Entering its second season, Stargate Universe (SGU) faced an uncertain future after a promising, yet deliberately paced first season. The SyFy network had shifted the young series to Tuesday nights—directly against the juggernauts of the big networks. Premiering in the fall, it wouldn’t have the luxury of matching up against less popular summer fare.
If the ratings weren’t stellar from the start, there might be a serious risk of cancellation. The previous shows in the franchise, Stargate SG-1 and Stargate Atlantis (SGA) , lasted ten and five seasons, respectively. But the changing TV environment and an itchy trigger finger from SyFy likely caused sleepless nights for the SGU producers.
Stargate Universe: The Complete Final Season
(Syfy; US DVD: 31 May 2011)
Unlike its predecessors, SGU focused less on fast-paced adventure and more on character development, which alienated some of its devoted fans. They posted vitriolic comments on message boards and hoped for the new show’s demise. This approach seemed counter-productive, especially since the franchise’s overall future was depending on SGU.
Admittedly, the first group of episodes was pretty slow, but they also included excellent visual effects and interesting characters. During the opening season, the writers tweaked the format and built an effective formula by the end of the year. The second season promised to improve on this model and expand the universe to greater heights.
Here’s a brief synopsis of what’s happened so far: A group of mismatched military personnel, scientists, and other civilians from Earth are stranded unexpectedly aboard the Destiny, an ancient ship created millions of years earlier. Armed with limited resources, they must discover the mysteries of their new home across the universe before it’s too late. Traveling faster than light and visiting planets through the Stargate, they face strange aliens unlike anything encountered by humans in past explorations. But the biggest threat might come from conflicts within their own ranks as they struggle to find a way back home.
The first season ended with one of those cliffhangers that placed nearly every major character (and some minor ones) in serious jeopardy. The enemy in this case was the Lucian Alliance, a band of human-like aliens who boarded the Destiny, seeking its secrets. During the season finalé, “Incursion”, this conflict escalates into an all-out war between the two forces that leaves many of the characters injured or facing imminent death at the season’s end.
“Intervention” starts the new season right where we left off and delivers more excitement as the battle continues. With one exception, the Lucian Alliance members aren’t exactly evil, which makes the ultimate resolution more complicated. They work under a brutal regime and have a specific goal beyond creating violence and mayhem.
One of the major discoveries aboard Destiny occurs during the second episode “Aftermath”. Doctor Rush (Robert Carlyle) unlocks the ship’s master code and locates the bridge that operates navigation and other key systems. Before this point, the crew had a very limited ability to control Destiny and alter its course. Although this is an excellent find, Rush’s choice to keep the bridge a secret from everyone has major ramifications further into the season.
This episode also includes the stunning death of a supporting character that wis indirectly caused by Rush withholding the truth. This moment plays a key role in the downward emotional spiral of Colonel Young (Louis Ferreira). He’s lost all confidence in his abilities to lead the group and starts drowning his sorrows in alcohol. Young’s struggles come to the forefront down the road in “Trial and Error”, where he’s tested repeatedly in a frustrating scenario that might destroy the entire ship.
Unlike its predecessors, SGU takes its time and builds long-term story lines that might not pay off until much later. Don’t get me wrong. I love both SG-1 and SGA and still enjoy those episodes years later. However, they used a more episodic style that differed from the serialized narratives of this series. A good example is Chloe’s (Elyse Levesque) ongoing arc, which goes back to the middle of the first season. Alien villains experiment on her, which causes both physical and mental changes over the long run. In “Pathogen”, Rush makes a daring attempt to excise the growing alien influence over her body, but it’s not successful. Nearing the mid-season finalé, Chloe is losing control over her mind and may slip away from them forever.
Honestly, I’m not a big fan of this story line, which nearly grinds the pace to a halt every time it becomes a major part of the episode. Levesque gives it her best shot, but the progression happens so slowly that seeing characters talk about her changes becomes tiresome. The writers struggled to find the right place for Chloe in the early episodes, so giving her a more important role is refreshing. However, the downside of dragging her evolution on for so long is that it becomes tedious. I was ready to scream “She’s dangerous! Get rid of her!” at the screen well before the arc was resolved. The big moments are exciting, but it takes us way too long to move the story forward.
Adding new characters from the Lucian Alliance also gave the writers a chance to develop romances between the arrivals and regular crew members. Both examples are very well-done and involve strong performances from the recurring actors. Varro (Mike Dopud) helped the gang’s attempts to take over Destiny, but he played a key role in saving Young and the entire group of Earthlings. While slowly becoming part of the group, he develops the touching beginnings of a romance with T.J. (Alaina Huffman). Dopud made a guest appearance on SGA as a different character, and he fits well in this world.
The other figure is the attractive Ginn (Julie McNiven), a red-haired scientist who makes a connection with Eli (David Blue). Their romance is short-lived, but it offers a much-needed connection for Eli, who spent the first season pining for Chloe. Unfortunately, Ginn is also involved in one of the season’s most troubling scenes at the end of “The Greater Good”. Although they’ve created strong female characters, I’ve found that the Stargate writers tend to revert too much into the “woman in jeopardy” scenario. They pretty much throw every female character through the ringer this year and deal out murder, blindness, threats towards a baby, and other brutal events. It’s not like the guys are off the hook, especially Young and Rush, but certain moments do approach uneasy territory.
On the other hand, these actions from the end of “The Greater Good” lead perfectly into the thrilling next episode “Malice”. Since the arrival of the Lucian Alliance, Simeon (Prison Break’s Robert Knepper) was the one guy who refused to cooperate and become part of the crew. After dealing a vicious blow to Ginn and others, he escapes to a desert planet with weapons in tow. With a personal stake in revenge, Rush joins the soldiers Scott (Brian J. Smith) and Greer (Jamil Walker Smith) to pursue Simeon. They’ve been tasked with capturing him alive because he has key information that could save Earth.
But Rush definitely has other ideas. This cat-and-mouse story from Writer/Director Robert C. Cooper feels more like a gritty western than a sci-fi tale. Cooper tends to direct some of the franchise’s most unique episodes, with recent examples being SGU’s “Time” and SGA’s penultimate episode “Vegas”. Both go beyond the expected formula from the series and rank among the best of their seasons.