Episode 8: Brief Candle
By: Carlos Uribe
Stargate SG-1 is a series about a two-way gate that can send you to different planets and the dangers of the gate. This series follows the adventures of a group of individuals as they explore the galaxy using the Stargate. The series lasted from 1997 until 2010. It began on Showtime before transferring to what is now known as the Syfy channel. It is the second longest North American science fiction series. It's the sequel to the movie “Stargate” released in 1994.
One aspect about a procedural science fiction show that has the main characters exploring new worlds is the ability to explore “what-if” societies. This is an episode that explores the idea of a society that has adapted to a particular situation. The Stargate team stumbles into a world where everyone only lives to be a hundred days old. The people age rapidly. It is a society that truly values each and every single day since it's a society where each moment truly matters to the people. The society itself hasn't made much advances. The people are constantly partying and they believe that they are living in paradise. They aren't aware of their shortened life-spans. There are some questions that come up that the episode doesn't ever explore. It's never explained where the society gets their food and drinks from or how they could have mid-wives. It is a society that has such short-lived human beings that it stretches any imagination that it would be able to actually exist in the long-term. If one can accept the premise and if one doesn't need the questions that it brings up answered, then this episode's exploration of the scenario is an interesting one.
The episode explains how this situation came to be. The society is an experiment by a Goa'uld to determine where human evolution would lead. If humans acquire any new desirable features then it could also serve as a way to try and hasten evolution. The problem with this experiment is that it forgets that features usually evolve due to some need for survival. These humans are presented in a garden of Eden and the natural evolution of man would be very different from theirs. This Goa'uld clearly lacks an understanding of why evolution works as it does. The experiment works with nanotechnology. He injected nanite machines into the group of people. The nanites caused rapid aging among the population and caused them to have a short life-span. They can also transfer between human beings through sexual contact. When Jack sleeps with one of the locals, this means that he rapidly ages and the show gives him two weeks to live. The episode becomes a race against time to save Jack and the rest of the population. While this gives motivation to the characters, it also gives the show some time to explore Jack's character as he faces his unique condition.
Some pathos and science scenes later and the Stargate team is able to solve the problem in the last minute. The people are saved as they discover that the statue of the Goa'uld controlled the nanites and they get a normal life-span. This would lead the problem of Jack. The show can't have a suddenly old Jack going on the weekly missions. This means that it has to find a way to bring him back from ancient age to how old he was when the mission began. While it makes sense that the series would have to find a way, the excuse the writers made is a weak one. Jack learns that because he wasn't born with the condition, the nanite machines were merely causing the appearance of his old age. Now that they are no longer working, he should return to normal within a few weeks. This makes no sense. The first is that if they were merely causing him to look old, then this removes any credibility to the threat that he was going to actually die. The second is that visual aging doesn't work that way-Jack would still be looking like an elder until his death in a realistic series.
While he was getting rapidly older, he also started to get closer to his new “wife” on the planet. He discovers that the local that he had sex with had given him a marriage cake right before the deed. This cake might have been drugged, but in that planet he is now considered married to her. While Jack refuses this tradition, this doesn't stop the two from bonding. It's during this bonding that Jack starts to break down that society's belief in their Goa'uld “god”. It's a slow break-down as first the people have to come to terms with what their so-called god has done, and then to discover what he really thinks of them: as slaves. They had gone around, calling themselves “The Chosen”, when they really weren't special. They turned against the Goa'uld and brought the statue down. It is an interesting dynamic to see the society turn against their god. While the “wife” of Jack wasn't a very interesting character, she did serve as an initial conduit between her people and Jack. It's also through her that Jack is able to figure out how to shut down the nanites.
“Brief Candle” isn't that great of an episode. There are many logical problems with this episode. The thing about fiction is that it can have all the plot-holes in the world, as long as they're not too glaring, but if it's entertaining and it has a strong core then the logical failures can be excused. The episode manages to be be good but it ultimately locks the core that would elevate this episode. The emotional core of the episode hinges on Jack's relationship with a local and on his rapidly aging body. If the series had been able to better explore either one by sacrificing the other then the episode would have found itself with a much better core. As it is, the episode tried to juggle just too much and it ended up coming short.