EPISODE REVIEW: Stargate Universe: “Faith” (Season 1, Episode 13)

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I’m still kind of struggling to find the best format for these reviews. Oh, sure, I could - and in fact generally do - slap together a recap, and tack some observations on the end, but that’s really boring to read and frankly pretty darn dull to write (Though I do enjoy the snark in some of the crappier series we review). I feel - in my case, anyway, I can’t speak for the others that write for the site - that it shows a lack of imagination, and also a lack of appreciation for the series themselves. Or at least the good ones, which deserve a little more insight.

That said, while I’m trying to find a balance between dry regurgitation and needlessly ponderous pontification, I haven’t really found it yet, so bear with me, and feedback will be welcome. This is actually a pretty good episode to attempt my nebulous ‘new style’ with, since there were a lot of philosophical questions going on here.

This episode is our first solid example of “The Generic Space: 1999 Plot.“ If you’ve never seen that show, the fallback storyline used in about a third of the episodes was that Alpha was drifting past a habitable planet, and only had a limited window of opportunity to decide whether or not they should abandon the base and go live there, or stay on the base and take their chances with a trackless and dangerous future. Since the show got cancelled after two seasons, and there was never any resolution to their story, it was probably a bad decision to stay on the base, I guess.

In any event, SGU puts their own spin on this tonight: Destiny plunks into a solar system and have an inordinately long time in the neighborhood - a month or so - during which time they send a survey team down to an idyllic planet. Since this is SGU and not the cheesier-but-more-swashbuckling SG1 or SGA, they don’t meet any aliens, but they do see evidence of them and quickly realize the planet is artificial, as is the very star it’s orbiting. Who built it and why? Are they friendly or not? Would they even notice humans, or are we too buglike for beings who can essentially magic a solar system into existence?

While spending a month on the planet, most of the civilians on the survey team go native, and decide they don’t want to go back to Destiny. Presumably they’ve seen Space: 1999 too, although given that no one gets it when Eli starts making Wrath of Kahn jokes, maybe not. Maybe they’re not really SF kind of people on this SF show. Interesting choice.

Anyway, TJ turns out to be preggers, thanks to Colonel Young. Young just keeps making bad choice after bad choice, doesn’t he? We know - or rather it’s been strongly inferred - that the two of them had an affair on Icarus, and evidently it was long enough and sloppy enough that Young’s wife found out about it. (Or maybe he simply fessed up and told her about it?) The idea that Young was still on an assignment with “her” obviously was a source of a lot of tension in their marriage, and I kinda’ hope this is something they’ll revisit in the not-too-distant future.

Though Young declared the affair to be over in a flashback that took place considerably before they ended up on Destiny, he was clearly lying. He does that a lot, doesn’t he? And yet he’s not very adept at it. TJ says that she’s fifteen weeks along, and that it happened shortly before leaving Icarus - and apparently considerably after the aforementioned flashback. Interestingly, the entire series thus far has taken place inside of four months, assuming a week or two between insemination and disaster. I wonder if the writers and producers of this show know exactly how serious a breech of the code of military conduct that kind of affair is? Yeah, such things happen pretty frequently, but it’s also the end of both their careers if it got found out. I mean, why do you think O’Neil and Carter never did anything despite clearly being in love with each other? (Yeah, yeah, I know. Maybe they did in the later episodes, we don’t know for sure, but there were some nebulous inferences) Rank doth have its privileges, but given the very high risk of coercing a subordinate into sex, bootie calls are *not* one of ‘em.

I don’t know why the timeline of the mission fascinates me, but it does. That means all these episodes take place about 8 or 9 days apart on average, though obviously the first three take place back-to-back-to-back.

That’s really not such a long time, is it? Three months, going on four?

During their time skinnydipping and playing soccer on the planet, we get some casual discussions of God and Mysterious Unknown Forces (Which may or may not be God) and Fate and so on. This is also very Space:1999. Despite all its cheese and philosophical incoherence, that show was very interested in the metaphysical, even if they were a bit to slackjawed to really pull it off in any meaningful fashion.

Kane, the new doctor who’s been there all along, but we never saw him before three weeks ago, was raised religious, became an atheist or agnostic (I’ve been there), but re-finds his faith again (I’ve been there too) when confronted with this clearly artificial Eden that has been all-too-conveniently placed in their path. Is this a lifeline given them by God, or is it just really, really, really lucky? No answer is found, but the subject keeps coming up, with various folks taking various sides of the issue.

Interestingly, Scott remains aloof from the question. He was raised to be a priest, but couldn’t keep it zipped, so he joined the Air Force instead.

Some will be frustrated by a lack of resolution to the question, but I actually liked it. The Aliens - much like God - are never seen, and inscrutable. What was their motivation? What was their disposition? We assume they weren’t even on the planet, but in fact there’s no reason to think they weren’t there all along observing the team, or possibly they’re dead. Would they have been mindful of us or not? Would we be able to understand them, or would our only comprehension of them be like Ambassador G’kar’s famous illustration of the ant and the Walkers of Sigma 935 from Babylon 5?

In essence, the question on the planet is a smaller scaled version of the questions we all face all the time about God, about Free Will, about Bad Choices and Good Choices, about whether our faith is well placed, or simply a poorly-aimed hail mary pass that no one catches, and loses the game.

As with any such questions, there can never be a conclusive answer. If God doesn’t exist, it can’t be proved, and if god does exist, He’s adverse to simply showing up at the UN and saying “Here I am.” Some would say this is unreasonable of God, but I take it to mean that for whatever reason, God values faith over facts in this instance. Why? Because if we *knew* God existed, if we *knew* the world was created at 9AM on Monday Morning, 4004 BC, then you’d have to be a fool *not* to cross the Ts and dot the Is so you could get that great retirement package He offers. Since we’re all pretty greedy, and everyone wants to live forever or die trying, we’d all do that without a second though. It’s not really a choice at all. However, if we *don’t* know, if it’s Faith and not a Known Commodity, then we have to make a conscious decision to serve without any guarantee of a reward. We could all be wasting our very finite time. And while that doesn’t conclusively rule out self-serving behavior in trying to placate God, it does, at least give us the choice, the free will, to do what we want; a choice we wouldn’t have if we *knew.* God is all about choices.

That’s my feeble attempt to explain it, though I’ll be the first to admit I may well be wrong. Agree with me at your own peril. In any event, this seems a good time to paraphrase Rumi: “Lord, if I do what I do in hopes of reward, send me to hell. If I do the things I do out of love for You, then keep the rewards but please do not deny me Your presence.”

A sizeable digression into religion, but then that’s what this episode is all about. You’ve heard the parable about the man who’s town is flooded? He climbs up on the roof and asks God to save him. He’s got faith. A guy comes riding by on a horse by as the waters are raising and says “Hey, come with me, it’s still low enough that we can both ride out of here!“ The man says “No, I have faith, God will save me.” Some hours later, the water is deeper, and a boat comes by. People call for him to come over and be rescued. “I have faith, God will save me.” Finally a helicopter comes by trying to rescue him, but he waves it off saying “I have faith, God will save me.” The waters continue to rise over him, and he dies.

In heaven, he meets God, and he’s angry. “How could You let me die!” he screams, “I prayed to You, and I had faith in You, and I trusted You to save me, but You did nothing!”

“What do you mean ‘I did nothing?’” God says, “I sent you a horse, a boat, a helicopter. It’s not my fault you weren’t smart enough to take ‘em.”

And that’s the central issue here: they don’t know. They’ll never know. Faith means trusting that you made the right choice, but you’ll never really know.” Some can find that frightening, but I chose to see it as exciting and liberating and one of the fundamentals of being alive. You know, ranked slightly below the sex drive. And food. And more sex.

Three final observations:

- It seems odd to me that they didn’t discuss Chloe’s dad. They must have had to fish his body out of the damaged shuttle, obviously that would have messed her up quite a bit, but there was no mention of it. Can’t help feeling they missed the opportunity for some character-arc drama there.

- Is it just me, or does each Stargate series have less and less to do with Aliens? In SG1 there were generally hokey alien races all over the place (The Nox, for instance). Atlantis had the Wraith and very little else. The other alien races in that show can be counted on the fingers of one hand, and you wouldn’t even have to use all your fingers. This show for all intents and purposes has no aliens. I mean, yes, it does have aliens - two species have been contacted, and a third is clearly spooking around out there somewhere - but there’s less of ‘em than we’ve seen before, and from a dramatic point of view, they’re strictly an external force, not any more developed (As yet) than a bad storm, or an earthquake - something to add tension to the human characters, but nothing more than that.

- I really, really, really appreciate them tackling religious subjects on this show, and I’m even happier with the furtive way they do it. I like that they don’t just sit down and have a “Very special episode” type discussion on the subject, but that it comes up from time to time. I like that some characters very clearly have religious beliefs, and others don’t. I love that they make a point of showing that we take our beliefs - right or wrong - with us wherever we go. I realize this is hardly new territory: The original Galactica did it semi-ineptly thirty two years ago. Babylon 5 did it brilliantly fifteen years ago. The RDM Galactica beat us over the head with it, with increasing degrees of didactic annoyance. There’s nothing new in this, but this show revels in painting things in secondary colors, you know? They don’t throw things at us head on, but rather work into it from the angles.

Remember that scene in Episode Five (“Light”) when everyone thinks they’re going to die. Baldo wakes up on the floor when he hears people singing hymns in another room, and finds the crew roughly divided between those playing cards and waiting for the end, and those holding a prayer meeting. That was just a beautiful scene, moreso because it was so understated.

And that kind of thing is why I keep coming back to this show with a big dumb smile on my face every week.