"The stress of life on this ship day after day and not knowing what's ahead it's a wonder more people aren't cracking up."
While this writer fully appreciates Stargate Universe (2009-2011; SGU) as a work of art in progress from the audio visual components to the performances, its complete success in execution also rests, as always, in the writing.
Stargate Universe, Season One, Episode 17, Pain feels a bit like an exercise in filler. Now that's not entirely fair because Pain is by no means a terrible entry in the franchise but if I had to pick one episode from the first season in the lower tier Pain would be at the bottom of my list.
Sure the writers and creators put their own spin on the ghostly apparition concept or the sense of being haunted by hallucinations. The writers offer viewers a credible reason for such nightmares in the form of an off world space tick that has embedded itself in the back of people's necks.
Again, our wayward crew aboard the Destiny has discovered something unexpected in space and brought those terrors aboard her. See the consequences of Episode 4, Water as another example.
But there is a sense of regurgitation here with a number of ideas coming back to plague the crew that have played out previously in the series. Pain draws upon the familiar connections for various characters and fleshes them out a bit further. Having said that, as an episode taking on established ideas Pain is an entirely original spin on familiar ground. It is a far more interesting story than an episode like Stargate SG-1, Episode 21, Politics in its first season. Fortunately Pain isn't boring or, well, a pain, but it's far less intriguing than previous Episode 16, Sabotage.
We get a little taste of all that has transpired to date and even throw a few of those translucent aliens in for good measure.
The cast, as always, is uniformly excellent and more than compensate for one of the weaker stories.
Though there is this air of familiarity about the entry the episode likely sets us up for a rousing trifecta of fine science fiction television to wrap up a rather underappreciated, underreported and stellar first season of science fiction in SGU.
Pain, if among the least interesting entries in the first season, still manages a sense of ghostly isolation. Claustrophobia and distrust is sown to good effect in this fairly haunting outing. That sense of loneliness and isolation is captured rather effectively throughout. The frustration of those on board Destiny is summed up fittingly by an exasperated Camille Wray when she mutters regarding a return to normal aboard the ship---"whatever that is."
And despite these encounters and setbacks the episode ends beautifully by establishing a wormhole to move forward in the hopes their luck will change. Exploring. Discovering. Survival. Looking for resources and answers and maybe a way home. These are all wonderful and important elements that make SGU a science fiction trip worth taking.
But truly SGU continues to be a gorgeous bit of production and execution and the substance is there to back up everything on the surface.
Watching the series this writer never stops considering in retrospection what a unique version of the Stargate franchise it really is. The very existence of the Stargate on the series places it in that universe. At times a reliance to lean back upon the mythology of that universe clearly connects it there (as we see in future installments). Yet sometimes the series feels like something else entirely. SGU is indeed at its best when it parts company with the previous iterations and establishes its own special identity.
Writer: Carl Binder (Life S1, E9).
Director: William Waring.