April 5, 2016

Reconsidering Stargate Universe: "Faith"

The Stargate Universe (SGU) episode "Faith", directed by William Waring

The Destiny is not a comfortable place to live. It may offer incredible views of space, but the accommodations could use some work. People are tired of wearing the same clothes and eating tasteless food. The communications stones can offer glimpses of Earth, but it is another body. The military group might be accustomed to this type of sparse environment, but it still takes its toll. For the scientists and other civilians, they’re ready for something new. That need appears in the form of a beautiful new planet in “Faith” and tempts even several main characters. Will they give up the security of the Destiny for the promise of something greater?

It’s clear that a return to Earth is not forthcoming, and the recent danger from the aliens in “Space” and “Divided” didn’t help. It’s easy to see why T.J. and Chloe would be tempted to join Dr. Caine’s (Tygh Runyan) group on the planet. His faith in their alien saviors is enticing, even if it requires a giant leap. Whether it springs from belief in God or just seeing nature again, the pitch is alluring. The opposition led by Young pitches the “live together, die alone” mantra. They may have issues to overcome on the Destiny, but they’ll solve them as a group. It’s a safer approach on the surface, yet there are extenuating circumstances that may tips the scales.

Young spends much of the episode trying to mend fences after the mutiny. Approaching Rush with hat in hand, he seems committed to a more collaborative style. He’s hardly a pushover, however. His proposal at the end still involves strong arming to ensure his people return. This isn’t the same guy who head butted Rush and left him on the planet, but Young is still enforcing his will. Ensuring the military sticks with him isn’t Young’s real motivation, however. His feelings for T.J. and the importance of Scott make them invaluable. In T.J.’s case, Young doesn’t even have all the information. If he did, his efforts might be even more vigilant to retain her.


T.J.’s Journey

The central figure in this episode is T.J., who finally gets a real chance to shine. The first shot is T.J. waking up to an alarm on board the grim Destiny. Alaina Huffman brings so much heart to T.J. and says plenty with minimal dialogue. The pregnancy story line could easily become a cliché in lesser hands but avoids the narrative trap. Instead, we feel for T.J. and understand why she’d want to stay on the planet. It isn’t the zombie apocalypse, but the Destiny falls well short of being optimal for raising a child. Resources are thin, and there’s always danger around the corner.

Huffman’s real-life pregnancy caused the writers to adjust the story, and it mostly clicks. T.J. is one of the show’s strongest characters, and it’s a relief to see the arc handled well. She doesn’t smile that often, which makes the glimmers of joy even more effective. Sitting next to Chloe on a log, she’s more content than she’s been since they reached the Destiny. T.J. is in her element hiking through the woods and relaxing by a waterfall. The laid-back script from Denis McGrath includes quite a few character moments like that one. Seeing T.J.’s happiness makes her initial decision to stay on the planet feel less abrupt. After a month on the planet, there was little doubt.

The obelisk in the SGU episode of "Faith"

New Discoveries

Despite the slow pace and character-driven story, there are a few mysterious discoveries. The standout is the giant obelisk on the planet, which signifies an advanced civilization. Like Volker and Rush, we’re frustrated to learn so little about this impressive structure. Its presence does give Caine a logical justification that a higher power created the planet. The questions about the planet’s origins are intriguing; something created this Earth-like place way too quickly. It's brave for SGU to test our patience and not reveal more details.

There’s also a strangely brief moment where James uncovers a device on the Destiny that resembles a large robot. Like the city of Atlantis in SGA, this large ship contains plenty of secrets. Even a store room with crates has the chance of providing something new. The lack of more attention on this item shows how the producers are playing the long game. It’s another reason that SGU works better in a binge format. The pieces fit together much easier when there’s less time between each episode. Young’s choice to wait for Rush also connects with the down-to-earth approach. There’s only so much one person can do at once.

Soccer Game in the SGU episode "Faith"

A Break in the Action

The highlight of “Faith” is the music montage that depicts everyday life on the planet and the Destiny. The song “All My Days” by Alexi Murdoch sets the right tone for the joys of the daily routine. A quick shot from a Kino of a soccer game with both military and civilian players says it all. The tension of the recent days wore everyone down, and getting the chance to just be is refreshing. We also see Chloe and Scott reconnecting in a pond, Volker studying the obelisk, and James’ team exploring the Destiny. The last shot of T.J. hiking to the waterfall flows smoothly into the next moment with Chloe. T.J.’s come to terms with the pregnancy and made her choice.

There’s a narrative risk in taking such a slow-burn approach in this episode. After the fireworks of the past two episodes, viewers might want to keep the momentum rolling. It’s a talk-heavy episode, and some conversations like the Eli/Wray chats might feel unnecessary. On the other hand, it’s these small moments that keep us on board with the characters. We saw them fighting and barely surviving for several episodes. It’s good to dial back and re-connect with their humanity. Rush and Wray especially return to less-hostile waters in this story. They may not love the direction of leadership, but they aren’t working to undermine Young.

Louis Ferreira as Colonel Young in SGU's "Faith"

Young’s Risky Proposal

Despite the low-key tone, there are high stakes in the climax of “Faith”. Three main characters have committed to stay on the planet and leave the Destiny for good. Young’s efforts to retrieve Scott and T.J. make sense from a practical standpoint. Scott is a trusted officer who people trust in both the civilian and military ranks. T.J. provides crucial medical support on a ship with little expertise in that area. Like I mentioned earlier, that isn’t the main reason Young risks his life to reach them. He’s trying to keep his friends safe and doesn’t want to lose them (especially T.J.). Young did reject the idea to round them up by force, but he wasn't really taking the high road either.

Young’s pitch to the group seems helpful on the surface. He’ll give Caine’s group a shuttle to help them survive on the planet. The catch is giving up people like Scott and T.J. that could be even more valuable. I’ve barely mentioned Chloe because we don’t get a clear sense of her ultimate motivation. She quietly changes her mind after the others fold. It’s tricky because Young might even believe he’s doing a good thing for the people who stay on the planet. He isn’t trying to be a dictator, yet he leaves T.J. and Scott with little choice.


Faith or a Delusion?

The big question hanging over the conclusion is whether Caine’s belief was accurate. Would his faith lead to the promised land or set up their destruction? His idea that the planet was “created for us” is quite arrogant despite the beauty on the planet. Even so, it’s hard to be too rough on Caine for believing in a higher power. There’s plenty of evidence that something advanced built this world. Young’s statement that he can’t begin to answer whether the planet was a lifeline makes sense. He knows what the Destiny is and can make due in that environment. The planet has too many question marks for a military guy charged with keeping people safe.

The final shots are quite somber and bring a sad conclusion to T.J.’s hopeful story. She stands alone on the ship and has lost the joy we saw in her eyes on the planet. This moment contrasts sharply with Young’s rare smile while enjoying the feast in the mess hall. He’s feeling victorious and doesn’t realize what T.J. may have lost due to his actions. Staying on the Destiny was probably the right move, but the way they returned wasn’t a free choice. It may take a long time for T.J. to recover her brief serenity, and more challenges are coming on the horizon.

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.

4 comments:

  1. A lovely synopsis.. Some of those questions do eventually get answered, but there were plenty left Unanswered.. And that is imo one of the BIGGEST downfalls SGU had cause of its abrupt cancellation announced just after S2 started.....

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    1. Thanks again, David. One of the exciting parts of this re-watch is the fact that it's been a while since I've gone through all the episodes. I've forgotten some of the details, so it's like discovering SGU all over again. It is too bad that we didn't at least get a third season. I feel like SGU wasn't built to go 10 seasons (what show is?), but it was definitely cut short before it felt complete.

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  2. You know, on first watch, I don't think I really appreciated Alaina's TJ as much as I do on re-watches. She's a quietly strong actor and character.

    The slow burn of SGU and the continually dropped questions kept me interested in the show. Again, it was another aspect that made it stand aside from SGA and SG-1. Wish we'd have been given an answer to some of the questions.

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    1. I do think that TJ was underwritten, which is an issue with a lot of the female characters. What makes her work for me is how Alaina Huffman expands on what's on the page. She never feels like a one-note chracter.

      I think the slow burn works out well on a re-watch, despite the fact that we don't get many answers. The only downside is that some fans of SGA and SG-1 got restless, especially with the long gaps between episodes after the mid-season finale.

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