Monday, February 10, 2014

Stargate Universe S1 Ep4: Darkness

"Eli, it's beautiful."
-Chloe Armstrong in awe of space-
How fitting the title should be DarknessStargate Universe is a thrilling and unique entry in the science fiction universe minus the comic book trappings of its two predecessors and quickly ranking amongst my favorite science fiction series.

I've been trying to get my head around the word dark to describe the series.  I'm making efforts to separate SGU and Battlestar Galactica in this early going given the many comparisons that were made at the time of SGU's release.  Dark is just not the appropriate application of the word to this series beyond the initial aesthetic and use of shadows and lighting which is indeed in step with the popular BSG.  When people use that word for BSG there is a sense of nihilism about it.  SGU is certainly not nihilistic. It's more appropriately real, realistic, grounded in tone and less the comic book stylings of the previous two Stargate adventures of which I adore. In effect, it lends the series description as something darker by its very nature. There is plenty of character complexity to be sure, but it doesn't share that sense of spiraling nihilism that was often associated with BSG.  Are there some misguided people aboard the Destiny? Yes. Are they frustrated and experiencing a sense of helplessness that informs their responses? Yes. Is there an occasional bad seed? Maybe. But by and large, there is much awe and beauty that surrounds the struggles of the denizens aboard Destiny? Through it all, space is something of a mystery and an inspiration and a joy to behold and explore. So any oversimplified comparisons to other series would be unfair as SGU makes its way into the darkness of space to explore its own unknowns and make its own path within the genre.

Perusing the web of late for reaction to SGU has certainly proved interesting.  It's surprising to see how many felt SGU was some kind of BSG clone on arrival.  As I noted in my look at Air, there was indeed homage stylistically via the camera work, but in no way do the two universes remotely resemble one another apart from the dark aesthetic and approach to the state of the art effects shots pertaining to the Destiny, which I love by the way. called SGU derivative of BSG and other science fiction. In fact, Kenneth Brown was less than enthusiastic about the scripts. Fortunately, for me, where others have perceived derivation I have found understated inspiration. SGU is the recipient of an already established mythology and plays within its own established rules and universe.  If anything it riffs on itself. But SGU certainly puts a new spin and astoundingly fresh approach on old concepts within the long-running series. And certainly the series is inspired by ideas and programs that have come before. But with a little patience and unexpected discovery I am quickly learning SGU was something special in its own right within the franchise and the genre itself.

From the opening moments of Stargate Universe, Season One, Episode 2, Darkness, it's a pleasure to see the fish-out-of-water scenario unfold as people legitimately struggle to survive, exchange good humor and natural banter rather than rapid fire comic quips.  Without question Stargate SG-1 and Stargate Atlantis had humor, action, conflict and character drama down to a formulaic science, but there is something much more authentic about the situational interactions aboard the Destiny.  There is a real sense that these strangers are getting to know one another. They are disarming each other with humor, but not taking the humor beyond the normal parameters of what might be perceived as funny in a natural exchange between people who are generally unsettled. The viewing experience is indeed refreshing and real.  It once again illustrates just how different Cooper and Wright and the creative team behind SGU were approaching their new concept.

Geek moments are appropriately comedic as even Eli Wallace expresses his natural geek intellect as many would referring to various sci-fi obsessions to lessen the palpable tensions.  In Darkness, Eli expresses a healthy respect for Planet Of The Apes and many of us connect to Wallace, though he's a math genius, as a projection of ourselves out there in the void.

Dr. Nicholas Rush takes his character to the brink exhibiting a mean streak in his frustration, agitation and general irritability over being tired and attempting to resolve power issues on the Destiny before they fail.  Water reserves are also fast becoming an issue but that theme is reserved for Episode 6, Water. But it's clever to see the series foreshadow struggles that would take greater prominence down the road in their journey.

Each single word title cleverly captures a general theme concerning the struggle of all those aboard the Ancients vessel.  And through each and every struggle we become even more invested in these characters wondering what exactly their destiny will be.

The characters continue to shine a little star light onto their lives and loves and continue to offer a little more depth with each new installment.  Utilizing the Kinos a number of secondary, recurring characters step up and record a small window into who they are for posterity.  Their hopes, dreams and fears are recorded as a time capsule in the eventuality their final fate awaits them prematurely.

Holy Toledo! Even Vanessa James is in awe of herself.

I continue to be blown away by how much I love the authenticity of this group of universally expert actors in their respective roles. Carlyle as Rush absolutely shines in his performance in Darkness and steals the first half of the episode.  Smith is excellent as the faith-based Matthew Scott.  Louis Ferreira ironically steps out of the darkness a bit more with his role as Everett Young. David Blue is infinitely likable as Eli Wallace and is no clone of SGA's fantastic Rodney McKay (not that you could or should ever have another).  Additionally, Chloe Armstrong and Tamara Huffman continue to exhibit signs of life.

Many were underwhelmed by Darkness further adding to criticism of the series. There is no telling the impact concerning the loss of formula from the original two Stargate series. It was no doubt taking its toll with fans and critics. Seeing Darkness for the first time, this science fiction fan was positively riveted with the stakes in play for those aboard the Destiny. The tension and the performances are handled with the steady balance of seasoned creative people with a plan and experience.

One notable moment in the final minutes of SGU really spoke to me. A final sequence captured the mood and spirit of the new Stargate and the potential ahead. Staring into the darkness all aboard stand at a window of the Destiny positively overcome by the beauty of gas giant.  They are in rapture over the beauty before them escaping the immediate concerns of this mortal coil for a few moments of release. It is this wonder of space that I have not seen often in the Stargate franchise or any other for that matter.  Quite frankly it was breathtakingly beautiful in its tenderness and simplicity and just capturing the beauty of the cosmos. The moment reminded me of the beauty surrounding Sunshine in this fashion or in the way Joss Whedon's series captured the elegance of space that surrounded the Serenity. One could even point to Doctor Who episode The End Of The World starring Christopher Eccleston and recall the Doctor with companion Rose in awe of space captured as poetry on film. In Darkness SGU takes time to see the light and there's hardly a note of darkness, like BSG, about that.

Veteran Stargate director Peter Deluise (who makes an appearance in the episode) really brings his A game and demonstrates what a capable and effective director he has become over the years framing and lighting the episode in keeping with its theme.  Brad Wright, too, writes another gem in Darkness, followed by its sequel, Light.

All of the performances, the visuals and theme are complemented beautifully by a striking score from Joel Goldsmith. Come one, where is that soundtrack people? The melodies are haunting and epic like Greg Edmonson meets Vangelis as siphoned through the mind of Goldsmith. It's just gorgeous.

Taken in total, the series has left me in awe of how expertly crafted each episode has been from opening to closing frame.  There's much to be said about experiencing a series like this on Blu-Ray too without commercial interruption.

Darkness is exceptional science fiction. The more deliberate, thoughtful pacing of the series is welcomed and should not be seen as a negative, but a stimulating and pensive rumination on space and situation for the survivors.  There is much hope and light to embrace in the darkness and, if anything, so far, Air and Darkness offer more than ample proof of that.

Darkness: B/B+.
Writer: Brad Wright.
Director: Peter Deluise.

Actress Ona Grauer appeared in SG-1, S6, Ep4, Frozen as well as SGA, S1,Ep1, Rising.

Utilizing the Ancient communication stones first introduced in SGA, S5, Ep18, Identity.

Director Peter Deluise (right) in action.

Speaking to an Ancient Kino. Actress Julia Benson appeared in SGA, S3, Ep3, Irresistible.


El Vox said...

I'm not sure I even saw any of this series. I think at the time with both the original Stargate, and Atlantis showing, it didn't register enough for me to note. What I don't understand is why isn't the SF Channel still showing these or BSG either for that matter? I thought one of the reasons they made them, other than money, was for repeat viewing on their channel and not having to pay a royalty or whatever. Perhaps they will at some point in the future.

Granted I think you can drain an audience of too much of something. I think Marvel did that for me with their X-Men series, not that I was that huge a fan anyway. So I wouldn't want the SF Channel to turn into the Stargate Channel, which at one time seemed that way, but it would be nice to catch up on some of this rather than Sharknado or Dinocrocfart.

After reading your review of SGU, I'd be curious to rewatch them.

The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

SGU followed SGA after SGA's cancellation.

It was such a different tone I think it really threw a curveball at expectations for longtime fans of the franchise. It's that simple, because it's a quality outing.

It's definitely no Sharknado (funny).

I am so down on superhero films at the moment. The glut of superhero films have absolutely no appeal to me. They have been so disappointing.

I have to tell you. I enjoyed The Dark Knight. I recently finally watched The Dark Knight Rises. Still good, but it was a little long and kind of labored along a bit too much. But to be honest the Nolan films are strong.

Thor, Avengers, yuck! I can't take them anymore.

El Vox said...

I think Dark Knight Rises was a bit too long too. Sometimes I think filmmakers should realize that longer isn't always better, maybe they could put out a directors cut DVD or something, but edit it down a bit better.
Still, I thought it was a pretty good picture. I enjoyed The Avengers and Capt. America films too. Thor was a bit iffy, but still enjoyed it. Even though I can enjoy some of those films, it seems they're flooding the market with them. But evidently they're making them money, so I can't blame them.

The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

I can't bear another comic book movie. Maybe Captain America.

But generally I'm bored to tears with them, but it's all about the Benjamins for sure and they are making plenty of them. That's the name of the game.