‘Stargate Universe’ recap, episode review: “Space”

by W. Andrew Powell

The cast of Stargate Universe

The cast of Stargate Universe

Last October, Space debuted the latest series in the Stargate franchise, Stargate Universe, a new sci-fi drama that nicely balances out the action that fans have come to expect from Stargate, but with a lot more emphasis on the human story.

Here’s a quick recap for those of you who have missed out so far, plus a review of tonight’s new episode, “Space,” which coincidentally airs on Space in Canada at 10 pm (ET), and 7 pm (PT).

In The Beginning

The first ten episodes of SGU debuted between October and December, 2009, and introduced us to the ship known as Destiny, which has inadvertently become home for dozens of humans after an attack on their base. The catch for these people is that they can’t get back home.

As their base was being destroyed they were attempting an experiment to dial a unique 9-chevron gate address which required massive amounts of power. Normal gate addresses only require seven chevrons, and connect the gate the user is dialing from, to another gate placed elsewhere within the solar system or galaxy.

This gate address was special though because it allowed the Ancients, a race of beings who existed millions of years ago, to dial to the Destiny, which had been sent out from Earth hundreds of thousands of years ago.

Forced through the gate from the attack, the survivors found themselves on this special ship, which is now so far away from Earth that it’s almost impossible to reach. Lacking the power they need to dial back to Earth, the people are now stuck, and trying to find a way to survive on this alien vessel.

Adding to their problems is the fact that the ship, since it is so ancient, is also in disrepair, and they can’t access more than the most basic systems as the ship flies on autopilot.

Noteworthy Crew

Over the first half of the season, we have come to know the crew, which is a mix of civilians and military, constantly clashing over one problem or another.

The only consensus, thanks in part to the soldiers on board, is that Colonel Everett Young, played by Louis Ferreira, is in charge. He’s a capable leader, weighing out the best for the people on board, although he’s not immune to the ghosts that seem to haunt everyone on board, namely, coming to terms with the fact that they may never get back to Earth and the people they love there.

Another key element so far is the constant battle of wills between Colonel Young and the group’s only scientist versed in some of the history of the Ancient’s technology, Nicholas Rush, played by Robert Carlyle. At every turn Rush has tried to find a way to maintain control over what he considers his ship while doing whatever it takes to push back all interlopers.

Rush even went so far as to frame Colonel Young for a crew member’s death. But, at the end of that episode, “Justice,” Colonel Young went into a fit of rage and left Rush behind on a planet as the ship took off for its next destination. Explaining that Rush was crushed under a rock slide, Young forces Eli Wallace, played by David Blue, the resident geek and comic relief, into the role of riddle-solver for the Destiny and its technology.

Wallace’s big problem, aside from being Young’s lackey and sometimes spy, is that he has a massive crush on the young and pretty Chloe Armstrong, played by Elyse Levesque. She, of course, thinks of Wallace as merely a great friend, especially since she has a semi-serious relationship with First Lieutenant Matthew Scott, played by Brian J. Smith, a very capable pilot who has a messy personal life back on Earth, which has been plaguing him.

Rounding out the major characters are two of my favorites actors, Alaina Huffman as Tamara Johansen, the resident medic and Colonel Young’s former love interest; Jamil Walker Smith as Ronald Greer, a serious soldier who has a rather nasty record; plus Ming-Na as Camile Wray, a civilian who is starting to make trouble for Colonel Young, and took control of the ship while Young was under investigation courtesy of Rush’s antics.

“Space” – Episode 11

A scene from Stargate Universe: Episode 11 - Space

A scene from Stargate Universe: Episode 11 - Space

What makes “Space” such a great episode is that it feels not only long-overdue, but also brings some much-needed external conflict to the series. Up until this episode, we’ve been watching the crew fight amongst themselves, or otherwise fight for basic survival.

As the episode kicks off, there are questions left over from the last episode, particularly about how Colonel Young feels about losing one of his team members. Brushing the questions aside, Young heads to their communications room to contact Earth. Using alien technology that lets a person take control of another person using the same device anywhere else in the universe, Young expects to take over a soldier, as he’s done many times before, back on Earth, but this time is different.

After touching the communication stone, Young realizes he’s not on Earth. He’s in an alien spaceship in the body of one of the aliens. Severing the connection, the crew has to question what is happening, but it does bring one positive effect; Camile Wray can not file her report with Earth about losing Rush. Wray takes this opportunity, however, to start talking with similarly unhappy people about what they can do to replace Young as the commander of the mission.

That talk is cut short, however, when a ship full of the aliens Young encountered with the communications stones, comes into view of the Destiny and starts attacking. As Wallace tries to understand the weapon controls, and fend off the attack, a single vessel raids the ship and escapes with Chloe Armstrong.

What follows is a fairly action-packed episode, especially looking at the SGU episodes so far, with Young attempting to take over an alien once again to find Chloe. We don’t get to see much more of what Destiny can do, aside from a brief sampling of the ship’s big gun, but we do get a few new thoughts and questions.

For instance, what interest do the aliens have with Destiny, and how did they find the ship in the first place? Camile Wray’s attempts to stir up the civilians on the ship also seems to be taking shape, begging the question if there will be full-on mutiny, or what she will try to do next.

Otherwise though, “Space” represents one of the best episodes in the series so far. The acting has been consistent throughout each episode, but “Space” is a step forward in terms of making the story more interesting. The show features a great cast, full and diverse with lots of great story arcs already, but this outside conflict is essential to making the show more than just a character drama.

So far, we have lots of setup to make these characters interesting, likable, and even detestable in some cases, but I personally am happy to see even a brief injection of action, and real heroics. SGU has taken a great step away from the Stargate franchise by making an edgier, moodier story that does not rely on the usual Stargate formula, but I think, prior to this episode, they’ve focused almost too much on building the drama.

The only other thing we can ask is what the little surprise element in this story heralds? All I’m willing to give away is that, by the end, the status quo has been altered again, and Young is going to have to face even more trouble from key people on the ship, with at least two people leading the charge against him.

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