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The Prometheus, damaged in season 6's "Memento", is finally repaired and about to make the trip home. It will make the trip in a number of relatively short hyperspace jumps, so as not to overheat the replacement al'kesh hyperdrive engine (Is this what happened to O'Neill's new ship from "Avenger 2.0"?). Carter is along for the ride to nurse the engine and explore an interesting nebula en route. Alas, Prometheus shows it may be a bad luck ship as it quickly encounters an unknown, hostile alien ship on one of its stops. The ship ducks into the nebula to hide, and the enemy follows.
During the retreat, Carter is knocked unconscious. (The effect is very believable; I winced when she slammed into the bulkhead.) When she awakens, the ship is deserted and she has a nasty head injury. The rest of the episode follows her as she tries to resolve the situation. Her head injury causes her to hallucinate, and it's difficult to separate what is real from what she is imagining. The first time I watched the episode, I found it confusing for this reason, but another viewing really improved the show for me.
For the purposes of clarity in this discussion, I want to state which events I believe are real, and which she imagined. I believe that the physical events that occurred on the ship (the hull breaches, for example) were real, but all of the other people on the ship were hallucinations. The scenes back at the SGC involving other SG-1 members were real.
When Carter awakens and finds the ship "devoid of crew", she assumes they have abandoned ship (the escape pods are all gone) for some reason. She tries several sensible methods to get the ship in motion, but they all fail, presumably because of some influence of the nebula. (Astronomy correction: she says the nebula is a nebula or "gas giant". A gas giant is a type of planet - Jupiter is the archetype - and the ship is obviously not inside planet.) Consequently, she settles in for a protracted stay on the ship until a rescue arrives.
During all of this, her head injury begins to cause her to hallucinate. She quickly realizes that they are hallucinations and that she is in essence talking to herself, or at least parts of her subconscious. This provides the real interest of the episode: what does Carter think of herself and her situation?
Teal'c appears to warn her not to fall asleep because of her injury. However, she cannot help but pass out several times. The way she slips in and out of consciousness very effectively skews not only her time sense but the audience's as well. Later, Teal'c reappears with a huge grin and calls her "Samantha"; this is so out of character it is jarring. He warns her that all of these events may be occurring only in her mind at the behest of enemy captors, so she should not try to fix the ship. This is certainly a believable possibility, since we have seen similar events in season 3's "The Devil You Know" and season 6's "Unnatural Selection", just to name two examples. However, Carter can't remain passive and rejects this possibility.
Daniel appears several times and continually encourages her to explore: first the nebula as a thing, then the possibility that the nebula is sentient. He is awfully enthusiastic and talkative, a bit of a caricature of his normal self. It's unnerving how he obliviously prattles on as Carter slowly sinks to the floor and passes out. Carter is apparently trying to tell herself something through Daniel, however; she ignores his first suggestion to learn about the nebula and then the nebula gases being corroding the ship, putting it in danger of a breach.
Jacob Carter appears and asks Carter if she is happy. This is an interesting turn of Carter's subconscious. Has she started to think that she's not going to survive, so she's looking back on the meaning of her life? Is her injury starting to make her lose focus on the situation?
For Jacob, being happy apparently means loving someone and being loved, and he does not think that Carter can be truly happy if this isn't the case for her. I don't believe that being involved in a relationship is necessary for happiness, but the fact that Carter gets upset and not angry shows that this has hit a nerve for her.
This "conversation" sets up her next visitor: O'Neill. He expresses confidence in her ability to save herself from this situation. She gets right to what's on her mind, and speculates on whether they could be together if she resigned from the Air Force. Of course, O'Neill isn't real and can't give her a real answer, but I see her as tossing out ideas to herself, not necessarily deciding a course of action. By talking to his image, she realizes that she may have feeling for him because she knows they'll always be impossible to act on, and in that way she's removing any other chance for love (or rejection) with someone else. She also realizes that they have a friendship that will always be strong because of the bonding from all the difficult missions they have been on together. I think that during this conversation, Carter finally opens herself up to possibilities of other relationships.
The last hallucinatory person Carter sees intermittently throughout the episode is a small girl named Grace. Carter doesn't seem to recognize her (neither do I), so she seems to be a unique construct of her imagination. Grace sings nursery rhymes, talks a bit to Carter, and blows bubbles. What part of Carter does Grace represent? Her imagination, to help her think of a way out of the situation? Her sense of wonder? Herself as a child? It's not clear.
Meanwhile, back at the SGC, a search has begun for the Prometheus or at least its crew. SG-1 is traveling to worlds along its route that have stargates, in case they had to abandon ship. The Tok'ra have a ship retracing its course.
O'Neill is surprising pessimistic and short-tempered about the search. Daniel tries to remain optimistic and cheer him up. In a wonderful scene, Teal'c reveals to O'Neill that during the events of season 6's "Paradise Lost", when O'Neill was lost with Maybourne, Carter was very upset and despaired of finding him again. I wonder how much Teal'c suspects of the feelings between O'Neill and Carter? This conversation made me realize that while O'Neill has been lost and Carter has been in the position of searching for him and waiting (season 6's "Paradise Lost", season 3's "A Hundred Days", for example), I can't think of a time when Carter has been lost and O'Neill has had the position of searching and waiting. While Carter has been injured and near death before, it's been while the team has been together. O'Neill is not handling the situation well.
On Prometheus, Grace's bubbles give Carter the inspiration for how to get the ship out of the nebula: by creating a warp bubble around the ship. Then she makes an intuitive leap and realizes the alien ship is also stuck, and they have taken the crew captive. She trades her ability to remove them from the nebula for the return of the crew; the alien ship complies and then leaves.
This is the only real snag in the episode, with several aspects: first, why were all the escape pods gone if the crew had been beamed off by the aliens? (Possibly they could have abandoned ship and then been captured.) Second, before Carter was injured, the aliens were not in the nebula, and then we never really get an indication that they are in the nebula and stuck. Did I miss this on one of the shots out the window? Last, how did Carter know the aliens could understand her? We had no prior sign of this. Given the good aspects of the show, I can overlook these problems as part of Carter's tunnel vision because of her injury.
At the end of the episode, Carter is healing in the SGC's infirmary, with O'Neill watching over her. Their conversation highlights the bond between them and is a satisfying ending to events.
As I said initially, I expect Carter's attitude toward life to be changed after this. She has seemingly decided to emphasize her own personal happiness more. What will be the result of this?
In terms of broader implications of the episode, the Prometheus has returned to Earth, although it still needs repairs. Maybe some bigger guns are in order! It was nice to see that the most effective part of the ship during the attack were the Asgard-supplied shields, which seems appropriate.