Episode Review of Stargate SG-1 Season 3: "Past and Present"

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Episode Information

Title: "Past and Present"
Written by: Tor Alexander Valenza
Director: Bill Gereghty
Rating (out of 4 stars): ***
Reviewed on: January 5, 2015

Synopsis from GateWorld


SG-1 discovers a world where all the people have been made much younger and also have lost their memories.

SG-1 arrives through the Stargate on a new planet, right into an abandoned warehouse. A young couple discover them, and they ask to be taken to someone in charge.

This turns out to be more difficult than expected, because everyone on their planet has lost their memories. No one has any memories from before an event they call the "vorlix". There are also no elders (old people) or children on the planet, although there are at least pictures left behind of the elders. The couple take SG-1 to a woman named Ke'ra, who has become one of the main leaders of the provisional government of the planet.

We find Ke'ra attending sick people in some kind of administrative building; Ke'ra clearly has a lot of instinctive medical knowledge. She's also quite pretty and charismatic. She's thrilled to meet SG-1 and hopes that they will be able to help her people regain their memories.

Ke'ra takes SG-1 to a sort of library where she has been collecting the information she's gathered in investigating the cause of the vorlix, and even exactly what it was. Daniel takes particular interest in helping Ke'ra sort through the information. From what Ke'ra has discovered, a visitor came through the Stargate and was working with a local scientist. This is when SG-1 gets a big shock: the visitor was Linea, also known as "Destroyer of Worlds", that SG-1 accidentally let escape last season in "Prisoners". Immediately, SG-1 knows Linea must have had something to do with the vorlix.

Carter finds a journal that she identifies as Linea's diary. Linea was working with the local scientist on a way to slow down aging. Prior to Linea's arrival, the effects of a widely-used pesticide on the planet was causing infertility among the population. Linea and the scientist were about to perform an experiment on an older man and woman, which is the last entry in Linea's diary. After the vorlix, a dead old man and woman were discovered in a laboratory; Ke'ra and the others had assumed they were the experimental subjects.

Carter realizes that Linea's experiment must have both gone awry and worked too well: it got out of control and affected the entire planet, plus it had the side-effect of wiping out everyone's memories. But it also succeeded in reversing the age of the planet's population. The "missing" elders are actually the current people; no pictures of children were present and none are missing because the previously aging population was infertile.

SG-1 takes Ke'ra and two other natives back to Earth to investigate the amnesia and what, if anything, can be done to cure it. Ke'ra proves to be remarkably adept at biomedical science and lab work. Carter puts two and two together and realizes that Ke'ra is actually the age-reversed Linea; a DNA test proves it.

Meanwhile, Daniel has gotten emotionally involved with Ke'ra, despite the recent death of Sha're in "Forever in a Day". When it's proven that Ke'ra is Linea, he protests that Ke'ra is not really the same person as Linea, because she's missing all her prior memories that made her act like Linea. The current Ke'ra's actions show her only to be desirous of helping others. Nevertheless, General Hammond orders Ke'ra to be strictly guarded and her involvement in searching for a cure to the amnesia to be as limited as possible. Ke'ra is very upset and figures out what the others think (about her being Linea) without them having to tell her.

In very short order, Fraiser, Carter, and Ke'ra have a drug to test. It's administered to another one of the natives, but unfortunately it does not work. Somehow, with no additional study of the test subject, Ke'ra is sure she knows what went wrong and how to fix it. Soon they have a second version of the drug to test. The test is successful. During the celebration, Ke'ra steals a bit of the drug to give to herself.

Later, Daniel visits Ke'ra in her room briefly to apologize again for their treatment of her. Ke'ra brushes it off, telling Daniel that "all debts have been paid." Fortunately as Daniel is walking away, he remembers that that's the phrase Linea used at the end of last season's "Prisoners" before she left Earth. He rushes back and declares that he knows she took the cure, and also realizes she's about to kill herself.

Ke'ra is distraught by the fight between her recent helpful nature and her memories of Linea, in which she wished to dominate others. She is afraid of what will happen if her Linea side wins, so she plans to kill herself before that can happen. Daniel beseeches her to stop, saying that there's another way: she can re-take the drugs that caused the vorlix, losing her memory again.

At the end of the episode, Daniel explains the situation to the other two natives. They agree to take Ke'ra back with them, revering her as "a great leader of our people", despite the fact that she remembers nothing.

This episode had a lot of good aspects: a thorny ethical dilemma, the re-appearance of a previous enemy, and an interesting situation on the planet. However, the resolution of both the planet's problem and the situation with Ke'ra was arrived at far too easily.

The situation that SG-1 encountered on the planet presented them with a puzzle that had a clever solution: the elders had been reversed in age. The pieces of this fit together quite well, and fortunately the mystery was not dragged on too long in the episode. The societal ramifications of mass amnesia were also interesting: who should be in charge? how should society's basic needs be met, when no one remembers what their jobs are? The idea that people would try to distance themselves from others and not get too involved with anyone, lest they find out they are being romantic with a sibling or other inappropriate person, made sense but what something I hadn't thought of. How long would people keep up this separation before deciding that they'd never get their memories back, so it didn't matter? It had been over a year since the vorlix, if I remember correctly.

The mass amnesia situation also led to the big ethical dilemma in the episode: if a person loses his memory and starts out "new", does that make him a new person or the same person? That's what SG-1 had to decide with Ke'ra/Linea. If she doesn't remember anything at all about being Linea, does that mean she is still destined to be a psychopath, or could she be someone different? Daniel thought she was a different person, although since he became involved with her, he was biased; even so, once he found out she had been Linea, he definitely kept his distance from her more. The other members of the SGC don't want to take the risk that somehow her past at Linea could affect her actions in the present, causing her to stage a lab accident or sabotage the cure, for example. As a viewer, it's hard to decide, because, yes, Ke'ra only seems sincere and helpful, but almost too much that way. (Plus we have the influence of musical cues in the episode.)

The situation doesn't become any clearer when Ke'ra takes the cure and regains her memories. It's upsetting but revealing to see Ke'ra become so distraught at her memories of what she did, how she felt, and what she wanted as Linea. She fairly screeches at Daniel to leave her alone. She says that she can feel two people inside of her - apparently her past memories have not integrated well into her more recent experiences. Once she's taken the cure and regained Linea's memories, it's clear that she cannot remain that way and also remain free. It's almost as if she was looking for evil to do.

Having Ke'ra take the vorlix-causing drug again was a neat and convenient solution to the situation, but it was not believable that it would be so simple. Perhaps Ke'ra could be made fairly easily to lose her memory again. Why would the planet's people be willing to accept her back? She's a possible psychopath that is known to have caused a world-wide plague on another planet and caused the vorlix on their own planet. She's also a brilliant biomedical researcher, so it's possible she'll figure out (again) how to cure herself. Other people will have to monitor her constantly to be sure that she doesn't do this.

And what kind of story will they tell her? After all, the entire society just recovered from the vorlix and everyone but Ke'ra will have their memories back. Surely they will talk about these events. What story will they make up to explain why Ke'ra is the only one to not get her memory back? Won't that make her suspicious? I find this whole thing very implausible.

The ethical dilemma in this episode reminds me a lot of the "death of personality" used as a punishment in Babylon 5, such as in the episode "Passing Through Gethsemane". In the Babylon 5 universe, a person convicted of a capital crime has their personality "wiped" and a new, benevolent personality implanted. These people then serve society for the rest of their lives. In these cases, the people who have been mind-wiped are considered to be completely "new" people that are innocent of all former crimes; their identities are hidden so that they are not ostracized. This, essentially, is what happened to Ke'ra/Linea, except that everyone else knew what she was guilty of in the past.

While the vorlix in this episode created this interesting ethical dilemma, I thought the amnesia was applied in some implausible ways. From what we saw with Ke'ra, it seems that somehow medical and scientific knowledge was retained. How could it be that Ke'ra couldn't remember her own name, but could somehow remember the correct powder to stop anaphylactic shock? That kind of knowledge is not instinctive - it's learned. Yes, it had been over a year since the vorlix, but how could Ke'ra have learned so much in that time, when society was a mess and no one else remembered anything either?

In addition, no matter what kind of genius Ke'ra/Linea is, there's no way she's going to be able to help out in the SGC's lab so quickly and effectively. Her planet will have different names for drugs, chemical elements, body parts, and so on than we have for them in English. (Or they should! How much of the society can be identical?) Even the numbering system could be different, so when she talked about a 3% solution, she may have had to learn base-10 numbering for that. This aspect of the episode was completely implausible, but a common shortcut in science fiction.

This episode gave Daniel a chance to explore a bit emotionally, allowing him to think romantically about another woman besides Sha're. I found it a bit unlikely that he'd be so ready to have that interest so soon after the events in "Forever in a Day", but I suppose we don't know how much time has elapsed since then. It was very true to his character to be interested in the planet's past events before the vorlix and also to defend Ke'ra.

Overall, this was a very interesting episode, but one with significant shortcomings that kept it from being really great.

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