This week, the Syfy Network aired the series finale of Stargate Universe with the episode “Gauntlet.” Since the show’s mid-season return and the news that only ten more episodes would be shot and aired, the writers and producers took the story in a new direction, an arc that might have been the planned all along.
Now that the show is over, let’s parse out what worked and what didn’t.
BEWARE…spoilers ensue if you haven’t yet watched the final episodes!
(Eli goes blip! and turns into a god at the end…#SGUFakeSpoilers)
We can’t talk about Stargate Universe without acknowledging the elephant in the room: the show’s comparison to Battlestar Galactica. Both space operas depicted explorers stranded in space on the hunt for a way home and the resources to get them there. Both shows offered an ensemble cast of characters with heavy, deep and real baggage and definite consequences in their interactions with others.
That’s about where the similarities end. After the success of BSG, it’s clear audiences were in the mood for grim realism — or at least the veneer of it. I get why a new show would want to tap into that. I can also imagine that after over a decade of work on a more light-hearted franchise, that the producers and writers would want a new challenge.
Stargate Universe would have worked a lot better if it hadn’t been a Stargate show, but something entirely new. There’s definitely an audience out there for dark and gritty space opera, but it’s not what the core Stargate audience wanted. Those expectations created a first season negative spiral that the show never recovered from.
Sure, BSG had its own set of expectations from the original series, but the earliest buzz about the show emphasized it as a “re-imaginging” and the Starbuck and Boomer gender switch rebooted expectations. Plus, underneath the 70s kitsch, the grim realism aspect was always part of the original series.
Having said all of that, in the last ten episodes SGU’s writers elegantly executed bringing the crew together without it seeming forced or saccharine. They also embraced a real strength evident in previous Stargate series: dark humor delivered with witty dialogue. Some of my favorite moments from the finale include Volker’s Rock-Paper-Scissors badly-extended analogy and Young throwing out “Fantastic!” The brutally honest exchange between Eli and Rush was especially memorable:
RUSH: “You’ve come a long way from that video game slacker I knew a year ago.”
ELI: “Thanks. You’ve been pretty consistent.”
However, one thread that disappointed me to the end is how the show dealt with T.J.* That poor character is SGU’s punching bag. She’s been the archetypal enduring woman, quietly braving whatever new horrible event fate throws her way: an unexpected pregnancy that ended in heartbreak, involvement with an emotionally unavailable man, and later ALS or Lou Gehrig’s Disease. Certainly everyone on Destiny has suffered, but the ALS diagnosis, I think, went too far. Except for her interaction with the obelisk aliens (which may or may not have actually happened), you could pluck T.J. right out of SGU and plop her into an afternoon soap opera. On top of it all her doppelganger dumped Captain Tightpants! I don’t get it.
One of the major differences between BSG and SGU is the mythological aspect — or lack of it. BSG mythologized soapy plot developments and interactions. Case in point along the lines of T.J.’s health: Laura Roslin’s cancer. Where T.J.’s ALS seemed thrown in only for it’s soap opera appeal, Roslin’s death played into her culture’s mythology and prophecy of the dying leader who would never live to witness their new home. Considering BSG’s finale, this is probably meant to be the basis of our own similar archetypal figures. In other words, Roslin’s death had meaning. The death of T.J.’s doppelganger and potentially her own, not so much. T.J.’s existence seems to be solely to illuminate Young, which is sort of sad. When you compare the Roslin-Adama relationship to that of T.J. Johansen and Everett Young, it’s clear that Roslin’s death had a real impact on Adama, but her purpose in the story went far beyond only that.
With all the comparisons between Stargate Universe and BSG, we can’t neglect comparing how each handled it’s ultimate ending. While SGU missed some marks early on in season one, they more than made up for it with a satisfying ending that left the door open for future development.** While immediate plans for a movie have recently been nixed, anything is possible. The animosity between the characters wasn’t forgotten, specifically the history between Young and Rush. That Young still didn’t trust Rush at the very end — and that this played into Eli finally stepping up and taking some real responsibility — tied up many plot and emotional threads. The finale didn’t resolve Destiny‘s supposed “meaning of the universe” mission, but I have to admit I wasn’t thrilled with that reveal anyway. Despite my reservations about SGU in general, the finale was one of the most satisfying TV series endings I’ve watched in a long time. I still wonder what this show could have been if it had never been associated with the Stargate franchise in the first place.
What about you? Did you find that the Stargate Universe series finale ended the story well — or not? Do you think the comparison to Battlestar Galactica is an apt one? Where will you be getting your TV space opera fix now?
* Hey, but at least in the final episodes T.J. finally got some sleeves.
** Except for the fate of their doppelganger’ society. They sort of glossed over how they got all those people off Destiny — or did I miss something important?