The Best and Worst of Stargate Universe: Season 1

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For previous installments of Stargate SG-1:

For previous installments of Stargate Atlantis:

For the previous installment of Stargate Universe:

 

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For the first time in Stargate history, I actually thought a main character was pretty damn hot, with Lieutenant Colonel Matthew Scott, played by Brian J. Smith (The War Boys).

During my dedication I have had to the Stargate franchise, I never really looked at any of the main cast as someone of particular attraction because I valued the action sequences, and extensive story lines throughout multiple seasons of the shows.

 

The Best:

Air, Darkness, Light, Time, Life, Space, Divided, Human, Sabotage, Subversion, and Incursion

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Briefly:

  • AirDarkness, and Light, when watched together, fully encompasses the premise of the series. You really won’t begin to understand the show until the first five episodes are complete. Unlike the previous series, SG-1 and Atlantis, which utilized themes of “false gods” and technological explanations, Universe includes religion in a more positive view, which can especially be seen in the episode, Faith;
  • Time is one of the better episodes of the series featuring a pretty neat time travel story;
  • Life sees the crew discover an interface chair, and Ancient long-range communication device, which allows Lt. Matthew Scott and Camille Wray to visit loved ones;
  • Space and Divided features Col. Everett Young after leaving Dr. Rush on a gravel pit planet, and while using the Ancient long-range communication device, encountering the Nakai in the process and alerting them to Destiny;
  • Human sees much of Dr. Rush’s fleshed out, as well as the crew finding a planet with signs of past civilization;
  • Sabotage sees one of the drives of Destiny explode, so Dr. Rush uses the communication device to call Dr. Amanda Perry;
  • In Subversion, Dr. Rush suspects that Col. Telford is spying for the Lucian Alliance, and investigates with the help of Lt. Gen. Jack O’Neill and Dr. Daniel Jackson; and,
  • Incursion sees Commander Kiva of the Lucian Alliance, and her faction, board the Destiny.

According to the IGN review of Air:

If you were worried that this was going to be just another rehashed Stargate story, think again. Stargate Universe opens with a new look and feel for the 15-year-old franchise.

The series opens with a simple shot that showcases a ship gliding in space. Then we’re led to a chaotic evacuation scene with frantic, injured people flying out of a stargate. It’s a fast, high-energy start that’s entertaining and a little bit puzzling. The first part of the pilot goes back and forth in time, between the events that brought the cast together, and the desperate situation we first find them in. Gradually, we learn the circumstances of their hurried evacuation. It’s a type of non-linear storytelling that we’ve seen before, but it works particularly well here.

A few members of the old Stargate cast make some appearances.Jack O’Neill (Richard Dean Anderson) shows up to make an offer to Eli Wallace, a somewhat stereotypical computer whiz-kid who solves a Stargate puzzle hidden in a videogame (a la The Last Starfighter). Eli ends up becoming the newest member of a specialized Stargate research team. His first task is to bone up on Stargate tech via a set of instructional videos hosted by Dr. Daniel Jackson (with Michael Shanks reprising his old role). Colonel Samantha Carter (Amanda Tapping) also makes a brief appearance.

We learn that young Eli was recruited to a team that is tasked with deciphering the mystery of the stargate’s ninth chevron. Normal stargate addresses only utilize seven of the nine available chevrons, and the eighth chevron adds an extra distance calculation which allows gates to connect when they’re in different galaxies. But the ninth chevron hasn’t been used in any Stargate story, until now.

When the puzzle is solved, the Stargate at the research base opens a new portal to an unknown location that the research team is forced to dive into. It turns out that their destination is a ship built by the Ancients. The ship is thousands of years old, and it’s understandably falling apart. But it is pre-programmed to chart a path across the universe, and the poor humans aboard have no way to change its course, and no way to get back home.

We learn that young Eli was recruited to a team that is tasked with deciphering the mystery of the stargate’s ninth chevron. Normal stargate addresses only utilize seven of the nine available chevrons, and the eighth chevron adds an extra distance calculation which allows gates to connect when they’re in different galaxies. But the ninth chevron hasn’t been used in any Stargate story, until now.

When the puzzle is solved, the Stargate at the research base opens a new portal to an unknown location that the research team is forced to dive into. It turns out that their destination is a ship built by the Ancients. The ship is thousands of years old, and it’s understandably falling apart. But it is pre-programmed to chart a path across the universe, and the poor humans aboard have no way to change its course, and no way to get back home.

Robert Carlyle does an excellent job portraying Dr. Nicholas Rush, a frustrated scientist trying to solve the perplexing puzzle behind the ancient stargate. Rush is really one of the main driving forces in this pilot. He’s the one with the knowledge needed to figure out the ship’s ancient language and technology, and he ends up taking a leadership role. But he’s also kind of a shady fellow, who gives off sort of a Gaius Baltar vibe. His true motivations are questioned throughout the entire episode, and by the end we’re left wondering what’s really going on in that brilliant head of his.

Rush, like many of the characters in the story, has a troubled past that isn’t quite revealed in the premiere. We slowly learn that these stranded military and civilian folks have internal issues, but we don’t get much detail. The characters, like the ship they’re stuck on, are largely a mystery right now.

Past interviews with the cast have indicated that this will be the darkest Stargate TV series so far, and the premiere certainly backs that up. This is a survivalist tale, not so much a story of wonder and exploration (although by the end of the 2-hour premiere, we see the team about to set out to explore a new planet). This premiere is gritty, tense, and dark…literally. The shadowy environs of the ancient, malfunctioning, poorly lit ship make for a scary and mildly depressing setting. Eli provides some comedy relief every now and then, but overall this show is filled with heavy drama; there’s lots of interpersonal conflict, and a bit of death, too.

The Stargate Universe premiere is a solid start to this new series. The special effects are top notch, and so is the set design and direction. There’s not much to complain about, besides a few awkwardly delivered lines here and there. This is a brand new direction for the Stargate franchise, not a spin-off like Stargate Atlantis. Though the premise is familiar and some of the faces are too, this story has its own unique tone, and it adds some intriguing new material to the Stargate lore.

According to the IGN review of Darkness:

The producers of Stargate Universe promised a “darker” story than previous installments in the Stargate franchise, and this episode takes that a bit too literally as the starship Destiny runs out of power and the lights go out. This could have possibly been a chance to inject a little horror-style storytelling into the series, but instead we get nothing more than constant bickering mixed with some very depressed characters and slow pacing.

The premise of this episode is pretty straightforward: the sudden influx of activity on Destiny has drained the power reserves and the ancient ship is on the verge of completely shutting down. Enter Dr. Rush, who is tasked with fixing this problem and is pretty pissed about it. There’s a lot of conflict between Dr. Rush and just about everyone else on the ship. He’s definitely on edge, and his temper is making a bad situation worse.

Colonel Young is trying to keep everyone in line, with varying degrees of success. Meanwhile, Eli is leading a video diary exercise that goes through various people on the ship. The passengers are on the verge of revolt as concerns about dying on the ship grow, and those fears are reflected in these little confessionals, but this is also a clever plot device that lets us learn a bit about the background characters in the cast who, up to this point, have been fairly anonymous. It’s really one of the more notable aspects of this episode.

Another big part of this story is Robert Carlyle, as he once again carries the bulk of the story on his shoulders. Dr. Rush goes all psycho douchebag angry in this one, and there a couple flashbacks from Carlyle’s old role as the hyper-violent, perpetually angry Begbie in Trainspotting. As Volker says about Rush, “this isn’t the old crazy; this a whole new crazy.” Volker himself gets some new prominence as a funny guy in the cast. He even rivals Eli in the comedy category, but he loses out in the usefulness department.

By the end of the episode, Dr. Rush is rather timid. It turns out a lot of his issue is simply caffeine withdrawal. It seems poor Nicky was just missing his daily load of coffee. That’s perfectly logical, but it doesn’t quite make for compelling character development. We get some more character exposition when Colonel Young takes a moment to settle some personal business, presumably because he thinks he might be dead soon. Still, it seems like this was precious time that could have been better spent leading the efforts to get the ship back on track, not settling old personal issues, and it is yet another use of those darned communication stones, which are getting really tired, really fast. A big part of the problem is that the stones aren’t being used for anything useful; they’re just a method for communicating to loved ones and giving Colonel Telford a chance to complain about Colonel Young’s handling of the situation (which seems to be all he’s good for).

The final images of the episode are done pretty well, with Destiny doing a gravity slingshot through the atmosphere of a gas giant. The CG work is certainly pretty, and the sets and props have been consistently good throughout the series so far, but what we’re lacking here are exciting events. We’re three episodes into Stargate Universe and it’s already starting to feel like a crisis of the week show that oftentimes lacks any real sense of urgency, and that doesn’t seem like it’s going to change next week, as the cast will apparently have to find some way to avoid heading directly into a star…at a snail’s pace, probably. There’s still a lot of potential for this show to break out and be something special, but it’s just not there yet.

According to the IGN review of Light:

This was a beautiful episode, both literally and figuratively. The scenes are shot well, and the plot really speaks to all the things we love in good stories: love, self-sacrifice, coping with fear, and all the shades of life between hope and hopelessness. It’s still a slowly-paced episode, as it seems most Stargate Universe episodes will be, but it used its time wisely and revealed much about the cast of characters.

When we left Stargate Universe last week, the Destiny was headed straight for a star, seemingly ensuring a horrible end for the ship and everyone on it. So the unfortunate crew have a lottery to figure out who gets to escape certain death. This leads to a number of desperate actions, including the somewhat surprising tryst between Chloe and Lt. Scott. It works on a couple different emotional levels because poor Eli gets his feelings hurt (math nerds never get the girl, Eli), but it’s also surprising because we really didn’t get that many earlier indications that they were interested in each other besides a fairly tepid quiet moment at the end of “Air: Part 3.” It felt a bit too soon for these two to hop into bed with each other, but hey, impending death can make people do odd things. Hopefully we’ll get more development of that relationship later.

Ming-Na finally gets a chance to show acting acumen in a couple of powerful scenes as Camille Ray. Her character still needs to be fleshed out a bit more, but there seems like there’s potential here. We also learn more about our good friend Dr. Rush, who takes a seemingly honorable stance by taking his name out of the lottery, but in the same scene suggests that Colonel Young fix the lottery (shady, to say the least). It’s another look at the often contradictory sides of this increasingly interesting character, and it’s one of the many small character development moments here. The video diaries continue, starting with Greer’s “blaze of glory” comments (cue Bon Jovi). Later, the crew gets a chance to get a view of the outside of the ship for the first time, and we learn that Greer was in the brig for apparently striking Colonel Telford, Colonel Young’s single tear shed in his quarters, and there’s even a somber birthday on the shuttle. These are all tiny details that slowly make these characters folks we can relate to and care about.

I’m sure we all knew that everybody wasn’t going to die here, but the question driving this episode was how exactly they’d get out of this mess. It turns out Destiny was just saving power so it could recharge on the nearest star. Part of the fun in this show is how Destiny’s “motives” are mostly a mystery, and in this one the ship pretty much outsmarts everybody by flying into the star purposely to recharge. It’s an obvious solution, since even Earth’s comparatively primitive satellites can use solar power (though Destiny’s system seems more complicated, perhaps an elaborate hydrogen scoop or something), but it’s still a cool way out of the problem.

The technical aspects of the show continue to be well done. The episode is well shot, with the light of the approaching star filtering in the windows of Destiny, contrasting with the dark halls of the ship, which are darker than usual due to the lack of power. If you’re not watching this show in HD, you’re missing out on some of the eye candy that adds a lot of mood to the show, and the cinematography in this one was some of the best stuff SyFy has put out this year.

There’s been a lot of debate about the pacing of this series, and the pace was pretty slow in this story up until the end where the daring recovery of the shuttle reunites everyone. But there is at least more going on in this episode than the previous one. If this series can find a way to balance its somewhat drawn out storytelling style with some interesting action, it can become one of the best shows on TV.

According to the IGN review of Time:

This story reminded me of a number of single-player videogame missions I’ve played: if you don’t like the result, you can just hit the reset button and start over. A time warping side effect of the stargates gives the crew of the Destiny a few chances to mess up in grand fashion, and it’s quite entertaining to watch.

The episode opens with a large away team from Destiny exploring a jungle planet. Things start out fairly quiet, with the cast revealing little character traits through casual conversation, but the situation quickly turns deadly serious when people start getting sick. With no way to know what’s causing the illness, or how contagious it is, the team is stuck. Things get really crazy when some aliens attack and kill everybody. It turns out to be images recorded on a kino, and Eli’s reaction to the video pretty much mirrored mine. WTF?

So begins this non-linear tale that takes us to edge of oblivion, to hope, and back again. Scenes from weird alternate futures tell a dire tale through the “eyes” of the kinos, which are quickly becoming the show’s new favorite plot device, outside of the communication stones. But the “you’ll die if you come here” plot wasn’t enough, they added a “you’ll die if you don’t come here” element with the sickness manifesting itself on the Destiny due to microorganisms in the water supply.

This episode had everything a fan of great sci-fi TV could ask for. It had a successful mix of humor, with Eli providing some comedy relief for what is a pretty dark story, and we finally learn that HIV is the illness Eli’s mother suffers from. But Eli, along with Rush, also provides some existential scenes on death. It’s simple stuff, but still powerful, and the same is true of the touching scene at the end with Eli and Chloe (for a second there I really thought they were going to kill her off). This story also has action, suspense, character development, and even the technical aspects were well done. The “combat” scenes against the alien creatures are great. Switching to a night vision effect for a while was a great way to add some additional tension to the situation.

There’s also a funny cameo of a modern song played by Greer (it’s “List of Demands/Reparations” by Saul Williams for those who were wondering). It’s an intense, angry song, for an intense, angry man, and a nice little touch.

The end is a semi-cliffhanger, but we’re pretty much left to assume that Lt. Scott’s final message is received, otherwise the series would pretty much be over. It’s a fun way to end this kind of story.

I was really impressed with the development Eli got in this story, but Rush also has some good presence too. He’s been a little bit in the background in the past couple of episodes, but here he reveals yet another aspect of his character, with his irreverent “Well, for a moment there I thought we were in trouble” statements, and his quest to find immortality, presumably spurred on by the loss of his wife. This character isn’t as much of a driving force as he was in earlier episodes, but he’s still a crucial part of the show’s successful stories.

And this makes two consecutive stories from this stories that have been really good. Even though this story used the tired time travel meme that has been done to death in sci-fi, it brought enough new perspective to make the concept feel fresh and compelling. The time travel really wasn’t the star of this story, as some previous series have done. Instead, the time bending was just a means to an end, an end that showed what our characters are really made of.

According to the IGN review of Life:

You can’t help but sorry for all the poor, hapless souls on Destiny. They’re in a crappy situation already, but the lives they left a million light years away still haunt them too. This episode is full of deep character drama, and it’s all done well, but it seems like the writers forgot to put much else in the story.

In case any of you were thinking last week’s episode was a cliffhanger to be resolved in this week’s episode, check out the special webisode on the matter at the Stargate Universe webisode site. The webisodes in general provide some interesting and informative extensions to the main storyline, so if you just can’t get enough Stargate Universe, these little clips should keep you entertained for a while.

So, we pick up as we normally do, as if the events of last week’s story never even happened. The crew of the Destiny is working out, complete with exercise clothing (and where in the hell did they get matching tees, shorts, and tennis shoes?).

Life on Destiny seems to be approaching some level of normality, despite the very abnormal circumstances. Spencer is going crazy, as he has been for most of the series. Besides the workout sessions there are psych evaluations going on too. They’re mostly not that interesting, but Greer’s session is an intriguing look into this apparently very complex character, and Jamil Walker Smith continues to nail every aspect of his performance.

There’s a lot going on in this episode. The team discovers a neural interface device that might help get more info on how to work the ship. While this chair doesn’t get used here, it does give us an opportunity for three things: more power struggles between Young and Rush, Greer’s apparent willingness to risk his life to test the thing out, and Rush’s refusal to do the same. I would have much preferred the main story to be built around this plot element, but instead, those damned communication stones get used again, for yet more conjugal visits. While these little situations are great for creating conflict and keeping the team on Earth busy, they’ve yet to really delve into the moral and psychological circumstances of all this bumping and grinding in other people’s bodies. I mean, if you think about it, it might even be technically considered rape in some cases (even though I assume the volunteers know what could happen).

But, if you’re into lesbian love scenes, then all this communication stone madness was worth it. Camille Ray’s relationship with another woman is a different kind of perspective on a character we still don’t know much about. Meanwhile, Lt. Scott learns that he’s a baby daddy. It’s all thorough character development. It’s all believable emotion, it’s all well-written and…

It’s all boring.

Okay, maybe not all of it is boring enough to put you to sleep faster than a bottle of NyQuil. The tense triangle of Colonel Telford, Colonel Young, and his ex-wife is somewhat entertaining, but it screams soap opera material. My main complaint with this show has been its inability to find a consistent, successful mix between its slow, deliberate character development and the impressive sci-fi style action the series has shown it’s capable of producing. The past couple episodes found that magical formula. This one…not so much.

The song that bookends the episode, “The Worst Day Since Yesterday” by Flogging Molly, fits the story perfectly from a lyrical standpoint, but the music seems a little odd for this kind of show. Still, it’s a nice way to start and end an episode that sucked for the characters.

According to the IGN review of Space:

Stargate Universe returns with a few new elements to help make the show appealing to sci-fi junkies and long-time Stargate franchise fans. Although an old plot device, those communication stones, make an immediate return to the show, they’re thankfully used for something awesome: revealing aliens! They’re not happy aliens either, in fact they’re quite combative, which makes for some great drama here. The CG for the aliens is also excellent, making them feel like true characters in this story.

Still, the slowness that marked the first half of the season continues for most of this episode. But the writing is good, with Wray and Young having a suitably icy bit of verbal sparring at every opportunity. Wray’s organization of a civilian mutiny is a little bit surprising since she’s usually one to maneuver more subtly, but I guess Rush’s suspicious loss made her decide to up the ante.

Things start to get tense when the alien ship Young accidentally visited shows up and demands that the Destiny crew surrender. This leads to the show’s first space battle. Finally, some action! There’s some nicely done fighter-style skirmishes with Scott and Greer, and it heats up even more when the Destiny gets boarded and Chloe gets kidnapped.

Eli predictably gets put in charge of ship operations in Rush’s place, and he’s not happy about it at all once the shooting starts. He even gets snippy with Young in the heat of battle, and I cheered that the usually timid Eli showed some guts there. He also gets to man the Destiny’s impressive but seldom used guns, and the battle adds a lot of suspense and drama to this episode.

But the action is somewhat ruined by a classic “stupid TV character” moment. Why in the hell would Chloe just stand there like a slack-jawed idiot, staring at a hole that was just cut in the ship during an alien attack? Come on girl, RUN! But it is sadly indicative of the roles the female characters on this show have played. With the exception of Camile Wray, they’ve all been fairly passive characters who have things happen to them rather than being active, important parts of the stories.

But at least Chloe’s predicament gives a chance to look at the alien ship where we find…Dr. Rush? Well…that’s a…surprise. I’m torn on this scene because it was certainly surprising and kind of cool, but on the other hand it positively screams plot contrivance. After Col. Young sets him free, Rush stages a daring rescue (including killing an alien with his bare hands), gets off the alien ship, and back on Destiny. Even if you don’t like the guy, you have to admit that was pretty badass.

But the seemingly inevitable confrontation between Rush and Young doesn’t really live up to expectations. We just get one scene—with two men who have done some despicable things to each other and yet need each other, agreeing to just be cool for now. Both men own up to their actions (most notably Young’s mention that he became a man he couldn’t respect), but every indication points to these two being at each other’s throats again in the very near future, and hopefully that will deliver on some real entertaining conflict.

The montage at the end is put together rather well, giving us a chance to reconnect with the characters after all this craziness. The series has done these kind of poignant end-of-story reflections before, and it’s starting to become a SGU staple. The montage opens with the conflicting images of Chloe and Matt cuddling versus Lt. James crying alone in her quarters, which is a very good way to start, with Rob Thomas’ “Now Comes the Night” and its haunting lyrics about loneliness and companionship playing over the whole scene. And we also got to see a glimpse into Greer’s personality as he fondly stares at a picture (of whom, we still don’t know). Then we have Eli, still loyal as ever, showing Col. Young the spy-recordings of Wray’s little mutiny meeting. The title of the next episode is “Divided”, and I’m sure we can all see where this story is going.

Overall, I liked this story, but I was disappointed that it brought Rush back so quickly and with such a lame plot device. But at least we have a true enemy for the crew to deal with now, which will hopefully help veer us away from the “mechanical crisis of the week” pattern the show was getting into. The stage is also set for a good old-fashioned civil war in the halls of Destiny, but we’ll have to wait and see if that war is a cold one, or very hot.

According to the IGN review of Divided:

The second half of Stargate Universe: Season 1 certainly has a more energetic pace so far, and that’s a good thing. A mutiny on the Destiny reveals true motives and loyalties and provides plenty of action and tension, but there are some troubling trends with the show’s most interesting character.

The intro to this episode feels a lot like a music video. It features Chloe revisiting the trauma of her abduction. Although it’s a little weird and confusing at first, it’s a well-orchestrated dream sequence, with “You Won’t Know” by Brand New pounding in the background.

Once Chloe and Rush have a little chat about their traumatic experience aboard the alien craft, Young comes right out and accuses Rush of stealing and hiding away a communication stone, providing a handy explanation for what appeared to be simply a glitch in last week’s episode (and I also loved Rush’s nonchalant reaction to getting found out). It’s a neat way to tie up that little plot element, since it’s totally something Rush would do. Also we get confirmation about the alien tracking ships on the Destiny hull, another nicely tied up plot piece from a hint dropped long ago.

Later, Greer has a little side chat with Young about Rush, and it appropriately takes place in the shadows. It’s a short, but nicely directed scene that brings home Greer’s dedication to Young, a reminder of his fierce dislike of Rush, and a foreshadowing of things to come.

Then the coup begins, and the episode kicks into overdrive. Eli has a to make a tough decision, caught between Colonel Young and Rush, then he and Lt. Scott deal with the fact that Chloe appears to have switched sides due to her new connection with Rush. Then there’s the casually mentioned tidbit that Rush had examined Chloe for evidence of an implant scar (nice touch, accented by Eli’s delayed reaction). These scenes are driven by great performances from the entire cast, though David Blue, Ming-Na, and Robert Carlyle really stand out, and even Alaina Huffman gets some nice moments.

But, as exciting as it all was, it ultimately leads to a tense stalemate, mainly because Rush let Young and Scott live. Initially, one might assume that Rush isn’t that bad after all since he didn’t kill those two. But then again, Camile Wray did have to stress that they would lose all support if Young and Scott ended up dead. Rush has always been portrayed as an “ends justify the means” kind of guy, but it’s still not 100% clear how far he’ll go to achieve what he thinks is right.

There’s good tension here, and the episode has little of the slow pacing of previous stories, but the mutiny starts and ends without a single shot fired, and with everyone essentially just dropping it and going into their quarters. Obviously we’ll have to wait and see what the long term effects are (and there most assuredly will be consequences), but at the moment I feel like these past two episodes have taken a “safe” route.

I can’t escape the feeling that the writers are shying away from doing something more daring with Rush. His return to the show still seems too fast and the plot devices involved wasted a lot of potential storylines that could have been even more exciting. I can completely understand the desire to get him back in the thick of things quickly since he’s the most interesting character, but they’ve taken their main antagonist and made him frustrated and, dare I say, somewhat impotent. All his schemes and motives are found out, he’s defeated rather soundly in this episode, and much of his motivation is simply fear of what Col. Young will do to him. He’s like a toothless, de-clawed tiger right now—still dangerous but not nearly as threatening as he used to be. Though this does make him somewhat more deserving of our sympathy, it also makes him less intriguing.

Still, there’s no doubt that the episode as a whole is one of the best the series has produced so far. I hope the quick pace, character conflict, and clever action scenes the show has recently displayed are here to stay.

According to the IGN review of Human:

Anton Chekov, a famous Russian playwright, once stated: “If in the first act you have hung a pistol on the wall, then in the following one it should be fired. Otherwise don’t put it there.” In other words, you gotta use the stuff you set up in your stories in a timely manner. This episode is all about the SGU writers firing two guns they left hanging on the wall in part 1 of this season — the story of Rush’s wife, and Destiny’s neural interface chair. “Human” makes excellent use of old plot points, while finding room to inject some new ones as well.

The intro scene gets us started right away with Rush, back on Earth, at home with his wife. The first thought that hit me was, “This feels a lot like Battlestar Galactica“. The direction, the shaky camera, the cinematography, even the choice of music — it all seems a lot like what we saw in BSG many times. Of course, SGU and BSG style comparisons have been made many times by critics (including myself, I admit), but this was the first time SGU struck me as incredibly similar to BSG. For a moment, Rush really did become Gaius Baltar in my head, and I don’t think that’s a good thing.

With that aside, this is a good look into what makes Rush tick. The plot kind of takes a twist when it is revealed that this isn’t a flashback, but a semi-lucid vision that Rush is experience as a result of the neural interface chair that was introduced a while ago. The intro a clever take on the “in media res” opening, and it had me hooked from the beginning.

Michael Shanks shows up as Dr. Daniel Jackson, in his first appearance since the pilot, and the first appearance from an old Stargate alum in many episodes. He doesn’t have much to do here, but I like that. SGU is very different from its predecessors and its cast is quite capable of handling things without help from previous teams. Still, it’s nice to see an old familiar face every now and then.

In general, two words sum up this episode more than anything: character development. Most of it comes in the form of revealing bits about Rush, including his frustrations about Eli, which I found particularly interesting. From a technical standpoint, this is a very well written dramatic story. It’s a great look into the reasons Rush became the man he is, and it all comes together in a poignant scene where the vision of his deceased wife tells him to stop taking his frustrations out on everyone else. Shortly after, Rush actually says something optimistic, which Young aptly notes is a change for him. Will we be seeing a change of heart in Rush from now on? Will he become less crazy, less driven, and more personable now that he’s faced these inner demons? In a way, I kind of hope we don’t. It was Rush’s unpredictable demeanor that made him a catalyst for many of the most interesting moments of the series.

In the side-story that provides the closest thing to action and suspense in the episode, there’s an away team on a new planet with ancient ruins. It’s a bit of a new formula with Eli and Chloe thrown into the mix, and it works especially with Eli and Greer having that little tense moment. The next episode will focus more on Greer, and expand upon the brief flashes of memory we saw here, which indicate an abusive childhood and confinement to cramped, dark spaces that caused his claustrophobia. And of course, there’s the fact that our team is left stranded on the planet, alone and in the dark. I was hoping there would be more suspense and maybe some horror-style scares in this ancient maze, but what we got was really just setup for next week’s installment, and I was slightly disappointed. Next week could make up for that though. Still, the flaws here are only minor, and if you’re a fan of Rush, you couldn’t have asked for a better “origin” story for him.

According to the IGN review of Sabotage:

I won’t try to hide my disappointment with this episode. It took a lot of good ideas and wasted their potential, a trend I’m starting to notice in every other SGU story. While I like where the story is going, how it gets there often feels ridiculously convenient to the point of contrivance.

The story starts off with a reflective Colonel Young thinking of what he’s going to say to the crew about their supply situation and the unlikely chances of saving Eli, Chloe, and Lt. Scott. Then Rush drops another little bit of fun news: Destiny doesn’t have enough power to make it between galaxies, and they’ll need to bring in a FTL specialist from Earth to help figure things out. This is where the episode’s main drama gets started with the introduction of Amanda Perry, a quadriplegic scientist transporting to the Destiny via our favorite plot device: the communication stones. Lt. James tries it first and can’t handle the helplessness of being in that body, and then Camile Wray steps up like the tough gal she is and takes on the challenge.

Soon, there’s a weird make-out session with Camile and her partner, while Camile is in Amanda’s disabled body. I was hoping we’d be done with the communication stone love-fest, but apparently not. Later on, Amanda has some tender moments with Rush in Camile’s body, which is just all sorts of wrong, just wrong! I’ve discussed the moral implications of all this “intimacy” in other people’s bodies before, so for now I’ll just say that I really, really hope SGU grows out of this plot device.

Quite a bit of time is spent with developing the Amanda Perry character and her connection to Dr. Rush. Amanda reveals she had a thing for Rush, which perplexes Eli and adds a little more depth to Rush’s character. Rush is slowly becoming something more than the conceited asshat he was in the first part of the season, and that’s certainly a part of the series that is worth praise. But beyond her role in bringing out the gentler side of Rush, I felt the Amanda character was fairly uninteresting.

Once Amanda’s role is all squared away, the story starts introducing those annoyingly convenient plot events. First, out of the gate pops our lost trio, and let me say that I was very disappointed to see them. All that drama set up in the previous episode is squandered. Once again, I feel like his show is going the safe route with its characters. Nobody stays in mortal peril for very long, so it’s hard to take any of the dramatic scenes seriously because we’ve come to expect that things will be reset by the end of the episode, or in the next episode.

Next, we learn the aliens apparently figured out a neat trick with the communication stone they have, and they take over Lt. James to commit sabotage and reveal the Destiny’s position. This isn’t a bad idea, but the execution of it was rather weird. There are only a handful of seconds in the episode that give the viewer any hint at all about what was going on, and because of that, when the big reveal of the sabotage happens, it seems kind of random.

So our aliens show up and start pounding the Destiny again, and who shows up to save the day? A minor character that was in a coma for the past few episodes! Franklin, as you may recall, tried to use the neural interface chair before it was modified and suffered the consequences because of it. Now, just in the nick of time, he shows up to get back in the chair and save the day, though it’s still not clear exactly what happened to him at the end. Did he “become one” with the ship, or just get used up like a fuel rod? I’m sure we’ll get some answers next week.

Don’t get me wrong, I love all the plot ideas in the episode, but none of them were given the time to be executed properly, which is ironic because usually Stargate Universe spends a lot of time slowly and deliberating building up its plots. I’m hoping that the events that occurred here will provide enough of a base for the next episode to be better.

According to the IGN review of Subversion:

Welcome back Colonel Telford, the man we all love to hate. This episode adds a lot more detail to the Telford character and makes him even more loathsome. It’s all part of a plot that has been developing in the background since the series pilot, and it should provide some much-needed excitement as we approach the end of the show’s freshman season.

This episode didn’t waste any time getting right into the meat of the plot. Rush has a dream/vision that is induced by his communication stone usage, and it implies that Telford gave away secrets about the Icarus program to the bad guys. Telford comes back to Destiny and finds himself the subject of an investigation/sting operation. The setup is quick and energetic, and shows none of the slow pacing of previous episodes.

Meanwhile, Richard Dean Anderson reprises his role as Jack O’Neill to provide the necessary support from Earth command for the operation that Colonel Young and Rush have started. Young is playing it safe, suspecting both Rush and Telford of possibly working with the Lucian Alliance. Michael Shanks also pops into the story as Daniel Jackson, and although I’m happy to see the character again, it would have been nice to see him do something more than take pictures. I was also kind of disappointed that O’Neill is used mostly for comedy relief, and some of those moments felt oddly timed, especially that “I know what makes me special” line in the middle of trying to get Telford to confess to his crimes.

Lt. Johansen has a baby shower, and then later we have some heart-to-heart moments with Chloe as TJ’s fears about her baby’s future come out. These tender, feminine scenes are greatly contrasted by the testosterone-driven conflict between Telford and Young. Young works the interrogation pretty well, and Louis Ferrera does some great acting work. Once again, Young’s worst side comes out when he’s around people he detests. I like how all these different facets of his personality have been explored in the series, even though I don’t always like how he behaves.

The origin of all this conflict is our new villainess Kiva, played by Rhona Mitra. She’s a leather-clad vixen with a British accent and a somewhat stereotypical approach to sci-fi villainy. I don’t fault Mitra for this – the problem seems to lie more in the writing than the acting (Mitra actually does a fairly good job with what she’s given). The Kiva character is just another carbon copy of so many antagonists that we’ve seen before. The only thing that really makes her interesting is her cold, savage demeanor. Maybe in later episodes we’ll see something more dynamic, but for now I find the character a little disappointing.

With that said, the situation that Rush finds himself in is really interesting and a great chance for us to see another side of the character that Robert Carlyle is portraying masterfully. Unlike the Gaius Baltar character that Rush sometimes resembles, Rush is not afraid to put his own skin on the line for a greater purpose. And even though he does succumb to the torture and is obviously scared, he still remains defiant. I get a sense that he’s going to use that big brain of his to figure a way out of his predicament, assuming of course that Young doesn’t destroy his body back on Destiny.

That is a safe assumption, of course, as the series isn’t going to kill off Rush despite whatever Young’s intentions may be. I am curious to see if Young is just bluffing with the suffocation bit or if he’s really out for blood, but either way we know nobody’s going to die…yet. But it is intriguing to see what’s going on in the heads of these fairly complex characters, and hopefully the writers will work out clever solutions to their predicaments. I’m looking forward to next week, but I’m also tempering my curiosity with some skepticism because the series has let me down by taking the safe route before.

According to the IGN review of Incursion, Part 1:

I’m somewhat surprised that SGU is wrapping up its first season with a focus on the relatively recent plot developments in this Lucian Alliance thread after spending so much time with other story elements. But I can’t deny that the takeover of the Destiny makes for some grand excitement, and drama that shows what our characters are really made of.

The episode started where last week left off, with Young suffocating Telford on the Destiny. It turns into some kind of ploy to disrupt the alien brainwashing technology that was supposedly used on Telford. The scenes are tense and all the actors involved perform admirably, with a notable death performance from Lou Diamond Phillips. Telford’s apparent sudden conversion from asshat to good guy adds an extra dimension to the character. I won’t be entirely disappointed if this change is permanent, since Telford was so thoroughly unlikable it was over the top at times. We’ll have to wait and see if he’s truly rehabilitated, though.

The action really picks up when Kiva and her cohorts raid the Destiny. Bullets fly, Chloe gets shot, people are running for their lives. It’s good action that puts our characters through hell and exposes some raw emotions. The stress of the situation brings out all the old conflicting personality elements between Young, Camille Wray, and Rush. In the meantime, there are tender moments between Eli and Chloe, which are punctuated by Eli’s unwavering devotion to the girl he knows will always just see him as a friend.

There’s also a sub-theme of the difficult decisions that leaders have to make. Young’s leadership style has been a big topic in the series, and another complex element of a complex character. On one hand, you’ve got Young’s tough guy actions like suffocating Telford on a whim and risking both Telford’s life and Rush’s, but then in the same episode he’s afraid to pull the trigger on decompressing the gate chamber because those same people would die (even though he had no issues with Rush risking his life to spy on Telford in the first place). These contradictory actions – along with his visit to see O’Neill for guidance – speak volumes about the internal conflict in the character, and maybe points out some guilt/sensitivity issues he has when others criticize his actions and the critiques cut too close to the truth.

While we still don’t know exactly what the Lucians want with Destiny, the big mystery in this episode is what’s happening to the Destiny’s systems. One guy gets fried extraextra crispy, and the Destiny’s control consoles are freaking out for some reason. The most likely explanation is that the old ship is just falling apart at an inconvenient time, but there could be other things going on here. Could this be Franklin’s mind somehow influencing the ship? Rush also once mentioned that Destiny’s internal defense systems had foiled past boarding attempts from the aliens trying to capture the ship. Are we perhaps seeing the first signs of the ancient vessel trying to defend itself again? Either way, it looks like the “crew” of Destiny might have to fight the ship itself to stay in control. I think this could end up as the driving plot element going forward, because Kiva hasn’t proven to be an interesting villain. She only has a trigger-happy sadistic streak as her claim to fame so far, and if Young hadn’t held back on making the hard decision, she’d already be dead or captured.

But, overall, this was a good way to begin the end of Season 1. There were plenty of things going on, the whole cast got involved in some way, and we even had a planet explode for those who like big fiery displays in their sci-fi. In terms of plot, the stage is set, the characters are in place, and there’s even a little mystery to solve. Part 2 should be a real treat.

According to the IGN review of Incursion, Part 2:

SGUSeason 1 is done, and it ends with a whimper, not a bang. I really felt the series got off to a great start, but these last few episodes have displayed a gradually declining quality, which makes me concerned about the show’s future.

This season finale got of off to a decent start as our trigger happy villainess Kiva shoots a random extra to show she means business, and then tensions run high as Young feels the pressure of having lost one of his men. But most of his ire is just frustration, and impotent rage. The threatening tone that we left with at the end of “Incursion, Part 1” fails to manifest into any meaningful action on Young’s part. He yells at people for things outside of their control. Later, Young gets all soft again and brings drinks to his team. Is he the water boy now? Where’s that tough guy that was about to kick these people off his ship? The SGU crew still ends up negotiating, and a lot of the leadership action is taken by a somewhat reluctant Camile Wray.

Kiva does a decent job of playing the civilian vs. military card and pitting Wray and Young against each other a little bit. She definitely comes out on top in this one, even though she ends up getting shot while taking out Telford. I thought the Kiva-Telford shootout was the most exciting part of the episode, and even though it was extremely short it injected some much needed energy into this episode.

After the last episode, I was hoping that the mysterious source of the ship’s malfunctions would turn out to be something juicy like a Destiny defense mechanism or Franklin’s disembodied mind trying to help his pals. But no, the actual explanation is much more…boring. It’s just bursts of gamma ray radiation from a nearby pulsar; just another unfortunate coincidence in a long list of unfortunate coincidences that have threatened the ship through the season. I found this very disappointing considering the wealth of other options the show could have gone with.

Meanwhile, the saga of Chloe and Eli continues. Eli has some nice lines here, including a cute little Facebook joke while he’s playing the role of devoted unrequited lover. But Chloe’s outpouring of emotion and that “you’re such a good friend” spiel failed to interest me. It didn’t reveal anything we didn’t know or could have figured out, and Chloe’s lines here are really, really cliche and screamed “teen drama” to me.

This is the bloodiest episode of the series so far, with the aforementioned shooting of a “red shirt”, and lots of bullet wounds near the end. Still, even with that bloodshed, it didn’t feel like an epic finale for the show’s pivotal first season. The final “cliffhanger” scenes are hardly interesting, with the only real suspense coming from Lt. Johansen’s injury and what may or may not happen to her baby. But when it comes to everything else in this ending, I just find myself not caring very much. If Kiva dies, so what? She wasn’t very interesting to begin with. Telford could die too, but he was never the most likable character. While his recent rehabilitation is a decent idea, his horrible attitude was the only thing that made him compelling. Without it, there’s no reason for him to be here. Then we have the characters who are in danger, but not really. Scott and Greer are certainly going to survive even if they don’t make it back into the ship immediately, and the writers didn’t give us enough setup to create that “suspension of disbelief” required to convince us that two of the main characters might really die here.

SGU comes back in October and I can’t say I’m eagerly awaiting its return. But there’s just not that much sci-fi on TV these days, so most of the viewers out there like myself will probably just tune in for lack of options.

 

The Worst:

Faith, and Lost

SGU-S1x13-Faith-Shuttle-fin-the-obelisk

I didn’t like Faith overall given it felt too mysterious for my taste, and Lost was quite slow, though a worthwhile episode.

According to the IGN review of Faith:

One of the things that marked the first part of this series was the slow, deliberate method of storytelling it liked to employ. Some enjoyed the character buildup, while others found it a snooze-fest. I personally love this series most when it finds ways to balance the careful character and theme development with some nice sci-fi action. For the past few episodes, SGU achieved that, but this one was a return to the slow stuff, and it really killed a lot of momentum.

The intro starts slowly, which is a bit of surprise for a series that has recently preferred action-oriented beginnings. Still, it’s interesting to watch the dynamic between Young and Rush as Young makes the “special effort” towards Rush to kiss and make up, so to speak. Louis Ferriera and Robert Carlyle do very nice work here.

The plot revolves around an unexpected and apparently unnatural star system with a habitable planet that gives the Destiny crew a chance for some exploration. The shots of the planet are well chosen, and the cinematography is top-notch. This was a nice change of scenery, accented by a few good character interactions. Greer got the opportunity to be a maverick, as usual, and it’s very entertaining. He’s definitely one of the wild cards in the series, and I’m happy to see Jamil Walker Smith get some more lines since he hasn’t had much since the series returned.

Eli squeezes in an appropriately geeky Star Trek reference to the Genesis device, which is appropriate, as the concept of an artificially created planet isn’t quite new in sci-fi, but it is nice to see SGU opening up its alien lore a bit. I am quite eager to learn the true story behind this custom-built solar system and its creators, but sadly we’ll have to wait a while longer before we learn anything because, despite having a whole episode to explore this new concept, nothing really happens with it. In general, much of the character interaction is used to point out the awkwardness of the crew resettling after the attempted coup. The story has a slow, quiet pace that spends a lot of time with the characters re-bonding. You could argue this was completely necessary, since the crew would be forced to patch things up just to survive, and few of these folks are really antagonistic. It makes perfect sense, it just doesn’t make for good drama.

But there is enough conflict when some members of the away team decide to stay on the planet, with talk of god and faith thrown in there for a bit of sophomoric philosophical debate. Am I the only one that wanted to slap Dr. Caine every time he opened his mouth in this one? For that matter, Chloe too. I find a stark contrast between the weak lines in this episodes versus the much smarter existential conversations we got out of Rush and others back in the “Time” episode.

Of course, the major development here is Lt. Johansen’s pregnancy. It was pretty obvious what her “affliction” was in the early part of the episode, and this is again perfectly reasonable since somebody was bound to get preggers at some point, but I still can’t help but feel like this is another contrivance thrown in to manufacture soap opera drama. I particularly don’t like that this is somewhat of a stereotypical role for a woman to be thrown into, and I’ve had issues with the way the few female characters in this series just become the victims of circumstance again and again (with the notable exception of Camile).

The story ends with Young somewhat politely and somewhat forcefully getting folks back on Destiny. I like the nature of his solution, which is not as heavy handed as it could have been, and we again see how much of a great leader he is when his emotions don’t get the best of him. We’ll have to wait and see just how much this episode will impact the series later on, but at the moment, by itself, this installment seems like an odd step backwards.

According to the IGN review of Lost:

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2 thoughts on “The Best and Worst of Stargate Universe: Season 1

  1. Pingback: On Stargate: Continuum | The Progressive Democrat

  2. Pingback: On Starship Troopers | The Progressive Democrat

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