Episode Review of Stargate SG-1 Season 1: "The Torment of Tantalus"

Warning: all of my reviews contain spoilers.

If you have any comments on this review, please email me at the address at the bottom.

Episode Information

Title: "The Torment of Tantalus"
Written by: Robert C. Cooper
Director: Jonathan Glassner
Rating (out of 4 stars): *** 1/2
Reviewed on: June 25, 2014

Synopsis from GateWorld


SG-1 rescues a man who went through the Stargate fifty years ago.

As the episode begins, Daniel is watching old video footage of the original study of the Stargate in 1945. A team of military men and scientists are manually dialing the Stargate and applying electrical power to lock each Chevron. O'Neill comes by and dismisses Daniel's request that he join in the viewing of the video - until the video shows the Stargate actually opening and a man going through. The Stargate closes, cutting the line to the man, and the video ends. Daniel and O'Neill realize no one in the present day knows that the Stargate was ever made before, and the man that went through could still be alive on another planet.

It's very appropriate that the man who went through the Stargate was dressed in what looks like an old diving outfit, with the round metal helmet and barred viewing windows. After all, that's the only kind of suit that they had to provide life-support, even if in a primitive way compared to what we might think of now.

Daniel immediately takes the initiative and visits Dr. Catherine Langford, who was the head of the Stargate research program leading into the events of the Stargate feature film. She's upset that Daniel hasn't let her know about the recent exploring via the Stargate, but Daniel says he couldn't, because it's classified. There's a nice scene where Daniel confirms that Catherine received her amulet back from him (after she gave it to him before going to Abydos in the feature film). This is some nice continuity for the characters, even though they are played by different actors in the series.

Catherine had no idea that the researchers had gotten the Stargate working in 1945. Her father and fiance, Ernest Littlefield, were both scientists studying the Stargate then, but she was not. A series of flashbacks throughout the episode fill in some of the events of 1945, including some character information, such as the fact that Catherine was no empty-headed pretty face, even in 1945. Catherine says that her father told her there was an accident with the Stargate, which killed her fiance. When she views the old video footage, she recognizes Ernest as the man who went through the Stargate. Daniel says that they have the gate coordinates for where he went, and they can go there now. Of course, Catherine is all for that!

Daniel takes Catherine back to the SGC, where General Hammond is irate that Daniel revealed all this classified information to Catherine. Frankly, this seems like a minor infraction, since she already knew the Stargate exists and how it works - why do the details matter so much?

Daniel makes a case for visiting the planet and trying to rescue Ernest. O'Neill points out that if he's still alive, he'd be a hero. Carter reveals that the planet is not on the list of planets they found on Abydos, implying that the Goa'uld might not know of its existence. Teal'c adds that this may mean there is advance technology there that the Goa'uld have not scavenged. Happily, Hammond was convinced by the need to rescue Ernest, and so the other reasons are just icing on the cake. The kicker, though, is that Catherine insists on going to the planet, too, which I was surprised that Hammond agreed to.

They send a MALP through the gate ahead of them for a bit of reconnaissance. When they arrive at the planet, they find it in a run-down fortress made of stone. In short order, Ernest approaches them - old and naked. I suppose he was drawn by the sound of the Stargate. The fact that he is naked causes a bit of humor, but does underline the minimal conditions in which he's spent the last fifty years. He squints at them through the remnants of his glasses, and is overcome with joy when he realizes they are real. Oddly, though, he brushes off Catherine.

SG-1 does some investigating. There seem to be no other living beings in the area, and the fortress is set on the edge of a cliff. A big storm seems to be brewing.

Daniel talks to Ernest privately. Ernest has in fact been totally alone since he came through the Stargate in 1945. He kept a detailed journal of his investigation of the fortress, and from the journal, Daniel discovers that he imagined Catherine was there to keep him company. Ernest did find something local that he could eat, but there were very few other comforts there, and he only has the remnants of his original clothing. In the journal, Ernest describes the room they are in currently, which has writing on the wall from four different alien races. Daniel surmises the fortress was a repository of knowledge for them.

Catherine tries to approach Ernest, explaining that she didn't know that he was dead. She convinces him that she's really there now, as opposed to the Catherine he imagined.

The storm is worsening, and Ernest confirms it comes yearly, so O'Neill decides that they will return to Earth, wait for the storm to pass, and then come back to study the fortress. However, when they go to dial home on the dial-home device (DHD), they discover that the red crystal in the middle is broken. The DHD doesn't work. Immediately they jump into crisis mode in order to figure out how they are going to get home at all.

Carter thinks they can get power for the DHD directly from the Stargate. While she and Teal'c work on that, the rest of them go back to the repository room.

In the middle of the room is a device that looks similar to the forcefield power-up device in "The First Commandment". Ernest urges O'Neill to touch it. When he does, what appears to be many holographs float above them in the room. Everyone ponders what the holographic balls represent, until O'Neill (of all people) recognizes the hydrogen atom. They quickly realize each holograph represents an atomic element, and there are a couple dozen more of them than on our current periodic table.

Daniel makes the brilliant conceptual realization that the four alien races decided to use the elements as a basis for their common language. Ernest says that if the device is touched again, the "page" will turn - the device projects a holographic "book" of knowledge. Daniel is ecstatic thinking about all the knowledge that could be amassed here and begins to study it.

Unfortunately, Carter's plan to dial home does not work. They hit on plan B, which is to use the device powering the holographs to power the Stargate. Daniel is aghast at this, but fortunately he doesn't have to worry, because the device is impervious to meddling. They go to plan C, which is to use power from the storm's lightning to power the Stargate directly. The downsides of this plan are that a lightning strike may overload the gate, and they have to wait for the storm to get really bad before they can leave.

O'Neill gets everyone ready to go as soon as the Stargate dials. Both he and Ernest have trouble convincing Daniel to leave the knowledge repository, even though he could be permanently trapped if he stays. Finally, Daniel decides to leave. The others go through the Stargate. The fortress begins collapsing, and O'Neill and Daniel barely make it through.

Later, once everyone is cleaned up and bandaged up at the SGC, they try to dial the planet again. The Stargate will not lock on, indicating that the Stargate on the planet is gone.

This episode was interesting and exciting, and it also gave us a lot of information to help build the Stargate universe. The idea that the fortress was an alien "United Nations" is fascinating. Now we know that there were/are four alien races that are on about the same level technologically, since presumably those are the ones that would be involved. The fact that they created the repository implies some kind of cooperation and desire to improve "galactic civilization". Was there any kind of formal organization between them, or was the fortress the result of a one-time summit?

However, since the fortress has obviously not been utilized in quite awhile, given its state of disrepair, we don't know the current status of the galactic civilization that created it. Are the races all still around? Are they still benevolent? We know that Thor's race is, to some extent, at least. (By the way, I loved Ernest's question, "Thor was an alien?" and Daniel's off-hand reply. Ha!) It would have been quite an intellectual coup for SG-1 to have gathered more of the knowledge in the repository, but at least now they know that those possibilities exist.

The main plot - the rescue of Ernest Littlefield - was overall well done. It's very believable that he'd be a scrawny old guy at this point. Even though he'd found some kind of food source, it probably was not very well-rounded, so he certainly could be suffering from various vitamin and mineral deficiencies, causing him to be somewhat frail. It's also quite believable that he'd have trouble talking, since he probably hasn't really done that for awhile; it's not clear if he talked to his imaginary Catherine out loud, but it seems unlikely.

After being alone for fifty years, Ernest would likely have a lot of difficulty reintegrating into US society. There have been so many social and technological changes since the end of World War II! I would think he'd need a lot of psychological help to adjust to returning to Earth. Will he and Catherine be able to renew their relationship at all? I would doubt it - while they have their youthful experiences in common, both of them have had far different lives and have changed a lot. I would think it's more likely they'll become friends, and hopefully Catherine will help him adjust to his new life.

I appreciated the writers bringing Catherine's character back to the show. The continuity to the past events in the show's universe was great. I loved how all the characters greeted Catherine so warmly. The fact that Carter and Catherine knew each other so well reinforced Carter's assertion in "Children of the Gods" that she had been working on the Stargate for a long time.

The episode also brought up a pretty scary idea for SG-1: DHDs can be broken. This makes every trip through the Stargate a risk. It was a nice touch that Carter said the MALP was supposed to do some reconnaissance and ensure the DHD existed - clearly they need to add in the requirement of being able to see that the actual dial is intact. The episode gave a little more detail on how the Stargate works: it has some of its own intrinsic power, and it's a superconductor.

Return to my Stargate SG-1 reviews page.

avondale@astr ;o.umd.edu