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Stargate | ‘Ripple Effect’ is SG-1’s Thank You to the Fans

A multiversal epic filled with references to roughly 25 earlier episodes, ‘Ripple Effect’ is Stargate SG-1’s true “love letter to the fans.”

Warning: This article contains spoilers for the Stargate SG-1 episodes ‘Point of No Return’ (S4, Ep11), ‘Wormhole X-Treme!’ (S5, Ep12), ‘Citizen Joe’ (S8, Ep15), ‘Ripple Effect’ (S9, Ep13), and ‘200’ (S10, Ep6). Proceed with caution.

Aficionados of science fiction TV have learned to steel themselves whenever a favorite series proclaims that the next episode will be “a love letter to the fans.” The consensus among online fandom seems to be that these missives usually do not ring true, with Star Trek: Deep Space Nine’s ‘Trials and Tribble-ations’ (S5, Ep6) held out as the shining exception that proves the rule.

The Search for a Stargate Fan Favorite

Stargate SG-1 certainly had something of an on-and-off-key history when serenading fandom. Its early seasons were highlighted by such jeux d’esprit as the playful ‘Urgo’ (S3, Ep16), scripted by Tor Alexander Valenza, and fan-favorite ‘Window of  Opportunity’ (S4, Ep6). Both had fun with the format of the show, its characters, and the basic premise of the series, with the writing team of Joseph Mallozzi and Paul Mullie hitting a home run in their first at-bat, ‘Window of Opportunity.’

Indeed, Season 4 offered two sportive takes on the Stargate SG-1 formula, the second being the endlessly witty ‘Point of No Return’ (S4, Ep11), another Mallozzi and Mullie winner. In what would become a popular and recurring characterization, Willie Garson plays Martin Lloyd, who contacts General Hammond (Don S. Davis), claiming to have intimate knowledge of the Stargate program. When he meets Colonel Jack O’Neill (Richard Dean Anderson), Martin ups the ante, professing to be an extraterrestrial: “I’m not just interested in outer space. I’m from outer space.” His confession leads to the following exchange …

Martin Lloyd: … a top-secret government program involving instantaneous travel to other solar systems by means of a device known as a Stargate.
Jack O’Neill: Sounds like a good idea for a TV show— if you’re into that sort of thing.
Martin Lloyd: Colonel, let’s not play games. If it isn’t true then why would you come all this way?
Jack O’Neill: OK, the truth. There is a top-secret government program called Project Stargate.
Martin Lloyd: I knew it!
Jack O’Neill: But it has nothing to do with space travel.
Martin Lloyd: What does it have to do with?
Jack O’Neill: Magnets.

Martin Lloyd: Now what I believe is that, thousands of years ago, people were taken  from Earth—maybe as part of some experiment, maybe as slaves. Who knows? But the  point is, there are entire civilizations up there descended from those original humans.
Jack O’Neill: Now that’s just crazy talk.
General Hammond (Don S. Davis) watches Wormhole X-Treme.
General Hammond (Don S. Davis) watches Wormhole X-Treme in the Stargate SG-1 episode of the same name (S5, Ep12). Grell, the Teal‘c-like character, was actually played by Christopher Judge’s stand-in, Herbert Duncanson. | MGM, 2001

The next season, Stargate SG-1 would become consciously self-reflexive with the Mallozzi/Mullie ‘Wormhole X-Treme!’ (S5, Ep12). In a piss-take on the show itself, the episode finds the Fab Four behind the scenes of a TV series very much like the Stargate program itself, as dreamed up from Martin’s repressed memories. Intended to commemorate the series’ 100th episodes, ‘Wormhole X-Treme!’ certainly has its moments, as when an irate Teal’c (Christopher Judge) finds himself staffing Craft Services. And anyone who’s been around academia can appreciate this …

Daniel Jackson: Why would somebody with two PhDs become a teamster?
Samantha Carter: The money, I guess.
Martin Lloyd (Willie Garson) sits in the conference room.
Martin Lloyd (Willie Garson) returns in the Stargate SG-1 episode ‘200’ (S10, Ep6). Director Martin Wood recalled that the episode used seven different shooting styles in order to spoof different shows. | MGM, 2006.

But it’s a hit-or-miss episode occasionally marred by dialogue that is a bit faintly condescending or sometimes downright smug. Martin Lloyd would return for Stargate’s 200th episode, simply slugged ‘200’ (S10, Ep6). This would be another self-mocking installment, very uneven as one might expect with seven credited writers working in tag-team fashion.

Stargate | How We Made SG-1’s 200th Episode
Writer/producer Joseph Mallozzi, star Gary Jones, and cinematographer Peter F. Woeste tell the story of the Stargate SG-1 episode ‘200’.

Some of the sketches strike gold—the Team America: World Police (2004)-style puppet vignette has become a classic—while others fall flat, such as a disappointing and long-awaited riff on The Wizard of Oz (1939). Robert C. Cooper has stated in his DVD commentary that the writing staff penned ‘200’ for their own amusement … which may have been the wrong audience to keep in mind for a TV episode of one of the most popular sci-fi series ever.

Setting the Scene

We are not glossing over the sixth and seventh seasons, although they offered nothing on the order of ‘Wormhole X-Treme.’ They did bring the spoofy ‘The Other Guys’ (S6, Ep8) and its sequel, ‘Avenger 2.0’ (S7, Ep9), but we would prefer not to revisit them in this context. (Brain bleach, please!) If they were love letters to anyone, they were certainly bitter ones.

Joe Spencer (Dan Castellaneta) holds Jack at gunpoint.
Joe Spencer (Dan Castellaneta) holds Jack at gunpoint in the Stargate SG-1 episode ‘Citizen Joe’ (S8, Ep15). Richard Dean Anderson befriended Castellaneta after winning a charity auction to attend a Simpsons cast readthrough. | MGM, 2005.

Season Eight brought perhaps the most overt “love letter to the fans” in the form of ‘Citizen Joe’ (S8, Ep15), penned by Damian Kindler, off of a Cooper brainwave. As letters go, it was more of the poison-pen variety, with Stargate fans depicted as socially challenged, marginalized people—losers, in short. They are crystalized in the humble form of Indiana barber Joe Spencer (Dan Castellaneta, the voice of Homer Simpson), who bores his customers with Stargate SG-1 fan fiction and loses his wife over his Stargate obsession. It was a strange sendoff for a series that appeared to wrapping up at that point.

Rebooted for a ninth season with several new cast members, Stargate SG-1 eschewed the almost-statutory comedy episode in favor of ‘Ripple Effect’ (S9, Ep13), a serio-comic return visit to the world of parallel universes. Since multiverse episodes had been as popular as time-travel ones—always winning the Sci-Fi Channel’s viewer request polls—this was a brilliant move, credited to series co-creator Brad Wright, as well as the Mallozzi/Mullie team.

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The Origin of ‘Ripple Effect’

‘Ripple Effect’ had an interesting genesis. Back in 2005 on his GateWorld “Ask Joe Mallozzi” Q&A forum, the writer was queried by a disconsolate fan (no, not this writer) about whether Dr. Janet Fraiser (Teryl Rothery) might ever be resurrected. Mallozzi responded that it was an interesting question because a story that would see the return of a beloved, much-missed character had just been broken.

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It was unusual for Mallozzi to drop such a direct and substantive hint about a forthcoming episode—and more was to follow, including the disclosure that more than one beloved denizen of the Stargate universe might be returning for what was soon revealed to be ‘Ripple Effect.’ Mallozzi would eventually leak tantalizing production stills, one of which showed the back of Rothery’s head. And so personal was ‘Ripple Effect’ to him that after its airing he posted transcripts of deleted scenes on his blog.

Before ‘Ripple Effect’ was unleashed, however, it had become known that—through the multiverse—both Rothery and J.R. Bourne’s Martouf would be briefly reunited with their SG-1 friends, gratifying many fans who had mourned their demises, two of the more controversial in Stargate’s history. (Prospective viewers were also lured by the promise of 16 Carters in one scene.)

Even so, despite Mallozzi’s carefully contextualized response about who would be reappearing, speculation ran far afield—including to Marty Lloyd. Mallozzi did shoot some ideas down. No, Daniel’s grandfather, Nicholas Ballard (Jan Rubeš), would not be making a return visit. Nor would the infamous Aris Boch (Sam J. Jones). Jones would have to wait for Seth MacFarlane’s Ted for rehabilitation.

‘Ripple Effect’ is a True Billet Doux

While ‘Ripple Effect’ wasn’t overtly proclaimed as a bouquet of roses to the fans, it landed snugly in their arms when it aired on January 20, 2006. Rather than bristling with inside jokes, it offered a scenario that allowed viewers to play along with the characters as they name-checked as many as 25 previous Stargate installments—a baker’s dozen explicitly, with a couple of Stargate Atlantis callbacks thrown into the mix.

The black-clad Cameron Mitchell (Ben Browder)
The black-clad Cameron Mitchell (Ben Browder) from an alternate universe in the Stargate SG-1 episode ‘Ripple Effect’ (S9, Ep13). The episode was originally entitled ‘Convergence’. | MGM, 2006.

For instance, Ben Browder’s Cameron Mitchell (or what turns out to be his black-clad doppelgänger) is an SG-1 fanboy who has read every mission report. He demonstrates this to a skeptical General Landry (Beau Bridges), referencing SG-1’s ‘Out of Mind’ (S2, Ep22) and ‘Into the Fire’ (S3, Ep1), along with Atlantis’ ‘Home’ (S1, Ep8)…

“SG-1, six years ago, wake up in what they think is the SGC. Turns out they’re not on Earth and it’s all part of an elaborate Goa’uld plot.

“Pegasus Galaxy, last year: A team from the Atlantis base gates through to what they think is the SGC. Turns out they’re not really on Earth. It’s another planet and they’re being manipulated by the aliens.”

Indeed, Black SG-1 sprinkles their debriefing with references to a universe where Selmak/Jacob Carter (Carmen Argenziano) is still alive—we wish!—and where the Stargate program has been made public, where they still have their quantum mirror and the Goa’uld were victorious over the Free Jaffa. That’s four episodic shout-outs ranging from ‘There But for the Grace of God’ (S1, Ep19) to ‘Threads’ (S8, Ep18), in one ‘boardroom scene.’

The Asgard Kvasir sat in the conference room.
Kvasir (voiced by Trevor Devall) in the Stargate SG-1 episode ‘Ripple Effect’ (S9, Ep13). A Canadian voice actor, Devall voiced Rocket in the Guardians of the Galaxy animated series and Emperor Palpatine in various LEGO Star Wars movies and series. | MGM, 2006.

Later on, the Asgard Kvasir (Trevor Devall) will casually mention that Thor (Michael Shanks) and Heimdall (Teryl Rothery) are busy in another galaxy on “a most sensitive matter.” This not only ties in with ‘Revelations’ (S5, Ep22) but a passing Mallozzi online remark that Heimdall’s cloning experiments were continuing.

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‘Ripple Effect’s Multiple SG-1s

The premise of ‘Ripple Effect’ is that alternate-universe SG-1 units start showing up through the Stargate at Cheyenne Mountain, thanks to a dialing anomaly that no one puts much stock in at the time it occurs. (That’s what happens when you let Carter off the base.) Coming across the transom—to refer to them by their uniforms—will be Black SG-1, Jungle SG-1, Jaffa SG-1, Cosmonaut SG-1, Desert SG-1, and more. Mitchell is the only common denominator of the dozens of teams, who pile up until there are 16 Carters working on the problem at the SGC, all of them loving blue jello.

Multiple Samantha Carters (Amanda Tapping) work in a lab.
A room filled with Samantha Carter (Amanda Tapping) in the Stargate SG-1 episode ‘Ripple Effect’ (S9, Ep13). The multiple Carter scenes were filmed using a motion control camera that repeated the same movements, with Tapping in a different guise. | MGM, 2006.

As Carter explains to the laymen …

Samantha Carter: The multiverse theory of quantum physics posits the existence of an infinite number of parallel universes—an infinite number of ever-growing realities that exist concurrent with our own. The theory holds that anything that can happen  will happen, if not in this reality then another.
Cameron Mitchell: So you’re saying that somewhere, in an alternate universe, I got to second base with Amy Vandenberg?
Samantha Carter: Theoretically, yes.
Cameron Mitchell: Boggles the mind, doesn’t it?

This interstellar traffic jam and the complexities of unraveling it will afford Amanda Tapping four technobabble monologues, which she reels off with virtuosic aplomb. She also gets to speculate about previous occurrences of time travel (‘1969’ – S2, Ep21), wormholes intersecting solar bodies (‘Red Sky’ – S5, Ep5), and wormholes connecting to black holes (‘A Matter of Time’ – S2, Ep16). None of this is illustrated with resort to the dreaded ‘clip show.’ It’s all delivered matter-of-factly, in the well-founded assurance that fans will get the references and keep score at home.

 Dr. Janet Fraiser (Teryl Rothery) in desert camoflage.
An alternate universe Dr. Janet Fraiser (Teryl Rothery) stops Daniel, Teal’c, and Landry in their tracks in the Stargate SG-1 episode ‘Ripple Effect’ (S9, Ep13). | MGM, 2006.

The heart of the episode is reached when Desert SG-1 appears on the scene: Mitchell, Daniel Jackson (Michael Shanks) … and Dr. Janet Fraiser, and Martouf. The latter’s abortive romance with Samantha Carter in Seasons 2 through 4 has been consummated in another universe, although Desert Carter eventually left Desert Martouf for another partner. (Mallozzi and Mullie are cagey about whom.) As Desert Martouf helps our Carter with her wormhole problem we almost get the Carter/Martouf lip-lock we’d wanted for the better part of a decade—until Kvasir butts in. Those pesky Asgard!

Dr. Fraiser Returns in ‘Ripple Effect’

Meanwhile, Desert Janet has learned that her classic-Stargate counterpart has died in action and received a magnificent funeral (‘Heroes, Part Two’ – S7, Ep18). “Wow, lucky me,” she observes dryly. She and Martouf have been roaming the galaxy on a mission to find a cure for the Ori plague (‘The Fourth Horseman’ – S9, Ep10-11). Ironically, not only does SG-1 have such a cure but Desert Fraiser can’t take it to her home world because of Landry’s embargo on further Gate travel. She storms into his office, guns blazing:

Desert Fraiser: Sir, I would like to make a request on behalf of all the teams stranded in this part of the galaxy. Please, postpone this [next] mission until we can find a way to get home.
General Landry: I can’t do that. We need our teams out there,  gathering intel on the Ori threat, instead of sitting on their hands here, waiting for  normal gate operations to resume. That won’t be possible until this problem is dealt  with.
Desert Fraiser: While I can empathize, sir, believe me, I think you need to take a look  at the big picture. This goes beyond this world, beyond this galaxy, this universe.  Hundreds of billions of lives are at stake. Their survival could hinge not just on our  return but on the return of every SG-1 stranded on this base. Sir, back in my universe  Earth is facing a global pandemic, one that your planet has already faced and beaten.  You have the cure. It could save my world. All I have to do is get it to them.
General Landry: I also empathize but, at the risk of sounding callous, my priorities  are this world.
Desert Fraiser: How can you prioritize the lives of one group over those of another?  What makes my Earth any less important than your own?
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Landry is immovable, in his customary hard-ass manner but Janet does not flinch from the confrontation. That’s the Dr. Fraiser we knew and loved, always putting her Hippocratic oath first and foremost. (Well, there was that Nirrti thing.) As for Landry, his lack of sympathy gives a clue as to why Stargate audiences never warmed up to him as they had to “St. George.”

Don’t Bet on Black

The impasse at Stargate Command necessitates sending SG-1 and Black SG-1 aboard that “Jonah,” the Prometheus (soon to meet her demise, two episodes hence) to attack the black hole that is the source of the trouble. Kvasir gives them a pip-pip-cheerio speech before beaming his shiny gray ass to safety:

Kvasir: The perilous nature of this mission should not be taken lightly. There is a chance that the Prometheus may not survive this voyage. But courage and a steadfast resolve will prove the most valuable assets in this undertaking. Well … good luck to you all.
Daniel Jackson: I miss Thor.
Samantha Carter (Amanda Tapping) beams aboard Prometheus.
Samantha Carter (Amanda Tapping) joins regular SG-1 and ‘Black SG-1’ aboard Prometheus in the Stargate SG-1 episode ‘Ripple Effect’ (S9, Ep13). | MGM, 2006.

Don’t we all, Michael? Little do our heroes know it but Black SG-1 has its own agenda, namely hijacking the Prometheus to the Pegasus Galaxy, to rob the Atlantis base of its Zero Point Module. As Mitchell observes of his opposite number, when the penny drops, “You don’t have beards so you’re not from the Evil Twin Universe, right?” (It’s a zinger aimed at a notorious Star Trek episode.)

The various subterfuges also incidentally settle the all-important boxers-or-briefs (briefs) question vis-a-vis Mitchell before Carter has an inspiration—firing an Asgard energy weapon into the SG-1 wormhole—that will not only solve the black hole problem but prevent the other teams from (as she had previously assumed) being stranded at the SGC. A stranded Fraiser and Martouf? We viewers could live with that. There’d be no entropic cascade failure (‘Point of View’ – S3, Ep6) to deal with, so why not? Oh yes, the Ori plague.

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A Parting Gift: A Real Goodbye for Janet Fraiser

So we must say farewell to two beloved, much-missed characters. In case you’re wondering why Teryl Rothery cuts such a dashing figure in the desert-camouflage togs, they were tailored specifically to fit her “Napoleonic” frame. She and Desert SG-1 enter the Gate Room to be presented by the contrite Landry with a surprise: the vaccine for the Ori virus. Now it is time for goodbyes"

Desert Martouf: Your presence is sorely missed on the team.
Samantha Carter: Where did I go?
Desert Fraiser: Maternity leave.
(Embraces her)

Who’s the other parent? At this point, Mallozzi and Mullie may have thrown a crumb to the Sam/Janet shippers, perhaps. Daniel is next. “It’s good to see you again,” he says for all of us. Teal’c bows to Fraiser as one Jaffa warrior to another, signifying the height of his esteem. Janet returns the bow as he intones:

Teal’c: May it not be the last time.
Desert Fraiser: We’d like to stay but we have a planet to save.

Yes, it’s back to business at Stargate Command, every multiversal one of them. As Teal’c said, “May it not be the last time” but alas—it would. Still, who thought The Powers That Be would grant us this dual reprieve? Stargate SG-1 fans had every right to feel well and truly loved.

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