The Assassination of Samantha
and Why I Loathe It.
The other day, being an obliging soul ;-) I responded
to a post on a Yahoo group from someone who found it too quiet and wanted to
enjoy a discussion of episodes such as The Ripple Effect. One of my
objections to that plot (shared by others) was that, "I was pretty ticked
off that the ep. seemed to centre on Sam's romances/weddings/offspring, which
is so totally OoC in relation to someone who is *supposed* to be an intelligent
mature professional career woman, not a neurotic nymphomaniac of retarded
I got rocks thrown at me by someone who couldn't tell
the subtle difference between 'Sam bashing' and an objection to Major Carter's
being shown in a demeaning light. Now okay, maybe my phraseology was a little
over the top, but it just reflects my pain and frustration over what's been
done to Carter over the past six years.
My dislike of the character assassination of Carter
has serious historical, sociological and political reasons. Yes, I know
"it's just a television programme." A Danish newspaper printed
what were, in the first instance, just a few cartoons, and look at the
effect they had...
When you are broadcasting to millions, what you say
and do - how you portray your characters - affects those millions who are
watching. You can manipulate them - mess with their minds - not necessarily in
a deliberate 'conspiracy' way, but simply because it's easier to perpetuate old
stereotypes than to think about it rationally and to apply 21st. century
Moreover, the brain is in a receptive, malleable state
while watching television. Again, the easier path is to accept what one sees
rather than to question it.
The Serious Bit - something to think
It's not so very long ago that women were regarded as
chattels. A woman had her father's name because she 'belonged' to him. When she
married, possession was transferred to her husband and she took on his name
instead. Like Malcolm X, we still don't have a surname to call our own; it's
either our father's or husband's surname - and your mother's maiden name is
your grandfather's surname.
Not only was effective ownership of the woman given to
her husband but, on marriage, everything she possessed became his. Not until
The Married Woman's Property Act of 1882 was she entitled to keep her
It's amazing that this law was passed at all, since
government was exclusively male. Only men could vote or stand for Parliament.
Then began the Women's Suffrage Movement campaigning for "Votes for
Women!" A lot of women suffered to get us the vote - being sent to jail
with hard labour and force fed when they resorted to hunger strikes.
In 1913 - when my Granny was 21 and not allowed to
vote - one woman, Emily Davison, ran in front of the King's horse, Anmer, at
the Derby and tried to grab his bridle as a protest. She was trampled and died
a few days later. It therefore annoys me greatly when people take voting for
granted and can't be bothered to get off their arses to go and vote.
It wasn't until 1918 that women had their first
opportunity to vote in a General Election. Even then, voting was restricted to
those who were over the age of thirty, and who were householders, the wives of
householders, occupiers of property with an annual rent of £5.00 or more,
or were graduates from British universities. M.P.s rejected the idea of
granting the vote to women on the same terms as men. That didn't happen until
ten years later.
Since then, we've been fighting for parity with men.
In my mother's time, a career for a woman usually meant training to be a
teacher or a nurse nurse, note, not doctor. Oh sure, there had been
career women before then - Elizabeth Garret Anderson, Sophia Jex-Blake, Marie
Curie et al. - but they were the rare exceptions. And still, there is a glass
ceiling keeping women from fulfilling their true potential.
So where does the fictional Samantha Carter of
Stargate S.G.-1 fit into all this? She's a continuation of the way male
writers and directors have chosen to portray women in the media.
When I was ten years old, about the only thing you
could do on a Sunday afternoon was to watch old black and white films on your
black and white television set. Even at that tender age, I used to rail about
the way women were shown as helpless wimps. The stereotypical scene that bugged
me most was the fight scene:
Hero and villain get into a knock-down, drag-out,
bout of fisticuffs. During this fight, the heroine - dressed in some sort of
insubstantial, impractical gauzy frock - would dither about on the sidelines,
wringing her hands and not knowing what to do. Then a large plaster vase
would catch her eye. She would pick it up, dither a bit more while the villain
was on top, then, when the hero had flipped the villain over and finally got
the upper hand, she'd crack him over the head with the vase and knock
him out, leaving herself in the power of the gloating villain.
And I would be dancing up and down yelling, "Grab
his ears and drag him off!" See, I was prepared to be proactive even then;
why weren't these so-called heroines?
I was in my late teens - an ideal age, you might
think, to appreciate 'ship - when Star Trek started. Great! A regular
sci-fi show that didn't have wobbly scenery! (cf. Doctor Who? ) I loved
the logical Spock, and was less impressed by pretty boy Kirk. This was largely
because, almost invariably, we lost about ten minutes of plot time while Kirk
romanced floozie-of-the-week. Yawn... Please - save it for the light-weight
And now, when the cinematographic industry is over a
hundred years old, 'heroines' like Carter are still shown as, at
worst, sex objects or at best, weak, ineffectual creatures incapable of
achieving anything without A Man to lean on.
Let's have a look with a discerning eye at some of the
things that T.W.I.C.* have done to Carter over the years
Divide and Conquer:
We had already been treated to the straggly, scruffy
haircut and heavy make-up which no self-respecting commissioned officer would
dream of turning up to work with, even if it were permitted. Or are rules on
dress and decorum more lax in the U.S.A.F. than the R.A.F.? I suspect not.
I know everyone wears make-up in front of the cameras
(been there, done that). It's necessary. But I really don't see that it's also
necessary to use much heavier make-up for Major Carter than for Colonel
O'Neill or General Hammond. Unless it's because she's The Gurl and
therefore must look glamorous for The Men? Thought so. Military. =..Glamour? Yeah,
With this episode, the rot really set in, driving a
coach and horses through A.F.I.
36 - 2909, as if it were merely a guideline - a suggested code of
conduct - not strict regulations that both officers had freely taken an oath to
uphold. Ignoring it just makes both parties look cheap, dishonourable and weak.
And it's Eve - er - Carter, who's to blame, enticing a
not-quite declaration of love from her C.O. It's either that or sustain serious
brain damage for him. Not much of a choice there then.
The strong, career-oriented officer that Carter is,
might well indulge in sexual fantasies at home about her superior officer -
he's not unattractive and she's not a machine - but she would recognize them as
fantasies, as chimerai - and leave them at home when she goes to work.
Window of Opportunity:
Oh, what fun! Everybody's favourite episode, right?
Because it's such a larf for a C.O. to demonstrate his total lack of respect
for his 2IC by planting a kiss on her without permission and in front of the
base commander. That's what The Gurl's for, isn't it? Pleasing The Man? And
anyway, just like a rohypnol victim, she's never going to know, so it doesn't
really matter, does it?
Well, yes, actually, it does. It matters a great deal
if you're a man of honour who values and respects all his team members.
Respect isn't a commodity whose value changes with a change in circumstances.
Just ask yourself - would you steal something from a good friend if you
knew with absolute certainty that you could get away with it? Of course
you wouldn't. Because it wouldn't be right to take advantage.
I have to confess here that in my suggestible
television-watching state, I actually fell for this one, too. Then I started
thinking seriously about it and realized just how awful that part really is. If
T.W.I.C. really wanted to have Jack do something outrageous, why not have him
lay one on Hammond instead of Carter? That would've been a cheeky prank because
Hammond is Jack's superior officer. Carter is his junior which puts a whole
different complexion on the matter.
I'm not sure if the idea here was to show Carter as
not being 110% perfect. She certainly showed intellectual arrogance in "[
overriding ] some of the dialling protocols to connect with K'Tau." Now I
don't have a problem with her displaying intellectual arrogance though it's not
an attractive character flaw. (Rodney MacKay does that so much better
anyway - practically an art form!)
What I do have a problem with is that it
shows a highly intelligent woman doing something unbelievably
stupid! That's as opposed to believably stupid; intelligent people do do some
very silly things, but not this silly and not in these
In the first place, if you can't get a lock on a
world, it is clear that there must be some reason for this. Until you've found
out what it is, only a complete numbskull would blithely go ahead and force the
thing through - like finding you're going the wrong way and slamming your car
from top gear into reverse to go back the way you came. Carter is not
Really! It takes a man to think that this would be
seen as credible, just like Everyman know The Woman is incapable of changing a
wheel on her car when she gets a puncture. Huh! Patronizing, much?
Secondly, how many Stargates are there across the
galaxy? Four? Three? Fewer? So S.G.-1 just has to go to K'Tau? I'm
thinking that Carter would just move on to the next 'Gate address along. Hands
up anyone who would do what Carter did? Nobody? Thought so.
I pass over the crap science - can't expect any better
with non-scientific writers who aren't prepared to do a little research. I also
pass over the naff science lesson they had her giving to O'Neill, the guy with
the telescope who was sufficiently well up to speed on accretion discs in
Singularity not to need her astrophysics-for-dummies lesson. But then,
that was three years before "Season 1." (You know - the one that the
rest of us know as Season 4.)
And didn't the director have her looking like she was
teaching kindergarten kids? Ahh, how sweet...
Less sweet was the fact that two members of S.G.-6
were killed and others injured. This is entirely down to Carter's determination
to get a lock. In her script, she initially gives herself a potential
25% of the blame: "this planet is dying, and it's probably because of
us," and "We may have inadvertently,
totally accidentally, caused a foreign element to enter the K'Tau
sun." [ My stress ]
Carter is bright enough to know that it's
entirely down to her. Finally she blames herself, but O'Neill brushes it
aside with: "We made the first mistake."
This would be the one at the beginning of the domino
topple, yet it seems like he's exonerating her from all the consequences. Why?
Because she's The Gurl, the sweet, well-meaning Little Woman. It's down to The
Man to take responsibility, because she's not up to it. Granted, O'Neill's her
C.O. and takes ultimate responsibility for his team's actions, but that should
not let him to close his eyes to her failings.
There should be consequences here for Carter, but
T.W.I.C. seem to be treating her, The Gurl, as their little Teflon Pet.
Major Carter's giving a presentation on F-302s for
'Operation Blue Phoenix' to a group of young pilots. She has experience of
giving lectures at the Air Force Academy (Prodigy ); she's known to be a
pilot (Children of the Gods ) and she knows the F-302s inside out, yet
she's shown as unable to keep order, letting junior officers heckle her and
question her suitability to train them. Huh? W.T.F?
Carter is supposed to be the 2IC of S.G.-1, the
first contact team - the team that is prepared to face any sort of unexpected
and dangerous situation. She has her place there on merit; she would not be
there otherwise. So why is she shown as completely out of her depth with a few
young pilots? Because she's The Gurl; she cannot function without A Man.
Then, to add to the humiliation, we see, not The Man,
but a fifteen year-old kid with his trousers at half-mast. He tells them he's
O'Neill and immediately has them sitting up straight and paying attention. How
What should have happened was that, in the first
instance, Major Carter would be treated with the respect due to her rank. If
junior officers behaved as those guys did, she would point out that they were
potentially jeopardizing their mission and that anyone continuing to do so
would be on a charge for insubordination. Their choice.
Why did she not take charge as an experienced and
competent officer would? Because she's The Gurl; she cannot function without A
Man. Got that yet?
Here, we're treated to a reprise of Carter the
Ineffectual from Fragile Balance.
Now, we know there was "a memo" about the
film crew's visit. Wouldn't you think that S.G.-1 would have been fully briefed
about this well in advance? So that they would have time to prepare their
presentation? And have it vetted for security purposes? Military Intelligence
may be an oxymoron, but they're usually reasonably well organized and
positively paranoid about National Security.
Carter's brief - if she had one - would surely have
been to describe her job in terms that are comprehensible to a reasonably
intelligent lay person. It would, under no circumstances, require her to
divulge personal information. So what does Carter get stuck with? A flustered
case of stage fright that would make a kid at a school nativity play cringe.
Later, we get her launching into technobabble mode, despite the fact the we
know, from Red Sky, that she can do astrophysics-for-dummies perfectly
When the interviewer's eyes glaze over and he wants to
see the 'Gate working, she's turned into a petulant teenager with the script,
"Yeah, sure. It's really cool. Steam comes out of it and
Then we get to the really cringeworthy bit
where Bregman asks her about O'Neill and how she "feels" about
him. At this point, a competent officer, like A Man ::grinds teeth:: -
would exert his authority by requesting Bregman to confine himself to questions
about work, and telling him that if he asks any more inappropriate questions,
the interview will be terminated. Simple as that.
But no. This is Sam. The Gurl. So the Men In Power -
the writers and director - turn her into something between a simpering teenage
groupie and a nervous quivering jelly, or as her script has her saying to
Daniel, she "babbled incoherently." Ack! The shame!
Just ask yourselves, if Sam had been Samuel rather
than Samantha, would the script and direction have been different? You bet your
sweet life they would! By demeaning Carter in this way, T.W.I.C. are
disrespecting all of us. Their attitude comes across clear as a bell: men are
superior; women should be barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen.
Later, Carter (assisted by Daniel - why? Why not Bill
Lee or Siler? ) is working on the Imperial Probe Droid. Neither of them follows
the single logical train of thought that: it's a probe - its purpose is to
collect information - it sends the information it gathers back to its makers -
we don't know who its makers are, so treat as hostile. Recommendation: pull
S.G.-13 back to the S.G.C. and monitor the situation with the M.A.L.P. to see
what shows up. If it's essential to keep S.G.-13 in the field, send a couple of
marine units as back-up. This is not brain surgery...
And here's a thought. Why has S.G.-13 got this juicy
mission rather than S.G.-1? Is the making of the documentary more important?
And it gets worse. I pass over the
unbelievably contrived plot in which T.W.I.C. have Hammond ignore
his combat medics and ride roughshod over Standard Operating Procedure in order
to send his Chief Medical Officer - arguably the most valuable person under his
command - into a battle zone with only a civilian archaeologist as back-up,
simply to get her killed off. For our 'entertainment.' Because they could.
Carter is the S.G.C.'s chief scientist. She must have
known that the Kull warrior armour can stand a staff weapon blast, or the
S.G.C. would have been down one 'Gate technician. She must also have known that
O'Neill was trying out said armour in battle conditions. If not, why
Onward into battle. Now, there will always be two
schools of thought - at least! - about whether Carter's actions did or did not
allow or cause Fraiser's death. Carter's actions on seeing O'Neill go down,
however, are not up for discussion.
The director has her standing up, making a target of
herself. Even if one is on a 'suicide mission,' surely it is one's duty
not to get oneself killed? Or at least, to take as many enemies with you
as you can? You aren't a lot of use in a fire fight if you're a
Carter then stops firing, deserts her post, and,
still an easy target, runs across the battlefield. This is called dereliction
of duty and should be dealt with at a Court-Martial. No ifs or buts. Yet no
Jaffa can hit her and no battlefield mud sticks to the Teflon Pet.
Finally, T.W.I.C. stick the knife into Carter and
twist it. What on earth was going on in their minds as they scripted that last
scene in the infirmary? Er - make that, the last scene I watched. Could they
not see how appallingly callous they made her seem as she dismissed Cassie as
"a strong kid. She survives." Why was Carter not with Cassie? Didn't
she say something about always being there for her? Ah. I forgot. That was
years before 'Season 1' so it doesn't count. Ri-ight...
And then, can they also not see that, having
stated that the kid is strong, they show the Air Force
Major as having the spine of a limp lettuce leaf? While the kid can manage
without Carter's shoulder to cry on, the Air Force Major cannot survive without
having her C.O.'s arms around her and his shoulder to cry on - literally
Why is she crying? Is she crying tears of grief for
her dead friend? No. Is she crying tears of remorse for the part she may - or
may not - have played in Fraiser's death? No. She's crying tears of relief that
her C.O. is alive - something she could've worked out on the battlefield.
Can T.W.I.C. really, really not see what a
disservice they have done their little pet here? They've taken the bright,
smartly turned-out, confident, self-assured scientist/Air Force Captain of
Season 1 (that's 'Season 1' minus 3 ) and turned her into a dithering,
incompetent, selfish and dishonourable shadow of her former self. Characters
are supposed to develop, not degenerate and fall apart. 8-(
Okay, she's had some better moments as well, but this
one left a really nasty taste in the mouth. I could go on about the appalling
way Carter treated Pete Shanahan, too. He was a reasonably pleasant guy who was
head-over-heels in love with her and didn't deserve the heartbreak she must've
caused him. Or so it seemed if you weren't watching through 'shipper eyes. Like
T.W.I.C.... But the 'ship sailed on. Carter, it was, who sank. 8-(
Sadly, I could go on at much greater length,
but I won't. It's just too depressing, for in their undermining of Carter, a
high-flying and honourable career woman, how much more are they denigrating and
devaluing the commonality of women. That's you and me, friend. Happy about
that? 'Cos I'm not.
*The Wankers In Charge