Episode Review of Stargate SG-1 Season 10: "Line in the Sand"

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Episode Information

Title: "Line in the Sand"
Written by: Alan McCullough
Director: Peter DeLuise
Rating (out of 4 stars): ***
Reviewed on: May 1, 2007. Revised January 1, 2008.

Synopsis from GateWorld


The events in this episode really highlighted the Ori's disregard for life and the desperate nature of Earth's (and its allies') fight against them. My main problem with this episode was with the alternate phase machine, which I'll address at the end. My second problem was that not a single mention was made of Daniel (that I recall).

The episode jumps right into SG-1 testing out the alterations Carter has made to Merlin's alternate phase machine, which can shift the matter within a certain distance to another phase. I was a little jarred by the beginning - I almost felt like some smoother opening had been cut off. SG-1 seemed way too happy compared to the despondency at the end of the previous episode. SG-1 is sent to a planet populated by former Jaffa who are the imminent targets of an Ori takeover.

The inhabitants of the planet are ready to fight the Ori if necessary, but they are clearly overmatched and would have no chance, so they are depending on the alternate phase machine. A test of the machine used to hide the entire village is successful. However, when the Ori finally arrive, the machine fails, at least initially, and the inhabitants and SG-1 must fight. It's quickly obvious that they are losing badly.

During the fight, Carter is seriously wounded by an Ori soldier, but manages to kill him. Mitchell finds her, and Carter manages to show him how to quickly repair the alternate phase machine. When he turns it on, the entire building they are in disappears from view, and the Ori soldiers can walk right through it without seeing or feeling it. (My problems with this are discussed at length below.) Only Carter and Mitchell are out of phase, leaving the rest of the inhabitants and SG-1 to the mercies of the Ori.

It turns out that Tomin, Vala's Ori husband, is the commander of the Ori troops on this mission. He has apparently moved significantly up the ranks and appears to be second only to the Prior on this mission. He orders Vala to be sent up to his ship, and then callously murders all of the villagers that had been firing weapons againsst them. This is a very chilling scene because of how quickly and easily the order is given to kill the people. At this point, the building Mitchell and Carter are in disappears, but the Ori troops cannot get any explanation from the remaining villagers.

Upon the Ori ship, we learn that the Prior has ordered Tomin to convert her to the Ori. Throughout the rest of the episode, Vala tries in her usual annoying way to show Tomin the error of the Ori's ways. Tomin tells her a traditional Ori story of a "line in the sand" that separated a person from the love of the Ori that eventually widened into a chasm. It appears that the gap in understanding between Vala and Tomin has also widened. However, Vala begins emphasizing the fact that the message of the Book of the Ori does not say it's acceptable to kill innocent people and plays on Tomin's guilt for having become a mass murderer.

I have to say that I don't understand what Tomin sees in Vala, but he clearly still cares for her, and he has just enough basic human goodness that he listens to her. Eventually, at the end of the episode, Tomin returns Vala to the planet just before the Ori leave. However, he refuses to leave the Ori. I wonder just what his punishment will be for releasing Vala. I also wonder if he will begin to try to counteract some of the Ori's evil, much in the way that Bra'tac counseled Teal'c to moderate Apophis's actions as his First Prime (seen in flashbacks in season 5's Threshold).

So, while Tomin is on the ship, Vala is trying to persuade him to go against the Ori. While Tomin is on the planet, he questions the inhabitants about the building that went missing. Some of the inhabitants decide to cooperate with the Ori, but even so, they cannot defeat the alternate phase machine. Teal'c's identity is revealed; whenever that happens, I expect a "shol'vah" pronouncement, but I forget the Ori are not the Goa'uld. Eventually the Prior decides that they will not be able to find the building and the inhabitants are unsavable, and thus to bomb the entire site from orbit. The Ori abandon all the inhabitants and return to their ship.

During all of that, Mitchell and Carter are in the building that is in the alternate phase of reality. Carter's wound is extremely painful, and I found her plight very realistic. She doesn't think she's going to survive, and is mostly concerned about ensuring that the alternate phase machine doesn't fall into Ori hands. Mitchell works continuously to keep up her her morale and to enlist her help in adjusting the machine to again encompass the entire village. We get some slightly humorous scenes as Ori soldiers and the Prior walk through the building to no effect. This would be funnier if Carter wasn't so badly hurt and if the machine didn't annoy me.

By the end of the episode, Mitchell and Carter get the machine working, just in time to shift the entire village to the alternate phase before the Ori bomb it. When Vala is sent to the planet, she arrives in a bomb crater, then the village un-phases and everyone is safe. Carter is returned to the SGC, where she should heal without complications.

The interaction between Carter and Mitchell while Carter is injured is much more meaningful when nearly the reverse of this situation is shown in the following episode "The Road Not Taken". Mitchell does seem to have become closer to Carter than to the other members of SG-1 in his time as commander. The other nice build-up for the next episode is Carter's ability to make the machine work on a village-size-scale; it will be employed on a wider scale later.

What implications does this episode have? The title "Line in the Sand" implies that Earth and its allies are drawing that line in the sand and saying "no farther" to the Ori. However, Earth's forces were largely ineffective in this episode. The plan to save the village did not initially work; without last-minute efforts by Mitchell and Carter, everyone would have died. That's not much of a line in the sand. However, now that the machine is working, its potential is enormous.

Possibly the "line in the sand" refers to Tomin's attitudes toward the Ori, and they have crossed the line with him. That would imply that he will now try to work against the Ori to some extent. We do not know.

Yet again, Teal'c doesn't have much to do in this episode besides try to keep up the morale of the villagers. Vala has been rejected again by her husband, but possibly on more hopeful terms. Carter and Mitchell have presumably forged a closer bond with Carter's near-death.

My Problems with the Alternate Phase Machine

The following describes what I think the series means with the "alternate phase machine", and why I think they have implemented it extremely poorly. For the sake of the plot, I will accept its use, but I think they could have done better. According to what I recall from this and previous episodes, the alternate phase machine causes the matter within its effective radius to shift to an "alternate phase". The stated results of this are that the shifted matter cannot interact with normal matter: that is, a normal matter person can walk right through shifted matter. It is also stated (and shown) that from the point of view of a normal matter person, shifted matter disappears from view.

For the purposes of this discussion, let's assume that as seen in this episode, the alternate phase machine shifts all of the matter within the building and the building itself to the alternate phase. That includes the building, the people inside, the equipment inside, the air inside, the bacteria inside, etc.

Here are the problems and contradictions I have found with this idea, just thinking about it for about a day:

OK, so that's a pretty exhaustive discussion of the major problems I have with the alternate phase device. Let me discuss two more issues with it.

What I Think They Should Have Done

I realize that science fiction requires suspension of disbelief, and I am very willing to cooperate with that, just not to the extent required by the alternate phase machine. What would I have suggested?

The gravity issue, namely falling through the Earth's surface, is pretty difficult to overcome. If the writers just ignored it (like they do) and had none of the other issues, I would be happy. I don't see a plausible way to get around this without employing lots of technobabble.

The air issue is tougher. I would suggest that the alternate phase machine shifts matter by creating a "bubble" around the objects that are shifted; the interface between the bubble would stop or slow down the flow of air. In this way, the air would not escape, but the prospect of running out of oxygen would still exist. I think that could actually add some suspense and realism to the proceedings - the characters would have to consider how long they are going to be shifted and will they have enough air? They would also have to deal with the fact that shifting a small volume of space would result in a very limited supply of air. However, this solution would prevent normal matter people from walking through the shifted matter space.

The sound and light issues should be completely changed, in my opinion. I do not think the shifted matter people should be able to hear the sound or see the light from normal matter people. Again, I think that this would only serve to heighten suspense. Once the people shifted, then they would be cut off from contact with the normal matter world. They would have to decide if and when they thought it was safe to return to normal. This change in how the phase machine worked would also protect the shifted people from the light-effects of items like bombs.

What About Shifting an Entire Planet?

In the next episode, "The Road Not Taken", Carter increases the alternate phase machine's capabilities to be able to shift the entire Earth (and everything on its surface and in its atmosphere) to an alternate phase. Operating the machine on this large size scale makes many of my objections go away.

The gravity issue doesn't come up, because the whole Earth is shifted, so gravity will still operate normally on everything on its surface. The air issue isn't a problem, because the entire atmosphere is shifted. Sound and light transmission between people and objects on the surface of the Earth would also work like usual.

However, any normal matter person in space and not on the Earth should not be able to see or hear things from the Earth, and vice versa. The hearing is a non-issue, since there is the vacuum of space in between them, anyway. However, I still maintain that the shifted matter people on Earth should not be able to see the normal matter objects in space.

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