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Stargate | Jonas Quinn Deserves a Second Chance

Introduced as Daniel Jackson’s replacement in the Stargate SG-1 episode ‘Meridian’, Jonas Quinn struggled to escape his predecessor’s shadow.

Warning: This article contains spoilers for the Stargate SG-1 episodes ‘Meridian’ (S5, Ep21), ‘Metamorphosis’ (S6, Ep16), ‘Prophecy’ (S6, Ep21), ‘Homecoming’ (S7, Ep2), and ‘Fallout’ (S7, Ep14). Proceed with caution.
“Of all the Stargate SG-1 characters, he was… one of them.”

Thus reads a damning – albeit succinct – Reddit review of Corin Nemec’s much-maligned character, Jonas Quinn. And, if I’m being perfectly honest, the majority of Stargate SG-1 fans seemingly feel much the same way about poor old Jonas. But are they being fair?

I get it, obviously; we don’t meet Jonas under the best circumstances. Indeed, some might describe the guy’s introduction to the SG-1 team as downright controversial – largely because he was written in as a replacement for fan favorite Dr. Daniel Jackson (Michael Shanks).

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The Death of Daniel Jackson

It all kicked off during the Stargate SG-1 episode ‘Meridian’ (S5, Ep21), when Daniel – oh, Danny boy, the pipes, the pipes are calling – jumps into action to prevent the accidental explosion of a naquadria experiment, and saves the lives of millions in the process.

He’s still walking, when we see him. He’s still talking, too. Indeed, he looks basically fine – save for the bandage on his hand, and the worried expression on his face.

Daniel Jackson (Michael Shanks)  sits on the edge of his hospital bed.
Jack O’Neill (Richard Dean Anderson) speaks to Daniel Jackson (Michael Shanks) in the Stargate SG-1 episode ‘Meridian’ (S5, Ep21). The Ascension storyline was written as a way to enable Shanks to return to the show if he wanted to. | MGM, 2002.

“We think his right hand was exposed to the equivalent of over eight to nine grays of neutron radiation resulting from direct contact. Full body exposure of over seven,” Amanda Tapping’s Samantha Carter tells Cheyenne Mountain’s medical team. She, too, looks worried – but we, the audience, aren’t at all. We’ve seen every single member of the SG-1 team bounce back from far worse than this; Daniel, we believe blithely, will get scrubbed down and be back on his feet in no time.

“It’s a lethal dose,” she adds ominously. And, sure, that gives us pause for thought – but even then, we can’t stop ourselves from assuming the very best of the situation. Daniel will be fine; he’s one of the core four, after all. How could he not be?

Reader, as I’m sure you’re all too aware, Daniel is not fine. Throughout the course of the episode, we watch everyone around him struggle to come to terms with the fact that their colleague, their teammate, or their friend is dying. And that’s in spite of Daniel spitting out the facts at them: “Nausea will be followed by tremors, convulsions and something called ataxia,” he tells a disbelieving Jack O’Neill (Richard Dean Anderson) at one point.

“Surface tissue, brain tissue, and internal organs will inflame and degrade, I believe that's called necrosis. Now based on the dose of radiation I got, all that will happen in the next ten to fifteen hours, and if I don't drown in my own fluids first, I will bleed to death, and there is no medical treatment to prevent that.”

Jack assumes they will find some magical off-world cure for the incurable. Daniel, though, reminds his friend that “my life is no more valuable than anybody else’s” – and, as it turns out, this serves as something of a metaphor for the series going forward. Because no one character is irreplaceable, it turns out. No one character is made invincible by their plot armor. And Daniel, bless him, is dead – or his earthly body is, at least; his spirit has ascended to a higher plane – come the end of the episode.

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Introducing Jonas Quinn

It is within the course of this same episode, though, that we are introduced to Jonas. Young, enthusiastic, and another “sociopolitical nerd” (to use O’Neill’s description), a series of flashbacks show Daniel bonding easily with the special advisor to the Kelownan High Minister – and that’s in spite of the fact that the Kelownans were creating a bomb out of a highly unstable radioactive element.

Our first glimpse of Jonas Quinn (Corin Nemec) in the Stargate SG-1 episode ‘Meridian’ (S5, Ep21). In an interview with Cult TV, Michael Shanks later described introducing Daniel’s replacement in the same episode as his death as a mistake. | MGM, 2002.

When the Kelownan leaders – a bunch of “lying bastards” (again, O’Neill’s words, not mine) – attempt to scapegoat Daniel for the accident in their laboratory, it is Jonas who finds himself caught in the middle. It is Jonas, too, whom O’Neill approaches and demands that he tells the truth; he wants his friend’s name cleared, no matter the cost – and it surely will cost Earth a trade deal with the Kelownan people.

For a short while, it seems as if Jonas is every bit as slippery as the people he works for; he certainly doesn’t fill O’Neill with much hope, anyway. It isn’t long, though, before Jonas feels compelled to do the right thing and tell the truth – although it does him little good.

“I am ashamed that they would not bring themselves to recognize Dr. Jackson’s heroism,” Jonas tells O’Neill and the SG-1 team. “He saved millions of lives.”

Shaken by the Kelownan leaders’ dishonesty – not to mention their fondness for weapons of mass destruction – Jonas defects from his people, bringing Earth a supply of the valuable mineral that will help them crack hyperspace travel.

“He took a big risk, he said it was because of what you did,” Carter tearfully tells a comatose Daniel

“I think it could be important and I wanted you to know that. You have an effect on people, Daniel. The way you look at things, it changed me too. I see what really matters. I don't know why we wait to tell people how we really feel. I guess I hoped that you always knew.”

Why Some of Us Never Warmed to Jonas

So, you guessed it, when Daniel passes away, Jonas eventually steps in as his replacement. Partly to help his own people, sure, but largely to honor Daniel’s sacrifice – and to try and atone, in some small way, for the part he played in SG-1’s loss:

“All I can do is try and change what happens from now on. I don’t want you to exonerate me, I just want to be given the opportunity to prove that I can make a difference.”
Jonas Quinn (Corin Nemec) looks back.
A suitably chastised Jonas Quinn (Corin Nemec) after being given an earful by Jack O’Neill (Richard Dean Anderson) in the Stargate SG-1 episode ‘Meridian’ (S5, Ep21). | MGM, 2002.

It’s actually down to Teal’c (Christopher Judge) and his oddly persuasive manner that Jonas joins the team in the first place because let me tell you that there is a great deal of resistance from O’Neill (and viewers watching along at home, obviously).

“Jonas Quinn may be an alien to this world, but he has vowed to commit himself to the cause of the Tau’ri,” Teal’c insists calmly, drawing parallels between himself and the young Kelownan.

And, while he eventually – sort of – wins Jack over to the idea, he never quite manages to persuade the audience. Because we, everyone watching at home, are too busy nodding along to Sam’s read of the situation.

“We were a team, Teal'c,” she says at one point, referring to the original DNA of the SG-1 team. “No one can even begin to understand what we went through together, what we mean to each other. So maybe Daniel has achieved something of great cosmic significance, I don’t know. And to be honest with you, right now, I don't really care. I’d rather have him back.”

Samantha Carter (Amanda Tapping) places her head in her hands.
A distraught Samantha Carter (Amanda Tapping) sits at Daniel’s bedside in the Stargate SG-1 episode ‘Meridian’ (S5, Ep21). Tapping admitted bursting into tears for real on the set at the thought of her co-star leaving. | MGM, 2002.

And there, in a nutshell, you have it. Jonas never stood a chance with us watching at home, because we associated him so strongly with Daniel’s death. Because his presence was a constant reminder of the loss we felt so keenly, apparently something we just weren’t ready for at that time. Because he was so similar to Daniel and yet so different. Because – quite simply – he wasn’t Daniel.

But here’s the thing; if we could only look past all of that, we might have realized that Jonas was actually a seriously great character after all – when he wasn’t sitting wondering whether O’Neill really liked him, that is.

Reasons to Give Jonas Quinn a Chance

Think about it; he has to overcome not just his inexperience, but his role as the “new kid on the block”, too – and he does all of this and more in abundance. Sure, it takes him a while to master the Zat gun, but he doesn’t hesitate when called upon to do a deep dive to unlock the door of a doomed Goa’uld ship and save his team from certain death. (And admit it; the underwater transporter ring sequence was one of the coolest moments in the series… ever).

Nirrti (Jacqueline Samuda)
Nirrti (Jacqueline Samuda) in the Stargate SG-1 episode ‘Metamorphosis’ (S6, Ep16). The story was a suggestion by Samuda, who went to school with SG-1 co-creator Brad Wright! | MGM, 2003.

In the Stargate SG-1 episode ‘Metamorphosis’ (S6, Ep16), we don’t just learn that Jonas has a very interesting genetic makeup – one that is closer to the next stage of humanity, in fact. Oh no; we also learn that he’s been taking lessons from O’Neill in how to sass Goa’uld right to their faces. “Mrs. Nirrti, you’re trying to seduce me,” he quips delightfully when Jacqueline Samuda’s System Lord attempts to sweet-talk him into collaborating with her. (Daniel would never!).

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And that’s another thing; Jonas and Daniel might share some similarities in terms of values and interests, but they are very different people at their core. Perhaps this “the same but different” vibe creates a sort of Uncanny Valley effect; all of those familiar feelings that Jonas’s fondness for history and languages stir up in us prompt, in turn, feelings of uneasiness and revulsion, too. We have a Daniel – as in, a man who fulfills the same important role within the SG-1 team dynamic – but it is not the Daniel we know and love.

Jonas Quinn (Corin Nemec)
Jonas Quinn (Corin Nemec) in the Stargate SG-1 episode ‘Metamorphosis’ (S6, Ep16). Speaking in Chevrons Locked: The Unofficial Unauthorized Oral History of Stargate SG-1, writer/producer Joseph Mallozzi describes the seduction of Jonas as winning “Most Awkward Seduction scene in an episode of Stargate.” | MGM, 2003

It’s too bad because Jonas possesses a vibrant joie de vivre that Daniel lacks. He’s playful, charismatic, and quite flirtatious – as well as careful, studious, and Lawful Good. He is every bit as enthusiastic about the Stargate program as viewers watching at home; he doesn’t downplay his eagerness to become a part of the team, either. And he, too, has bonafide superpowers: after all, that’s the reason that Jonas’s memory and powers of observation are so damn good!

‘Prophecy’ is Jonas Quinn’s First Great Episode

Perhaps the episode that best sums up why we ought to cut Jonas some slack, though, is ‘Prophecy’ (S6, Ep21).

During a routine visit to P4S-237, Jonas experiences a debilitating vision of the future – and soon finds himself in the infirmary fighting for his life. Nirrti’s experiences, it transpires, have caused a tumor to form on Jonas’s brain – but, rather than allowing Dr. Janet Fraiser (Teryl Rothery) to remove it, Jonas insists he wants to use his new psychic abilities to help his team… even if it puts his own life at risk.

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And it does. Put his life at risk, I mean – his blackouts continue, and with frightening intensity. But this man is so desperate to prove he’s a useful part of the team – so keen to help his friends in any way he can – that he still refuses to undergo surgery. He wants to atone so badly for the sin of Not Being Daniel that he’s willing to die to put things right… which, incidentally, is a very Daniel Jackson move. Go figure.

Is it any wonder, then, that this is the move that finally wins him the approval of O’Neill? The approval which he has longed for and fought for, all this long time?

“Get well soon,” the colonel tells him simply. “We need you out there.”

Sadly, Jonas’s journey comes full circle before he really has a chance to shine: Anubis tortures him and learns about the naquadriah supplies on Jonas’s homeworld. In ‘Fallen’ (S7, Ep1) and ‘Homecoming’ (S7, Ep2), Daniel returns to the fold and helps save the day – and Jonas, in a truly heroic move, dives in front of Dr. Jackson and takes a Staff blast intended for him.

Jonas Quinn (Corin Nemec) stands in front of the gate with his arm in a sling.
Jonas Quinn (Corin Nemec) exits a hero in the Stargate SG-1 episode ‘Homecoming’ (S7, Ep2). As with Daniel Jackson before him, the departure left room for Quinn to return. | MGM, 2003.

“Even though the Jonas Quinn character never found firm footing on the show, I was nevertheless sad to see him go,” says writer/producer Joseph Mallozzi, in a post on his blog.

“Corin Nemec was a good guy and we got along well so I wanted to make sure he got a proper, respectful send-off that left the door open for a possible return. And I think we accomplished that.”

‘Fallout’ is Jonas Quinn’s Finest – and Final – Hour

It stands to reason, then, that we get the very best version of Jonas Quinn when he returns for a one-off episode, ‘Fallout’ (S7, Ep14). With a story sketched out by Nemec himself, the episode sees Jonas return to the SGC as a leader of his people – and desperate for help from his old teammates. It’s a tight little vignette: the people of his homeworld have found a massive underground vein of naquadah is being converted into naquadria, which – if not dealt with swiftly – will result in a nuclear winter and the total destruction of Jonas’s planet.

Samantha Carter (Amanda Tapping) and Jonas Quinn (Corin Nemec).
Samantha Carter (Amanda Tapping) and Jonas Quinn (Corin Nemec) in the Stargate SG-1 episode ‘Fallout’ (S7, Ep14). The story was originally titled ‘Turn of Events’, which writer/producer Joseph Mallozzi noted could have described every episode. | MGM, 2004.

Instead of a man treading water as he tries to fill the space left by another, the Jonas of ‘Fallout’ is strong, capable, and smart as a whip. This is a man who has come into his own, putting everything he has learned during his time with SG-1 to excellent use. And, sure, he’s dating a woman with the same haircut as him (and, spoiler, a symbiotic lurking inside her), but you can’t tell me that this Jonas is incredibly watchable. You root for him! You want him to succeed! You almost want him to return as a main character – but, alas, we made like Cinderella (the band, not the careless shoe-wearer) and didn’t realize what we’d got til it was gone.

Jonas, much like the actor who plays him, came into our lives at an incredibly raw time: we wanted Daniel, and nothing nor nobody but Daniel would ever do. It’s only when the pressure eased off, and when Jonas was allowed to explore the less-Danielly side of himself, that we were able to see what a brilliant character he truly was. One who experienced so much growth and change in his sweeping one-season arc. And one who, in his enthusiasm and nervousness, mirrored every single one of us in a new job, new college, new school, new anything.

All I’m saying, then, is this: let’s cut Jonas some bloody slack already. And let’s not dismiss him as so much filler; he was more than that – we just never gave him the opportunity.

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