Let’s talk about love, baby. Because, when it comes to matters of the heart, there are only so many shapes it can take in the world of TV.
First up, there’s the classic enemies-to-lovers motif – a concept which has reappeared countless times, from Pride and Prejudice (Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth, we see you and your hostile flirting) to Buffy: The Vampire Slayer and her unexpectedly tender tryst with Spike. As in, yes, the vampire who tried to kill her a thousand times over in the beginning.
Then, of course, there’s the classic TV trope of the on-and-off (and on-again) couple. We’ve seen so many iterations of this play out over the years: think Friends’ Ross and Rachel, The X-Files’ Mulder and Scully, Gilmore Girls’ Luke and Lorelai, and Sex and The City’s Carrie and Big, and… well, you get the picture. All the break ups, all the make-ups, all the will-they-won’t-they energy of your dreams.
Thirdly, we have your doomed lovers: so that’s your Romeos and Juliets, your T’Pols and Trips (I’m just a girl, standing in front of a computer screen, asking you to compare the works of Shakespeare to Star Trek: Enterprise), and your Jon Snows and Daenerys Stormborns. And let’s not forget our opposites-attract couples – the ones that should never work on paper, but who are absolutely brilliant regardless (see Firefly’s Zoe and Wash, Star Wars’ Princess Leia and Han Solo, and – ahem – Eve and Wall-E if you don’t believe me).
Perhaps our favorite of all the romantic TV tropes, though, is that of the forbidden love story. You know, the one with all the tiny – almost imperceptible, even – moments scattered throughout a TV series for fans to latch onto and obsess over. The one with all the slightly-too-long glances, unexpectedly tender moments, and simmering sexual tension. The one with Consequences (with a capital C) should our lovers ever break rank and make good on their crush.
Basically, yes, it’s the one that sits forever spinning at the center of Stargate SG-1. It’s the greatest love story that’s never quite been told. It’s…
Fine, yes, it’s Jack O’Neill (Richard Dean Anderson) and Samantha Carter (Amanda Tapping).
The Simmering Romance of Stargate’s Jack and Sam
Ignoring the alien virus-fuelled shenanigans of ‘The Broca Divide’ (S1, Ep5), the seeds of this fan-favorite romance are first sown in ‘Solitudes’ (S1, Ep17). Yes, the one where our two would-be-lovers find themselves stranded on an icy planet, with basically zero supplies and zero chance of getting home. Jack is manfully trying to keep Sam’s spirits up, despite his broken leg and fractured rib (“You wouldn’t think jagged bone digging into raw nerves would hurt, but it does”). They’re switching up traditional gender roles with nary a care in the world, as Sam works on the DHD and Jack makes a bowl of… hot water (“My melted ice is to die for”). They’re cuddling together for warmth and acknowledging the unexpected intimacy of it all (“That’s my sidearm, I swear – no giggling!”). He’s urging her to climb out of the sub-zero cave they’ve found themselves in – to leave him and get herself to safety. And she, when she realizes there’s no way out and that his voice on the walkie-talkie has gone silent, is scrambling and then tumbling in her haste to get back to him, taking him into her arms and giving into his pain-fuelled delusion that she is his former wife, Sarah.
Honestly, seeing it all written down like that, how could anyone not be invested in this will-they-won’t-they relationship from that point? All of the little inside jokes, the sideways smiles, the shared moments between the duo? Oh sure, we knew that their military rankings basically forbid them from being a couple out in the open – and, sure, we definitely didn’t want them to get kicked out of our beloved SGC for… dalliances of the heart (hey, I don’t know the military lingo). Still, though, we obsessed over all that natural chemistry and wondered to ourselves, what if? And then, in season three, the events of ‘Point Of View’ (S3, Ep6) basically confirm what we already knew: that an official, out-in-the-open Jack and Sam romance would be the GOAT.
A reminder, for anyone who needs it: this episode is the one that deals with alternate timelines. This means that a long-haired Samantha Carter comes bursting through the Stargate, much to everyone’s surprise at the base – largely because their own short-haired Captain Carter is standing right there with them.
As it turns out, the new Dr. Carter hails from an Earth that has recently been conquered by the Goa’uld. And, during the final battle, she lost the man that she loves: her husband, Jack O’Neill.
“I can’t even begin to know what you’ve been through,” our (thankfully alive) version of Jack tells her at one point. “I know you lost a lot.”
“I lost you,” she replies simply.
It is a setup that makes for tender moments and uncomfortable realizations aplenty – not to mention some fun moments between Jack and both Sams. He’s able to acknowledge the deep friendship he has with our version of Sam, as well as confront the fact that they would likely be a happily married couple if things were different, and strict military rules around dating weren’t in place. And he also gets to give Dr. Carter the kind of kiss that lives rent-free forever in the heads of Jack-and-Sam shippers such as myself. Forever.
A TV Romance… Made Entirely of Breadcrumbs
The rest is breadcrumbs, I suppose. Deliciously romantic breadcrumbs. There are the events of ‘Divide and Conquer’ (S4, Ep5), of course, when both characters are forced to admit that they care about each other – a lot more than they should – in order to prove that they haven’t been infiltrated by a za’tarc/unknowingly transformed into a Goa’uld-programmed assassin. (Although, admittedly, I very much enjoy the flashback which shows us just how upset Jack became when he realized he might have to leave Sam behind during a mission gone wrong – a mission that formed the basis of an earlier episode, no less – and decided to instead remain there with her, staring helplessly into her eyes). There’s ‘Beneath the Surface’ (S6, Ep10), when the pair have their memories wiped and are forced to work as ore miners within the underground confines of a far-off planet – and find themselves inexplicably drawn together. In fact, one of the memories that pull Jack back into his former self is the memory of his deep feelings for Sam (“for cryin’ out loud!”).