Posted by: kshayes513 | October 25, 2009

Watching Stargate Universe

SGU poster_scott

Images: MGM & SyFy

Stargate Universe is the third TV iteration of the Stargate franchise. By all the rules of TV franchises, it ought to be either (a) the same series formula and quality, like the CSI and Law & Order clones; or (b) the same series formula and story concepts becoming ever more generic, like the later Star Trek series.

Instead, the creative team of Stargate Universe jumped to a new dramatic level by taking big leaps in concept and storytelling. If you want to take your own imagined world in a completely new direction, this is how it’s done.

Universe starts within the familiar Stargate setting: human military and science personnel stationed on an off -world base accessed by ship and by stargate, exciting Ancient technology to be studied, bad guys attacking. Then the crew’s retreat through the stargate turns into a one-way trip to the wrong end of the universe. Instead of dialing the gate back to Earth, lead scientist Dr. Rush dials the mysterious gate address he’s been trying to reach for months, and the fugitives end up on an Ancient starship that’s traveling distant galaxies on its own.

If this sounds like a variation of Stargate Atlantis or Star Trek Voyager, look again. Yes, the crews of those shows found themselves on their own in distant parts of the cosmos, and Voyager‘s crew also went involuntarily. That’s about where the similarity ends. The Ancient ship Destiny is not under control of its new occupants, who so far are little more than passengers. They never know where they’re going next, or what’s going to break down on a ship that’s been traveling since long before recorded human history. If they stop on a planet to get supplies, they risk being left behind when the ship makes its next interstellar jump. Unlike the crews of the other shows, they can sometimes talk to home, thanks to telepathic communication stones (very cool use of previous worldbuilding: the stones were invented for Stargate SG-1 long before Universe was ever thought of), but talking to home so far seems mostly to lead to more trouble and conflict.

Now here’s where the real fun starts. Diverse groups of characters in desperate straits are supposed to bond and form a team so they can survive.  That’s how its done in TV and movieland, right? Remember how well the two previous Stargate teams worked together from the start? And how the two enemy crews in Voyager became a harmonious team in about three episodes?

This is not that crew. This is ordinary people like you and me, with very little of the heroic about them. Most of them are plain scared – as they should be – and a lot of them, being either scientists or politicians, think they have better ideas than anyone else about how to stay alive. In four episodes, there have already been several near mutinies and lots of power struggles over who gets to be in charge every time something goes seriously wrong. And the two guys who actually are in charge, Rush by virtue of his knowledge, and Col. Young, the ranking military officer, don’t trust each other at all.

Destiny's crew learns that only 15 people can escape in a shuttle before the ship flies into a star

Destiny's crew learns that only 17 people can escape in a shuttle before the ship flies into a star

Previous Stargate shows have been mostly episodic, and often humorous in tone. They have also gotten progressively better as the characters and situations develop into the second and third seasons and beyond.  Universe is tightly serialized so far, and much more dramatic.  And it’s riveting. This week’s episode, Light, was one of the best hours of TV I’ve seen in years, with the ship heading straight for a star, and the crew facing the prospect that only a handful of them can escape in the one working shuttle. What would you do if you had to face a lottery that gave you one chance in 5 of surviving beyond today?

This is only their 4th episode. I can’t imagine where they’ll have taken us in a year or three.



  1. You are soo right. While I do miss the camaraderie of both SG1 and SGA I find that I am really enjoying SGU. With that said I do wish SGA could have lasted at least another season or 2. and SG1 could have lasted again another season or 2. Again, with that said, (boy I do hate to keep repeating myself) I am again enthralled with Stargate. I hear and see people whining and sniveling about this or that, but I seem to just enjoy watching a show that I am caught up in without thinking too much, while watching. I must be immersed in the mythology and premise of the storyline and show to be able to just keep a blank slate mind set during a story arc. The stargate franchise does that for me. I have tried to get into dollhouse, just because I love Firefly, but, it just doesn’t work for me and time and time again just seems boring, ( sorry Joss). Amanda Tapping, and Amanda Tapping’s new series Sanctuary is also one like SG1 I can totally immerse myself in. Although Amanda Tapping herself could be the reason. Now, here I am a 64 year old senior citizen, sounding just like some 12 or 14 year old adolescent, with a crush. But I don’t care!

  2. Thanks for stopping in and commenting, David.

    Adolescent crushes never get old – just ask me how hard I had to squash my inner squealing fangirl while sitting face to face with Ben Browder for an interview!

    The premature cancellation of Atlantis still rankles me too. It seemed to me they were really hitting their stride after recovering from a couple of bad casting decisions (thanks, Mr Picardo). A lot more stories there that we’ll never get to see.

    As for cameraderie, I think a lot of that warm feeling in the other series rose from the early character humor, especially from O’Neill and McKay, and from a safer situation. In SGU, given these writers (and the truly wacky John Scalzi as consultant), I think humor and cameraderie are going to rise eventually – but because they’ll be much harder earned, we might even enjoy them more when they come.

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