The End Was All Too Near

'Stargate Universe: The Complete Final Season'

by Dan Heaton

20 June 2011


A Compelling Evolution for the Franchise

This season’s second half begins in “Deliverance” with a resolution to Chloe’s saga (finally!) and Destiny facing a multitude of strange alien drones. By this point, the announcement had been made — SGU would not return for a third year. This was disappointing because these arcs weren’t designed to finish the Destiny’s story. I’m guessing this wasn’t a major surprise for the producers given the ratings for the early episodes.

However, it was still disappointing because the show had really found its way by this point. A prime example is “Twin Destinies”, which uses the familiar sci-fi tropes of time travel and alternate versions of the same characters. Although it could fail miserably, it actually works and leads into more great stories further down the road.

One benefit of having 15 seasons in this world is a wealth of entertaining characters that could appear on SGU in the right circumstance. The danger is finding a way to involve them in this story without making it feel like stunt casting. In “Seizure”, David Hewlett and Robert Picardo reprise their roles as Dr. Rodney McKay and Richard Woolsey from SGA. I wondered about this choice because McKay generally provided the comic relief in that series and was a larger-than-life character.

Hewlett was highly charismatic in the role and my favorite character in that show. Thankfully, Writer Remi Aubuchon finds a way to keep McKay’s spirit intact while dialing back the quirks for this more serious format. I would have enjoyed seeing what Hewlett or another effective actor from a previous show could do with a recurring role in this show. This episode also has a guest appearance from a stern Victor Garber (Jack Brisco!), who brings stature to virtually anything he touches.

Easily the season’s best episode is “Epilogue”, which appears only a few episodes from the end. Although it mostly focuses on alternate versions of the main characters, it actually would have worked perfectly as the series finalé. The premise involves our Destiny crew meeting the ancestors of their alternate selves that were originally discovered in “Twin Destinies”. They met these descendants in the preceding story “Common Descent”, but the follow-up is the true gem. They discover lengthy videos of key moments in the lives of the alternates, who lived out their lives after being stranded on a planet. On paper, this seems like a terrible idea, but it actually is very emotional from start to finish.

I have to admit that it got a little dusty in the final scene, where an old Camille Ray (Ming Na) addresses their descendants. It’s a wonderful story from Writer Carl Binder and Director Alex Chapple and reveals the missed promise of another season.

For its finalé, SGU shies away from the expected action-packed cliffhangers and delivers a solemn, effective conclusion. In an interview after the show ended, Creator Brad Wright revealed that this episode was set up to work as either a season or series finalé. It doesn’t conclude the Destiny story or include any major revelations, but the main characters get a final chance to shine against overwhelming odds. It would have been excellent to see a proper end for SGU, but it doesn’t rank among the soul-crushing ends that we’ve seen with some other cancelled series like Farscape (before the miniseries).

This collection (named The Final Season) includes commentaries on all 20 episodes. It’s nearly impossible to complain about this type of coverage, but I did find a few of the conversations to be fairly dull. It’s refreshing to see so many of the main actors taking the time to participate, but their involvement could be a double-edge sword. The discussions sometimes veer into “great acting” and “I love this show!” instead of interesting stories from the set. The inclusion is still definitely worthwhile, but striking a balance between the actors and crew members could have worked out better.

Along with the commentaries, there are 26 featurettes covering specific elements of the season. These pieces run just shy of 140 minutes, so it’s great to see more than two hours of extra content from the cast and crew. Many last only two or three minutes, but they usually cover at least a few engaging points during that timeframe. One great example is “SGU welcomes you to New Mexico’s Bisti Badlands”, which offers a 20-minute look at the shooting of “Malice” at a desolate place that looks like an alien planet. Cooper provides an introduction about their plans for shooting in New Mexico, and interviews with actors like Robert Knepper provide some exciting background.

A sillier entry is “Pitches: A Journey of Friendship and Discovery”, which features Patrick Gilmore and Peter Kelamis. Their characters (Volker and Brody) typically have the best one-liners, so it makes sense that the actors would participate in this tongue-in-cheek segment. It shows them trying to write an episode script, with comedic results. Lou Diamond Philips (Telford) makes a goofy appearance wearing no pants, which matches the tone of this 25-minute entry.

The Stargate DVDs always include a good amount of content, but I do have one minor issue with the composition of these featurettes. Considering the small running time of many, it would have made more sense to provide them in a feature-length documentary. They could still offer the option to select each one individually, but combining them into one selection would be easier. The only example of a Play All feature is the “Deconstructing Destiny” piece, which stars Patrick Gilmore and last 27 minutes. There are seven individual entries on Power, Weapons, Shields, and other parts of the ship. While we are given the option to watch all of them at once, each item still includes credits, which doesn’t really make it a full documentary. On the whole, though, the extras still provide impressive details for devoted fans.

SGU never earned record-breaking ratings or much critical acclaim, but it still provided 40 episodes of excellent sci-fi storytelling. Arriving so close to the end of Battlestar Galactica, this series suffered by comparison and was dismissed by many (including long-time Stargate fans) as derivative. It’s not a perfect series and has always encountered pacing issues, but it represents a compelling evolution for the franchise. I would have loved seeing where the story would have gone next. Do you hear that SyFy? How about a mini-series? Heck, I’d take a two-hour movie at this point. The Stargate franchise appears dormant at this point, but I’m holding out hope that either a continuation in some format or a new series will keep this universe alive.

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