EPISODE REVIEW: Stargate Universe: “Human” (Season 1, Episode 14)

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I'm not really the kind to complain about stuff unless it's (A) funny, (B) a legitimate request for help, or (C) President Obama destroying the space program by fiat, against the will of his own party. Thus I haven't mentioned this before, but I've been sick for going on two years now, and while I *am* getting better rapidly, there's been a legitimate reason to think I've had cancer for the past two months or so. The final test results came in today, and it turns out that I don't have it, and I'm not dying. Well, I guess I *am* dying, but I'm not dying any faster than anyone else is, and after the several months I've had, I find that notion entirely acceptable. All praise be to God, of course, and for those few of you who knew and were praying for me, thank you very much.

Anyway, it's a good thing I got the good news today, because if I hadn't, I don't think I would have been able to make it through this episode. It's all about a tragic death by cancer.

It’s backstory city here on SGU tonight: We have two parallel plots running, the first, and more important being an extended semi-flashback in which we watch the things that turned Rush (A person) into Rush (An evil scheming jackass). In the other one, we’ve got a fairly standard peril-on-a-planet-with-the-clock-ticking plot. Both take a rather surprising turn, which is becoming the calling card for this series, and really has always been a trademark of the SG franchise, if we’re honest.

Rush has put himself in a cleverly-modified Ancient Learning Device, and is living in a kind of ‘lucid dream’ trying to find the code that’ll allow them to finally gain control of their own Destiny (Sorry, couldn’t resist). He’s got tons of information, tons of data, in fact he appears to be *looking* at the code, but he’s got no frame of reference by which to decode it. Meanwhile, in this virtual world, he’s forced to relive his introduction (By Daniel Jackson!) to the Stargate program, and his wife’s death by cancer. There’s a neat double-fakeout here. First off, we think it’s just a flashback, in which Rush is being a heartless bastard to his dying wife. Then we realize it’s a virtual-re-enactment of sorts, and we conclude that he’s being a heartless bastard because he knows this is all just a fantasy, so why bother to show compassion and decency to cyber-phantasms, particularly when they’re dredging up bad memories. Then we find out that, in fact, Rush really *was* a heartless bastard when his wife really did die. He was introduced to the SGC, and spent months or years working on the Icarus Project while his wife sat home alone neglected and dying of cancer.

Rush is just an awful, awful person.

Meanwhile, even though the chair has been modified to be less lethal, it’s still killing him. He gets frequent nosebleeds in reality and fantasy, he has a kind of minor heart attack in both as well. He can’t crack the code. He expresses some annoyance that Eli probably could just walk in and break it open while he can’t, but it’s driving him nuts. The characters in the simulation seem to be at least partially aware that they’re in the simulation, and Rush realizes he’s getting a better dataflow when he’s near his wife, but even when he’s with her, he’s not with her, and she breaks down crying rather heartbreakingly in once scene. It’s doubly heartbreaking because we know what we’re seeing here isn’t much different than what played out in reality a couple years before.

Ultimately, Rush realizes a recurring numerical factor that keeps turning up in the simulation is “46” - the number of chromosomes in a human body, and he realizes the code must be in some way biological. He goes to see his wife - now fully aware she’s a sim and not the real thing, evidently - and starts telling him “I know you loved me, but you’ve got to stop taking it out on everyone else.” Rush claims he has good reasons. “Reasons for hurting people? All the things you’ve done - you’re not the man I loved.” “I always had it in me,” he says, then tries to put the blame on her, saying the man she married died when she did. She won’t take that: “I was never your conscience, Nicholas. It’s still there, you just need to start listening to it again.” Rush breaks down crying, too, and while it’s not quite a catharsis, it is still a revelation, and a number of the missing pieces about him click into place.

He loves his work because it provided respite from his wife’s tragic end, which he couldn’t handle, but he hates his work because it took him away from his wife. They appear to have already been somewhat distant when the bad news came, but he still did genuinely love her, and he’s not going to get over it, and he pretty much hates himself for the way he handled it, but given the chance to do it all over again, he does the same exact thing, only in an even more callous fashion, lying to himself and saying it isn’t real.

In the less interesting subplot, Scott, Eli, Chloe, and Greer head to a planet with Greco-roman ruins. Chloe has apparently been studying Dr. Jackson’s archaeological notes. They stupidly head into a network of tunnels, and get sealed in with the clock ticking. Lt. James’ team attempts to dig them out before the Destiny heads off, but they fail, and are forced to go back to the ship. So far, nothing terribly interesting, though we get a very brief flash of Greer as a boy going through a spooky hallway or basement or something, and an offhand mention that he’s a bit claustrophobic.

Meanwhile, back on the ship, Rush comes out of the chair, but he doesn’t have the code. He can’t stop the countdown, and the ship rushes away in FTL, stranding four of our main characters on the planet.

Later, Rush says he doesn’t have the code, but he’s got a clue to crack it, and it might take anywhere from a few weeks to several years. He’s uncharacteristically optimistic - even maybe a bit happy - but a snide comment from Young slaps him back down again.

The End.

There was a lot to like in this episode. For me, the standout moment was when Scott realizes they’re stranded on the planet, and his last words to the Destiny before it takes off are “God speed, sir; God speed to all of you.” Scott’s a good guy, and let us not forget he was raised by a priest. He’s a religious lad.

We get a bit more religion this time out, too. We see Rush and his wife Gloria in church (Either Catholic, Anglican, or Episcopal, hard to tell as they all wear the same uniforms), we hear part of a rather pointed sermon that roughly parallels some of the emotional aspects of the plot, *and* we get a good shot of Gloria reading the 46th psalm. I don’t know that it’s got any clues, but because I’m a giver, I’ll reproduce it here and save you the trouble of looking it up:

For the leader. A song of the Korahites. According to alamoth.
God is our refuge and our strength, an ever-present help in distress.
Thus we do not fear, though earth be shaken and mountains quake to the depths of the sea,
Though its waters rage and foam and mountains totter at its surging. The LORD of hosts is with us; our stronghold is the God of Jacob. Selah
Streams of the river gladden the city of God, the holy dwelling of the Most High.
God is in its midst; it shall not be shaken; God will help it at break of day.
Though nations rage and kingdoms totter, God's voice thunders and the earth trembles.
The LORD of hosts is with us; our stronghold is the God of Jacob. Selah
Come and see the works of the LORD, who has done fearsome deeds on earth;
Who stops wars to the ends of the earth, breaks the bow, splinters the spear, and burns the shields with fire;
Who says: "Be still and confess that I am God! I am exalted among the nations, exalted on the earth."
The LORD of hosts is with us; our stronghold is the God of Jacob. Selah

Neither here nor there, but as a kid I just hates Psalms. 150 chapters of abject boredom. It took me forever to cross that sea the first time I read the Bible cover-to-cover. Literally seven or eight weeks. By contrast, I blew through Genesis in less than two weeks. Anyway…one of the aspects I like about this show is that it’s taking religion seriously as a force in society, and as a factor in people’s thought processes, they’re debating it, but they’re not taking sides. I suppose some people might be offended by this, but I rather like it. Ultimately I felt the new Galactica became tedious because they insisted on turning God into a character on the show. In SGU they’re not trying to bend Him to their storytelling whims, but they are discussing Him quite a bit, and I find that refreshing.

Also this is the second (And third) time we’ve seen people turn to religion as solace when death is imminent: The first was in “Fire” when they held a prayer meeting on the ship, the second was the Rushes in church after Gloria finds out she’s terminal, and the third was Scott realizing they’re getting left behind. This is all fairly realistic to me. What do you guys think?

They’ve been in space three months or so, and Rush said he had been working on the Icarus project for two and a half years before Eli solved it. Assuming Eli’s solution was in November of ‘09, when the series aired, then that means Rush was recruited into Stargate around May of 2006, and his wife died somewhere between then and the end of the year.

Michael Shanks is somewhat more subdued than we normally see him as Daniel Jackson this time out, though he still puts in a solid performance. He’s still Daniel, even if he never gets all excited and talks really really fast. Shanks is, what, about 40 now? He’s starting to show his age just a little bit. He plays his role as a foil very well this time out, but then I’ve always liked him.

In the “Trapped in a hole” subplot - which was inherently annoying and illogical - we get some nice character-based humor with Chloe trying to talk Young into letting her go.

Eli: “Say something archaeological”
Chloe: “Strata”
Eli: [flatly] “Great.”

She seems genuinely upset and trying to regain Eli’s trust, and one wonders why she’s so concerned about it. We’ve still got no idea how things are between her and Scott.

Camille is once again conspicuously absent, and this is our seventh consecutive episode without Colonel Telford. I’m wondering if he’s gone for good.

I got to wondering: what would have happened if they’d touched Rush’s hand to a communication stone while he was hooked into the chair?