Michael Shanks Biography
Michael's thoughts on Daniel in Season Five
Michael on Daniel and diminishing: Daniel never lost his passion for exploration and I'll always be grateful for that.
"This season, my character has been involved more in the action. The writers have decided, 'If the episode is not specifically about Daniel or if we don't have another storyline for him, then we'll throw into the middle of things and see how he does'. Needless to say, I'm having a blast. I enjoy it much more when I'm performing a function in a scene as opposed to just being window dressing. I'm grateful to those in charge for making the effort to address my concerns."
Beast of Burden is the first episode of the show's fifth season in which Shanks takes centre stage. In it, Daniel attempts to help his old friend, Chaka (Dion Johnstone) from The First Ones, who, along with his race, the Unas, have been made slaves of by those they were once masters of. "Last year, whether by design or not, I'm not quite sure, Daniel became a voice of morality for the SG-1 team," explains the actor. "His is a non-military viewpoint, and I think that's very important given the nature of the military hierarchy. If an officer says, 'Jump', a soldier will ask, 'How high?' However, a person who doesn't fall under that hierarchy or who can't be court-martialed may ask, 'Why am I jumping?'
"So in the SGC, Daniel tends to be the voice of morality. However, there are some moral dilemmas that have no right or wrong solution and this is true in Beast of Burden. My character has to face the fact that his way is not always right and people don't always have to accept the 'right way'. Some things aren't going to change no matter how hard you try. I think you've got to take a stand, though, when it comes to an issue. It may not necessarily be the most popluar one, but it's what you believe in at the time for whatever reason. Daniel is forced to do just that here. There are some ramifications that follow from the action SG-1 takes in this episode and I hope we have the opportunity to revisit this planet in a future story to see what's happened."
"The episode we're shooting now [The Tomb] is a great one for Daniel", says Shanks. "As the archeologist on the show he gets a big charge out of being in his element, and for me as an actor, the character is the most fun to play when he's feeling that way. So this story plays perfectly into that. Our heroes are sent on a mission to investigate an ancient Babylonian temple or ziggurat. In order to uncover the mystery surrounding the tomb, they first must decipher an archaic Earth language. This is where Daniel's problem-solving skills come in handy. Even the door to the place itself is a puzzle and one that my character is able to solve. Of course, once he and the others eventually get inside they find a surprise or two waiting for them."
"I enjoy playing Daniel," he says. "I think what I liked most was his excitement whenever he discovered something new. We saw this in the episode The Tomb with some of the discoveries he made. Certainly they were less important to the story once we got through the front door of the ziggurat but it was fun for a while to see the character in his element. It was the same in 2001 when he put together the pieces of the puzzle to solve the mystery. Daniel never lost his passion for exploration and I'll always be grateful for that."
Is there another year of Daniel Jackson in Shanks should Stargate SG-1 go for a sixth season? "I'm game," he answers smiling. "My only worry in life is complacency. Whatever I continue to do I want it to be moving forward. I don't like doing things simply for the sake of doing them, you know? I always want to be learning and growing. So as long as that happens or it is believed that it will happen, then yes, definitely, I'm here."
Michael on the sidelining of Daniel: "It wasn't just what was going on in Season Five. It was something which began in Season Four, and what got me through then was the prospect of directing at the end of the season [for the penultimate episode, Double Jeopardy]. That was kind of my central focus for that year." The actor pauses, and backtracks a little to the start of the story.
"A bit of a changing of the guard had happened on the production side of Stargate at the end of Season Three," he explains, "and I saw early in Season Four what was going to happen. They were trying to introduce this character of Anise [the glamorous Tok'ra played by Vanessa Angel], and all of a sudden this love relationship between Carter and O'Neill seemed to blossom, and I just went to the writers of the show and went 'What are you doing, what's going on here? You're making it into a soap opera!' I knew that with all this going on, my character and Teal'c would be just left on the back seat, but they came back to me and said 'It's just something we're experimenting with.'"
"The show was moving in a direction that seemed to hold less and less a place for my character," explains Shanks. "There were a number of conspiracy plots developing and other Earth-based scenarios that were being done in order to flesh out the different aspects of dealing with the Stargate. Admittedly, some of them were very interesting. For instance, the fifth season episode Desperate Measures was actually a particularly good story because of its X-Files-brand of conspiracy involving Maybourne [Tom McBeath]. In fact, when my girlfriend Lexa [Doig - Rommie of Andromeda fame] and I were watching it I said to her, 'This is a great show. I wish I were on it.' It's like when you watch a really good episode of the X-Files and think, 'Wow, this is a great show. I wish I could guest star on it.' Well, there I was watching Stargate and saying, 'This is an interesting TV show. I wish I was oh, wait a minute, I am on it!' It was one of those moments that were becoming more and more frequent where I'd think, 'I'm spending nine months a year doing this show and at the end of the day I'm really not in it a lot. I'm not getting a chance to challenge myself as an actor.'
"Stargate had become a program about a military group in a military institution surrounded by all the various aspects and organizations that people in the military might have to deal with. As the sole civilian of the team, other than Teal'c, there wasn't much for Daniel to do. For example, in the fifth season we seemed to revisit many of the same planets we had been to in the fourth year. Being an anthropologist/archeologist Daniel goes to other worlds to meet new races and study new cultures. Instead, we were dealing with old situations and becoming further entrenched in past conflicts. As a result, the archaeological and cultural interests of my character had to take a back seat.
"I actually said to Brad Wright [executive producer] last season. 'You need to have this fourth team member to be a military person, maybe a corporal or lieutenant with a bit of a background in archaeology. This way if you need such expertise this guy's got it. If not, at least you have someone who can pick up a gun and start fighting. It was getting to a point where Daniel was in scenes just to be there, you know, and, frankly, I didn't want to do that any more."
"I talked with them and said that I felt that Stargate had become a show steeped in the inner workings of the military and the things the military members of the team, ie Jack, Sam and General Hammond (Don S Davis) had to deal with. But my character, as the only civilian besides Teal'c, is a warrior in his own right, was not included in the loop of those things. I mean, an archaeologist wouldn't normally be included in those things." Trying to find the right words, he goes on, "I guess what I'm saying is I feel that Daniel's continuing distance from the NID conspiracy and the military machinations that were permeating the series was a problem I saw developing. Ultimately it became the needle in my side that the character wasn't involved in those scenarios when the episodes came up which eventually prompted my request to leave the show.
"It wasn't that the 'shoot -em up' and Maybourne conspiracy stories weren't good stories. On the contrary, they were great… but I saw that trend developing more and more, especially throughout the fifth season, and knew I couldn't let that continue."
Careful not to lay all of the blame for his discontent on the shoulders of the writers of the executive producers of the show with whom he still has the warmest relationship, Shanks continues "I think the crux of the problem was that in my own mind, as a young actor going in, I was certainly a lot more open to everything that was going on. I was waiting to see where the show dropped, so to speak, and in the initial years Stargate was a lot more of what I hoped the series would be. As I got older my desire of what I wanted became more specific. I mean, when you do a show for as long as I did Stargate SG-1, you start off as a 'young hopeful', as it were, sitting in the gate, waiting to do stuff and eager to do whatever is thrown at you. Then naturally you want to be doing more as the show progresses, yet I found myself going in the opposite direction and saw the character being involved less in stories. So with all these things in mind it was not without a heavy heart that I said, 'Well, okay, if this is the way it's going to go then I don't want to be here'.
If given the chance, what would Shanks have done differently with his character? "That's a tough one," he muses. "I think I would have liked to have gone back to Daniel's roots. We touched upon that a bit in the story The Curse. It would have been fun to go back to Egypt or someplace like that and discover a new element associated with another race out there amongst the stars. It needn't have even been connected to the Stargate. That would have created yet another mystery for us to try to solve. It was something we broached in Crystal Skull, but we never returned to that planet! I enjoy stories like that as they allow us to delve into the great unknown, which is a subject that has piqued the interest of Humanity for centuries."
"There were a number of agendas that had to be solved," says the actor. "Not only did they need to finish off Daniel's journey if you will, but they also had to introduce a new character. With so many things going on it wasn't really clear why Daniel was being written out in this fashion. I thought there was a bit of chickening out with how it all happened. The big problem, I think, was they were so intent on saying to the audience, 'Daniel's not dead!' This was mainly for the benefit of the same viewers who apparently got so upset last season when Martouf was killed off in Divide and Conquer. The powers that be wanted to quell any backlash that might take place with the fans concerning Daniel's departure. What they ended up doing lessened the impact of his leaving. They didn't give the viewers a chance to grieve the 'passing' of the character.
"Of course, the dual storyline involving the new character didn't help either. Having said that, I understood why it had to be done, and in all honesty unless I can think of an alternative way of handling something I usually keep my mouth shut and don't gripe. So I didn't really protest and just figured, 'OK, fine.' I knew it was the end of the road. I didn't mind the story. I just wished there was a better way that it could've been done, but that's neither here nor there at the end of the day."
The actor says there was a long going through his mind during the final days of filming. "On my very last day I worked only with the actor that was going to be replacing me, which was a bit ironic," he chuckles. "The day before, though, was different. It was my last one working with Christopher and Amanda. We spent a lot of time talking about where we had begun, where we'd ended up and the unfortunate circumstances that led to this particular point. So it was a very emotional day. Funnily enough, I felt more like the dying guy who had to make certain that everyone else knew he was going to be OK. I was being more of the comforting person in the situation.
"The crew themselves, and the other actors - mostly the other actors - were the ones I had the closest attachment to, because they'd been there every step of the way, they knew the real stories behind everything. There was a strong reaction from people within the crew. 'You can't go! This can't be happening!' And I'd be like, well, you're talking to the wrong person!"
What did he think of his final script? "I found it in line with how expendable the character had become anyway; that he was a speedbump on the way to the cliffhanger at the end of the season. Kind of like, '"We'll zip along, and - oh, he dies - and then we go onto the cliffhanger'. You could argue that it should have been a two-parter, a good way to end the season and have that final impact, but they just seemed determined to cast that aside and go on with their show. And I understand that from a production aspect, but it shows the irreverence that they had."
Shanks has also got an axe to grind about the new Stargate castmember, Corin Nemec. Well, not about him (in fact, he's quite sympathetic towards the actor), but about the way he was brought into the series. "They introduced this other character who will be Daniel Jackson's replacement in that episode, and I think that was poor form. Really tasteless." The character in question, Jonas Quinn, has been the subject of a backlash from many fans. "Exactly!" Shanks agrees. "'What are you doing here? Come back in an hour! Get out of this story!' That's how I felt, too. The character's not even cold yet and you're bringing in someone to pick up his bags and carry on!"
So how does he feel about Daniel's actual departure, in the episode Meridian? "Well, I still feel he got short-changed. They introduced another character, who is essentially Daniel's replacement, in that same episode, which is not doing either of us any favours." Shanks is referring to Corin Nemec's character of Jonas Quinn, a similarly bookish scientist, who eventually comes through by confirming that Daniel saved Jonas' homeworld from the folly of its own dangerous experiments. "I mean he's walking into a very emotionally involved situation for actors and fans alike… and this is his grand entrance? You get this perception of 'Can you go out and come back in an hour when we're all done here?'"
So why does Shanks reckon the powers-that-be decided to crowd Meridian with departures and arrivals? "Well, Brad Wright's gone on record as saying the important thing was to introduce a positive element in the midst of this tragedy, otherwise the audience would get depressed by Daniel's demise. It's like… when your cat dies, is the first thing you do the next day to run out and get a new kitten? But it's again a reflection of the corporation's attitudes towards the characters. 'Well, we'll just get another guy who's six feet tall and of fair appearance to play this sort of character.'
"So I think I was short-changed in that episode, plus it's kind of a speed bump on the way to the cliffhanger, in terms of it being the penultimate episode. So right after he's dead, then we have our big cliffhanger episode, which is full of action and big fights on the way to next season. I thought that was kind of funny as well. Certainly I had a big spotlight shone on my character, but the fact that it affects the overall shape of the show, well, that's 'Ooops', and then we continue on… I thought that a two-parter, which incorporated all the elements of it, might have been a possibility. I'd have liked to have seen something more like the departure of regular characters in some other series, so it was less token. But then I've seen that on other shows too, so maybe in a sense I should be grateful or what I got…"
But what about another aspect of Daniel's 'death'? Because he doesn't actually die… he's raised to a higher level of existence by Mother Earth. "I think that was determined by the producers' agenda," says Michael Shanks, "but it's a bit of a wimping out of the emotional impact, by saying that he's not dead. I thought it was more of a tactic than a plot device. I mean its purpose at the end of the day is to make it very apparent that the character is still out there in some form or another, but I don't necessarily agree with the way it was done."