Episode Review of Stargate SG-1 Season 3: "Pretense"

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Episode Information

Title: "Pretense"
Written by: Katharyn Powers
Director: David Warry-Smith
Rating (out of 4 stars): ****
Reviewed on: January 17, 2015

Synopsis from GateWorld


The Tollan hold a trial to decide whether Klorel or Skaara gets to keep Skaara's body.

At the beginning of the episode, we see some massive battle happening in space involving Goa'uld motherships. A death glider is damaged and crash lands on the nearby planet. Klorel was the pilot of the ship, but it's Skaara who begs for help before passing out.

At the SGC, someone "calls in" via the Stargate. A cat is somehow sent through the closed iris - Carter recognizes it as the cat she gave Narim in season 1 in "Enigma". (I have to say, that was one very calm cat, to just wander down the ramp and lay down!) Shortly after, Narim also comes right through the iris, reminding us of their extremely advanced technology, including their ability to travel through solid objects.

Narim has come to invite SG-1 to the Tollan homeworld to participate in Triad. Skaara has asked for SG-1 to be his representatives in Triad, which is some kind of trial. Of course, SG-1 agrees.

Narim takes them through the Stargate to the new Tollan homeworld, Tollana. As we learned in "Enigma", their original homeworld was destroyed by a volcanic cataclysm. For the fact that the Tollans have only moved to the world a few years ago, they have incredible infrastructure built already. They also have planetary defensive weapons capable of easily destroying two Goa'uld motherships. Of course, they still have their policy of not sharing technology with less-developed civilizations, much to O'Neill's annoyance.

The Triad is more completely explained to them. When the Tollan retrieved Klorel/Skaara from the crash, Skaara requested that Klorel be removed. (Did he have any idea that the Tollan could do this? I have to wonder how he requested this in such a way that the Tollan took it so seriously.) However, since both Klorel and Skaara are in the same body, the Tollan have decided that their legal proceeding, the Triad, will determine who has priority to remain in the body. Skaara gets to choose an advocate (called an "Archon") for the Triad, as does Klorel. A third "neutral" Archon will be chosen by the Tollan.

The Tollan have installed a nifty device on Klorel/Skaara that indicates which of them is in control of the body at any specific moment and prevents one of them from dominating the other. A red light indicates Klorel is in control, while a blue light indicates Skaara is. (As O'Neill says, "I'll take a dozen.") Skaara chooses both O'Neill and Daniel to serve as Archons for him (with only one vote). Klorel's Archon is a Goa'uld called Zipacna, who shows up with a few Jaffa henchmen. The neutral archon is Lya of the Nox, whom SG-1 first met in season 1 in "The Nox".

O'Neill is not happy to have the Goa'uld show up while SG-1 doesn't have working weapons, but the Tollan assure him that the Goa'uld and Jaffa also have no weapons. Nevertheless, O'Neill orders Carter and Teal'c to keep an eye on the Jaffa while everyone else is in the Triad.

In the Triad, Zipacna argues that since the Abydonians were Ra's and then Apophis's slaves and property, the Goa'uld could do with Skaara's body as they wished. He even asks Skaara if the Abydonians used animals as beasts of burden and for food, which Skaara says they do. O'Neil and Daniel counter with the argument that animals are not self-aware and at the same level of intelligence as humans and Goa'uld; Zipacna argues that Goa'uld are far above the level of humans. Zipacna also repeats the standard Goa'uld line that "nothing of the host survives", so what Skaara wants is not important, because Skaara's personality is not really there any more - it's just some remnant memories.

O'Neill and Daniel first discuss how the Goa'uld are not really superior beings - they are just good at stealing technology from other races. As Daniel says, the are just "more parasitic", which was not a description Zipacna liked. O'Neill and Daniel encourage Skaara to explain why he'd rather die than go back to being a dominated host for Klorel. He talks about being unable to stop Klorel from killing Daniel in season 1 in "Within the Serpent's Grasp" and having to witness other atrocities. Even Lya seems moved by this.

Meanwhile, Carter and Teal'c have been following the Jaffa, who have been keeping themselves busy. They have apparently visited all of the planetary defensive gun emplacements and done something - what, exactly, is not clear. Under O'Neill's orders, Carter approaches Narim about this. Narim is shocked that SG-1 was so suspicious of the Goa'uld contingent, but does bring it up to the Tollan leader, Travell. Travell, Narim, SG-1, and some Tollan weapons technicians visit at least one of the gun emplacements, but no problems are found. Travell completely dismisses SG-1's concerns, confident that Tollan technology is so much more advanced and capable than the Goa'uld's that there's nothing to worry about.

SG-1 is not nearly so sanguine, but O'Neill doesn't want to screw up the Triad for Skaara. He orders Carter and Teal'c to leave the Jaffa alone. Teal'c takes the initiative to visit Lya and share his concern about an imminent Goa'uld attack. They apparently devise some plan.

At the Triad, Zipacna tries a different tactic: he says that if Klorel is removed from his host body, he will die. Since the Tollan do not believe in capital punishment, they cannot order the removal of Klorel, because they'd be ordering his death. At least if Klorel remains in Skaara's body, both of them will be alive. As O'Neill points out, one of them will be virtually enslaved. O'Neill and Daniel suggest that the Tok'ra might be able to remove Klorel without killing him - and then it would be up to the Goa'uld to do something with him.

The Triad is interrupted by the detection of a Goa'uld mothership approaching the planet. O'Neill almost cackles with glee at this evidence of the Goa'uld's duplicity. Zipacna says the ship is simply arriving to retrieve himself and his party upon completion of the Triad. Travell threatens destruction of the ship if it comes any closer.

All of the Archons decide the Triad is completed. O'Neill and Daniel vote in favor of Skaara, and Zipacna votes in favor of Klorel, of course. Lya votes in favor of Skaara, and so Travell announces that Klorel will be removed from Skaara's body as soon as the Tok'ra can be contacted.

Zipacna has a plan B and contacts the waiting ship. Teal'c pounces on Zipacna and disables him, but it's too late. Everyone rushes outside to find Goa'uld weapons apparently targeting the planetary defense guns, and once those are destroyed, Death Gliders start attacking.

The rest of SG-1 converge on Teal'c and Lya, who reveal their plan. Lya transports them to one planetary defense gun that she had made invisible, so that it was not destroyed. She reveals it, but it does not seem to be working properly. Fortunately Teal'c had paid attention to the Tollan technician earlier and activates the controls to turn it on. In short order it destroys the Death Gliders and then sends two powerful blasts to destroy the Goa'uld mothership in orbit. That's a heck of a gun!

All of the characters in the story are safe - there's no mention of how many casualties there were in the attack. O'Neill fishes for some advanced technology as reward for SG-1 saving the Tollan planet, but Travell will not allow it. The Tok'ra are called and remove Klorel - alive. Klorel will be sent to the Goa'uld, and Skaara is free, and free to go where he wishes.

In my opinion, this is one of the single best Stargate SG-1 episodes. It involves a profound moral issue, a race that can more than stand up to the Goa'uld, SG-1 saving said race's asses, good courtroom drama, and it resolves a big character issue that started at the beginning of the series.

This episode best encapsulates the intrinsic moral quandary that goes hand-in-hand with the existence of the Goa'uld: if the Goa'uld symbiote can only exist within a host body, is it morally wrong to remove it? The series has shown a definite progression in SG-1 (and thus our) knowledge of the symbiotes and the merging process. Initially, we only knew all symbiotes as being Goa'uld and being totally evil - they sought to completely dominate and subsume their hosts. Yes, they did have to live inside a host to survive, but they seemed unequivocally evil and parasitic. Initially, we also were given the impression that the Goa'uld completely destroys the host's personality, and so there's no return. Of course, we did start learning almost immediately that this was not the case.

Then we found out about the Tok'ra, who are symbiotes that only merge with willing hosts. They do not seek to quash the host's personality and desires, but instead share them. Tok'ra also cannot live outside of hosts, but we see that they are willing to die rather than to take over a host against his/her will.

So it seems clear, as the Triad decided, that the Goa'uld's initial take-over of a host against its will was morally wrong, and so removing it, in a sense, undoes that wrong. Now that there has been a case of the Tok'ra successfully removing a Goa'uld live from its host, it seems even more morally correct to effect such removals. The Goa'uld have the option, like the Tok'ra, of compromising and sharing with a host, so they need not die out. However, with the aggressive, selfish, ambitious natures of the Goa'uld, it seems unlikely they would change their ways.

This episode was a very interesting look at the Tollan. We knew from "Enigma" that they were quite arrogant and definitely very advanced technologically. We see in this episode that they have an extremely structured and civil society. As Teal'c remarked, they haven't fought a war in so long that they don't even conceive of having to do so. They have complete faith in their technology and weapons and can't imagine that that they won't work. For example, the weapon-disabling technology that disabled SG-1's guns - Narim casually said it would disable all weapons. Really? Projectile weapons, and lasers, and grenades, and Goa'uld devices, and anything else anyone could design? Does it disable knives? What about scissors and knitting needles? This, I think, encapsulates how complacent the Tollan have become about their technology protecting them.

Another demonstration of the Tollan's arrogance was the freedom that they gave to SG-1 and the Goa'uld representatives to move around the planet. While they did have some previous interaction with SG-1 to know that they were friendly, surely they have no such indication from the Goa'uld. They seemed to just assume that there was no harm the Goa'uld and Jaffa could do. This reminded me a bit of how visitors to the Enterprise on Star Trek: The Next Generation were treated - they were always just allowed to wander, and never failed to get into trouble of some kind.

Travell was also an excellent character - and the actress playing her did a great job - to represent the Tollan attitude. She came across as incredibly condescending - always with a smile as she tried to tolerate the less-advanced beings messing up the Triad. Narim is certainly easier to get along with, but is still very casually arrogant.

The Tollan arrogance and complacency almost got the better of them in this episode. Will this aborted attack make them re-think their defenses? Or at least make them realize that even if they aren't offensive toward the Goa'uld, the Goa'uld might still come after them?

While watching this episode, I was thinking about how much the Goa'uld would love to get their hands on Tollan technology. Simply the walk-through-solid-objects technology would be a huge advance for them - for example, it would render the SGC's Stargate iris complete ineffective. The Tollan also obviously have advanced weaponry and defensive shields. They also built a Stargate from scratch! We saw in "Enigma" their advanced communications. It's no wonder the Goa'uld are looking for any opportunity to either gain Tollan technology, or destroy the Tollans and remove the threat that they represent.

I wonder how frustrated the Tok'ra and Earth and any other fighting the Go'auld are by the existence of races like the Tollan and the Nox? And even by the Asgard? The Tollan easily destroyed three Goa'uld motherships in this episode - not an insignificant accomplishment. The Nox routinely keep the Goa'uld away from their planet - and in fact, it's not clear how many of the Goa'uld even know the Nox exist. The Asgard also have superior technology to the Goa'uld. And none of these races seems to be interested (except perhaps the Asgard) in stopping the Goa'uld from killing and enslaving millions and even billions of other sentient beings. I realize that it shouldn't necessarily be the Tollan's "job" to do this, but if they are so morally correct, how can they not? I can understand it a little more with the Nox, since they are pacifists, and clearly such a campaign would require violence. However, they are allowing violence to occur against many, many others - how can they justify this?

In the short term, I wonder if the SGC or the Tok'ra will try to engage the Tollan in more help against the Goa'uld, even if it's just bringing more Goa'uld's and hosts to be separated - it's not clear how much the Tok'ra did this on their own, or if they required Tollan technology.

This was a pivotal episode for Skaara and O'Neill. O'Neill vowed way back in season 1 in "Children of the Gods" to find Skaara and save him from the Goa'uld. He's finally succeeded! We could tell throughout the episode how important he considered freeing Skaara to be, because although he had some great lines (like "is that a 'money back if not completely alive' guarantee?"), he reined in his sarcasm and tried to play by the Tollan's rules in the Triad. He even called off Carter and Teal'c's surveillance of Zipacna's Jaffa so that it would not jeopardize the Triad. Even so, he couldn't quite hold in all of his disgust at Zipacna's declarations; I had to grin every time he muttered "oh, please".

Now O'Neill's original goal for participating in the Stargate program has been achieved, like Daniel. Will he consider leaving the program? Unlike Daniel, I don't think he needs additional motivation to continue on SG-1. Although he did retire prior to "Children of the Gods", I think he realizes now the importance of the Stargate program in Earth's defense. I think he also enjoys exploring new planets, however much he sighs about Daniel's and/or Carter's scientific sidelines. And even though Skaara is now free of the Goa'uld, I certainly think O'Neill still has some idea of vengeance against the Goa'uld for Skaara and all the others they've enslaved.

Teal'c definitely did some outside-of-the-box thinking in this episode. It's satisfying to see him picking up on the humans' cleverness in thinking through puzzles and planning. He clearly had concerns about what Zipacna and his Jaffa were doing - a typical Jaffa response would be some sort of head-on accusation or attack, or perhaps a physical ambush. However, Teal'c realized the delicacy of the diplomatic situation with the Tollan and came up with a clever plan to enlist Lya to help him. His initiative to go against orders also underlined his desire to prevent the Goa'uld from destroying or subjugating yet another race.

We don't know Lya, the Nox, very well, but it was certainly interesting that she was willing to help Teal'c. Carter pointed out the fine line Lya drew between hiding a weapon and actually using that weapon. It does make me wonder exactly how the Nox defend themselves against the Goa'uld. Making things invisible only goes so far - what if the Goa'uld did bring motherships to attack the Nox homeworld? Would they be able to just transport them away? Move their planet away? Do they have impervious shields? How could they defend themselves against such a major threat without causing harm to their attackers? Or in that case, would they just die?

All in all, this was an excellent episode that I fully enjoy each time I watch it.

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