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The Ancient time-traveling spaceship recovered in "It's Good to Be King" is an irresistible temptation. Who wouldn't want the chance to go back in time and "fix" some of their mistakes? The SGC and SG-1 are no different. In "Threads", everyone agreed that no one should have as powerful a weapon as the Ancient weapon on Dakara; yet, no one seems to realize that this time machine may be as much of a threat or worse. If someone does go into the past and make a change, the effects could propagate outwards into huge, not necessarily good, changes in today. This is a subject of countless science fiction stories, including the classic Star Trek episode, "City on the Edge of Forever". This is the reason why Carter nixed O'Neill's idea of going into the past to stop the Replicators in "Reckoning, Part 1". So what happened? Frankly, I think the temptation to time travel was just too strong to be resisted, although O'Neill and SG-1 manage to rationalize their decision.
Catherine Langford dies, leaving Daniel her legacy of archeological artifacts. Daniel notices that one drawing depicts a worshiper of Ra with a zero-point module (ZPM), a device which is a power source for Ancient technology. He realizes that since none of the Goa'uld know what ZPMs are used for, the ZPM in the image was just a religious icon and would not really be missed if it happened to be stolen by time-traveling personnel from the SGC. They don't even know for sure that the ZPM would be charged up, but if it was, it could be used to power the Ancient defense systems in Antarctica and power the stargate to dial Atlantis in the Pegasus galaxy. And with that rationalization, all common sense goes right out the window. Even Carter agrees that they might be able to quickly go back in time, grab the ZPM, and return without causing any significant changes in history.
Only O'Neill has the Ancient gene to fly the Ancient spaceship, so he leads the mission. They go back to 3000 BC in ancient Egypt. Carter lectures them all extensively on not interacting with anyone or doing anything that might change history. (She even says she's worried about accidentally stepping on a bug. I don't know whether or not this was an intentional reference to the classic Ray Bradbury time-traveling story "A Sound of Thunder", where just such a misstep caused a huge change in the present day.) They manage to access Ra's temple and grab the ZPM.
So far so good, but then they discover that Ra's Jaffa have discovered the cloaked Ancient ship due to a sandstorm overnight (it's a nifty effect). They have no choice but to fade into the background of contemporary life and hope for the chance to steal the ship back and travel back to their time. The rebellion against Ra could happen anytime, which may be their opportunity.
Apparently they never get their chance, because we jump forward to "today", where things are similar overall, but very different for SG-1. Carter is a meek science proofreader for the government. Daniel was drummed out of archeology for his ideas on aliens building the pyramids and is force to teach English as a second language to make ends meet; he's also much meeker than the Daniel we know and love. O'Neill is retired, possibly alcoholic, and running a day-tour boat (on what body of water? Is there much water near Colorado Springs?). We don't see Teal'c, but presumably he is still either first prime for Apophis or otherwise a Jaffa warrior.
The Air Force has come into possession of a video camera that was preserved in a canopic jar and found during an archaeological dig at Giza. On the video tape are SG-1 and O'Neill from the trip back in time. Daniel extensively describes their mission, them, and the stargate. He leaves detailed instructions for how to "fix" the timeline if things have been changed by them somehow.
For some reason, the Air Force has decided to follow the instructions. This effort is being led by General Hammond. One of the key differences in this timeline is that when Ra abandoned Earth, he took the stargate with them. Carter and Daniel are brought in to help with the effort, since they were on the tape. O'Neill is approached, but repulses any attempts to get him back on active duty.
Besides the video tape, the 3000 BC Daniel also left some clues and instructions in hieroglyphs, which include the location of the second stargate in Antarctica. Daniel and Carter manage to figure out that location. The time-traveling Ancient spaceship is also discovered, and Dr. McKay (from Stargate Atlantis in the "real" timeline) is brought in to figure out how to get it working. And that's it for this episode...to be continued.
I still cannot fathom the lapse in judgment that would let all of SG-1 and O'Neill believe that they could successfully pull off the mission to nab the ZPM. At this point, we have no idea how they managed to change the future. Did they make a major change, or were they in the past for long enough that some small changes added up?
I have to give the writers credit for a clever episode title. A moebius strip is a flat strip which is twisted 180 degrees and then the two ends of the strip are joined. That means that if you follow one edge of the strip, you will get back to the beginning on the opposite side from where you started from: you have traveled the loop, but you don't quite get back to where you started. The characters in the episode have traveled in a time loop, and they certainly aren't quite what we started with.
I do enjoy occasional episodes that let you see different sides of the characters, or what they might be like if they started out in different circumstances: season 1's "There But for the Grade of God" is a great example of this. However, the characters are so aggressively (or should I say meekly) different in the altered timeline that I feel like the writers went a little too far, and it's painful to watch. The Daniel and Carter we see are so passive and nerdy they are unbelievable. We knew that Carter had to choose between following her father into the Air Force or not, but why would remaining a civilian have altered her basic assertive personality? In the same way, the Daniel we know might be forced to teach English for the money if he was rejected by the archaeological community, but he would never step down from defending his ideas.
O'Neill is the only character that I can see becoming as he is. His probable alcoholism and disillusionment fits if one event still happened in this timeline: the accidental suicide of his son using his gun. In the "real" timeline, O'Neill was in this state, but the stargate mission (from the feature film) managed to pull him out of his depression and give him a new goal in life. Since the stargate was never discovered in this timeline, he just sunk deeper into his funk.
In the altered timeline, why would the Air Force want to follow the instructions on the video tape to "fix" the timeline? Although the lives of SG-1 seem to be duller, who can say if the Earth overall is better or worse off in the altered timeline? Sure, Earth doesn't have the stargate in order to access off-world allies, resources, or technology, but on the other hand, they haven't attracted the attention of any bad guys, either. At this point, I suspect that the Air Force is following the instructions just enough to recover the stargate and the time-traveling spaceship in order to use them for their own purposes. I don't see why they would actually go through with sending another team back in time to fix things. I suppose we'll learn the answer to this in the second part.
One bit of humor I enjoyed: O'Neill's continued attempts to go back in time to see the Cubs win the world series in 1908. Alas, the time ship can't make jumps so short for some reason.
Lastly, an astronomy nit: Carter and Teal'c notice that the stars are different when they jump back to 3000 BC. That's true - the stars would look a little different. However, the reason Carter gave is wrong. She said that Earth's orbit around the Sun was different then; technically, yes, it could have somewhat different eccentricity and orientation. But given how far away the stars are, those slight changes wouldn't change the appearance of the constellations. The reason the constellations would look different is because the stars themselves are moving relative to Earth. Over a human lifetime, or even a few hundred years, the movement is not detectable to the eye, but over thousands of years, the constellations would be noticeably different. This was a nice touch to the episode.