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.