Stargate: Universe: Air, Parts 1 and 2

I wasn’t quite sure what to make of Stargate: Universe when it was first announced. The timing of the announcement certainly made it seem like Stargate: Atlantis --- a beloved favorite --- was getting bumped off in favor of something edgier and younger skewing, which didn’t engender automatic support. Quite frankly, I’m not sure how edgy I really want my Stargate adventures to be. Sure, it would be nice to occasionally have long-term character development and consequences for choices and actions, but I’m mostly in it for likable characters, a fun team dynamic, and interesting action-adventure stories --- not a dark, introspective character piece about the human condition in extreme circumstances, a la Battlestar Galactica. So, I was initially wary of this new show and wasn’t sure I would even watch it.

But over the summer I saw the trailer and some of the character profiles that SyFy released, and I got kind of intrigued by the concept and the casting. I was particularly interested in seeing Robert Carlyle and Ming Na. So I’ve spent the last couple months getting more and more excited for the premiere and looking forward to seeing where the Stargate creators take this story.

So far, I’m not completely sold. ‘Air, Parts 1 and 2’ was a decent enough pilot. The way the story was structured kept me pretty engaged throughout, despite at least one fairly predictable plot turn (as soon as they needed a volunteer to sacrifice himself, the dying senator was the obvious choice). The darker tone and look worked fine for me, although I didn’t find it particularly edgy. I do really like the basic concept of this diverse mix of humans being trapped on an Ancient ship that’s been galaxy hopping for millennia and is well beyond known space. It really gives the writers the opportunity to take us in some creative new directions. Of course, it also gives them the chance to run us through the same, tired “the ship is breaking down and if we don’t fix this one problem in the next hour we’ll all die” plots. Sigh. I hope they avoid that well as much as possible. I’m sure it is going to be tempting, but we all know the ship won’t be destroyed --- it would change the whole concept of the show!

My main reservation at this point is that they’ve got a pretty big cast of characters, and so far I only find two of them remotely intriguing. Dr. Nicholas Rush is fascinating. Robert Carlyle’s performance is very layered and makes it difficult to label Rush as either “hero” or “villain.” He clearly has some private agenda that isn’t necessarily in everyone’s best interests, and he’ll do whatever it takes to make sure his own needs are met (possibly due to some unnamed tragedy having to do with the woman in the photo --- his wife, I’m assuming). Any time Dr. Rush was on the screen, I was captivated. I also really liked Eli. He felt like the sole representative of the lightness and fun that’s always been present in Stargate. I love that he got caught up in this crazy world because he was really good at an online game. The scene where O’Neill and Rush come to get him and end up beaming him to the Hammond was quite amusing (even though it was very reminiscent of a scene with McKay’s sister from Season 3 Atlantis). I’m looking forward to seeing more of Eli, particularly in combination with Dr. Rush.

As for the other characters, they all feel pretty one-dimensional at this point. To be fair, we really haven’t learned too much about them yet, but there is nothing about them that is immediately compelling. All feel like your basic stock characters, and I can barely remember most of their names. We’ve got the seasoned, commanding officer who apparently puts his career before his family, and may have some kind of neurological disorder. Then there’s the young, good-looking lieutenant who’s unexpectedly put in charge when the commanding officer is injured. (I think this guy is supposed to be our male lead, but I found him quite dull.) Rounding out the regulars, we’ve got the hot-headed sergeant who gets released from the brig when disaster strikes; the field medic at the end of her tour of duty, who has to take over when the doctor is killed, and who also seemingly had a fling with the commanding officer; the IOA representative, who doesn’t appreciate being sidelined by the military and the scientists in a crisis situation; and the California senator’s pretty, young daughter, now grieving the loss of her father.

My complete lack of connection with these characters is best exemplified by Chloe, the senator’s daughter. The girl suffered a major personal tragedy on top of the overall catastrophe of their situation, and I was completely unmoved by her pain. I was kind of bored by it actually. I remember thinking, “Yeah, yeah, she’s devastated. I get it. Let’s move on.” In fact, the most interesting aspect of the scenes following the senator’s death wasn’t his daughter’s grief, but Dr. Rush trying to convince her that he isn’t too blame for everything that’s happened (is he trying to persuade her or himself?). I don’t know whether it is the actors, the writing, or the limitations of a pilot episode, but so far, I’m feeling pretty apathetic toward most of the characters.

Other Thoughts

I can’t help feeling like they are underselling the direness of the situation. It just seems like people should be more worked up and on edge. We definitely saw some anxiety and anger, but it largely felt like people were too calm. I’m having the same issue with FlashForward. In this case, I’ll just chalk it up to shock and these folks being somewhat trained and prepared for extreme circumstances given the nature of their work. They aren’t really your average civilians.

My husband is very excited that an SG team has finally found an Ancient ship that they can’t immediately destroy without changing the entire series. He was endlessly frustrated that every time the Atlantis team found an Ancient ship they invariably destroyed it immediately or soon thereafter.

I want to know what really happened when Dr. Rush stole Dr. Lee’s body. I seriously doubt that O’Neill put him in charge of the lost Icarus base team.

Always nice to see our SG:1 regulars. Daniel’s introductory videos were hilarious. I also loved that Carter’s ship was named the George Hammond. A nice tribute to the recently departed Don Davis. (I’ve forgotten if we were previously introduced to this ship in one of the SG:1 movies, but regardless, I appreciated the nod here.)

Final Analysis: I’m in for at least a few more weeks. I’m not really sure how long the lost-in-space/journey-home theme will keep me entertained with only two interesting characters, but pilots are notoriously tricky, and a weak or mediocre pilot is not necessarily indicative of a show’s overall quality. Many of my favorite shows had crappy pilots. I’ll give this one more time to hook me.

Jess Lynde is a highly engaged television viewer. Probably a bit too engaged.

9 comments:

Billie Doux said...

Nice review, Jess. I felt much the same way, although I think I liked it a tiny bit more than you did. I had gotten bored with Atlantis in its last couple of seasons, and I'm hoping they learned some lessons about how to be a bit less predictable.

I'm most encouraged by the fact that they put such an ambiguous, mysterious character (Rush) in the lead. It's refreshing for a Stargate series. Like you, I really do like Rush and Eli the most (and the other characters haven't stood out for me yet). The Senator's sacrifice was telegraphed way in advance, but I rather liked that he did it mostly because he was a father.

This series has been set up much like Star Trek: Voyager, a show that never fulfilled the promise of its premise. I'd really like it if Universe followed through with some serious character conflict and survival situations.

I wish there was a way to see all of Daniel Jackson's orientation vids. :)

Mark Greig said...

They'd make a great extra on the dvd.

Jess Lynde said...

I think I got too excited for this one. I was not interested at all, then I was very interested and got caught up a little in some of the pre-debut press. I really wanted to like it. So when it didn't blow me away, I was disappointed. Which is ridiculous, because I know full well how pilots are. Very rarely do you get one that blows you away like 'Lost.'

I'm thinking that over the next few weeks I'll grow to like it more. It is very likely at least some of the other characters will start to grow on me as we get to know them better.

Oooh, Daniel Jackson orientation vids as DVD extras! That *would* be great.

jenn said...

We were introduced to The Hammond during the SG-A series finale. The ship, a Daedalus class battle-cruiser was under construction.

Anonymous said...

My hopes were probably too high, too. The trailers looked great, and I was expecting a kind of Star Trek: Voyager / Battlestar Galactica mashup. The pilot was a definite letdown.

I'm starting to think Lost and BSG spoiled me. Even when the stories meandered, you couldn't help but watch because of the fascinating characters. Now, if the characters in the pilot don't grab me right away, I'm willing to give up on the whole show.

I agree that Dr. Rush has potential, as does Eli, but I also think Jess is right that the other characters are too stereotypical or just plain blah. I've stuck with shows that only had one or two compelling characters before, but I don't think I'll be sticking with SGU.

KAM

Manostorgo said...

I really see this show more as "Enterprise" in that it may very well prove to grind the franchise to a halt.
I am trying to stay hopefull as SG1 was able to make it to 10 years and I feel like SGA ended a bit too soon.
I think we will see too many "oh no X system is down we will die in N minutes" or "oh no the away team is not back from planet P yet and the FTL jump counter only has 3 minutes left!".

What might help the series is if we see more of Stargate Command on Earth trying to locate the Icarus team....oh and yah great choice of name 2nd only to Titanic.

It still remains to be seen how Lou Diamond Phillips will be used, so that will certainly bring me back next week.

Jess Lynde said...

Jenn -- thanks for the info on the Hammond. I only watched the SGA finale once, so I didn't remember the mention of the ship at all.

Manos -- I'm still chuckling over your comment about the name of the base. I didn't even think about what an ominous name it was. What were they thinking?

Josie Kafka said...

I just discovered that this was available (free!) "On Demand," and I decided to check it out (mostly so I could read your reviews, Jess, and understand what you were talking about).

It wasn't bad. I saw a couple of the earlier Stargate episodes (were there two series?), but they were too lighthearted for me--although I did enjoy the movie as a youngster. So the darkness and extended plotting made me happy. Like you, I really liked Rush and Eli.

I'm definitely going to watch a few more to see if I get hooked.

Paul Kelly said...

Hey, Josie. You just summed up my own feelings about the Stargate franchise. I liked the movie, but found both SG1 and SGA a tad feeble. I really don't understand what people see in them.

Universe, however, I do like. If you stick with it I think you'll enjoy it. Plus, Jess' reviews enhance the experience a hundred fold.