: when the Goa'uld took over Kawalski at the end, it used Kawalski's memory of the Stargate security codes to try to escape. So clearly something of the host survives when the Goa'uld takes over. But is it anything more than just memories? Are there any feelings or personality? However, hopefully Daniel won't dwell too much on the fact that the operation to remove the Goa'uld was a failure; if they do take back Sha're, what would they do with her?
I've left what I think is the most interesting bit of information revealed in the series to discuss last: Teal'c states that the Goa'uld have genetic memory. That is, each new Goa'uld that is born instantly has all of the memories of its parents. The characters imply in this conversation that the new Goa'uld are immediately able to act on those memories, unlike say, a human infant, who would not be developed enough physically or mentally to act on memories.
How does having genetic memory affect a being? Does it dictate what your personality be like? I can see this as a possibility. After all, if you have a lot of knowledge and experience that others around you lack, you may tend to be arrogant, for example. This could go a long way toward explaining how and why the Goa'uld impersonate gods - they are born with so much knowledge and ability that they can quickly assume superior positions. They may also tend to feel that the ignorant beings around them are not as capable or worthy. This in-born arrogance may indicate that any kind of truce between Earth and the Goa'uld is impossible.
Does having genetic memory make you a genius? I would say no. Yes, you would have a huge store of knowledge and experience. However, a lot of what causes someone to be a genius is having the creativity to think of new ideas, cleverly synthesize old ideas and information, and make connections between the information that you have. That really can't come from a big store of memories. So many Goa'uld may be like chess players who have memorized all the books of chess moves: they can choose their actions from a huge library of prior experiences that are similar, but they can't innovate in a new situation. This could be an advantage for Earth.
Does having genetic memory affect your ability to empathize? I think this is one of the most interesting aspects of it that I have contemplated. On one hand, I would think that a being with a huge store of memories should be very empathetic, because it would have personally experienced many of the situations that others are going through and be able to relate to them. On the other hand, such a being might end up not being empathetic at all. After all, it probably would have experienced worse suffering at some point than another being is currently experiencing, and therefore not care. A being genetic memory would have the memories of so many lives that it would realize that no matter what actions it takes that help someone, those other beings are just going to die eventually anyway. In that case, why care for them or help them? This lack of empathy may be another contributing factor to the arrogance and callousness of the Goa'uld.
The genetic memory of the Goa'uld is something the writers will be returning to and exploring throughout the series, which is one of the things that makes the series such a pleasure.