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Stargate SG-1 Series Finale: Poignant End to a Cable Record Breaker.

Stargate SG-1 is longest-running, scripted made-for-cable television series in U.S. broadcasting history. For ten seasons, the ensemble team has gated to new worlds to battle an assortment of villains and protect planet earth from invasion.  But after more than 200 episodes, the stargate shuts down on this MGM-owned series for the last time. 

Leading up to the series finale (Friday at 8p.m. on Sci Fi Channel) we’re celebrating this record breaking show with exclusive interviews with showrunner Robert C. Cooper and Richard Dean Anderson, who for eight seasons starred as the crusty General Jack O’Neill. (Simpsons clips here and here!) The Cooper chat was conducted on set during the 200th episode shoot; Anderson’s was by phone shortly after. The interviews will be posted tomorrow and Friday.

The series will resurface in the form of several straight to DVD movies (and you can read more about MGM’s plans on Gateworld, the biggest Stargate fansite)’s just not quite the same as knowing reliably that you can curl up on your couch for some Friday evening escapist fun. 

The series finale, Unending, is unheralded for the most part and Sci Fi appears to be letting go quietly. After the excessive hype surrounding The Sopranos end, which ultimately left the audience holding the bag and starving for closure, the producers of Stargate instead honor their audience and reward their ten-year loyalty with a poignant and satisfying conclusion.

The episode was written and directed by executive producer and showrunner Rob Cooper. And what better person to shepherd the show gently to the close of its television run than Cooper. He’s worked on Stargate since its inception.  He started as a story editor and sat in on the read-through of the pilot. He’s written 40 to 50 of the more than 200 episodes as well as drafts of 50 more with other writers’ names attached.

Unending circles back to another Cooper-penned episode, The Fifth Race, often mentioned as a fan favorite. The highly evolved Asgard (first introduced in The Fifth Race ep.), have only weeks to live and they quickly transfer the whole of their knowledge in one big data dump to humans, aka The Fifth Race. But in the hands of the newbies, the technology goes awry, trapping the SG-1 team alone on a space ship in a "time dilation field."  Every solution to the problem has a Catch-22.   As time drags on (or not, in this case), Lt. Colonel Sam Carter (Amanda Tapping) takes up the cello; Dr. Daniel Jackson (Michael Shanks) continues on his insatiable quest for knowledge; General Landry (Beau Bridges) cultivates plants; Vala (Claudia Black) flirts; Teal’c (Christopher Judge) is the stoic touchstone; and Lt. Colonel Cameron Mitchell (Ben Browder), well, he just slowly goes bonkers.

Cooper explores character and intimacy and the team, within the confines of a cavernous, low lit space ship. Stargate SG-1 was really all about the ensemble and this is a true ensemble/team piece.  Cooper’s direction is deft for the most part.  A Vala/Daniel argument felt a tad overwrought but the motivation is clear, at any rate. It’s something of a small matter because otherwise the episode is understated and beautifully shot. Trust me, Vala and Daniel make up for it later. 

Production values and special effects are gorgeous, as is usually the case for Stargate. Several shots are noteworthy, especially the ones peering into the spaceship windows from the outside.  There’s a neat montage set to Creedence Clearwater’s Have You Ever Seen the Rain. Overall, the music and sound in this episode is haunting. There is a barely noticeable but relentless background hum of..ship engines?  Speaking of unheralded, the Vancouver production team deserves kudos. Production design on Stargate is first-rate and we’re not just talking about special effects. There’s lots of attention to detail on this series - lighting, costuming etc. Thank you Stargate production team for all your hard work over the years. 

UPDATE: Gateworld has just posted photos of Unending.

Rob Cooper closes the series in a fashion that makes it difficult to let go. I was a little misty eyed as I watched the team slip through the gate for the last time on network television.  I wonder if Six Feet Under is Cooper’s favorite finale because Unending is a nod in that direction. I can’t think of a harder scripting task than to bring a ten-year series to a close, especially one with which you’ve been associated for so long.  This unsung episode may not be a top-ten ranked series finale, but it certainly ranks as one that’s very good - and as one that respects and rewards the ten year commitment viewers have made to the series. 

I’m an enthusiast for the early seasons.  (Hey, we all have our druthers.) The early seasons are certainly some of the best science fiction television ever.  I stumbled upon a season two episode airing on Sci Fi about two weeks ago – Serpent’s Song – and was surprised to see how well the episode stood the test of time. In Serpent’s Song, executive producer Brad Wright (who wrote the page one rewrite) told me that the moving eulogy delivered by Michael Shanks was translated into Egyptian by a UBC professor and quickly memorized by Shanks. 

These were often the little touches, along with the attention to special effects and other production values, that elevated Stargate. I’m hard pressed to name a favorite episode, although Forever in a Day, where Dr. Jackson’s agonizing quest to rescue his kidnapped wife comes to a sad conclusion, stands out in my mind. And please list your own favorite episode here, and why…let’s celebrate a cable legend.