Episode Review of Stargate SG-1 Season 9: "The Powers That Be"

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Episode Information

Title: "The Powers That Be"
Written by: Martin Gero
Director: William Waring
Rating (out of 4 stars): ***
Reviewed on: September 7, 2007

Synopsis from GateWorld


The SGC takes on the Ori in a philosophical battle and is found sorely wanting.

The SGC is receiving reports of more and more Ori Priors arriving on worlds in the Milky Way and trying to convert the worlds to Origin. Vala talks Mitchell, Teal'c, and Daniel into visiting one of these worlds to try to stop the Prior there, because the people there trust her.

When they arrive at the world, Vala takes on the role of Qetesh, the Goa'uld that formerly controlled her and who the natives of the world believe is still their god. Vala does an excellent job of assuming the mannerisms and arrogance of a Goa'uld, which are very different from her own, and she has some type of device that produces the correct voice. She uses her godhood to find out what the Ori Prior has done so far and when he will return. The Prior healed one man of a serious illness, and he has been spreading the word. The Prior is due to return the next day.

Daniel and Teal'c obviously will not allow Vala to get away with her act for too long, and they force her to confess that she is not really a god. The people are understandably very upset and decide to execute her. Mitchell convinces the civilian leader to give her a trial (called a "mal doran", which is amusing) and then allowing the people to judge. While Vala doesn't find this prospect very encouraging, Daniel realizes that they can use it as an opportunity to demonstrate to the people how a false god can fool them, in the hopes that they will be more skeptical of the Ori.

At the mal doran, Daniel does make an eloquent case for being wary of beings that claim to be gods. But then the Prior returns and begins to argue the case of the Ori, claiming that the Ori do have more knowledge and better technology, and only want to share it with those who would follow them. The mal doran ends, and it's unclear whether Daniel or the Prior was more convincing.

The decision is that Vala will be imprisoned for life. However, the plot then takes a major twist. Villagers begin falling ill for an unknown reason. Daniel convinces the villagers to allow Vala to use the Goa'uld healing device; when she does, she apparently heals them. Daniel triumphantly explains that it wasn't magic - they used a tool.

Their victory is fleeting, because villagers begin to fall ill faster than Vala can heal them. Some of the previously healed fall ill again. Dr. Lam and a team in quarantine suits from the SGC come to help, but Dr. Lam has no idea what the problem is. Eventually the first villager dies, and even Mitchell is seriously ill.

Things come to a head when the Prior returns (again... it's not clear where he was). The healthy villagers plead with him to heal the ill. The Prior refuses to do so unless all the villagers pledge themselves to the Ori. Vala tries shooting the Prior with a machine gun, but he stops the bullets in midair. All of the villagers prostrate themselves to the Prior, and he heals everyone (even Mitchell and the dead villager) with a burst of light. The Prior knows the SGC personnel do not believe in him, but nevertheless charges them to spread word of what they have witnessed. The end.

This is the first real confrontation between the SGC and the Ori, trying to win the hearts of the population in question. And the SGC was whipped soundly. They did start off badly, since they had to reveal that one of them (Vala) had been lying to them for years, which ruins their credibility. Also, as I discussed in my review for "Origin", since the society is suddenly without a leader, they are likely to be particularly vulnerable to a new leader when he shows up.

The argument between Daniel and the Prior during the mal doran was interesting and compelling. However, the Prior had the upper hand here because he is offering relatively tangible benefits (such as healing miracles) compared to Daniel's purely abstract arguments concerning freedom of thought and religion. In a society whose own citizens describe themselves as poverty-stricken and starving, abstract ideals are not going to go very far. This first confrontation between the Prior and SG-1 was at best a draw.

When Vala managed to heal the first villager, Daniel and the others were way to quick to claim a moral victory. I guess they had absolutely no suspicion about what the Prior's plans were. I will give Vala credit for being willing to do all the healing she did, which is obviously very draining.

Did the villagers ever realize that the Prior was the cause of the illness? It does not seem so, even though some of them should have suspected it. Either way, I don't believe it would have been that important to them, because regardless of the cause of the illness, the Prior was obviously the only one who could cure it. And if they did realize it, they probably would write it off to the capriciousness of gods, which they certainly saw with the Goa'uld.

An interesting point was made concerning the illness: it was very similar to the illness that affected the people at the Antarctic research base in season 6's "Frozen". They caught that disease from the Ancient person who was found in the ice and revived. The disease was what apparently wiped out the Ancients on Earth, if not from the entire Milky Way galaxy. The implication is that the Ori were behind that disease. This establishes the Ori as being both willing and able to use biowarfare to get what they want, similar to the Aschen in season 5's "2001", although the Ori do it with more drama.

This episode has presented the SGC with the harsh reality that if they want to convince people on other worlds to stand up to the Ori, they are going to need a more convincing message. For worlds that are used to the arbitrary natures of "gods" and being forced into reverence, the Ori are not going to appear to be that onerous of masters.

Oh, there's also a subplot back at the SGC. General Landry is trying very hard to improve relations with Dr. Lam. It's not explicitly stated, but we deduce that she is his daughter. That certainly would explain her hostility - nothing can be worse than family fights! This subplot didn't do much for me, because I haven't really warmed to either of the characters yet.

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