There’s just no getting around the fact that this week’s STARGATE UNIVERSE suffered in comparison to the last two weeks’ worth of stories. “Blockade” felt like a run-of-the-mill, average tale that would be forgotten in a regular season, but withers under the scrutiny of being one of the precious final two episodes.
A large part of the problem with this story can be laid to the cancellation. If there were a season three, then the concept of Destiny refueling at different types of stars would carry much more weight; now it’s just trivia from a dead series. However, thanks to strong characterization, the show squeezed some mileage out of the possibility that the beloved Park might be boiled alive and/or blown out into space. However, I have had just about enough of the drones; they’re rapidly making the Lucian Alliance look exciting.
I can’t help feeling like this elegiac two-parter should have been recast as the STARGATE UNIVERSE series finale. While not ideal, this story would have been a satisfactory makeshift end to the series. There was a certain amount of closure and hope in tale of an entire civilization founded by the Destiny crew – at least one version of Destiny fulfilled a certain type of destiny.
In part one, Destiny dropped out of FTL and right into a pack of drones. After narrowly escaping, Destiny visits a planet that was populated by the descendants of the “other” Destiny – the one that resulted from the time-twisting events chronicled in “Twin Destinies.” The alternate versions of the Destiny crew became the Ancestors, the founders of a new society, when they settled on a planet they dubbed Novus Mundus (New World) more than 2,000 years ago. When Destiny was inside the star in “Twin Destinies,” it tried to dial Earth, but the ship was thrown back in time by a solar flare, and the wormhole connected with a local stargate and deposited the entire crew on an uninhabited planet. Well, not everyone: Rush (Robert Carlyle) had stayed aboard Destiny, and while the refugees hoped he would return for them, he never did. About 20 centuries later, a black hole entered the Novus system and tidal forces stirred up deadly seismic activity. Expeditions ‘gated out, looking for a new place to settle, and a small group ended up the planet on which the “current” Destiny crew found them. The stargate stopped working years ago, so the settlers wanted Destiny to return them to Novus. Also? The drones found the planet and set about destroying it, necessitating an evacuation.
This was one of those timey-wimey episodes that takes a little concentration to follow, but rewards the careful viewer. The story and its timeline absolutely do hold up, and the story works without relying on technobabble to justify/dismiss what happens. It’s just another example of how entertaining “hard” science fiction can be when leavened with a bit of time travel and vivid characters.
The story saw Eli (David Blue) figure out a new way to dial Earth while Destiny refuels inside a star. The decision was made to give his plan a try, but Rush (Robert Carlyle) was adamantly against it, because while the math worked, conditions in the heart of a star are inherently unstable, and there were too many ways it could have gone down twisted. Young (Louis Ferreira) decided to give it a try, before they can dial out, they are interrupted by the arrival of their shuttle – carrying Dr. Rush. The Rush in the shuttle explained that he had been bounced back some 12 hours in time after Destiny’s attempt to dial home went disastrously wrong. In fact, the attempt resulted in the deaths of almost everyone except himself, and the loss of Destiny. Young had to decide whether to go through with the potentially risky procedure (armed with foreknowledge of what happened/will happen). The discovery of the derelict time-jumped Destiny put the kibosh on attempting to dial Earth.
“Out here, on the edge of the universe, who you are and what you believe is everything.”
– Robert Caine
STARGATE UNIVERSE set itself quite a task: resolve not just one cliff-hanger, but several, featuring different types of tension. I am happy to report that SGU pulled off this stunt in stellar fashion.
When last we saw our friends, Destiny had been boarded by the Lucian Alliance, a loose conglomeration of criminals and terrorists looking to plunder the secrets of the Ancients hidden aboard the ancient ship. The scientists had been separated from the Stargate personnel, who just about to be executed; bullets were flying, leaving pregnant T.J. (Alaina Huffman) bleeding out; Eli (David Blue) and the wounded and delirious Chloe (Elyse Levesque) were isolated at the bow of the ship; and Scott (Brian J. Smith) and Greer (Jamil Walker Smith) were outside the ship, desperately trying to outrun a deadly pulsar radiation burst.
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.)
With each successive episode of STARGATE UNIVERSE, I like the abrasive characters more and more.
This week’s episode gave us a closer look at perhaps the most abrasive, Dr. Nicholas Rush, who appears to be a literal mad scientist. Robert Carlyle is best known on U.S. shores for starring in The Full Monty, but I last saw him in the horror sequel 28 Weeks Later, in which he also played a character that was difficult to like. But nothing like Dr. Rush. While the rest of the crew stranded on Destiny tried to joke about their terrible predicament – witness the cracks about Eli’s and Scott’s personal hygiene – Rush was rushing about, snapping at people. He even threw Riley up against a wall for daring to “interrupt” his work. Col. Young is willing to try to work with Rush, but Rush acts like every word he is forced to share with someone else costs him in blood or life-force. Rush recognized the cascading power failures are a dire threat, but he could not be bothered to explain it to the others, who thought the blackouts were just annoying. Rush thinks that if no one else can understand the scope of a problem, they should at least accept his assessment without question. After all, if the great Dr. Nicholas Rush thinks it’s important, then it is important. Volker, the astrophysicist, tried to help, but Rush shouted him down and belittled him like a child. I think the key to Rush was encapsulated in his rant to Young, in which he charged: “It was your reckless, pointless attempt to dial Earth that robbed me of the time I needed to solve this problem!” There it is: Rush is personally offended by all the others acting as if they might save the day. This should be his moment. After all, as he also pointed out, “I’m the only qualified person!” But then he passed out due to the combination of stress and caffeine/nicotine withdrawal, so… so much for that super brain. What a guy!
For me, it’s a toss-up between Rush and MIT-dropout Eli (more on him later) for favorite-character honors.
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.