EPISODE REVIEW: Stargate Universe: “Common Descent” (Season 2, Episode 17)

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Firstly, let me apologize for the late review. Syfy once again shows their contempt for their viewers by randomly changing their schedule without any advance warning. (Advance warning in this case should probably be them knocking on my door, or at least calling, since I’m kind of inattentive) I had to stay up to watch the rebroadcast.

Secondly let me once again bemoan the death of this show, and take yet another stab at Syfy’s contempt for their audience (saying it twice gives it emphasis!). Seriously: This show has gotten pretty freakin’ good in the past few weeks.

PLAY BY PLAY

The Destiny is running out of lime for the life support system, and needs a recharge. As they drop out of FTL, they’re attacked by drone ships from the mid-season cliffhanger. They take a lot of damage, but manage to get away, and eventually stop on another planet for supplies. Here they’re met by humans!

Turns out when there were two, Two, TWO destinies a few months ago, the duplicate crew ran through the gate hoping to get to earth. The gate was in flux due to solar flares, which in the Gateverse means “Time Travel.” They ended up 2000 years in the past (9 or 10 AD) on one of the nice Cascadia planets the universe seems to be pretty much exclusively made of, and having nothing better to do, they gave the planet a stupid name (“Novis”) and started having kids. They had kino footage and some other stuff, and wrote an account of their adventures, which they passed to their kids. Young and TJ evidently got back together and had kids. Eli had kids, too (Who was the mom?) The group was originally run by Colonel Young, but eventually Brody led a splinter group called the “Futurians” who went off and founded their own country based on the idea that Rush would eventually show up and save ‘em.

A generation or so ago (1980 AD) a big bad natural disaster of some sort threatened to destroy Novis, so the citizens of “Youngland” sent out teams to find viable worlds. Despite the fact that the entire universe is exactly like the woods outside Seattle/Tacoma, this proves difficult. One group got stranded on this planet, with no other gates in range, when the gate on Novis ceased to function. Since then, they’ve been having kids, too, and there are a few thousand of ‘em.

After having absorbed all this - and been really freaked out by the presence of Rush, who’s regarded as the devil by the Younglanders, and as a savior by the Futurians - they help the Destiny resupply, and ask Young to take them to their homeworld. Young declines.

The Drones attack again, both the planet and the ship. Young evacuates as many Younglanders as he can, but the planet gate is damaged and ceases to function. The ship jumps away, abandoning people on the ground, including Eli and Scott. The Drones leave. Eli attempts to use the gate to contact Destiny, and eventually manages to send a Morse code message. Destiny loops back, picks everyone up, and agrees to take ‘em all home.

Alas, when they get to Novis, they find the planet in the throws of a volcanic winter, and all life on the surface is evidently dead.

To Be Continued…

OBSERVATIONS

Man, is that a cool concept, or what?

The Drones - I didn’t expect to see them again - are tracking Destiny by its use of Stargates. This implies that no one in this galaxy much uses Stargates, otherwise the Drones would attack continually. This implies that civilization in this galaxy is basically limited to individual worlds, with little traffic between planets. This is consistent with what we’ve seen of human civilization in this ep, but it also implies the same is true of sapient aliens, if any.

The birthing-the-baby scene and Young’s prosthetic old age makeup are both pretty weak, but the implications of the parallel lives of the “Other’ crew are pretty interesting.

For instance: Brody founds the futurians, and leads the schism. Brody has *always* been Young’s most trusted ally, outside of he military crew. What happened to sour him on the colonel?

Young and TJ got back together. What happened to Varrow?

Who did Eli marry? Probably not Chloe, since we saw Scott around in some scenes.

Who figured out how to make clothes, and if someone did, how come they haven’t been making any on the Destiny? They darn well need ‘em!

Is Young still an ineffectual leader? Does he *need* Rush to help out?

Did Camille have kids? She doesn’t swing that way, obviously, but small gene pool, and every bit helps. The mayor of the town, more or less, was an American Indian. American Indians have somewhat Asian features, and it was strongly implied that he was a direct descendant of hers.

Reality check: Ok, I know we’re supposed to ignore language in the Gateverse, but logically: think of how much English has changed since World War II, the slang, the technical terms, the loan words from other languages, the shifts in meaning of random words, the changing syntax, the portmanteaus and neologisms. Now imagine that over 2000 years. It wouldn’t be recognizable as English. And for the record, if we date from Beowulf, as many do, our language is only 1000 years old.

Reality check #2: What are the odds, after 2000 years - that‘s 66 generations - that anyone would be able to know who their original ancestors, much less have any kind of identifiable racial characteristics as was implied by the Mayor? I mean, my family hasn’t been here quite five generations yet, and we’re not even entirely sure which country we came from (Obviously a German Speaking one, but that doesn’t narrow it down as much as you’d think for reasons I won’t go into now as I’m tired), much less saying things like “Yeah, he’s got his great, great, great grandfather’s eyes.

Reality check #3: It’s unlikely that Novis would remain divided between Younglanders and Futurians, with no new schisms entering the fray for 2000 years. Just to use Christianity as a model, you’ve got early Christianity, then Orthodoxy, then the Catholic/Orthodox schism, then the Catholic/Protestant Schism, then the Free Will/Predestination divide in Protestantism, then any number of doctrinal differences that produce more schisms, not to mention heresies, apostacies, syncretisms, and outright cults. Basically, once the original unity is lost, these things don’t stop fragmenting, and they go faster and faster.

There’s a number of neat montages where we get info-dumps about the Younglanders and other things. It could be easily tedious, but it’s done well.

There’s a nice fakeout at the end of the episode, where we’ve been led to believe that the Younglanders and Futurians blew each other up in a nuclear war, then we discover it’s a super volcano, or something like it on a larger scale. It’s worth mentioning that Nuclear Winter actually is actually a lie. It was knowingly concocted by Dr. Carl Sagan in the early 1980s in order to frighten Congress into changing our defensive policy. It was based on deliberately cooked data, most of which was only tendentiously related to anything. It worked, and here we are thirty years later, still assuming a lie is true.

That said: Volcanic Winter is entirely real. There have been numerous documented cases within recorded history, and it is strongly suspected that the Lake Toba eruption 70,000-ish years ago very nearly drove our species extinct.

WILL CONSERVATIVES LIKE THIS EPISODE?

I can’t really see a reason why not.

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