Varro and Greer
STARGATE UNIVERSE went old school with an action-packed monster mash of a sort that probably delighted sourpuss fans of the previous STARGATE franchises with the kind of space adventure that a lot of folks claim they wish SGU did more often, rather than tell more realistic stories about deeply flawed people. But this episode still packed that trademark SGU darkness, so a bunch of people died, and those who survived knew they were in a fight (yet again).
The main story involved a visit to a planet where Sgt. Greer (Jamil Walker Smith) and Scott (Brian J. Smith) got the idea to hunt some local animals for meat. Which was quite a coincidence, because one of the planet’s native predators got the idea to hunt some humans for meat. The unseen creature attacked with savage ferocity, and dragged T.J. (Alaina Huffman) and Cpl. Reynolds (Greyston Holt) back to its cave to eat later. Reynolds suffered a broken leg, so of course Johansen stayed to protect him. This episode was originally planned to include more of T.J.’s back-story, but all the flashbacks were eliminated for time because the episode ran long, so T.J.’s characterization suffered this week. She came across as short-tempered and a little bitchy without much explanation. She is usually much more compassionate, so I wonder what was in the flashback story… Still, she was as resourceful and adaptable as ever, managing to repair Reynolds’ broken walkie and summon help.
This episode of STARGATE UNIVERSE took that clichéd “character gets sick” plot and made something special out of it by showcasing the supporting characters that are so important to this series. This was a great episode for Volker, giving him his most significant story and most airtime ever, while affording Greer another chance to show why he’s such a great character. Oh, and Ginn and Dr. Perry came back from the dead. It happens.
Dr. Volker (Patrick Gilmore) was feeling a bit under the weather. Good thing T.J. (Alaina Huffman) has just gained access to Destiny’s diagnostic equipment, because tests reveal he is suffering from advanced kidney disease, and his only hope is a transplant. Meanwhile, Chloe (Elyse Levesque) fell asleep while awaiting a connection with the communication stones, enabling the consciousness of the late Ginn to enter her body. Since Ginn (Julie McNiven) was killed while swapping bodies with Dr. Amanda Perry (Kathleen Munroe), impressions of both of their minds were left in the ether, still linked to the stones. The personas were struggling for control of Chloe’s body. The consciousness-swapping was particularly hard on Eli (David Blue) and Rush (Robert Carlyle), who were at first elated to see the objects of their affections return, only to realize that they faced losing them all over again.
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.
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.
Greer\’s long, dark night of the soul
Okay, I do not believe anybody saw the end of this episode of STARGATE UNIVERSE coming – I mean, Scott, Eli and Chloe left behind again? And this time, Destiny is leaving whichever galaxy it was in…
This was a great episode for Sgt. Greer (Jamil Walker Smith), as viewers really got a peek inside his head. It was also a significant episode for T.J., as she finally told Col. Young that he is the father of her baby.
Setting the stage, Riley helpfully explained via kino that Destiny’s stargate is much more primitive than the gates used in the Milky Way (or Pegasus), which is why each time Destiny drops out of FTL, it is only within range of a limited number of other stargates. Unlike the gates viewers are familiar with, the Destiny’s does not have the capability to dial any desired gate in the galaxy. That helped set the stage for the race to locate Lt. Scott, Sgt. Greer, Eli and Chloe before Destiny moved out of range. But then it was determined that the ship was leaving the galaxy – meaning no more gates at all for possibly a very long time.
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.