Ever since Stargate Universe debuted, a few of you have been rattling on in comments for every other science fiction show on the air about how it's gotten better and better, how it's turning into a must-watch sci-fi series, the next great space opera and all that jazz. When I went back to my review of the first three episodes, I found very few of you. (Indeed, most of you agreed with my take on it as mediocre, and the last comment is from a guy promoting a site that says Universe sucks.) But enough of you have said it's gotten better and I've seen enough people out in other publications saying that it has overcome a shaky start to make me think jumping back in tonight for the spring premiere might not be a bad idea.
While I don't think this show is anything like a must-watch just yet, I have to admit that I'm deeply impressed with how quickly it's pulled so many of its pieces together. Stargate Universe still has a few too many characters, and too many of them are just broad types, but it's a show that's starting to move like it knows just what it wants to do and what stories it wants to tell. In many ways, it still feels like Battlestar Galactica lite, but I liked Battlestar Galactica, and this show is just different enough for me to not be thinking about how I'd rather be watching that show every five minutes or so. Plus, it has aliens (which seem to increasingly be a no-no in TV genre shows), and aliens are pretty cool.
"Space" starts and ends weakly. The opening, which mostly seems to consist of lots of talk about what happened in the fall finale - briefly, Dr. Rush (Robert Carlyle) was left planetside to die by his chief antagonist, Col. Young (Louis Ferreira), but he came across an alien spacecraft - and ham-fisted attempts to do something like soap opera plotting, plods along in a way that made me think the show remained a dank hour devoid of fun. The closing was a rather bland musical montage set to a rather bland song that felt rather like the show was marking time, trying to keep from dealing with some of the revelations of the episode for another week.
And, honestly, there's stuff here that doesn't really make sense either. When Rush finally makes it back on board the Destiny (the big spaceship that is the main setting for the show), I don't buy that he'd just be fine with preserving the story that everything between him and Young was water under the bridge. Yeah, he's still working with Ming Na (whose character name I cannot remember, which should tell you something) under the radar, but I don't buy that either he or Young would be fine with all of this. Similarly, I do worry that the David Blue character is a little too much of an audience surrogate, constantly there to remind us of just what we should be feeling.
I mean, yeah, I could pick apart this hour as much as I wanted to. (How convenient, for instance, that Rush is just on board that alien spacecraft, and are we ever going to get to see just what he was up to on the planet, post-finale?) But for the most part, everything that happens in the episode's midsection is good fun. There's a genuinely enjoyable space battle here. There's a series of great set pieces that involve the colonel body hopping with a weird, blue alien and infiltrating the ship to find the missing Chloe, only to end up stumbling upon Rush. This is all good, rollicking fun, and it gets back to the heart of just what draws so many to big space opera: It's just a good time, with big ideas and fun characters.
I'm still a little leery of the way the show uses the body hopping technology. I get that it wants its characters to have a conduit to Earth and to other ships and planets, but this feels like one idea too many to shove into the show, in some ways. It also doesn't help that this is shot in the most confusing fashion possible. It takes a while to get used to just why certain people see the body swapee and why the audience seems to see the person who is swapped up inside of them, and even once you've gotten the hang of it, it's not immediately obvious what the rules of the device are. I like the fact that Young tipped off the aliens to the presence of the Destiny by using them, but I do wonder if the potential story benefits from the swapping are outweighed by the fact that they often bog down the story with a lot of needless trickery.
But, again, that's all nitpicking, because I thought the device was used well tonight. Young gradually putting together the pieces of just why the aliens were there and trying to search for Chloe, even as a space battle raged outside the ship, was very well done, and the way the episode kept ratcheting up the tension in the scenario made for some very exciting TV. I generally like these sorts of storylines where things go from bad to worse to even worse, and you can't say that wasn't happening here. The storyline moved with a purpose and sense of excitement that I don't know that I've seen from a lot of other Stargate episodes I've watched in the past.
It also helps that the show is really starting to get a hold on some of its characters. Chloe is still pretty much an all-purpose nerd lust object, but both Rush and Young are coming into their own as polar opposites that the people on the ship feel torn between. I really like the way the show is portraying Young. Even if he feels like a William Adama ripoff at times, he's a good William Adama ripoff, and he has his own strengths and weaknesses. I like the low-key way he's trying to make sure the entirety of the ship's population is lined up behind him, a low-key demeanor that masks something very real and threatening. I also like that we're not told specifically whether to side with Young or Rush, that both men have strengths and weaknesses.
I don't know if the people saying that Stargate Universe is worth everyone's time are just the usual zealots that spring up around any sci-fi TV show or if they really have a point. I will say that I'm a lot more inclined to give the show a shot - cheesy closing montage and all - after tonight's episode. The series still has its rough spots, and I don't know that it's even bothered to differentiate some of these characters from each other. (The women, in particular, just seem to pretty much be broken down by hair color and/or race.) But the series is doing enough things right that I'll probably keep an eye on it for a while, and that's something I never would have said of either of its parent series. This isn't the best show on TV or anything, but as a way to kill a Friday night? It's not bad.