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FAN REVIEWS: Family Ties

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    FAN REVIEWS: Family Ties

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    Earth provides sanctuary for Vala's estranged, con artist father after he provides intel about a Jaffa plot to attack the planet.



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    Last edited by GateWorld; February 6, 2021, 09:47 PM.

    When the midpoint of an episode is signalled by the customary arrival of the advertisements, you probably aren't supposed to find yourself suddenly perking up. But to be fair, some interesting things happenned in those ads. Some bank employees danced through the streets in celebration of their interest rates, and a helpful lady explained what happens to your washing machine if you don't use water softener. It was good stuff.

    As for Family Ties, it was... stuff.

    The central conceit, that the SGC would give asylum to a character who, according to the only reasonably credible intel, was highly untrustworthy, is just about plausible. The notion that he would be given a life in the outside world - a life denied to Vala, and even to Teal'c for many years - is beyond belief. We need all of our credulity for invisible spaceships, doppelgangers, alien posession and all of the other SF stuff that Stargate feeds us; that sort of thing we swallow with relish. We've no suspension of disbelief left for the USAF to act bizzarrely and irresponsibly.

    The character himself, Vala's father, is supposed to be funny. He isn't actually funny, but we can tell by the music that he is there to amuse. The Comedy Theme plays whenever he is on. Jasek is another self-satisfied ingratiating buffoon in a long line of self-satisfied ingratiating Stargate buffoons (please let him be the last.)

    Vala herself is a character with a past that hints of amazing things. Her time as a host, not mentioned in Family Ties, must have been eventful, and her experiences in being taken, posessed and then set free all alone, must have been deeply formative. Any of this would have been meat for a character-based episode or two to feature Vala. Her relationship with her father, plucked from nowhere, is not enough to base a C plot on, let alone an A plot.

    Especially not as the theme of the resentful daughter and the absent and careless father was already present in the show. The contrived blood relationship between two of the new SGC characters last year was never particularly compelling, but in an episode such as this the point feels even more laboured and artificial than usual.

    If there is a saving grace in this long, long episode, it is Claudia Black. Whether her excellent performance is enough to actually render Family Ties watchable is doubtful, but it cannot be denied that this is a sterling piece of acting on her part. Vala's part itself is well written, despite being let down by the nature of the story and of the character she must act against, and Black more than does justice to her script. Vala's touching vulnerability and her petulance contrast well. We see Vala's involuntary regression to the level of maturity of an adolescent realising that her idol has feet of clay (stolen clay, she would probably point out) and then the growth she shows when her friends talk her out of her intransigence.

    Lexa Doig as the other wronged daughter is adequate in her role. Though excellent when asked to act as the SCG's medical officer, Doig suffers from having been landed with the forced and unnecessary relationship with the base commander. Since that is the only purpose given to Lam in Family Ties little in the script allows her to rise above the mundane.

    The flimsy and dull plot about a cargo ship ripe for picking at least gave the impression that something sort of happenned in Family Ties. It may be that a shipload of naquadah plays a role in the final two episodes, but even so, could Daniel or someone not have said "by the way, we found an unguarded ship full of naquadah on Arkad's planet," at the end of Talion or something? No, scratch that: then we might have had more time given to dysfunctional dads.

    Some warmth is provided by Vala's interactions with Sam and with Daniel, but this is too little to merit the episode any real praise. Similarly the final scene, as poor Teal'c learns that the Virginia Dialogues were misdescribed, is hilarious, but not funny enough to be worth the hour that Family Ties took to watch.

    Although I did remember what the water softener lady told me, and one visit to the shop later I have a washing machine 67% less likely to suffer clogging by limescale. So last night wasn't a waste of an evening's viewing, by any stretch of the imagination.




      An opportunity missed is the best way to describe the rather disappointing and lacklustre Family Ties. The main story flounders with the main theme of father and daughter relationships undone by a lack of charm, depth and history. It falls flat as a comedy and doesn’t have enough substance to stand up as a drama. It is only the one hilarious end scene with Teal’c and the rather more successful execution of the subtext of Vala’s acceptance into the team which saves the episode from complete ignominy.

      Family Ties showcases how Vala has been accepted into the team very effectively. There is a nice running theme of various team-mates offering support to Vala over the situation with Jasek; Daniel and Cam’s visit to Jasek and brief discussion with Vala afterwards, Teal’c’s intimidation of Jasek and his great line of ‘be less annoying’, Sam calling Jasek a jerk simply for his treatment of Vala, Daniel going with Vala to see Jasek. This entire subtext is the best example of Family Ties on show within the story. This is punctuated with the admittedly charming girly scenes of Sam and Vala at the beginning and the end which helps embed the idea that Vala is truly part of the SG1 family.

      Those scenes also highlight another subtle subtext within the episode, that of ‘girl power’ which is topped off with the reference to The Vagina Monologues at the end. The strength of the Stargate women is highlighted whether through Carolyn Lam telling her father what not to wear or the depiction of her mother as a classy, elegant woman, or Sam and Vala in knock-out, tasteful, civilian outfits with the combined female power having Siler turning tail, or Vala’s redemption.

      There are some good scenes which spotlight Vala’s shift from a thief to heroine: between Daniel and Vala as they discuss her decision to stop running and her difficulty in leaving her old life behind, Vala’s tirade that she will not allow Jasek to endanger what she has built on Earth, and her complete loyalty to the team in allowing them to scam her father. In the last scene, the echo of the original outfit Vala wore when first arriving at the SGC in S9 serves to remind the audience of old Vala and how far the character has come since then. As a redemption piece, the story works quite well especially as this contrast of old and new Vala also plays out in the contrast between father and daughter. However, it is in this main story of Vala’s relationship with her father, and the sub-plot of Landry’s relationship with his daughter that the episode comes wildly unstuck.

      The theme of fathers and daughters is not new in Stargate; Sam’s relationship with her father, Jacob, was a much-loved component of SG1 and Family Ties might have worked as a sentimental revisit to the theme had the episode ever recognised SG1’s past focus on it. It was a HUGE disappointment that there was no reference to Sam’s relationship with Jacob in the episode when a mention of it in one of the Sam and Vala support scenes would have been completely natural especially given the friendship between the two women on show, and Tapping’s brilliant acting of sisterly empathy for Vala. The lack of acknowledgement is frustrating and annoying, especially coming after Talion which did a superb job honouring SG1’s rich history. The urge to send the entire production team to detention with the task of writing one hundred times each, ‘I must remember to honour and respect Stargate canon’ is overwhelming such is the depth of my disappointment.

      Lam and Landry’s subplot does at least have some history which gives it some foundation but their relationship has never been explored in depth since first mentioned in S9 so the sub-plot has a ‘so what?’ feel about it. Landry is at least portrayed in a positive light to Jasek as he keeps his promise and makes an effort to change past behaviour. As such the sub-plot is more successful than the main story which is drawn in the broadest of strokes; Vala’s father is a crook unwilling to change, trying to run a scam on Earth but she loves him anyway. What little attempt there is within the dialogue and plot to show any depth to the relationship, such as Vala’s discussion with Landry where Claudia Black acts her heart out, is wiped out by the continual attempt to play the father/daughter relationship as comedic.

      Unfortunately, the humour falls flat primarily because there is no chemistry between Fred Willard and Black, and Jasek’s character is neither charming nor funny enough for it to work. Jasek seems to be a Milky Way version of Lucius Lavin; a ‘loveable’ rogue interested only in making a quick buck and conning people. However, there are no redeeming features with his attempts to reconcile with Vala being only a means to further his scam. As a result the character comes across as being very cold and the jerk Sam calls him. My vote goes with Teal’c; Jasek needed to be less annoying. The only real funny moment comes right at the end with Teal’c and The Vagina Monologues. The male fish out of water moment had me laughing out loud and Chris Judge plays it perfectly.

      Despite the best efforts of the cast, the musical underscore (which at one point almost drowns out the dialogue) and the direction, Family Ties just doesn’t evoke any empathy. There is not enough depth and history to either Vala’s relationship with her father, or Landry’s with his daughter to evoke any. The subtext of Vala’s redemption and acceptance into SG1 saves the episode but the writers need to stop relying on team interaction to make up for wafer thin plotlines. In the end, despite some enjoyable moments, Family Ties is a below average outing and the verdict is must do better.
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        At this point, it’s expected that the writers will avoid the Ori arc completely until the last couple episodes. Just judging by the description of this episode, it was apparent that this would be another stand-alone effort. It’s not a question of disappointment or dashed expectations anymore; it comes down to finding some measure of contentment with what the producers chose to drop into the second half of this incredibly uneven season.

        The theme is relatively simple: the divergent fortunes of two fathers and daughters with a lot of bad feeling between them. The “A” plot is the conflict between Vala and her father, who has come to Earth with the news that Arkad’s fleet (from the previous episode) is still on its way. In reality, he’s even more of a con artist than his daughter, and he’s there to make a few rotten deals and move on.

        The writers attempt to make Jacek amusing, and given how ridiculous the various schemes and plot turns become, there’s little doubt that the intentions are right there on the screen. That makes the lack of hilarity a major stumbling block. Some moments were amusing, like Teal’c’s final moments in the “Vagina Monologues” (wouldn’t Teal’c check the name of the show on the tickets, at least?), but most of the interplay and the scheming was too smarmy to accept.

        The issue here was Fred Willard, who never communicated enough seriousness to be convincing as anything but a poor con artist. Every time the camera hits his face, his expression reveals the snake-oil salesman at the heart of the character. That makes it impossible to accept that anyone would be fooled by him, which undercuts the effectiveness of the concept. Vala, despite being over the top on most occasions, can switch on the charm and sincerity when the situation demands it.

        With the “A” plot failing on so many levels, the “B” plot hasn’t got a chance. In this case, General Landry is trying a bit of rapprochement with his ex-wife, and he recruits his daughter, Dr. Lam, to facilitate the process. When things get crazy with Jacek, Landry comes close to pulling out of the planned dinner, thus threatening to ruin whatever ground he’s gained with his daughter. In the end, he makes the right call, in counterpoint to Jacek’s choices.

        This might have been more effective, however, if the writers had included Dr. Lam more often in the tenth season, beyond the occasional medical crisis. The details of her relationship with her father, never explored in any depth, are so far out of mind that one is left wondering why it needed to be addressed at all.