Saturday, 8 August 2009

The Traveller in the Dark: a Jungian interpretation of Grace

The seventh season Stargate SG-1 episode Grace was "intended as a vehicle to address and perhaps resolve a lot of the underlying storylines in a lot of Stargate episodes" (DVD commentary), particularly as relate to the character of Sam Carter. In the episode, Sam finds herself stranded alone on a spaceship trapped in a mysterious nebula, after an encounter with an alien ship. During the exchange of fire, Sam is thrown against a wall and bashes her head, knocking her out. When she comes to, all the rest of the crew have disappeared. With the aid of hallucinations of her team-mates, father, and a little girl (the Grace of the title), Sam begins to take stock both of her situation and her life, before eventually coming up with the solution that allows her to get the crew back and the ship back on its way home. It is the process of self-discovery that Sam goes on during this episode that are the "storylines being addressed", and the roles the hallucinations play and the conversations they have with Sam that allow her to do this.

It is clear from the very first episode and her very first scene that there are three parts to Sam's personality - the Soldier, the Scientist, and the Woman - and she draws on and inhabits these three roles at different times as the situation requires. In her introductory scene in Children of the Gods, Sam comes in very much on the defensive about all three aspects of her personality, as she feels the need to prove herself to her new Commanding Officer, Jack O'Neill, and the other men in the room, all veterans of the first trip through the gate to Abydos. Jack assumes from her name that she is a man, and she pointedly corrects him as she enters the briefing room ("She is transferring from the Pentagon."), before going on to emphasise her military credentials as well as her scientific expertise, and spiritedly argue that it makes no difference that she is a woman (the infamous reproductive organs speech). However there are signs even from this early stage that there are differences in how comfortable Sam feels with each of these roles. She might come in stressing her femininity, but she goes on to immediately dismiss it as irrelevant. She shows off her scientific knowledge, but insists on being referred to as 'Captain' rather than 'Doctor'. All the signs are here that she wants to be seen as a soldier, first and foremost, as she thinks that's the way to prove herself to Jack and cement her place on the team. She is comfortable already with her scientist side, no doubt feeling that she has already proved herself in this sphere, being the foremost expert on the Stargate. And she seems determined to ignore her femininity, refusing to allow it to have relevance, presumably out of a fear of being seen as weak. The third episode, Emancipation, is an obvious example of this, much of her anger with Turghan coming from the fact that he made her femininity relevant and refused to acknowledge any other part of her, but we see it as well in Hathor for example when Sam is decidedly uncomfortable with Janet Fraiser's plan to use flirting to distract the airmen guarding them. As time goes on and Sam feels more comfortable in the team, this division becomes less stark, particularly between the soldier and scientist aspects as she becomes and continues to be successful and respected as both, but the woman aspect remains the weak link, the one she is happier to ignore. Most of the time she can, but her discomfort with the attention she gets from her long line of alien suitors and her willingness to leave her feelings for Jack 'in the room' are testament to it. This last in particular is significant with regard to Grace.

The relationship between Sam and Jack develops throughout the course of the first three seasons through a growing friendship with a good deal of affection and a healthy dollop of unresolved sexual tension to the point where, early in season four, they are confronted with how far their feelings have developed when trapped either side of a forceshield (Upgrades). They are later forced to admit to those feelings in an alien lie-detector test (Divide & Conquer), and it is after this incident that they agree to 'leave them in the room', putting their duty to the Stargate Program and the fight against the Goa'uld ahead of their own personal happiness. By the time we get to Grace, these events are three years ago, and despite indications from both Sam and Jack at various times that the feelings still remain, they have both been determined not to let them show. Therefore Sam's feelings for Jack, which are inextricably linked with her 'woman' aspect, are suppressed in favour of her soldier and scientist sides.

In Grace, the three aspects of Sam's personality are represented in the hallucinations of her three team mates. Teal'c appears first, pushing Sam to stay awake, to stay on guard, to fight, not to succumb to exhaustion. He therefore represents Sam the Soldier, as befits him as a warrior and also as someone who has demonstrated a very strong protective streak towards Sam in the past. Daniel is the next of the three to appear, encouraging Sam to question what happened, why the crew disappeared, what the other ship is, what the nebula is, and therefore represents Sam the Scientist. Daniel and Teal'c's appearances alternate, showing how these two aspects vie for dominance in Sam, but that in a situation like this it is fitting that the Soldier comes first, on guard for potential danger, while the Scientist works to discover what's happened and find a solution. The last hallucination to appear of the three SG1 team members is Jack, the only one not in uniform, here representing Sam the Woman because of her feelings for him, and he only turns up right at the end, when Sam has virtually given up. She is exhausted, both physically and mentally, and out of options, just sitting in a corner. She has also just had a conversation with a hallucination of her father, who has pointed out some home truths to her about what is missing from her life, namely love. I will return to the significance of Jacob and her conversation with him shortly, but for now it serves to show how Sam only admits to her woman aspect when she can no longer cling to her soldier and scientist roles, ie, when she loses control over how she appears and feels about herself. The three hallucinations later appear together when Sam is trying to carry out her plan to rescue herself and the rest of the crew of the Prometheus, and in their interaction show the inherent conflicts. Daniel and Teal'c both try to point out the flaws in her plan, from the scientist proposing alternatives ("Get back to Earth, and then bring in the cavalry.") to the soldier pointing out the potential danger ("The alien vessel is too formidable."). Jack, meanwhile, offers unconditional support ("Will you guys shut up, just let her work."), just 'being there for her' - exactly what Sam the Woman needs from the man she loves.

The other two hallucinations Sam encounters are her father, Jacob, and a little girl, Grace. Jacob, as mentioned above, turns up just before Sam's conversation with Jack, and acts as the precursor to that encounter, bulldozing through her carefully constructed defences about her feelings about love, and opening her up so that the hallucination of Jack can get a look in. The fact that it is Jacob that points out the deficiency in Sam's emotional life is significant in that Sam has been portrayed as trying to live up to the image she believes her father has of her, and the life she believes he wants for her. It is stated that Sam's decision to join the Air Force in the first place is due to her father's career there, and in the first episode in which he appears, Secrets in season two, he is pushing Sam and pulling strings to get her into NASA, because he knows that was her dream as a child. Since then, and Jacob's discovery of the truth of Sam's job and joining the Tok'ra, they have worked together a lot and become 'closer than they ever were' (Threads), but still only ever scientifically or militarily. Sam is trying to live up to an idea with her father every bit as much as with anyone else, and to have Jacob be the one to poke holes in that is more effective and devastating than it could be from anyone else.

Who or what Grace is, meanwhile, is left intentionally vague. She drifts in and out around the other hallucinations, encouraging Sam to play, making cryptic pronouncements, and singing Twinkle, twinkle, little star. Many suggestions have been made as to what Grace represents - Sam's inner child, Sam as a child, Sam's potential (or future) child, possibly with Jack (some of the things she says are rather Jack-like), an ascended being, Sam's undeveloped potential, the personification of the nebula in which the ship is trapped (hallucinatory Daniel's suggestion), the personification of a state of being. Sam even asks her herself but receives no answer ("Whoever you are, I know why everyone else keeps showing up, why are you here? What do you want from me?"). However, what Grace does say in response seems to me to be the best indication - "I don't want anything, but you do." Whatever she is, and however she came to be, Grace is there to shine a light on Sam's subconscious (hence the references to Twinkle, twinkle, little star), to push her into confronting the deeply buried parts of her psyche. And this is where a Jungian interpretation of the episode comes in. Sam is undergoing a process of individuation, or self-realisation, described by Stevens (Jung: a very short introduction, Oxford University Press, 1994) as follows:

How can we enable the unconscious to realize itself? By granting it freedom of expression and then examining what it has expressed. Thus, self-realization required the psyche to turn round on itself and confront what it produces. In conducting this experiment Jung again experienced himself as split in two - between the conscious subject, who experienced, recorded, and struggled to survive, and the unconscious other, manifesting in the personalities and powers that forced themselves on him, demanding his attention and respect. (p.38)
This sounds remarkably like the experience Sam has on board the Prometheus, experiencing, recording and struggling to survive, while surrounded in manifested personalities and powers demanding attention and respect. The three men of SG1 represent her three personas, but it's only one of these that Sam hasn't fully accepted - the Woman/Jack - and it's the confrontation with this persona that she is led to, effectively, by Grace and Jacob. The direction supports this too, with the hallucinations of Teal'c, Daniel and Jack (in particularly Jack) coming out of the shadows to talk to her. Grace and Jacob could actually be seen as one and the same in this interpretation, as if Jacob is a persona that Grace adopts in order to force Sam into the state of mind where she is able to confront Jack/her Woman persona. Jacob is almost introduced by Grace, coming in and taking over from her seamlessly in the mess, almost completing Grace's sentence:
Sam: Who are you?
Grace: You know.
Sam: No, I don't know.
Jacob: I'm your father.
Grace returns after Jacob has said his piece, but soon gives way to the confrontation with Jack, described on the DVD commentary as 'showdown time'. This is what the episode has been leading up to, the underlying storyline that needed to be addressed. But Sam is really confronting two things here, her feelings for Jack and her own undeveloped aspect of her personality, related to her as a woman and her capacity for both giving and accepting love. Jack points this out to her with his line "Maybe it's not me that's the problem here", which leads Sam to the realisation that "As long as I'm thinking about you, setting my sights on what I think is unattainable, there's no chance of being hurt by someone else". She is denying herself a huge part of both her personality and her life, out of fear - she is not comfortable with this aspect of herself, so she avoids looking at it. But Grace forces her to confront it, forces her to take that step towards individuation, because if she never does then she will never be complete, never have "meaning and balance" in her life.

However, Sam does not achieve this with the events of Grace. Her conversation with Jack shows her uncertainty about his feelings, and whether it is really about them or about her. At the end, she backs off from following the implication through, as the hallucination fractures - she imagines kissing him, but even though she knows it's not really Jack, she doesn't actually do so, instead bringing the confrontation to a close with a defeated "Never mind".

Jack [shadowed, in the doorway]: All right Carter, on your feet, let's go.
Sam: I was wondering when you were going to show up.
Jack [walks over, sits down]: You just gonna sit there?
Sam: Too tired, Sir.
Jack: Samantha. I'm a figment of your imagination. You're gonna call me 'Sir'?
Sam: Old habits, sorry.
Jack: So, you gonna save yourself, or what?
Sam: I'm tired.
Jack: Just given up then?
Sam: I just don't know what to do right now.
Jack: You'll think of something.
Sam: Came to give me a pep talk?
Jack: It's what friends are for.
Sam: Friends.
Jack: Hey, this is you talking here. Might as well be honest.
Sam: What if I quit the Air Force? Would that change anything or is it just an excuse?
Jack: I would never ask you to give up your career.
Sam: Because you don't feel anything for me?
Jack: Carter...
Sam: I'd let you go right now if I knew.
Jack: That easy?
Sam: I didn't say it would be easy.
Jack: Then what's stopping you? If you really want to know.
Sam: I'm trying.
Jack: Maybe it's not me that's the problem here. Let's face it, I'm not that complex.
Sam: Me?
Jack: Sam. I'm a safe bet.
Sam: As long as I'm thinking about you, setting my sights on what I think is unattainable, there's no chance of being hurt by someone else.
Jack: Jacob was right. You deserve more. I will always be there for you, no matter what. Believe me.
Sam: So what now?
Jack: Go save your ass.
Sam: One last thing.
[She imagines them kissing.]
Sam: Never mind.

The failure of this confrontation is compounded when she wakes in the infirmary at the end of Grace, having successfully saved herself, the crew of the Prometheus and the alien ship all at once. Jack is sitting by her side and her first word is his name, which takes him by surprise - Sam never uses his given name, as we were only just reminded during their conversation on the ship. In perfect contrast to the hallucination, the real Jack questions Sam not calling him 'Sir', and so the episode ends with no change to the established way of things - success as a soldier and scientist, failure as a woman, with her military relationship with Jack asserting itself over her desires for a personal one.

The story that unfolds over the following season and a half shows the fallout from Sam's experience on the Prometheus, as, realising that she is neglecting a vital part of herself, Sam tries to do what Jack has so often told her she should and 'get a life' outside of the SGC. She enters into a relationship with a friend of her brother's, Pete Shanahan, and in due course becomes engaged to him, though there are hints throughout that she is not entirely comfortable with the relationship. But even though she is making a conscious effort to pay attention to her Woman persona, she has not resolved her feelings for Jack, and tries three times to confront him again - twice in Lost City, when she goes to his house after he gets the Ancient knowledge downloaded into his brain, and then on the ship on the way to Proclarush Taonas, and again in Affinity, when she tells Jack that Pete proposed. None of these attempts are successful - Daniel and Teal'c interrupt the first one, Jack cuts her off the second time, and the third time both question and answer are obtuse ("What about you? If things were different?" "I wouldn't be here."). A line earlier in Affinity sums up Sam's struggle with what she learnt on-board the Prometheus: "They make you afraid of being alone but at the same time tell you not to settle for anything less than the perfect romantic ideal, like that actually exists anywhere in the real world. Either way you can't win!" The storyline comes to a head in Threads, with the wedding looming, the reappearance of Jacob, and another failed attempt by Sam to talk to Jack about her feelings for him (this time interrupted by Jack's new girlfriend, Kerry Johnson). During the course of the episode, she gets the chance to redo the pivotal confrontations of Grace, but for real this time, not with hallucinations. First she has a heart-to-heart with her father, on his deathbed now, which echoes the conversation she had with him on Prometheus:

Jacob: Are you happy, Sam?
Sam: What?
Jacob: Just answer the question.
Sam: Well at the moment things are a little rough, but in general, sure, I'm happy.
Jacob: No you're not. You're content, you're satisfied, you're in control. And that's the problem.
Sam: Okay, I'm really not following here.
Jacob: I'm saying, you're missing something vital from your life. And the sad part is you have no idea what I'm talking about.
Sam: Dad, I am happy. I've seen and done things most people couldn't even dream of. I have an incredible life.
Jacob: And yet you're alone.
Sam: Well, lately the dating scene's been a little stale, but then again I am marooned on a spaceship.
Jacob: No. Always. For as long as she was alive, your mother showed me a world beyond just ambition and career. She gave my life meaning, and balance. And it was my honour to love her for the short time she was with me. And if I were young again, and I met her for the first time, even knowing her fate, I would do it all over again. That is love. Sam? I know you have denied yourself the experience because you think it must inevitably end in pain, and loneliness. It's time to let go of the things that prevent you from finding happiness. You deserve to love someone, and be loved in return.

Jacob: I just want to know you're gonna be happy.
Sam: I am.
Jacob: Don't let rules stand in your way.
Sam: What are you talking about?
Jacob: You joined the Air Force because of me.
Sam: I love my job.
Jacob: You can still have everything you want.
Sam: I do, Dad. Really.
Just like in Grace, this conversation in Threads leads into the climactic conversation between Sam and Jack, after a scene where Jacob's meaning is reinforced for the viewer as Kerry breaks up with Jack, telling him they're making a big mistake if the Air Force is the only thing keeping them apart. Sam and Jack's conversation is an exact repeat of the one right at the very end of Grace, but with one crucial difference:

Sam: Thank you, Sir.
Jack: For what?
Sam: Nothing.
Jack: Think nothing of it. I've got plenty of that.

Sam: Thank you, Sir.
Jack: For what?
Sam: For being here for me.
Jack: Always.

In Threads, Sam does not back off from the conversation like she did in Grace, and this allows Jack to make the promise to her that he did as a hallucination, that he would always be there for her. And, more crucially, this time, Sam accepts this promise for what it is, accepting what she needs him for - the role that he played towards the end on the Prometheus, supporting her, not just as a 'safe bet' - and understanding the importance of this third aspect of her life. Having failed to understand what her subconscious was showing her in Grace, this time round Sam does realise what she needs to do to complete her process of self-individuation, to achieve that meaning and balance, that grace, in her life.

Note: many of the ideas in this essay came from discussions with various people on the Gateworld S/J ship appreciation thread, in particular JenniferJF, AstraPerAspera, Rachel500, Cagranosalis and Solo, and I can't take credit for this examination without acknowledging their influence in shaping my own thoughts. Grace was written by Damian Kindler, directed by Peter F. Woeste, and brought to life by Amanda Tapping, Richard Dean Anderson, Michael Shanks, Christopher Judge, Carmen Argenziano and Sasha Pieterse.