Retro Review: Stargate: Universe
Time for me to voice some unpopular opinions. If you know me well, you’re used to such things, and if you don’t, well, let’s just say my tastes are sometimes a little odd. And by sometimes, I mean usually. And by a little, I mean very.Universe is the third TV spin-off of the ’90s sci-fi action movie, Stargate. The previous two, SG-1 and Atlantis, enjoyed a fair degree of success. In fact, SG-1 was the longest running sci-fi TV series in history. Universe, however, lasted only two seasons, and is generally bashed for killing the franchise.
The reasons for this aren’t hard to understand. It was a major departure from the previous two series. Instead of a bright, peppy show about well-groomed heroes saving the universe, we had a gritty tale of a small group of scruffy refugees trying to survive aboard a decaying alien starship, Destiny, at the far edges of space. Changes like that–sadly–tend to bother people. And to be entirely honest, the first few episodes simply weren’t very good. They were slow, dull, and smacked of “trying too hard to be serious.”
But all that doesn’t mean it was a ultimately a bad show.
Even during its shaky beginning, Universe had a lot of things going for it. For starters, a unique concept. We’ve all seen the Voyager model of a crew trying to find its way home, but SG:U was a different take on the idea. They weren’t flying home; they couldn’t. They didn’t possess the access codes necessary to run the ship, and they were simply along for the ride. It added an extra element of peril; if one of their away teams didn’t make it back to the ship before it jumped back into FTL (Faster Than Light), they would be permanently marooned.
Destiny itself was a character. The ship, while not exactly an entity as we would understand the term, was capable of thinking, and it had a plan. One of my favourite things about the show was the constant question of, “What is Destiny up to this week? Why did it bring them to this planet?” In fact, I’d go so far as to say Destiny may have been my favourite character, and that’s no small feat, which brings me to my next point. The greatest strength of every Stargate series has been their casts, and SG:U was no exception. Whereas previous casts were mostly plucky and likable, Universe’s refugees were a little more rough around the edges, but no less interesting for that.
Virtually everyone was deep and multifaceted, and the acting was universally strong (no pun intended). Particular stand-outs included Robert Carlyle as the brilliant but pathologically dishonest Dr. Nicholas Rush and Louis Ferreira as reluctant commander Colonel Everett Young, whose characters constantly butted heads (sometimes literally) throughout the series, making for and endless amount of wonderful drama. But even initially weaker characters such as Elyse Levesque’s Chloe Armstrong quickly found ways to become more interesting, and by the end of the show’s short run, there wasn’t a character I didn’t love seeing.
Most important to note, though, is that the mediocre story-telling of the first few episodes didn’t last. Things slowly improved, and then the quality shot upward with the stellar cliff-hanger in the middle of the first season. After that, with only a few brief exceptions, we got nothing but interesting episodes full of action, human drama, mystery, and suspense.
Unlike the rather straight-forward plots of previous Stargate incarnations, SG:U featured a lot of mysteries. “What is Destiny‘s purpose? Why did the Ancients launch it into the far reaches of the universe?” I won’t spoil anything, but suffice it to say that some of those questions were answered, and SG:U was shaping up to be truly epic and awe-inspiring before it was cut down prematurely.
Finally, one other thing that made Universe very unique is the way it portrayed the feeling of being lost in deep space. I’ve watched a lot of sci-fi TV in my time, and it never really felt right. Space was just a backdrop that added nothing to the story. But SG:U hammered home the lonely isolation of being adrift in the cold depths of space. It had a haunting feeling that stuck with me long after the episodes ended.
The worlds and the alien creatures really felt foreign. It illustrated both the wonder and the horror that space has to offer.
I think SG:U actually may have been the final nail in the coffin of my Star Trek fandom. Star Trek is supposed to be about uncovering the mysteries of space, but SG:U did more boldly going in its two seasons than any Star Trek series did in their longer runs.
Overall rating: 8.8/10 If you haven’t seen it, I strongly recommend giving it a try. Just don’t let its slow start throw you. And if you have seen it, please comment and tell me what you think, especially if you enjoyed it–I’d dearly like to discover that I’m not the only SG:U fan out there, which is how it feels sometimes.
You can buy Stargate: Universe DVDs on my Amazon Affiliate. In addition to the DVDs of the two seasons, I’ve included a download of a single second season episode, “Malice.” Normally I wouldn’t recommend skipping ahead like that, especially on a serialized show like SG:U, but “Malice” was masterful, and if you’re a skeptic, it might just win you over.