The second episode of STARGATE UNIVERSE’s second season was a marked improvement over the season premiere – even though the opening installment was quite good on its own terms. SGU is building on strength.

Two startling developments dominated this episode: Dr. Rush found Destiny’s bridge (but refrained from sharing that news with anyone else), and Col. Young smothered a fatally injured Hunter Riley to death.

Sergeant Riley’s (Haig Sutherland) death scene was a traumatic plot twist, and I was surprised by how harrowing the depiction actually was. Riley was trapped under immovable debris after the shuttle crashed on yet another forbidding planet, and he was slowly bleeding to death. Ironic, considering how many times Riley had been hurt in the past, only to survive somehow.

Compassionate T.J. (Alaina Huffman) had been sitting with Riley, holding his hand while his life drained away, but he wanted to spare her anymore pain. Interestingly, T.J. told him about visiting the Eden planet – whether it was a dream, a vision or whatever. “They have my baby, and she’s safe there,” TJ sighed. When Riley questioned if she was dreaming, she shrugged: “It felt real.” Then she admitted, “I want it to be possible. That little bit of hope. It makes things bearable.”

But Riley could no longer bear his situation. He begged his commanding officer to end his suffering with a bleated “Please.” Young (Louis Ferreira) gave Riley a moment to compose himself, then clamped his hands over Riley’s nose and mouth, and held them there. The dying man struggled weakly, eyes fixated on Young’s contorted face. When Riley stopped moving, Young let out a sudden, painful gasp, and we realized that Young had been holding his own breath the whole time. Whether he did it in sympathy with Riley or it was unconscious, that detail told us that Young did not undertake this task casually. Once again, doing what had to be done took a toll on him. But that’s the burden of command. Just before doing the deed, Young asked Riley if there was any message he could relay to his family. “Nothing really seems like enough,” Riley replied. Damn straight, dude. What could you say in that situation? What neat platitude could have summed up your life?

One thing I like about Rush (Robert Carlyle) is that he never has platitudes handy; he never says anything just to be nice. Forget not suffering fools gladly; he flat-out will not suffer fools, period. And he doesn’t trust them either. That lack of trust was at the core of his decision to keep the location of the bridge a secret. It seems that his program worked: It unlocked the master code and allowed him (and him alone) full access to Destiny’s systems. Well, him and his personal demons hallucination of his dead wife, Gloria (Louise Lombard). He bantered argued with her about whether to get help from the others; he may have unlocked access, but he still can’t run the whole ship by himself. Rush insisted that the ship is called “Destiny” for a reason, and he was committed to uncovering it. At one point, the vision of Gloria was replaced by a manifestation of Dr. Franklin (Mark Burgess; last seen in “Sabotage”), who pointed out that Rush made a mistake in not noticing volcanic activity on the planet they were approaching. Rush reasoned that the ship might have been causing Gloria and Franklin to appear in order to help him work through problems. When Gloria returned, Rush told her he refused to turn over Destiny’s “keys” to Young because the colonel is unstable and not fit to lead the mission. Oh, did he mention that Young tried to kill him? (No, actually, Rush didn’t mention it, but he hardly had to tell Gloria.) Still how long can this arrangement last? I predict Rush reveals the location of the bridge in the very next episode.

A bonus bit of information that I did not expect came from a nice little scene between Ginn (Julie McNiven) and Wray (Ming-Na), when Ginn explained why the Lucian Alliance was interested in Destiny. Alliance members had heard a legend that the nine-glyph address led to divine revelation. They thought they would learn the secrets of the gods, and perhaps even gain power over time and space. Ginn was also concerned about the Lucian Alliance prisoners being put off the ship on the next viable planet (Ironically, Riley had championed humanitarian treatment of the Alliance captives, noting, “How we treat prisoners of war says everything about us as a society.”) and insisted that several members of the Alliance could be useful to the Destiny crew. It turned out that Wray and Col. Telford (Lou Diamond Phillips) concurred, and in consultation with the IOA, they developed a list of Alliance members to be kept onboard. We didn’t get to see Telford’s list, but based on the upcoming cast list, the names include: Ginn, Varro (Mike Dopud) and Simeon (Robert Knepper).

The episode ended with an amazingly bald-faced cliff-hanger: Destiny dropped out of FTL in front of an approaching “object.” In fact, they were headed right for it.

To be continued…

Seriously. That was the end of the episode. What was the mysterious object? We have to wait until next week to find out. Wait – no, you don’t! The previews for next week immediately revealed, “It’s a ship.”

Boo, previews…

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