August 22, 2016

Reconsidering Stargate Universe: Incursion, Parts 1 and 2

The Stargate Universe episode "Incursion"

We’ve reached the end of SGU’s first season, which has evolved from a deliberately paced character study into all-out war. The time we spent understanding the crew in the beginning allows creators Brad Wright and Robert C. Cooper room to ramp up the pace now. The two-part finale clicks because we’re on board with the struggle. There’s no easy way out of the fight with the Lucian Alliance on the Destiny. Tricky plans go awry frequently, and not everyone will survive. It’s a classic way to end what’s become a fascinating series. The momentum carries so well from “Subversion” and excels when seen without commercial breaks. The ideal way to absorb “Incursion” is in one fell swoop. The tension barely subsides right up to the ominous final shots.

It’s easy to compare “Incursion” to “The Siege”, the season finale of SGA’s first season. Both involve deadly assaults from outside forces trying to overtake the characters’ homes. The cliffhangers also feel similar in placing so many in jeopardy. There are quite a few differences between the two, however. We can look no further than the episode titles to observe the gap. On SGA, the Wraith invaders attack from the outside with massive external forces. Little hope exists for the Atlantis team, and there’s a fatalistic tone to their struggle. SGU looks inward and sets up a more personal conflict between Young and Kiva. The Alliance members aren’t evil, but Kiva’s team is taking no chances. Once the initial shooting subsides, their fight becomes a battle of mental wills between two committed adversaries.

There’s a creative risk in spending too much time on set-up in a two-part finale. Let’s call it the Mockingjay, Part 1 syndrome. The first half must feel like a natural beginning and not just unnecessary padding. We need to feel the tension from start to finish. Thankfully, there’s no room for a breather here. The Alliance arrives on the Destiny 13 minutes into part one and doesn’t waste any time. This confident storytelling allows the events to flow naturally and not feel subservient to TV needs. We have enough time to appreciate the gravity of the situation and understand the key players. The enemies can’t be faceless automatons. We’re rooting for our favorite characters to survive, but the stakes only remain with capable opponents.

A Missed Opportunity?

“Incursion” begins with Young killing Telford (and reviving him) to save his friend’s soul. It’s a daring move that ends in success, but it could lose the bigger game. If Young had turned off the communications stones and pulled Rush out, he could have prevented (or at least delayed) the Alliance’s ability to reach the Destiny. On the other hand, that choice would possibly eliminate his only chance to save Telford. It’s a daring move but makes sense given Young’s lack of knowledge about the attack. It’s hard to cut him the same slack with his next major decision. The plan to vent the atmosphere in the gate room is callous but would have stopped the fight. That swift act wouldn’t win Young a humanitarian award, but it would likely save his entire crew.

Circling back to Young’s choice with Telford, his plan was dangerous and could murder his friend. The ramifications of that failure would impact his place as a leader and trusted ally on the Destiny. Young took the risk because he believed that saving his friend was the right move. That doesn’t mean he feels great about it. His cold manner with Scott shows that Young is still dealing with his brutal move. Telford’s first words as a free man warn of the Alliance invasion. It gives Young no chance to recover and immediately shifts to the next crisis. When he sees Telford in the gate room, he flinches and believes he’s saving Rush. It’s a normal human response from a guy who regularly pushes back his emotions. Young is a flawed military commander, but this error comes because his humanity won’t allow him to sacrifice one of his people.

Young’s decision also shows the difference between him and Kiva. She killed her scientist in “Subversion” solely to prove her mettle with Rush. Young is trying to protect his people and is battling on too many fronts. Kiva has a singular mission and won’t flinch when tough choices are necessary. Logic can sway her decisions, however. Telford knows that he can save crew members like T.J. through their value to the mission. Rush understands what’s needed to defeat her because of his experiences as Kiva’s prisoner. When he talks about acceptable losses, it isn’t just to belittle Young. Rush has a valid point about how to defeat such a determined enemy. Young may vehemently claim that he’ll save everyone, but that level of success is impossible.

There’s one more layer to Young’s choice not to vent the atmosphere: it wouldn’t work from a TV perspective. Creatively, it’s a brilliant stroke to create doubts about the leader’s actions. It adds weight to every casualty on their side from this fight. They aren’t Young’s fault directly, but everything ties to his first choice. It’s another way that SGU reminds us that we aren’t watching super heroes. Both sides make mistakes and inadvertently harm people in the process. Kiva executes Rivers (Zak Santiago) without hesitating, but it does not come without a provocation. Introducing more complexities is what makes this episode rise above the typical shootout.

One Last Goodbye

“Incursion” also represents a final hand-off between the original SG-1 characters and the new group. Richard Dean Anderson, Amanda Tapping, and Michael Shanks all make their final appearances on SGU. Shanks’ Daniel Jackson only appears on a reprise of the video from “Air” that Eli watched at the start of his journey. It’s cool to see one last scene between Anderson and Tapping as Jack O’Neill and Samantha Carter. It’s only by video screen yet still reminds us of their chemistry. It’s a brief moment but includes a nice touch for long-time fans. Carter lost several F-302s when the Icarus planet exploded, and O’Neill calls her “Sam” when offering condolences. This is a rare informal comment on the job even for such a close pair.

The standout moment comes from O’Neill when he dresses down an uncertain Young. He supports Rush’s point that Young should have vented the atmosphere. O’Neill’s frustrated reaction reminds us that Young is fallible and may lose this fight with the Alliance. Anderson sells the moment by playing it straight and directly questioning Young’s readiness. This kick in the pants is the final scene from an SG-1 character on SGU. The old guard is telling this new crew to stop wallowing and take charge. It’s a call to action for Young and even the show itself. It’s up to this talented group of actors to take the next step and keep pushing the needle.

Chloe in the Stargate Universe episode "Incursion"

Missing in Action

Two of the series’ main characters spend most of the episodes totally separated from the others. Placing Eli and Chloe apart from the action is an interesting way to step away for a moment. She has been shot and their air is limited, so it’s hardly a carefree adventure. Even so, there is a lighter feeling to the interludes with this pair than on the main story. Despite some great work from David Blue, the Scott/Chloe/Eli love triangle didn’t always click. It felt a little too predictable for a show that was trying to dig deeper. Even so, the scenes where Eli and Chloe discuss their friendship are quite moving. Calling a guy with a crush on you an “amazing friend” is typically a backhanded compliment, but Chloe’s eyes say a lot more. Without having to make a big confession, he’s able to let go of the burden and just focus on the task at hand.

From a story perspective, moving Eli and Chloe away serves three purposes. For the plot of part two, it offers another chance to Greer and Scott when they’re trapped outside the ship. Beyond that purpose, the decision ratchets down the constant tension. It’s refreshing to switch back to Eli and Chloe after experiencing the tense Young/Kiva showdown. Looking to season two, this plot also reminds us of the scale of the Destiny. There are so many unexplored areas on the ship for characters to uncover next season. These moments set the stage for a lot more efforts to grasp the Destiny’s mission and its secrets in the upcoming episodes.

TJ in the SGU episode "Incursion"

Stepping Up to the Plate

This episode gives many characters beyond Young, Eli, and Rush the chance to stand out and help the cause. T.J. remains poised after being taken hostage even when Kiva is ready to kill her. She also shows off her improved medical skills while patching up Varro. He may be the enemy but still gets the same type of treatment from T.J. The seeds are set for a future relationship with Varro, but that’s far down the road. Right now, she’s facing a difficult and stressful circumstance while being pregnant. It’s a situation that would cripple most people, but T.J. doesn’t blink. She’s one of the crew’s most important members and proves it consistently during the crisis. Alaina Huffman’s quiet performance as T.J. deserves serious credit for anchoring the show.

Lou Diamond Phillips also gets the chance to shine as Telford, who’s been a one-dimensional jerk for most of the season. Once he starts working behind the scenes to stop the Alliance, it’s easy to see why Telford was worth saving. Phillips brings such humanity to a guy trying to make up for his horrible behavior. The fact that Young trusts his old friend after everything shows the solid guy he was before the brainwashing. Telford’s quick thinking saves T.J. while keeping him believable to Kiva. She’s no dummy, so the fact that Telford avoids getting caught for a while shows his mettle. This invasion is also a clever way to get Telford physically on the Destiny. The series is better with Phillips taking a more prominent role.

“Incursion” also spotlights the underrated work of Ming-Na as Camile Wray. The writers haven’t always known what to do with her; they’re more comfortable with military characters. This conflict gives Wray a chance to stand out and negotiate with Kiva. She remains brave when exchanging prisoners in part two. We also see an evolution in Wray’s relationship with Young. He surprisingly agrees with her position on negotiations and gives a nice gesture in sending the flak jacket. There’s warmth in that scene when Scott communicates the message, and that connection has been missing for much of the season. Wray should have more chances to stand out in the second season.

Telford and Kiva in Stargate Universe's "Incursion"

Cliffhangers Everywhere!

In typical Stargate fashion, the first season ends with multiple cliffhangers that place quite a few characters in jeopardy. Let’s do a quick rundown of the different plot threads left hanging:

1. Young and the military are rounded up and about to be executed.
2. Scott and Greer are stuck out in space with a binary pulsar on the way. They’re running desperately for a separate entrance on the other side of the ship.
3. Eli is racing to meet Scott and Greer inside the Destiny and open the door for them.
4. Chloe has been shot and closes her eyes, which hints that she may be dead.
5. Kiva catches Telford subverting their plans, and they shoot each other. Both are in critical condition yet seem to be alive, but their prognosis is unknown.
6. A shootout erupts in the medical bay, and T.J. is shot in the stomach by a stray bullet. Her life and the life of her unborn child hang in the balance.

Beyond these specific moments, there’s also the larger question of whether anyone on the Destiny will survive the battle with the Alliance. They’ve lost most of their leverage, and Kiva's injury has enraged the remaining enemies. We also don’t know if the Destiny will escape the binary pulsar. Rush and the other scientists still need to fix the FTL, and the Alliance has captured them. These cliffhangers are good because they don’t cheat the fans with a shocking twist. We’re just taking a break in the midst of a tense showdown. It was hard to wait three months for the next episode. Even so, it generates excitement for the next season.

The Final Look of Despair

It’s fitting that “Incursion” concludes with a shot of Young’s hopeless face. He looks up to the sky and prepares to meet his fate. All of the questions about Young’s decisions that I addressed earlier are surely going through his head at this awful moment. The close-up view of utter defeat is a feeling that we haven’t seen from Young. He’s had doubts but has never been so despondent about what’s coming. SGU frequently reminds us that even the best intentions can lead to failure. Young is human and could have acted differently, but it’s easy to say that in hindsight. He can only hope that a last-minute save is on the horizon. Knowing how things work in genre TV, the audience realizes there’s always a chance. That glimmer of hope is missing from Young’s face, though. He’s ready to meet his maker in a matter of seconds.

This article is the final part of Season One of the Reconsidering Stargate Universe series, which takes an up-close look at each SGU episode. Catch up with all the entries on this page.

August 15, 2016

Reconsidering Stargate Universe: Subversion

A Goa'uld cargo ship used by the Lucian Alliance in SGU's "Subversion"

If you think of SGU’s first season as a three-act story, the final chapter begins with “Subversion”. The crew of the Destiny spent the opening episodes just trying to survive and learning about the mysterious ship. The middle act was battling the aliens and each other while learning to work better as a team. We finish now with a battle to keep control of the Destiny against an invading force. This episode sets the stage for season two and re-introduces a threat to the crew’s survival. It essentially begins the three-part season finale that concludes with “Incursion”. The Lucian Alliance attack on the Icarus planet set the wheels in motion way back in “Air”. Now they’re preparing to finish the job.

It’s interesting to see the Alliance used as a primary adversary within SGU. They were a challenging foil to the SG-1 team during that show’s later years, but the episodes were inconsistent. It felt like the writers needed human enemies to balance with the powerful (and humorless) Ori. This new version of the Alliance feels more realistic and menacing. They’re brutal when needed but aren’t mustache-twirling villains. Despite their origins on SG-1, they still fit comfortably on SGU. They're a serious team with a singular goal. Their leader Kiva (Rhona Mitra) will torture and kill but isn’t reckless. Completing her mission is all that no matters, and that approach makes her extremely dangerous.

“Subversion” mixes in elements of the spy genre by sending Rush undercover posing as Telford. Rush's efforts on Earth and subsequent torture wouldn’t be out of place on a show like Alias. SG-1 also incorporated a similar feel in Earth-bound episodes, particularly their battles with the rogue NID. Rush’s immediate failure to infiltrate the Alliance gives a different vibe, thankfully. Professionals like Kiva and Varro (Mike Dopud) aren’t one-note characters because they immediately catch Rush’s mistakes. From their point of view, he’s an enemy trying to stop their legitimate plans. It's also an original way to use the communication stones as a storytelling device. Rush can leave the Destiny and take on a dangerous mission, which expands the scope of the series and his character.

Daniel Jackson (Michael Shanks) in SGU's "Subversion"

The Gang’s All Here

It would be easy to stumble upon a few scenes of this episode and mistakenly think it’s SG-1. Both Jack O’Neill and Daniel Jackson return for significant roles and directly impact the plot. Some fans prefer to keep the original heroes on the sidelines for SGU, but I don’t mind it. Getting to spend a few moments with Richard Dean Anderson is rarely a bad idea. He serves as a sounding board for Young to discuss the issues with Telford but does get a few clever quips. Giving O’Neill a chance to board the Destiny using the stones is also clever. Daniel’s role is stranger and basically turns him into Dr. Jackson, P.I. It’s less significant than his work in “Human” but mostly works. Daniel’s knowing look about plans to torture Telford is also a nice callback to his ideological battles with O’Neill on SG-1.

Beyond the returning characters, this episode also includes references to the Goa’uld, which are rare on SGU. The Alliance even uses a Goa’uld cargo ship, which sits cloaked on Earth and helps capture Rush. It’s a throwback without overdoing the connections. Bringing back Anderson and Shanks is fan service by isn’t egregious. O’Neill also mentions that Samantha Carter is working with them, but we don’t see her this time. The Goa’uld brainwashing technique also plays a key role in the episode’s main story. It’s tricky to bring in all these elements and not distract us, but there’s enough happening to sidestep those obstacles. A sense of urgency pervades the narrative and leads well into the finale.

Rush (Robert Carlyle) in SGU's "Subversion"

Two Interrogations

The most powerful moments in “Subversion” come from the Young/Telford showdown on board the Destiny. Both actors bring their A game to the battle of wills between two guys that won’t surrender. The writers have done an excellent job adding layers to the animosity between the former pals throughout the season. Telford is an arrogant jerk, but he’s also right pretty often. His points about Young’s unprofessional actions are correct, but they’re a means to an end. The slightly crazed smile on Louis Ferreira’s face is chilling. We get the sense that he’ll do anything to break his friend. He takes an unflattering joy in baiting Telford and then attacking him.

This personal fight contrasts sharply with the unemotional way that Kiva tortures Rush. She inflicts pain with a purpose to discover Rush’s true identity. There’s no joy from her in watching him suffer. When Rush finally caves, Kiva sense an opportunity and takes advantage. Killing her own lead scientist is just another step in getting Rush to fulfill her goals. It’s a shockingly brutal scene that jars the audience as much as Rush. We’ve been trained to expect stalling to work in this situation. Kiva sees through the delays and shows Rush that she means business. This moment reminds us that SGU exists is a different universe (pun intended) and pulls fewer punches.

The Young/Telford scenes are powerful, but there’s some deception happening from the show. We’ve seen Young act unmercifully towards Rush in “Justice”, and his current behavior feels similar. On the other hand, keeping everyone in the dark about his true motives seems too cute. It creates unnecessary dissension once Telford is captured within his quarters. It makes sense to not give away the ultimate plan at the start, but why be secretive later? Wray seems ready to start a mutiny against the military because she lacks the right info. This deception crosses over to the audience, which is the real goal. We aren’t sure how far Young will go, and that makes his behavior more intriguing. Revealing the plans to others destroys the mystery and kills the suspense for us.

Kiva (Rhona Mitra) in SGU's "Subversion"

The Greater Good

“Subversion” also introduces Varro, a friendlier member of Kiva’s team. There’s an interesting shot of him looking concerned in the background while she interrogates Rush. Varro is a candid guy who doesn’t beat around the bush, and his direct approach varies sharply from Young’s. On the other hand, he still believes in the Alliance's mission. Varro’s clarification that he’ll kill Rush if he can’t make the Stargate work isn’t an idle threat. Once again, this scene makes us question if the crew are the heroes in this scenario. Varro will definitely kill Rush if it’s necessary, but there’s no personal animosity there. It’s just part of the job.

There’s a fascinating question hanging over Telford’s ultimate confession: Is he an evil guy or the victim of the brainwashing device? The evidence suggests the latter, but there’s enough doubt to keep it surprising. SG-1 fans will recognize a parallel with the season five episode “Threshold” when Teal’c was brainwashed by Apophis. That result should offer clues at Telford’s ultimate destination. Lou Diamond Phillips is so good at playing a jerk despite being such a likable actor. It’s thrilling to watch him take center stage in this key episode. The way that Telford spits out his words at Young when he loses the facade works so well. His knowledge of what Kiva can do is his trump card.

Colonel Telford (Lou Diamond Phillips) in SGU's "Subversion"

In the final scene, Young seems willing to sacrifice both Telford and Rush in one fell swoop. His stone-faced look while peering into Telford’s quarters is frightening. We’ve been trained to expect a last-minute save during this type of scene. Instead, O’Neill actually signed off on this cruel method. It’s a slight cheat but also a brilliant set-up to keep fans excited about the next week. We’ve been set up to hate Telford and enjoy watching his plans fail. On the other hand, seeing Young beat him up and suffocate him seems extreme. Young has been a capable leader at times, but his single-minded determination can miss the bigger picture. There’s theater in the way he dispatches Telford, and his only goal isn’t the greater good. With the Alliance ready to strike at a moment’s notice, this personal duel is the start of something much worse.

This article is part of the Reconsidering Stargate Universe series, which takes an up-close look at each SGU episode. Catch up with all the entries on this page.

August 6, 2016

Continuum: Evil Corporations, Righteous Terrorists, and Timey-Wimey Fun

Rachel Nichols as Kiera Cameron in Continuum

In the futuristic world of Continuum, lost governments hand the keys to corporate overloads. They create amazing technology but develop an inhumane system of control by any means necessary. Looking at our divisive modern world, imagining this scenario isn’t a big stretch. I don’t expect the police force to wear skin-tight suits with super powers, but their focus on corporate interests is easy to accept. This Canadian series aired in the U.S. on SyFy from 2012-2015 with minimal fanfare, but its vision of our dangerous path hits home. By the time we reach the final episodes, the villainous terrorists have become true heroes. They aren’t corrupted by power and have retained a precise focus on ensuring that Big Brother loses the war.

What makes this show click is the way it combines political issues with sci-fi thrills inside a tight procedural. Many familiar faces from the Vancouver acting scene also show up and join the fun. It’s like a Stargate franchise reunion almost every week! Continuum was created by Simon Barry, a lesser-known British filmmaker currently producing the Van Helsing TV series. Despite its genre structure, this show feels different and becomes quite unpredictable. The last two seasons in particular are a remarkable change from the more episodic beginnings. The sci-fi concepts aren’t just the set-up for a normal cop show. Barry grows more confident with each passing season and builds an intriguing world that could have thrived for much longer.

Roger Cross and Lex Doig as Liber8 in Continuum

The story centers on Kiera Cameron (Rachel Nichols), a detective in 2077 tasked with tracking down violent terrorists. Known as Liber8, the eight criminals are set for a public execution with Kiera in attendance. Their unique form of escape is a time travel device that ships the gang back to 2012, along with Kiera. Liber8 plans to change the future and prevent The Company from taking control. They have no concerns about how many die in the process, however. Kiera has two main goals: stop Liber8 and get back to her family in 2077. She partners up with Detective Carlos Fonnegra (Victor Webster) at the Vancouver PD to stop the terrorists. It’s hardly a “good vs. evil” situation, and Kiera begins to learn that perhaps she’s chosen the wrong side.

Kiera’s main ally is Alec Sadler (Erik Knudsen), a young tech genius who will ultimately create the bleak future. The friendly guy is quite different from the hardened old man (William B. Davis, The X Files’ CSM) of 2077. For a long time, he’s the only person not in Liber8 that knows Kiera’s true origins. Alec faces down the idea that his future is set in stone. His step-brother Julian (Richard Harmon) has a similar issue with his own dangerous role to come as the notorious rebel “Theseus”. Can the future be changed? This question dominates the early seasons, particularly when Liber8 starts operating. Their leader Edouard Kagame (Tony Amendola, Bra’tac from Stargate SG-1) fully believes in their mission and the sacrifices. What’s interesting is how much the emphasis shifts during the course of the four seasons.

Kiera Cameron (Rachel Nichols) stars in Continuum

Season 1: Setting the Game Board

Synopsis: Kiera lands in 2012, joins the Vancouver PD, and battles Liber8.
Best Episode: 1.10, “End Times”
Worst Episode: 1.7, “The Politics of Time”

It’s tricky to build an ambitious sci-fi series, particularly one with two time periods. The premiere must introduce both the dystopian world of 2077 and the present-day setting in 2012. There also are quite a few characters beyond Kiera and Alec. Continuum reveals the major players early but doesn’t overdo the exposition. Casting the right actors eases the burden. Roger Cross (24, Dark Matter) is born to play a hulking baddie like Travis. We also recognize character types like Carlos’ kind-hearted cop and Liber8’s amoral tech genius Lucas Ingram (Omari Newton). Lexa Doig is another familiar face to sci-fi fans through her work on Andromeda and SG-1. Her role as the smart and committed revolutionary Sonya Valentine is an easy sell.

The first season draws us into the story because we’re interested in the characters. It includes the best work from Stephen Lobo as the self-centered Matthew Kellog, a reluctant member of Liber8. His performance grows hammier with each successive season, but he’s quite sympathetic at the start. What separates this show from similar genre fare is the way it gives distinct personalities to each criminal. It takes longer to connect with Jasmine Garza (Luvia Petersen), but her single-minded style is a great contrast with thinkers like Sonya and Kagame. I’ve barely scratched the surface of all the characters, but I’ll cover more as we go along. Supporting players drift into and out of the story, and I’m trying to avoid spoiling too many details.

The episodes typically begin in the future with new information. These scenes work better when they don’t include too many visual effects. The set design is good, but there are limits with a TV budget. It’s quickly clear that Kiera’s employers in 2077 were hardly saints. Barry doesn’t let her make that realization quickly, though. She spends the first season working to stop Liber8 as “The Protector”. There’s an internal conflict, however. Kiera knows that Liber8 is her best chance of getting home. She believes in the law but isn’t ready to come clean to Carlos about her past. Alec is her one source of relief, and their bond grows quickly. The chemistry between Nichols and Knudsen makes it easy for us to root for them. He spends this season on the farm as her support with tech and growing acclimated to this world. There’s also a “fish out of water” aspect to Kiera’s daily life that adds some levity. Real life is quite different in our primitive society.

There are some random detours in the first season, but that’s common for a show that’s finding its legs. “The Politics of Time” takes an awkward detour and has Carlos investigated for murder. There’s little doubt he’s an innocent man, and the story feels like a distraction from the main plot. The slower development feels natural and sets the stage for excitement down the road. The 10 episodes really start clicking in the final third, particularly when revelations appear about the leap back in time. There’s definitely more than meets the eye, and the clever world building isn’t predictable. It’s fun to spend time with these characters, even the violent criminals from Liber8. We aren’t always on board with Kiera’s goals and understand the suspicions of an investigator like Gardiner (Nicholas Lea, The X-Files’ Alex Krycek). Those gray areas will only expand down the road, which makes it easy to stay on board for more.

Erik Knudsen and Stephen Lobo in Continuum

Season 2: Freelancers, Love, and Chaos

Synopsis: New friends and foes emerge, Alec finds love, and all hell breaks loose. 
Best Episode: 2.12, “Second Last”
Worst Episode: 2.3, “Second Thoughts”

Continuum’s first season did the heavy lifting and introduced the major players. It was only 10 episodes, however. This universe continues to expand in the next group of 13 episodes. The first season covered Kiera, Alec, and Carlos versus Liber8, but it’s more complicated now. There’s dissension at the VPD, and Kiera is the prime target of a committed Gardiner and his boss. Meanwhile, Liber8 has split into factions led by Sonya and Travis. Kellog is out solely for himself, and the mysterious Mr. Escher (Hugh Dillon) lurks in the background. It’s great to watch Barry and the writers expand the show into new territory. Kiera still wants to go home, but she’s more entrenched in the present-day world. There are a few hiccups along the way, but there’s more depth to the relationships across the board.

Themes of corruption and rising corporate power also take center stage. When a private company essentially buys the police department, it’s a familiar conflict to our reality. What makes it click is the lack of a black-and-white scenario. Inspector Dillon (Brian Markinson) played by the rules and lost his job, so he’s ready to enforce his will as the chief. His actions make sense despite the potentially disastrous consequences. The same is true of Gardiner, whose suspicions about Kiera aren’t totally wrong. He’s drawing false conclusions, but his intuition notices the right signs. Kiera is deceiving them and Carlos, and the VPD is not always her main concern. When they start working together, Kiera and Gardiner prove to be kindred spirits with a similar dogged pursuit of their prey. Nicolas Lea is definitely the right guy to play this determined force.

This season also introduces the Freelancers, a powerful group with an unclear mission. They’re a determined force willing to kill if necessary to achieve their goals. It’s refreshing to not learn too much about them right away. That’s also true about Escher and Jason (Ian Tracey), a time traveler who first appeared in the season one finale. We share the confusion from Kiera and Alec about what’s really happening. On the other hand, it’s a relief to have Carlos develop as a real ally for Kiera. It’s similar to the situation on Alias with SD-6. At some point, watching the hero dupe her close friends loses steam. Victor Webster is the show’s moral center as Carlos, so keeping him on the sidelines of the main fight didn’t make sense.

Another development is the arrival of Emily (Magda Apanowicz), who falls for Alec. Her mysterious past and hidden connections to Escher complicate the situation, though. She functions as a plot device to drive the season’s climax, but the relationship also works. Alec’s decision in the end makes sense and wonderfully sets up the next chapter. It’s refreshing to have a new emotional connection on a show that is often plot-driven. Kiera is struggling with an internal conflict and still carries a torch for her family. She’s also falling apart under the stress. “Second Opinion” cleverly introduces a threat from within — a program that will erase her memories if Kiera doesn’t regain her composure. These battles set the stage for the changes that will come to Kiera’s perspective next season. Reaching the future won’t be so critical…at least for a time.

The second season improves on the first but still has a few low points. The appearance of a new drug called flash in “Second Thoughts” feels out of a lesser show. While it connects directly to Kiera’s future, the dangerous drug is a little too silly. Another weird moment has Lucas hallucinating in “Second Guess”. His mind is cracking and seems connected to time travel. What’s troubling is how the issues are barely referenced again in upcoming episodes. He seems back to normal and able to function as part of the team. Regardless, these are minor glitches in a stellar season. Following an excellent final two hours, we’re all set for a whole new game.

Two versions of Alec (Erik Knudsen) in Continuum

Season 3: Saving the Future

Synopsis: Alec shatters the timeline, Kiera chooses sides, and the entire landscape changes. 
Best Episode: 3.11, “3 Minutes to Midnight”
Worst Episode: 3.4, “A Minute Changes Everything”

If you’ve read this far, I suspect you’re okay with some minor spoilers. It’s nearly impossible to discuss this season without describing the basic premise. Continuum embraces the timey-wimey side of its premise and just goes for it. The result is a huge upgrade and a pretty remarkable 13 episodes. Following the stunning events of the season two cliffhanger, Kiera and Alec end up in a separate timeline with other versions of themselves in play. They’re the only people aware of the recent events and have been changed by the result. Their presence also has a huge impact on the other characters, particularly the other Alec. The immediate stakes are so much higher now, and the Freelancers remain a serious threat. The future has changed, but is that a good thing?

What makes this season click is how wonderfully unpredictable it becomes. The premiere “Minute by Minute” clarifies what the Freelancers do and sends Kiera on a new journey. This timeline’s fate hangs in the balance, and she has few allies. Carlos believed her story last season, but he struggles to stay on board this time. Her Alec just wants to escape with Emily, and the Freelancers have more pressing concerns. Only Liber8 understands what she’s experiencing, and that’s hard for Kiera to swallow. A new arrival from the future (Ryan Robbins) might provide hope, but he can’t remember his identity. How can she trust a guy who doesn’t know himself? Robbins is a familiar face to fans of Sanctuary and other sci-fi shows. His presence as an outsider and similar story make it easier for Kiera to trust him, but that may be unwise.

The evils from within the VPD and corporations only expand this season. What’s interesting is that Liber8 is still killing innocent people, but they seem more sympathetic now. Their goals feel nobler than corporate gains from Kellog and other Alec. A guy like Travis will do anything to stop his future and destroy anyone in his way, but there’s a reason. The scenes from 2077 clearly show why Travis, Garza, and the others believe their efforts make sense. “Waning Minute” spends a full episode in 2076 and helps explain the motivations for Sonya and Kagame. They fully believe in their cause and will destroy others for a better future. They may enjoy inflicting pain, but the horrors of their time created the monster. Kiera also lived in that world, and seeing the same corruption here crystallizes her struggle. It’s time to step up and fight against the evil forces, even if one of them is a distorted version of her friend Alec.

Remembering the events of “Waning Minute” is the last straw for Kiera, and the result is thrilling. We’ve spent a few seasons with the characters on opposite sides, yet the combo feels so right. When Kiera reveals the truth about their efforts to Liber8 in “3 Minutes to Midnight”, it’s one of the show’s best moments. Roger Cross spends much of the series bashing heads, but the look on his face is pitch-perfect when Kiera drops the bomb. Changing time is definitely possible, but it may lead to even worse results. Watching Liber8 regroup and build a super team with Kiera, the good Alec, and even Julian is something to see. It feels earned because of the slow-burn approach through the first three seasons. Stepping up to stop evil Alec leads to quite a satisfying conclusion, despite the new enemies on the horizon.

Super soldiers from 2039 invade in Continuum

Season 4: Protecting the Present

Synopsis: Super soldiers bring a new threat, allies are lost, and the final battle erupts. 
Best Episode: 4.6, “Final Hour”
Worst Episode: 4.2, “Rush Hour”

After the excitement of season three, it’s a little disappointing to only have six episodes to conclude this story. I suspect the alternative was cancellation, so I’ll take this final miniseries any day. It does bring a forward momentum to this season that would be missing with a normal slate of episodes. Characters fall by the wayside quickly, and there is little filler. The final two hours are intense, particularly a Terminator-style invasion of the VPD in the penultimate episode. It’s an interesting way to close out what’s become a really effective series. The enemies are new, but the progression feels natural from the conflicts of past seasons.

This season’s premise involves the arrival of super soldiers sent back from 2039 by their leader Kellog. He’s apparently become less self-centered, though his motivations are still murky. The villains work with the present-day Kellog to prepare the way for their master. Kiera, Alec, Carlos, and Liber8 recognize the danger and work together to stop this threat. Complicating the situation is the presence of Brad, the mysterious time traveler who arrived last season. These soldiers are his former allies, but Kiera still trusts him. The justified skepticism from Carlos builds a surprising personal rift between them. She had a brief romance with Brad, but that shouldn’t justify sacrificing this world because of that belief.

It’s a challenge to discuss this final season without describing the ultimate revelations. A big one involves The Traveler (Vladimir Ruzich), a powerful being connected to the Freelancers. He sets up a meeting between Alec and his older self that clarifies a major question. What are The Traveler’s motivations? Does he want to preserve the timeline or make it better? That’s a pressing question that hangs over this season. The plot centers on stopping the super soldiers, but there’s more in play. Kiera is still trying to get back to her son, which feels crazy after everything that’s happened. This is her life now, if she’s willing to accept it.

Although it falls a little short of the stunning third season, the closing miniseries still packs a punch. The stakes feel necessarily high without becoming outlandish. There’s still a personal stake for Kiera with every move she makes. She’s built a surrogate family in our time and would feel like an outsider even if she could reach 2077. Giving up the chance to see her son may be the only way to save the future. We’ve moved well beyond a solid police procedural by this point. The closing moments are both touching and heartbreaking, and the final scene justifies experiencing this tale from start to finish.

Kiera Cameron and her son Sam in Continuum

The Trouble with Kiera

Now that I’ve covered the four seasons, it’s time to tackle a challenge from some viewers. Rachel Nichols does great work as Kiera, well beyond anything I saw her do on Alias way back in 2006. Kiera wants to get back to her time but doesn’t throw away her connections in the present day. The issue comes with how long it takes her to realize protecting her future is wrong. We observe plenty of moments from 2077 that should have created doubts for Kiera about The Company. She eventually realizes her error and aligns with Liber8, but it’s a slow process. What makes this less of a problem is how the show addresses her indecision. Characters discuss it directly and are stunned that she won’t take the necessary steps to stop corporate control.

The other surprise is her insistence on getting home after realizing it’s a bad future. By the final episodes, she shouldn’t be working to travel forward in time. Alec and Carlos are real friends, and she functions well here. The key factor is reuniting with her son, and that connection does make sense. What’s strange is how little we see of her husband; he shows up in the future periodically, but Kiera rarely talks about him. We see hints that their relationship wasn’t amazing, but it’s still a gray area. This isn’t Nichols’ fault, though. She sells Kiera’s indecision as part of her personality, which makes sense given everything she’s encountered. The tough choices might essentially destroy her son, and that isn’t an easy decision.

Curtis in the SyFy series Continuum

A Binge-Worthy Series

I started watching Continuum on Netflix a few months ago because of its connections to other sci-fi series. There are so many familiar faces from many of my favorite shows, particularly the Stargate world. I’ve yet to even mention SGU’s Jennifer Spence, who appears regularly as Betty for most of the series. There are also known people behind the scenes, particularly William Waring and Amanda Tapping working as directors. Those names got me started, but I was immediately hooked by the premise and the characters. It’s a show that really benefits from watching it all over a short period of time. Characters drift into and out of the story across multiple seasons. It’s pretty easy to follow and only gets easier through streaming.

I’m amazed that Continuum isn’t more well-known among genre fans. It should be an easy sell, particularly with so many Vancouver actors involved. The production values are solid, and the episodes move swiftly. There’s a benefit to having only 42 episodes. With a few exceptions in the early days, the show doesn’t veer into standard plots. It remains thrilling right to the end and leaves you wanting more. If you’re looking for a new sci-fi show to dive into, you can do a lot worse than Continuum. Stick around for a little while and you’ll be hooked right to the end.