With the season and series rapidly drawing to a close, each and every stand-alone episode becomes a new source of frustration. The battle against the Ori must inevitably continue, yet since “The Shroud”, very little movement has been evident. This episode, at first, seemed to be the perfect opportunity to meld character exploration with plot progression. In the end, however, neither aspect was meaningfully explored.
Ever since the liberation of the Jaffa Nation, the Jaffa have struggled with the concept of freedom. As is often the case historically, those brought together against a common oppressor in the name of revolution will ultimately turn on each other within the resulting power vacuum. And as already seen in the ninth season, other powers will inevitably attempt to support one or more factions in the hope of taking control, or at the very least, destabilizing a weakened people.
Enter Arkad, a previously unseen figure among the Jaffa, who seems to be allying with the Ori and opposing a supposed violent and self-enslaving Jaffa Council. Arkad claims to be battling these violent factions, including one planning to attack Earth. It’s fairly obvious that Arkad is the one planning the attack, and his attempts to sound reasonable and legitimate are ridiculous.
This is meant to complicate what is a fairly conventional revenge tale, and one that feels tacked on to Teal’c’s character. Granted, Teal’c and Bra’tac have a fairly intricate past, so it’s not unreasonable to suspect that vendettas exist with other Jaffa, but this seems to come out of nowhere, given its importance. It’s far more likely that the writers wanted to turn back to the tensions among the Jaffa and felt the need to personalize the situation for Teal’c, thus prompting this story about Arkad as the man who engineered his mother’s death.
This is unnecessary for the purpose of complication. If Arkad’s actions had simply resulted in IOA orders to stay out of Arkad’s ways, yet Teal’c was willing to go after the enemy because of Bra’tac’s near-death, it would have been sufficient and consistent with previous episodes. The sentimental ending between Teal’c and Bra’tac would have still made sense (even it it does feel incredibly redundant), and the writers would still have the rationale for Teal’c and the rest of the team to face off against each other.
While this situation continues to set up Teal’c and Bra’tac as the de facto leaders of the Jaffa, that wasn’t really necessary at this point. That concept has been on the table for quite some time, as has the idea of Teal’c leading the charge to clean out the Jaffa of traitors. It would have been better if the episode had been centered on that process rather than yet another reason for its initiation.