It’s no secret that I love Stargate SG-1—it’s got aliens, mythology, and some kickass female characters. Unfortunately, Stargate still has a lot of failings, and watching Orphan Black has brought to my attention at least one more thing that Stargate has done wrong. About halfway through the show, we meet the System Lord Ba’al. Like other Goa’uld, he’s a parasitic creature that has taken over an innocent person’s body called a symbiote. Eventually, when the Goa’uld start losing power, Ba’al tries hiding out on Earth for a bit. While there, he gets the bright idea to clone himself, and the entire storyline never sat well with me.
To start, the whole cloning thing just seemed like a cheap copout to have our villain be in multiple places at once and allow our heroes to kill him over and over and over again without actually getting rid of his character. When I was younger, I also had some concerns for how the show handled this from a more moralistic point of view, and as I said, it wasn’t until watching Orphan Black that I realized exactly what was so wrong with this storyline. For a show that’s so focused on bodily autonomy, I don’t think anyone really thought through the implications of having one of their villains clone himself.
When it comes to respecting a person’s autonomy, I never expected Ba’al—a parasite who forcefully took over another person’s body, raped both his host and one of the main characters repeatedly, and annihilated whole planets, among numerous other atrocities—to really be concerned with a little thing like ethics. I did, however, expect our main characters and the people writing the story to be concerned about it. The Ba’al clones are expendable, both to the narrative and to the characters, and that’s where the problem lies.
When we first find out that Ba’al cloned himself, all of his clones are immediately presented and written off as evil. They have Ba’al’s memories and personality. For some reason, they’re also loyal to his cause, despite knowing that Ba’al sees them as entirely expendable. Ba’al eventually murders all his clones when he no longer needs them, and I question how the clones didn’t see this coming, since they’re all just like the real Ba’al and therefore had to have known that he wasn’t planning on letting them live.
But just because they’re like the real Ba’al doesn’t make them the real Ba’al. The clones themselves are still individual people and even though they’re working for Ba’al, we never actually see that many of them do anything really evil. Instead, the narrative relies on the real Ba’al’s own history to make us view them as evil. One clone is even executed for crimes the original Ba’al committed. I suppose we could call them evil for still living inside an unwilling host—Ba’al couldn’t clone himself without also cloning his host—but even then, the symbiotes don’t have much of a choice. Their biological imperative requires them to take over bodies, but unlike the Tok’ra and other Goa’uld, the clones didn’t actually chose to do that themselves. They were forced into existence and into human bodies by their original.
The show never addresses the clones’, and even their hosts’, bodily autonomy. And as I said earlier, Stargate just uses them as expendable fodder in order to keep Ba’al’s character around a while longer. What would have happened if one of the clones decided he didn’t like the real Ba’al and wanted to defect? What if one of the clones had a more symbiotic relationship with his host instead of a parasitic one? Did they all just call each other Ba’al? We see them hanging out with other—not having their own names must be confusing.
While I could at least understand why our main characters would not consider these issues for Ba’al’s clones by themselves, they don’t seem that concerned in the later seasons about host bodies either. In a Season 5 episode, “Summit”, the show actually makes the argument that Goa’uld hosts have been hosts for so long, they’re probably better off dead anyway. The show continues on with that logic for the remaining seasons, even though every time we see a former host—such as Vala, or even Apophis’s host—we can see that this mindset is wrong.
As I said, Stargate probably used the clones to keep Ba’al’s character around long after he otherwise would have died, but the show also didn’t seem to be too concerned with the inevitable moral consequences of introducing clones to the narrative. By nature of cloning a character, a story begins a discussion on individuality, autonomy, and what makes a person a person. Orphan Black isn’t without its faults, but watching it makes watching how the Ba’al clones are treated a little unsettling. Orphan Black also features clones, but the show delves into their individuality—we see the clones struggle with being clones, question their own existence and purpose, and fight for their freedom against the company that made them. After all, just because they’re clones, that doesn’t mean they’re not people. The Clone Wars also, as its name implies, makes use of clones—and even though the clones are not the main characters, Star Wars does a really good job of fleshing some of them out and calling attention to their issues. We spend whole episodes with the clones, and we see how they feel about their purpose in life—they were created to be expendable soldiers to fight in a war they have no reason to fight in. We even meet one clone who defects in order to start a family, and naturally, he gets shit for it. Seeing him and learning about his feelings really sheds light on some of the moral implications of cloning. It doesn’t take much to show a clone’s individuality—maybe they want a tattoo, wear their hair differently, demand to be called by a name of their choice—and it also doesn’t take much to show that a clone might have some identity issues as well. In Orphan Black, we see Alison once say to Felix that she’s not even a real person.
Ba’al ended up being one of my favorite System Lords when I first watched Stargate, but looking back, I really wish the story had done a better job with his clones. Shows like Orphan Black and The Clones Wars put thought into their clones and had compelling storylines and characterization. But Stargate only used them cheaply.
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Good post! I think you made your case well. This part in particular–“What would have happened if one of the clones decided he didn’t like the real Ba’al and wanted to defect?”–reminded me of Deep Space Nine, where the main baddies’ administrative work is all done by a race of cloned aliens they made for that purpose, but even they’re allowed some level of agency, as one of them attempts to defect when starts to interpret his mandate to serve them differently.
Unfortunately the writers of SG1 had kinda written themselves into a corner at that point. IIRC, they establish that the Goa’uld have a form of genetic memory, so that their experiences and personality are specifically coded and exactly passed on in their DNA. So, a clone of Ba’al is essentially identical to Ba’al. In thousands of years, only Egeria had ever rebelled against the Goa’uld way (we don’t know how it happened…), and all the Tok’ra are descended from her.
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