In the latest instalment of my Stargate Universe rewatch, we find Colonel Telford (Lou Diamond Phillips) taking over command of Destiny to enact a plan they hope will bring the crew back home. Meanwhile, Eli and Chloe have some character development as they visit family and friends via the communication stones.
This is the first "Will they get home" episode that Stargate Universe has attempted. A staple of Star Trek Voyager. But how does SGU handle this trope? This episode also explores the theme of how you treat another person's body when you are just a guest inhabiting it.
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Welcome to nerd heaven
I’m Adam David Collings, the author of Jewel of The Stars
And I am a nerd
This is episode 56 of the podcast
Today, we’re talking about the Stargate Universe episode Earth
The description on Gatworld reads
Colonel Telford takes over Young's command in order to enact a dangerous plan to try and get the ship's crew home. Back on Earth, Young, Eli, and Chloe visit their families.
The STORY was BY: Brad Wright & Robert C. Cooper and Martin Gero
The TELEPLAY was BY: Martin Gero
It was directed by Ernest Dickerson
And it first aired on the 6th of November 2009
Remember how Young told his wife how much he wanted to get home to be with her, how he still loved her?
Well, this episode opens with him in sickbay being tended by TJ, and he tells her she’s beautiful. To which she immediately replies in a stern voice, “Don’t.”
So this is the first we learn that these two have a history together. An illicit history, given that Young is married.Suddenly Young’s words to his wife sound hollow. Not so much because of the mistakes of the past, but because he’s now telling TJ she’s beautiful. You don’t just tell a woman she’s beautiful unless you’re wanting something to happen, not the way he said it.
But just as they kiss we realise this is a fake-out. Young was dreaming. Yes, he’s got TJ on his mind, but he’s not necessarily actively pursuing her.
It is believable that he’s dreaming about her. She’s within reach. His wife isn’t.
Given the fact he might be stuck on this ship for the rest of his life, that presents quite a strong temptation. Let’s see if he’s strong enough to resist that temptation.
Clearly, whatever went on between those two caused pain for TJ, because Young apologises in his dream. I think he probably realised he was doing the wrong thing by his wife and called the whole thing off. And that’s what hurt her.
So Young and Camille are using the communication stones to attend a meeting on earth at Homeworld Command in the Pentagon.
And for once, Young has not body-swapped with Talford. Talford is here standing next to him.
Telford is the one to give them the news that they may have found a way to get everyone on Destiny home.
I love the way Jack says “Suprise.” That’s so Jack. I really enjoy his inclusion in this show as a surprisingly regular guest. In a lot of ways, Richard Dean Anderson IS Stargate, and I always get a thrill when he shows up in Universe.
So, this is what was often referred to on Star Trek Voyager as a “Will they get home?” episode. Voyager did a heap of those. They seemingly find something that might get them home, and they try to make it happen, only to be foiled at the end of the episode. Afterall, it was the 90s. You didn’t make a status-quo changing shift like getting Voyager home before the series finale.
The inherent problem with these episodes is that you know the crew are not going to get home.
Episodes like this CAN work, if you find drama and stakes in something other than the question of “will they get home.” But Voyager overused the concept.
But this is Stargate Universe. It’s much closer to modern TV in its construction. So status-quo changes CAN take place. But the whole premise of this show is that these people are stuck on a spaceship far far from home. I think it’s pretty safe to say that nobody in the audience is buying that they’ll get home. It’s not gonna happen.
So … does the episode still work? Let’s keep going and find out.
After the title card, we cut to post-briefing discussions. The episode chooses not to reveal to us, yet, what the plan is. All we know is that it’s risky. Talford thinks it’s worth the risk, given how dire the situation is on Destiny. Young’s not so sure. He wants more calculations, but the only way to get more data is to actually try it.
Young wants to get everyone on board a voice. Jack’s not going for that. Young is in command of that ship. He can, and should, make decisions on behalf of those he commands. And JAck is giving him a direct order to do so.
Young wants to treat this like a democracy. I can understand why. This is a decision that could cost all of them their lives. This is not a normal command situation. A lot of the people at risk are civilians who aren’t part of the chain of command. Nobody signed up to be on that ship to begin with.
Who do you side with here? I can see both men’s perspectives. Of course, it’s hard to form an opinion without knowing more about what the plan entails, but we probably know as much as we need to.
Anyway, regardless of the risk to his career, Young says he’ll give Jack his decision tomorrow.
I suppose he feels a little bit of freedom, being so far from home, and he probably deserves a little extra latitude, but Jack can have him replaced. All he needs to do is use the stones and order someone else to relieve Young. So he’s taking a big risk by defying a direct order.
In a real-world military situation, he’d probably be relieved on the spot. I dunno. I’ve never been in any military, but I do know they take orders very seriously.
We learn a little about Camille through her conversation with the IOA bigwig. He’s her boss. By the way, the IOA is the International Oversight Advisory. Basically a multi-nation civilian organisation that oversees the Stargate program, which is run by the US Airforce.
We learn that Camille was passed up for promotion a number of times. She and her boss don’t seem to have a great deal of regard for each other. He really wants this mission to happen, and he wants Camille to use her influence with the people on Destiny to ensure it does.
She may be able to pull that off.
We also learn she has a personal stake in getting home, but she’s no more convinced that young that they’ll survive the attempt.
Already, we can see that the episode has replaced the question of “will they get home” with a new question. “What is the plan?” and “Will they attempt it?”
Of course, in the very next scene, we learn the nature of the plan. The crew are discussing it in the mess hall, so clearly Young and Camille have returned.
The idea is actually pretty simple, and sounds logical.
The reason they can’t dial home is because they don’t have enough power. The only known power source that could do it was the core of the planet where Icarus Base was constructed.
Destiny recharges its power by flying through the outer edge of a star.
At that moment, incredible energy is available to the ship. Enough to power a shield that can protect the ship to begin with.
They believe that if they dial while they’re in the star, the power of the entire star will be available to them. They have to use the ship as a conduit and channel it into the gate.
Sounds feasible. But I can see a potential problem. Last time the ship recharged in a star, it didn’t get up to full capacity. It basically half-charged the batteries.
Rush and Eli have no idea why.
Could whatever caused them to not fully charge also prevent them from getting enough power to the gate?
The ship won’t recharge itself for a few more months, but they could try to drain the power manually.
Rush doesn’t agree with the scientists back home. He thinks it’s too risky. Of course, the people back home suspect Rush doesn’t actually want to go home. And they’re right. Of course he doesn’t. So is he being honest about the risk, or is he sabotaging the idea because he wants to stay on Destiny?
Chloe and Eli are heading to earth. This is Eli’s first time using the stones and he’s pretty nervous. Not so much about the technology, although it’s gotta be weird swapping bodies with someone else, but about what he’s gonna say to his mum.
Okay. So this time Young is back in Telford's body again.
Eli remarks “I wonder what they’re doing in our bodies.”
And as soon as he says it, Young just gives this look. Like he’s really worried what Talford might do. We’ll come back to that look.
Talford is under orders to execute the rescue plan. He’s brought two scientists with him to make it happen. And they’re going to drain the power to force Destiny to recharge by firing the ship’s weapons.
In this case, this isn’t just Talford throwing his weight around. He’s acting under Jack’s orders. He didn’t wait for Young’s answer, but he didn’t need to. And Young was gonna ask for more time.
I’m not saying I agree with Jack. But he’s within his legal rights here.
Of course, Young is right to point out that Jack often followed his conscience against the chain of command, which is exactly what Young is doing. Those renegade heroes, when they get promoted it sometimes comes back and bites them, doesn’t it.
One of Telford's first acts as the new commanding officer of Destiny is to confine Greer to quarters. Greer, to his credit, doesn’t make a fuss.
Eli doesn’t think his mum is going to be able to handle the truth, so he opts to pretend to be somebody who works with Eli, rather than Eli himself. It means that he can see her, and spend time with her, but not fully. They can’t really connect because she doesn’t know who he is. But interestingly, it allows him to say some things to her that he might not usually be able to say. Because he’s hiding behind a mask. Kind of like how ventriloquists often say things through their puppet that they’d never say themselves.
So his mum gives him a coke. Eli tells her that her son quit, and is on a bit of a crash diet. She may not recognise him when she sees him next.
This is interesting.
Eli was somewhat overweight. That’s probably one of the many reasons I identify with him so much. I’m a fat nerd.. Actor David Blue looks quite different today. He recently talked about this in an interview with Dial the Gate. He’d actually put on some weight for a previous role just before this show. But he wanted to lose that weight. He actually made sure the producers were okay with that before he took the job. After all, he said, Eli is in a survival situation on a spaceship with limited food. It makes logical sense he’d lose weight. The actor wanted to be healthier himself, plus it made good sense for the character. It would have been cool to see the change take place over the course of the show, had it continued.
Anyway, she talks about how he was always brilliant but never applied himself. So..maybe Eli’s lack of work, lack of finishing university was more about some personal laziness and less about his mother’s health. I dunno. We never really find out what her health problems are, but they don’t seem to interfere with her day to day living.
This is a really good character scene. David Blue does a great job of showing how emotional he gets when his mother asks him to tell ….. Himself … that she’s proud of him. But he can’t let himself tear up too much or she’ll be weirded out. She shows just enough so the audience knows what he’s feeling, without too much.
Rush is wanting the scientists to be much more methodical and careful than they want. They say doing it his way could take months. More stalling? Well, he’s proved right almost immediately when things go badly. Riley is badly injured. TJ says it’ll be touch and go. Not good.
I tend to side mostly with Rush on all of this, but Talford is right about one thing. Rush is worried that with everything that’s happened, he’s worried they’re not going to let him come back. He has a vested interest in this rescue attempt failing.
Chloe told some of her old friends that she’s her own cousin. They’re taking her out of the town and Eli is gonna join them. This whole thing, spending time with your friends and family without them knowing who you are. It’s gotta be awkward.
Eli is loving this, because now that he's in a body that’s slimmer than his, and probably more attractive, he’s catching the attention of the ladies. They’re approaching him, and agreeing to dance with him. This is new territory for him and he’s loving it.
Chloe’s not having as much fun, though. One of her so-called friends moans about how it sucks that her dead father is no longer able to hook him up with some wall-street connections. She does well not to punch him in the face.
Another so-called friend has basically stolen her old boyfriend.
This scene is actually quite a turning point in Chloe’s story. She realises how shallow her friendships have always been.
And then Eli takes care of her while she’s drunk, being a good example of a real friend. This is another good character scene.
Chloe tells Eli that he’s a good friend. And she really means it.
Eli knows he is too, and he always will be, but he takes it as a bit of a slap in the face. Because that’s all girls ever want him to be. A friend.
Meanwhile, Young pays his wife a visit but she won’t even let him in the door.
But says his peace and she comes out to him.
And they do more than talk. They have sex together.
Now there’s nothing wrong with a married couple making love, but remember, he’s not actually there physically. He’s in Telford's body.
So she’s having intercourse with Telford's body.
And I have major issues with this.
This is a terrible violation of Telford. His body is being used for sexual activity without his knowledge or consent.
That’s not okay.
You might even say it’s akin to rape.
There was actually a bit of controversy surrounding a similar circumstance in the movie Wonder Woman 1984 recently.
I get Young’s desire to be close to his wife. I get feeling this need as well.
But in my opinion, what they’re doing is wrong.
Stargate Universe will continue to explore the theme of how you treat another person’s body when you’re a guest in it.
To make things even more awkward, Destiny chooses that moment to drop out of FTL and that causes a momentary interruption to the stone connection.
So Talford suddenly finds himself in bed with Talford’s wife...and well, I don’t need to describe it in detail. You get the idea.
So he now knows exactly what Young has been doing with his body.
Young’s wife explains one of the reasons she’s found it so hard to accept Young back is that he’s trapped on that ship with HER. And that, of course, meaning TJ. So she knows he had an affair with TJ. She also knows that it’s over. And it is. Despite that dream he had at the beginning of the episode, it’s over.
Camille has just as many doubts about this plan as Rush does, but she makes a good point. It would be safer if he was involved. IS she just appealing to his vanity or does she really believe all of this? In the end, it doesn’t matter. She’s right.
Rush has found some ways to increase the odds.
So Destiny enters the star and stars charging. They begin dialling the gate.
The gate is starting to spark with. There’s too much power going through it.
Eventually Talford agrees to try shutting it down, but they can’t. It won’t respond.
Talford and his cronies show their true colours by running for the stones. They don’t want to die on this ship. And they’re the only ones with an escape route.
Turns out a lot of this was staged by Rush. The ship would have exploded if they’d kept trying to dial, but Rush put safeguards in place and arranged for the alarms to go off.
It was all to get rid of Talford, which I think everyone agrees needed to be done.
But what I really like is that Rush is upfront about it all. He doesn’t try to hide it.
And that’s kind of refreshing.
Although Young wants Eli to go over the data and make sure Rush isn’t lying about the dangers that plan represented.
The crew are now coming to the realisation that they could be on this ship for a long time. There’s no quick and easy way home.
The final scene of the episode is Talford showing up at Young’s house.
The implication here is that he’s going to pretend to be young inhabiting his body. That way, he gets to have sex with Young’s wife.
This, obviously, is no better than what Young did. Young violated Telford's body, and now Talford is sleeping with another man’s wife under false pretenses, essentially violating her.
What a mess.
Neither of these crimes is justified by the other.
It would be all so much simpler if people would just do the right thing, wouldn’t it?
So that was Stargate Universe’s first “Will they get home?” episode.
Let’s evaluate how they did.
The conflict of the episode wasn’t really about will they get home. It was more about trying to stop Talford and his cronies from destroying the ship.
In that regard, I think this episode worked much better than the typical Voyager episode.
SGU doesn’t do these types of stories often. And that’s good. While they definitely did it right this time, had they continued to do “will they get home” stories, it would have gotten old, just like it did on Voyager.
But here’s something to think about. The IOA boss told Camille that if this rescue was successful, he wanted to try to duplicate it with a ship in our galaxy. They could get to a point where they could actually travel between Earth and Destiny on a regular basis. They could send a proper team out to explore the ship.Take supplies.
It would have been wrong to bring people home this early. It’s only the third regular episode. But what if they’d done this in a season or two, and it worked.
That’s kind of what they did on Atlantis. During the first season, they were completely cut off from the Milky Way. But by the beginning of season 2, they had the ability to travel between the galaxies. IT wasn’t convenient, but it was possible. As the show went on, it got easier and easier until it was like going across the road.
They could have done something similar with SGU. AFter a few seasons those who wanted to go home could leave destiny. They’d be replaced with other characters who were better equipped. The survival aspect would have lessened and it would have focussed more on completing Destiny’s mission (which we’ll learn about in season 2, I believe).
It might have been an interesting way to go. I dunno. It’s just fun to speculate on what they might have done with this show, had it run for more seasons than it did.
So that was Earth.
Next time we’ll be talking about the episode “Time.” It’s quite a fun one.
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Have a great two weeks
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