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

March 12, 2018

Stargate Origins: Episodes 8-10 and #StargateRising

Ra makes an appearance in the final episode of Stargate Origins.

We’ve reached the end of Stargate Origins, but it’s hardly a dour time for Stargate fans. There’s a sense of excitement in the fanbase that I haven’t seen in a long time. The TV landscape has changed dramatically since the final days of SGU in 2011; there are a lot more distribution options. Before I get too distracted, let’s dive back into Origins’ last three episodes.

I like the fact that MGM split up the 10 episodes into four weeks instead of dumping them all at once. That choice extended the interest from viewers across a full month, even if they disliked it. On the other hand, Origins probably works better as a feature than in 10-minute episodes. I’ll be curious to see if the events flow more seamlessly as a single narrative. If nothing else, it would remove the silly effect of spinning the camera at the end of each part. Let’s take a look at the last three episodes and how they finished the story.

Aset dons a new look to appear at the Abydonian outpost on Stargate Origins.

Episode 8: Testing Her Allies

The Abydonian outpost is the site for a family reunion of sorts, though Dr. Langford and Catherine don’t speak directly. She hides in the tent nearby with Beal while Aset tests her followers. Once again, a large group of characters stand in strangely close quarters while the camera zooms in with too many close-ups. We need to feel the scale of this place! I recognize the budget limitations, but it shouldn’t be so obvious. What should be a tense moment loses steam because it’s such a compact sequence.

On the positive side, I have to take a moment to rave about the costumes for Aset (especially) and Serqet. I think they spent half the show’s budget on these few outfits! They look amazing and over the top, which helps to make the Goa’uld look even more godlike to the tribe. The scenes involving Aset are frequently the best in the show because the stakes seem real. She also makes Origins feel like more than a low-rent adventure serial.

Less inspiring is the disintegration of Brücke, who saves his fellow Nazi Stefan and then shoots him. His descent into madness connects to humans from SG-1 that couldn’t handle a taste of Goa’uld power. Everything just seems too obvious, however. When Eva tells him that “you have no good side”, the point lands with a thud because it’s so on the nose. Connor Trinneer still brings emotion and grace to Dr. Langford, but it’s like he’s acting in a difference series.

Catherine Langford explores the desert with Kasuf in Stargate Origins.

Episode 9: Fresh Air

I can’t overstate the importance of stepping outside into the desert in this episode. Too many scenes happen in the same few rooms. It’s a relief when Catherine and her pals venture out and prepare to rescue her father. I also enjoyed the callback to the original Stargate film with the symbols inside the tunnel. There’s even an explanation for why Daniel Jackson couldn’t find the point of origin in that movie. It’s one of the cooler touches in this prequel series.

Another interesting moment has Aset questioning whether to kill Catherine or send her to the mines. Dr. Langford doesn’t translate that part of her statement to Brücke, which reminds us of the limitations of the Nazi’s influence. The final moment with Dr. Langford confronting Brücke feels well-earned mostly because Trinneer makes us care for the guy. We don’t want to see him meekly serve Aset and Brücke without taking a shot at freedom.

This episode also includes Origins’ best scene when Catherine tells Kasuf about the Goa’uld’s true nature. Her efforts don’t convince him, and Ellie Gall’s face makes the scene resonate. There’s real emotion in this scene, and it nearly makes up for her awkward communications with Kasuf at the start. This show needs greater stakes, and moments like this one sell the idea that we’re watching more than just a low-budget adventure story.

Aset prepares to act in the finale of Stargate Origins.

Episode 10: Tying Up the Loose Ends

The challenges of Origins’ short running time stand out during the final episode. Ra appears as the great continuity fixer to set the stage for the events in Stargate. Amnesia is the laziest way to fix inconsistencies, but that’s the road we take here. Making Catherine and Dr. Langford forget everything solves the issues but also feels like a cheat. The resolutions for Beal, Wasif, and Motawk arrive so quickly that it’s hard to even comprehend everything.

I did enjoy the idea that Aset planted the seed that led to Ra’s destruction in the future. It took many decades for it to happen, but Catherine eventually contacted Daniel to find Abydos once again. Turning Kasuf into a leader also feels random, but it helped to connect his character with Erick Avari’s older version from the movie and series. Ra moves the gate and kills nearly everyone without a second thought, but his doom will come down the road.

Beal was a frustrating character throughout much of this show; his complaining was set up for laughs yet never really hit home. He was just starting to get interesting in the past few episodes, which makes his death feel tragic. It’s quite a downer of a finale across the board; even the Harsesis child possibly died. We don’t see Aset or the baby perish, so it’s possible they survived for another season. That is also true for Beal, though his death seems more likely.

Another interesting part is Wasif finding love with Motawk, which had received hints in past episodes. I’m sure that some Stargate fans won’t love this story arc given their reactions to SGU. Even so, I appreciate any efforts to show a wider range of relationships on television. Seeing Wasif and Motawk conscripted by Ra as guards is a gut punch, though. They could return in a future season, but it’s hard to watch such a bleak resolution.

The Mission File on Stargate Command also includes a reference to Captain Mitchell, which connects this story to the events of Stargate: Continuum. I like the way that it bridges the two stories, but I would have enjoyed a slightly clearer reference on the show. There’s a risk in veering too far into fan service, but you don’t want to make Easter eggs so hard to find.

The Langfords stand in front of the Stargate at the end of Stargate Origins.

Origins: Some Final Words

It’s no coincidence that Joseph Mallozzi chose to begin the push for more Stargate right after Origins premiered. The fans are already engaged in the new show and have greater interest to push for a full series. The huge contrast in budget and scope between Origins and past Stargate series also reminds us of how great they were. If nothing else, this smaller show has brought fans back into the fold and convinced us that we want something better.

I don’t mean to keep criticizing Origins; making a prequel is not easy. When you also consider the miniscule budget, its chances of success were smaller. What bothers me is the time spent on worn-out tropes like Nazis, amnesia, and obvious colonialist topics. Why not cover similar territory but with interesting villains and a more nuanced resolution? Connor Trinneer did great work as Dr. Langford, and his steady presence stood out against the hammy Nazis.

You don’t need a giant budget to make an interesting Stargate series. Two of my favorite episodes from SG-1 are “Abyss” and “Threads”, and both mine great drama from long conversations. Origins can be fun yet still grab us without resorting to obvious story beats.

There’s so much potential in a show set in the ‘30s involving the Stargate. Parts of Origins nearly hit the mark but then got too safe. Did we really need the Nazis at all? Removing them would give Aset and Serqet more time to grow as characters and set up a more exciting main conflict. This is one example of many thoughts that I had as I watched Origins.

The city rises in the premiere of Stargate Atlantis.

The Success of #StargateRising

On Friday and Saturday, Stargate fans and a lot of familiar faces made their presence felt during a tweetstorm that spanned the globe. I participated on Friday and likely earned a few mutes on Twitter with many posts and retweets for #StargateRising. Some of our favorite actors like Amanda Tapping, Jewel Staite, David Hewlett, Brian J. Smith, Michael Shanks, and so many others joined the fun. It was heart-warming to have so many people that love the franchise coming together to push for more.

Beyond the energy of seeing the unified front, I’m hopeful that we have a chance for a real show. I love the idea of pushing for Robert C. Cooper and Brad Wright to return and continue the story. There’s endless potential even if some actors can’t appear due to other commitments. I have a feeling that we’re in store for a lot more great things from Stargate in the next few years. Is it possible that our journey is just beginning?

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August 22, 2016

Reconsidering Stargate Universe: Incursion, Parts 1 and 2

The Stargate Universe episode "Incursion"

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

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

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

A Missed Opportunity?

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

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

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

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

One Last Goodbye

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

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

Chloe in the Stargate Universe episode "Incursion"

Missing in Action

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

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

TJ in the SGU episode "Incursion"

Stepping Up to the Plate

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

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

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

Telford and Kiva in Stargate Universe's "Incursion"

Cliffhangers Everywhere!

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

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

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

The Final Look of Despair

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

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

August 15, 2016

Reconsidering Stargate Universe: Subversion

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

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

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

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

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

The Gang’s All Here

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

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

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

Two Interrogations

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

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

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

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

The Greater Good

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

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

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

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

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

July 17, 2016

Reconsidering Stargate Universe: Pain

Julia Benson as James in the SGU episode "Pain"

Compared to its Stargate predecessors, SGU is a fairly calm series. There are space battles and personal conflicts, but they’re the exception. Even the big moments typically arrive with plenty of build-up. By the time we reached the alien attack in “Space”, it felt earned in the show’s 11th episode. This slow pace didn’t charm some fans despite the convincing way it developed characters. Since we know the crew so well by this point, the stakes feel higher when the danger comes. There aren’t many “red shirts” populating the Destiny alongside a few leads. This depth makes for a more consistent series and doesn’t force the writers to inject constant shocks.

The pre-credits introductions typically are relaxed and don’t drop us into chaos. This approach lets us acclimate to the situation. This trend makes the beginning of “Pain” a notable exception. Despite its reputation for more adult themes, SGU includes limited sex scenes. They stand out compared to SG-1 or SGA but not for TV in general. Even so, it’s surprising to open this episode with blaring music and passionate sex. The song “What Do You Want Me to Do” by The Heavy sets a very different mood. Another shock is seeing Scott and James as the participants, especially given his relationship with Chloe. It’s a loud sequence that makes an impression, particularly with its violent ending.

The trick with this different approach is still connecting it to the show’s normal style. We immediately question the events on screen, particularly when James bludgeons Scott. He also acts surprisingly callous and isn’t the likable guy we know. There’s also the risk of alienating the audience because we’re seeing unreliable information. When Scott shows up alive a bit later, it can’t feel like a cheat. Thankfully, there are hints from the start that something is amiss. Even the music doesn’t match expectations. We’re also seeing this moment from James’ perspective, and she believes that Scott is dead. It may seem awkward but fits with the focus on inner fears.

Ronald Greer (Jamil Walker Smith) in the SGU episode "Pain"

Facing Their Fears

“Pain” is an interesting standalone, but it never quite clicks in moving stories’ forward. It’s mostly just a reminder of the demons that continue to haunt them. It feels more like an SGA episode than a typical SGU entry. A good example is SGA’s “Phantoms”, a season three episode where a Wraith mind manipulator induces hallucinations in Sheppard, McKay, and others. This story employs different scenarios but has a similar approach to characters’ backgrounds. It’s no surprise that each episode was written by Carl Binder, an executive producer on both shows. Despite tonal changes between the series, there are more connections than normal here.

Any doubts about Scott’s fate disappear when others experience their own hallucinations following the credits. Some relate directly to past events like Greer’s suspicions about a mutiny. Others like Volker’s claustrophobia are more standard fears. Most start fairly benign and slowly progress into dangerous zones. The most impact comes from the simple shot of James curled up on her bed traumatized by “murdering” Scott. She sits motionless and can’t even answer her radio. Despite the horrific circumstances, it’s refreshing to see James involved so directly.

The most interesting part of the hallucinations is the variance between them. Scott’s son mostly just walks around and reminds him of what he’s lost at home. On the other hand, Airman Dunning (Darcy Laurie) tears into his arms to remove the snakes that only his mind sees. The visions are quite personal and aren’t just the expected fears. They’re also quite believable and detailed. Rush sees multiple crew members as the aliens that abducted him, and it’s no simple hallucination. Seeing such a confident guy reduced by the experiences deepens his character. This complexity heightens the danger to everyone involved, even bystanders like Wray that aren’t directly affected by the false visions.

Christopher McDonald in the Stargate Universe episode "Pain"

When Forces Collide

The success in “Pain” comes from the way that multiple hallucinations combine in clever ways. Greer captures Wray because he believes she’s conspiring to form a coup. Meanwhile, Rush sees the pair as aliens that he must attack. These visions aren’t entirely confined to their own minds. They may look different, but the physical manifestations are part of reality. This isn’t entirely consistent, though. Scott’s son isn’t actually present, and the false Wray (the maroon shirt version) doesn’t exist in any way. The experiences do grow more intense with each appearance, so it’s possible they mesh with the real world as the entity takes hold. Regardless, it’s a recipe for disaster for the crew.

There’s a different vibe to Chloe’s encounter with her father (Christopher McDonald), who sacrificed himself to save the Destiny in “Air”. She feels guilt about the loss but uses the time to connect with her dad. Despite her knowledge that he’s still dead, Chloe can’t help but savor the opportunity. Despite the presence of Scott and others, Chloe is still lonely. She’s known her new friends for just a short time. The quiet scenes between Chloe and her father provide a sharp contrast with the chaos from Greer and Rush. He only gets challenging when TJ goes to remove the tic from Chloe’s head. She’ll likely have nightmares of watching her dad plead “don’t leave me!” before disappearing once again.

It’s also interesting to note that the visions aren’t connected to a larger enemy. They aren’t a distraction from plans to take over the ship. Instead, the tics bring fears to life that spring directly from each person’s mind. Greer’s father appears in the climax, but he’s simply one more way to encourage Greer to act. It’s a chilling moment that reminds us of the enemies lurking within Greer’s mind. He’s determined to maintain control and not fall victim to anyone’s plans. Greer’s childhood trauma has shaped him into an effective soldier. But he’s more vulnerable than most to suspicions on his comrades. It’s a perfect storm that nearly leads to Wray’s end.

Robert Carlyle as Rush in the Stargate Universe episode "Pain"

The Cracks Remain

I’ve noticed in recent episodes that the crew has finally grown more united. Trust has grown among the team, and even former enemies like Rush and Young are working together. “Pain” reminds that there’s still more to do. It doesn’t take much for Greer to suspect that Wray and Rush are conspiring again. The truce between the military and the civilians is just a starting point. They avoid disaster this time, but the signs of dissension remain. It’s one of the show’s lesser episodes, but this story provides an intriguing look at the fears that are everywhere.

The closing montage includes the song “Agony” by Eels as we see the trauma impacting the group. James is still sad about Scott and the awful experience, and no one else is alright. Volker can’t sleep, Rush is struggling, and Chloe is reliving the loss of her dad. Greer and Wray have both lost any trust for the other. Young believes their luck is about to change, but a strong enemy lurks on the horizon. “Pain” questions whether this group is ready to battle the invaders to come. The tests will grow even fiercer, and everyone will need to re-connect or risk losing everything.

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.

July 5, 2016

Reconsidering Stargate Universe: Sabotage

Kathleen Munroe as Amanda Perry in SGU's "Sabotage"

We’ve reached the point of the season where so many intersecting story lines are coming together. There’s a risk of piling exposition on top of exposition without keeping the audience engaged. Thankfully, the SGU writers find interesting ways to build on past work. “Sabotage” resolves the “Lost” main plot, introduces a new character, and circles back to a nearly forgotten supporting character. When you add in pursuing aliens and a climactic space attack, it’s hard to miss. Life keeps getting harder on the Destiny, but characters are now willing to step up to ensure their survival. They’ve become a more cohesive group, and each new success brings them closer together. The sharp division between Young and Rush feels like a thing of the past.

“Sabotage” functions best as a look at how characters are growing stronger. Wray’s choice to switch bodies with the quadriplegic Amanda Perry (Kathleen Munroe) is quite brave. Rush lets his outer defenses break down while spending time with Perry. Franklin (Mark Burgess) also sacrifices his body for the sake of everyone on board. The growing challenges remove the pettiness and help people show their value. And these obstacles are just a set-up for greater issues on the horizon. Enemies are lurking everywhere, and the Destiny is a valuable prize.

Colonel Young in the SGU episode "Sabotage"

Coming Together

The team environment is evident in the opening sequence as Young gives a speech about the fates of Scott, Chloe, and Eli. We begin with Young shaving in the mirror and feeling the weight of the world. A striking over-the-shoulder shot follows him from his quarters to the gate room for the announcement. A glance at the crowd shows committed faces with no doubt about their leader. It’s a sharp contrast from only four episodes ago in “Divided” when the civilians mutinied. When Rush calls him with news about falling short of the next galaxy, they discuss the problem together. Neither fully trusts the other, but they’ve developed a solid working relationship because of the conflicts.

This cohesion also shows in the work from Brody and Volker, who disagree but have a say. SGU is still different from SG-1 and SGA, but the characters are becoming a team in that vein. They’re working to solve problems under difficult circumstances within new territory. There’s no instruction book for the Destiny, particularly when it crosses large galaxies. Even with all his knowledge, Rush needs help from Perry. James can’t go through with being a quadriplegic, so Wray steps up to fill the gap. This crew will only survive if they work together, and it definitely saves them in this case.

The mid-episode music sequence does a good job illustrating mundane life on the ship. Julian Plenti’s “Only if You Run” strikes the right tone as people just live. Greer gets his head shaved, Brody creates a new alcoholic concoction, James feeds Franklin, and Scott and Chloe lay silently in bed. The shot of crew members running while the title lyrics play is way too on the nose, but it doesn’t kill the moment. This montage reminds us of how much downtime occurs when space battles, explosions, and other challenges aren’t happening. We rarely saw these moments in earlier Stargate shows, and they’re commonplace in this lived-in environment.

Scott, Chloe, and Eli return to the Destiny in "Sabotage"

A Strange Return

The episode title implies nefarious intent with the sabotage, but it’s actually just bad luck. James’ inability to handle being paralyzed gives the aliens a chance to control her. It shows just how precarious the situation is aboard the Destiny. Even a minor slip-up could lead to the end. It’s a little frustrating to see the writers again have James fall short, but she handles it well after the fact. The interesting part is how the explosion inadvertently saves Scott, Chloe, and Eli. After trying mightily to reach the Destiny and failing, they succeed through random chance. The blast also offers a chance because it removes the FTL drive’s weakest link. Everything feels strangely convenient, but it only works if the characters take advantage of the opportunities.

I have mixed feelings about how the writers save the lost trio. It doesn’t seem earned and is a loophole to escape the narrative box. On the other hand, it shows how much the crew is at the mercy of other factors. They’re learning more about the Destiny each day, but they still aren’t equipped to survive. Unlike the superheroes of past series, this lack of skills helps us connect with these characters. Eli is brilliant but still figuring out what to do. Their return does give us a touching moment where Eli gives Rush back his glasses. The silent exchange says a lot about the respect between them. They’re becoming friends and are no longer a random collection of strangers with no emotional bond.

Rush and Perry see Wray's reflection on SGU

Nick and Mandy

The story’s emotional center is Perry, who gets the first chance to move freely since she was nine. She joins the Destiny to help fix the FTL but can’t help but enjoy this rare experience. Amanda describes it “like a dream come true” despite their tough situation. Another factor is the chance to spend time with Rush (Nick to her), who is a crush from her past. He’s also quite fond of her, and the informal way he calls her Mandy says plenty. They’re a great match in a lot of ways, though his mourning of his wife and her physical state make it trickier. Kathleen Munroe does an excellent job in showing both her excitement and uncertainty about their connection.

A key scene highlights both Perry’s interest and the added complications of the communications stones. If they have sex, she’s doing so in Wray’s body. This happened previously with Young and Telford in “Earth”, but it’s still murky territory. Rush’s hesitation is partially for that fact but also due to reliving his wife’s illness in “Human”. Robert Carlyle again adds so much with limited dialogue. We can totally sympathize with a guy who needs love but still can’t move forward after his wife’s death. Nick and Mandy could work as a couple, but the stones add some major complications.

I wasn’t aware of the controversy surrounding Perry’s character until recently. Watching the episode without that knowledge, there’s little that seems too problematic. Munroe’s wide-eyed approach to the character reminds us of just how magical these moments are for Perry. The communications stones create an interesting discussion about ownership of our physical selves. When Wray uses the stones to switch with Perry, does she allow for sex? The same questions would apply when she returned home to her girlfriend Sharon (Reiko Aylesworth) in “Life”. There’s no simple answer, but the questions are handled with respect throughout this episode.

Franklin in SGU's "Sabotage"

The Ultimate Sacrifice

A recurring theme in “Sabotage” is how far each character will go to save their friends. Young is ready to sit in the chair before Franklin intercedes, and that move would likely fry his brain. Wray becomes a quadriplegic to bring Perry on board. Sharon stops her life on Earth to care for Wray despite her appearance as Perry. TJ convinces Young to keep her involved despite her pregnancy. They’re building a community on the Destiny, and everyone is contributing to ensure their survival.

Most importantly, Franklin accepts his fate and returns to the device that destroyed him. His choice to sit in the chair in “Justice” was presented like an act of cowardice from a weak man. This story reframes that moment is a precursor to this brave sacrifice. What makes the scene click is the mystery behind Franklin’s disappearance. There’s little idea of what happened in the ice-cold room. It’s another reminder that a lot more exists on the Destiny that what we’ve seen thus far. More discoveries are coming, and not all will be friendly encounters.

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.

June 4, 2016

Reconsidering Stargate Universe: "Lost"

An unknown planet on SGU's "Lost"

A refreshing part of returning to SGU is remembering how ambitious the storytelling was for a mostly episodic franchise. Both SG-1 and SGA referenced previous episodes and told an ongoing story, but most episodes were self-contained. The choice from Wright and Cooper to use a serialized approach made their third series flow smoothly on a re-watch. The hurdle originally was keeping fans connected on a weekly basis. It’s one thing to follow the three-episode arc of Scott’s group separated from the Destiny in a binge viewing. Splitting that narrative over three weeks (and potentially more due to DVR) was more challenging. The TV landscape has changed quite a bit in even the past five years. The Netflix model has drastically altered our habits, and SGU connects much better with that approach than the structures of previous Stargate series.

“Lost” focuses most on the missing group and uses that set-up to explore Greer’s troubled past. The plot is very simple. Scott, Greer, Eli, and Chloe scramble to find the Destiny before it leaves the galaxy. It’s a classic problem that wouldn’t be out of place in many sci-fi or action series. Rush and James lead crews trying to find them, and the clock is ticking. The split among the crew from “Divided” feels long gone. Both the military and civilians are working together to save their fellow crew members. There’s enough material to fill an hour of television. What makes the script from Martin Gero click is the development that happens beyond the basic story. The main plot is a device to expand our view of one of SGU’s most interesting characters.

What’s intriguing about the Greer story line is that it also plays into some fans’ negative feelings of the series. Giving the character an abusive father seems more sensational than it really is. The plot device is hardly new, but the execution is different than you might suspect. It’s surprising to note that “Lost” is Gero’s final script for SGU. He was an executive producer for SGA and wrote many of the show’s classic episodes. The flashback structure in this episode works because it doesn’t pull us out of the story. We only catch glimpses of Greer’s past and must fill in the gaps. These segments are the most convincing parts of “Lost” and make it more than just an adequate yarn. We suspect the characters will eventually reach the Destiny, so there’s little concern that we’ll lose them. It’s the development that makes everything click.

Chloe reads a map in Stargate Universe's "Lost"

Random Chance

So much of the actions in “Lost” spring from luck more than skills and intelligence. Greer becomes trapped in the rocks because he was standing just a few feet away from the others. His apparent misfortune actually leads to rescue by James’ team. Eli needs to guess which Stargate to dial and has a 50/50 chance of being wrong. Even when he discovers the alien ship and they find the right path, bad timing dooms their chances. Rush and James split up and try to cover enough ground, but it’s also a guessing game. The best move for the lost group was staying put on the original planet once they escaped the tunnels. Of course, they had no way of knowing about the possible rescue. Random chance saved Greer and left the others in a dire spot.

Despite the bad result, this situation allows everyone to use their strengths. Greer shows his determination in crawling out of the rocks and nearly catching the others. It’s a tense moment but loses some impact because of the editing choices. The rapid cross-cutting between Greer’s run and dialing the Stargate actually saps the energy. The choice to use more conventional editing seems out of place on SGU. Regardless, Jamil Walker Smith sells Greer’s effort and frustration when he falls short. Eli also excels with navigating the Stargate system, and Scott bravely acts as the human kino when their device fails. Chloe also discovers the maps that lead them out of the tunnels. It’s a great team effort despite the poor results.

We’ve seen few aliens on SGU beyond the Squigglers in “Time” and the intelligent enemies first seen in “Space”. This limited use makes the appearance of the massive dinosaur-like creature a real treat. The planet’s foggy setting is straight out of a horror film, and the reactions from Scott, Eli, and Chloe to the monster are priceless. It’s a silly moment of levity in a mostly serious episode. It also reminds the audience that we’re in uncharted territory. These aren’t well-explored planets with predictable enemies; virtually anything could be out there. The SyFy network originally ruined the creature’s appearance in the promos. I enjoyed the surprise on this viewing and the hilarious reactions from the characters while they fled through the Stargate.

A young Ronald Greer in SGU's "Lost"

It Was the War

Throughout his time on the Destiny, Greer has proven his military skills, bravery and loyalty to his fellow soldiers. On the other hand, he also distrusts authority and keeps his past demons to himself. He was imprisoned in the brig on Icarus Base and hasn’t overcome a rough childhood. We saw a glimpse in “Human” when Greer didn’t take Eli’s comments about being scared as a joke. There’s plenty to unpack from Greer’s past, and we see glimpses in this episode that fill in the gaps. His father (Sean Blakemore) is an imposing figure who abused young Greer after returning from the Gulf War. The orange haze of the flashbacks brings a nightmarish quality to Greer’s memories.

These flashbacks don’t impact the plot directly, but they offer a better perspective on Greer’s past. His father appears as a hallucination and taunts Greer after he fails to catch Scott’s group. The anger and determination in the guy on the Destiny spring from both the abuse and the loss of his dad. The war broke his father, but it could have been worse. The image of the crazy guy in the hospital shouting “it was the war!” reveals another stage of damage. That scene also hints that military chemicals probably led to the brain infection that killed Greer’s father. Despite the horrors of his childhood, Greer still joined the military. It shows an interesting contrast between the destruction of his childhood and the discipline that drew him to the fold.

Alaina Huffman as T.J. in the Stargate Universe episode "Lost"

Making It Work

Tucked inside the main story is a touching moment between T.J. and Young. Her failed attempts to reveal her pregnancy to him nearly veer into sitcom territory, but the final scene makes up for it. Louis Ferreira does a superb job in conveying Young’s compassion for T.J. and realization of her future challenges. His tender move to kiss her hand is pitch-perfect, and the quiet smile from Alaina Huffman totally sells the moment. Young makes mistakes and can be rash, but his response to this stunning news reveals his heart. The point that they’ll make this work as a team reminds us that he’s a good person beneath the serious exterior.

Less effective is the revelation that James still pines for Scott. Julia Benson has made a lot of the thinly written character, and I’d prefer she do more than focus on a former love. It’s a relief to see her lead the team that recovers Greer and make a real impact. Despite my reservations on the love triangle, I did appreciate Benson’s look when James learns that Scott is still lost. The feeling of resigned disappointment arrives for just a moment, but it works because it’s subtle. Having her discuss her feelings openly with T.J. is awkward and doesn’t really click.

Jamil Walker Smith as Greer in SGU's "Lost"

Survivor’s Guilt

A recurring theme in “Lost” is the idea that relying on anyone else is foolish. Even Greer’s friend chose to leave him behind. His dad’s point sticks with him: “In the end, all there is is you.” Greer fights the voice in his head telling him no one cares and must insist that Scott had no alternative. Following Greer’s return, Young’s comment to him about possibly losing the others really stings. He’s the lone survivor and feels terrible about it. When that guilt is combined with the turmoil about his dad, Greer is in a bad place. The final shot of Greer alone in his room with his head bowed lacks the triumphant feeling of a returning warrior. If the others don’t return to the Destiny, this loss will haunt him forever.

There are interesting hints of what’s to come within this episode. In particular, Chloe’s ability to read the alien language signals changes from her capture in “Space”. The inner turmoil for both James and Greer won’t go away. We also close with Eli, Chloe, and Scott failing to reach the Destiny. It’s obvious the show won’t remove three main characters, but it’s still a nice move to extend the separation. Despite all their efforts and successes, they still fell short. SGU frequently shows how even the most talented individuals can fail in this new environment. No vicious enemy or nefarious crew member set up this situation. It’s just the risks they take as explorers in the far reaches of space. There will be plenty more obstacles 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.

May 16, 2016

Reconsidering Stargate Universe: "Human"

Robert Carlyle as Dr. Rush and his wife Gloria in SGU's "Human:

Unlike the previous Stargate series, SGU thrives because of its large ensemble. When Young talks about getting his people home, it doesn’t feel like he’s only referring to four people. We constantly see background characters interacting, which creates a believable atmosphere on the Destiny. There are still a few stars that draw the most attention, however. Young is the leader, but it’s really Eli and Rush that steal the show. David Blue is the audience surrogate as Eli and makes him so endearing. Even so, it’s Rush that stands out as the most complex character on SGU. The remarkable work from Robert Carlyle only improves with each viewing. He’s willing to show the darkest sides of Rush, but it’s never just for shock value. There’s a method to his madness even when his behavior is callous towards his fellow crew members.

What makes Rush work is the humanity beneath the character. Carlyle says so much with his eyes; there’s compassion even when he’s being cruel. This episode paints a clearer picture of the trauma that helped create the bitter Rush we know. The loss of his wife Gloria (Louise Lombard) drives his pursuits on the Destiny. Controlling time and space is more important than getting home or playing nice. The wounds of losing Gloria to cancer are still fresh in Rush’s mind. His brain chose one of the worst times in his life because that experience haunts him. The belief that he might change his past through the Destiny is too strong to ignore.

“Human” uses a fairly common storytelling device to explore Rush’s past. Instead of a straight flashback, we see a variation on those moments that connects to his goals to solve the Destiny’s code. It’s no surprise that Robert C. Cooper directed this episode. His three SGU episodes (“Time”, “Human”, and “Malice”) are all excellent and deviate from the show’s regular entries. They move away from the Destiny, and Cooper takes the opportunity to shoot them differently. The bleached look for “Human” makes sense because it’s an artificial version of reality. Rush sees moments from his past, but he’s really viewing a creation from the Destiny’s systems.

Robert Carlyle as Dr. Nicholas Rush in Stargate Universe's "Human"

A Mysterious Beginning

Jeff Vlaming’s script finds ways to explain Rush’s history without too much exposition. We begin with Rush waking up next to a woman in a nice home. He puts on his glasses and immediately starts working on a formula. What’s immediately noticeable is the brightness of this space. We know it’s not the Destiny without having any explanation. Vlaming worked most recently on Hannibal, and he understands how to craft smart TV. “Human” was his only SGU episode, and he made it count. We’re immediately drawn into this story and know it’s quite a different environment. The shot of Rush’s crazy office before the opening credits reveals a man on the brink of madness and sets up an intriguing mystery of what’s to come.

It doesn’t take long before we start to grasp Rush’s actual location. Symbols appear in his vision while he teaches class at the university, and he cares little about his wife’s cancer. Rush is treating this entire day like it’s nothing special. Even when Daniel Jackson appears to inform Rush about the Stargate program, he could care less. All this has happened before, and it will happen again…at least in Rush’s mind. When we finally see the shot of Rush motionless in the chair on board the Destiny, it’s a striking image even after catching the hints before it.

Michael Shanks as Dr. Daniel Jackson in Stargate Universe's "Human"

Dr. Jackson, I Presume

Some fans disliked the appearances of SG-1 cast members on SGU; they seemed to fit within a different universe. I like the way they become supporting players in this new story. It reminds us that we’re still in the same world even if the tone is different. Richard Dean Anderson and Michael Shanks don’t need to make huge adjustments to feel authentic on this show. The situations are more dramatic, but their acting still feels natural. Shanks appeared as Dr. Jackson in a video clip explaining the Stargate program in the pilot. It was refreshing to have him return for a more significant role in this episode. The choice to have Jackson appear as part of Rush’s memories also works. He isn’t just stopping by a brief cameo to remind us of SG-1.

Jackson serves as a bridge from Rush’s personal life and his time on the Destiny. That moment comes near the end of his wife’s struggles and begins his journey to work on the Stargate program. Jackson also provides clues that help Rush unlock the basis for the Destiny’s master code. It’s fitting that an archaeologist who studies ancient symbols would help Rush on his way. There’s also a nice callback to the death of Jackson’s wife Sha’re in SG-1’s “Forever and a Day”. He also was helpless to save her, and that connects to Rush’s inability to help Gloria. Beyond the thematic connections, it’s just great fun to see Shanks playing Jackson once again.

Brian J. Smith as Matthew Scott in Stargate Universe's "Human"

A Careless Adventure

It’s easy to forget the B plot of this story involving Eli, Chloe, Scott, and Greer’s expedition to a new planet. It’s easy to blame the two civilians for leading them into a dangerous situation. They were getting stir crazy on the Destiny and don’t have the military discipline. In a sense, Scott and Greer (plus Young) were more to blame for getting them into this situation. They also suffered from bad luck when a “sizable spider” appeared at the wrong time. Venturing into the unexplored tunnels was foolish, but it was hard to predict what would happen. Their fate is mostly a strong reminder about the dangers of the Destiny’s time limit. Even when a situation appears safe, all it takes is a cruel twist of fate to create serious danger.

While this story line feels like a distraction from Rush’s efforts, there are some good moments. The transparent attempts by Eli and Chloe to explore the planet are charming, and Young’s knowing smile is a nice touch. On a different note, Greer’s serious reply to Eli’s joke of “you scared?” and the brief flashback again hints at Greer’s traumatic past. The slow reveal of the demons from his past is effective and depicted well by Jamil Walker Smith. With each failed attempt to escape, the sense of impending dread increases. The final shot of the four characters standing in disbelief as the Destiny jumps away is a real surprise.

What Have You Become?

The scenes on the planet are really the first act of the next episode “Lost”, which focuses on the search for them. This week’s centerpiece is Rush, who risks his life to enhance their knowledge of the Destiny. The ultimate revelation of the number 46 is secondary to the emotional journey for Rush. Carlyle does remarkable work in the final moments with his wife. The reasoning for his callous behavior to others is on the nose, but Carlyle sells the turmoil. He’s a broken man without Gloria, and it will take great effort for Rush to overcome that anger.

Another interesting aspect is Young’s tough decision on whether to save Rush. If he doesn’t act and Rush discovers new info, that may save the stranded people on the planet. Despite the new information, there’s little Rush can do in such a limited time. Young had faith in Rush, which shows an evolution in their relationship. It didn’t help to solve the crisis, but the extra time allowed Rush to find a clue that could pay major dividends. SGU’s slower pace allows characters to slowly change and interact differently over time. It takes some patience, but the adjustments feel natural over the full season. “Human” is an engaging detour that provides Rush’s history while still driving the story forward. The clue he found sets up greater discoveries down the road.

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.

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.

March 3, 2016

Reconsidering Stargate Universe: “Divided”

Young and Greer don space suits in SGU's "Divided".

For its first 10 episodes, SGU focused more on building its characters than quickly pushing the story forward. New developments occurred on the Destiny, but they arrived with a slower pace than many fans expected. A dramatic shift happened with “Space”, which introduced new enemies and built on the rift between the civilians and the military. In a certain way, it almost packed too much into a single episode. By the end, Rush was already back on the Destiny after being stranded by Young in “Justice”. Chloe was captured and then quickly saved, though her time on the ship will make quite an impact in the future. The forward movement is even more significant in “Divided”, which concludes the two-part conflict with the aliens.

What makes this story click is the way it combines that battle with an attempted coup led by Wray and Rush. In fact, a majority of this episode only hints at the aliens’ return. Chloe and Rush are having nightmares about their experiences, but we don’t have all the information. He knows there’s a tracking device inside his chest that will bring danger to the Destiny. Robert Carlyle brilliantly underplays the fear that’s driving Rush to pursue the mutiny. Unlike Wray, he doesn’t care about larger issues of civilian versus military authority. Rush needs control so he can prevent Young from sacrificing him to save the others. Young was willing to fire on the alien ship with Rush and Chloe on board in the last conflict. He’d likely do the same again.

“Divided” has similarities to the Battlestar Galactica season four episodes “The Oath” and “Blood on the Scales”, which also included a mutiny attempt. There’s a quite a difference in the shows’ approaches, however. Both sides on SGU aren’t looking to harm the others unless it’s absolutely necessary. If Young wanted an excuse to take out Rush, this would be a perfect one. Instead, he doesn’t punish the civilians after the coup is thwarted. The rift on BSG is much greater and leads to deaths and serious injuries. Zarek and Gaeta are playing for larger stakes and willing to do anything to succeed. They end up facing the firing squad, but the ramifications of their actions remain. It’s a brutal way to show how far the characters have fallen.

Wray’s attempts on SGU feel more naïve and don’t recognize her opponents’ abilities. Young is a trained military commander, so it’s only a matter of time before he regains control. What makes this coup more than a total failure is the way it brings simmering issues out into the open. The scientists and other civilians aren’t used to taking orders from the military about every move. It also puts characters like Chloe on a different side than you might expect. They’re essentially building a new society on the Destiny, and there’s no single approach that will work for everyone. The writers are on Young’s side, but we can understand Wray’s point of view.

Chloe (Elyse Levesque) has a nightmare in SGU's "Divided"

Lingering Effects

The episode begins with Chloe experiencing a lucid nightmare reliving her experiences with the aliens. It’s quite a creepy scene and says plenty about her mental state following the abduction. The Brand New song “You Won’t Know” plays during the dream and syncs well to the powerful start. The highlight is Chloe looking through a door and seeing herself being captured by the aliens. The convincing look of terror on Elyse Levesque’s face totally sells the moment. The others can’t understand what Chloe and Rush went through on that ship. She’ll never be the same and isn’t the innocent who once seemed unfit for the challenges they face.

An intriguing part of this sequence is the robotic way that Chloe strolls through the ship. It foretells the transformation that’s coming, especially in season two. After she wakes, Chloe’s walk to meet Rush in the mess hall closely matches the dream. Her nightmares are more than post-traumatic stress after a horrific experience. Chloe is already different, and her subconscious mind is providing hints about that change. She’s also now linked to Rush, which will impact the mutiny. Her boyfriend may be in the military, but that doesn’t mean Chloe will just follow her friends without question.

Rush also has a new approach, but he seems less confident following his capture. The conflict with Young has made him less brash. Rush also appears hesitant about the mutiny despite his need to gain control and beef up the shields. Part of him recognizes that the coup won’t work, and it’s more of a stalling tactic to avoid the aliens. Rush still goes through with taking over the ship, but he isn’t the same guy who yelled “we’ll never be done!” at Young while spitting out blood. He’s more pragmatic and isn’t sure about the best way to navigate the Destiny following his brawl with Young. He can’t just be the loner who’s working for his own ends.

TJ (Alaina Huffman) encounters a mutiny in the SGU episode "Divided"

A True Ensemble

Another thrilling part of this episode is having so many characters directly involved. It’s difficult to fit the large cast into most episodes, but it feels natural this time given the high stakes. Volker and Brodie are becoming quite a dynamic duo, and their failed efforts to escape TJ in hydroponics add a lighter touch. Alaina Huffman also gets a chance to do more than care for injured patients as TJ. The biting and determined way she clarifies the situation for the unprepared civilians is perfect. They’ve turned the conflict into war, and that’s the soldiers’ turf. There’s also a fun moment for Greer after he knocks out a few guards. He went easy on them.

Eli’s role as a civilian who trusts the military puts him right in the middle of the conflict. He believes in Young despite suspecting that he stranded Rush on purpose. There’s also an interesting moment where Eli believes (perhaps accurately) that Chloe distracted him to help Rush. His romantic feelings aside, their friendship has been one of the stronger bonds on the ship. Eli also has an interesting relationship with Rush, who admires his intelligence. They can work together well, but their perspectives on what’s right are quite different. For example, Eli knows that Young and Greer need more time to get back on the ship before he escalates the shields. He’s forced into stalling to make sure they survive (and can end the coup). He still believes that Young deserves to lead and doesn’t want to grab control.

What rings true about the split is the uncertainty from both sides on how far they’ll go. The military could shut down life support, but the civilians have the food and water. Scott’s comment that “we still have to live with these people” clarifies the stakes in play. He believes that Young should be their leader, but that doesn’t mean they should be ruthless. Hanging over his statement is the knowledge that Chloe is on the other side. Their relationship has been idyllic so far, but cracks are starting to appear as circumstances grow more challenging.

One stunning moment underscores the ambiguity in Young’s feelings towards the mutiny. When he points a gun at Rush, the look in his eyes says that Young is ready to kill him. Shooting Rush would save the Destiny from the attacking aliens but forever divide the group. Louis Ferreira’s intense presence leads us to believe that Young could do anything, and there’s a simmering anger behind his calm demeanor. However, Young’s already facing serious guilt about leaving Rush on the planet. His recognition that even Rush is worth saving shows his evolution. He’s flawed and makes mistakes, but he still seems most equipped to face the enemies to come.

Louis Ferreira as Young in the SGU episode "Divided"

Escaping the Chaos

There’s so much happening with the power struggle that it’s easy to forget the excitement in the final act. In a nice callback to SG-1’s “Lockdown”, Dr. Brightman (Alisen Down) joins the ship through the communication stones to operate on Rush. Her surprise at being part of an alien attack (and Scott’s amazing laid-back explanation) adds much-needed brevity to the tension. There’s also a subtle callback to the venom from “Time” being used as an anesthetic. If performing surgery while being shelled wasn’t enough, losing the connection raises the stakes. This moment gives TJ and Chloe the chance to step up and save the day.

The well-executed climax again reveals the importance of the early slow-burn approach. We understand Eli, Scott, and the other characters, so their actions feel natural when threats emerge. When Young tells Wray that he’s “open to suggestions”, it’s true but doesn’t mean the road ahead is easy. To soldiers like Greer, the coup has proven why they need military control. Wray may feel like she’s won a victory by getting Young to admit he shouldn’t have left Rush. However, she’s also made sure that few will trust her or Rush anytime in the near future.