October 1, 2014

Reconsidering Stargate Universe: "Water" and "Earth"


One deep breath and you’re dead.” - Young

Although it uses a serialized format, SGU separates its early episodes with a new problem to solve each time. There’s a different challenge in “Water”, but it feels like a direct sequel to “Air, Part 3”. The obvious reason is the return of the dust bugs, but there’s also a structure that appears a bit too similar to the earlier episode. Destiny is losing water at an alarming rate, which forces Young and Scott to make a daring mission onto a dangerous planet for more. Time is running out for the duo, and unexpected challenges put Scott’s life in jeopardy. Despite a familiar pattern, there’s still forward movement for the characters and interesting moments to consider. They’re figuring out how to work together and stumbling along the way, yet there’s a growing confidence from the mismatched group.

This week’s planet is “the Hoth System” (as Eli cleverly paints it), and it’s the first use of the ancient space suits. Young and Scott are clad in the heavy dark suits, and they’re hardly designed for easy movement. Unlike most worlds in SG-1, these planets aren’t the best for human survival. It’s another way that SGU moves closer to reality yet still presents an outer-space environment. There are difficulties at every turn in the quest for ice, and Scott’s dire situation feels inevitable. This planet offers valuable resources but isn’t the type of place you can stomp around without some obstacles. The down-to-earth problem of getting water in a poisonous world fits with the show’s less flashy approach. It’s a challenge to keep this style from becoming too dry for even the most engaged viewers, however.

Alaina Huffman as TJ in Stargate Universe

The most interesting aspect is the leadership role for T.J., who showed those skills versus Telford immediately after they arrived. She’s willing to make the tough choices to battle the dust bugs, even when the search kills one of their own. Gorman’s death is startling given the lack of violence thus far. We’ve seen little blood despite the dangers facing them, and watching him get engulfed by aliens that were initially considered harmless is quite a shock. T.J. connects with Greer and has enough military knowledge to earn his respect. She’s down to earth and tells him the truth, and that’s all it takes with a guy with little patience for chicanery. Instead of sitting around hoping that Scott and Young make it back, T.J. and Greer take charge and solve the situation on the Destiny before time expires.

Unlike its predecessor, “Earth” takes a different approach and focuses on the situation at home. Eli, Chloe, and Young meet up with family and friends out of their past life. It shows how much they’ve changed since they left, especially with Chloe. Her shallow friends come off as ridiculous, uncaring idiots more concerned with status than people. Telford and his young scientists are trying a daring move to get everyone home from the Destiny, but that’s secondary to the story on Earth. The script from Martin Gero relies on the fact that we’re interested enough in the characters to stick with them away from the ship. Gero is an SGA veteran who penned many of its trademark episodes, but his writing fits just fine in this universe. He injects light moments that focus less on the big issues.

Richard Dean Anderson as Jack O'Neill in SGU

Richard Dean Anderson returns again as Jack O’Neill, and his conversation with Young puts an interesting take on the heroic moves in SG-1. A guy who once disregarded orders to do the right thing can do little but watch Telford jeopardize them all with a foolish plan. There’s much left unsaid by O’Neill that reminds us of the guy we once knew. He might seem out of place in this complex world, but it’s possible the character has adjusted because of the official position. O’Neill struggled with staying at home in SG-1’s eighth season, and it doesn’t get any easier the further way he gets from the action. Young’s admiration for O’Neill and move to stand by his people is no surprise and shows his disregard for career advancement. This connects to Young’s reconciliation with his wife during this trip. Despite being in Telford’s body, he showed enough honesty and remorse to win her back. Of course, their reunion is fleeting because of the obvious fact that he’s millions of light years away.

The communications stones offer an opportunity but also create new challenges for several reasons. First of all, there’s no guarantee the person won’t do something indiscreet while inhabiting that body. Young has sex with his wife but is using Telford’s body, and some glitches put Telford back inside his body at a highly inopportune time. It’s the type of scene that could bring laughs, but the final shot of Telford visiting Young’s wife shows that it isn’t a joke for him. Chloe and Eli go to a Janelle Monae concert on Earth, and she gets very drunk and kisses him in the other body. It doesn’t go anywhere and reinforces their status as just friends, but it’s interesting how the different bodies affect them. Eli dances with an attractive girl and loves it, though it happens because of his handsome exterior.

Stargate Universe's episode "Earth"

The other barrier with the stones is the opportunity they give people like Telford to reach the Destiny. He doesn’t understand the situation and believes the mess is caused by poor management. Young has faced dire situations and just recorded a video for a dead crew member, and it’s a miracle they’ve survived. “Earth” gives the clear sense that the officials at home don’t believe the Destiny is a great discovery. Instead, they treat it like a nuisance that must go away to avoid bad PR. The worst is the IOC representative Carl Strom (Carlo Rota), who only cares for political opportunities. He uses Wray to make their plans happen, but it’s a hollow offer to gain control. Despite the chance to visit family, this episode makes a strong case that the stones cause more problems than they solve.

The first batch of SGU episodes focuses on just trying to fulfill basic needs aboard the Destiny. Titles like “Air” and “Water” are clear indicators of the situation. The next phase begins with “Earth”, which digs further into the characters and sets up the ship as their long-term home. Rush creates a show to stop an awful plan, but it does more than save their lives. It also separates them further from Earth and eliminates the idea that rescue is imminent. The next step is finding a way to live together and overcome their differences, and that won’t be easy. Spencer, Franklin, and others are ready to revolt, and even Rush isn’t entirely trustworthy. Young’s choice to have Eli look into Rush’s findings (and spy on others) says plenty about their current environment. They’ve overcome huge obstacles and have plenty more ahead, but the greatest danger remains within their ranks.

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