EPISODE REVIEW: Stargate Universe: “Time” (Season 1, Episode 8)

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Man oh man oh man, did they knock it out of the park tonight, or what? This is the first unquestionably great episode of the series, and obviously if they submit one for awards this year, this’ll be the one they choose. We’ve all had our misgivings with the show. Even I - and I really do like the show - have had some misgivings here and there, not so much with the premise or the cast or whatever, but just that it seemed to be taking so long to get going in the first few episodes. Not a deal breaker, but I can certainly see where the heft the more deliberate pace gives the show comes across as simple ponderousness to a lot of people. But tonight, boy, it all paid off, and we finally get to see exactly what the show can - and presumably will - be.

PLAY BY PLAY

Take 1:

A team comes through the gate on to a Fake Jungle Planet. It’s a fake soundstage planet that’s supposed to look all jungly and foreboding, but mostly just looks like Gilligan’s Island. We follow the team along as they gather food to supplement the supplies on the ship, and then stupidly decide to take turns testing out some local fruits and such. They get sick, and since they’ve got 30 hours to kill and are in no rush, they decide to quarantine themselves on the planet for a bit just to make sure it’s nothing they can spread to the Destiny. This is all seen by us as part of the ongoing documentary that Eli is making.

That night they’re attacked by bug/snake things, which bite Scott, kill Chloe, and several others as well. A firefight ensues, and everyone’s in a bad way. They try to dial out, but the gate is working wonky, and they can’t get a stable wormhole.

The next morning, with a lot of dead and wounded and little ammo, and Scott in a coma, Greer decides to find a more survivable location. Eli and Rush talk a bit, and we get an interesting window in to both of their lives and backstories. Eli and TJ talk, too. Greer teaches Eli how to use a weapon, and they go out bug snake hunting during the day, discovering they live in sulfurous volcanic vents they use as nests. Rush tries to get the gate to work, but it’s unstable, and again, nothing comes of it. That night, the bugsnakes attack again, and Rush runs for the gate, says he’ll radio back if it’s stable, and dives through giving a last line that makes it pretty clear he knows he’s probably gonna’ die. The bugsnakes overun the camp, and everyone dies. Eli, TJ, Lt. James the Hot Chick, Greer, all the civilians, everyone.

Except Scott, who wakes up the next morning feeling fine. Everyone else is dead, so he records all the info they’ve got on the Kino along with Eli’s documentary and throws it through the wonky gate as a message to the people on the other side to come and get him if they receive it. The ship is 45 minutes away from FTL at this point, but for some reason the Kino just comes back out again, and lays on the jungle floor.

Take 2:

The Destiny comes out of FTL, and sends a team through to the Fake Jungle Planet, where they find a lot of skeletons and a kino that’s obviously from their ship, but that they didn’t send through. It’s memory is full. They take it back to the ship and watch it in abject horror as they all see themselves die. Since this party has been to the planet too, and they’re showing signs of sickness, they quarantine themselves in the gate room, apart from the others and watch the film, trying to figure out what’s going on.

TJ discovers that the disease isn’t from the planet, it’s a microorganism that was in the ice water they got from “The Hoth System” a few weeks back which is infecting them. It’s universally fatal, but was so small they missed it when they got the ice, for whatever reason. It will kill all of them.

Rush, meanwhile, reasons that the kino they found was there because the trajectory of the Stargate took it through a solar flare. Thus the interference with the gate, and also the reason that when Scott (Sub 1) through the kino through at the end of the previous take, it just popped back out, but several days earlier. Rush attempts to figure out when the solar flare will be, because obviously the bugsnake venom cured the waterbourne infection they all had.

A team goes through - Greer, Young, Scott, and some others - meanwhile, people are getting sick on the ship, and all the ones who died of the disease on the planet before are dying here. All their antibiotics are used up, and Lt. James The Hot Chick dies, again. Eli confesses his love to Chloe, but she dies. Again. On the planet, they’re decimated by the bugsnakes, again, but Scott escapes. He records an explanation of exactly what’s going on in their Kino and waits for the flare to make the time travel trick happen, then throws it through, and waits to die….again.

The End.

Take 3 (unseen, but implied):

The Destiny comes out of FTL and finds a kino with Scott’s message on it. They catch some bugsnakes, milk ‘em for venom, and everyone is cured.

OBSERVATIONS

Damn, was that a clever episode or what?

We’ve seen time loop episodes before, all the way back to the Twilight Zone (“Death Ship” with Jack Klugman), but the real trick with these things is the execution. Remember the TNG episode where the Enterprise kept blowing up? That was a good one. This is a freakin’ great one because it unfolds at such a relaxed, slow pace that you’re not terribly aware anything’s going on out of the ordinary until the second commercial break, and by then you’re invested in it. Also, the death of prominent second bananas (like James) is used as a clever way to make us off balance a bit. Someone we know - barely - dies, but since it’s not one of the principle cast, we accept it. We’re thus completely unprepared for when the main characters start checking out. It’s a neat trick that they wouldn’t have been able to get away with later on in the show’s run.

Some very clever editing in this one, since about half the episode is a “POV” shot through the Kino. The reactions of the crew on the ship watching their own deaths is pretty well played and telling and funny and tense, too. I love when the people on the tape from the doomed expedition are yelling at Eli to stop making his damn home movies, while the same people are watching them in the second take. “Who’s going to ever see that, Eli?” says Rush on tape. “Us!” yells Eli on the ship in the second tape, watching it. The edit at the end of act 2 is particularly hilarious, when Eli sees Chloe die on the tape and - in utter shock - says “What the f…” and they cut to commercial.

So was someone connected to Stargate also connected to “Old School?” http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0302886/ It was Teal’c’s favorite movie in SG1, I think there was a blowoff gag about it in SGA, and here Eli lists it as one of his top five desert island movies.

Eli’s grandfather died when he was seven. The funeral frightened Eli badly. Eli’s mom was a nurse. When he was about 13, she got stuck with a junkie’s needle and got a really bad, incurable disease (unstated if it’s HIV or Hepatitis or what, but I think we’re supposed to think it’s HIV). His dad couldn’t handle it and just abandoned the family sometime in the next year. Eli is scared that if he dies out here, or doesn’t make it home, his mom will just give up and die. Eli was a lonely kid, and never really had a best friend. His deathbed declaration of love to Chloe was very well done, and very touching. His stunned reaction to her death was also very well done.

Rush explains that he’s on the expedition because he’s interested in ascension, the Ancient practice of evolving to a noncorporeal, eternal existence. “It may not be possible for you or for me, but it’s why I’m out here.” This obviously has something to do with his dead wife. Rush likes Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and so does Colonel Young.

Tamara’s dad was a tailor who once stitched himself up when he cut his hand badly.

I love, love, love how we don’t actually see the third pass through this loop. We don’t need to. We know what’ll happen and how it’ll play out, we’ve gotten enough clues. I love that they trusted the audience to figure it out on our own.

I admit when Chloe died, I saw the end coming, but somewhat differently: I thought Eli would be the one to precipitate yet another loop, I didn’t figure that Scott would save the day. Their way is much better than mine. More organic and dramatic.

The religious aspect of the show has simmered down somewhat in the last few episodes, though there’s a nice bit where Rush asks Eli if he believes in the afterlife, and Eli ignores the question.

I’m pretty sure if you looked at the jungle set they built with your own eyes, it’d look great, but shot in a deliberately faded way on video, it just looks garish and fake. That was a bad plan, though the night vision on the Kino, and Eli second guessing his doppleganger were nice. I do wish the lighting on the ship was a bit better. These people are all so attractive, so dark-haired, so uniform, it’s hard to tell some of ‘em apart.

So really what is Rush up to? What’s his plan? Obviously it’s gone somewhat off the rails, but really, what’s he’ trying to do? Resurrect his wife? Ascend, then resurrect his wife? Does he have some reason to assume his wife already ascended? That last one’s my bet, actually.

So have you noticed the pattern yet? Ship episode/planet episode/ship episode/planet episode. I presume this is to give them a bit more time to scout more exotic locations. The biggest complaint about the SG franchise has always been the preponderance of Cascadia-like planets, which make up the entire Milky Way and Pegasus galaxies. Have you noticed that they planets have all been rather elemental thus far? A desert planet, a Jovian “Air” planet (Though they didn’t get out of the ship) an ice planet, a jungle planet. Not only do these provide minimalist environments, but they’re showing up in the same order as planets from the original Star Wars films. (Tattoine, Bespin, Deggobah) If we include the star the ship sailed through, then we’ve had all the classical elements, save water. Hence, I figure their next planet will be a water world.

That’s really all I’ve got. As great as this episode was, it was also fully capable of speaking for itself. Also, it’s late, I’m tired, and I’m still plenty sick (Though I’m feeling better at the moment, thanks for asking), so perhaps I’m not as observant as I generally should be. I really, really liked it, though, and I take it as a nice reward for my faith in the producers.

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