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The episode begins with SG-1 playing tourist on another planet, Edora, waiting for the "fire rain" to start during a peaceful and scenic evening. (The Edorans are humans who had been transplanted there by a Goa'uld thousands of years ago.) There is a nice discussion of how the "fire rain" on Earth would be called "falling stars", and even the Jaffa have a similar term. Since the fire rain happens regularly once a year, it would be what we call a meteor shower event - as Carter correctly describes it, the planet is moving through the path of an asteroid or comet and running into debris left behind.
The special effects for the shooting stars are very nice, with all of the shooting stars seem to come from the same distant point in the sky - that point is called the radiant of the meteor shower. The shooting stars move too slowly, though. Anyone that's ever seen a shooting star know that they happen in the blink of an eye, so quickly that you don't have the time to point it out to someone else.
One of the shooting stars is quite large and obviously penetrates more deeply into the atmosphere, what we would called a fireball, and that gets all of SG-1 much more concerned. Laira, the local woman guiding them, seems to think this is normal and confirms that the fire rain has been getting much more spectacular over the last few years.
The next day, Carter works up a simulation of the Edoran planetary system, presumably from observations, and confirms that the planet's orbit is slightly elliptical and passes just slightly into the planetary system's asteroid belt. When Edora is on that part of its orbit, it runs into debris from the asteroid belt. On its face, this is a reasonable explanation, and it's really quite good for TV astronomy. I have a lot more to say about this later in my review.
At the same time, Daniel is exploring a local cave system. First, he notices the rock strata in the cave walls and sees that there is a layer of impact debris approximately every 150 years in the layers. He draws the obvious parallel to the K-T impact on the Earth some 65 million years ago, which caused the large majority of species on the Earth to become extinct. Second, he finds remnants of pottery and tools in the cave, signs that previous Edorans may have taken shelter in the cave system in the past, possibly during an impact event.
Meanwhile, on the surface, the fire rain starts to be seen in the daytime, and Carter realizes that there is a very good chance that the planet could be hit by something large. SG-1 makes arrangements to evacuate the Edorans to Earth temporarily until the fire rain passes. Some Edorans are suspicious of the motives of SG-1 for evacuating them, so not everyone agrees to leave. Laira agrees to leave with her son Garan.
More meteors begin passing very low in the sky, with some small ones hitting over the horizon. People start evacuating through the Stargate. However, Laira can't find Garan, and Daniel realizes he may have decided to take shelter in the caves. Carter, Teal'c, and Daniel continue the evacuation while O'Neill and Laira go to find Garan and his girlfriend. Carter and Teal'c wait at the threshold of the Stargate until they see a meteor heading right for them, and they dive through to Earth at the last moment.
O'Neill and Laira find Garan and his girlfriend in the cave, but it is too late - O'Neill can see the fire from the impact that hit the Stargate, so they shelter in the cave for a few days.
When O'Neill, Laira and the others return to the village after the fire rain has passed, they find a lot of destruction. Apparently an impact right in the village took out a house where a number of the families staying behind had been taking shelter. The remaining villagers are stunned. O'Neill discovers that an impact crater is located where the Stargate once was - the Stargate is gone, probably buried in the rubble.
At the SGC, the rest of SG-1 is eager to return Edora to retrieve O'Neill. They wait a day for the impact site to cool off, and then try to activate the Stargate. It dials Edora, but when they send a MALP through, they never get any signal from it. Carter guesses that the naquadah in the soil (the reason why Earth was interested in Edora) melted during the impact and solidified into a layer above the Stargate's event horizon (since it was on at the time of impact), forming something similar to their protective iris. Carter devises a plan to use a particle beam to try to dissolve the layer of naquadah, inspired by what Sokar did last season in "Serpent's Song". Of course, they don't have a particle beam generator, so Carter has to build one - something that could take months.
On Edora, O'Neill begins trying to dig down to the Stargate. This seems to be a very formidable task, since the devastation from the impact makes it difficult to tell exactly where the Stargate even was, and perhaps it got moved by the impact.
But Laira makes the point to him that everyone needs to work hard on their crops prior to the harvest if they are to survive the winter. Thus O'Neill begins putting in his share of labor in the village, and then digging for the Stargate in the evening. As the days go by, we see O'Neill integrating better and better into village life and seeming to give up on getting back to Earth.
Throughout the episode, there has clearly been a lot of chemistry between O'Neill and Laira. Laira has her teenaged son Garan, and has been windowed - we don't know when her husband died, but apparently quite some time ago. Laira obviously starts caring a lot about O'Neill and would like to see him accept the idea of remaining on Edora with her. She shares with him how when her husband died, she stayed in her house for "a hundred days" and did not speak to anyone. And after that, she began to move on.
In kind, the episode skips to three months after the fire rain. We can see that O'Neill has essentially accepted his life in the village, as he has helped people repair houses and become part of the community. He and Laira have become closer. On one evening, there is a village party with dancing and drinking and clearly O'Neill and Laira enjoy each other's company. O'Neill is apparently still staying in Laira's house, and later that night she asks him to give her a child, saying that she can tell he finally accepts his life with them.
Meanwhile on Earth, Carter has finally finished the particle beam generator and they dial up Edora and use the generator. Once the generator has removed the closest amount of naquaday acting as an iris, they can simply dial the Stargate and the whoosh of it opening will vaporize a stretch of rock in front of the Stargate. They do all this and then send a MALP through. They get a brief amount of video back from the MALP before it is apparently destroyed. Carter figures out what happened: the Stargate got knocked over, so the MALP exited vertically above the Stargate and then got destroyed when it fell back down into the event horizon.
They devise a plan: Teal'c will go through the Stargate with gear that can hook into the rock wall of the cavern and suspend him above the Stargate. He will then have to dig up to the ground level. The difficulty here is that first, he'll have to suspend all of his gear from himself, and second, he'll only have about four hours of air in the cavern. Of course, this doesn't deter Teal'c in the slightest, so they proceed.
As Teal'c is sent through the Stargate to begin his digging, it is the next day on Edora. Laira not-so-subtly suggests to O'Neill that it's time to get rid of his SGC uniform and gear, and O'Neill agrees. As Laira is about to dump his gear in the lake, she accidentally turns on O'Neill's walkie-talkie and hears communication between Teal'c and the SGC. She obviously realizes that this means that people from Earth are back on Edora somehow, and if that's the case, she's probably going to lose O'Neill.
Even though she clearly agonizes over the decision, Laira is a good person and she can't keep this information to herself. Also, it means that if they can connect with Earth again, all of the Edorans who evacuated would be able to return. She lets O'Neill know, and he calls up Teal'c and finds out he's trying to dig out. O'Neill and Garan rush to the impact crater and start digging through toward Teal'c.
In pretty short order, the Stargate is dug out and the Edorans who fled to Earth are happily reuniting with the remaining villagers. Carter, Daniel, and Teal'c are very happy to reunite with O'Neill, but for O'Neill the event is bittersweet. There never seems to be any question in his mind that he will return to Earth and the SGC, but he does seem to be genuinely sad to leave Laira and his life there. Laira seems exceptionally wise, as she doesn't try to force him to stay - if she did that, he'd never truly be happy with her. As the episode ends, we see her holding her abdomen, clearly hoping for that child.
This is really an excellent, yet quiet, episode. It's a study of O'Neill's loss, grief, and acceptance. The chemistry between O'Neill and Laira is perfect, as you can see that they are very interested in each other, yet completely proper, at the beginning of the episode when SG-1 has recently arrived. It's very gratifying to see how their relationship develops gradually and maturely, and we can appreciate it even when the episode does its leap three months into the future. Laira seems bright and compassionate and understanding, and also cheerful and optimistic. It's not an easy life that she has at the level of technology in the village, and she's already lost a husband, and yet she seems to have a very positive outlook.
O'Neill has to have quite a change in attitude and outlook over the course of this episode. He went from planet-hopping around the galaxy through the Stargate to being stuck in a relatively primitive society, with no feasible way to communicate with the Earth or help in its defense against the Goa'uld. He had to narrow his future plans to helping the village reap a successful harvest and getting through the winter. While a lot of people in modern society long for these "simpler times", in reality they weren't always enjoyable nor easy.
We the viewers had to root for the SGC to regain contact with O'Neill on Edora, and so we were happy to see SG-1 reunited at the end, but I think the relationship between O'Neill and Laira developed enough that we could also feel O'Neill's sadness at departing. Even though O'Neill said that he would visit Laira, I think she realizes that's very unlikely. O'Neill will be very busy with different trips, and how can you maintain that sort of "long distance" relationship with someone that you not only don't see often, but is located in a completely different sort of society?
I found it interesting that the episode's writers hypothesized that O'Neill would need to be completely disconnected from the Earth and the SGC in order to "let go" and find happiness. Without the pressures of "saving the Earth", O'Neill could focus simply on living and his relationships. This struck me as very similar to the Star Trek TOS episode "This Side of Paradise" where Spock is freed of his inhibitions by alien spores. When he is returned to normal at the end of the episode, he remarks that it was the first time in his life that he was happy. Is O'Neill really so duty-driven that he doesn't allow himself that sort of happiness in his normal life?
The episode didn't follow the rest of SG-1 as much, but we also saw that their actions were very true to their characters. Carter immediately went into problem-solving mode and worked herself tirelessly to develop the needed technology for the rescue. Teal'c had no hesitation in volunteering for what might have been a suicide mission to gate into a cavern that he had to dig his way out of. And Daniel suggested diplomacy, contacting any of their allies to see if they had ships in the area that could visit the planet. These team members are clearly unfailingly loyal to each other.
Now to get back to the science of the "fire rain". On its face, it's a pretty reasonable idea that the planet's orbit grazes the system's asteroid belt, which causes the fire rain on a yearly basis. But there are some issues: