Childhood and sacrifice in the ‘learning curve’ »GateWorld

“General, today I have to show the little girl how to be a child for a few hours. You want to punish me Continue.”
– Colonel Jack O’Neill

History and literature are full of stories of children forced to make great sacrifices for a greater cause, and there are few things as inspiring as a child facing a challenge beyond their age.

But sometimes the victims feel like a waste instead of inspiring us. And when adults leave a child with no choice but to sacrifice themselves, we call it abuse.

The third season of Stargate SG-1 “Learning Curve” presents a complex perspective on exactly this type of scenario.

The show begins on the planet Orban, where Daniel Jackson works with a man named Kalan and works with a group of children around the age of ten or eleven. The children are “Urrone”, which Daniel equates with apprentices. So far, so good. Apprenticeship is a traditionally acceptable way of giving young people a job. As long as there is no abuse, there are usually no objections to the practice.

But after Kalan brought one of those Urrone children, Merrin, to Earth to help Sam learn more about the Orban’s advanced naquadah reactor technology, we learn that this is not a harmless education …

Dr.  Fraiser and Merrin (


Dr. Fraiser discovers nanites in Merrin’s brain – millions of them. Nanites are microscopic devices that can cause problems, such as artificially aging people (the “short candle” of the first season). Merrin is not concerned, however. Urrone children are implanted with nanites at birth, which enables them to learn extremely quickly.

This explains how Orban has developed so quickly over the past few decades and why Kalan asks Teal’c to tell his Urrone son Tomin (and not an adult) all about the Goa’uld. It is a surprising practice and should have immediately raised red flags for the SGC because of medical ethics and the lack of choice of Urrone children. This is especially true for Dr. Fraiser and Daniel, who are usually so attuned to things like that.

Instead, once Merrin convinces her that the nanites are harmless and her immediate fears are alleviated, SG-1 continues to exchange information as if everything were normal.

But when Teal’c returns to Orban, the other shoe falls. Tomin has asked to undergo the Urrone graduation ceremony – the Averium – ahead of time. Kalan asks Teal’c to continue teaching another Urrone child, but Teal’c requests to see Tomin. He and Daniel are taken to an institution that is home to the Urrone children who have passed through the Averium. There they discover the devastating truth: When Urrone children turn 12, their nanites are removed and distributed to the population so that everyone can inherit the children’s knowledge.

But harvesting their nanites reduces the children to an infantile state – and they stay that way.

The SGC will respond immediately. They are shocked and saddened by the way the Urrone children are cared for from birth, used into adolescence, and then obviously pushed aside. For our heroes, the Urrone system is clearly child abuse.

Tomin and Teal'c (


This problem can appear in black and white the Orbans have a different attitude towards the people of the earth. Kalan insists that the Urrone children are not hurt – in fact, they are honored at a young age and well cared for after the Averium. What the earth views as child abuse, the people of Orban consider a necessary and honorable sacrifice. And this is where the ethical dilemma for SG-1 begins.

Kalan explains that if they do not allow Merrin to return to Orban, the planet will be set back twelve years in his naquadah reactor research. Daniel realizes that holding Merrin will ruin the evolution of the Orbanians. Worse, it won’t change their practices. Although he does not support Orban’s treatment of the Urrone, he understands how devastating it would be to forcibly dismantle even part of the Urrone system – especially if her new friends fail to understand why the earth is so appalled.

This raises exciting questions about social reform: When does one culture have the right – or the responsibility – to interfere in another’s affairs? And what is the most effective and ethical way to do this, once a culture decides to interfere?

Ultimately, “Learning Curve” shies away from addressing these questions directly. It was not the first episode in which these questions were asked (including “The Broca Divide” and “Emancipation” of the first season contain stories about the confrontation with another culture). And it would certainly not have been the last (for example “Red Sky” of the fifth season).

Any exploration-based or international organization faces issues of interference with other cultures – how and when to interfere and when not. In SG-1, the lines are usually drawn around issues of freedom. But interference is not the only element of the ethical dilemma in the Orban scenario.

Carter and Merrin (

The Orbans are more advanced than us, and we want their technology. (The Naquadah Generator would actually be a game changer for Stargate Command.) The normally simple dividing line between personal freedom is blurred not only by cultural considerations, but also by national and planetary interests.

What is SG-1 doing to Merrin under these complex circumstances? Keeping Merrin on Earth would save her life, but the Urrone System wouldn’t change it. And, in the words of General Hammond, it could lead to an interplanetary incident. It would be one thing if Merrin wanted to stay on Earth … but she doesn’t. She insists on returning to Orban to undergo the averium and cannot understand why SG-1 thinks she shouldn’t. She believes what her society has told her and she doesn’t know any other way.


Nobody in the SGC is happy with this situation. But between the futility of attempting to forcibly transform Orban society and the damage it will do to its development, coupled with Merrin’s refusal to seek asylum, and the political need to maintain the relationship with Orban, General Hammond is finally who Hands tied.

Merrin is allowed to return home with Kalan regardless of what will happen to SG-1.

However, Jack O’Neill refuses to give up so easily. He insists that not only are the Urrone children brainwashed, but they are horribly abused and unloved – so much so that they don’t even know it themselves. For Jack, this is simply a matter of principle. It trumps all cultural and political considerations. If all arguments fail, he takes action.

Jack O'Neill and Merrin (

Jack doesn’t physically force Merrin to go with him or lie to her because he has permission. But he disregards the order to get her out of Cheyenne Mountain, an act that could be viewed as a kidnapping. They go to a nearby elementary school, where Jack encourages them to play with the other children and paint for joy rather than precision. It’s a little taste of normal childhood – an introduction to the idea of ​​carefree fun.

At the end of the day, Jack reluctantly brings Merrin back to the mountain as he promised her, and she returns to Orban of her own free will. But now Jack can let her go, albeit sadly, knowing that she finally understood a little why they offered her asylum and why they did not want to send her home to this fate. In the end, she made the same decision, but at least it was a more informed decision. This heightened awareness changes their choice from mere waste to something more noble.

Jack disobeyed orders and risked an interplanetary incident. But sometimes a person has to do something wrong for a right reason. Jack obviously felt that this was such an opportunity, and while General Hammond utters the magical words “court martial,” it is clear that Jack is confident that he ultimately did the right thing – and that Hammond isn’t really indicting, shows that he disagrees.

Some things are worth fighting for, and trying to save a child or end an abusive system is one of those things.

Jack O'Neill and Merrin (


Merrin returns to Orban would be a depressing way to end the episode, but it would have made sense. How could a few hours of real childhood overcome twelve years of brainwashing and make a big impact on the girl?

But the story doesn’t end there.

Shortly after Merrin and Kalan leave, SG-1 is called back to Orban. Kalan greets you at the gate – and smiles. Nobody on Orban smiled during the entire episode.

Kalan excitedly leads the team to the facility that will house the Urrone children after the Averium, and it doesn’t look like it did before. Instead of unresponsive, infantile youths sitting listlessly in their bare little rooms, the hallway is flooded with children playing the games Merrin learned at school and coloring in with the crayons Jack sent her as a parting present.

Merrin herself, though deprived of her intellect and memory, smiles and colors happily, as Jack taught her to do.

Jack O'Neill and Merrin (

It turns out Merrin made an even more informed decision than we thought. She went to the Averium because not only did she know what she was really sacrificing, but also that her sacrifice would teach her people about play, school, and childhood. And she was right. Kalan explains that the Urrone children are now being taught, not just being fed and clothed. And we know that this may not be the last change in Orban society. There is hope now for the future of children on this planet. The sting of the averium was softened.

It was still a victim. But Merrin, who was older than her years because of the responsibilities she bore from birth, made a greater sacrifice than that imposed by her culture. She made a knowing sacrifice. She sacrificed herself, not for the agenda of her society, but for changing it, and for the other Urrone children who, like her, were used and pushed aside. She turned a sacrifice for an unworthy cause into a greater sacrifice for a much higher cause.

By consciously and not forcibly sacrificing herself, Merrin turned something lavish and abusive into something more – something inspirational.

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