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We at The Companion were saddened to hear of the tragic passing of actor Willie Garson at age 57. The news was announced on Tuesday by the Associated Press, as well as an Instagram post from Garson’s son Nathen.
Garson was born in Highland Park, New Jersey in 1954, and he graduated from Wesleyan University with a degree in theater. (He also went to Yale Drama School for a time.) He was a prolific TV and film actor throughout the 1990s, 2000s, and beyond, with more than 300 hours of television and 70 screen credits to his name.
Justifiably, remembrances for Garson are centering around his most well-known roles — Stanford Blatch on Sex and the City, Mozzie on White Collar. The former is probably the role he was most known for, Carrie’s gay bestie who circled her life in the periphery throughout the long-running HBO series, as well as both Sex and the City movies. (He had already filmed scenes for the upcoming reboot, And Just Like That.)
But science fiction fans know him best as Martin Lloyd, the fussy alien fugitive turned Hollywood producer over three episodes of Stargate SG-1. Much like so many of his other characters, Garson imbued Martin with a fundamental sweetness and charm even through his nebbishy quirks. In a long-running series full of crazy alien characters and outlandish storylines, Martin was one of the figures in the series that kept SG-1, well, Earthbound.
Point of No Return
Part of Stargate SG-1’s appeal was that it connected its interstellar adventures with the everyday rhythms of our contemporary world. Outside the doors of Stargate Command was modern-day America — well, Vancouver masquerading as America, but the point stands. SG-1 weren’t picture-perfect members of a futuristic space utopia; they were boots-on-the-ground military personnel who went home, drank beers, and went fishing at the end of the workday.
In this respect, Garson’s Martin was the platonic ideal of the clash of the mundane and fantastic Stargate SG-1 trafficked in. When we first meet him in Season 4’s ‘Point of No Return’ (S4, Ep11), he starts out as just your regular conspiracy dweeb — twitchy, nervous, convinced he’s cracked the code to the Stargate program, as well as his own past. “I’m not just interested in outer space,” he whispers to Jack O’Neill in a diner. “I’m from outer space.”
Like all great comedians, Garson was the kind of person who knew exactly how to use his instrument. He was bald, stout, bespectacled: the polar opposite of the tall, beautiful, confident Stargate team we saw on screen every week. But through Garson’s wry comic sensibilities, the conspiratorial, self-serious Martin became a great foil for the team, particularly the never-serious Jack O’Neill (Garson and Richard Dean Anderson’s pitch-perfect chemistry can’t be overstated).
In many ways, Martin in ‘Point of No Return’ was a proxy for the show’s fans — nerdy, obsessive, desirous of a personal relationship with the team. He’s the nerd who gets to hang out with the jocks for a little while, both deeply afraid of their reprisals and heartwarmingly eager for their protection and approval. His unfettered confidence in his conspiracy theories was a lovely contrast to the team’s befuddled confusion.
But as the team learned more about Martin, the more Garson’s performance took on an air of tragedy. We soon learn that Martin is indeed an alien, subjected to psychotropic drugs to suppress his memories of his time in outer space and his familiarity with the Stargate program. Suddenly, his desperation and mania take on a new dimension: He’s yearning to remember who he truly is, and to find people he can relate to. That’s especially borne out once his memories fully return, and the episode ends with SG-1 taking him to the coordinates of his home planet, only to find it a smoldering ruin.
Wormhole X-Treme! and 200
While Martin’s first appearance saw him as a proxy for the show’s fans — dweebs like us who could kill to go on a little adventure with our heroes at Stargate Command — his subsequent two appearances turned him into a stand-in for the writers’ own in-jokes about the very show they were writing. In ‘Wormhole X-Treme!’ (the show’s 100th episode, S5, Ep12), Martin reinvents himself as a television producer, having voluntarily re-taken the drugs that suppress his space memories and turning his visions of the Stargate program into a cheesy sci-fi series called Wormhole X-Treme.
It’s a great pivot for both Martin as a character and Garson as a performer; presumably, the writers loved working with Garson and knew his particular set of skills, and adjusted Garson’s character in the interim to take advantage of the actor’s signature smarm. Producer Mode Marty stalks the studio backlot, no longer using his weasely condescension to talk down to Jack O’Neill about how the moon landing conspiracy was, itself, a conspiracy, but talks down to props masters about how the apples need to be changed to painted kiwis. He’s the classic fast-talking wheeler and dealer, and Garson’s nervous energy makes us buy into this dramatic shift in Martin’s personality.
But really, both this and ‘200 (which we’ll get to later) use Marty less as a character himself and more as a vehicle for writers Joseph Mallozzi and Paul Mullie to make affectionate jabs at themselves, the show, and the sci-fi genre itself. The cheap sets, the egotistical actors, the often nonsensical science fiction concepts (“You’re out of phase.” “So how come I don’t fall through the floor?”) — all of it is rife for parody, and Garson’s blustering confidence in the shagginess of his product makes the gags sing even louder.
That’s accentuated even more in ‘200’ (S10, Ep6), when the two halves of Martin’s personality are made whole. He knows who he truly is, and has grown even more accustomed to life on Earth as a sleazy TV producer. By the time he comes to the SGC asking for tips on how to adapt Wormhole X-Treme! into a feature film, he’s comfortable in his own skin, giving the team the hard sell on established SG-1 tropes (like the wormhole being open for 38 minutes at a time, Garson selling the revelation with all the verve of Henry Higgins hearing Eliza Doolittle talk like a lady for the first time).
I still don’t have my ending!
While Martin himself never expressed romantic interest, it’s hard not to liken him to Garson’s extended turn as the mincing Stanford on Sex and the City. While Garson was straight, he ironically kept his heterosexuality ‘in the closet’ during the run of the show, to avoid criticisms of a straight man playing a gay character. Stanford himself could have easily been a stereotype; at first blush, he was just one of many mincing gay side characters that were just about everywhere in the ‘90s and early 2000s. But through his performance, there was enough warmth and tenderness to offset the bitchiness endemic to a lot of queer characters in those early days of representation.
The same could be said of Martin. It would have been so easy to demean Martin as a geeky, entitled nerd cliche (a well Stargate defaulted to on many occasions: see ‘The Other Guys’, ‘Avenger 2.0’, and ‘Citizen Joe’). But Garson’s strength as a performer was his ability to draw out unexpected nuances from even the creakiest of archetypes. Martin Lloyd wasn’t just a crazy conspiracy nut: He was a wounded, lost man, separated from his homeworld, clinging to anything that might make him feel important. That he got to hang out with (in the world of the show, at least) the coolest people in the universe was just as personally fulfilling as it was necessary for his survival.
Even after he changed gears and leaned hard into his borderline-reptilian studio goon, Garson’s performance was so playful and inviting that it was impossible to look away from. He understood when Martin was the butt of the joke, but he also got when Martin was actually right. (Plus, considering how many times they brought him back — and for important series milestones, no less — it’s clear the SG-1 cast and crew adored working with him.)
For these reasons and more, Martin Lloyd proved to be one of the most important characters in establishing the show’s delicate balance of tones: Sure, it was a space opera about soldiers firing machine guns at laser staff-wielding snake people from another galaxy. But it also had a deep, abiding sense of humor about itself, and Martin’s appearances were some of the best personifications of that self-deprecation. For that reason and so many more, Stargate fans mourn the loss of one of the series’ greatest misfits.
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Clint Worthington is the founder and editor-in-chief of The Spool, as well as a Senior Writer for Consequence of Sound. He’s also the host of the podcasts More of a Comment, Really…, and Travolta/Cage (with cohost Nathan Rabin). You can find other bylines at Vulture, IndieWire, RogerEbert.com, StarTrek.com, The Takeout, and others. He lives in Chicago with his wife, his cat, and far too many Criterions.