The midseason finale of STARGATE UNIVERSE was trumpeted as a slam-bang game-changer, and I have to admit to being a little underwhelmed. I’m not sure why, but maybe I was anticipating even more slam with my bang. Clearly, a lot of work went into the production, but storywise, I think there have been a number of more impressive episodes this season. “Resurgence” left our intrepid band of characters even more stranded than ever before: Betrayed by their new alien “allies,” Destiny’s FTL drive and shields were down while under attack by automated alien fighters – all with a transmogrified Chloe on the loose.
At the midpoint of Season 2, I think the-powers-that-be really have a handle on what makes STARGATE UNIVERSE tick. The character conflict is wonderful, the acting is top-notch, the plots generally strong, the production values and special effects are unrivaled. I cannot understand why any science-fiction fan would not love this series.
So there was the Destiny crew, minding their own business, trying to figure out the code from the beginning of time, when a shuttle suddenly appeared, carrying Dr. Caine and the seven other crew members who decided to stay behind on the artificial paradise planet in the last galaxy. Every single one of them – and the previously damaged shuttle – was in perfect condition. Well, except for not being able to remember much of anything about the planet they dubbed (wait for it…) Eden.
But then the prodigal team members began to die. And shards of memories began to return, thanks to Camile’s (Ming-Na) hypnotic influence. It turned out the eight were dying aboard Destiny because they had died on the planet and were imperfectly resurrected by the alien creators of Eden.
STARGATE UNIVERSE ended its first season with “Incursion, Part 2,” which saw Destiny invaded by the Lucian Alliance that resulted in a hostage standoff. This week’s installment added another wrinkle: an outside threat that forced the two factions to try to cooperate to avoid death.
The episode kicked off with a death, however, as Kiva callously killed recurring character Cpl. Rivers. Camile (Ming-Na) wanted to continue negotiations, but Kiva (Rhona Mitra) is a classic “kill somebody when frustrated” baddie straight out of the Darth Vader school of command, so she was not as willing to chat as some STARGATE baddies. The outside threat came in the form of a binary pulsar, which was emitting deadly bursts of gamma radiation every 46 minutes, forcing Destiny to drain power from other parts of the ship to periodically boost the shields. We learned that the unfortunate Alliance soldier who was melted by that weird light last week had been exposed to pulsar radiation through a gap in the shielding. Well, so much for my Franklin-as-ghost-in-the-machine theory. (I’m confident the-powers-that-be will return to this story thread next season.)
Honestly, I dreaded the approach of this week’s episode of STARGATE UNIVERSE because the previews made it look like the silly old “alien makes you face your worst fear” cliché was in full effect. Sooner or later every show gets around to this hoary chestnut, and I figured SGU better just get it out of its system. To make it seem even worse, the fears glimpsed looked to be standard-issue dull; I mean, claustrophobia? Really? Why can’t some alien force somebody to face the terror of…speaking in public? Supposedly most people dread that more than dying!
Happily, the actual episode proved to be much more enjoyable than anticipated. Not stunningly original, but at least well-executed. As usual, the excellent cast stepped up with some terrific performances (special kudos to Elyse Levesque for her conflicted Chloe), and the direction kept the story moving at a good enough pace that the audience did not have time to linger over the overly familiar plot points.
T.J. is able to ignore Caine.
Far and away the best part of this week’s STARGATE UNIVERSE was that it focused on T.J., finally giving Alaina Huffman
a chance to show off her range. (The worst part was Dr. Caine’s alien worship, but the less said about that, the better.) I know with such a big cast that characters have to wait their turn, but I have been impatient for Tamara Johansen to take the spotlight.
Up until know, T.J. has been subsuming her personal desires for the good of the crew stranded aboard Destiny. She has been forlorn at missing her chance ‘gate back to Earth from the Icarus planet and attend medical school in
San Diego Seattle. As a paramedic, she is the only trained health professional on the Ancient ship, and has to perform duties above and beyond the call of duty. But every now and then, we catch a lost look in her eye, like she is dreaming of something that might have been. And then there are those lingering glances at Col. Young; the unspoken details of what passed between them.
“To put it bluntly, we’ve taken the ship.”
TJ, Camile and Chloe
With those civilized yet ominous words, STARGATE UNIVERSE’s Camile Wray basically declared war on the military contingent aboard Destiny, igniting a conflict that has been simmering since the first episode.
Camile (Ming-Na) and the “science/civilian” faction plotted to isolate the Stargate personnel from most of ship so she could seize power by controlling the ship’s functions and the stargate. However, the execution did not go as planned, and Col. Young (Louis Ferreira) was left in control of life-support functions, giving him a bargaining chip for negotiations. Not that he really needed it, since Young swiftly took action to regain command of the ship.
Am I blue?
STARGATE UNIVERSE returned to our screens with a taut, action- and emotion-filled episode that revealed Dr. Rush’s surprising fate — and the torment experienced by Col. Young over marooning the scientist on a wasteland planet.
TJ (Alaina Huffman) tried to get Young (Louis Ferreira) to talk about what happened, but the commanding officer was understandably hesitant to expound on his feelings. Young claimed that Rush (Robert Carlyle) was killed in a rock slide, but the truth is Young beat Rush unconscious and abandoned him in the midseason cliff-hanger. Two points made this scene significant: It demonstrated that Young felt remorse, and showed the Young/TJ relationship ran pretty deep. We know it was not just a sexual fling; the pair clearly care for each other.
Lots of air and sand
Well, nobody came down with a case of the warm fuzzies for the third part of STARGATE UNIVERSE’s initial story, “Air.” Everyone still barely tolerates everyone else – at best. To me, this dynamic worked even better this week, because it was believable that nerves would be frayed as the breathable atmosphere was consumed. There was not much support for pulling together for the greater good, and making their last breaths meaningful or noble. Newly sown grudges were maintained, and the appearance of Col. Telford simply added more fuel to the fire.
While Rush and Scott led an expedition to an unknown planet looking for lime to repair the air scrubbers, the rest of the crew remained aboard Destiny and squabbled about what to do. From Earth, Telford and Dr. Mehta switched bodies with Col. Young and Chloe, so Chloe could to tell her mother about her father’s death and Young could report to Gen. O’Neill. Telford used the switch to inspect Destiny. Or rather, try to. Telford was shocked to find Young’s body badly wounded, yet he insisted on pushing the injured body to extremes while stalking about the ship, tearing the trapped crew new ones. What a jerk! I know Telford feels guilty because he was supposed to lead the team through the gate to the ninth chevron location, but he should have vacated Young’s body and switched with someone else. (On another note, maybe the crew lucked out that the taskmaster didn’t get to make the trip!) Props to Lou Diamond Phillips for playing unsympathetic. Bravo to TJ for sedating Telford! And I have to take one tiny issue with Jack’s assertion that no one is “qualified” to go through the gate; as I recall, O’Neill was selected for the original (suicide) mission because he felt he had nothing left to live for after the death of his son. That’s a sort of qualification (although, technically, not specifically for stargate travel. But I digress…).
STARGATE UNIVERSE is the third television series to spin off from the movie Stargate. It concerns a mismatched group of explorers, soldiers and civilians trapped aboard an Ancient vessel billions of light years away from Earth with no way of returning home. What sets this series apart is its darker tone, younger cast, and much more kinetic feel. The characters barely know each other let alone like each other, and spend a lot of time in the opening story hurling accusations and blame for their dire circumstances. The whole thing feels like a mash-up of STARGATE: ATLANTIS and LOST IN SPACE, with maybe a little STAR TREK: VOYAGER (but let’s hope not much).
Kicking off a new series with edgy characters who bicker endlessly is a risky gambit to attract viewers, but my hat is off to the-powers-that-be for not serving up a simple retread. Diehard STARGATE fans will need to get used to this status quo, but there’s a chance that newcomers to the franchise will be intrigued. The gloomy lighting and quick-cut editing make the series feel more action-packed than it actually is. The premiere opened with a mad scramble through a stargate as the characters fled an alien assault with no idea where they were landing. The group was not designated to venture off-world, and thus are ill-suited to be stranded aboard an alien starship. For instance, there is no doctor, only a flustered medic (Alaina Huffman, who played Black Canary on SMALLVILLE). The expedition’s top scientist and self-proclaimed leader, Dr. Nicholas Rush (Robert Carlyle), has absolutely no people skills whatsoever. (Picture Dr. McKay without the personal magnetism.) Despite his discomfort with others, Rush repeatedly stresses the need for him to be the leader, while seeming dumbfounded as to why his tremendous intellect has not cowed the Ancient starship into returning them home. The frosty Rush is counterbalanced by the appealing civilian consultant Eli Wallace. Normally, I despise the “boy genius” archetype, but David Blue works overtime to make sure his character doesn’t come across as an insufferable Wesley Crusher-type. The mostly-youthful cast feels like a transparent attempt to appeal to a younger demographic, but SG-1’s Richard Dean Anderson, Amanda Tapping and Michael Shanks hitch a ride to ease the transition for veteran viewers. Lieutenant Scott (Brian J. Smith) seems too baby-faced to lead the military contingent, so it’s a good thing that Colonel Young (Louis Ferreira) survived to take over as the no-nonsense father figure. It remains to be seen who will fill the matriarch role, although my money is on Ming Na‘s IOA rep, Camille Wray. Poor Ming had no real role in the premiere, but I’m sure this will be remedied when it makes more sense for her character to step forward. (BTW, want proof SGU is still courting its core audience of SF geeks? Here it is: Chloe (Elyse Levesque), the politician’s hot daughter, actually talks to husky “math boy” Eli!)
Despite being a roomy two hours long, the premiere suffered from the usual pilot-itis: It sketched in a multitude of characters but spent more time establishing their situation and piling up problems. The most immediate of those problems was finding enough breathable air to avoid dying before they can strangle each other. Do audiences want to watch 20 episodes of a bunch of strangers arguing with each other? Realistically, no, so I’m sure the survivors will jell eventually – and the huge crowd of people aboard promise lots of red shirts to make the stakes seem high each week. The Ancients’ ship is called Destiny; let’s hope SGU doesn’t sink under the burden of its own density.