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

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Episode Information

Title: "Revisions"
Written by: Joseph Malozzi and Paul Mullie
Director: Martin Wood
Rating (out of 4 stars): **1/2
Reviewed on: May 23, 2007

Synopsis from GateWorld


"Revisions" feels like a good classic Star Trek plot: Kirk vs. the computer the is controlling a human population. However, Stargate SG-1 is certainly not Star Trek, and so the resolution is different: Carter re-programming the computer instead of Kirk outwitting it. In the end, SG-1 leaves the computer capable of continuing its functions, whereas Kirk would have almost certainly destroyed it.

The first exploration of the planet, going from the highly corrosive and dense atmosphere outside the dome to the pleasant atmosphere inside the dome is very effective. The atmosphere outside the dome is so corrosive that most of the buildings and artifacts of the prior civilization have decayed, and in fact we are lead to believe that human flesh will be eaten away within hours.

This leads me to my first point to ponder. If the atmosphere is that awful, how did any of the previous civilization's citizens manage to construct the dome and preserve the materials to put inside the dome? While it is stated that the ecosystem inside the dome currently is self-sustaining, the original planets and animals had to come from somewhere. I realize that the atmosphere was polluted gradually and did not become so lethal overnight. However, even a slightly less lethal atmosphere would be prohibitive to the construction of the dome or any kind of human survival prior to the dome.

Crater is mystified by the dome forcefield itself and makes a nice statement for us viewers: the forcefield is apparently permeable to large objects, but impermeable to small objects, like air molecules. She sees the obvious potential in this technology, but cannot explain it at this time. I really appreciate this kind of writing: the writers have acknowledged that this is convenient technology for the plot, but they do not try to explain it with some kind of technobabble. Contrast this with the (much later) season 10 "Line in the Sand" and the alternate phase matter thingy. The forcefield in this episode I can accept, especially since the details of it are not crucial to the plot.

I do wonder, though how small an object must be before it can't pass through the forcefield. And apparently small objects, like air molecules inside a person's lungs, can travel through the forcefield without a problem.

The inside of the forcefield has scenes of sky or landscaping as appropriate. I'm glad the staticky feel of the forcefield was mentioned - while it may be a side-effect of the field itself, it is a convenient warning mechanism so the forcefield isn't accidentally crossed. Does the local wildlife also heed the warning?

The first contact between SG-1 and the natives is amusing, since the hidden "threat" is a boy. O'Neill continues to show his soft spot for little boys as he "trades" Nevin his hazmat suit for Nevin's guidance to the village. As Carter points out, they probably could have found the village anyway, given that the dome is only a couple kilometers in diameter.

The natives are refreshingly normal, at least at first blush. The only unusual thing about them is that they are all tied into the central computer system via a small device on their foreheads called the Link. They use the Link to access all computer files on their history, both ancient and recent, making paper records obsolete. All of SG-1's experience finally kicks in, and they decline experiencing the Link personally.

We know that the normality is too good to be true, and odd things begin happening:

The way all these oddities fit together is rather ingenious. Carter realizes that the dome really is losing power. However, the computer cleverly decreases the size of the dome, without the inhabitants' knowledge, so that it can continue to be maintained. The computer re-programs the inhabitants through the Link so that they don't realize anything has changed. This explains why the MALP "moved": the dome itself actually shrank, and the MALP stayed where it was. Nevin and his father had to changes houses because their former house was now outside the dome. This aspect is strange, but might not be cause for significant concern.

The truly horrible side of the dome shrinking is revealed when Daniel finds some key ancient documents: when the dome was first constructed, the number of inhabitants was over 100,000, but the current population is somewhat over 1000. Apparently the computer realized that the ecosystem would not be able to sustain the higher population level as the dome shrank, so it programmed some inhabitants to leave the dome whenever it was necessary and then re-programmed the other people not to remember them. It's not clear that computer "realized" the people would die; it may have just been ordering them to leave the area it controlled under its programming. What is clear is that the computer cannot be allowed to continue in this way: besides the individual murders being committed, the population is well on its way to extinction as the size of the dome decreases.

Up to this point, the computer has been acting in a very logical manner, presumably following programming to keep the community alive and happy. (I add the happy part, because that would explain why the computer re-program's the people's memories.) However, then the computer shows that it does have at least some artificial intelligence and capability to react to threats: it realizes that O'Neill and Teal'c are somehow dangerous to the continuation of the community, and it tells the population to mob them. This scene is quietly threatening, and reminds me of the classic Star Trek episode "Return of the Archons", also involving computer control of individuals.

However, as the inhabitants continue to surround O'Neill and Teal'c, we realize that the threat is somehow empty. The inhabitants have no weapons, or even makeshift clubs. Certainly, they could overwhelm O'Neill and Teal'c with sheer numbers, but many of them would be killed or injured in the process. The action I was most worried about was if O'Neill felt he finally had no option but to shoot into the crowd - why didn't they bring zats on this mission? In the end, the townspeople want O'Neill and Teal'c to put on Links, presumably so the computer can re-program them. I suppose the townspeople could have overwhelmed them long enough to force the Links on them. (If SG-1 became part of the population, how long before four people would be chosen to leave the dome?)

Fortunately Carter and Pallan, whom Carter and Daniel have convinced to remove his link, are able to re-program the computer and defuse the situation. Once the immediate situation has been resolved, the inhabitants agree that they need to be relocated to another world.

One wonders if they will continue usage of the Link (albeit with a computer on a different world). I would imagine that having all the information you could ever want instantly accessible in your mind would be very addictive. I also wonder how it was that the people were able to function independently of the Link. For example, once Pallan removed his Link, he had to remember how to re-program the computer and write the new code himself. Frankly, I'm surprised he could do this, since I would think that with the Link, he would have done the same process by asking the computer how to access the program, having the computer generate the new program, and then inputting it. His job was nearly superfluous, so I'm surprised he had any ability in it.

Earlier in the episode, when Carter was trying to convince Pallan that the computer's readings had changed, I was disappointed in her attempts. Of course Pallan is not going to believe her word! As a scientist, she should have showed him her readings made using her independent sensors and computer. Pallan may have been convinced, at least until the next computer update.

I still wonder about the level of artificial intelligence in the computer. The computer "told" the people that it was deadly to remove the Link after Nevin's father told O'Neill that he wanted to leave the planet. This indicates that the computer can process and understand verbal communication between humans. It also indicates that the computer is monitoring (or recording for later analysis) all of the activities of the inhabitants. Very spooky. Later, the computer orders the people to gang up on O'Neill and Teal'c only after O'Neill tells Nevin's father that the Link is a threat. Clearly the computer is "possessive" of the inhabitants and does not want them to leave, even though it would ease the strain on the resources within the dome. The computer is shortsighted, however, because it does not send anyone to apprehend Daniel or Carter.

In the end, the SGC should profit quite a bit technologically from this mission. They can study the computer and forcefield technology (at least until the power runs out). I hope they also take advantage of the closed-systems technology that apparently maintained the dome's ecosystem for hundreds of years.

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