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.
* 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.