Friday, January 22, 2016

Stargate Universe S1 Ep11: Space

"The Colonel's dangerous."
-Nicholas Rush-
"We need to do something about that."
-Camile Wray-
"For the record I think this is a very bad idea."
-Nicholas Rush-
"Yes, but it's the best of the bad ideas."
-Camile Wray-

Motives and agendas threaten to split apart the crew of the Destiny. How fitting that it's been a good deal of time and space since I last wrote about Stargate Universe (2009-2011). My diversions and a bit of hyper sleep see me return to the trials and tribulations of those aboard the Destiny hurtling through the unknowns of space. It's not for a lack of interest in this series, because SGU is exceptional. It is offers a delicate balance of suspense, thrills and quiet character development. It was a remarkable series and would easily rank among my favorites.

In Stargate Universe, Season One, Episode 11, Space, there may be no shortage of discoveries abound, but one thing that is certain, assured and never a surprise, the darkness and light of human behavior are forever in play even in the isolation and deep void of space.

Just as everyone continues to have their doubts about the fate of Dr. Nicholas Rush at the hands of one Everett Young, Young, too, questions himself and his actions. Those doubts are a result of the nasty, violent physical altercation between Rush and Young that abandoned Rush to die on a visited planet covered in SGU, Justice here.

The aforementioned events are particularly unsavory and interesting because the conventions of science fiction are somewhat inverted. Typically, the Dr. Rush character, echoing traditionally evil characters (though far more complex here) like Dr. Zachary Smith of Lost In Space (1965-1968), act normally as the trigger for such disturbing machinations actually occurring to the perceived hero. Here, we have a far less defined set of motivations for those in roles typically perceived as conventional. Rush, Wray and Young all have competing objectives, agendas and thus motivations are not black and white.

Additionally, the rest of the crew that is aboard the Destiny continues to do what humans do---jockey for position sometimes undermine authority, destabilize and make every effort to assert their own petty agendas conceivably to the detriment of the greater good. It only proves you can take the humans far from home, but you can't take the human, or nature, out of them. A change of location and circumstances does not alter human nature. The only thing it magnifies is the potential for our natures to get worse or better. The question is how would you respond to circumstances?

The disturbing realities of subterfuge are always in play aboard the Destiny as much as the crew attempts to ascertain answers to more vital questions of survival. One thing humans do best is make it hard on themselves. Why potentially deal with fighting aliens attacking the Destiny when you have each other to battle? Contending with the unknown and aliens might seem like your number one priority, but the reality is human beings are often there own worst enemy. The potential for the ugly is as great as it is the beautiful and SGU will explore both as much as it explores space.

When the aliens make contact the suspense rises. In effect, SGU launches a response on the aliens as much as it does a Season 1.5 response to critics of the series' pacing by injecting a space-fueled battle infusion of excitement, a la Battlestar Galactica (2003-2009), into the proceedings. Now I've devoured each and every scene of SGU's first ten episodes. It may be an acquired taste, but its measured pacing and sustained mood make for one of the finest, uncompromising space series in recent memory.

A recent viewing of James D. Parriott's Defying Gravity (2009) and I couldn't help but wonder if SGU didn't find some inspiration in its approach from that ephemeral run. While a brighter, more inspiring series about the desire for actual astronauts to be in space, the direct opposite of how and why the people are aboard the Destiny, SGU still feels like it took some concepts and implemented them to great effect, to differing effect and even improving upon some aspects.

Matthew Scott and Ronald Greer take to the skies of space to intercept the launch of several smaller alien ships from a much larger alien mother ship. A space battle between vessels ensues that would make Katee Sackhoff proud.

Meanwhile, Eli Wallace and others attempt to fill the vacuum and void left by the absent Rush in breaking down the science of Destiny and understanding how to operate the vessel. Every effort is made to, first, understand the Destiny, and two, alternate power between shields and weapons while taking fire.

Ultimately the hull of the Destiny is breached and contact is made as Chloe Armstrong is literally abducted by aliens. As the ship exits, the artificially intelligent-like systems of the Destiny quickly fills the hole and space made aboard the Destiny by the breach by essentially assimilating it into its shielding coverage. Excellent stuff.

With the communication stones working to facilitate a physical exchange between Young and an alien aboard the foreign craft, Young happens upon Rush submerged in a liquid tank aboard the alien vessel, a kind of homage to Luke Skywalker and the Bacta Tank from Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (1980). Young smashes through the glass tank. The move is clearly a reaction to Young's previous decision in Justice. Young looks for redemption and vindication over his guilty conscience and wishes to rescue Rush, the very man he previously left for dead. Upon closer inspection and a second chance, Young's human conscience gets the better of him. We all make mistakes. There are always scenarios in our lives where we wish for the proverbial do-over. No one is perfect.

While the alien mother ship was interesting coupled with some nifty sound effects, the blue aliens themselves were intriguing but the CGI is mildly underwhelming for this writer. My standards are pretty high, but the creatures are still reasonably good. The translucent aliens are also more fascinating and mysterious than such previous incarnations within the franchise such as the Goa'uld. The Replicators were an exception to the rule though an overreliance and overuse relegated them to an overly hackneyed foe.

Those who questioned the direction of the series based on Season 1.0 will find a tonal shift with Space. The mood that made the first season such an overwhelming surprise and success for this writer is replaced here by a mid-season, up-tempo-paced action piece to satiate the appetites of a vocal, arguably rambunctious or unruly Stargate fan base displeased with the replacement of fan darling Stargate Atlantis (2004-2009). Whether that continues to guide the series for the second half of its first season or not remains to be seen as of this writing, but that first season's genuine emotional core is what established and made this new series version of Stargate so impressive. Space offers a nice diversion away from the cadence established to date, but fans of SGU can only hope it doesn't lose sight of its dramatic and emotional heart.

Always interesting to me is the human interplay on SGU. Young's discovery that Rush has returned leaves him reeling with a mixed reaction of both relief and concern over not only that which he is capable but for what will inevitably be revealed to others. His on-board nemesis is sure to retake his rightful place aboard the Destiny. Fortunate for Young, Rush was probed by the aliens and is marred by a blurry recollection of actual events that took place in the lethal Justice. Or is he? Could Rush actually be aware? And equally fortunate, fans of this new series are reunited quickly with one of the true highlights of the series in Robert Carlyle as Rush.

The best portion of Space is not so much the open space of the space opera portion of this effects-heavy episode, but the intimate closing of space between both Rush and Young as Rush admits to knowing the truth of the reality of former events and their relationship. Young, too, is aware of efforts by Rush to frame him. In the end, the men appear to demonstrate regret and surrender to a kind of peaceful, though uneasy and distrustful co-existence. For now. Their exchange and the final minutes observing the characters aboard the ancients vessel as a slice of their lives unfolds over song (a popular option on Defying Gravity but by no means a first there either) is what pulls this viewer in most.

Writing team Joseph Mallozzi and Paul Mullie, the team behind Dark Matter (2015), arrive for their first contribution to SGU of twelve. The duo first appeared on Stargate SG-1 for Season Four and contributed a whopping 46 episodes beginning with the excellent Window Of Opportunity (Ep6). Highlights are many including the Season Eight two part Moebius. This was followed by eighteen contributions to Stargate Atlantis before returning for SGU. Well-versed in writing science fiction Mullie and Mallozzi would create the Dark Matter comic book (2012) and adapt for SyFy. The two writers would write the bulk (ten) of its thirteen episode first season together and as individual writers.

In general, Mallozzi and Mullie along with the rest of the writing staff continue to deliver a cracking, quality series for SGU and each episode never misses a uniformly coherent beat.

Meanwhile the visual team and direction continues to be second to none. Director Andy Mikita returns for his fourth directorial effort (of twelve) behind his exceptional three-part pilot opener for SGUAir. Mikita too enjoyed an extensive run with the Stargate franchise beginning with Season Three of Stargate SG-1 for twenty-nine episodes followed by twenty-two contributions to Stargate Atlantis. The two-part Heroes and Threads (both SG-1) and Midway (SGA) are among his many highlights pre-SGU. Together, Mikita with Mullie and Mallozzi fit hand in glove having worked together as creative battery mates on ten collaborations prior to SGU including Stargate Atlantis series finale Enemy At The Gate. This would be the first of nine occasions for SGU. Mikita would later rejoin the writing team for the final two episodes of Dark Matter's Season One. Whew!

Given that Space offers the best balance of writing and visual adventure. Though, for me, Space still proves the series is best on SGU when little of it exists between its characters, drawing emotions in close where raw feelings are exposed under duress. Observing the human condition intimately responding to strain, pressure and the unknown against the ironic backdrop of that expanse called space is what makes the series shine. Space is part one of two concluding with Episode 12, Divided.

Space. Writer Joseph Mallozzi and Paul Mullie. Director: Andy Mikita.


El Vox said...

I just watched the first two episodes of SGU tonight & enjoyed it. Funny you have a new post up about it. At the time I missed many of the SG franchise, so plenty to catch up on. Did you see the new X-File episode tonight? Pretty good I thought, nice to see the crew again.

Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

Yeah, great series.
You know I did not see The X-Files. I was thinking it was on tonight. Oh well.

I rarely enjoy these things on television to be honest anyway. The commercials
take me out of the experience much more than I like. At this point, I'm okay with buying it and experiencing in one sitting.

Like you, look forward to seeing the cast again.