I’ve been struggling to watch Stargate: Universe. I keep tuning in because, well, I’ve watched and loved all the other Stargate TV shows and to not watch Universe makes me feel like I’d be missing out on an important chapter of a story — even if that chapter makes me repeatedly want to throw the book at the wall. I’ve always appreciated that the Stargate shows were light fare and looked forward to them for that reason.That doesn’t mean that I have an aversion to dark and gritty science fiction. I was a huge Battlestar Galactica fan girl and the evidence of that is in my blog archives. So, it’s not the dark and sometimes violent aspects of Universe that bother me. In fact, Universe could be a great counterpoint to the rest of the Stargate world.

However, when I switched Universe off during the “Aftermath” episode, and then turned it back on as Young started bashing a Lucian Alliance soldier’s head on the floor, I decided to finally figure out why this program was frustrating me so much.

What I Like About Universe

T.J. is fantastic. She’s really the heart of the show. I’m also looking forward to the storyline with the fate of her daughter Carmen, the colonists on the obelisk planet, and the mystery of the Obelisk Builders themselves. I’m excited that something interesting is finally happening to Chloe. I’m skeptical that the aliens discovered on Destiny’s twin ship are T.J.’s aliens, but hopefully something scary like the Wraith. Which brings me to…

What I Don’t Like About Universe

Young is a head-case. Rush is a dick. I’m not usually that blunt, but it’s really just that simple. Or maybe not. BSG’s Baltar has a lot in common with the arrogant Rush and Stargate has shown us this type of character before as well. In fact, this is how Stargate: Atlantis’ Dr. Rodney McKay began. Both Baltar and McKay, however, had humorous foils to their arrogance. A much lighter show, the humor on Atlantis was more straight-up, but BSG handled dark humor well and the audience enjoyed watching Baltar squirm. Indeed, watching Baltar drive himself off a cliff on a regular basis was entertaining.

However, while all of the actors on Universe are amazing, including Robert Carlyle, the crew would be better off to blow Rush out an airlock. They don’t need his uber-genius since they have Eli and now Ginn from the Lucian Alliance (played by Julie McNiven, who is stuck in my mind as Anna from Supernatural). How many uber-genuises does it take to run a spaceship anyway? Rodney McKay would be writing sub-routines to increase the hot water in his Ancient shower by now.

Even the season one episode “Human” that portrayed the death of Rush’s wife didn’t make me care more about him because it seems like it’s only the first part of an arc that the writers haven’t followed up on yet. Maybe I’m just impatient, but Rush needs to care about something human on Destiny. We know that he’s emotionally destitute and that the worst of his arrogance comes from the fact that he feels like he has nothing left to lose. So, give him something to lose then. Make me care what happens to him. Make it a subtle, reluctant, and sarcastic softening toward Eli — a grudging respect that he’s forced to give. As it stands right now, Rush seems like a caricature instead of a multi-dimensional character.

I’m not sure what the writers have planned for Rush, but I wish they’d get on with it already. Make me care about him as a mostly good guy or make me love to hate him as a bad guy. Maybe, after his run-in with the aliens, he’s now a sleeper spy? I don’t need to like him, but I do need to see that his role is important.

Young’s relationship with T.J. has been poignant, but, like Rush, his character seems unfinished. He cheated on his wife and I’d like to have seen a deeper reason other than just that their relationship wasn’t working. What happened in Young’s past that set him up for that behavior or for his erratic violence on Destiny? Is the latter attributed to the head injury he received in the pilot? Has he always been somewhat unstable, but just better able to hide it until the events on Destiny? In some ways, we know more about Greer’s emotional backstory than Young’s or Rush’s.

Stakes and Reasons Why

The stakes of BSG were ridiculously high: the fate of an entire civilization and potentially our own. Dark and gritty made sense against a backdrop of a civilization on the edge of despair and the occasional dark humor kept the show from getting to be too much of a bummer. Plus, BSG also had a mythology that deepened the mystery. (Sadly, they did not have a “plan” for follow-through, but as Alton Brown would say: that’s another show.)

Yes, the lives of the people on Destiny are at stake, but as distressing and insanely difficult as that would be in “real life,” it’s not enough for science fiction. It’s not enough if they’re going to show characters being beaten to a pulp every other episode and leaving people stranded on a barren planet somewhere. The original Stargate played off all of our religious mythologies and later shows created new ones. Season two needs to develop the mythology of Universe.

The Don’ts

Please, please do not make Rush’s hallucinations in “Aftermath” be a projection of Destiny’s computer. When James Callis’ character on Eureka makes jokes about hallucinating a tall, leggy blond in a red dress, it’s time to retire the mad-scientist-hallucinating-people idea for a while. Rush seems to think he is indeed losing his mind and, minus the ship projection possibility, that could work. After all, someone like Rush needs to completely fall apart and go all Humpty Dumpty in order to rebuild from scratch and gain some better qualities.

Also, please, please do not dump the Destiny crew off the ship at the end of every season. Star Trek: Voyager did that a bunch of times already. Kthnxbai.

The Dos

Show me more of T.J. and what happened to Carmen. I want to know more about the aliens who built the obelisk planet. Do they have a history with the Blueberry Aliens? Was Caine really Caine or just a representation of him to make T.J. feel better? Play off the fact that we can’t trust him because, well, the writers named him “Caine” — and I assume they did that deliberately. Supernatural girl’s talk of the Ancients and rising to a higher plane of existence makes me think that Caine might not really be Caine — or if he is then he’s some Nirvana version of him.

Show me more about Chloe’s coming transformation. Like Rush, she was captured by the Blueberry Aliens. Is she turning into some kind of hybrid? Was she able to understand the language in the underground labyrinth because of her stint with the Blueberry Aliens?

Show me why Young is such a psychological freak show. Better yet, develop even more the parallels between Young and Rush. They’re both losing their minds and both can be really nasty. As difficult as it was to watch Young end Riley’s life, he did the wrong thing for the right reasons. Rush constantly does the right thing for the wrong reasons. Run with that.

Raise the stakes. With possibly two alien cultures being developed in season two, will gaining control of Destiny lead those potential enemies to Earth? Sure, I feel bad for the Destiny crew, but them living or dying doesn’t ultimately affect anyone else on Earth. Build and deepen the show’s mythology. Dole out some interesting tidbits about the Obelisk Builders and the Blueberry Aliens. Show me some softening in the crew relationships so you can rip it apart later and I’ll care what happens.

Despite my frustration, I’m not giving up on Stargate: Universe just yet. I realize a show like Universe has many facets to develop and to juggle those is difficult without an infodump. I expect long character arcs. As others have said, Universe has the potential to be the DS9 of Stargate and I loved DS9. Just don’t make me work so hard to stay interested.

Filed under: StargateTV

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