Showing posts with label Stargate Universe. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Stargate Universe. Show all posts

February 16, 2016

Reconsidering Stargate Universe: “Space”

A space alien in the Stargate Universe episode "Space"

We’ve reached the point where many longtime fans of the Stargate franchise breathed a huge sigh of relief. Following the discovery of the spaceship in the previous episode “Justice”, it seemed almost certain the Destiny would encounter aliens down the road. Along with facing their first space battle, the crew encounters an entirely new enemy for the franchise. The result is a tense and action-packed episode that expands nicely on the foundation of the first 10 episodes. It’s too bad that fans had to wait four months for the back half of SGU’s first season. Building any viewer momentum was virtually impossible following that gap between episodes.

SGU works so much better in a more condensed viewing because of the story’s serialized nature. It’s also much easier to keep track of the large number of characters. The more deliberate pacing is less of an issue because big moments aren’t needed so quickly. Meeting the first real villains on the show in episode 11 doesn’t feel too late in a binge viewing. Fans didn’t reach this point until eight months after the premiere, however. The writers did leave a hint about the aliens at the end of “Air, Part 3” with the glimpse of a mysterious small ship leaving the Destiny. With such a long break, you could forgive the audience if they forgot about that brief moment.

“Space” is familiar to “Time” in the way that it combines aspects of SG-1 and SGA with the newer approach on SGU. These characters still react in the way you’d expect on this show, though. Beyond a few quips from Eli, they’re taking a serious approach to the situation. When Young inadvertently switches bodies with an alien, he remains the practical, soft-spoken guy we know. Even so, the introduction of the blue enemies is still an awesome moment. It’s a stunning cold open that immediately signifies the next stage of this ongoing story. Instead of just trying to get back to Earth, the characters are now discovering new parts of the universe.

Louis Ferreira as Young and Ming Na as Wray in the SGU episode "Space"

Lingering Effects

Despite the arrival of a new threat, this episode doesn’t forget about Young’s choice to strand Rush on the planet and doom him to almost-certain death in "Justice". The story opens with a shot of Young shaving in front of a mirror and thinking about the fight with Rush. Wray doesn’t believe him about the rockslide, and TJ can sense that he’s struggling. Young walks through the ship like a man carrying a burden that only he can see. Soldiers like Scott and Greer are still behind him, but even a friend like Eli doesn’t feel right about it. Rush’s survival gives Young the chance to make things right, but it raises new challenges from the equally committed adversary.

Wray’s questions about the alien discovery are a testament to how much some characters distrust Young. She’s hardly the only one, either. That moment does exemplify some frustrations with Wray as a character. We’ve just met a cool new alien race, and the writers use her as the skeptic questioning the events. Young’s imagination isn’t that good. This is not a good look for Wray, who’s forced into a role where we’re going to dislike her. Having a civilian foil for Young is important, but Wray’s actions feel less natural than they should. She’s ready to start a mutiny against Young and is driving it more than Rush. Their final conversation sets up the events to come in “Divided”, but it also feels less essential given the immediate threat to the Destiny’s survival.

A simple alien message in the Stargate Universe episode "Space"

SURRENDER

Even after multiple viewings, the arrival of the spaceship is still one of the season’s high points. This moment feels earned because we know these characters and want them to survive. It’s more than just a video game where the stakes don’t feel real. The chilling one-word response of “SURRENDER” works so well and is the point where the dangers reach a new high. It’s a nice touch to have Eli still take a shot at Young about taking out Rush during the battle. His comment reminds us how this group must work together, or they won’t survive. Even James gets a hero moment during the chaos, which is great to see for the underused character. Julia Benson is a convincing actress and deserves more than pining for Scott and others.

What makes these aliens so intriguing is the lack of a real explanation or details about them. They’re clearly hostile but have little interest in explaining their plans. These aren’t the power-hungry Goa’uld like Apophis who enjoy taunting their enemies. Our brief glimpses of them on the ship reveal a workmanlike approach to taking over the Destiny. They use the ships as a distraction to sneak inside and kidnap Chloe. The CGI enemies aren’t just humans with a few odd features and represent a real departure for the franchise. The effects work is great and goes well beyond what you’d expect from a cable series.

Young’s return to the alien ship is quite an effective sequence, particularly when he discovers Rush alive. Young can’t explain what he’s doing and looks like the enemy, while Rush understands something isn’t right with this alien. This moment also represents an excellent use of the communication stones as a storytelling device. The other crew members see Young’s body with the alien inside, and we also observe this moment from the alien’s viewpoint. When Young puts on the mind-reading device, the overload of multiple brains connected at once leads to a crazy scene. Young screams in agony while Rush prepares to kill the alien with his bare hands. Meanwhile, Eli is dealing with “bad and more bad” during the space battle on Young’s return.

Chloe is about to be captured in the SGU episode "Space"

Personal Stakes

“Space” really clicks because of the questions lurking beneath the surface during the action. When Young orders Eli to fire on the ship, is he trying to kill Rush? He did help to save Rush by freeing him from the tank, but there’s ambiguity to this choice. It’s unlikely that Young would sacrifice Chloe to protect himself, but doubt lingers about his intentions. The final conversation between Young and Rush is still uneasy, but there appears to be more respect on both sides. Rush admits that he forced Young’s hand, while Young regrets leaving him on the planet. They’ll try to work together “for the sake of the crew”, but the distrust remains on both sides.

I’ve yet to mention Chloe’s involvement, which is partially due to her role as the damsel in distress. This capture will eventually take the character in a more interesting direction, but she’s still a passive observer of most of the action. Chloe does get a rock star moment when she drops out of the ship to a stunned Greer and Scott. She lands gracefully in contrast to Rush comically falling in a heap. What’s problematic is the way she’s rescued from the aliens. Young arrives via the stones and frees Rush, who then notices Chloe and frees her. Scott and Greer are also working to save her. There’s nothing wrong with putting any character in jeopardy, but the resolution still places Chloe’s safety in the hands of the guys on the Destiny.

Jamil Walker Smith as Greer in the Stargate Universe episode "Space"

Just the Beginning

Director Andy Mikita returned to shoot his first episode since the pilot “Air”, and it’s no coincidence that both were nominated for an Emmy for visual effects. He’s a veteran Stargate director who knows how to present an action scene, especially in space. His past work includes SG-1’s “Heroes” and “New Order” plus SGA’s “Be All My Sins Remember’d” and its finale “Enemy at the Gate”. Visual Effects Supervisor Mark Savela’s team also deserves credit for building aliens that fit within this down-to-earth setting but are still striking beings.

The episode concludes with a music montage with Rob Thomas’ “Dark Comes the Night” playing in the background. Such lyrics as “you will not be alone” are a bit on the nose, but this sequence includes some great moments. The shot of Greer smiling while looking at an unseen photo is heart-warming because he rarely shows a softer side. TJ’s silent walk through the infirmary also connects due to her satisfaction in keeping everyone alive. It’s these quiet interludes that make “Space” about more than the action. There are quite a few cool moments, and they’re heightened by our personal feelings about the characters. With more turmoil and danger coming in the next installment, they won’t get much time enjoy the silence.

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.

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 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.

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.

September 24, 2014

Reconsidering Stargate Universe: “Darkness” and “Light”

Stargate Universe's "Light"

I’m telling you, this ship came here for a reason!” – Scott

One of the major decisions that impacted SGU’s early run was splitting the fourth episode “Fire” into two separate hours. The result was “Darkness” and “Light”, and both episodes now had room to breathe. The extra time gives us a chance to learn more about the characters through the Kino interviews. Eli speaks with many of the supporting players to document their experience. The grim situation offers little chance for survival. Everyone handles this prospect differently; some like Rush have nothing to say. It’s a familiar device that recalls McKay’s interviews with the crew in SGA’s “Letters from Pegasus”. Without the split, most of these scenes would not have made the cut.

The expanded cast is important because it gives the writers a chance to introduce multiple viewpoints. Eli’s pulled into a meeting of hostile folks that includes James and the volatile Spencer (Josh Blacker). They’re essentially describing a mutiny, and Eli’s stunned reaction says it all. This moment sets the stage for ongoing dissension and doesn’t pay off, but it isn’t going away. Watching SGU on DVD makes it easier to consider the show as an ongoing story. With a guy like Spencer, it’s only a matter of time before his anger leads to trouble. He’s one of the less interesting characters on the show because he’s more one-dimensional, but his role is essential. You need some wild cards that may not become fan favorites but create conflicts when tough decisions arrive.

Louis Ferreira in Stargate Universe

Both parts were written by co-creator Brad Wright, and they’re pivotal in setting the stage for upcoming episodes. The pace is slow and focuses on the characters, and doing so builds the foundation for connecting them with us. Each episode introduces a new challenge, and what’s surprising is that the crew is essentially helpless to combat them. Even brilliant minds like Rush and Eli can do little but hope for the best while the Destiny hurtles towards their, for lack of a better word, destiny. Unlike his counterpart, Eli stays laid back about the situation and draws Young’s trust. The colonel must give the bad news to Earth, and Louis Ferreira is sharp as Young tries to reconcile with his wife (Ona Grauer). His face leaves so much unsaid, and the regret about their relationship is right there.

Robert Carlyle does excellent work showing Rush’s growing mania because of sleeplessness and the inability to do anything. He’s convinced they’re running out of power, yet no one believes him. The reason they doubt him is because he’s grown unhinged and can’t explain himself clearly. He’s such a fascinating guy because he can be so difficult yet is such a distinctive individual. We’re never sure if he’s trustworthy, yet there are hints of goodness. His joy at their survival in the end of “Light” is genuine, though it only takes a short time before the walls return around him. That episode’s final scenes hint that Rush knew they’d be fine, but that doesn’t seem likely. He won't pal around because making friends isn’t his goal. Learning about the Destiny takes precedence, so Rush wants to keep his distance. Young and the others will just get in the way of his plans to understand the ship.

There’s a throwaway moment near the end of “Darkness” that drew the ire of some viewers during the initial run. Riley (Haig Sutherland) is piloting the Kino and uses the camera to catch a shot of James in her underwear. It’s the type of scene that would probably not have made the cut if the story was just one episode. This isn’t the most forward-thinking moment on the show, but there are some great reaction shots from Eli and Young after Riley gets busted. It’s a character moment that adds a bit of levity to a pretty dreary situation. On the other hand, it also comes across like an excuse to get an attractive actress into less clothing. Given the boys club in the writers’ room, moments like this don’t help with efforts to depict three-dimensional female characters.

Chloe and Scott in Stargate Universe

“Light” introduces the start of a romance between Chloe and Scott, which mostly comes out of nowhere but makes sense given their impending deaths. The fiery star in the background during their love scene is striking, and it isn’t a gratuitous sequence. It’s clear that Eli has feelings for Chloe, which turns Scott into the guy who’s messing with a fan favorite. Even so, the love triangle is so understated that it never becomes a cliché. There are sweet moments between Eli and Chloe as they watch the approaching star out the large window. She may still be the hot girl who just wants to be friends with the nice guy, but the actors sidestep most of those conventions. Elyse Levesque plays the type of character who predictably is taking a shower when the lights go out, but she’s believable.

Both episodes provide incredible visual effects during their finales, especially with the ride through the sun in “Light”. It’s easy to take this type of sequence for granted, but these shots look different than the typical space effects. The Destiny is massive, but it feels so small compared to the planets and stars. The sense of scale is what makes SGU different than many sci-fi series that preceded it. Jim Menard and his team deserve serious credit for making the ship and the environment appear real on a TV budget. A key factor in their success is the music from Joel Goldsmith, which brings a grand tone to the big moments.

Stargate Universe (SGU)

Another intriguing part of “Light” is the lottery to choose who can board a shuttle for a remote planet. The differing reactions to this decision reveal a lot about the characters. Wray’s forceful push for Young to choose the list makes sense, but he recognizes the personal fear behind her request. The winners include people we’ve never seen and not the stars, and even the supporting players that are picked aren't predictable. Given the challenges of their future, TJ's point that the others are the lucky ones isn’t a stretch. There’s no easy road, and successes lead to new difficulties. It’s refreshing to see a few smiles when fate goes their way, but this is just the first of the obstacles on the horizon.

September 17, 2014

Reconsidering Stargate Universe: "Air"

Stargate Universe episode "Air"

We're not supposed to be there, sir. These are the wrong people, in the wrong place. And as a group, they're just not qualified.” – Colonel Young

We open in the vast reaches of space, with just a glimmer of an object in the distance. As it moves closer, we realize that it’s a massive ship. The camera pans across the gorgeous vessel and tracks inside towards a large room. It reveals the Stargate, a familiar device for most viewers. The gate begins dialing, and we expect the typical humans or humanoid aliens strolling casually through the gate. Instead, a solider falls brutally through the event horizon. He looks around and clearly has no idea where he is. There’s a brief moment of quiet, and then the chaos begins. People start arriving violently into the ship and sustaining injuries. The final arrival barely makes it and flies spectacularly above them all. It’s a crazy introduction to an unknown environment for people totally unprepared for it. As an audience member, we’re right with them in having no idea what’s in store in this place.

The opening scene of "Air" from SGU

One man stands on a balcony and smiles while the mess continues below him. This is Dr. Rush (Robert Caryle), and he’s located a place that he’s been seeking for a long time. The collateral damage is secondary to this discovery. This moment sets the stage for a different type of Stargate series. Beyond the shooting style or set design, it’s the more complicated people that show the change. Rush isn’t evil but has different goals than soldiers like Colonel Young (Louis Ferreira) and Lieutenant Scott (Brian J. Smith). Those guys would do anything to find home, while Rush is content to stay right where he is. The ship is called the Destiny, and it’s a treasure trove of material about the Ancients. The conflict between finding this knowledge and a safe return to Earth will be a key part of the season.

Stargate Universe (SGU) premiered with “Air”, a three-part episode split across two weeks. The first two parts aired on the opening night, with the conclusion arriving on the following week. The DVD release includes them in a single extended version that works best in presenting the material. It’s essentially a feature-length story that packs so much plot and character introduction into just more than two hours. It’s easier to digest with the extra 10 minutes, which aren’t essential but provide more room to breathe (no pun intended). Without the burden of meeting all the characters, the premiere works much better. The first part does include too many shifts in time, which stall the momentum from the past scenes. Opening with the arrival on the Destiny makes sense, but so many leaps feel like overkill.

Richard Dean Anderson as Jack O'Neill in "Air" of Stargate Universe

Highlights for the diehard SG-1 fan include appearances from Richard Dean Anderson, Michael Shanks, and Amanda Tapping. They may be a painful reminder of past glories to others, but I never get tired of seeing the originals on my screen. It’s too bad that Christopher Judge couldn’t join them; I expect Wright and Cooper didn’t feel the Goa’uld fit within this show. Anderson gets fewer chances to have fun as Jack O’Neill, though his dry delivery to Eli (David Blue) at the start is pitch-perfect. We do get a video conference for the shippers between O’Neill and Tapping’s Samantha Carter that’s a nice gesture. Shanks only appears in an instructional video as Daniel Jackson, but it still works to remind us of his presence. Who else would deliver the Cliffs Notes version of Stargate history? Anderson has scenes in all three parts, but he’s most present in the first hour. It’s important to remind us that SGU does exist in the same universe as past shows.

What if we are not supposed to be here?” - Eli Wallace

Our entry point in this story is Eli, and even the cynics loved him. He’s the regular guy who can say “wow, that was cool!” while the soldiers and scientists remain serious. David Blue was a longtime Stargate fan, and he’s perfectly cast as the brilliant audience surrogate. His laid-back demeanor stands out even more on a repeat viewing, and Eli’s a necessity in disrupting the somber tone. They may be about to die, but he’s still going to explore the ship. His discovery of the Kino gives the filmmakers another route for presenting the ship and the characters. These miniature orbs can float through the hallways and allow them to check out planets before going through the Stargate. It functions like the M.A.L.P. on SG-1 but also works like a handheld camera for capturing interviews and other random moments. Eli finds a clever way to use them, which also helps as a story telling device.

Alaina Huffman in SGU's "Air"

Much of the SGU criticism focused on its depiction of women, and there was definitely a boys club behind the scenes. Only three of the 40 episodes had female writers, and there was just one directing credit. The characters are written from a male perspective, but that doesn’t mean they’re one-dimensional. “Air” doesn’t have much time to know the characters, but several stand out from the start. The most interesting is T.J. (Alaina Huffman), who’s forced to take charge because of her medical background. Huffman expands what’s on the page and has a confidence that makes T.J. interesting. Chloe (Elyse Levesque) took a lot of vitriol, but she works as a young character who’s completely out of her element. Fans wanted Samantha Carter and instead received a young woman with little experience for this trip. Elyse Levesque does a good job selling Chloe’s angry reaction to losing her father (Christopher McDonald), and standing up to Robert Carlyle is no easy feat.

There are some characters that don’t feel as strong, however. Julia Benson gets little to do as Vanessa James, and her introduction while having sex with Scott is a surprise. This moment serves a larger purpose than setting up their connection. Wright and Cooper are proclaiming that SGU will rest on a different plane from its predecessors. We aren’t in HBO territory, but the characters won’t be the nearly chaste saints of the past. It’s unfortunate for James that we don’t get more dimensions to her character at this point. We learn more about Scott in part three while he struggles on the desert planet. Those flashbacks are really effective in showing his tragic past. The final hour is the strongest and essentially functions like the show’s first regular episode. The Destiny takes them to a planet with the resources to solve their problem, but finding them won’t be easy. There’s a ticking clock that will be familiar to fans, but we get a real sense that people could die on this mission.

"Air, Part 3" on Stargate Universe

This mission also reveals a different approach to aliens than the humanoid Go’uld or Wraith. The swirling desert sands are a mysterious presence that isn’t explained, and that’s so refreshing. I love Carter and Dr. McKay and their skills at delivering loads of exposition, but it’s okay not to know everything. These sand aliens will play a role in the future, yet their origins remain unclear. They don’t speak English or any language we can understand, and that lack of clarity makes them a lot more intriguing. Another interesting aspect is the mutiny from three crew members, who nearly kill them all. Greer (Jamil Walker Smith) must shoot one of them to keep hope alive, and it’s telling about the obstacles to this journey. Confict within the group is just as dangerous as any external threats. There's also a real sense of scale to this desert planet. The grand shots of the party as dots on a horizon create a believable new world. Their chances of success are slim among the vast sameness.

Stargate Universe invasion during "Air"

In the past dozen years or so, we've sent hundreds of teams through that thing. I think the bottom line is, none of us are qualified.” – Jack O’Neill

SGU has a different style and tone from the previous shows, but I still consider it an essential part of the franchise. It represents a natural progression that offers more creative freedom than the episodic adventures of the past shows. Wright and Cooper are still finding their way with “Air”, but the foundation is set for an excellent sci-fi series. The expanded cast gives them more flexibility to focus in on different characters and avoid the “villain of the week” structure. Having actors like Robert Carlyle, Lou Diamond Phillips, and Ming-Na on board doesn't hurt either. They’re able to bring depth to complicated people that often make the wrong decisions. The obstacles will only keep increasing, and no one is safe in this foreign environment. “Air” closes with a music montage with Alexi Murdoch’s “Breathe” playing while characters do just that. It’s a bit on the nose, but the editing does a nice job closing out the first chapter. The perilous journey’s only getting started, and no one knows where the next jump will take them.

September 16, 2014

Reconsidering Stargate Universe

The Destiny in Stargate Universe (SGU)

Let’s journey back to the distant TV past of January 2009. It was a time of the “Sci-Fi” Channel, and the great Battlestar Galactica (BSG) was beginning its final run. It also saw the end of Stargate Atlantis (SGA), which aired its last episode following a cancellation that angered many fans. It had been 12 years since Stargate SG-1 premiered, and there had been no breaks for the franchise. What would the future hold? A new series had been announced, but it didn’t sound like the shows fans knew and loved. Brad Wright and Robert C. Cooper were moving on to a new frontier with Stargate Universe (SGU). Although it would be set in the same world as the previous series, the tone would be very different. The past shows sprung from the episodic action series model of the ‘90s. They’d expanded on that format but felt like throwbacks compared to popular shows like BSG and Lost.

It’s easy to see why Wright and Cooper were ready for a new challenge with SGU. Although they’d led a legendary sci-fi show that ran for 10 seasons and a successful spin-off, the medium was changing. Why not take a chance and stretch their creativity with a new style? A vocal group of fans weren’t ready to accept this different approach, however. They blamed SGU for the loss of SGA, and they rallied against it after every subsequent cast announcement before the show even aired. This was before the days of Twitter, so I can’t imagine how ugly it would be in today’s online landscape. Regardless, the series premiered on October 2, 2009 with the first two parts of “Air”. It was an ambitious story of a mismatched crew stranded in space on board a mysterious ship. The premise was an old-school idea, though the approach was very different.


The most obvious influence on SGU was BSG, and there’s no doubt it played a role in shaping the style. Even so, it’s too simple to call it a copycat. Wright and Cooper evolved the Stargate formula into something that had slices of the past shows but a raw freshness to it. Despite that success, I’ll admit to having concerns about the approach during the first season. There’s a deliberate pace to the early episodes and a serious tone that didn't always work. It took a while for the writers to gain their footing in this new universe. That was my impression originally, at least. I’ve been meaning to go back and explore SGU apart from the preconceived notions of what a Stargate series would be.

This series of posts will reconsider SGU by digging further into the episodes five years later. I’ll separate them into small groups and do more than rate their effectiveness. The first entry will explore the three-part premiere "Air". The storytelling is very ambitious, but much of that was lost because it arrived so closely after SGA. It only lasted for 40 episodes, but they offered plenty of time to explore the key themes. SGU will probably work better on DVD since it’s more of a serial than the previous franchise incarnations. Separated from commercials, long waits between episodes, and other baggage, it could play much differently. Of course, there’s also a chance that SGU is exactly the show we thought it was. The answer is probably somewhere in the middle. Regardless of the result, I’m excited to revisit Dr. Rush, Eli, and the Destiny in the upcoming weeks.

Here are the individual entries so far:

"Air" (Extended Edition)
"Darkness" and "Light"
"Water" and "Earth"
"Time"
"Life"
"Justice"
"Space" 
"Divided"
"Faith"
"Human"
"Lost"
"Sabotage"
"Pain"
"Subversion"
"Incursion, Parts 1 and 2"