Stargate Universe expanded the franchise with a different sort of storytelling. Unlike its predecessors Stargate SG-1 and Stargate Atlantis, SGU aimed to tell a single story stretched over the course of five seasons. Rather than stand-alone, episodic adventures, each week’s new challenge was just a single tile in the emerging mosaic.
We never got to see how this story ends, but with two seasons on the books an intriguing picture was emerging about Destiny and its mission.
So how do we even begin to select the five best episodes of a show like this? While the approach to storytelling is different, when we look back on these 40 hours of television there are definitely some real stand-outs.
A Top 10 list for SGU is pretty easy to put together (after all, that’s 25 percent of the entire series) … but as it turns out whittling down our favorites to five and only five is tough! We had to rank these five picks above some pretty fantastic hours of television. It’s painful, but it’s our duty: the Internet needs its Top 5 lists, after all.
Post your favorite episodes of SGU in the comments! Here are our picks:
Number 5: “Trial and Error”
Season Two – Episode 6
In this episode Destiny comes under attack over and over again, and no matter what Colonel Young and the crew do they cannot escape. The ship explodes in a firey explosion … only for the same scenario to happen all over again.
Universe‘s version of Groundhog Day (or Star Trek: The Next Generation‘s “Cause and Effect”) ends up being the result not of a temporal anomaly, or a piece of Ancient technology that creates a time loop. In this case, it’s actually all in Everett Young’s head. The ship itself is testing him to discern if he has what it takes to step up and be the leader that Destiny‘s mission requires.
It’s an emotionally brutal story, and one that the Colonel’s character desperately needed. His mishandling of the Lucian Alliance invasion had demonstrated that Young is no strategic genius, nor is he a two-dimensional action hero who will always come out on top. Young wasn’t good at his job, and after he was forced to end the life of one of his own people (“Aftermath”) he spiraled into a deep depression.
“Trial and Error” finds Young at his lowest and then turns the screws on him even further. Lt. Scott finally has to confront his superior officer, telling him in a powerful scene that he is a good commander — even if he can’t save everyone. In the end, Everett buttons up his uniform and steps out of his cabin ready to take the big chair again.
Number 4: “Space”
Season One – Episode 11
Colonel Young picks up an Ancient communication stone to make contact with Earth, which after several months on board Destiny has become something of a routine. But the teaser for Season One’s mid-season premiere ends with a real shocker: Young finds himself connected not with someone back on Earth, but with an utterly alien species on board a nearby ship.
This is the show’s first real contact with the blue aliens (unofficially designated the “Nakai” by writer-producer Joseph Mallozzi). They are some of the most alien species that Stargate ever did, and their reasons for skulking around the Destiny were a complete mystery.
As the story unfolds Young explores their ship to gain some intel, only to discover Dr. Nicholas Rush imprisoned on board — the man he beat and left for dead on a desolate world. The aliens rescued him, and now Young gets a second chance by helping Rush to escape. They have a great scene using the aliens’ mind-reading technology, and on his way off the ship Rush also finds an abducted Chloe Armstrong (kicking off her storyline with the mystery of what the aliens have done to her).
“Space” presents so many questions, and sets up stories that would last through the rest of the show. But after half a season spent mostly searching for the bare necessities of survival, this episode made it clear that the show was ready to enter an exciting new chapter.
Number 3: “Gauntlet”
Season Two – Episode 20
The final episode of the show is a work of art. After two seasons this ship and these characters have come far indeed, and they were ready to move ahead into a third season — before the network dropped the cancellation axe. The unlikely crew of the Destiny have bonded and become an unusual sort of family, who have finished angling for their own interests and are ready to trust one another and move forward.
No matter where they turn, the crew cannot outrun or out-fox the automated drone ships that have been chasing them across this galaxy. Every time the ship drops out of F.T.L. to refuel in a star the drones find them, and it’s all that they can do to get back into F.T.L. and live for another day.
Eli Wallace comes into his own here. No longer playing second fiddle to Dr. Rush, after two years Eli calmly and confidently knows that he is the man for this task. The ship will try to escape the drones by entering the void between galaxies, and the entire crew will enter stasis pods to conserve desperately needed power. Only Eli remains awake, knowing he has a small window of time to repair the final pod and enter stasis himself — or he will shut off his own life support to allow his friends to reach their destination.
“Gauntlet” doesn’t finish any of SGU‘s storylines, but it ends up a tragically fitting as a final episode. The crew members say goodbye and go into stasis as the ship prepares to enter the void, with Eli’s fate resting squarely on his own shoulders. As Joel Goldsmith’s stirring composition plays, the lights throughout the decks of the ship shut down … and Destiny jumps to F.T.L., this time leaving the viewer behind.
Number 2: “Time”
Season One – Episode 8
Destiny‘s crew arrives on a jungle planet and is shocked to find evidence that they have been there before. They discover an old kino on the ground near the Stargate, with footage recorded showing the crew themselves — Rush, Lt. Scott, Eli, Chloe, and others — and what happened to them the first time they arrived on the planet.
The kino is the real star of the show here, as writer and director Robert C. Cooper makes use of the show’s flying camera ball to give us a unique perspective on an off-world mission. Much of the story unfolds through the recordings, as our present-day crew watches themselves from another timeline. That includes everything from jungle exploration to personal confessions, to a nighttime attack by parasitic creatures, and a really gruesome death or two.
Yep, there are time travel shenanigans here: when the team tried to send the kino back to Destiny, a solar flare caused it to arrive back on the planet in the past instead. All the while, the ship’s crew must also deal with an emerging medical crisis on Destiny. They’re not stuck in a loop exactly … but as the crew begin to fall ill they need to figure out how to survive what might still be coming for all of them.
SGU‘s three-part premiere “Air” is well-made and entertaining — but “Time” is the first truly great episode of the show. We get a chance to learn more about the characters, but in the context of the worst day of their lives. Eventually they land upon a desperate solution to their crisis: record another message on the kino and send it back in time again, creating another loop for themselves, but with enough intel to avoid the contaminated water they’ve brought on board.
Number 1: “Epilogue”
Season Two – Episode 18
At first glance it doesn’t seem like this late Season Two episode would end up being the best of the series. It’s a follow-up to “Common Descent,” in which the crew of Destiny found a lost colony of their own descendants — brought about by a (different) time travel incident that sent a version of the crew 2,000 years into the past. Now the Novans have evolved into an advanced civilization … but by time the ship rolls up to the planet, Novus has been evacuated.
The mission is simple: save a copy of the Novan database and find out where they evacuated, so that we can help reunite our new friends with their people. Novus is being torn apart by an approaching rogue black hole, so the crew is on the clock. They have to get into the facility, upload the database to Destiny, and escape with their lives.
If Stargate Universe has a perfect episode, it’s this entry from writer Carl Binder. “Epilogue” is full of action and intrigue, humor and deep emotion. What seems like a straight-forward story is complicated by more found footage, as the crew watch archival recordings of the lives lived out by their alternate selves. Who might they become if they lost Destiny and were forced to settle down on a planet? What romances would be kindled? How would they build a civilization that can endure for two millennia?
The heart of “Epilogue” is Lt. Tamara Johansen, who discovers that in a few years time she will begin to feel the symptoms of ALS. Not only do we bear witness to the other T.J.’s slow deterioration as she loses her fight with this disease, but at the same time we see the present-day T.J. herself taking this all in. And when the Novans offer a sliver of hope — there’s a cure buried somewhere in the database! — it only ratchets up the mission stakes.
It isn’t an action-heavy piece, and Destiny isn’t under assault from hostile aliens or drone weapons. But this story is SGU at its finest, because it is about the characters — who they are, the obstacles they have to overcome, and a glimmer of what they might one day become.
Now let’s have your Top 5 list for Stargate Universe! You have 40 episodes to pick from, and five and only five spots! (Be sure to rank your list for us.)