Episode Review of Stargate SG-1 Season 7: "Lifeboat"

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Episode Information

Title: "Lifeboat"
Written by: Brad Wright
Director: ???
Rating (out of 4 stars): **1/2
Reviewed on: May 23, 2007

Synopsis from GateWorld


Whenever I think about "Lifeboat", I think it must be a bottle show (one on all previously-built sets). However, the show does show new, off-world planet scenes, and there is a guest star. So much of the show takes place within the medical isolation room that it feels almost like a one-set show.

SG-1 finds a crashed spaceship on a new world they are exploring. Within the ship, they discover hundreds of (mostly) functioning cryogenic sleep units. They have no idea how long the ship has been wrecked here. O'Neill orders a count of the sleep units so that they can assess how to help the sleepers. The team splits up to count - was anyone else thinking "never split the party" at this point? Sure, Stargate SG-1 doesn't usually do horror, but the dark ship and the frozen people sure gave me the willies.

Some alien weapon or technology is used, and all the team members are knocked unconscious. After an unknown amount of time has lapsed, Teal'c awakens and locates the other team members, who are still unconscious. Teal'c finds Daniel propped up against an open sleeper unit - did he fall unconscious against the unit, or was he moved there by someone else? He awakens when Teal'c touches him and begins screaming.

Teal'c calls for help from the SGC, and O'Neill and Carter are returned to the SGC unconscious (an unprecedented amount of time for main characters to be unconscious). Daniel is put in medical isolation on the suspicion that he may be a Goa'uld. This is quickly determined not to be the case, but his strange behavior cannot be explained.

Two items clue us into what has happened to Daniel. First, Dr. Frasier states that his EEG reading shows part of Daniel's mind in a coma, and part of his mind jumbled up as if a dozen personalities were present. Second, Daniel himself begins exhibiting distinctly different personalities in succession.

The first personality is that of Martice, the Sovereign of the people on the spaceship. He's an arrogant ass, becoming violent enough for Frasier to order restraints. However, I suspect the violence is due to the unbelievable situation the personality finds himself in and his total helplessness, after begin accustomed to having every whim taken care of.

The next personality is Tryan, a crewmember from the ship. He seems rational and calm, and is able to provide the most information to the SGC. The ship was filled with people fleeing from a disaster that destroyed their world; they were headed to another planet to colonize it. For an unknown reason, the ship crashed. Tryan states that the people placed in cryogenic sleep have their personalities removed and placed in computer storage. Frasier realizes that somehow many personalities must have been "downloaded" into Daniel's mind. Tryan insists this is impossible...unless the personality's body is dead. Of course, this means that Tryan's body is dead.

The last personality that we get to observe is that of Keenin, a young boy. His father was a crewmember on the ship. He has probably the most heart-wrenching story: everyone on the planet knew their world was doomed. His father could bring one family member with him, and his mother insisted it was Keenin. What a horrible choice! Of course, we also know now that Keenin's body must be dead.

Dr. Frasier and SG-1 are convinced that there must be some way to remove the extra personalities from Daniel's mind before Daniel's personality is completely lost. Carter and Teal'c return to the ship to inspect the sleeper units. While there, they capture an awake crewmember, Pharrin. Pharrin reveals that he downloaded the personalities into Daniel because the power units on the computer memory storing them were about to give out, and this would keep them "alive". Of course, he confirms that the bodies are dead. He also reveals that he has downloaded a large number of personalities into himself, giving rise to some Gollum conversations akin to those in Lord of the Rings.

Carter and Teal'c promise to help the rest of the people in the sleeper units and bring Pharrin back to the SGC. Pharrin claims that there is no way to return the personalities back to the computer memories, because the memories have failed. At this point, it seems clear that removing the personalities will "kill" them, but Frasier and the rest of SG-1 are adamant that it be done.

There is a big moral question here. Is one's "personality" enough to say that one is alive? When the personalities take over Daniel's body, they sure act alive, and they seem to have the full run of emotions and are able to make conscious decisions. Is the soul really there? We don't know, and I can't say that I think SG-1 has had enough experience with this phenomena to be sure, but the personalities sure seem alive. So is it moral to kill these people to save Daniel's mind (his body being in no danger)? Stargate SG-1 has already ruled in this matter, in season 3's "Pretense": yes. In that case, the Tollan Triad ruled that the Goa'uld Klorel should be removed from the body of Skaara, because Klorel had taken the body against Skaara's wishes and Skaara's personality was no more than a slave. This is a nearly identical case, except that multiple offenders are involved. However, it's a little disturbing that no one in the SGC blinks twice about killing these innocent people that were downloaded without their permission. I suppose if that hadn't happened, they would already be dead.

I had another thought while watching: the SGC now has allies that know how to make clones at will. Why not contact the Asgard and see if some clones of Pharrin could be made? Since the consciousness of a person must be transferred into the clone (this is how the Asgard extend their lives), then that means that the clones are originally blank slates, and so there would be no problem with the personalities taking them over. Certainly Pharrin is zealous enough to allow himself to be cloned. The resolution of this episode does not discount the possible future use of cloning in this way, but it's never mentioned.

Back to the episode. Because of the SGC's promise to help the remaining sleepers, Pharrin agrees to help remove the extra personalities from Daniel. This is especially poignant when we find out that Keenin is Pharrin's son. They do at least get to speak to each other again when Keenin takes over Daniel.

In the end, Pharrin does not condemn the personalities to death, but adds them to the already large number of personalities within himself. He has himself put into cryogenic sleep with the hope that once others of his race are awakened, they might come up with a solution. Daniel makes a full recovery, and SG-1 begins the process of repairing the ship and awakening the other sleepers.

This episode must have been quite a romp for actor Michael Shanks - how often does an actor get to play multiple characters that occupy the same body? He does an excellent job making the characters distinct in mannerisms and voice. The matching mannerisms between Daniel and Keenin and the child Keenin we see in flashbacks is excellent.

Teal'c and O'Neill take turns watching over Daniel. This is a nice mirroring of how Daniel watched over them when he was ascended. Unfortunately for them, they couldn't do much more for Daniel in this case than Daniel could when the situations were reversed.

I have to discuss the astronomy that was mentioned: the planet was doomed because a "dark star" was going to pass too close to their star and cause it to have a major flare. A dark star is defined as a star that has "burned out its fuel". As an astronomer, this means that the object is a white dwarf (which is what's left behind after a star like the Sun runs out of fuel), or a neutron star or black hole (what's left behind after a star much more massive than the Sun runs out of fuel). White dwarfs are by far the most common, so this would make the most sense. White dwarfs are more luminous than neutron stars and black holes, but they are still very dim, so it would be hard to detect it from far away. It is possible, though, so that's not what I have a problem with.

Having a white dwarf pass through the planetary system, close enough to the star to have an effect on part of the star - pulling some of the star's gas out to make a "flare" - is just really not necessary to make the planet uninhabitable. The gravitational force between the white dwarf and the planets and star in the system would likely cause many of the planets' orbits to change and become unstable. The orbit of the planet in question might be changed to be more eccentric, so that at perihelion it was too close to the star and aphelion too far away, rendering it uninhabitable. Or the planet might be ejected from the system entirely. (You can try this out for yourself with an applet called Rogue Star, written by one of my colleagues here.) It's not necessary to invoke a flare - and in fact, there's only a small chance that even a large flare would actually be aimed right at the planet. At any rate, the actual cause of the planet's doom was not important to the story; I just wanted to mention it.

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