Episode Review of Stargate SG-1 Season 1: "Tin Man"

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Episode Information

Title: "Tin Man"
Written by: Jeffery F. King
Director: Jimmy Kaufman
Rating (out of 4 stars): ***
Reviewed on: August 5, 2014

Synopsis from GateWorld


An alien makes android duplicates of SG-1.

SG-1 arrive on a new planet to explore. The Stargate is located in some type of industrial facility. They explore briefly, but a loud noise begins, and O'Neill orders them to retreat to the Stargate. Beams of light pass over each of them simultaneously, knocking them unconscious.

They awake upon benches in a different room, and each of them is wearing a black jumpsuit. They don't have any of their equipment. They all feel fine, in fact, better than fine.

A man, who we find out is named Harlan, enters the room. He is ebullient in his greeting of "Com-traya!" which seems to be a greeting, a thank-you, and an exclamation. Harlan seems a bit scatter-brained, but SG-1 makes introductions and asks what Harlan did to them. Harlan deflects their questions, asking them how they are feeling.

Harlan tells them that he is the last survivor of the people of this planet. The surface of the planet is inimical to life, so the remaining people of his civilization moved underground. Over time, everyone died except Harlan. Now he is having a hard time maintaining the mechanics of the facility. He's been alone for about 11,000 years.

O'Neill is not impressed with Harlan's story, nor with his refusal to answer what he did to them. Since SG-1 has regained their weapons and other equipment (but not their uniforms), O'Neill orders them back to the Earth. Harlan is frantic that they stay, saying that they will be back.

Back on the Earth, SG-1 undergoes what we assume is a typical medical check after returning. Dr. Frasier is concerned because she can't hear a heartbeat from O'Neill. She tries to draw his blood, but instead pulls some kind of whitish liquid from his arm. Teal'c suddenly realizes that he doesn't have a pouch in his stomach, nor a Goa'uld. Frasier and the others being to panic a bit. O'Neill cuts open his forearm with a scalpel, revealing robotic gears and mechanisms.

Frasier activates a security alarm and orders SG-1 to be locked up. Hammond arrives, and Frasier says that the beings that look like SG-1 cannot really be SG-1. O'Neill is exasperated, since he knows he's himself, but SG-1 cooperates and they are locked into a room with guards. Frasier and Hammond discuss the situation, especially commenting on how the Goa'uld have pulled various tricks on them before, so maybe this is another one.

In the holding room, SG-1 discusses how they are all androids now. They speculate about why Harlan put their consciousnesses into robotic bodies, but don't come up with any good reason. Daniel and Carter in particular seem to be fascinated by the philosophical and scientific implications of their situation. However, as O'Neill points out, they have no idea what the military will do to them, since they aren't even human any more. Heck, after what the military wanted to do with the human Tollan in the last episode ("Enigma"), even being human might not protect them if the NID wanted something from them.

Hammond tells SG-1 that he's going to send another SG team to the planet to figure out what happened to them, but O'Neill warns him off, saying Harlan will do the same thing to him. O'Neill explains how they've deduced that Harlan put their consciousnesses into the android bodies, even though they can't explain why. Daniel comes to the logical conclusion that Harlan must also be an android. Suddenly, all of SG-1 begins to collapse. O'Neill's last request is that they be returned to Harlan's planet.

SG-1 is unceremoniously tossed through the Stargate to Harlan's planet, where they recover almost instantaneously. Carter realizes that they had just about run out of energy on the Earth, since their power source is on this planet. Harlan is thrilled to see him; O'Neill does not return the affection and puts a strangle-hold on him, demanding information. Harlan claims the transfer of consciousness is permanent. O'Neill eventually lets him go.

Harlan takes them to a room to rest and recharge. O'Neill, however, is still furious and can't let things sit. He goes to find Harlan. Shortly afterward, Teal'c also leaves without a word. Carter and Daniel try to follow him, but lose him. We see Teal'c in an out-of-the-way area having some kind of seizure.

O'Neill re-starts his argument with Harlan. Carter and Daniel catch up to them. An urgent alarm goes off, and Harlan tells them he needs their help in order to repair their power source. He sends O'Neill off in one direction and Carter and Daniel in another. Carter and Daniel fix the parts they were sent to.

O'Neill is working on his repairs when Teal'c approaches him and attacks him without a word. O'Neill and Teal'c wrestle and fight. Teal'c eventually gets the upper hand and presses O'Neill's cheek against a venting pipe. O'Neill's yells attract the others, and Harlan vaporizes Teal'c with some kind of weapon. O'Neill's cheek has been damaged, but since he is a robot, he can be repaired. O'Neill, Daniel, and Carter are upset that Harlan killed Teal'c, despite Harlan's protests that Teal'c was malfunctioning. Harlan says Teal'c will be fine.

Harlan tries to sneak off, but Carter and Daniel follow him and force their way into the laboratory he is working in. They discover an almost-finished Teal'c in some kind of device. Harlan explains that he misunderstood the "two minds" inside the original Teal'c, which caused the malfunction, so now he is fixing him. Carter realizes that Harlan can only be making a "fixed" copy of Teal'c if the original is still around.

O'Neill has arrived, and he finally gets Harlan to confirm that their original bodies still exist. However, Harlan still refuses to return their consciousnesses. SG-1 cannot understand why...until Harlan takes them to their original bodies, which still have their consciousnesses in them. The SG-1 personnel we have been following for most of the episode are duplicates of the originals, not transferees. The android SG-1 characters are shocked. Harlan says that he made them as copies in order to help him around the facility. Once the android copies were working, he had planned to send the original SG-1 members back to the Earth without even telling them about the androids.

The android O'Neill leaves the room in an angry rage, while the android Carter and Daniel ungag the original SG-1 members and help them sit up and get oriented. The original SG-1 Carter and Daniel quickly begin chatting with their android counterparts about all the implications of their duplication. Harlan says that the original SG-1 members are free to go. The original O'Neill leaves the room to track down his own android counterpart.

The original O'Neill and android O'Neill have a brief conversation. The android O'Neill is very bitter at having "his" life stolen from him, but says he will not interfere with the original SG-1 members returning to the Earth. When the original O'Neill mentions security issues (codes, defenses, etc., that the android knows), the android O'Neill says that they will bury the Stargate so that no one can get that information from them.

The original SG-1 members return through the Stargate to the Earth.

This is a fun episode to watch. The "trick" of the episode, that we are following a duplicate SG-1 and not the original team, is very nicely hidden by the characters' own assumptions. Plus, the viewer has likely heard or seen of other SF stories where a person's consciousness is transferred into a mechanical body, so the suspension of disbelief is also there. Even upon rewatching, the episode holds up.

Because of the story's twist, the ethical aspects and implications of the story also change. Initially, we ponder the implications of a human mind being placed in an android body. Is this really "better", as Harlan insists? After all, as the android characters pointed out, the android body is essentially immortal, it has superhuman powers, such as incredible strength, and it does not suffer from pain or hunger or thirst. Are these all advantages and worth gaining if it meant losing the human body? Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation would not necessarily think so, but Data was also lacking emotions. It does not seem that the android SG-1 characters had that lack, as certainly O'Neill demonstrated extreme anger, Carter and Daniel showed enthusiasm and excitement, and so on. So possibly this trade-off is about as good as it could get; doing the transfer without permission is unacceptable, however.

But then we find out that the android SG-1 members were duplicates made without permission, which changes everything. First, making such an exact duplicate of a person, even apparently including their consciousness, is extremely unethical. Every person is unique and their body and mind are their own, so meddling with that in any way without permission is unethical. Doing so without the person's knowledge is even worse. After all, what would the purpose be for someone doing this? Slave labor? Sexual exploitation? Medical experimentation? Even Harlan's moderately altruistic motives include detaining the androids in the facility forever against their will so that they can help him.

Once a duplicate is made, is it a sentient being? It can think on its own, it has a personality and feelings. Like the aforementioned Data, such a duplicate would seem to be sentient, even if its body is mechanical. However, because it is a duplicate, does that change whether we would consider it to be sentient? Or, would we require that the duplicate have a soul in order to be considered sentient? Is the soul also duplicated? Is there any way that we could tell?

Clearly duplicating a person against his/her will is ethically wrong. However, a duplicate will have its own problems. After all, even though it hasn't experienced past events, it remembers the whole life of another person. It thinks it has a job and a place in society, but it can't fill those roles, because the "real" person is there. This is the problem that android O'Neill found so vexing. What could a duplicate do? Could its remembered experiences be used to qualify it to fill other roles?

Even though a duplicate does start out as a duplicate, at the moment of its creation, its experiences begin to diverge from the original's. For example, the android SG-1 members went through all of the experiences of returning to the Earth, being discovered to be androids, being locked up, and so on, which the original members did not. How long must a duplicate have a separate existence for before it's considered to be its own unique person and no longer a duplicate? I find all of these questions to be very interesting, and something that SF is uniquely empowered to address.

A final thought: if an android duplicate is NOT considered to be sentient or NOT considered to have a soul, then can it be held responsible for its actions? In particular, I'm thinking about Harlan's duplication of the original SG-1 members. If Harlan doesn't have a soul, then can he be held morally responsible for this act? After all, perhaps he doesn't understand why this would be considered to be wrong. I don't personally believe this, but it's an interesting question.

In the case of this episode, the characters don't give a lot of thought to these questions, except to assume that the original SG-1 personnel will take their rightful places and return to the Earth. Because of the power supply issue, all the characters assume that the android duplicates are tied to Harlan's planet. However, we will encounter these characters again in the series and see how they have fared.

I found that this episode shined an interesting light on O'Neill's character. Out of all of SG-1, O'Neill seemed most disturbed and upset by Harlan's transference/duplication of O'Neill's consciousness. He seemed to take great offense at the idea that someone was messing with his identity in any way. That was underlined by the android O'Neill's comment that "someone has stolen his life", even though the others might say that it wasn't his life to have stolen. O'Neill was relentless in harrying Harlan until he found out the truth of the situation, even if it wasn't what he wanted to hear. I think this is all indicative of O'Neill's strong personality and drive. And, thinking about the future, the original O'Neill should realize that someone with the same personality that he has is not going to be content to remain on Harlan's planet fixing things...

As a last comment, I found the character of Harlan to be very funny, albeit one that I wouldn't want to have around all the time. He was completely irrepresible. He definitely had a knack for diverting questions and giving responses that didn't really answer questions. We can sense his loneliness and desperation and try to excuse his actions, even though they are unforgiveable.

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