Confession time: I’m a huge Stargate fan. I’ve seen every episode of SG-1 and Atlantis countless times. I am down to watch Continuum any time of day, any day of the week. I own every season of all the shows on DVD. I read the books. I bought All-Access to Stargate Command the day it became available. Stargate is my number one fandom. But, fellow Gaters, I am sorely lacking in one area of our fandom: I have never watched Stargate Universe.
With all the #StargateNow going around on Twitter I’ve been drawn to fill in that huge gap in my appreciation of all things Stargate. I’ve had SGU sitting on my movie shelf right alongside SG-1 and SGA for years. I’ve just never actually watched it.
So, on a recent weekend, I did just that. My husband and I sat down Friday night popped in Disc 1 and hit play.
For this first time I watched the 3-part series premiere, “Air” (the extended cut). I admit I wasn’t sure what to expect. I’ve read the debates on Twitter and Stargate Command. I think knowing there was a tonal shift from the Stargates I have seen before prepared me for what otherwise could have been a very jarring jump. Right off the bat, you get a very Battlestar(gate) Galactica vibe from all angles. The lighting is much darker than I’m used to, the music is more ominous — it has a very Firefly/Serenity vibe — and the chaos is palpable.
I dig it.
I love that this series started in full chaos and confusion. It really put me in the mindset of the characters as they crashed through what seems to be an incredibly unstable wormhole. The overall storytelling of this group of episodes is non-linear, but it works for the tone of the show. And you better believe I perked up when I heard the voice of Ming-Na Wen (“Camille Wray”). The confusion drew me into the story and made me anxious to see what was going to happen next.The slow burn, when done correctly, can lead to some compelling storytelling. It’s a departure from what the writers gave us for 14 combined seasons of SG-1 and SGA. But this show isn’t SG-1 or SGA and while it took me a chunk of this episode to get on board I am happy to ride along.
Watching Eli playing the video game (Do we ever find out the title? I vote “Riddle of the Ancients”) I had mental flashbacks to SG-1 Season Eight’s “Avatar.” In my head, Eli’s character in the game was a Jaffa and he was exploring a Goa’uld temple. The idea of hiding a nearly unsolvable Ancient math proof in the game to crowdsource the solution was a fun idea. (Well done, Chloe.) Plus seeing a guy solve unsolvable riddles while playing a video game immediately tells you this guy is a genius slacker — which is most of what you need to know about him.
Seeing Jack again was awesome. Having him show up to recruit Eli was a great call-back to the original Stargate movie when the Air Force came to pick up Jack. And, of course, breaking out the Asgard beaming technology to just kidnap Eli up to the Hammond was a classic Stargate SG-1 move.
I will admit, I spent the first half of the extended episode trying to get to know these new characters and equate them to the characters I already knew. With SGA it was easy to figure out who was Jack (Sheppard), who was Daniel (Teyla), who was Teal’c (Ronon) … though I can’t bring myself to say McKay was the Sam of the Atlantis team. With Universe they have broken the “small core team does all the cool stuff while support staff chills in the background” format, giving us what seems like double or triple the characters to grow to love.Vala trying to get information out of Eli or Lt. Scott? Greer trying to smart-off to Teyla and question her command? Or the movie-quote-off between Eli and Mitchell? These are things I need to see.
Working with so many new characters I had to take notes on who was who, and I’m still not 100 percent sure I am keeping everyone straight. The writers are slowly introducing us to characters on a need-to-know basis and that helps to keep my curiosity piqued. I want to know what the I.O.A. was doing at Icarus on P4X-351. I want to know why MSgt. Greer is so angry at everyone and everything, and what did he do to get put in the brig. Is Rush’s wife dead, or did she leave him?
THE PLOT THICKENS
So, on the ship, we are faced with the long-term dilemma of how to get home to Earth — but the short-term dilemma of getting life support back online. The air filters are well past their use-by date and are covered in ectoplasm-like slime. The episode-imposed ticking clock was a great way to give the viewers a chance to explore the ship with the characters while we get to know them. High tension brings out interesting aspects of characters.
Dr. Rush being so calm and calculated was entirely unnerving. I honestly fully expected him to keep the communication stones secret for at least half a season. He really seems that shady to me. I can’t decide if I’m going to love to hate him or feel bad for liking him.Senator Armstrong turns out to be the first decent politician I think I’ve ever seen on Stargate. When he sacrifices himself and Chloe starts screaming I may or may not have teared up a bit. I completely expected him to be a Kinsey-like jerk politician.
Lt. Johansen is really young to be the “one day away from retirement” veteran who gets sucked back into the job. I hope they give us more of her story. Was she headed to school so she could get her master’s degree and one day become a Colonel? Was she headed to medical school so she could become Lieutenant-Doctor? And is there something going on between her and Colonel Young?
Eli seems to be the most useful person on the ship right now. With Rush being so self-serving it feels like Eli was the only technically-minded person actively trying to help them. He figured out that they were venting atmosphere and where the leak was. He found the kinos and he was the one who stood up to the scientists when they decided to pull a mutiny.
I will give Rush points for hypothesizing the purpose of the Destiny, figuring out the air scrubber thing, and dialing the gate. All points are given begrudgingly because I don’t think I like him. With the limited ability to add characters due to their predicament, I feel like Rush is going to be our main antagonist. Right now helping the crew is helping himself, so Rush does help save the day and get the ship to drop out of F.T.L. (Did anyone else have to google what F.T.L. means? Just me?)
With the pre-programmed, autopilot, prime directive from the Ancients, the new, accidental, and default crew of the Destiny can dial gates on nearby planets to get the supplies that Destiny thinks they need. I know that we need to limit the crew’s ability to dial the gate back to Earth, but you would think there would be some sort of program override that Dr. Rush could find, or surely Eli. Maybe they’ll explain it more in later episodes, or maybe I just blanked when they explained it because I was distracted by seeing the new gate dial. I do really like the new ‘gate. (If SG-1’s gate is analog, and SGA’s gate is digital, SGU’s is Bluetooth. I literally said “oooohhhh” when the gate on the Destiny started to spin for the first time. The Stargate itself is so iconic I love that each show has its own version of it.)
On an unnamed, non-P3X’d, planet a small away team goes out in search of lime to clean the air scrubbers and get life support back online. During these scenes I started getting the feeling that Lt. Scott and Eli are going to be two of the core, every-episode characters. I really liked their interactions. Especially Eli’s Planet of the Apes hallucination.I’m not entirely sold on Lt. Scott’s backstory. It felt a little heavy-handed, but his strict Catholic upbringing does serve as an interesting counterpoint to how we were introduced to him breaking regulations with 2nd Lt. James.
But, for now, we have the lime because the ship sent the team to the right planet and we have clean air to breathe. The overall adventure in this episode wasn’t so much about the problem and the solution so much as it was about getting to know what I assume are the central characters of a larger cast. I’m down for a good character-driven storyline, and I am on board for some bigger adventures hopefully starting with the next episode.
I am deeply curious to see how they can make life on the Destiny work and what alien races they are going to meet along the way. I thought it was very bold to not jump right into a conflict with a big, bad Goa’uld- or Wraith-like alien species. With the current trajectory of the story (and the ship itself), I’m not sure if we will have a big bad to battle every episode, or if we will be concentrating on the dynamics of the humans on board the ship.
I have two important questions on my mind after finishing “Air.” Will they ever make it to the Planet of the Apes?
Also, where to I submit my request to have my quarters moved to the observation deck of the Destiny?
Sara is watching through Stargate Universe for the first time! We’d love to read your comments below … but please don’t spoil future events for her.