Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Stargate Universe S1 Ep13: Faith

"We're 0 For 3 on close encounters of the third kind."
-Eli Wallace-

"Eli, everything we do out here is a risk."
-Everett Young-

"What if we were meant to stay there---all of us?
What if that planet was our lifeline and we just let it go?"
-Matthew Scott ponders matters of faith-

If there are those of you cautious about wading into the Stargate Universe (2009-2011) waters, fear not oh ye of little faith. SGU is a contemplative, reflective, pensive bit of science fiction for those seeking something a bit more cerebral beyond the confines of action adventure sci-fi previously established by its predecessors in the franchise.

It's incredible SGU survived at all in its intended form when one considers the standards then associated with the flagging reputation of SyFy. Poor production and sub-standard production values were often associated qualitatively with the bar set by SyFy. Yet here we were with Stargate Universe. Its virtues were recognized by few and generally underappreciated by many.

As you know this writer vehemently supports SGU here at Musings Of A Sci-Fi Fanatic. It may be too little, too late, but there is always the prism of history and SGU offered great production value for the often scorned channel.

It is a credit to the producers, writers and creators that the end result of SGU was of an HBO quality and caliber for science fiction.

So, it is fitting that you the viewer have faith in this much maligned series despite its absence while it was on the airwaves. Our examination of SGU's virtues continues as we enter the airlock of Stargate Universe, Season One, Episode 13, Faith. It's another gem of science fiction production to give us all pause.

The latest episode to drop us out of FTL and in the midst of deep space comes by way of writer Denis McGrath, who one penned two episodes for the genre series Charlie Jade (2005), cancelled after a single season here, and an animated sci-fi series called Skyland (2005-2007).

Direction for the series entry comes by way of Stargate franchise mainstay Will Waring. This would be his third and final contribution to SGU, behind the excellent Water here and Justice here, coupled with his fifteen episodes for Stargate Atlantis (2004-2009) and thirteen for Stargate SG-1 (1997-2007). With Faith Waring applies a more natural lighting approach for the Earthen green tones of the planet bound expedition.

The crew aboard the Destiny finds an uneasy alliance between military and civilian as our story begins. Will they have the faith required to move forward following the events of S1, Ep12, Divided here?

Actress Alaina Huffman, as Tamara Johansen, takes center stage and lets down her golden locks for the first time in the series. She is beautiful.

The Destiny drops from FTL upon a G2 star, a yellow dwarf. A planet is located nearby, but it is determined that the Ancients never seeded the place with a stargate. Why?

The Earth-like planet is pristine and "damn near perfect" in its beauty. Fruit. Plants. Fresh water. It's a paradise to the away team that checks it out. Visually the planet is an eden and certainly intended to evoke a visual representation of the faith theme. Matthew Scott, Ronald Greer, Johansen and others take a shuttle craft to it. Johansen is particularly mesmerized. She longs for home particularly given her natural inclination toward nesting.

A spire or obelisk is spotted. Dr. Nicholas Rush surmises the planet was created by a life form still there. It likely occurred following the Ancient's initial pass through. It is essentially the creation of a kind of "Genesis device" as Eli Wallace geek references Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan (1982). But the age of the planet and its relatively recent appearance suggests a higher power. In other words, if not aliens, who or what created this planet? Divine intervention? God? Without true answers men and women turn inward to their own faith or spirituality in coming to terms with the reason it exists at all and why they were brought there.

The plan is to send a shuttle for supplies. The Destiny moves out of range of the planet but will return in one month's time. As for the aliens? You can defer to Eli Wallace's quick wit and concerns at the opening of this blog entry.

When the large team dispatches to the planet's surface it's clear that Johansen exhibits body language toward Colonel Everett Young that she may be deserting if this home like home results in a positive journey. And in many ways Faith, particularly for Johansen, feels like a spiritual awakening, a step toward self-discovery and peace. The spirit of this kind of walkabout passage is reflected in Faith.

As the group below and those aboard the Destiny pass their days in wait questions of fate, faith and purpose penetrate the conversations. Differing schools of thought are reflected upon and considered by very different but equally thoughtful people struggling with their situation in space.

There is a terrific music video-styled montage to events both on the ship and on the planet as images move the story forward. It's worth noting that, while a common technique in film and television, SGU, once again, elevates the approach to art. My recent viewing of Defiance noted a very similar quality and approach. Here, the creators turn to another selection from Alexi Murdoch. Murdoch's Breathe was fittingly applied to SGU opener Air. For Faith the writers turn to the eloquence and applicability of All My Days.

This of course is complemented by the continued sizzle and spatial dazzle of Joel Goldsmith's score, which never ceases to wow this viewer with each return.

As the crew breaks down camp in preparation for departure, it becomes apparent the lure of this lush planet with waterfalls and lakes has a good number of folks considering an option of remaining behind. This same consideration holds true for the furtively pregnant Johansen. Eleven in all including Scott (out of protection for the others) would stay.

The question of free will is also in play as Rush, surprisingly, suggests Young take back the entire crew by force and gun point if required. Once again, such a view by Rush, points to the unpredictability and complexity of character given the radical requirements of the unknowns of space.

But as Young heads to the surface with one final proposal and one final effort to convince the military arm of his crew to return, matters of belief and faith versus hard fact are put in play.

Faith echoes the spirit of former TV series like Lost or The X-Files in their sometimes intelligent handling of philosophical and existential questions. Here Faith explores those more intangible concepts with real grace and beauty.

Scott asks Young upon departure, "What if we were meant to stay there? All of us. What if that planet was our lifeline and we just let it go?" And this is precisely the kind of open-ended question that fills our minds with SGU. There are no spoon fed solutions, quick answers or easy resolves. SGU offers great science fiction that leaves us questioning our humanity.

As most return out of duty or responsibility to the Destiny, sadness echoes through its corridors and chambers over what might have been. Rush, too, always seeking discovery, is saddened at the loss of an opportunity to discover who and/or what created that place. But once again, those answers are left ultimately to faith.

Faith indeed has a slower tone and burn than the previous Justice, Space and Divided installments, but pacing is solid and results in a rewarding and beautiful piece of television.

Moments of levity in the mess hall break some of the heaviness of Faith in the final frames. Images that remind us that, despite hardship and difficulties, faith in one another, faith in each other is still possible. Even a moment between Young and Rush gives us pause. Despite these joys, the fears of raising a child in the unknown darkness of space, as embodied in Tamara's character, reminds us that this is a very scary place that would indubitably shake our faith to its very foundations.

But like George Michael once sang about faith, ya gotta have it.

Director: Will Waring. Writer: Denis McGrath.

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