Ever since Stargate Universe debuted in 2009, I knew the franchise was going somewhere special.
The premise of Destiny — along with its unlikely occupants — was rich, exciting, and immediately captivating. The show’s unique visual style and progressive storytelling (combined with the producers’ compelling, long-term vision) put SGU on the map as a must-watch show of the late 2000s.
But less than two years later, Syfy cancelled Stargate Universe — and the series’ enormous potential was at risk of being snuffed out before it could truly be actualized.
After its cancellation, however, Universe showed no signs of slowing down. Its final ten episodes took off like a rocket ship — building upon the story threads of what came before, and setting a new standard for what the Stargate franchise could become. The culmination of that good work is the riveting and emotional episode “Epilogue.”
While SGU was meant to travel far beyond its second season,”Epilogue” provided a spiritual conclusion that rewarded the show’s loyalists with a deeply fulfilling hour of storytelling. It’s an hour that would, in its own way, tie up the thematic journey of Destiny and her crew.
Ever since our heroes failed to re-materialize at the Earth Stargate in the episode “Twin Destinies,” a haunting uncertainty fell upon the characters of the subsequent timeline.
Where did our former selves go? Were they sent backward in time? Maybe forward? Or were they killed in the unstable conditions of the wormhole?
Those questions went largely unanswered until “Common Descent” — a late Season Two episode where our heroes discovered a cultured, English-speaking human civilization founded by the survivors of Destiny … many generations ago.
The Novans immediately recognize Lt. Matthew Scott and Msgt. Ronald Greer as original settlers, and invite them to a meal where all is explained by the village elder, Yaozu. He recounts: after Destiny‘s crew found themselves stranded on an uninhabited planet their focus shifted from survival to reconstruction, and a settlement called “Novus” was born.
Over the course of two millennia, Novus evolved from a modest encampment to a technological superpower — far beyond what Earth had ever become. But deep political divides fractured the once unified nation-state, and an environmental catastrophe drove the Novans from their homeland.
Furthermore, Yaozu’s village is not Novus but rather a poorly equipped satellite campus that lost contact with their homeward decades ago. And our heroes are given little time to digest these revelations, as the nefarious drones launch a surprise attack on the village and render the Stargate inoperable.
Destiny rescues the villagers and makes the jump to Novus — but the once proud metropolis today sits abandoned beneath an atmosphere thick with volcanic ash. A rogue black hole has entered the solar system, wreaking havoc on the planet’s tidal forces. Young orders a risky (yet necessary) reconnaissance mission, and the team departs via shuttle.
Once on the surface it’s up to our heroes to find out where their progeny went, and to document nearly 2,000 years of knowledge, history, and technological advancement before a volcano swallows them up. They’ll also have to digest revelations about their own identities thanks to extensive kino documentation of the founding of Novus.
“Epilogue” brilliantly asks the questions: Who did these people become in another life? And what can they learn from our alternate selves — both scientifically and personally?
And perhaps most importantly: How will this affect their lives going forward?
“So, everybody’s hooking up …” Eli Wallace bemoans, as he continues his kino documentary on the planet in the distant past. Once the crew shifted their attention to forming a settlement, they needed to get busy — and I’m not talking about building huts.
The first to tie the knot were Matthew Scott and Chloe Armstrong. Such an event was bound to dredge up some emotional tension — or prod dormant jealousy in a third wheel like Eli. Yet the nuptial ceremony energizes the burgeoning Novus with a sense of hope.
To quote Vanessa James: “First wedding on Novus. I wouldn’t miss it for the world!”
Everett Young and T.J. were next to wed, and in many ways it’s surprising given the couple’s tragic past. Young feels like a failure — unable to lead the Icarus evacuees safely home — and it continuously affects his temperament. Yet T.J. empathizes with his burden, and (ever the Young whisper) she initiatives a first kiss by the crackling embers of a campfire (while a jealous Varro watches in the background).
But Varro quickly recovers from his heartbreak as he finds himself drawn to another partner — Lt. Vanessa James. Sparks fly.
Greer ends up with his long-term “reading” partner, Lisa Park. And Eli Wallace — the kid genius with the romantic savvy of a wet noodle — finds himself an unlikely romantic partner in the matter-of-fact Corporal Barnes.
“Something worth pursuing?” Chloe asks Eli in the present day, as they watch the relationship unfold in the kino diaries.
Eli can’t help but cringe.
Once the Novan settlers began reproducing, they faced a far more momentous (and less pleasurable) challenge: building a civilization from the ground up.
Eli spearheaded the educational effort, writing academic textbooks and dedicating his life to teaching the next generation of Novans. His scientific aptitude and passion for quantitative studies becomes the bedrock of Novus’ intellectual curiosity — and he earned his place in the history books as a true founding father.
Camille Wray also contributes in the form of Novus’ constitution, rededicating her life to public service, and eventually becoming a popular two-term mayor. Her story arc was especially satisfying, as it built upon the positive change that her character experienced in episodes like “Faith” and “Pathogen.” She finally uses her bureaucratic savvy for the good of society — not just personal gain.
Young also serves as the mayor of Novus — and like before, he’s a controversial leader. Years of turmoil cause Novus to split into two factions: the “Tenerans” and the “Futurans.”
But not all is lost. Decades later, when Tenera enters its technological renaissance, a repository of knowledge called the Teneran Archive is created. Just like in “Time,” Eli finds his obsession with documentary video vindicated — as the archive provides crucial to the enduring legacy of Novus.
Maybe we should really start listening to this guy.
While “Epilogue” is inspiring, sentimental, and occasionally heartwarming, it’s important to remember SGU is also full of heartbreaks.
The series took bold steps to portrayal humanity in its most honest form. But even with disturbing frontier deaths like Corporal Gorman in “Water,” or Ginn‘s tragic murder in “The Greater Good,” I have yet to reconcile my own heartbreak from T.J.’s medical diagnosis.
While most characters thrive in the founding of Novus, T.J. is mortified to watch herself fall ill with a degenerative neurological disorder that she quickly identifies as ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease). Even more unfortunate: the Novans have since discovered a cure for ALS, but that section of the archive was lost in an incomplete transfer to Destiny‘s mainframe.
Eli encourages a shell-shocked T.J.: “We can learn from it. From our descendants. We will figure out a cure. I know it.” But encouraging as it may be, the emotional wallop has already been delivered.
Looking back, I’m impressed by how tastefully this story was handled. It could have been a cheap, cruel, and fear-inducing device — yet it was presented as a fitting tribute to those who suffer from such a disease. And it brought new urgency to the story of the Teneran archive and T.J.’s own personal arc.
In terms of official canon, we may never know if T.J. finds a cure. Last we saw in “Gauntlet,” T.J. went into stasis — and her suspended state likely froze the onset of the condition. But even more than the fate of the Destiny, her uncertain outcome still haunts me.
Part of what makes “Epilogue” so impressive — given some truly dour revelations — is the presence of good old-fashioned Stargate humor.
From the peppy and unexpected elevator “muzak,” to Greer’s spontaneous quip to Rush (“Two-thousand years on the other side of the universe and beef jerky survives”) — the characters feel more relaxed, and have settled into their roles as part of this accidental expedition.
Strong friendships have formed — or at the very least, basic trust has been reconstructed — and our characters are finally emerging from their defensive shells. It may have taken almost two seasons, but that signature Stargate optimism is here taking root on board Destiny.
But despite all the comedic highlights, perhaps the funniest moment in “Epilogue” wasn’t made for laughs. Toward the end of the episode, after the crew returns from Novus, an emboldened Dale Volker confronts the bitter Dr. Rush, stating:
“It burns you up, doesn’t it. We did all right after leaving Destiny. We got along just fine.” And Rush’s incredulous expression proves Volker just struck a deep nerve.
It’s the best “mic drop” from any SGU character.
One of the highlights of Stargate Universe‘s first season was the technical leaps and bounds the show took to help sell the grandiosity of Destiny‘s intergalactic journey. But despite the show’s already impressive evolution, “Epilogue” delivered an unprecedented extravaganza — an effortless display of cinematic proficiency from the biggest of set pieces to the smallest of details.
Production designer James Robbins’ fresh approach to frontier settlements (no more Celtic-era farm towns) displayed a grounded yet invigorated take on primitive human society. And the Teneran Archive set is second-to-none — blending the familiar S.G.C. military aesthetic with something appropriately foreign and progressive.
I’d go as far as to say “Epilogue” dabbled in visual poetry and crafted imagery that could compete with modern day studio films. The episode’s stylization also helped personalize these high-concept story threads and beautify the world of Stargate in a profound manner.
But perhaps the best way to illustrate brilliance of “Epilogue” is to show, not tell. So here are some stand out shots from the episode (Click to enlarge):
SGU’s ALTERNATE ENDING
In a blog post from April 2011 writer-producer Joseph Mallozzi stated: “In retrospect, ‘Epilogue’ would have been a nice way to conclude the show.” And perhaps Mr. Mallozzi is right.
“Epilogue” does find Destiny‘s crew “completing their mission” — though in an unexpected fashion. They never make it home, but they do make it to a better tomorrow. And that powerful sentiment is best illustrated in Camille Wray’s speech from the episode’s final scene.
“When we first arrived here, we thought we had failed. We didn’t achieve the mission on Destiny. But now, looking at all your smiling faces … I can’t help but feel a great sense of pride and success. Because, as we discovered, our mission is — and always will be — the journey itself.”
For those who are new to Stargate Universe — or perhaps going back and giving the show a fresh chance (like our very own Sara Kehoe in her “SGU First Timer” column) — you may find that “Epilogue” leaves you with some kind of emotional resolution. And if that’s the case, stop right there.
I myself struggled to make it past “Epilogue.” And while I did eventually cave in and watch the show’s unforgettable last two hours, nothing delivered the degree of finality and emotional resolution that “Epilogue” so poetically served up.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Stargate Universe is a deeply human show.
In no way was it perfect — and despite my utter infatuation with SGU, I’ll be the first to admit when the series drops the ball. But it also felt like the most honest iteration of Stargate.
It was risky, raw, messy, horrifying, and uniquely beautiful — intergalactic “opera” at its finest, and one that invited the camera to follow every spontaneous beat. It was never staged, and it ultimately found an inspired blend of old-school theatrics and postmodern subtlety (rich with subtext).
Fans have often assumed that Stargate can’t be dark and still retain its signature identity — that it can’t put our heroes’ worst tendencies under a microscope. Yet, in my experience, those dark moments and “third act” struggles make the final payoff all the more rich.
In that regard “Epilogue” is a masterful, redemptive, and stirring episode of Stargate Universe that left us feeling proud of these characters and their accomplishments — inspired to apply their tenacity in our own lives.
“Epilogue” was written by Carl Binder and directed by Alex Chapple. It first aired on Syfy Channel April 25, 2011.
NEXT TIME: In the grand finale of GateWorld’s long-running Stargate’s Legacy column, I’ll reflect on the bittersweet Stargate Universe series finale, “Gauntlet.” So grab your tissue box and join me to celebrate the end of an era.