EPISODE REVIEW: Stargate: Universe: “Light” (Episode 5)

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The introductory demi-arc to set up the whole premise of “Universe” - a kind of miniseries-within-a-series - concludes tonight offering little in the way of surprises, but a lot of characterization, and a better look at the odd new direction this series is heading in.

PLAY BY PLAY

As per last week, Destiny is heading directly at Mr. Sun. Several methods of changing course are discussed, but none of them lead anywhere, so Young decides to evacuate some people to whichever of the habitable planets in this system proves most suitable. He announces that he’s selecting two people, and fifteen more will be selected by lottery. This causes some grumbling, particularly from a bald, scary-looking new sergeant that I’ve taken to calling “Baldo.” The Colonel quells this by saying that if Baldo doesn’t shut up, he’ll remove him from the lottery.

Scott and Chloe excuse themselves to go nock space boots. Eli is damn upset over this. Camille Wray, meanwhile, tries to talk herself on to the lifeboat using bureaucratic doubletalk. Young first plays this politely, then tells her to get out or he’ll pull her from the lottery list. She breaks down and asks him not to.

Two of the planets are ruled out, the third one is on the far side of the local sun, so the can’t really scan it, but as they have no other choice, they have the lottery and launch the shuttle anyway: Lt. Scott, TJ, Sgt. Riley (This show’s “Walter”), Dr. Park, the Hubba-hubba Lt. James, Camille (Who breaks down crying), and ten others, some of whom even get lines. Baldo attempts to start a mutiny, but Sgt. Greer puts him down with one well-placed punch, and everyone else files out to watch the shuttle leave, and resign themselves to their fates.

The Destiny dives in to the local star, but they don’t die. Instead, huge scoops come out and start sucking up solar matter. The lights inside the ship start kicking on. Surprised that they’re not dead, everyone starts milling bout, and Rush points out (As our own Ginrummy pointed out a week ago) that this was the real reason Destiny entered the system. The ship starts to leave.

Destiny contacts the shuttle to tell them the good news, but Destiny is speeding up, and the shuttle can’t match her speed. Rush suggests a gravity boost off the planet they were orbiting, which works - barely - and everyone is reunited, with (surprisingly) no loss of life.

Afterwards, everyone’s in a good mood aside from the typically standoffish Rush. Young attempts to bond with him, and reward him for taking his name out of the lottery earlier, to improve other people’s chances of going and surviving, but Rush reacts slightly oddly and Young takes this to mean that Rush knew all along the ship was in no danger. The others tell Young to let it go, so he kinda’ does.

The End.

OBSERVATIONS

Once again, stunningly, we get some science in a stargate show! Hats off to Science Advisor John Scalzi! This week introduced the concept of the gravity boost, which wasn’t exactly explained, and I suspect it wouldn’t work in this situation, but it is at least a solid concept, so well done, guys!

I didn’t see the ‘refueling in the sun’ thing coming on my own, though Ginrummy pointed it out to us last week, and he was right. Good job, Gin.

I’m going to say that Rush *suspected* what the Destiny was doing, but wasn’t absolutely sure. I think he figured he had a better chance of surviving on the Destiny than on the planet, but I don’t believe he was absolutely sure. I’d say he gave it 60/40 odds, since his glee at realizing he’s still alive seems pretty real, but not overwhelming. It’s like the glee of someone proven right, not the glee of someone given a reprieve from death.

I called it a while ago that there’d be a triangle between Scott, Chloe, and Eli. I was a little surprised that Chloe bedded down with Scott so quickly, though, and even more surprised by her statement that ‘she’s never felt so close to anyone’ - what? Have they even had a conversation before now? I mean, they’ve been on the ship three or four days, they were on Icarus maybe a day prior to that, and she’s spent nearly all of her time with Eli. I mean, hell, I get it - it’s a stressful situation, her dad died, she’s out of her element - these are situations that cause intense emotional connections really quickly, but it rang kind of false in this instance. I mean, she could have just as easily said the same thing of Colonel Young or anyone else, and it would have felt the same - just out of nowhere.

Eli dialed back the comedy a bit in this episode, but it worked. There’s some range to the character right from the outset, he’s not entirely one thing all the time, like, say, Dr. McKay was. (McKay grew a lot as a character, but he was primarily comedy relief at the start)

Camille Wray, the much-touted lesbian character on the show - makes a rather poor showing for herself this time out, first conniving, then pleading her way on to the lifeboat, breaking down in tears of relief/guilt, and of course outing her girlfriend in a message-in-a-bottle. I’m sure some of the other SF sites will find this as homophobic, just as some sites complained about Riley and Eli peeping on the undeniably stacked Vanessa James a week back was somehow sexist. (Men looking at women! Outrageous!), but I’m sure they’re going somewhere with this, and rather than get caught up in the whole, ongoing, endlessly tedious debate about whether Stargate is too damn PC or not PC enough, I’m just going to sit back and watch the show, assume those making it have a plan (Unlike the Cylons, evidently), and enjoy the trip. My gut instinct is that the purpose of this was to reinforce the whole “We are the wrong people for this mission” element.

I’m liking Colonel Young more and more. I didn’t realize until this episode that his woman back home was his wife until he took off his wedding ring this time out. Also, if you look really closely when they do that shot of him over his shoulder from the door when he’s sitting on the bed, waiting to die, he’s crying - a single tear falls. I like how he’s handling this command, I like how he’s shutting people down without pulling rank, I like how he’s building people up without being cloying. I’m interested to find out more of his backstory with Greer and Young an TJ, all of whom seem uncommonly loyal to each other.

In fact, we’re already seeing an inner circle, with Young in charge, Greer, Scott, and TJ as the ones he relies on - presumably, these’ll be the core of the “Stargate Team,” and Eli as the science guy/good luck charm that all of them seem to kind of naturally like, even though they don’t know him yet. Vanessa James will probably emerge as this show’s “Major Lorne,” type character, though she’s already better developed than him, character-wise. As opposed to this, we’ve got Rush, who’s following his own agenda, and sees this core as kind of a threat or, on a good day, a nuisance, and Young bending over backwards trying to keep Rush functional and non-alienated because they need him. That’s an interesting dynamic. Then you’ve got the ‘and the rest’ castaways, who are mostly interchangeable at this point, but trouble’s definitely a-brewin with them. So, basically, three ‘groups’ - “Team Young”, Rush and “And The Rest,” all of whom will be vying for power.

No Colonel Telford in this episode at all, though we learned that Greer was in lockup back on Icarus because he decked Telford. Greer and Young both agree that Telford had it coming, so evidently his consistently dickish behavior is, well, consistent for him. There’s a history of this sort of thing. Th ehallway scene between Greer and Young is interesting. Young tells the sgt. that “I know you’re a good man,” and Greer seems very moved by it.

I guess we’re gonna’ keep doing the “Confessional” scenes, huh? Youngs’ was hard to watch, and Greers was…interesting. Something about the way he said “Beautiful” at the end hints that there’s something odd going on inside him that led to his gruff exterior.

I love how no one bothered to help out or even check on Baldo when Greer knocked him out. They just stepped around him, and left him there until he came to on his own.

“Where is everybody?”
“Well the fun people are all here”
Cut to: next scene of people praying in the next room. Again, we’ve got a good, realistic, positive portrayal of religion in an SF show!

There’s been a lot of debate as to where the observation deck is located - as of this episode, we know it’s somewhere on the forward edge of the ‘tower’ at the back of the ship, aft of the shuttle docking ports, and NOT on the nose, as has been previously suspected by some.

For the last six or seven years, the Stargate shows have done great stuff with lighting to create mood, or appear natural. This show is no exception. I loved the increasingly golden sepia-toned light as they got closer and closer to the star. The harsh, unidirectional lighting gives the movie a great, cinematic feel. Throw in a smoke machine, and a couple scenes could have passed for early Ridley Scott. Some of the incidental music, too.

If I’ve got a beef about this series, it’s the lack of a recognizable theme (Thus far), and a heavy reliance on early-80s synth noises. There’s some cool stuff here and there, and I agree that a traditional ‘Gate score wouldn’t work, but on occasion that heavy synth just sounds cheezy. I do hope Mr. Goldsmith (Who’s scored the previous shows as well) has some cooler stuff up his sleeve for the future.

I also really liked how scuffed up the windows are. There was something really cool about the shuttle pulling away in front of a scraped, smudged, dingy window that was really neat. I hadn’t seen that before. It was really cool.

I guess everyone was still sunburned last week, and I just didn’t notice because of the lousy lighting. Everyone is definitely still sunburned this week, though. Now that the ship has full power, we can finally see the sets! Woo-hoo!

It appears I was wrong about this show using “Lostbacks,” and I’m kind of glad of that, really. I also like that the Icarus crew are essentially functional, and not overcome with dysfunction like the Galactica crew was, particularly in the early episodes of that show.

I’m a little surprised that Young didn’t contact earth to tell them they were all doomed. Seems like the kind of thing you’d want to let your CO know. Ah well.

In the end, this was a kind of slow episode - it didn't feel like they had quite 40 minutes of plot - but very enjoyable, and I like that the took some time with some of the quieter moments, like Eli's heartbroken status, or his mini-flashback with his mom. The central crisis was kind of false - it arose by misunderstanding, it was never an ACTUAL crisis - so that feels kind of fake, but the scenes of the Destiny in the star were freakin' great, so I forgive them most of that, and eagerly anticipate discovering what this show is all about, now that they've got the preliminaries out of the way.

And that’s about it, really. Next week looks like it’ll involve some external conflict. Since Dollhouse is on hiatus until December, I should be able to get the next four or five episode reviews of SGU up a lot more promptly. The series is scheduled to take a break after episode 10, and run the rest of the episodes in spring of 2010, by the way.

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