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For Cryin’ Out Loud: ‘Space’ Delivers

Friday - April 9, 2010


For Cryin' Out Loud - Jack ("Window of Opportunity") For Cryin’ Out Loud is GateWorld’s weekly editor’s column! If you have questions or suggestions about what you’d like us to talk about, e-mail the editors now.

I loved (most of) what the cast and crew of Stargate Universe gave us in the first 10 hours of Stargate Universe … but of course, the story of the Destiny is just getting going.  I knew that the first part of Season One would be about establishing the characters, their relationships, and their responses to being stranded on a rust bucket in deep space.  It would be about survival — finding basic elements like air, power, and water.

But I wanted more.  As nice as it is to have a character drama in the Stargate family, I still want some action and adventure.  I want crises from without, not just from within.  I want to see space ships shooting at each other and, yes … I want aliens!

Well, my friends, last week’s episode of Stargate Universe delivered in spades.  Without giving away any spoilers here for those who have not seen it yet: the story is intense, fast-paced (in all the right places), and emotional.

“Air” was a solid intro to the series that offered a balance of action (Part 1), drama (Part 2), and adventure (Part 3).  And “Time” was a damn cool, high-concept episode.  “Space,” however, is SGU‘s first master stroke.

If you listen to the GateWorld Podcast, you might have heard David and I mention “The Torment of Tantalus” and “Before I Sleep.” For the first seasons of Stargate SG-1 and Stargate Atlantis, respectively, those were the episodes I think represent the first time that each of the series realized their potential.  After a bit of feet-wetting, they were the first truly great episodes of Stargate‘s previous incarnations.  And I have been hoping that “Space” might be the same for Universe.

It is.  Oh, is it ever.

Note that in both cases, those episodes came in the second half of the first year.  “Torment” brought the newly-formed SG-1 team, just now starting to gel, to a planet where Ernest Littlefield had lived alone for 50 years — the first human from Earth to travel through the Stargate for millenia.  There, before the cliff-top castle where Ernest lived was destroyed in a lightning storm, Daniel learned that the people who built the Stargates used to meet with three other advanced races in the galaxy — a sort of “United Nations of the stars … Catherine agrees.”

“The Torment of Tantalus” had a challenging problem for SG-1 to solve (how to dial the gate when the D.H.D. is broken beyond repair), multiple levels of series mythology, outstanding performances from Michael Shanks and Keene Curtis, and an underlying emotional thread in the reunion of Catherine with the fiance she believed for decades was dead.  And it was episode #11.

On Atlantis, “Before I Sleep” did much the same for the show.  The team arrives in Atlantis from Earth for the very first time, activating systems and depleting what little power remained in the Z.P.M.s. The shield holding back the ocean begins to fail and the city is destroyed — the expedition from Earth wiped out.  Only Elizabeth Weir survives, and a trip back in time introduces her to the Ancients themselves 10,000 years ago and gives her a chance to change the future and save her people.

With the first close-up look at living, breathing Ancients, a strong performance by Torri Higginson, and a rip-roaring science fiction premise, the episode made me as a viewer feel like the new spin-off was finding a unique and compelling voice.  That was episode #15.

SGU "Space" (111) - RushNow there are a lot of episodes of Stargate, both before and after those, that I’m not crazy about.  My point is that these represent high-water marks for two of my favorite shows.  They were turning points in quality.  “Space” does this for Stargate Universe.  It gives fans exactly what we’ve been asking for.

And let’s recognize that the Powers That Be wrote, filmed, and produced the episode months before we ever saw “Air.”  They didn’t do it in response to outcry on the Internet; they did it because their story was moving toward this climactic encounter, because they recognized long before we did that for everything else the show is, it needs these elements, too.

Does that mean every episode will shine this brightly from now on?  Realistically, probably not.  The bigger budget and higher adrenaline of those season premieres, finales, and mid-season events usually help to make them fan favorites.  They also represent what I, as a geek for series mythology, love most: payoff.  That’s why episodes like SGA‘s “Be All My Sins Remember’d” and SG-1‘s “Reckoning” are so universally loved — not just for the incredibly cool battle sequences, the visual effects, and the heroes coming up with a plan to save the galaxy in the nick of time.  It’s payoff for the months or even years of build-up that came before.

That’s what Stargate Universe has done in the first half of its inaugural year.  The writers decided to tell a larger story, slowly.  So we got build-up:  Meet the characters.  See how they bounce off of one another.  See how they start to make allegiances.  Find out where their priorities lie, what they want to get back home to.  Then, when you’ve seen them crying in the corridor over lost comrades and falling into bed to try and cut out a little bit of happiness in the midst of hell … then you threaten them from the outside.  Then the space aliens come knocking.

I think the conversation about SGU these past four months would have gone a lot differently if “Space” had aired as the December finale, as the producers originally planned.  “Justice” had a nice punch-in-the-gut ending that showed the writers’ desire to take risks with their main characters.  They risked turning not just the ship’s crew but also the audience against Colonel Young.  (Listen to our recent podcast on “anti-heroes” for more on that.)  But “Justice” wasn’t a stand-up and cheer episode like the one we got last week.  It wasn’t payoff for ten hours of slow build-up.

Instead, we had to wait an additional four months without the payoff, without the action beat of the story and the external threat.  And so a lot of fans concluded that this — the slow burn that focuses exclusively on inward turmoil and relationships — is simply what SGU is all about.  If “Space” had aired in December, I think the naysayers might have been a lot more forgiving and optimistic about what is to come.

I only hope that they come back for the payoff.  A recent GateWorld poll showed that 24 percent of our readers weren’t planning to watch “Space.”  That’s a remarkably high (and disheartening) number for a Stargate fan site.  Another poll we ran showed that 22 percent of readers gave SGU some or all of the first half of the season to hook them — but no more.  I hope that, when the reviews come in and fans start buzzing about the show, those fans who tuned out will give the series another shot.

For the rest of us … SGU just got awesome.

Darren created GateWorld in 1999, and today is the owner and managing editor. He lives in the Seattle area with his wife and three children. (More)

COMMENTS (46):Rules | Report Comment | Trackback

  • Has this ‘for crying out loud’ thing changed to rant thread or are we still doing the Q and A stuff?

  • Yes “Space” was better but the show in my opinion still has a long way to go before I can consider it to be good.

  • Hi Darren,

    I gotta say, while the episode was good, I’d disagree that it’s the high watermark. It’s value is the promise of what is to come, a bridge from where they were (solitude and attempted murder) to where they need to go (the so called pay-off).

    My feeling is the pay-off is coming, and it’ll be damn cool.

  • Darren

    Hi Emily! I’d like to focus it on reader Q&A … but we’ve been getting somewhere between little and nothing.

    If anyone has questions (or comments) you want included in a future column, click here and choose “Letter to the Editor” from the drop-down. Thanks!

  • While the aliens were cool looking and the episode story was good, I was really underwhelmed with the space battle. I mean you saw more of the shuttle fighting then the Destiny. I would have like to see more shots of the Destiny exchanging fire with the big alien ship. You only saw Destiny’s shields impacted once if I’m not mistaken, and you only saw the Destiny’s attack hit the alien ship once. Sure, I wasn’t expecting something on the level of BaMSR, but at least as good as the Hammond vs. the Lucian Alliance Hat’aks….

  • Another good shot they could have done was show the Destiny at a distance underfire. Maybe from the point of view of the alien ship.

  • Can’t say I agree with any of your view on Space, but I won’t comment on that as that ship has sailed for me, and it certaintly didnt take me to episode 15 of Atlantis to come to the conclusion that the new spin off had found its voice. I discovered that after Rising. Atlantis hooked me from the very first episode and the characters engaged me immediately. I didnt need 10 episodes to wait on them to grow on me.

  • I thought Space was a good episode, with some stunning visuals, especially aboard the alien ship. However, my favorite episode of SGU is still Time. In regards to Justice being the mid-season finale, I personally liked the fact that it ended with the Rush/Young fight and Young lying about what happened. It felt like a moment that was a long time coming and it kept me guessing over the last 4 months as to what would happen as a result. Space, while it did introduce a new alien threat and had a space battle, did not end on as strong a cliffhanger, which is something I’ve come to expect from a Stargate mid-season finale (though, granted, I only started watching Stargate with Atlantis).

  • I agree that Space airing in December could have curbed most of the negativity about SGU. I like where things are going and how things have progressed mostly so far. Cant wait to see the rest of this season and what season 2 holds for the show.

  • To be honest, I didn’t think it a very good episode. It was okay, and wasn’t as vastly disappointing as the first 10 episodes, but it still has the fundamental problems I see with this series–characters I don’t care about, and a setup that doesn’t enthrall me. I really WANT to enjoy this series, mind you, as I’m a great fan of SG-1 and the first four seasons of Atlantis. I’m not someone you’d call a rabid “hater” (though I really do hate that term), so I’m genuinely open to this new version of Stargate (obviously, or else I wouldn’t still be watching it, despite having disliked most episodes to date). However, it’s just not pulling me in at all, and I think it may be time for me to pack it in. Sadly, that’s probably also going to mean my no longer reading Gateworld, since there are rarely ever any articles anymore about anything related to SG-1 or Atlantis, which was what has kept me reading for so many years. I guess all good things do come to an end, and that saddens me.

  • I personally think you’re giving Space too much credit. I found it enjoyable, but it didn’t knock my socks off. While the aliens were very impressive and I wouldn’t mind seeing more of them, their interest in Destiny and in Chloe of all people seemed unclear and a bit convenient. It’s a solid episode yes, and certainly better than say, Life, but Time is still the best episode so far this season.

  • Space was indeed a step towards the light.
    SGU needs to keep walking beyond this step, if not running.

  • I just wish I could find something to care about with these characters. I want to…but I don’t. With so little decent sci-fi on TV these days, I keep holding out hope that SGU will get better. But most of the characters are so bland, in my opinion. Characterization is very important to me, and if I can’t embrace the cast and the roles they play, it’s very difficult for me to enjoy a series. I’m not sure how much longer I’m going to wait for SGU to begin thrilling.

  • LailaH, do you actually know what “high watermark” means? Clearly not, seeing as you disagree with “Space” being described as such.

    High Watermark basically means, the best so far. In other words, the highest the water level has reached up until now.

  • I thought your analysis of Space was really accurate and I pretty much agree with most of what you wrote. And, I also think you succeed in making a interesting and compelling comparison regarding early episodes of both SG1 and SGA – each representing a point in the second part of their first year where each series began to bring together all its features so they shined together in one episode with how SPACE (also in the second part of SGU’s first season) similarly succeeds. A good interesting point and one I wouldn’t have thought of. But, I think you make a good case for your point and I agree.
    I thought SPACE was quite excellent and, most certainly, as good in quality as the quality episodes of SG1 – which is one of my all time favorites.
    One of the things I’ve liked best about SGU and this was particular true of the episode:SPACE is how the deep space they are traversing is so completely different (and more realistic) that what is usually seen in most Star Trek and Star Wars and almost every sci-fi film.
    Unlike Star Trek and Star Wars and others where deep space seems more like an empty but still. somehow always familiar country road, the deep space where SGU goes is in a whole other category – where everywhere there’s mystery, beauty,endless numbers of things unknowable and incredible danger. There is so much potential in SGU and so many directions … just because of the way its geen set up I hope more STARGATE fans do give SGU more of an open look too.

  • Though I’m scum and thoroughly morally soiled, the best bit about interesting and not interesting rest within the minds and eyes of depravity. Don’t believe me, women loves bad boys because they could soil their ‘goodness’. Guys like nasty girls because the guy doesn’t have to ask for corruption; it’s offered. And we love villains in our day time soaps, and on television and truthfully, we wish, we slept with villains on a daily basis. SGU can be a more awesome show filled with flawed characters realizing that they’re better off giving into debase desires since, all villains begins with malicious self interest. Not pathetic extensions of the writers fear of giving into our true nature, we’re not Adam and Eve pre-fruit, we’re debased monsters, conquerors of the universe, who pretend to be human

  • 24% of GW members polled weren’t going to watch Space? That’s not disheartening. That’s appalling.

  • Space was ok but it didnt make much sense. The aliens conveniently picked up Rush from the random planet he was on and conveniently take him right to the Destiny? I guess this is explained because they read Rush’s mind… but who knows how they tracked down the Destiny so fast. It could have been anywhere. Then the aliens want the Destiny and send a bunch of ships which get owned by one Destiny shuttle? So they were technologically outclassed clearly and yet still they attacked? Also its convenient the communication device facilitates a rescue so they dont have to risk anything to get their people back. Too many conveniences and its like they forced the space battle to show off the special effects… I wish the writing was a bit better on this show. I guess I find it ironic the aliens are so weak and that “Space” ends with Rush and Camille plotting against the Colonel…. the humans will destroy themselves without needing any outside force to help.

  • I agree with most of what was said here. However, I think that the slow build up might have hurt the series. I personally did not like Earth and Life, but I thought Space and Time were excellent.

    I also think that Justice was a better episode to end the first ten episodes. Seeing Rush look up, stranded, was an amazing cliff hanger.
    The problem came from the 4 month gap between the episodes– I still think that Syfy scheduled that very badly (I still don’t get the decision– even after reading the official response as to why the huge gap in the season).

  • Darren,

    I agree with you. Space was very cool and a new benchmark for the show. Destiny, a projected million year old spacecraft, kicks modern alien technology–that idea is neat in itself! The Ancients are hyper intelligent people. Also, keep in mind that the learning curve between earth understanding Ancient technology in SG1 and Atlantis took a while to develop, so why would SGU be any different? The SGU show is based on the Ancient story (well I hope it develops that way) and has much potential! I agree, give the show a chance to gain momentum and unfold into a new stargate story arc…


  • I thought it was alright – I enjoyed it, but the alien design was really boring and conventional, I was expecting much more from SGU in terms of aliens. I think they should read some HP lovecraft or Olaf Stapledon for inspiration IMO.

  • Not to be the downer of this post saying ‘Space’ delivered. It didn’t in alot of ways the aliens look too closely like the ones from the movie ‘Alien’ just changed abit. Also the ratings also said otherwise that it “delivered” …

  • Honestly, the fan response is expected. When SGA first came out, there were a group of detractors that complained that it wasn’t the same. They all said Sheppard was just a Jack clone and such. Eventually they changed their opinions. What we’re seeing now is some of the backlash from SGA fans for the cancellation, and such. They’ll come to SGU and realize like it. However, if it’s not your favorite series, then fine, move on. But don’t ruin the experience for others.

  • If we actually talk about pay-off and whatnot here, Space was underwhelming in one of its aspects. Namely, how Rush came back to Destiny. You’d expect that to be a long-swing plot with how they hang it up in “Justice” and then he just pops up the next episode! Even though it was some time separating broadacasts of “Justice” and “Space” this still comes off pretty weak, especially when this will be rewatched one after another on home video.

  • First, let me say I am a Universe fan aside from being a Stargate fan. I agree that “Space” is the best episode of Universe yet, but I was disappointed. It reminds me of “Revenge of the Sith.” I liked the movie, but the pacing was horrid. “Space” was the same for me. It seemed rushed in places and too drawn out in others. I am really hoping for a repeat of what was done with “Air” on blu-ray; an extended version of the episode. I might like it more. As for the series at large, I expect great things down the line.

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