Stargate: SVU gets busy with the body-swapping

Last Friday’s Stargate had the first use of body-swapping technology as a plot complicator. For those who don’t know what I’m talking about, they’ve got this alien device on the show that’s kind of like a plug-in desktop Zen garden. You place a magic stone on top of this lighted box, and somebody somewhere else in the universe does the same thing, and just like that, you take control of their body and they take control of yours–until someone moves one of the stones.

There are lots of interesting dramatic possibilities here, but judging from this week’s show the producers haven’t done a very thorough job of thinking through the implications of their premise.

Some thoughts:

* A lot of the storytelling fun of body-swapping comes from its potential for abuse. But this potential ought to be obvious, and not just to the viewer. You say I get to walk around in Brad Pitt’s skin for a week? And Angelina hasn’t been told? And I’m going to be alone with her?… OK, I have a strong sense of right and wrong, and an even stronger fear of prison and public shaming, so I probably won’t take advantage of the situation. But I’ll certainly be thinking about taking advantage of it. A lot.

And Brad Pitt, because he is not an idiot, knows this. Before he agrees to swap bodies with me, he’s going to make sure I can’t get anywhere near Angelina, or his kids, or anyone else I might exploit by pretending to be him. He’s going to have a long list of other do’s and don’ts for me too, and paid chaperones to make sure I adhere to it. And I will not be insulted by this, because I’ve got a list for him, too. (Rule #1: check the ingredients list of anything you eat for the following allergens, or we’re both dead men.)

The Stargate characters are much more cavalier about handing over the keys to their bodies — unrealistically so. I did think it was cute that chubby Eli got to experience a night out as a skinny guy, but didn’t believe that the real-world military would let him go barhopping without an armed escort. (Although part of what made the scene endearing was the sense that even without a chaperone, Eli really could be trusted to not let things go too far. Can’t say the same for sloppy drunk Chloe. As Judge Judy might say: That’s not your liver, madam.)

* Of course the “edgy” plotline involved Colonel Young, who body-swapped with Lou Diamond Phillips. While Lou did his best to blow up the Giant Alien Spaceship, Young called on his estranged wife for some hot make-up sex. Colonel and Mrs. Y were in the middle of a cowgirl maneuver when a hiccup with the Zen stones threw Lou Diamond Philips back into his own body for five seconds. Mrs. Young didn’t seem to notice—ouch!—but Lou sure did.

Now, seriously. Sex while body-swapped has got to be against the rules. It might not be technically illegal—Congress can’t legislate against sex crimes involving secret alien technology they don’t know about—but I’m sure the military police would crack down hard on it anyway. Which doesn’t mean Colonel Young wouldn’t do it—like most of the soldiers in the cast, he’s incredibly unprofessional—but he’d be messing up in a big way, and he’d know he was messing up.

Mrs. Young’s behavior is much harder for me to buy. Even a woman who really likes make-up sex has all kinds of reasons not to do it while her husband is wearing Lou Diamond Phillips’ skin: It’s creepy. It’s immoral. It’s against the rules. Consider also that she’s got more potential consequences to worry about than her husband does. He might get in trouble, but she might get pregnant. Or AIDS. Oh, and if Lou becomes violently angry about his body being used for make-up sex and decides to take it out on somebody, who’s easier for him to get to, Colonel Young at the far end of the universe, or Mrs. Young, a short commute from the base?

Is it possible that despite all this, Mrs. Young would still opt for make-up sex? Sure. She’s human, and humans make bad choices (and bad choices are the stuff of good drama). But to go from not wanting to let her husband in the door directly to the make-up sex, without so much as a “Honey, let’s talk this over” in-between? Nah. I did like the bit where Lou popped back into his body for five seconds, but the way the scene was played, it was as if that was supposed to be the only screwed up part of the scenario. It wasn’t.

* In the missed opportunities department, Lisa noted that all the swaps were between bodies of the same gender. For a military operation that does seem realistic, but if it were my show I’d be looking for a pretext for cross-gender swaps. Another dramatic avenue that would be worth exploring is cross-race body-swaps, in a universe where race matters. Unfortunately it looks like the Stargate producers are playing it safe and keeping things colorblind. When Chloe swapped bodies with Alana Husband and went out posing as her own cousin, none of her friends remarked on the fact that “Cousin Liz” was black. I think I’d have been curious.

* Before this series even aired, there was some Internet controversy about an episode, supposed to air later in the season, in which a straight virgin quadriplegic woman swaps bodies with Ming Na’s lesbian character and uses the opportunity to have sex with boys. My own reaction to this plot description was that it could be a really interesting episode, but probably wouldn’t be. For now this still seems like a safe prediction.

4 thoughts on “Stargate: SVU gets busy with the body-swapping”

  1. I KNOW! Through that whole episode I was doing that silly “yelling at the TV” thing.

    One would not think that you’d actually have to codify things like “Do not use this body to have sex. At all.” Or “Don’t go out and get smashed.” What if the person was a Mormon or something? I mean, they’d probably be absolved of any wrongdoing since they didn’t do the actual drinking, but it could be very dangerous to pour that much alcohol into someone’s body who has zero tolerance to the stuff.

    Isn’t that whole Lou Diamond Phillips storyline going to reveal an affair that was already going on? Which is supposed to make it more believable that she’d 1) do the deed with that specific body and 2) not be that worried about Lou’s reaction to his body being with hers. Though now the conflict will be “why were you messing around on me with your husband?” or something equally silly.

    I agree that crossing a male into a female body and vice versa could be very entertaining, but not in this show. Maybe in SG-1 where things were more playful and all, but in this “everyone in the main cast is going to have sex onscreen at least once in the first season” show I really don’t want them to get into that.

    1. One would not think that you’d actually have to codify things

      I dunno, I think an explicit code of conduct would make a lot of sense. Even leaving aside the potential for abuse, there are safety issues that might not occur to a novice body-swapper. For example, a poster over at Scalzi’s blog noted that it’s very dangerous for Eli to be driving himself. I hadn’t thought of that, but of course it’s true — he shouldn’t be doing anything where a sudden loss of control could prove disastrous.

      Isn’t that whole Lou Diamond Phillips storyline going to reveal an affair that was already going on?

      People have been dropping hints about that online, but to me that would make it even weirder that she’d choose to sleep with Young while he’s in Lou’s body.

      1. My husband thought of the driving thing too; they definitely need to restrict their activities (though like you said, why are they out without an escort anyway? That’s who should be driving).

        I didn’t mean to sound like I disagreed with what you said about needing those rules; what I meant was that we should not need to make that kind of contract. But we do. As dishonorable and distasteful as I find the idea, abuses will happen in that situation. And not just from people like the sloppy senator’s daughter, who got sad and drunk, but more malicious characters. People love to get away with things, and even if there are consequences (like never being allowed near those stones again) there are certainly folks who would use that opportunity to do something in another’s body that they might never do in their own.

  2. There was a line of dialogue early in the return to Earth, from Young maybe, reminding Eli and Chloe that they “know the rules.” So it sounds like SGC or the IOA or whomever cooked up some totally non-comprehensive body-swapping rules — particularly since Eli shook his driver without any visible problems.

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