stargate: svu

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.

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Last night on the TV

White Collar — This is the new USA series, about a handsome, smart thief/con-man who becomes a “consultant” with the FBI in return for getting his slate cleaned. This set-up sounded kind of familiar, but Lisa and I decided to give it a try since USA is the network that brought us Burn Notice and Royal Pains, both of which we love. White Collar turns out to be really good too—it is kind of familiar, but it’s also very well written and I really like the characters.

Stargate: SVU White Collar’s pilot ran ten minutes long, so we watched the last fifty minutes of this. If you caught the end of last week’s show, you know that this week’s trauma was that the Giant Alien Spaceship, which was almost out of power, was headed straight towards a star. I immediately concluded that this was a refueling maneuver and hence nothing to get excited about, but the cast were all like ZOMG we’re gonna die! Much pointless angst was then expended deciding which cast members were going to get to use the Little Alien Shuttlecraft as a lifeboat—pointless because, once Lt. Scott got assigned to the LAS, while Robert Carlyle’s Scientist of Questionable Morals decided to remain aboard the GAS, it was clear that neither ship could possibly be destroyed, and that the episode would end with the LAS racing to get back to the GAS after the GAS successfully completed its refueling stop. Which is exactly what happened.

Dollhouse — This week in the Land of Total Moral Confusion: If you take a healthy woman you’re obsessed with, pump her full of drugs to make her schizophrenic, and then trick the Dollhouse into “curing” her schizophrenia by turning her into a doll you can then use as your love slave, that’s rape and kidnapping, and you are a bad person who deserves to die. But if you take a woman who’s really schizophrenic, and “cure” her schizophrenia by turning her into a doll who lots of people can use as a love slave, that’s… OK?!? And if you think you’ve done the latter, but then you find out you were an unwitting accomplice to the former, that gives you a crisis of conscience?

20/20 — A 60-minute-long promo for Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner’s new book SuperFreakonomics, which I’m guessing is published by the same conglomerate that owns ABC. SuperFreakonomics has been getting a lot of flack for its chapter on global warming, and since that chapter was largely inspired by a visit the authors paid to Intellectual Ventures, a lab my friend Paul Holman is associated with, I was curious to see what they’d have to say. Unfortunately Levitt and Dubner came across as incredibly intellectually shallow, so the fact that they were excited about IV’s ideas wasn’t necessarily a compliment.

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Stargate: SVU, 10/9

After a semi-promising start, the series takes a nosedive in its second episode.

THE SITUATION SO FAR: Last week, a mixed group of soldiers and civilians from Earth got stranded aboard a giant alien spaceship several billion light-years from home. The ship is abandoned and on autopilot, and it’s got some problems. For one thing, it’s sprung a leak, and although this is a slow leak that’s apparently been leaking for a long long time, our heroes have the incredible bad timing to arrive on board just hours before the air becomes too thin to breath. After some running around in the thinning atmosphere, they manage to plug the leak by sacrificing a U.S. congressman to the gods of vacuum.

But that’s just a stopgap measure, because the other big problem is that the ship’s carbon-dioxide scrubbers need a filter change. Robert Carlyle, the Scientist of Questionable Morals, manages to communicate this problem to the ship’s computer, which then drops the ship out of hyperspace and opens a stargate portal to a nearby planet. According to the computer, there are other stargates in range, but the other ones are locked out by the computer, strongly suggesting that this particular destination has the stuff they need to fix the scrubbers. Oh but there’s a catch: right after opening the portal, the computer puts up a clock with a twelve-hour countdown. That’s how long they have before the ship goes back into hyperspace, ready or not…

…which brings us to this week’s episode. One of the first things we learn is that, yes, the twelve-hour deadline is a purely arbitrary plot contrivance: the stargate is only open intermittently, so it’s not a constant drain on power, and the ship is just floating in space. There’s no good reason for it not to keep floating there until the scrubbers are fixed. This is the kind of logic hole I’d be happy to overlook if the rest of the show were interesting, but unfortunately it’s not.

The stargate opens in the middle of a desert. The away team tests the sand and finds traces of a mineral they can use to fix the scrubbers. But the concentration in the sand isn’t high enough—they need to find a dry lake bed.  At this point, it’s entirely predictable that (a) they will find a dry lake bed, but (b) not until the eleventh hour, and (c) there will be a last-minute race back to the stargate intercut with shots of the digital countdown clock. Meantime, they’ve got eleven hours to kill. Unfortunately, they’re in the middle of a desert, so there really isn’t anything for them to do but wander around aimlessly,* complain about the heat, and bicker. At least, that’s all the screenwriters were able to come up with.**

Lisa and I quickly got bored and started asking impertinent questions, like, “Why can’t the computer use the stargate to exchange fresh air from the planet for the stale air aboard the ship?” and “Why don’t more people from the ship come to help the away team search, or at least hang out on the planet breathing fresh air rather than using up the limited air on the ship?” and “Seriously, why are all the characters suddenly so stupid?” This got us through the episode (which ended exactly as predicted), but I don’t think it’ll keep us coming back week after week.

* * * * *

* Technically they do have an aim, but since the lake bed cannot be found before the eleventh hour, any searching they do before then is just empty theater.

** OK, they do also give Lt. Scott a hallucinatory flashback—something about how he used to be a Catholic priest in training, until he got a sixteen-year-old girl pregnant and decided to join the military instead—but it’s not worth going into detail about.

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Stargate: SVU, part two

Caught the second hour last night. It was good—not first-season House good, but fun. My two favorite characters are Lt. Scott and Robert Carlyle’s Scientist of Questionable Morals. Still making up my mind about Eli, the video-game whiz who won the golden ticket: the character screams “fan service,” but he hasn’t actually gotten on my nerves yet, and he’s got some good dialogue.

My one nitpick with the pilot’s plot is that they seemed to be conflating two very different life-support problems: CO2 build-up, and venting atmosphere into space. Maybe I missed this, but was there any explanation for why, if the ship is leaking, it didn’t run out of air long before our protagonists arrived?

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Stargate: SVU

Or whatever it’s called. Caught the first hour of the pilot last night and it wasn’t bad. I got sucked in enough by the story that I was sorry when it came time to switch over to Dollhouse (and once I saw Dollhouse I was really sorry, but that’s another post).

So when is the infamous lesbian body-swapping episode supposed to air? Sweeps week?

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