EPISODE REVIEW: Stargate Universe: “Aftermath” (Season 2, Episode 2)

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Wow.

Just wow. It’s not that anything particularly adventurous or unprecedented happens here. Granted, things go from bad to worse, and the ship loses yet another major asset, but the point of this show is basically to glory in the slow sinking of this boat, and torture the rats, so there’s nothing new there. What stunned me - what will no doubt have stunned everyone - is the tragic-yet-harrowing death scene.

PLAY BY PLAY

Rush has found the control room for Destiny, but he’s keeping it a secret. He’s also unable to sleep - flashbacks to his recent torture - and he’s hallucinating wildly about his dead wife, and the doctor who got eaten by the education chair last year. But is it a hallucination? Or is it some kind of interactive program the ship has developed to communicate with him, as the theorizes? Or is it an ascended ancient? Or is it related to the bugs that showed people ghosts based on their own memories?

Whatever it is, it doesn’t help him out much. He stops the ship close to a world that’s locked out with a nonfunctional gate. The Destiny sends their only remaining shuttle with the more-or-less standard team, excepting Sgt. Riley - the guy who generally runs the gate, the “Walter” of this series - tagging along. The ship takes damage on re-entry, loses power, and crashes in full-on Jupiter 2 mode, smashing through a mountain, trees, the ground. . The shuttle will never fly again, and Riley is badly injured, trapped, and bleeding to death.

Rush stops the ship again, and claims it’s because of lasting radiation damage from the pulsar, however he’s hoping he’s still in range of the planet, and they can find the gate and dial in.

MEANWHILE, the team *does* find the gate, and does dial in. Young is appraised of the situation, goes through, and talks to Riley. What can they do? They can’t leave him, he could linger for days. They can’t save him. They can’t stay with him for long. They can’t leave him alone to die scared and abandoned on the floor. He asks Young to kill him, and after much reticence, Young does. He suffocates him with his bare hands. It is the most remarkable and appalling thing I’ve ever seen on an American SF series. Hell, it’s the most amazing and appalling thing I’ve ever seen on TV. It is stunning and awful and heartbreaking and vile and heroic all at the same time, and it’s the moment when this series finally hit what it was going for, and I still have a lump in my throat from watching it.

MEANWHILE, the question of what to do with the Lucien Alliance POWs lingers. Young hasn’t made a decision yet, so Telford and Camille go over his head to the IOA, who tell him to maroon them on the next viable planet they come to, but keep certain member who - upon interrogation - appear to be useful or mostly innocent. At least one of them, for instance - the cute Redheaded chick who saved everyone last week - claims to have been pressganged into joining, and she’s probably not lying. This they then do, ditching all the dross on the planet Riley died on.

The Destiny leaves, then stops abruptly, approaching a large, artificial object…

The End

OBSERVATIONS

I’m reminded of the scene in The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly where that one guy in the prison tries to gouge out the other’s eyes, and it’s so slow and deliberate and unflinching, and you keep expecting them to cut away from the violence to a reaction shot or something, but they never do. I’m also reminded of that looooooooong, grueling scene in Hitchock’s “Frenzy” where they try to kill that guy by stuffing his head in the oven in that long, slow, horrible fight scene. These things are awful, and the death of Riley is awful, but it can’t be helped. He meets his pointless end bravely, sacrificing himself for others, but also out of fear, guilt, perhaps some hope.

The price of it is horrible, though: He asks his CO to kill him, and he can’t use a gun for reasons that I won’t go into. Young has this gradual awareness that he needs to do it, that all is lost. Despair crosses his face, and he does it abruptly, unable to breath himself while he suffocates the man. It is difficult to watch, and shocking, and it should be. After all the fighting last week and last season, it’s easy to forget the humanity of the people on the show, to forget the actual cost when someone dies. This drives it home: Everyone who dies is someone’s kid, has some unfulfilled dreams, is robbed of dignity, everyone is afraid all the time, everyone leaves someone behind. It’s god awful, but there it is, and goofy little Stargate…wow.

I’m reminded of Kirk on TOS, in “Bread and Circuses,” talking about how he’s had to sacrifice men in the past, and he’s probably not lying. But sending men off to die is one thing, actually killing them yourself while they look at you pleadingly is entirely another. Trek in general has talked the talk, but they always flinch, they always back away, they don’t walk the walk. SGU, surprisingly, does.

And now we know what kind of man Young is. Here he’s done something Jack or Sheppard could never have done, and it was the right thing to do, but that doesn’t make it any less awful. This will weigh on him. Not just for a long time, forever. Given the candor of this series, Young will never recover from it.

Wow.

Moving on: We’re already having the question of command that I discussed last week - the IOA and SGC are leaning towards putting Telford in charge. It’s probably the right call to do so, actually, but given the depths Young has come to this week, I think we’ll see some redemption for him in a big way.

Riley’s planet seems just as barren a rock as the one the Luciens tried to strand our guys on last week. I’m assuming they won’t survive.

I was just lamenting this morning how SGU seems to have dropped the religious aspect from the earlier episodes, but it was back in a big way tonight. There seems to be a continuing trend of confusing the preternatural with the existence of God on this show, but that's common mistake. This is in marked contrast to the screamingly anti-Christian tone of the Ori years of SG1.

The Pretty Red Haired Girl tells us that the Lucien Alliance are simple warlords - not what they said of themselves last season - and that they’ve been increasing in power since 1997 or so. This would be around the same time that SG1 started to make a significant dent in the power of the Goauld. She also tells us that the Alliance thought the Destiny would give them godlike powers to manipulate time and space. Furthermore, info from earth suggests there’s a minor war between the SGC and the Alliance already, and it’s heating up. Interestingly, the Luciens were an increasing threat in the final two seasons of SG1.

There’s more. I could go on in my normal OCD fashion, but I’m still speechless. I’m just gonna’ stop now.

WILL CONSERVATIVES LIKE THIS EPISODE?

Yes, I think, but for gosh sakes: Don't let your children watch it!

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