Stargate Universe

I’ve mentioned this show in my last couple of posts. First I said that I was going to try watching it again as I had Once Upon a Time withdrawal. Both shows star Robert Carlyle and I also figured it was about time I gave Universe another shot. Given what a self-professed fan I am of Stargate, it seemed a little wrong to have not watched every single one of the 354 episodes that were made.

Well I’m now on episode 17 of season one and I figured the show was overdue a post. When I first tried watching it I saw the first four episodes before giving up. I didn’t rewatch those episodes, instead continuing on from episode five. From description the last three episodes heavily lead into season two. I’m not sure when I’ll get a chance to watch the story arc through to conclusion, and I’d really hate to stop on a cliffhanger.

When I first tried the show I was bitterly disappointed, I really didn’t like it and I wrote it off. The question is, now I’ve given the show more of a chance, what do I really think?

Logic is the enemy
You’d think that given the show was on air 2009-2011, that I would have learned all about it by now. However, aside from a few disjointed out of context facts, and the one line sentence description on netflix, I haven’t been spoiled for this show. I’m forming opinions based on what I’m watching at the time, with no real knowledge beyond common sense about what future episodes hold.

The first episode I started with was ‘Light’ where Destiny is en-route towards a star, which they think will destroy it. Col. Young picks two of the crew, then holds a lottery for the rest of the seats, on who will survive in the shuttle. Now obviously I have a perspective the characters don’t, I know the ship isn’t going to be destroyed as there’s the rest of season one, and then season two, that has to happen. However, I did wonder why no-one asked themselves a real simple question. “Do you really think that Destiny has been flying around, for ten million years, unattended on a single charge?”

There were three ZPM’s that powered Atlantis, they barely lasted 10,000 years just keeping the shield up to hold the water back. These ZPM’s were, so far as we found, the pinnacle of Ancient power generation that actually worked. I don’t count the ill fated Arcturus project, which McKay tried to finish and wound up blowing up 5/6th of a solar system. Three ZPM’s, which in the episode ‘Before I sleep’ it’s shown that the time travelling Weir rotated them, rather than using them in parallel. Therefore they lasted what 3333 years each, even being generous and assuming that Destiny drew no more power than the powered down Atlantis, there would have to have been around 3000 ZPM’s to power the Destiny for ten million years.

Plus, the Destiny was launched ten million years ago. It would be completely illogical to believe that the Ancients didn’t further evolve and develop over that time. Therefore whatever power generation they used ten million years ago, was likely to be a lot less efficient than the last ZPM’s they made. Right so logically there is no way the Ancients packed that much power into the Destiny at launch, it had to have recharged at some point. What gives free, easily accessible energy in the galaxy? Oh I don’t know a star maybe?

At the end of the episode Young speculates on whether Rush knew that the ship was going to be ok. Rush gave no indication that he knew but he’s a smart man, I think he suspected. He kept his mouth shut probably for numerous reasons. One, he couldn’t be absolutely sure as there are no guarantees. Two, he’s not exactly well liked on the ship and Young wouldn’t trust him, so therefore the outcome with the shuttle etc. was inevitable no matter what he said. Three, nobody likes him and spending a few hours believing they were going to die, he might quite frankly think they deserved that.

Let’s move on, that’s just one episode and there’s a lot more. I know that the point of the show is that they are stranded millions (billions?) of light years from home. However, I would have liked them to at least investigate some reasonable options for getting back home. For instance, the map of the Universe that Destiny has drawn, is the Ori galaxy on it? After all, if we review our Ancient history, fifty million years ago the Ancients had a bit of a civil war going on and the Ancients as we know them left their home galaxy. They traveled for many years, until they came across a belt of stars, a galaxy they called Avalon and we know as the Milky Way.

The Destiny is a long way from the Milky Way, while I’m sure the Ancients didn’t want to attract the attention of the Ori, they didn’t exactly intend for it to be ten million years before anyone checked up on the Destiny either. Therefore it’s more than possible that the Ori galaxy could be somewhere on Destiny’s universe map. If it was anywhere near the Destiny’s current location then that could have been a way for them to get home. A big supergate connects the Ori galaxy to the Milky Way. The Odyssey has already made the trip once as seen in ‘The Ark of Truth’, the ZPM it carries powerful enough to kickstart the connection. A couple of sentences about this, proving that they’d at least thought about it, would have been really cool.

Another option that no-one seems to be interested in exploring is Atlantis itself. In the Season Five finale Atlantis makes the trip from Pegasus to the Milky Way using a wormhole drive. Which is basically like a cross between a Hyperdrive and the Stargate system. Like with the stargate the journey takes seconds, like with the hyperdrive the ‘window’ can be opened from anywhere. Now, I know that Atlantis sustained damage, that it probably wouldn’t be ready to make any long distance trips anytime soon. However, they could have talked about McKay driving everyone mad repairing the city, working on the wormhole drive. Either to just work the bugs out, or with a view to reproducing it for the X-304’s, or at least the Odyssey as that might need a ZPM.

Now I’m not suggesting in the slightest, that they could boot up the wormhole drive and arrive on Destiny’s wing. I’m thinking a series of jumps, so make a pit-stop in each galaxy, or possible at each end of a galaxy and with the wormhole journey taking seconds, even stopping to rest the engine they could make the trip relatively quickly.

I know that the show’s concept was that the crew were the wrong people, in the wrong place. That there was this drive to get home, to survive and it seemed impossible. Introducing options, and hope, would therefore have been counter-intuitive to the show’s premise. However, I like logic and so I wish they had at least pretended to consider the possibilities, then presented good reasons as to why they wouldn’t work.

When Heroes are Villains
Continuing on from my point about different ways the Destiny’s crew could get home, I really need to speak about Jack O’Neill. He’s got three stars now, is heading up Homeworld Command, and somewhere along the way had a complete personality transplant. I can understand his desire to get the people on the Destiny home, I can understand he might even be desperate as his character is someone who would feel responsible. Now I’m not saying O’Neill can’t be reckless, as he most certainly is but he’s never been the kind of guy to be reckless with other people’s lives, or at least that’s not the kind of guy I thought he was.

Watching the episode ‘Earth’ was like watching a train wreck in motion. Using the recharge function, and the power of the star, to dial Earth makes sense, it’s a sound theory. However, the way they put that theory into action was completely unforgivable. I’m not saying that they were wrong in saying life on the ship was dangerous. However, going full steam ahead without stopping to draw breath? That’s way past acceptable risk and straight to lunacy.

The kind explanation for why they were so reckless, so determined to see the plan through in as short a time as possible is that they believed it would work. Earth has no control over the Destiny and Telford replacing Young as commander wouldn’t work long term. The IOA has proven themselves beyond reckless, and extremely arrogant, so them pushing the plan and forcing it through is believable. Young wasn’t immediately receptive and the IOA has never been patient.

That’s the kind explanation but it ignores a couple of key points. The second it didn’t look like it was going well, Telford and his team evacuated to Earth, they forced the plan through and risked nothing as their lives were never on the line. The next point was O’Neill, Young correctly pointed out that he didn’t wait for Young to think about it, to discuss it with the crew on Destiny. O’Neill didn’t even wait a few hours, now he’s never been a patient guy either, but he always had more respect for the men under his command than that. That wasn’t the O’Neill we grew to know and love over the course of SG-1. I could believe it of the IOA but I couldn’t believe it of O’Neill.

Oh and Colonel Telford, I nearly forgot to say about him. He is a petty jerk. Greer punched him out back on Icarus, then the first thing Telford does when he transfers to Young is have Greer locked up. Telford is ruled by jealousy, it should have been him, it was supposed to have him leading the Destiny expedition. Rather than just suck it up and deal with it, he tries to undermine Young at every opportunity. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a fan of Young, but how is that helpful? For that matter how did Telford get to be a Colonel with an attitude like that?

Back to O’Neill, however much I don’t like his character development in Universe, at the end of the day he is secondary, he’s not really a factor, just popping up occasionally to link the show more firmly to the franchise. The real villain of the piece is Young, how he got to be a Colonel I really don’t know, he’s not cut out for the stargate program, he’s not cut out for leadership. To be honest, he’s a disgrace to the uniform and this is the leader of the Destiny expedition. I can tell that I’m supposed to like him, he’s supposed to be the good guy but he is pretty much the opposite of a good guy.

Take Dr Rush, it’s his fault that they are stuck on the Destiny. He was supposed to dial Earth for the evacuation and he dialed the ninth chevron address instead, as they were under attack and he felt there wouldn’t be another chance. They had no idea what they were going to find, where they would end up, and while the situation could have been worse, it’s not exactly good either. He’s also arrogant, egotistical, sarcastic, generally bad with people, he’s a scientist I think a lot of that comes with the territory.

However, in my opinion Rush would be a much better leader of the Destiny expedition than Colonel Young. I’m not just saying that because Rush is my favourite character, I’m not oblivious to his characters faults. Young doesn’t seem to know what way is up or down half the time, he places an inordinate amount of trust and responsibility in Lt. Scott, who is too young and too green for that. He broke the Air Force frat regs, got a Lt. under his command pregnant and he doesn’t listen. Newsflash Colonel you are not always the smartest person in the room. I suppose someone should tell Rush the same, except like McKay before him, he’s annoyingly usually right.

As an aside how did the show get Young and Johanson’s relationship past the air force? The reason why O’Neill and Carter never got together is because it was against the frat regs, and the air force who officially recognized the show wouldn’t allow it. I just checked and wiki said that the air force reviewed the scripts. Perhaps it’s because the relationship was over, no-one knew about it and Young was far from Earth and the court-martial he would otherwise have. Another aside, I really don’t understand what Johanson saw in him, every time they talk about their relationship on screen I mutter ‘wrong, wrong, wrong’ and watch through my fingers. Oh last aside, I think they should rename the Destiny the love boat, everyone seems to hook up and watch out for when the birth control wears off, Johanson won’t be the only one with a baby.

Anyway, by far the worst point about Young is his unforgivable actions in the episode ‘Justice’. General Hammond shaped the SGC into what it became, O’Neill had a large part in that too, as did Daniel Jackson and really all of SG-1. The SGC thought long term, it cared about the consequences, it believed in doing the right thing. An example of this is no stealing of technology, it was better to make friends than more enemies. A cornerstone of the SGC belief system is ‘we don’t leave our people behind’. It was re-iterated time and time again, O’Neill actually flat out says once that it’s part of what makes us better than those we fight.

I have always struggled to see the logic in rescue missions. Quite often more lives are risked than they are going to save. If the rescuers get hurt or killed, then it’s like they are trading those lives for the lives of the people captured/trapped etc. and no life is worth more than another. However, while I don’t see the logic I understand the sentiment. It might not make sense but it’s the right thing to do. Hammond didn’t even have to finish his sentence when he asked for volunteers to rescue SG-1, everyone stepped forward instantly.

Young didn’t just leave Rush behind, like Scott did with Greer in the episode ‘Lost’, he didn’t think that Rush was dead. No, Young knocked him out and left him for dead. He basically killed him, only he didn’t have the decency to pull the trigger. Young didn’t even leave Rush a gun, so he couldn’t even shoot himself to save himself from a slow agonizing death. It was a desert planet, there was no water, no food, no remote to dial the gate. It was cruel and unusual.

When I watched them fight I figured that Rush deserved a bit of a beating. He had essentially framed Young for murder. I understood why he had done it, to strip Young of his leadership role, something which really needed to be done. However, while I can agree with Rush’s motive, his methods left something to be desired. When I saw that Young had knocked him out, I thought to myself “good going genius, now you have to carry him back to the gate” as I didn’t think he would leave him there.

To be honest as underhanded as Rush’s tactics were, as I said he wasn’t wrong. Young isn’t the man for the job. I said above that I think Rush would be a much better leader and this gambit proves it. Another good example is when Rush lied to the crew about an Icarus type planet, Young revealed the deception but why? No-one had to find out and Rush was right, it would motivate them, it would keep them going. Despair was starting to sink in, the crew were starting to fracture under the pressure, nothing better than a common goal to unify people. I’m not saying I condone lying but sometimes, especially in extreme circumstances, a leader has to make these kind of choices, a smaller evil for a greater good. Leaving Rush on that planet, might have been popular among some of the military, but it didn’t help anyone.

It’s not like Rush is a coward either. In the episode ‘Time’ the wormhole is behaving strangely, they can’t get through to the Destiny on the radio and the situation is desperate. The off world team is falling sick, they are being attacked by snake aliens and getting killed off one by one, either from sickness or the aliens. Rush, knowing this, runs through the wormhole, which probably killed that version of him, as it was a different timeline. I suppose it could be argued that death was a certainty remaining on the planet. However, his ‘for a minute there I thought we were really in trouble’ and running up the ramp, that seemed more like a man willing to sacrifice himself in the hope of saving the remaining team, than a man trying to save himself.

The backstory behind Rush shown in the episode ‘Human’ and the different side of him, when interacting with Amanda Perry in ‘Sabotage’ really showed his strength of character. He’s not perfect, he has some strong regrets, he’s turned bitter and he’s made mistakes. It’s like McKay, on the surface he’s distinctly unlikable, people express confusion over what Keller sees in him, in what Shepherd sees that is worth such support and loyalty.

McKay is an arrogant, egotistical, sexist, annoying, hypochondriac of a man. He has a dozen faults but he’s also loyal, his seemingly endless ego covers for his insecurity and occasional confidence lapses. He can be sweet and despite his lack of belief in himself Atlantis proved that when the fight is on, there’s not many people better to have in your corner than McKay. Rush is the same but most people never look beyond the surface, they see the flaws he wears like armor, and don’t see the man.

As an aside I loved the casting choice for Rush’s wife. Louise Lombard was a favourite of mine on CSI: Vegas, and I was sorry she wasn’t picked up for NCIS: LA after appearing in the backdoor pilot. It’s too bad that it was just a guest spot, I don’t imagine we’ll see much of her again. Oh also in ‘Human’ that was a good use of Daniel Jackson, his instructional videos in ‘Air’ were also excellent.

Aliens make everything better
Which brings me to my last point – the turning point of the show. Episode 11, ‘Space’ and we finally got an enemy. I understand that the point of Universe was more survival, put a bunch of unsuitable people in a bad situation and watch them sink or swim. However, ‘Space’ was the first episode that I can truly say I enjoyed, the introduction of those aliens made the show so much better.

Throughout the episode I kept saying “where’s Rush? how does Rush get back?” as I knew he must and he didn’t appear for ages. Finding him on the enemy ship was convenient but also makes yet another point for why Young was stupid to leave him behind. No-one knows more about Destiny than Rush, he makes for a really big security leak. Not to mention, nobody knows about the Destiny than Rush. I especially enjoyed, I kept crowing “serves you right”, every time someone pointed out that Rush would be useful right about then.

I suppose to give Young some sort of credit, he did break Rush out of the water prison. He was then unable to reconnect with the alien he’d body swapped with as Rush killed him, so whether he would have helped Rush escape isn’t known, I suppose it’s possible. However, his immediate order was to destroy the ship Rush was on. I suppose it’s uncharitable of me to note that would be good for Young, after all he’d said Rush was dead, gone in a rock slide, his continued life makes that statement a lie. It doesn’t help that his attack was reckless, putting too much power in weapons, risking burn out, risking the shield failing.

The next episode had the civilians attempt to stage a coup. Rush had agreed to keep to Young’s lie, to not tell anyone that Young tried to kill him ‘for the sake of the crew’. However, the crew weren’t stupid, they could see what was going on, that Rush got left behind for being ‘inconvenient’ and the existing tensions grew tenfold. The civilians had never been happy with the military but they had the guns.

They showed some military vs civilian conflicts on Atlantis a couple of times but the division and resentment was never that bad. Why? The expedition leader was a civilian, there was also a military commander and they worked together, or in military situations the civilian took a step back. Young was right in as much as decisions in battle can’t be made by committee, there needs to be a strong leader. However, that doesn’t mean the military needs to be in charge all the time, they all have to live with one another as they are stuck there.

What struck me the most though about ‘Divided’ was Rush’s actions, and how people responded to them. He helped Wray attempt to stage the coup. When it became apparent that his actions in transferring system control would kill Young and Scott, he stopped and he saved their lives. He saved the life of the man that left him to die of dehydration or exposure. He knew that the aliens would return, that they would attack again, and he devised a plan that would keep them all safe. Could the plan have failed? Yes. However, if Young had his way, then they would all have been dead.

I know Johanson obviously thinks well of Young, they did have a relationship after all, but that doesn’t exclude reason. Think of other military personnel, Carter, O’Neill, Shepherd, all military and all reasonable. Oh they had their moments, I’m not saying that they didn’t, but they were capable of seeing a situation from other perspectives. They would sympathize, they would help, they would even go against orders sometimes to do the right thing. I know it was Daniel that called the Nox to save the Tollan in season one, as he couldn’t be court-martialed, but all of SG-1 were involved. Just one example among many, where the military team members were shown to care.

The civilians on the ship aren’t aliens in trouble, they are their own people. We take care of own isn’t just limited to military, it includes all SGC personnel and Destiny seem to have really forgotten that. Johanson saying “this is war and it’s what we do” might be a good line, but it really doesn’t help. Honestly the arrogance of Young and the others, to just take over by force. They burst into the civilian side, Lt. James smashed one civilian in the face, Greer knocked two unconscious. Did they really think that would help?

Surely the sensible thing would be to have stopped, to have thought for a moment. Young should have asked himself “how did I let it come to this?”, “how did I let them get so desperate that they would go to these lengths?”. He then should have talked, should have brokered a compromise. The civilians weren’t looking for war, they just wanted an acknowledgement of their rights, they wanted to be listened too, but that was too difficult for Colonel Young.

Then, they blame Rush, naturally he seems to be the popular scapegoat. They hate him right up to the point when they need him to save them, then they are asking him to perform miracles and getting mad when he can’t. What’s worse is they don’t even seem to realize how unfair that is, how much of a decent guy Rush really must be that he does the right thing despite how they treat him.

Rush had a tracking device surgically implanted in his chest, next to his heart. They all blamed him for not telling them as soon as possible. However, Rush actually makes the point, it wasn’t unreasonable to assume Young would just toss him out of an airlock. There were other options that they didn’t explore. For instance could they have shorted it out with an EM pulse or electric shock? How about hacking in to the subspace link and scrambling it? I’ve seen McKay do stuff like that on Atlantis, it’s hardly the first subspace tracker the SGC has encountered, Ronan Dex was implanted with one on two occasions.

Instead they go straight to the cutting – in the middle of the battle. How does that make sense? The aliens could see them at that point, so the tracking device was redundant, it wouldn’t be a problem again until they jumped to FTL and then emerged from FTL again. Wouldn’t it have been more sensible to have left Rush in charge of the consoles? Waited to cut until after they were back safe in FTL? Instead Young is yelling at Eli to bring up weapons, which to his credit Eli said was a bad plan. However, Eli might be smart, and might have a miraculous grasp over the systems given how brand new he is to the SGC, but he’s not the resident expert.

Oh another aside why is Eli supporting Young? I would have thought that he would have been on Rush’s side, or at least on the side of the rest of the civilians. Seriously that was a real headscratcher, why Eli wasn’t on Team Rush.

The aliens gave the show some much needed direction and focus. I hope we see more of them, that the actual conflict, not just the psychological conflict, gets ramped up for the three remaining episodes in season one, and then season two. I also wouldn’t be opposed to an answer when it comes to those planet creating aliens. However, I rather suspect we won’t get one, or at least not a complete answer. The direction of ‘Faith’ was about faith, that sort of thing is best left for people to make up their own minds.

I didn’t intend to write such a mammoth post, I guess I had a lot more to say than I thought I did. The show is definitely of the slow burning variety, it took a long time to get started, now it’s more in the swing of things and it’s looking up.

Stargate Universe will never be a firm favourite, there’s far too much about it that I find irritating. However, I’m glad that I revisited it and I will watch all twenty three remaining episodes. It’s not the show I wish it was, it will never be what I would have liked it to be and given the choice I would have rather had more SG-1 or Atlantis. That being said, it’s not as irredeemably terrible as I once thought.

A friend of mine warned me about Universe before I tried watching it the first time. They said it was bad, probably wasn’t worth watching and I didn’t believe them. “It’s Stargate,” I insisted. “It’s got Ming-Na Wen and Lou Diamond Phillips, aka Melinda May and Ian Edgerton (Agents of Shield and Numb3rs).” I was positive that it would be brilliant, or at the very least good as it was Stargate. Obviously, it didn’t pan out that way, four episodes and I gave up in bitter disappointment. Perhaps as it turns out those two actors weren’t the real draw. What I really needed to wait for was an appreciation for Robert Carlyle. That’s what made me watch again, and he really does give Rush the layers such a complex character deserves.

What about now though, with those original named actors? I dislike Telford so much I don’t care who’s playing him, I just don’t want him on screen. However, Ming-Na Wen is good as Wray, she’s IOA so we’re programmed to dislike her but like Woolsey before her she works past that. She’s strong in different ways than I expect, given that I identify the actress with her Agents of Shield character. In the episode ‘Sabotage’ she swaps bodies with a quadriplegic for a few weeks, so that Perry can fix the ship. She shows the stresses and strain well, along with dignity and quiet strength. Lt. James couldn’t tolerate the respirator for more than a couple of minutes, Wray stepped up and dealt with it.

Last point I promise, the body swapping thing. Why aren’t people more freaked out by that? I mean you are looking at someone and it’s not them, it’s someone else. I understand perhaps the experienced SGC people taking it in their stride, after all they’ve dealt with the Tok’ra which is two people in one body. However, the families of the Destiny crew? Not to mention how did any family member get clearance? We’re talking the most open secret in the world, but that’s a rant for another time.

Young’s wife had sex with him in Telford’s body, how does that even work? To be honest, I know Rush said to Perry that he couldn’t do it because the Ancient chair had just made him relive his wife’s death. However, I would seriously not blame him for just not wanting to see Wray naked, he has to work with her afterwards. Plus with Wray being gay chances are she’s not on birth control, that would be a problem, can you imagine? How pissed would she be, “you did what with my body now?”

Yeah I actually respected Rush a lot more for that. I realize Perry was desperate, it was her only opportunity, one she never thought she would have, but however sorry I feel for her, that would have just been so wrong. Oh yeah and Eli’s reaction to Perry liking Rush, how is is that hard to understand? He just kept repeating “but it’s Rush?”, the point being? Seriously, people are so unfair to Rush. It’s no wonder he doesn’t trust them, he’s just returning the favour.

I’ve written over 5000 words on this now. It’s time to end. To summarise, Rush is the best, aliens make things better and I really hate Young.