Thursday, April 20, 2017

Stargate Universe S1 E14: Human

"You're just a figment of my imagination. Reliving all of this is just a necessary evil an unfortunate side effect---a process I can't control. And it keeps getting in the bloody way of what I need to do. ... A distant memory and one I'd really rather went away."
-Dr. Nicholas Rush-

"You're not here for me. You can't lie to yourself. You chose this memory because it's one you'd rather just forget. You tell yourself my death gave you courage. In truth it made you callous. ... I was never your conscience Nicholas. You still have one of your own. You just need to listen to it."
-Gloria Rush-

Each and every episode opens with the beauty and grace of the Destiny, an Ancients' vessel with an almost H.R. Giger-esque Alien-like grace. Ironically, of course, Destiny is of human origin powered by the stars.

Stargate Universe, Season One, Episode 14, Human, takes us deeper into the alien space and darkness in which the inadvertent human explorers aboard the Destiny patrol. It is an exploration of the external and the internal struggle of the human being.

As far as some of the humanity aboard Destiny, Lt. Matthew Scott, played by Brian J. Smith, sometimes offers one of the most human portraits on the series with which this writer connects. He exhibits the kind of natural fears we would all experience in his position. He embodies faith. He is loyal and ethical. Scott's positions are easily identifiable.

Meanwhile Ronald Greer, played by Jamil Walker Smith, continues to be a real find and revelation on the series. He is in some ways the anti-thesis of Scott and a real wild card despite his loyalties to Colonel Everett Young.

To this day I'm uncertain of what caused a miscalculation with Stargate Universe (SGU) when it arrived on airwaves. My early assessment was dead wrong about the series, but there was definitely a misconception about what to expect based on very early evidence versus my own personal expectations. There were some things to get past and I needed to open my mind to the modifications made within the franchise tag with which I failed to do.

There were without question a certain set of built-in, preconceived expectations based upon years of Stargate SG-1 and Stargate Atlantis. Had SGU been called Destiny or The Expanse would I have approached the series differently? I can't know. But I understand I missed the seeding ship and lifeboat called Destiny when it first flew through this quadrant. My only explanation is that I had unfairly applied a set of notions acquired from the formula established by the Stargate franchise.

This writer is so terribly disappointed that I got it wrong. I can only imagine many of us did get it wrong. I certainly wouldn't have saved this series alone, but together, with those who had a flawed perspective, the trajectory of this stalled two year series might have altered course. There were still others who refused to accept a move away from formula. It's a real shame. T

Though I don't believe SGU to be a failure. Whenever a series this good is born and rides on this kind of immense quality we can only be grateful. I know I am. But I am apologetic that I misunderstood SGU at the very beginning looking through the prism of the two earlier franchise releases. My turnaround on SGU is indeed dramatic and radical from my initial assessment of it. For that, I am sorry, and dare I say even entirely human in my error.

As it stands Human returns the viewer to yet another audio visual treat, an entry that once again places SGU in the top tier of science fiction as a cinematographic experience and enterprise in visual science fiction complimented by the expansive sounds of the late Joel Goldsmith.

Robert C. Cooper returns to the director's chair for his second of three turns following his exceptional Time here.

Scriptwriter Jeff Vlaming (The X-Files, Battlestar Galactica, Northern Exposure, Hannibal, Fringe) turns in his sole script for SGU in the form of Human.

And with that the spotlight turns to top series thespian Robert Carlyle for something a little special when it comes to performance.

From the very opening shots filmed with a slightly washed and grainy stock look for the effect of flashback, the story clearly intends to probe the humanity of one Dr. Nicholas Rush. Just what kind of human being are you? Rush has clearly been misunderstood and at times manipulative aboard Destiny. For the first time, the writers and creators of the series intend to do a deeper dive into the character. This is indeed a more probing effort on the part of the Stargate franchise. To this point Rush could hardly be pegged as the definitive SGU version of Dr. Zachary Smith (Lost In Space).

Earth here and Life here probed the lives of a number of characters from the series to much greater effect. Human is the first to really focus on the Rush character as portrayed by Carlyle. The story earned Carlyle a Gemini award.

Human also sees the return of one Dr. Daniel Jackson. Through a series of flashbacks via the Ancient's Chair, Rush reveals efforts surrounding the SGC to unlock the ninth chevron, and Rush struggles with this and his wife's health in his efforts to keep Gloria Rush alive. The Ancients' Chair channels already learned or discovered information through Destiny. Jackson's appearance cleverly accounts for the Ancients' knowledge of his ascension at the end of Stargate SG-1, Season Five.

An exploration of Rush's life as a professor and of his study reveal a man of genius and one constantly seeking answers and understanding, the mark of a true scientist, a hallmark of the episode.

The Ancients' Chair returns Rush to cherished moments in his life as part of his immersion into his connection with Destiny.

Rush often appears detached, cold and inhuman, but the story speaks to the complexity of this character and what makes us human. It's never a simple formula. There is a grace and beauty in Human's story particularly for the Rush character. We are not summed up by a simple event but the culmination of events that influence us, nourish us and damage us through life.

These were indeed painful events in his life and reliving them is not something Rush embraces or relishes, but rather walks through often discarding them simply because of how painful the memory of losing his wife was and is.

A series of visuals, a Biblical recitation, seemingly drawn from Ep13, Faith, coupled with a classical composition wring out the agony and pain of her suffering. As Rush scribbles away on notepads, his wife feels alone. Rush, with his genius-like acumen, still has an inability to connect and be in the moment with his wife. So even together she still feels alone unaware of her husband's true mission in working with formula on her behalf.

But is this a recollection of actual behavior and events, a man who buried himself in his work, or a reimagining and reconstitution of those events as Rush moves forward in his work out of an attempt to keep those aboard Destiny alive because he still can? The trauma of his wife's loss is real but the Rush we have come to know and love is moving forward and guarded to reliving the painful past. The evidence of this pain is real and was hinted to in an earlier SGU episode.

Human sees Rush return to some of his unresolved psychological trauma. SGU channels a similar theme that was portrayed in Stargate SG-1, S1, E7, Cold Lazarus for Colonel Jack O'Neill.

Like Life and Earth, Human takes time to explore other characters in the series. The dynamic of human relations is delved into between Eli Wallace and Chloe Armstrong, still reeling from the events of Divided, as well as Matthew Scott and Ronald Greer (a glimpse of Greer's past is teased). This quartet travels through the ship's stargate to a planet's ruins.

Unfortunately the sequence sees the team encounter a kind of space spider. This writer must pause. Why must there always be a crummy old space spider or a traditional-looking creature in these scenarios?

Human would have benefitted from something a bit more original and extraordinary here and it's disappointing the pickle created for the away team was the result of a mere space arachnid. The entire secondary story is truly underwhelming and had the potential for something so much greater. Think Smoke Monster! We're in space and the cosmos is vast and filled with vast amazing wonders and things to discover and we get a lousy space spider killed by a machine gun. Blah.

How about something a little more indefinable, existential, or at the very least interesting. Let's play with the mind a little. What about something metaphysical that made so much sense in Space:1999 once upon a time? It's 2017. This is SGU and it deserved better.

This is complemented by a cave-in cliché and a cliffhanger ending that is more abrupt than intriguing. So fittingly, in a manner of speaking, Human has its missues.

Human is arguably a bit underwhelming even by SGU standards upon an initial viewing. But there are elements in play that reveal themselves on a second sitting, particularly those featuring Rush. It's a much smarter entry than appearances would have you believe.

So the Destiny FTLs and leaves behind Scott, Wallace, Armstrong and Greer. Rush revisits memories of losing his wife via an Ancients' device, and while those events essentially assist Rush in collecting and piecing together data there was a sense of dissatisfaction with the episode. That's a first for this writer when it comes to the series.

Human is a beautiful episode on some levels and the final scene between Gloria and Nicholas Rush is poetry about who Nicholas Rush was and who he has become and how he might be able to change going forward. It is exceptionally understated yet revealing. "I haven't forgotten you Gloria. I never will." This is a man struggling and at odds with himself.

The use of memory as Rush relives his wife's passing linked to his work and discovering genetic information with regard to the Ancients in what could prove crucial to humanity's destiny in, ironically, controlling Destiny herself is clever. The ship serves to provide critical data through fragments of Rush's past.

Human conveys a critical piece of who Rush is as a man and the love he had for his wife, but does it in a most unconventional manner. Rush is required to piece together important information regarding Destiny, but this discovery is through fragments of his final days with his dying wife. Human is less about the effect of the Ancients' Chair on Rush, and rather how Rush prefers to handle emotion, pain or suffering. While we get a glimpse into the man's past we also get a glimpse at the entirely human Rush, a man, who like many of us, would prefer to suppress emotions or bury traumas rather than deal with them. Or is it that Rush would prefer to let go of the trauma and move forward? Like any of us it gnaws at us and it lives with us and through us every day. This reflective component of Human is the episode at its best.

In the final seconds Colonel Everett Young asks Rush if it was worth risking his life in the Ancients' Chair for answers. There is a moment of pause in his face. One wonders if Rush considers reliving his past with Gloria worth the risk if but for a few minutes and if he hasn't rediscovered something about his own humanity as a result. He responds, "we'll see." Rush is reflecting upon, through re-examination, his own seemingly lost humanity. Can he change? Will he change? Only time will tell if this moment of awakening through the Ancients' device will alter Rush. There is a lot of power in Human and there always is when television challenges itself to examine humanity and character.

Ultimately Human, like us, is a much more complex narrative than meets the eye. Like people Human isn't always fascinating as entertainment even if it is an interestingly woven narrative personality. We know many interesting people but we don't always want to spend time with them. Artificial intelligence is often a theme navigated in science fiction along with the question what does it mean to be human? This theme can be even more fascinating when human behavior is analyzed to determine if a human is still capable of being human. Human does in spots what SGU does best, uses the stargate as a window to examine our humanity.

Writer: Jeff Vlaming.
Director: Robert C. Cooper.

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