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At the end of "Within the Serpent's Grasp", SG-1 had apparently killed Klorel/Skaara and had taken control of Klorel's ship. The ship had just arrived at the Earth. Teal'c confirms that there's no way for them to leave the ship's bridge except through the door that the Jaffa are waiting outside, so O'Neill decides it's time to blow the C-4 around the ship and destroy it. Yes, they would die, but no one even thinks twice about that small sacrifice.
However, before they detonate the explosives, Apophis's ship arrives as well. Apparently they had not quite realized Apophis was also coming to Earth, even though he had pretty much said he was. Blowing up their own ship will not stop Apophis's ship from destroying humanity, so they postpone the detonation. The Jaffa outside the bridge break in and disable them all with some type of stun grenade.
On the Earth, Colonel Samuels (a lackey of Senator Kinsey, as seen in last season's "Politics") has returned to the SGC in charge of the US's plan to strike the Goa'uld ships approaching the Earth. Some researchers have incorporated naquadah, the Stargate material, into nuclear warheads, substantially increasing their power. The attack plan consists of two of these missiles being launched at the Goa'uld ships to destroy them while they orbit the Earth. Samuels is so confident in this plan that he's convinced the President it would better not to put their armed forces at increase readiness - it might only warn the Goa'uld that they are going to be attacked.
General Hammond can't believe that the US is putting the whole world's eggs in one basket, so to speak, but his words fall on deaf ears. Hammond has, however, taken charge of a plan to evacuate "Earth's best and brightest" people through the Stargate to another planet called the Alpha Site. Both Samuels and Hammond's activities get extra time to take effect as Apophis delays the attack to allow Klorel to be healed in the sarcophagus so he can join the attack.
On Klorel's ship, SG-1 awaken in a cell. They can't see, which is a temporary effect of the stun grenade used on them. Daniel is especially upset that they have failed to stop the attack on the Earth, but O'Neill tries to keep everyone's spirits up by convincing them they aren't finished trying to stop the attack yet.
Klorel's head Jaffa has put him into the sarcophagus and reported to Apophis. New viewers probably wouldn't recognize the voice of Tony Amendola, the actor who plays Bra'tac, but old fans will be happy to realize that he's there. Somehow he's gotten himself into favor with Klorel and Apophis, despite being Teal'c's mentor. Apophis orders Bra'tac to execute SG-1 immediately.
Bra'tac retrieves SG-1 from their cell. He's annoyed that SG-1 has showed up because he had his own plan to stop Apophis's attack on Earth: when the Death Gliders launched, he was going to lead Klorel's Gliders to attack Apophis's. Since it's common for Goa'uld young to attack their elders, Apophis would blame Klorel, and they would probably stop the attack on the Earth in order to fight each other. Now, SG-1's attack on Klorel will make him that much more willing to work with Apophis to destroy the Earth. However, as O'Neill points out, of course they were going to try to stop the attack on the Earth - it's their own planet! Plus, they had now way of knowing Bra'tac's plan. Now they obviously need a new plan. Bra'tac releases them from their cell, and SG-1 joins Bra'tac and two Jaffa loyal to him.
Klorel has awoken from the sarcophagus, and he is pissed. Apophis orders both of their ships to go into orbit around the Earth to commence the attack. On the Earth, Samuels orders the launch of the two naquadah-missiles. Despite US stealth technology, the Goa'uld detect them easily. Klorel hesitates for quite awhile before raising the ship's defensive shield - apparently Skaara's personality is fighting his actions. The shields cause the missiles to blow up a safe distance away from the ships.
On the Earth, Samuels can't believe that his masterful plan failed. While Hammond obviously doesn't want the Goa'uld to attack the Earth, he can't help enjoying the sight of Samuels so deflated. Samuels decides that he might as well join the people going to the Alpha Site, which Hammond vetoes immediately. Hammond informs Samuels that he will stay at the SGC to defend it until the very end, just as Hammond himself will do. (Interestingly, Samuels suggests sending a nuclear weapon through the Stargate to Chulak, to which Hammond replies, "I can think of no miliary reason to do that." This is in complete contrast to General O'Neill in the alternate universe in "There but for the Grace of God", who sends the bomb through without hesitating. Of course, it cost him dearly in the end.)
Klorel makes a quick trip to Apophis's ship via the rings to ask Apophis to let him return to the sarcophagus for more healing. He seems concerned that Skaara's personality is influencing him too much, but Apophis will not hear his concerns.
Bra'tac and SG-1 decide that they will re-take control of Klorel's ship and move it close enough to Apophis's so that when the C-4 detonates on Klorel's ship, it will also destroy the other ship. They attack the bridge with Klorel and his Jaffa in a scene much reminiscent of what they just did in "Within the Serpent's Grasp", even to the extent that Klorel begins using his hand device on Bra'tac and must be shot away. Bra'tac steers the ship toward Apophis's.
Daniel was seriously injured by a Jaffa staff weapon during the fight. O'Neill prepares to carry him with the team, but Daniels insists on staying behind and not slowing them down. Surprisingly, O'Neill acquiesces, and the rest of SG-1 and Bra'tac use the ring transporter to take Klorel over to Apophis's ship as a hostage. After they leave, Daniel drags himself into the sarcophagus on Klorel's bridge.
Upon arriving on Apophis's ship, Bra'tac uses a staff weapon to destroy the ship's controls, so they can't stop Klorel's ship from getting too close. Apophis does not attack them, since they are holding Klorel. SG-1 and Bra'tac flee the bridge, leaving Klorel behind. Apophis does not pursue, but instead he and Klorel use the ring transporter to leave. We don't see this, but if they returned to Klorel's ship, they could have escaped using the Stargate before the ship exploded.
SG-1 and Bra'tac still need to permanently lower the defensive shield around Apophis's ship so that the explosion of Klorel's ship will destroy it. When they get to the appropriate place in the ship, O'Neill makes short work of the shield generator with a couple of grenades. Then they head to the launch bay for the Death Gliders. After incapacitating the Jaffa there, they pair up and escape in two Death Gliders.
On Klorel's ship, we see Daniel wake up from the sarcophagus, run to the room with the Stargate, and dial back to the SGC just before Klorel's ship explodes. On the Earth, reports come in from all over the US about the huge fireball seen in the sky as the Goa'uld ships explode. The SGC happily receives Daniel through the Stargate, which tells them that SG-1 really was on the Goa'uld ship.
The Death Gliders that the others escaped on are badly damaged by the explosion. It's not explicitly stated, but apparently the damage is too bad for them to be able to enter the atmosphere and land, as the four of them resign themselves to burning up in the atmosphere soon. (We know that Death Gliders are atmosphere-capable, having seen them last season in "Singularity", for example.)
Fortunately for them, the Space Shuttle Endeavour launches and rendezvoused with them in orbit. (This is completely impossible, as I'll discuss below.) Bra'tac and the rest of SG-1 are transported back to the Earth by the Space Shuttle. That's where they find out that Daniel is still alive. Really? They couldn't let SG-1 know while they were on the Shuttle? Bra'tac returns to Chulak in order to continue the rebellion against the Goa'uld there.
This episode was fun, because we got to see SG-1 save the Earth despite Senator Kinsey and his political allies. It was frustrating in "Politics" last season to see Kinsey dismiss the threat that we knew was real, and so it was satisfying to see our characters proved right. And thankfully no one on the Earth was hurt. Conveniently for the characters in the show, the Stargate program and the existence of aliens are still secret from the general populace.
Most of the plot fit together very well. The only deus ex machina was the presence of Bra'tac. He said that he had worked very hard to return to favor with Apophis and Klorel. I wonder what he had to do to do that? Frankly, I'm surprised that Apophis didn't kill Bra'tac for being Teal'c's mentor, so I find it almost unbelievable that Bra'tac was able to get back into a position of power amongst Apophis's Jaffa. Since Bra'tac renounced both Apophis and Klorel as false gods to their faces, I don't think he'll be able to get back in favor with them again. Bra'tac must truly believe that the Jaffa can successfully rebel against the Goa'uld.
The only other problem with the plot was a minor one at the end. It's not possible that the Space Shuttle could have picked them up. Let me back up a bit on this discussion. It was funny earlier in the episode when Bra'tac was asking about the space forces that Earth had, and O'Neill hesitantly mentioned that they had "shuttles". He meant the Space Shuttles, of course. As I watched this episode in 2014, this comment was especially amusing because the Space Shuttle program was ended in 2011. As I write this, the US does not have ANY capability of putting humans in space.
However, even when the Space Shuttle program was active, there were a lot of limitations to it that people generally did not appreciate. First, the Shuttles could not go beyond low-Earth orbit. This is the orbit of the ISS (which is why the ISS is in that orbit - the Space Shuttles carried up the pieces to build the ISS), which is about 400 km above the Earth's surface. At the maximum, the Space Shuttles serviced the Hubble Space Telescope on some missions, which is 500 km above the Earth's surface. Consequently, there's absolutely no way the Space Shuttle could have reached the Goa'uld ships, which were in geosynchronous orbit above the US; geosynchronous orbit is about 36,000 km above the Earth's surface. Even if the Space Shuttles had some kind of weapons (which they didn't), they couldn't have reached the Goa'uld ships to attack them.
I suppose the altitude limit of the Space shuttle doesn't necessarily preclude the rescue at the end of the episode, since the Death Gliders had left Apophis's ship and were getting closer to the Earth. Maybe they got close enough to get to low-Earth orbit. However, another aspect of the Space Shuttle would have prevented the rescue: Space Shuttles cannot be launched on a moment's notice.
There is a tremendous amount of re-fitting and testing that went into preparing the re-usable Space Shuttle for launch. For a normal mission, this preparation took a year or more. That's one reason why we had more than one Space Shuttle - more frequent missions could occur because we rotated between them. What about in the case of an emergency? There is a fascinating report on Ars Technica about a possible rescue plan NASA developed for the Space Shuttle Columbia. (As you may remember, when Columbia launched, a piece of foam damaged one of its re-entry tiles on its underside. The resulting flaw in the tile allowed the heat of re-entry to destroy the Shuttle as it returned through the atmosphere and all astronauts on board were killed.) In that specific situation, the Space Shuttle Atlantis was part way through preparation for its next mission, so the launch time could be sooner. Even with the sacrifice of many safety checks and tests and working 24 hours per day, NASA estimated that Atlantis could not be successfully launched sooner than 21 days. Along with the implausibility of successfully preparing the Atlantis for launch, it would have been difficult for the Columbia astronauts to have survived such a long amount of additional time on their mission, as their carbon dioxide levels would have gotten extremely high, so NASA did not approve the rescue mission. This fact completely underlines how impossible an impromptu launch of a Space Shuttle was.
On to character-related issues. I thought that this episode highlighted some of the differences in attitude between the humans of SG-1 and the Jaffa. Bra'tac and his disciple Jaffa were very dedicated and more than willing to die to stop the attack on the Earth or to defeat Apophis. However, this seemed to be their main strategy: doing some sort of attack in which they while die. For example, Bra'tac decided he and his few disciples would use the Death Gliders to attack Apophis's ship, even though they were unlikely to have much effect and would die; and then he was affronted when O'Neill nixed his plan. O'Neill continually rejected the then-we-all-die plans and force Bra'tac and the others to develop plans that have a chance of winning while still keeping them alive. I feel like this attitude requires more unconventional thinking than the Jaffa are typically trained to have, and it was interesting to watch. I would agree with O'Neill's philosophy! (And we know that O'Neill is not afraid to die if the situation requires it - he was going to kill them all in order to blow up Klorel's ship at the beginning of the episode.)
While watching this episode, I was wondering about some other things related to the Goa'uld. Why do the Goa'uld reproduce? It appears that individual Goa'ulds have very long lifetimes, as Ra, for example, had been around for thousands of years. They've got sarcophagi to regenerate themselves and their hosts, and they can switch to new hosts if need be. Bra'tac said that it's not uncommon for young Goa'uld to attack their progenitors. So why bother to have offspring? I suppose that the Goa'uld will eventually die of old age, or could be killed in battle, and so the species must be renewed. But it seems like there's little motivation for each individual Goa'uld to reproduce. In addition, it seems to be a difficult process, as Apophis has made a big event over Klorel's "introduction" to the Jaffa. Why is it difficult?
We also got more hints of the conflict between the Goa'uld and the personality of the host that it inhabits. It seems that under normal circumstances, the Goa'uld has little trouble controlling its host. However, we saw that after Klorel was regenerated in the sarcophagus, he had trouble resisting Skaara's influence. He almost didn't raise the defensive shields on his ship, and from his later confession to Apophis, it seems that Skaara's personality was fighting for control of his body and almost won. So apparently if a Goa'uld is weakened from something like injury, the host can re-assert control; this is supported by O'Neill zatting Klorel in Within the Serpent's Grasp and having Skaara surface. Can SG-1 somehow take advantage of this? I'm not sure how, without continually injuring the host. At any rate, it again shows that the Goa'uld assertion that "nothing of the host survives" is a lie, which gives Daniel and O'Neill hope.
This was a momentous episode. What is going to happen next? Presumably the SGC has demonstrated its need to exist. Also, I would think the US government would be more ardent in its desire for technology to use against the Goa'uld. It was purely by luck that they averted this attack.