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Stargate | Teal’c on Trial: Can ‘Cor-Ai’s Crimes be Forgiven?

Dial the Gate‘s David Read weighs up justice and redemption in the Stargate SG-1 episode ‘Cor-Ai’ as Teal’c’s past catches up with him.

Warning: This article contains spoilers for the Stargate SG-1 episode ‘Cor-Ai’ (S1, Ep15). Proceed with caution.

Teal’c is a Hero. He betrayed his god and walked away from the life he knew, leaving behind his wife, his son, and his future. He would spend the next decade battling those who would attempt to coerce others to worship false gods and would free countless societies from oppression at the hands of the Goa’uld, Ori, and others.

Teal’c is a Murderer. He took part in a system that oppressed societies across the known galaxy, executing people who defied his god’s commands and enslaving hundreds of thousands in order to keep the wheels of war turning. He personally selected humans to become hosts to the Goa’uld and his staff weapon was wielded against thousands.

Teal’c is a Victim. Born into a system of feudal oppression, he had few options for survival and advancing his station. His father was murdered at the hands of a rival god, and as a result, he and his mother were forced to flee to another planet to survive. There, they dealt with the scorn of being outsiders. What he did under Apophis, he did to protect his wife and his son and keep himself alive.

Perspective is everything.

The Philosophy of Stargate is a column from Dial the Gate and Wormhole X-Tremists host David Read that deals with some of the ethical dilemmas raised in the show.

You can find the rest of the series here.

The Stargate SG-1 Episode ‘Cor-Ai’

Many years ago – as seen in the Stargate SG-1 episode ‘Cor-Ai’ (S1, Ep15) – Teal’c (Christopher Judge) visited planet Cartago as the First Prime of Apophis, to take more humans to be slaves for the Goa’uld. The Byrsa, the local people, were very loyal to each other. Under no circumstances would they leave a member of their people behind before running and hiding on foot.

The Byrsa maintained caves and tunnels in all directions of the Stargate. When the lights of the chevrons would begin to glow, the Byrsa knew they would have only a few moments to disappear before the Goa’uld would arrive. As First Prime, Teal’c had studied their strategy. He knew this. He had also secretly renounced Apophis – but only to himself.

On this particular visit, Teal’c was forced to make an example of one of the Byrsa for their disobedience. By the orders of Apophis (Peter Williams), he was to select one of the Byrsa to kill. In a crowd of people, he saw an old man reaching his hand out to Teal’c. In his other hand was a cane to keep balance.

An old man wearing peasant clothes leans on a stick and offers his hand towards the camera.
Hanno’s father reaches out to Teal’c (Chris Judge) in the Stargate SG-1 episode ‘Cor-Ai’ (S1, Ep15). | MGM, 1998.

Teal’c Chose: He chose to kill an old man knowing that, with him removed from the group, the Byrsa might run fast enough next time that they may evade Apophis and his Jaffa. They would not flee the Stargate so slowly. As one Byrsa would later say, “We all go, or we all stay.”

Teal’c Chose. He chose not to disobey the orders of his god and to do a terrible thing. He chose to leave a young boy fatherless and solidify the point that the Goa’uld are a bloodthirsty mob who will not show mercy to the weak and infirm.

Teal'c, wearing his Serpent Guard, armour, looks down at his victim. His helmet is open, revealing an expression of horror.
Teal’c (Chris Judge) reluctantly does Apophiss bidding in the Stargate SG-1 episode ‘Cor-Ai’ (S1, Ep15). | MGM, 1998.

Teal’c Had No Choice: Surrounded by his commander – his god – and by his men, disobeying would have meant certain death, and any future opportunity to free the entire galaxy from the Goa’uld would be lost. Teal’c would have been executed for contradicting his god. He would never have met Jack O’Neill or the rest of SG-1, witnessed their advanced technology, and correctly deduced that they would be powerful enough to help him defeat the Goa’uld once and for all.

Perspective is everything.

During the first year with SG-1, Teal’c returned to Cartago on a routine exploratory mission. Only after arriving through the gate did he realize where his team had been sent. When the Byrsa came out of hiding to confront them, he did not attempt to run. He knew one day he might return to a familiar world where he had done damage. He accepted his fate then and there.

Teal'c looks around warily, Daniel Jackson is asking him a question. In the background the roof of a building made from leaves is visible.
Teal’c (Chris Judge) recognizes Cartago in the opening scene of the Stargate SG-1 episode ‘Cor-Ai’ (S1, Ep15). | MGM, 1998.

When making eye contact with an adult Hanno (David McNally) – the child of the crippled man he murdered – Teal’c communicated in every way that mattered that he was the same person Hanno remembered. Nothing Jack O’Neill (Richard Dean Anderson) said could dissuade either side, and Teal’c was taken away.

SG-1’s Ethical Dilemma in ‘Cor-Ai’

Jack O’Neill, Samantha Carter (Amanda Tapping), and Daniel Jackson (Michael Shanks) were placed in an unusual position. By all accounts, the Byrsa were no match for SG-1’s hardware. SG-1 had technology that would render these people helpless. Additionally, they could bring back additional firepower through the Stargate to ensure the extraction of Teal’c from the hands of the Byrsa. Though the result would likely be bloodshed.

Jack in particular shares a certain understanding with Teal’c. With his prior black ops experience, he knows what it’s like to do “some damned distasteful things” under the orders of his superiors. Serving the greater good? Arguably yes. Killing people who would kill others? Very much so. Devoid of innocent bloodshed? Difficult to say, but considering the words Jack uses in a conversation with General Hammond, probably not. His complete career is locked in a file hidden somewhere far away.

Hanno, a young man with dark shoulder-length hair, addresses Teal'c, who has his back to the camera. Hanno looks angry and has a crossbow-like weapon aimed at Teal'c's chest.
Hanno (David McNally) recognizes Teal’c (Chris Judge) as the man who killed his father in the Stargate SG-1 episode ‘Cor-Ai’ (S1, Ep15). McNally, who like many Stargate SG-1 cast members had appeared in The Outer Limits, would go on to play Simon in the third season Stargate SG-1 episode ‘Demons’ (S3, Ep8). | MGM, 1998.

Daniel, like Hanno, has a great reason to hate Teal’c. He knows that Teal’c was responsible for Sha’re (Vaitiare Bandera)’s selection as a host for Amaunet, Apophis’s Goa’uld queen. It is entirely possible that she would have been spared had Teal’c not pulled her out of the crowd.

But these people – Jack, Sam, and Daniel – witnessed something extraordinary. They saw a Jaffa commander turn his weapon on his men at the exact opportunity he saw to free dozens of captives – including SG-1 – from Apophis. Daniel would be completely within his rights to carry his hatred of Teal’c to his grave. He is a victim of Teal’c’s choices, after all.

That’s not what Daniel chose.

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