As a huge fan of SyFy’s Stargate SG-1 (particularly the Richard Dean-Anderson era), I was very much looking forward to Stargate Universe. The Stargate Atlantis spinoff had always seemed like it was trying to hard to be like its predecessor and Universe looked to be a great turnaround from that. The Lost and Battlestar Galactica-like vibes of the show, on paper, looked like it could work. Universe doesn’t begin to touch either of those shows, or even SG-1 for that matter, but the first season does make large strides towards creating its own identity in an already incredibly elaborate universe. Hit the jump for my review of Stargate Universe.
The plot for Universe is pretty simple. After undergoing an attack on a distant planet, a group of civilians, scientists and military personnel are forced to go through the Stargate. Sound familiar? It should considering that was the basis for most episodes created within the Stargate universe. The catch is Dr. Nicholas Rush (played brilliantly by Robert Carlyle) dials a unique nine-chevron gate address instead of the traditional eight-chevron code to get to earth. The Stargate brings them to the Destiny, an ancient spaceship that is as mysterious as the passengers arriving on it.
The people on the ship are the most compelling part of SGU. You have your traditional military crew like Colonel Everett Young (Louis Ferreira), the leader who isn’t quite sure he’s prepared to take command of Destiny. Then there’s the scientists like Eli Wallace (David Blue), the super smart kid who’s new to the whole “being in space” thing as well as civilians like Chloe Armstrong (Elyse Levesque), whose father died during the planets attack. With limited resources and no information about the ship, tension is high and problems begin to arise.
This is where the show is at its best. Episodes like “Space” and “Divided” bring out what is truly interesting about the show and also what separates it from SG-1. The tensions between the military and the rest of the crew naturally come to a front and makes for some edge-of-your-seat television. The struggle for power between Dr. Rush and Colonel Young are the shows best moments. Then there are episodes like “Water” which simply illustrate how the show can easily pull off the formula set up by SG-1: Go to a planet, find its resources and then get out without getting killed. It’s tried and true (hell, SG-1 made it 10 seasons doing it) and the added character struggles make the experience somewhat tighter.
However the show isn’t perfect. Several of the episodes are simply filler. In “Time”, Destiny leads them to a hostile jungle planet that they’ve already been to (and died on?). The episode is rather circular and just tries to emulate the planet-hopping formula without furthering the overall mythology of the show. Same goes for “Pain” where the crew begin getting bit by ticks that lead them to hallucinating. While certainly less confusing that “Time”, the episode never contributes to the shows bigger plot: What is Destiny?
Several episodes show backstory to some characters which ends up just hurting the show. The characters are interesting because there’s still an air of mystique about them. Even in the season finale, intentions of the characters are still making you second guess.
Stargate Universe is certainly going to fulfill that empty place in Stargate fan’s hearts but it’s not inside enough that someone not familiar with the previous installments can’t jump in. Destiny is on for a pretty spectacular ride in Season 1 and if you go along for the ride it can be a pretty fulfilling adventure.