Claudia Black on Stargate

Somehow, Stargate SG-1 is not only alive for a ninth season, but kicking ass in the ratings, despite the loss of Richard Dean Anderson (Jack O’Neill) and the temporary loss of Amanda Tapping (Sam Carter). The producers, who have been suffering from a tragic case of “We assume this will be the last season?” for several years now, finally seem to realize they’d better plan for the long haul. To that end, they’ve made changes – some permanent, some temporary.

Here’s a picture of Claudia Black. She doesn’t fit the Hollywood beauty norm of a perfect little nose, pouty lips and delicate jaw, and yet men have the audacity to go right ahead and find her hot. She’s extremely talented, capable of generating chemistry with anyone and anything, and she radiates charisma. She’s the sort of actor everyone can enjoy and relate to.

Warning: contains spoilers for Season 9’s first 6 episodes.

On Stargate, she’s playing Vala Mal Doran, a recurring character brought in to address the gender imbalance left by Amanda Tapping’s 5-episode absence. Vala is a thief and a mercenary, with very flexible ethics. She constantly uses flirtation and seduction to manipulate men – and, in at least one case, women – with varying degrees of success. She dresses very sexy – even when she’s given regulation clothing from the Air Force, she somehow finds a way to tailor it to show more cleavage. Our lead guys are, bless them, immune to the gimmick.

But the feeling you get early on with Vala – that there’s more to her than the brash persona – pays off. She’s somewhat of a female Han Solo – which, coincidentally, was the role I always chose when playing Star Wars on the playground with my male friends in grade school (forcing a boy to play Leia on more than one occasion). After several years of Sam Carter’s sterotypically TV-female behavior, one wonders where these guys got a character like Vala. In seven episodes, she’s managed to achieve two things Sam Carter never could: she’s become one of the guys, and she’s generated some very fun and sexy friction with one of the lead guys in a relationship that commands the audience’s interest without descending into the Moonlighting-esque “will they/won’t they” gimmick. Why did Vala get what Sam could never have?

While Vala gets to play basketball with the guys, Sam holes up in her lab, working, working, working. Is it that she’s given too much responsibility? Is it that she’s not smart enough to get her work done more quickly? Nah. When she turns down an invitation by O’Neill to go fishing, she points to the generator she’s playing with and says, “This is fun to me”. Okay, so Sam’s just dull. Got it.

Where Vala has this very funny, childish antagonism with Daniel, centering largely on overt offers of sex she knows he’ll turn down, Sam got stuck with a different kind of “childish” as she wasted her life wishing she could have a relationship with a man who’s given her no on-screen indicators he would be interested even if circumstances did allow. (In fact, in one episode in Season 8, he shows no reaction to her being kidnapped, but throws a fit when one of the guys wants to risk his life to go after her. I’d get a clue, Sammy.)

And don’t tell me it’s because Sam’s Air Force, and that limited them in what they could do with her. It didn’t stop them from plastering her chest with non-regulation Spandex t-shirts and backlighting her bosom with glowing computer screens. It wouldn’t have stopped them from enlarging the “funny, childish antagonism” she shared with Rodney McKay for two episodes into a Vala-Daniel type of interaction. And nothing stopped her from playing basketball with the guys, except her own lack of interest.

Oh, well. Now Vala’s gone for the foreseeable future, and Sam is back. But on her way out, Vala picked up on a very important clue that everyone else missed and saved the day. Sam’s failure to pick up on the clue was, lamentably, normal – she’s never been allowed to think outside the box. But this time, the writers were very careful to show us that Daniel – the usual outside-the-box thinker – also missed the clue, which effectively tells us we’re not allowed to think he’s smarter than Sam anymore. Right. If their new solution to the criticism that Sam makes amazingly bad strategic decisions is to make the other characters equally vapid… you’ve got to be kidding me.

We’ll see.

Comments

  1. Jennifer Kesler says

    Thank you! Now that we know she’s returning as a regular in Season 10, I’m a little apprehensive what will happen as they integrate her into the show more. As a guest, she was sort of free to do whatever. As a regular, will she fall prey to the same bizarre requirements they’ve made of Sam?

    I know a lot of people are hopeful, and I’m an old curmudgeon, but I just don’t trust the all-male Stargate production crew any further than I can throw them. Hopefully, they’ll prove me wrong.

  2. A. says

    I’m keeping my fingers crossed, too. I understand that it’s easier to take a risk with guest actors. But IMHO, Vala was a risk that paid off.
    It’s a good sign that the producers and writers seem to be very excited about this new character. But we’ll just have to wait and see.

  3. Eva says

    Great analysis. I love Claudia from her Farscape days of playing Aeryn Sun, a military kickass female who often took the lead, whom people followed and even discovered love along the way without losing her ability to shoot a weapon (see Peacekeeper Wars, Aeryn in labor and shooting at the bad guy).

    At any rate, your analysis of Claudia’s physical appearance was dead on. I dare say, even some women find her hot. And her appearance on SG1 ups the fun quotient significantly. I’m looking forward to her return. She’s the kind of actress you can’t stop watching, nor should you stop watching her. She’s got a commanding presence whether she means to or not.

  4. Jennifer Kesler says

    I agree. Claudia seems to be well-loved by men and women. I think it boils down to her being fun to watch, pure and simple.

  5. SunlessNick says

    Here’s a picture of Claudia Black. She doesn’t fit the Hollywood beauty norm of a perfect little nose, pouty lips and delicate jaw, and yet men have the audacity to go right ahead and find her hot.

    I love that paragraph.

    I think it’s about competence. We don’t need to be told that Aeryn is strong, and brave, and loyal, and smart (albeit trained into a narrow way of thinking), and skilled – we see it. We see the toughness, practicality, and mechanical talent of Shazza in Pitch Black. And the resourcefulness and general badassedness of Vala in the one Stargate episode I’ve seen her in so far. She’s either cast as very capable characters or manages to imbue them with capability through her performances.

    And competence is a turn on. Hollywood sticks to the “men judged by talent, women by beauty” thing – women are encouraged/expected to like competent men, but men are assumed to just want pinups – and they get confused when we find talent beautiful.

  6. Jason Barnett says

    I know this is an old topic, but I was just looking around and stumbled on this.

    I just wanted to say, maybe I’m a shipper but I think Jack has given Sam plenty of indications that he’s interested, and she does think outside of the box. This is shown because Rodney McKay thinks inside the box and generally seems to think Sam is nuts. Unless you just think he thinks inside an even smaller box or something.

  7. Jennifer Kesler says

    What indications do you feel Jack has given that he’s interested?

    For thinking outside the box, I’d contrast Sam with Daniel rather than someone on another show, however related it may be. I suppose you’re right that she thinks outside the box sometimes, but more often we see her saying, “That’s just not possible”. That’s how the impression of “in the box” has gotten lodged in my head.

  8. Jason Barnett says

    Some of his actions clearly seemed to be flirting to me, various intense gazes, the comment he cares about Sam more than he’s supposed to, his extreme reaction to the prospect of leaving her behind, the fact the only reason he can think of not to be involved with her is regulations(Jack isn’t much of a regs man, falling back on them smacks of desperation), he wasn’t exactly upset about Dr. Carter kissing him, their experiences as Jonah and Thera(she knew how much she reatined of herself and her interactions with her team remained, and she probably talked with Daniel about it. So Jack should have experienced the same) And of course as an outsider I do KNOW that he recipricates the feelings. So I can just assume Sam is perceptive.

    Rodney originated on SG-1 though. Sam may something is impossible, but she then goes out and does it.

  9. Jennifer Kesler says

    And of course as an outsider I do KNOW that he recipricates the feelings.

    Oh, you KNOW this? Then obviously there’s no point in anyone else telling you how they see the show, and no point in further discussion with you.

  10. Jason Barnett says

    So you think in the Windows of OPpurtunity time loop he just handed in his resignation and kissed her for no real reason? And his hurt in 2010 seemed very personal

  11. Jennifer Kesler says

    This is not a site for the debate of what happened on the show, or who loves which characters. This is a site about how characters represent women.

    I asked you what made you think Jack reciprocated because the argument has been made that she represents women poorly by having a teenage crush on a man who’s done nothing to clearly indicate to her he feels the same. If I were Sam, even if I saw all the things you named, I would NOT be foolish or childish enough to assume Jack loved me, and set myself up for the hurt of finding out he doesn’t. Men can angst about having sexual feelings for a woman they feel they shouldn’t lust after, and that can look a lot like lovelorn angst. Men also like to have “safe bets” from whom they would run like a scared rat the instant she became available.

    Sam must either be incredibly naive or too emotionally damaged to expect a man to love her, and yet the writers present her as well-adjusted. Perhaps because they think naivety or the lack of self-esteem is a natural state for adult women.

  12. Jason Barnett says

    Or maybe she just thinks it’s unlikely she’d find someone she felt as intensely about Jack. So why should she accept second best?

  13. Mecha says

    Ah, that’s not a solid argument, Jason. If someone is certain that only one person can be their One True Love (a sign of a lack of self esteem, naivete, or being in a cliched hollywood love story) and that one person doesn’t love you… well, they’re showing a lack of self-esteem and/or naivete, which is what Beta is saying. So if what you said is true, Beta’s perception of the character is accurate.

    -Mecha

  14. Mecha says

    As an addendum for the general situation, if someone were to believe a person who wasn’t interested was their OTL and then act upon it to try to force a relationship because it’s ‘the perfect relationship if only they would do exactly what I want them to’, then they would be domineering, posessive, etc. Not particularly flattering either. And fairly stereotypical of immature women in media.

    -Mecha

  15. Jennifer Kesler says

    Because well-adjusted adults have learned that sometimes you can’t have first best, but if you give it a shot, you may find second best more rewarding than you ever dreamed. There is nothing romantic about Sam wasting everything she has to give and receive on someone who isn’t there for her in that way, when she had Pete as an option. Pete, who accepted that she loved Jack, too, but thought she had made an adult choice.

    Like the song says, “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you just might find you get what you need.”

  16. Jason Barnett says

    Reading the responses to this has told me that you’re right. You can’t talk to me. There’s no need to limit fiction to reality and if even your fictional heroes can’t reach their goals(and they have writers on thier sides) then what chance do real people have. It’s an invitation to settle and give up.

    See the thing is I don’t think Sam is wasting those emotions on Jack. The things I have seen says to me he feels the same way. It’s just rules and regulations and the fact the entire planet depends on them keeps in the way.

  17. Jason Barnett says

    I overlooked that last line. You think perhaps she needs a guy who thought the fact they were dating entitled him to call in police favors to try to find out her job, which she told him she couldn’t?

  18. Jennifer Kesler says

    Reading the responses to this has told me that you’re right. You can’t talk to me.

    And this second condescending remark tells me that you’re incapable of a polite discussion in which adults agree to disagree. Thanks for dropping by.

  19. Jason Barnett says

    I didn’t think you were being polite. In fact I thought where you declared there was no point in further discussion with me very rude.

  20. Jennifer Kesler says

    What sort of a response do you expect when you inform people that you KNOW your view of the show is correct, and they are wrong? If I’ve misunderstood you somehow, then I apologize.

    That, however, is not the biggest problem. What I can’t seem to explain to you is: this is not a Stargate forum. Your comment that “fiction doesn’t have to be limited to reality” is true, but it entirely misses the point of this site, which is to analyze the meta-messages TV and film send about reality.

    If you’re wise enough not to let TV inform how you view the world, that’s great. If you’ve never met anyone else who does inherit his views from TV and you think we’re all crazy for worrying about it, then there’s nothing for you on this site, and I recommend a fan-based Stargate forum for in-depth discussion on the topics that seem to interest you.

  21. Keith says

    “When she turns down an invitation by O’Neill to go fishing, she points to the generator she’s playing with and says, ‘This is fun to me’. Okay, so Sam’s just dull. Got it.”

    I’ve never really watched SG-1, so I’m not sure if *you’re* saying she’s dull because she’d rather play with the generator, or if *the show* is written so that her character is dull, and the fact that she’d rather play with the generator is used as evidence of this. The way I’m reading it, the message there is “people who are excited by using their minds are dull.” If that’s your opinion, then we can simply disagree and move on. But if that’s the message the show is sending, I find it truly disturbing. Women are massively under-represented in science and engineering*, and I believe that this is largely because of messages like that. Personally, I find that people who like to play in the lab aren’t dull at all. My best friend just got funding for a neurophysiology lab, and her enthusiasm and excitement are so strong that I’m actually considering a 50% cut in pay to go work for her. I mean yeah, I couldn’t afford my house, and I’d be starting a new career from entry level, but I’d be attaching tubes barely two molecules wide to individual cells! How awesome is that??

    *actually, I think *humanity* is massively under-represented in science and engineering.

    • says

      Er, I wasn’t too clear there, was I? It was my impression that the writers thought Sam was dull. I actually loved Sam for the first season, and still liked her a lot for several more after that, because she was almost Spock-like – she loved science and the pursuit of knowledge, and feelings just weren’t really her thing.

      But by the season I’m referring to there, she’d developed this teenagery embarrassing crush on her boss and it felt like the writers’ references to her nerdish leanings were not entirely kind. (I admit it was hard to tell WHAT they were trying to say: she was simultaneously lovely, nerdy, immature and extremely capable, and totally unskilled. It was that inconsistent – sometimes in the same episode.)

      I’m the sort of nerd who reads quantum physics because it’s so gosh-darn fascinating, so I would find *fishing* far more dull than what Sam was doing.

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