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About Sci Fi/Fantasy, 13 Nov 02
Julia Houston
November 7, Sci-Fi Channel announced that Stargate SG-1 had been renewed for a seventh (and most unexpected) season. November 8, they announced (somewhat less unexpectedly) that Michael Shanks would return for that seventh season as a main character in his role as Daniel Jackson.

I'm not 100% sure, but I think Jackson's full reinstatement in the show qualifies as a legitimate sci-fi/fantasy anomaly Certainly, I have never seen such an amiable-yet-tense parting and then rejoining of the ways in a sci-fi/fantasy show, and, I have to admit (not unexpectedly at all), I watch a lot of sci-fi/fantasy.

This is not like what happens when Star Trek characters leave the show, that's for sure.  But the Shanks/Stargate story of goodwill isn't just unusual compared to Star Trek.  Indeed, producers make a habit out of claiming that a character's departure will be good for the show. Changes are going to "revitalize the series" and "open new opportunities for storylines" or "lead the show in a new direction."

On the flip side, actors tend to make a big show about how their departure will be wonderful for their career -- even when this is obviously not the case. Bridges, it seems, have been burnt, and everyone is out to make the best of things no matter what.

It seems the only people who feel free to express their true feelings in these situations are the fans. They launch letter-writing campaigns, online protests and petitions and whatever else they can think of to lobby for the return of their beloved character, even though history shows this to be almost always a futile endeavor. With the producers and actors usually so determined to pretend things are better and all has worked out for the best, there never seems to be a way back. Fan-written fiction spews out plausible and impossible suggestions as a sort of offering to the dramatic gods, fans are sometimes thrown a bone with flashback or alternative reality episodes, but almost invariably the closest fans get to a return of their character is a convention appearance.

So how did Stargate figure a way back to the crowd-pleasing reunion that has eluded so many others?

First of all, the method of Jackson's demise wasn't out-and-out death. While sci-fi/fantasy can bring people back from the stony grave whenever it wants to, hedging Jackson's death with an "ascension" to a higher state of being has nixed the need for the usual clichés of time travel or super-duper machine. Moreover, we had seen earlier that such ascended people could return to flesh if they wanted to.

Just as important, Michael Shanks and Stargate's producers have not been trashing each other. While both discussed publicly their differences of opinion over the show's direction and the use (or under-use) of Daniel Jackson, such discussions have always been couched in respectful, even affectionate terms. Both "sides" have made a point of talking about how everyone has valid reasons for what they've done and made it clear that there was no big blowout argument. Of course, Shanks did complain about the "T & A" quality of the show in season four, and Stargate's producers' have been talking about how great the replacement character, Jonas Quinn, is. But that's nothing compared to what we've heard from other shows!

Third, unlike other characters who've been forgotten the second they died/left/vanished, and other actors who've kicked the dust of a show from their sandals, never to return, Jackson and Shanks have remained with the show in several ways. The SG1 team frequently mentions their missing archeologist, and the "new guy" Jonas has obsessively pored over Jackson's journals and notes. Shanks has hung around by doing the voice of Thor and by appearing as Jackson in the episode "Abyss."

The fourth usual circumstance here is most unusual indeed: the show has done better since Shanks has been gone, but for reasons unconnected to Shanks. Stargate's move from Showtime to the Sci-Fi Channel and the continued quality of its scripts and production have seen a rise in the show's ratings over the season. This means both Shanks and the producers can reconcile without looking desperate.

But the final circumstance is probably the most telling.  By not burning their bridges either with the show or behind the scenes, both the actor and producers and everyone else connected with the show can now make nice without looking like a bunch of studio stooges.

Oops! Before I quit for the day, I need to mention the role of the "Save Daniel Jackson" campaign...except, I'm not really sure what it is. I don't really think anyone knows for sure, though it doubtlessly didn't hurt Shanks' role in negotiations that he has a loyal fan base. Would that I had a fan base next time I ask for my boss for something. Perhaps I could get my mother to start up something...

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