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SG-6 returns from the planet occupied by the Sodan ("Babylon"): their covert mission was to try to keep the people on that planet from converting to Origin. They were unsuccessful. While they were there, one of them picked up a Prior plague and brought it back to the SGC and Earth. Before anyone realizes the plague exists, the airman who is carrying it has traveled off-base. The plague is definitely airborne, and possibly persistent (meaning it can last a long time in the air outside of a body). The SGC and other government agencies scramble to try to keep the plague confined to the area around the SGC (or at least the state of Colorado), but are unsuccessful.
Meanwhile, Teal'c is on Dakara participating in a High Council meeting, where Gerak's proposal is being discussed: that the Jaffa nation officially adopt Origin as their religion. Teal'c and Bra'tac are aghast at the very thought; as Teal'c points out, one can not dictate faith with laws. Bra'tac makes a very interesting and important point: for thousands of years, the Jaffa have been dominated by the Goa'uld, who enforced the belief in them as gods and smothered any other possible religion. Now the Jaffa know that the Goa'uld are not gods. They also are aware that the Ancients, while powerful and deserving of respect, are not beings that are likely to involve themselves in Jaffa affairs as gods. So now the Jaffa are adrift spiritually. Before, they had some thought of an afterlife, either from the Goa'uld or ascending like the Ancients, but now they have nothing. Consequently, they are struggling as a people, and potentially welcome the Ori as spiritual masters. (This is an interesting contrast to Earth, because humans were happy to wipe out the false god Goa'uld, but that did nothing to affect the various religions on Earth.)
The Jaffa High Council is wavering on Gerak's proposal, but is likely to accept it. Privately, we see Gerak speaking with a Prior, and it is obvious that Gerak will do whatever the Prior demands. The Prior is adamant that all Jaffa should worship the Ori, even if some Jaffa must be sacrificed to ensure it.
Back at the SGC, things are frantic as Dr. Lam struggles and fails to make any headway on the plague. Meanwhile, Carter and Dr. Lee are working on a prototype anti-Prior device that would stop a Prior from using the specialized areas of his brain (such as those for telepathy and telekinesis) with ultrasonic waves. While they have made great progress, they haven't quite got it all working yet. It's a little strange to see them so involved in this project when people are falling ill from the plague all around them, but I suppose they are trying to keep themselves busy. During some of this work, Dr. Lee shows much more of a sense of humor than we've ever seen before... perhaps also trying to keep away feelings of despair?
Orlin (from season 5's "Ascension") shows up, having taken the form of a young boy in order to have a more flexible brain to store more knowledge. He has come to give the SGC information about the Ori; apparently the majority of the ascended Ancients approve of this, since they didn't prevent his action. Orlin reveals the Ori's huge scam: they want people to worship them, because when large numbers of people do so, the Ori can drain energy from them, making themselves more powerful. The history is as so: the Ancients (then called Alterans) and Ori started out together as humans. As they evolved toward ascension and increased in abilities, the Ori began to believe that "lower" sentients should worship them as gods, while the Alterans thought "lower" sentients should not be interfered with. The Ori tried to kill of the Alterans, but the Alterans left their original galaxy and came to the Milky Way galaxy. The Ori and the Alterans created humans that they left behind in their respective galaxies after they ascended; the Ori's descendants are their worshipers, and the Alterans descendants are all the humans in the Milky Way. Now, the Ori demand religious conversion and faith so that they can use the energy of their followers. When their followers die, the Ori do not help them to ascend.
What Orlin does not state, but we can figure out, is that the Ori tried to wipe out the Alterans in our own galaxy with a Prior plague. The revived Ancient, Ayiana, (from season 6's "Frozen") carried a disease that no contemporary human ever figured out how to cure. Dr. Lam noted that the disease that the Priors planted on the planet in "The Powers That Be" was very similar to the one that Ayiana had. Now we find out that the current plague is also similar, but each version has mutated and has been very difficult to find a cure for.
Finally, Orlin reveals that the ascended Ancients are concerned about the Ori and think it would be very bad if the people in the Milky Way converted to Origin, but that they will not interfere or help. Once Orlin has delivered his information, he decides to help the SGC find a cure for the plague. He makes some progress, but he starts becoming ill, apparently from the effort he is making to retain all of his Ancient knowledge in a brain that is too small. He also reaches a scientific roadblock: he needs some DNA from the Prior that originated the current plague. Mitchell plans a mission to try to capture a Prior using the untested anti-Prior device. The President has closed all borders of the US, putting the nation in quarantine, as thousands of people are now ill with the plague.
Meanwhile, Teal'c and Bra'tac decide to hold a meeting of Jaffa (on another planet) who do not want to follow Origin in order to come up with a plan to keep Gerak's proposal from being accepted. Gerak's Prior finds out about this meeting and orders Gerak to take Jaffa ships and kill all the meeting participants. This is something that even the militant Gerak cannot do. He bluffs to the meeting participants and tells them to give up, but when they do not, he does not destroy them. The Prior is incensed at Gerak's disobedience. However, he senses that Gerak just needs a little more motivation: Gerak is transformed into a Prior.... TO BE CONTINUED
In this episode, the Ori continue their smart planning on their attacks: they are trying to divide and conquer by attacking both the Earth and the Jaffa simultaneously but in different ways. They already know that Earth doesn't have a quick cure for a Prior plague, so they could have used it before now. Presumably they were hoping for conversion rather than annihilation, since only living worshipers benefit the Ori. Will a Prior show up to tell the SGC that the plague will be cured if only they accept Origin?
The Ori are also clever in their approach to the Jaffa. Just like with the Sodan, their goal is to first convert the leader to Origin, then get the rest to follow. However, this approach may be too narrow: in the Ori society, people follow their leaders without question. The Jaffa no longer have such blind obedience. Can the resistance of Teal'c, Bra'tac and others convince the High Council not to follow the Ori? Gerak's transformation into a Prior is a bold move - will it help or hurt the Ori cause?
Orlin's return is a surprise. He says he still loves Carter. What has he been up to these past years as an ascended being? Hanging around watching Carter? I wonder what he thought of her relationship with Pete Shanahan. This whole idea is pretty creepy, but Orlin always was a bit creepy. Although we know that Orlin's mind is adult, it's hard to take him seriously as an adult; even Carter has trouble doing this, as we can tell from her tone of voice and mannerisms when she talks to him. The fact that the Ancients allowed Orlin to return and give them some knowledge seems to be both a token effort of support, but also a warning: they aren't going to intervene.
Finding out the motivation behind the Ori's zeal to add worshipers is very satisfying. In an earlier episode, Daniel had mentioned that he couldn't figure out what the Ori had to gain by adding followers. Apparently when he was ascended, the Ancients didn't share the secret of their energy-sapping potential with him. It also explains why the Ori don't mind killing off some of their followers or potential followers: as long as they number of new conversions from an action is larger than the number of deaths, they come out ahead. And the ascended realm isn't even getting crowded, since they don't bother to help their followers ascend.
This episode almost could have been titled "The Four Horsemen" instead of specifying the fourth one. The biblical four horsemen are war, famine, pestilence, and death. We see war in the potential civil war among the Jaffa, pestilence via the Prior plague, and obviously lots of death is imminent. We're just missing the famine to the get bingo!
Some other small comments. We see General Hammond giving a speech, but then we don't see him again. Hopefully he'll have a bigger part in the second part of the episode! We find out explicitly that Dr. Lam is General Landry's daughter. We had previously had hints to that effect, but we didn't know for sure. (Actually, I feel like someone told the writers: not everyone got it, so could you please make it clear?) The airman with the inappropriate comment about her sure got his reward: he is the carrier of the plague that is likely to kill thousands. Seems like more than he deserved...
This episode did a good job building up a lot of different plot threads. Hopefully we'll see them resolved in the second part of the episode. The attempt to capture a Prior is sure to be hairy, and the new Jaffa nation has an impending civil war over the Origin issue. And there's always that plague here on Earth...