Stargate Universe [Syfy, Fridays, 9/8C] premieres this evening with the first two hours of a three-hour introduction to the Stargate universe’s darkest and potentially most mature series, thus far. In a strange fusion of Lost in Space [the movie, not the campy TV series], classic Stargate and the tone of a Battlestar Galactica [again, not the campy one], SGU takes a bunch of people – soldiers, scientists and civilians, as the press materials say so alliteratively – and deposit them on an Ancient ship that is possibly hundreds of thousands of years old – and big enough that the Prometheus would like a shuttle beside it.
Air [Parts 1 & 2] opens with a tracking shot exploring a dark, dingy corridor and finishing up in a Gate Room where the Stargate opens and people begin hurtling through. They’re quite a mix and some of them, including an apparently high-ranking military man, take damage – some from landing hard; some from having other people and equipment land on them. To mix expletives, what the frak?
We cut to a flashback showing Eli Wallace [David Blue] playing a video game and solving the final puzzle on the final level when, with no warning, the game returns to the beginning. Before long, Eli is visiting by General Jack O’Neill [Richard Dean Anderson] and Dr. Nicholas Rush [Robert Carlyle]. He’s solved a math proof that has won him a non-disclosure document and a long trip – a trip he takes after discovering that O’Neill wasn’t joking when he said he had to fill out the form or, “We’ll beam to you spaceship.” Eli, then, is the entry point for the audience.
The premiere continues to cut back and forth in time, giving us new information as we need it. We follow Eli to an outpost where Rush is attempting to dial up a nine-chevron address that could take explorers farther into the universe than ever before, then to the present and the discovery that the Destiny’s life-support system is failing.
From that point, we learn why all these people are now billions of lightyears from Earth – and how they have to get by without so much as a doctor [there is a field medic, but some of the injuries that confront her are far beyond her training. Then there are those who want to try to gate home and ignore Rush’s warning about the lack of power to do so. Destiny, it seems is programmed in a way that could be of help if everyone can keep getting in the way at every opportunity.
The first three hours of SGU are considerably darker and bleaker than we’ve seen before on a Stargate series. There are characters that we can identify with, like Eli and Chloe Armstrong [Elyse Levesque], a senator’s aide [and daughter]. Others, like Rush and Master Sergeant Ronald Greer [Jamil Walker Smith] seem less trustworthy. Rush, for example, says all the right things, but gives every indication of having an agenda beyond what he’s saying. Greer was pulled out of the brig by his commanding officer, Col. Everett Young [Louis Ferreira] and the charges dropped – as Young tells him to take out his anger on an attacking enemy. Then there’s the politician [Christopher Macdonald] who supported the Stargate program and just wanted to see what his money was buying…
By the time we get to the premiere’s cliffhanger, we are involved. Not because the show is a cool sci-fi vehicles with nifty, if malfunctioning, gizmos and panoramic views of alien spaces, but because we’re learning about the unusual cast of characters. By creating a mix of characters that includes civilians [who will be far more easily bewildered and scared than the usual SG teams, regardless of where they are], creators Brad Wright and Robert C. Cooper [who wrote the three-parter] have raised the stakes considerably. By placing them on a battered, wonky ancient vessel, they’ve raised the stakes even further.
To make matters worse, thanks to Rush’s bringing some Ancient communication stones along, Stargate Command can be apprised of what’s going on but are in no position to offer any real aid. Can you say frustration? I knew you could.
With the numbers of characters being as high as it is, it might take all season to meet just the important ones. There are nine regulars – Robert Carlyle [Dr. Rush], Lou Diamond Phillips [Col. Telford], Ming-Na [Camille Wray, IOA Human Resources executive], David Blue [Eli], Alaina Huffman [1st. Lt. Tamara Johansen, medic], Louis Ferreira [formerly Justin Louis, as Col. Young], Jamil walker smith [Master Sgt. Greer], Elyse Armstrong [Chloe Armstrong], and Bryan J. Smith [1st. Lt. Matthew Scott], and a number of recurring characters [including familiar faces like Richard Dean Anderson, and Michael Shanks].
Guest stars slated for appearances include: newcomer Janelle Monae, Gary Jones, and Carlo Rota .
Air, Parts 1-3, are exciting and engaging. Despite all the characters and balancing two timelines, Andy Mikita manages to keep things moving at a pretty good clip – using bursts of action more to punctuate character-driven sequences than to just show stuff blowing up real good. Even so, there’s so much going on that one could get a bit confused. There’s just that much happening – and that’s the one problem with the premiere.
Will SGU succeed? Well, it has the Stargate mythology going for it and, as been said elsewhere [by Warren Ellis, if memory serves], along with Doctor who’s TARDIS, the Stargate is one of two storytelling devices that can take us anywhere, at any time. Now that we have an established situation – and some knowledge of who most of the main characters are, SGU can get down to telling stories. I think it’s going to be a strange ride, but one worth taking.
Final Grade: B+