I’m guessing that there’s one aspect of this week’s STARGATE UNIVERSE episode that will be garnering the most opinions, and that is Ming-Na’s portrayal of a quadriplegic person. I am going to avoid the political aspects of the storyline – there are many people much better equipped to address those issues – except to say that I think the episode reflected positively on the differently-abled community.
The story saw Camile Wray (Ming-Na) used the long-range communication stones to swap bodies with hyperdrive expert Amanda Perry (Kathleen Munroe) after one of Destiny’s FTL drive units was destroyed by sabotage. Perry is a quadriplegic person who uses a wheelchair, and in her body Camile insisted on going home, where her partner, Sharon (Reiko Aylesworth) could lovingly care for her. (“You’re here,” Sharon said, patiently. “That’s all that matters.”) I thought Ming-Na was very subtle and sensitive in her portrayal. When I interviewed her about it last fall, she explained how she took the time to research the details (not all quadriplegic people have the exact same abilities) and come up with a portrayal that is true-to-life. And it shows. My impression was that she played the role wonderfully. I had the honor to meet Christopher Reeve several times, and based on that experience, I think Ming-Na captured the essence of someone in that situation. Her breathless speaking style was very similar to the late Mr. Reeve. (I bring him up not to drop names, but because he is the only quadriplegic person I have met in real life.) And there is another aspect to Ming-Na’s work in this episode: the brief snippet in which she portrayed Amanda in Camile’s body, and called Eli “Math Boy.” I thought she captured Amanda’s almost childlike thrill and bubbliness perfectly – a contrast her otherwise restrained work in the rest of the episode.
The other side of the equation was Munroe playing Amanda as using her limbs unassisted for the first time since she was child. When she bit into the bitter fruit, she relished the experience: “This is the first food I’ve been able to feed myself since I was 9,” she sighed. Munroe held Amanda’s arms as if she was truly out of practice using them – she walked with her shoulders slightly hunched and gathered her hands up in front of her chest, her fingers gnarled into fists. (A nice counterpoint to Ming-Na freezing everything except her head.)
From a storyline point of view, fans discovered that Amanda and Dr. Rush were colleagues at Stargate Command before he went to Icarus base – and, more importantly, that she is still carrying a torch for him. “It’s like he didn’t see the chair,” she rhapsodized, even though she didn’t care for his nickname for her, “Little Miss Brilliant.” She called him “Nick,” and he knew her as “Mandy.” (BTW, when did Camile start calling him “Nicholas”?) Mandy wanted to act on her feelings for Rush, but the scars of his wife’s passing were just recently torn open, so for him it was like Gloria had just died, and he could not be with Mandy. “This is also a “once in a lifetime chance for me,” she gently protested. It was clear to me from the context of the scene that she meant it was a rare chance for her to use “her” body unassisted. When he turned her down, she pulled into a bear hug and clutched him desperately with Camile’s arms.
And, we finally saw Dr. Franklin (Mark Burgess) again! He had been out of commission since trying to use the Repository of Ancient Knowledge in the episode “Justice.” Franklin was rendered practically catatonic, so there was a sense of resonance with Camile and Amanda in that Franklin was also locked inside his body. It was sweet the way Lt. James (Julia Benson) bonded with him. Of course it all seemed a little convenient that when somebody was needed to try to reactivate the chair, Franklin just happened to have been jolted out of bed the blueberry alien attack. He realized what was going on and asked to be put back in the chair. He was able to interface with Destiny and bypass the damaged systems to jump Destiny to FTL just in time to avoid the aliens once again (BTW, SGU executive producer/writer Joseph Mallozzi calls those creatures “blueberry aliens” in his blog, so I figure it’s safe for me to call them that as well.) So what happened to Franklin afterward? Where did he go?
Speaking of going (or rather, arriving), Scott, Chloe and Eli returned, but how? They had assumed that someone on Destiny figured something out, but everyone on the ship was just as stunned to see them return as the trio were to be back! There’s something about that that leaves a bad taste in the mouth. But evidently not as bad as the product of Mr. Brody’s still! (When did SGU become M*A*S*H?) Still, it’s a cute idea.
I felt like this week’s episode was another positive portrayal of someone who uses a wheelchair — akin to the well-regarded GLEE episode “Wheels.” This is a terrific trend this season that mainstream TV needs to see more of. So let’s echo Mandy’s sentiment when she told Nick, “I do hope you need my help again.” He smiled at her and warned, “I’m not above arranging that.” We know, Dr. Rush. And it might even be worth pulling a stunt to see Amanda again…