February 5, 2016

Reconsidering Stargate Universe: “Justice”

Robert Carlyle as Dr. Rush in SGU's "Justice"

It’s easy to criticize the creative choices that slowed down the momentum of SGU’s first 10 episodes. The writers focused on building the characters, and some viewers had little patience for it. Episodes didn’t revolve around alien races and outer-space adventures in the same vein as SG-1 or SGA. Those moments would come in the season’s back half and reward fans who stuck with the show. The stakes felt so much higher at that point because we’d experienced the early days with the characters. If they’d discovered an alien ship in episode two, it would have seemed fairly mundane. Putting this moment in the 10th episode brings quite a different reaction.

“Justice” serves as a bridge to a much longer journey with no apparent end. The Destiny has become a new home and isn’t just a place to escape. Enemies will soon come and threaten the crew, but they first must tackle real dissension in their ranks. It’s quite a talk-heavy episode for a mid-season finale, but it works because of the growing tension between Rush and Young. They’re the Locke and Jack of SGU and have completely different motives for every action. By the end of the episode, both men will have made shocking choices to seize control. There’s a sense that neither can go back, and the Destiny’s fragile society is on the brink of disaster.

Louis Ferreira as Colonel Young in Stargate Universe's "Justice"

A Real Hero?

This episode’s plot hinges on Rush’s decision to frame Young for the death of Sgt. Spencer (Josh Blacker). However, their conflict goes back much further than just this move. Young’s growing distrust of the brilliant scientist has come with the recognition that Rush doesn’t care about the others. For a military man tasked with bringing everyone home safely, it’s too much to work with a loner who has his own agenda. Young may seem like the hero in the white hat who acts to save the Destiny from its enemy, but it’s hardly that simple. When he pummels Rush and leaves him for dead on the planet, Young isn’t acting to stop an imminent threat. His move is just as vile and petty (if not more) as anything that Rush has done so far.

It’s been fascinating to watch the demons rise inside Young during the season. Louis Ferreira plays him as a stoic soldier with a slow and deliberate manner of speaking. Even when he beats up Telford back on Earth, he doesn’t scream at him and quietly inflicts punishment. He’s angry about so many things — estrangement from his wife, Wray’s attempts to undermine him, and dealing with Rush. Part of Young was probably relieved to learn that Rush planted the evidence. This move gave Young’s conscience a way to justify removing his biggest nuisance. The foolish decision from Franklin (Mark Burgess) to sit in the chair was easily blamed on Rush. Young had enough ammunition to feel good about essentially murdering Rush on the planet.

How should we look upon Young now? In the context of the Stargate franchise, military guys like O’Neill and Sheppard have always been the leaders we admire. Young may have acted selfishly, yet he is still trying to save the people on the Destiny. He’s hardly a conventional hero, however. Scott is the more obvious choice, but he’s a bit too green to fit into the lead role. Rush believes he’s the hero because he’ll do anything to support the right mission. The writers don’t do Wray any favors, but she believes removing Young is the right choice. There’s no clear good guy and bad guy in this series, and it makes for a much richer story.

Robert Carlyle as Dr. Rush on the ship in SGU's "Justice"

The Actual Mission

The final scene between Rush and Young is thrilling because it’s hardly the comeuppance you might expect. Rush doesn’t apologize or try to talk his way out of the situation. Instead, he doubles down and loudly proclaims that Young is the wrong man for the job. Robert Carlyle spits out the “we’ll never be done!” reply with such defiance that it’s hard not to root for Rush. He may have acted unethically and taken advantage of a sad death, but he’s looking Young right in the eyes. I expect that Young doesn’t plan to leave Rush on the planet and just wants to teach him a lesson. Rush’s inability to stand down drives the conflict to greater heights.

Nearly forgotten in the personal conflict is the remarkable discovery of an alien spaceship on the planet. For a guy like Rush, the battles with Young are secondary to the real mission embodied by this ship and the Ancient chair. Finding technology from an entirely new alien species deserves the attention. Like Daniel Jackson in “The Torment of Tantalus”, Rush might be okay with dying on this planet if it meant he could really study the ship. For the writers, this ship also provides a convenient safety net for Rush’s survival. There’s no chance they’d kill off their most intriguing character after 10 episodes. Beyond that fact, it also pushes the sci-fi elements of the show forward. I love the emphasis on characters, but it still is a Stargate series.

There’s also a sharp contrast between the brutal results for Franklin with the Ancient chair versus the devices faced by O’Neill on SG-1. You can’t really blame Rush for Franklin’s rash choice, but Rush’s unemotional response doesn’t help matters. He can’t turn off the part of his brain that’s fascinated by the science behind the chair. I don’t believe that Rush enjoys watching others’ pain. He’s just focused on larger issues than any individual. Like Spencer, Franklin is just ready for all the turmoil to end. We’ve reached the point where the weaker figures start dropping. The alphas are battling for control regardless of what it means for the others. Rush may be important to their survival, but Young’s anger is too strong to consider that fact.

Ming-Na Wen as Camille Wray in SGU's "Justice"

A Series of Duels

“Justice” was written by Alan McCullough and includes a series of conflicts between pairs with opposing viewpoints. Looking beyond Rush and Young, the others are starting to draw their own battle lines. Wray prosecutes the case against Young and gets in Chloe’s face about her vigilant defense. She also faces down an unhappy Greer after telling others he was the prime suspect. Ming-Na Wen does the heavy lifting in trying to make Wray a strong character. The writers haven’t given her as much to work with compared to the soldiers and Eli. Watching her quickly step down as a leader is disappointing because it sets her up as a less capable character. She’s in the wrong in going after Young, but her unwillingness to accept military rule is justified.

There’s also an interesting moment between Eli and Young at the end of the episode that reveals another potential rift. They share a secret about Rush’s involvement in framing Young that could raise questions about Young’s motives on the planet. David Blue does a nice job conveying Eli’s turmoil without saying a word about it. Eli occupies an interesting spot as a valuable member of Rush’s science team but a trusted ally for Young. He’s right in the middle between the opposing forces and wisely steps away to avoid the blowback.

An alien spaceship in the Stargate Universe episode "Justice"

The Stage Is Set

“Justice” moves slowly and doesn’t feel like a mid-season finale, and there’s a good reason. It was originally planned as the season’s ninth episode but was moved back when “Darkness” and “Light” were split. Despite this shift, the final cliffhangers leave enough intrigue to keep us wanting more by the end. It’s really too bad that the network inserted a four-month break until the next episode. That’s far too long a gap, especially after the growing conflicts in this episode. This lost momentum would be hard to regain even with several great episodes following the break. SGU works much better on DVD or streaming now than in its original airings.

This slow-burn episode perfectly sets the stage for the fireworks to come in “Space” and “Divided”. The aliens hinted at through the spaceship will become an imminent threat, and the civilian/military split just keeps growing. We’ve reached the point where the strong foundation pays off in spades. “Justice” is the final piece in the puzzle to set the stage for greatness. We’ve had some bumps along the way, but we understand this group of characters. Wright and Cooper deserve credit for sticking to their guns and taking the long view with this story. I can’t wait to rediscover what’s coming, and I don’t have to wait four months to do it.

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

January 25, 2016

Blind Spots Series: First Blood

There’s a common image of John Rambo from pop culture that’s stuck with me despite having never seen a Rambo film. The iconic shot has a beefed-up and shirtless Sylvester Stallone holding a giant gun while mowing down scores of bad guys. He’s intense and solely committed to his mission in the jungles of Vietnam. That perception actually comes from Rambo: First Blood Part II, the second film in the series. It expanded on the more personal story of the movie that introduced us to the former Green Beret. Released in 1982, First Blood reveals a broken man who’s just trying to stay afloat and is a time bomb just waiting to explode. It just takes some hassling from the local police in Hope, Washington to push Rambo back into the fight.

First Blood is a gritty action thriller, but much of the fighting is pretty standard. The dim-witted police officers and part-time National Guard members underestimate the skills of a man built to kill. It’s easy to view this movie as a direct source for many films with single guys taking out baddies with their particular set of skills. A movie like Under Siege loses the PTSD but has a similar tale about a military superstar who can’t be stopped. I also couldn’t help but think of Surviving the Game, a less effective but strangely amusing story of a homeless man hunted for sport by wealthy businessmen. These are two of many examples of the continued legacy of our first adventure with Rambo.

Despite the over-the-top action, it’s a much simpler image that sticks with me after seeing this film. The haunted look in Stallone’s eyes is quite moving, and the actor never rings a false note. Rambo is more than just a world-weary vagrant with bad luck. When he looks at the cruel cops, he sees his much nastier captors in Vietnam. Sheriff Teasle (Brian Dennehy) misjudges Rambo because of his own preconceived notions about homeless veterans. What he doesn’t see is the horror lurking behind Rambo’s eyes. It doesn’t take much to unlock the weapon inside his mind. Like Rambo says in his final monologue, you don’t just turn it off.

Sylvester Stallone stars as John Rambo in First Blood

I’ve neglected to discuss the action scenes, which stay grounded thanks to straightforward direction from Ted Kotcheff (North Dallas Forty). A tense standoff on a cliff (resulting in the movie's only certain death) stands out, but most of the fights happen in the dark woods. There’s a claustrophobic feeling to the forest where Rambo hunts his prey, and that only increases when he’s trapped inside an old mine. The scariest moment for him involves not humans but hordes of rats attacking him. This film’s modest budget ($14 million) fits with the tone of the story. It’s more about personal horror than any real action spectacle. Jerry Goldsmith’s score reveals a feeling of increasing dread instead of excitement. It says a lot that the climax is a sad and angry rant and not a fight.

It doesn't feel like a stretch to read the Rambo character as a symbol of America following Vietnam. There are more connections with paranoid '70s thrillers here than the jingoistic action films of the '80s. This world is chaotic and on the brink of destruction; there are no real heroes. We're aligned with Rambo, who doesn't purposely kill anyone. On the other hand, he inflicts a great deal of punishment and destruction. Rambo is a tool of this wicked age, and there's little optimism after Vietnam. Even when he steps down, there's little sense Rambo's inner torment is over.

Another factor in First Blood’s success is the work of the two key supporting actors — Brian Dennehy’s Teasle and Richard Crenna as Rambo’s former leader Colonel Trautman. Teasle initially feels like a one-note villain who enjoys tormenting outsiders. He’s not a good guy, but there’s a more complicated resentment behind his moves. The story only hints at why he’s so committed to killing Rambo. Trautman is the kinder figure, but it’s too easy to look at him as a good guy. He created a killing machine with no place at home. Trautman offers hints at remorse, particularly during the final scene. The somber look on his face while Rambo lashes out reminds us this is a tragedy. It’s no surprise that Crenna returned as Trautman for two sequels, and it became his signature character.

First Blood was my first experience with this franchise, so the entire series is a blind spot for me. I’m curious to check out the sequels but less excited because of how different they become. You don’t get the feeling that this film was designed to start a franchise. It was adapted from a 1972 novel by David Morrell that nearly became a movie many times over the years. The story is quite bleak, and there’s a reason that action was emphasized more in the much larger sequels. Along with his recent performance in Creed, it’s another reminder that Stallone can shine in the right role. He’s much better as a tormented everyman than as your standard action hero. Rambo is a skilled fighter, but it’s Stallone’s grim intensity that makes him such a classic character.

This is the first entry in the 2016 Blindspot Series. You can preview this year’s list and follow along with future entries through Letterboxd

January 4, 2016

Reconsidering Stargate Universe: "Life"

Dr. Rush and Colonel Young in Stargate Universe's "Life"

When Robert C. Cooper and Brad Wright publicly spoke about Stargate Universe (SGU), their recurring theme was emphasizing the characters more than in the previous series. They aimed to create a drama set in space but less focused on action/adventure stories. Episodes would move slower and mostly avoid the “enemy of the week” formula. “Time” had been more of a standalone entry, and it wasn’t surprising to see it receive praise from Stargate fans (including this one). It maintained the new style yet felt like a throwback. Instead of continuing that trend, the follow-up episode pulled back and concentrated on relationships on board the Destiny and back on Earth.

Arguably SGU’s most deliberately paced episode so far, “Life” drew cries that it betrayed the spirit of the franchise. I don’t share that belief but can understand why the criticism arose. It’s essentially a template for how Cooper and Wright built something new with SGU. Carl Binder’s script includes quite a few long conversations between characters. It’s worth noting that most discussions are not about the discovery of a new Ancient interface device. Despite being a remarkable find, the chair's presence remains secondary to emotional moments for Camile Wray and Matthew Scott on Earth. Their stories drive the episode, and the scenes add much-needed depth to both characters.

What’s tricky about this episode is appreciating the effort while realizing it’s a bit too inert. Arriving right before the mid-season finale, it doesn’t build the momentum towards a gripping finish. The writing believes we’re attached enough to Scott and Wray by this point to enjoy learning more about them. It works because Ming Na and Brian J. Smith are both such likable actors, but the material (especially his story) risks falling into obvious clichés. The danger in slowing down is losing viewers if they’d prefer to stay aboard the Destiny. When you add in Young’s conflict with Telford, that’s quite a lot of content away from the main arc. It’s risky yet will pay dividends further down the road if the audience is willing to stick around.

Chloe relaxes while doing yoga in Stargate Universe's "Life"

Just Another Day on the Destiny

A predominant theme in “Life” is the idea that we’re just seeing one of many challenging days. The music montages that bookend the story present characters doing everyday things like yoga, sketching a picture, and having sex. The use of Flogging Molly’s “The Worst Day Since Yesterday” makes the blatant point that every day is a new hurdle on the Destiny. Each person deals with the stress in a different way. Lisa Park (Jennifer Spence) sleeps around, Sergeant Spencer (Josh Blacker) takes pills, and Scott leads workouts around the ship. They’re all desperate to get home, and the realization has sunk in that perhaps this won’t be a short trip.

An interesting companion piece is SGA’s divisive “Sunday”, which offered a rare glimpse at the crew enjoying a day off. While those scenes were the set up for the death of a major character, they reminded us that even the most daring adventurers needed downtime. That episode was also a different take on the show's formula, which made it feel unique. While “Sunday” was warm and relaxing (until the tragic end), “Life” uses the everyday scenario to depict emotional turmoil. No one is having any fun, particularly Colonel Young. His estrangement from his wife feels even harder because he can only visit her in a different body. On the Destiny, he’s growing increasingly suspicious of Rush’s plans. Young is fighting a battle on two fronts with Telford and Rush, and neither is going well.

This story’s events do set the stage for the fates of two characters in “Justice” next time. Spencer’s unraveling has been hinted at multiple times, and his behavior this week is a new low. It’s obvious that he’s just inches from cracking. Right there with him is Franklin (Mark Burgess), who bears the wrath of Spencer and hates the Destiny. The challenge with this set-up is that we haven’t learned enough to care much about either guy. Franklin’s fate would feel more tragic if he wasn’t presented as such a weak guy. Spencer has also behaved like a jerk since the start. If there was more development with either character, their failings would be more powerful. Instead, they seem like plot devices to build up the conflict between Rush and Young.

Camille Rey sees her girlfriend Sharon in SGU's "Life"

A Reason to Get Home

“Life” does an excellent job showing the motivations for both Wray and Scott to return to Earth. She left behind her longtime girlfriend Sharon (Reiko Aylesworth) and isn’t a military figure accustomed to extended absences. They’ve been together for 12 years, and it only takes a few moments to recognize their strong relationship. The scenes between Sharon and Wray are the episode’s best and warrant the attention on the Earth-bound stories. It’s noteworthy for a male-dominated franchise like Stargate to depict a lesbian relationship so well. Most of the credit should go to Na and Aylesworth, who reveal so much with a simple glance. Home is the only place where Wray lets the bureaucratic façade totally slip, and missing it makes her incomplete.

On the other hand, Scott’s discovery that he’s a father is less effective. It feels too generic, particularly with the boy’s mom working as a dancer. These scenes are a sharp contrast against the understated moments with Wray and Sharon. Despite a convincing performance from Smith, the beats are extremely familiar. Even Scott’s cell-phone move to try and support her doesn’t ring true. Despite our interest in his character, it’s tricky to care too much for the fate of other strangers we’ve just met. Creating stakes for Scott at home makes sense; I just wish there was more nuance to these scenes.

The ancient interface device chair in Stargate Universe's "Life"

A Familiar Sight

It’s intriguing to note just how little time is spent on the ancient chair, which could change the game. Even the characters seem more concerned with their own issues. Young wants to fight Telford and has TJ doing psych evaluations of everyone. The chair represents more of a problem than a potential solution for Young. It’s all about his issues with Rush, and the danger of using it outweighs the benefits. His reluctance makes sense, especially given his role as the military leader. He’s responsible for everyone, while Rush views the device as an opportunity for scientific discovery. It’s a tool to heighten the personal conflict more than an exciting way to reveal the Destiny’s mysteries.

Their argument does include some fun callbacks to O’Neill’s experiences with the Ancient repository of knowledge in SG-1's “The Fifth Race” and “Lost City”. Young uses the history to support the dangers of that info, while Rush believes the potential reward is worth the risk. What’s interesting is the connection that’s not mentioned between this find and the Ancient control chair used primarily in SGA. This tool might be able to control everything. We’ll soon discover that the dangers are very real, but Young barely wants to consider an alternative. It’s possibly short-sighted, but the show keeps the situation ambiguous for both the characters and the audience.

T.J. gives everyone psych evaluations in Stargate Universe's "Life"

Building the Foundation

“Life” feels similar to “Earth” in the way it shows the difficulty for the characters to stay connected with home. Wray and Sharon enjoy their time together, but it’s impossible to forget that they’re separated by a massive physical distance. Sharon puts up a strong face, but she breaks down immediately once Wray has left. It’s a heartbreaking shot that says plenty about the rift between Earth and the Destiny. TJ’s evaluations reveal that each person is coping differently, but they’re all struggling. Rush is an exception because his mission doesn’t involve going home.

These conversations with TJ include clever touches like Park’s claim that she “reads” to deal with stress. Chloe speaks about the comfort from Scott, but the sad look on TJ’s face stands out in that moment. Young won’t connect with her, so she’s a loner forced to hear everyone’s problems. The most intriguing session is with Greer, who opens up about his abuse from his dad but then shuts down. Jamil Walker Smith embodies this character so well, and you can’t take your eyes off him.

Despite the slow pace and divided attention, there’s enough happening to keep “Life” afloat. The psych evaluations are an obvious way to dig into the characters, but it still works. It’s a challenge to keep us engaged with such a large cast, but there are enough standouts to make up for the others. It’s the season’s least effective episode thus far, but the bar is high. The intensity ratchets up very soon, so it doesn’t hurt to step back for a week. The show is still finding its footing, but Wright and Cooper are laying the groundwork for the excitement to come.

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

December 23, 2015

Reconsidering Stargate Universe: “Time”

Rush holds up his own skull in the Stargate Universe episode "Time"

There’s been a new resurgence in TV series actually set in space, particularly from SyFy. The Expanse and Childhood’s End premiered this month, and Dark Matter arrived this past summer. The network finally realized that many sci-fi fans respond to shows in this setting, which isn’t a surprise. The success of Stargate SG-1 and its spin-off series made that point very clearly. It feels like the perfect time to take a closer look at Stargate Universe (SGU), the most recent and underrated show in the Stargate franchise. I began this project back in September 2014, and a continuation is long overdue. Let’s start with “Time” — one of SGU’s most inventive episodes.

Stargate’s writers employed time travel within all three series to deliver some of its best episodes. The prime example is SG-1’s“Window of Opportunity”, which employed a Groundhog Day concept to trap O’Neill and Teal’c in a time loop. It worked mostly as comedy, but the resolution introduced great drama through a man trying to change the past. Other time travel episodes pushed team members into alternate realities (“There But For the Grace of God”) the past (“1969”, “Moebius”), and a horrific future (SGA’s “The Last Man”). There is no end of ways to use time travel, but it could be problematic to overdo it. After 15 seasons of SG-1 and SGA, SGU would need a different approach.

“Time” arrived fairly early in SGU’s run but remains a standout episode. Co-creator Robert C. Cooper’s direction created a tale that differed greatly from everything that we’d seen thus far. He also wrote the mind-bending script, which consistently plays with expectations. Cooper typically stayed behind the scenes as the executive producer, but he took chances in the episodes he directed. His past work included the SG-1 finale “Unending” and the unconventional SGA episodes “Sateda” and “Vegas”. Cooper’s work feels more cinematic than the average Stargate episode, and he clearly loves the freedom of SGU’s “fly on the wall” shooting style.

A night vision battle in Stargate Universe's "Time"

Pulling Back the Curtain

What if it’s staying here that’s gonna kill us?” – Greer

Cooper employs a found-footage approach to depict an expedition to a jungle planet by using the Kino remote camera. It maintains the up-close perspective from other episodes but enhances the dramatic tension through the limited viewpoint. The remote camera floats slowly through the air and is smoother than the show’s normal jittery shooting style. An early shot looms above the characters and hints that dangerous enemies lurk nearby. This voyeuristic style doesn’t feel like a gimmick because Eli (David Blue) has regularly used the Kino to document their experiences.

The episode begins with a standard visit to a new planet. The team is much larger than usual, and even Chloe (Elyse Levesque) makes her first trip off the Destiny. The action grows somber with the arrival of a mysterious illness, and that’s just the beginning. They also discover a termite-like mound similar to the nests from the movie Alien. The ominous set-up is straight out of a horror film and sets the stage for attacks from vicious creatures named Squigglers. We’re still in the Stargate world, but there’s a menace that we've rarely seen. When a Squiggler kills Chloe and chews through her body, it reminds us that SGU is much different. Few scenes from SG-1 or SGA can match this one’s pure grisliness.

For nine minutes, Cooper gives the impression that this episode is on the level. The characters we have grown to like (or at least tolerate) for seven episodes are facing a dire calamity. The big reveal of the Destiny crew gathered around a screen punctures those assumptions. Despite the communications stones and other sci-fi elements of previous episodes, there were few dramatic turns on this scale. Your first inclination might be to restart the episode and see if you missed pertinent information. The SGU characters are experiencing an identical bewildering sensation. The people on the video from the first timeline are acting like the same individuals on the Destiny. Are they android duplicates or part of an alternate reality? When there are so many intriguing, yet unanswered, questions for both the characters and the audience, the result is one of the show’s best episodes.

Greer contemplates the situation in SGU's "Time"

Paying Off the Slow Burn

Chloe’s move to throw up after seeing her video-self die is about more than her gut reaction. It confirms that the SGU characters are realistic and have a hard time grasping unbelievable moments. These are not stoic officers from Star Trek: TNG that rarely blink when chaos ensues. Watching herself skewered horrifies Chloe, while Eli is intrigued like a sci-fi geek. Meanwhile, Dr. Rush (Robert Carlyle) tries to figure out the puzzle. They all react believably for their personalities, and that says a lot for such a young show. Earlier slow-burn episodes like “Darkness” and “Earth” have paid off now. Those stories took their time, and that creative choice allows this episode to succeed.

What makes “Time” shine is the way the two timelines function concurrently after the big reveal. We actually go back and learn more about what went wrong on the planet during the first timeline. The characters on the ship in the second timeline must adjust their thinking when their own become sick, even some that never visited the planet in the first timeline. It seems complicated on the surface, but Cooper’s script never becomes too confusing. Instead of breaking down over multiple viewings, this story gets deeper. Characters in both timelines reveal secrets and true feelings, but it can be easy to forget they’re still doomed. Only after the final shot do we realize just how far Cooper’s ambitions reach. It isn’t enough to shift our perceptions once; he’s repeatedly changing the game.

It’s no surprise that Eli became the SGU fan favorite; he was designed that way. David Blue is a diehard Stargate fan, and he brings that enthusiasm to his character. Eli has no military background to keep him composed. Unlike Rush, Eli is willing to make real connections. This episode gives us (and the other characters) details about his mother contracting the AIDS virus at work and his father leaving. It’s a sad revelation from Eli in the first timeline, and the actors watching the video wisely underplay it. This crossing of timelines is a clever way to develop the characters indirectly. We receive hints about Rush’s reasons for being on the Destiny; he is not just a curmudgeon. Rush understands what may be needed to stick with the Destiny. He will do anything, even if it involves betraying the others.

Chloe is struck by an illness in Stargate Universe's "Time"

Selling the Little Moments

“For a moment there, I thought we were in trouble.” – Rush (quoting a line from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid)

The emotional content reveals the major difference between SGU and the previous Stargate series. SG-1 and SGA also dealt with complex plots, but none have built their characters in this way. O’Neill’s grief over his dead son surfaced several times, but the tragedy did not have such a large impact on his character like Rush’s sad experience. The loss defines every move that Rush makes. When his defenses start to crumble, he raises the gruff exterior. There’s a great moment for Rush before he risks going through the unstable wormhole knowing he will likely die. He smiles at Eli and even makes a joke, and we see the human behind the facade. Robert Carlyle brings such glee to the scene, and Rush seems happy that his torment is finished.

The frequent pop culture references also fit nicely in this episode, which pulls so much from previous time-travel plots. Eli’s top five desert island movies work because they aren’t all obvious. Hackers and Old School are hardly masterpieces but fit with his character. The Matrix and The Empire Strikes Back are more standard, and the fifth pick is interrupted (for a time) by the Squigglers’ appearance. Eli does return to the subject when his memory’s jogged about Back to the Future. Citing Butch Cassidy brings a humanity to Rush that we rarely see. It doesn’t feel out of place and gives a brief glimpse at humanity that’s been pushed to the background.

These references add lightness to a story filled with death and balance difficult moments for several characters, especially Eli. The confession of his feelings to a dying Chloe (who can’t hear him) during the second timeline is heartbreaking. His comments are refreshing because they aren’t really about unrequited romantic love. Eli still adores her but understands that romance won’t happen. He was thrilled to have a close friend and played it cool until it was too late. What really sells the moment is TJ’s reaction on the edge of the frame. Chloe and James are gone (in this timeline), and it is all too much for her to bear. Alaina Huffman never says a word, but her tearful reaction strikes just the right chord and compounds the emotional impact.

The unfortunate aspect of this sequence is the cliché where a helpless woman dies while the guy stands by her deathbed. The actors totally sell the material, but we have entered outdated territory for a modern series. A recurring comic book trope called “Women in Refrigerators” refers to situations where female characters are killed to impact the story of the male hero. While it doesn’t completely apply here since male characters die too, there is a connection with the way they fall. Chloe and James are felled by the illness and die on the Destiny. Greer, Rush, and Scott are killed while actively fighting the Squigglers or trying to solve the problem. Although SGU is more forward-thinking than its predecessors, it suffers from unfortunate genre clichés at times.

Scott issues a warning through the Stargate in SGU's "Time"

No Easy Way Out

“You don't have much time. Act now, or you are all going to die.” – Scott

“Time” is the type of episode that works for both Stargate fanatics and new viewers. It’s a puzzle that grows more complex with each revelation and keeps us guessing until the end. It’s fun to note the references to previous SG-1 episodes with time travel coming via a solar flare. That technique was the solution in Season Two’s “1969” and played a pivotal role in the Season Four episode “2010”. The latter episode has multiple similarities with this one. The future version of SG-1 sent a note through the Stargate to save mankind, which had the same purpose as what Scott attempted in the second timeline. While this episode lacks SG-1’s epic scale, its events impact the survival of everyone on the Destiny. The connection is fun because the characters don’t address the past directly. Instead, the link provides subtle Easter Eggs for longtime fans.

Shot entirely on a soundstage, the jungle planet does not resemble a typical Vancouver setting. There is a stifling feeling to this environment, and that sense is heightened by the perspective of the Kino. During the first video, Greer plays Saul Williams’ “List of Demands (Reparations)”, and that song builds the tone of impending chaos. This musical choice also connects to Greer’s anger about his past that is explained in future episodes. The chance to escape is nonexistent, and even “timey wimey” exploits fail. It comes down to a daring move from Scott with his back against the wall. Of course, his actions can’t save the characters in the second timeline.

The ending of “Time” hints that the characters will survive in a future timeline, but we don’t see it until the next episode “Life”. Immediately after Scott’s warning into the Kino, the screen goes black and the credits arrive. This brilliant move by Cooper leaves enough mystery to make us wonder. Will there be a second part? The Kino webisode “New Kind of Crazy” clarifies the situation, but it’s never explained on the main show. The Squiggler venom reappears multiple times in the future to provide a nice bit of continuity. Even so, it’s a bold choice to withhold a resolution. It presents a stark contrast to the conclusion of SG-1’s “2010” with General Hammond receiving the note and locking out the dangerous planet. Cooper trusts the audience to connect the dots and imagine what happens next after Scott’s Kino is discovered.

This understanding of their fate raises an interesting question about the “real” versions of the Destiny characters. Should we mourn this group or just focus on the survivors? This recalls a similar dilemma encountered in SGA’s “Before I Sleep”, which showed the failure of the original expedition to Atlantis. This third timeline on SGU has the same characters moving forward in the next episode “Life”, but they only survived because of actions from another time. No one knows the revelation about Eli’s mom, and Rush and Young never bonded over their love of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Would future events occur differently with this knowledge? The subject is intriguing and probably induced sleepless nights for the Destiny’s crew.

Rush sits near the Stargate in SGU's "Time"

A Step Forward

Fans who complained about the slow pace of the early SGU episodes were thrilled by “Time”. It hearkened back to the adventurous sci-fi of past series and remains near the top of many fans’ lists of favorite episodes. The unconventional shooting style and surprise twists keep us on our toes right until the end. It also works as a one-off episode, which is rare for such a serialized production. The next two episodes dig further into the characters and have more in common with “Earth” than this one. The writers kept going further and did not fall back on familiar sci-fi concepts. That approach makes “Time” the exception, but it shows that the creators had a longer view for this epic adventure.

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