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Stargate Universe “Subversion” Detailed Analysis & Review

August 23, 2021

Today's episode of Stargate Universe is the beginning of the final three of season 1. Through a residual memory, Rush discovers that Telford sold out Icarus Base to the Lucian Alliance, who have a plan to open a wormhole to Destiny and take over the ship. It gets very heavy and exciting from here. (Special guest appearances from Michael Shanks and Richard Dean Anderson)

Transcript

 

Welcome to Nerd Heaven

I’m Adam David Collings, the author of Jewel of The Stars

And I am a nerd

 

This is the 67th episode of the podcast.

Today, we’re talking about the Stargate Universe episode “Subversion”

 

By the time this episode goes live, Jewel if the Stars book 3 is probably close to being out, which is really exciting. I’m proud of this story, and it’s been a long time coming. Check out books2read.com/jewel3 and that’s the number 2. That link should be live by now, even if it’s just a pre-order.

 

The description on GateWorld reads

Dr. Rush and Homeworld Command investigate when Colonel Telford is suspected of spying for the Lucian Alliance.

 

This episode was written by Joseph Mallozzi & Paul Mullie

It was directed by Alex Chapple

And it first aired on the 21st of May 2010.

 

So welcome to the Stargate SG-1 podcast. In this episode, SG-1 works with the crew of Destiny to infiltrate the Lucian Alliance who have a Goa'uld cargo ship.

 

In my memory, Sam was in this episode. I thought we had 3 out of the 4 original members of SG-1, which would have made that joke funnier. I mean, Sam was in the recap, but she doesn’t appear in the actual episode. We get Jack and Daniel, but no Sam. Maybe she’s in the next two episodes. I don’t remember.

 

The recap at the beginning of this episode takes us right back to the pilot, where the Lucian Alliance attacked Icarus Base. We also see a lot of Telford in the flashbacks. We haven’t seen Telford in quite a while.

 

Rush is having unsettling dreams. Flashes of something happening on earth. I really like how the first person he goes to, after waking up, despite all the trouble between them in the past, is Young. Clearly he thinks there’s more to this dream than just .. a normal dream.

But I love Young’s line. “Everyone thinks their dreams are interesting.” He’s going to take some convincing.

 

In this dream, Rush is at a warehouse, meeting somebody, giving classified details about Icarus base to somebody with a Goa'uld cargo ship. That suggests Lucian Alliance. On Earth.

 

But when he sees his reflection in a car window, he’s Colonel Telford. If true, this suggests that Colonel Telford is a traitor - the one that sold out Icarus Base to the Lucian Alliance.

 

But is this just a dream or something more? We know that people can have residual thoughts and flashes from sharing their bodies with another person through the communication stones, and the crew of Destiny have been using the stones more than anybody in SG-1 or Atlantis ever did. So this could be real. But how do you prove that?

 

Scott is the only other person who has ever experienced the bleed-through phenomenon. Young tells him about Rush’s dream. Scot is concerned that Young is allowing his personal issues with Telford to colour how he reacts to all this. Young points out that before he was stationed at Icarus, Telford spent time undercover infiltrating the Lucian Alliance. There was an incident where Telford knew of an imminent attack but didn’t tell the SGC, presumably to protect his cover. The SGC cleared him of this.

But it makes you wonder.

Young also points out that the Goa'uld had mind-control technology, and that might now be in the hands of the alliance. And Scott makes a very good point. “If you start thinking that way then we can’t trust anyone.”

 

Rather than telling General O’Neill about this, Rush’s idea is to take Telford’s body next time he’s scheduled to use the stones and try to make contact with the Alliance. That’s risky. Young says if Stargate Command is this heavily compromised, he can’t tell anyone. I mean, what if O’Neill is being controlled. Now that’s scary.

 

Rush doesn’t have the training for this kind of work, but he is the one who had the dream. A dream he’s still putting together in his mind. The knowledge from that dream could be critical.

 

There’s a wonderfully amusing scene between Young and Camille where she questions him about bumping Doctor MOrris off the stone schedule. He keeps just saying “Yes” to her questions. Then she asks “Care to explain why?” and he switches to “No.”

See, this is the type of humour I like. Humour that plays into the seriousness of the story, not against it. With all the trouble since the civilian coup, I can understand why this bothers Camille, but knowing what Young knows, he’s absolutely right for keeping these cards close to his chest, keeping things even from Camille and Eli, who is feeling kinda put out by being excluded. Every character has their perspective here, and every one has valid reasons for what they’re feeling. It’s good character interplay.

 

Rush’s first challenge is to get rid of his military escort. Hope he got some hints from Young on that one.

 

Meanwhile, Telford looks in the mirror and notices that he’s inhabiting Rush, not Morrison. Scott makes an excuse, which Telford obviously doesn’t believe. And again we have a character whining and complaining about the clothes their host is wearing. And I find that really petty.

 

Despite what he said to Rush, Young also uses the stones to visit earth. He wants to talk to General O’Neill. Perhaps he doesn’t trust Rush’s dream as much as he lets on.

And we get a classic Jack Line. “Everett, I’ll have you know I’m missing a national security briefing for this.” There’s actually nothing intrinsically funny about that line, it’s just the way Richard Dean Anderson delivers it. Scenes like this show that Anderson’s trademark O’Neill humour actually blends pretty well with the dark seriousness of Stargate Universe. Because it’s a character trait.

 

I also like how they have a protocol for quickly and efficiently authenticating the identity of a stone user. That makes a lot of sense.

Young tells O’Neill everything. Even suggests they let Rush ditch the escort and then tail him discreetly. The most interesting thing is, he makes no mention of Telford. The way he says it to O’Neill, it’s like Rush is the traitor. On first viewing, it’s hard to know what Young’s game is right now.

 

There’s a nice little scene where TJ is having a baby shower. The crew are quite resourceful in the gifts they are able to make with what they have at hand.

 

But Volker and Brody pull Eli aside. They know something is going on with Young and Rush. So the three of them have a little meeting, trying to figure out the conspiracy. This is a big difference between the civilian and military crewmembers. A military officer in this situation would probably just think, “My CO is doing something important and they have good reasons to keep it from me.” and get on with their duty. But the civilians get suspicious and want to know what’s going on. Civilians are much less used to living with secrets.

 

But Telford breaks this mould a bit. He wants to know what’s going on, because he knows Scott and Young are keeping something from him, and he’s probably concerned because his body is being used for it. He confers with Camille.

 

Camille is not happy about being kept out of the loop. And that’s when Young returns. He has some things to discuss with Telford, but Camille is still kept out of it. She’s NOT happy.

 

Young questions Telford. Trying to find out what he knows. And we get some interesting new insight into both characters. Seems they were once friends. Before Telford let those people die to protect his own skin. Sounds like they’ve had this debate before. And we understand why Telford is so hurt about not being on Destiny. Sounds like command of this ship was supposed to be his prize, his reward for all that time undercover. He was supposed to lead the expedition to the ninth chevron address. That explains why there were two Colonels at Icarus. Young was in charge of the base, Telford was to be in charge of the mission.

Young just isn’t sure who to trust, other than O’Neill. In his mind, it’s still possible that Rush is the mole, not Telford. He doesn’t want to take any risks.

 

So Rush loses his escort. He has something to attend to, in a building. The escort says he came prepared and waves a book. It’s Old Man’s War by John Scalzi. Good sci-fi book. I never noticed that before. Anyway, it’s surprisingly easy for Rush to lose the scort, although O’Neill is kind of allowing it.

And we get a glimpse of who the tail is. Our old friend Dr. Daniel JAckson. Makes sense Jack would send someone he trusts. Presumably at this point, Daniel is still a member of SG-1, and SG-1 are the front-line time that deals with threats, both offworld and on earth. And it’s wonderful to see him. This is actually the first time we’ve seen the real Daniel in person in SGU. Previously we’ve seen him in recordings, and in Rush’s mind, but never the actual real Daniel in person.

 

Rush goes to search Telford’s home for clues and finds a key. The key has a number, 314. I wonder, is that meant to be a reference to Pi?

 

It turns out to be a safety deposit box key. The box contains a phone. A good old flip-phone. I had one very similar. Rush takes a gamble. He rings the phone and says “It’s 

Telford. I have new information. We have to meet.” The response suggests that yes, Telford is indeed giving information to somebody.

 

Rush is brought to the same warehouse he saw in his dreams by the mysterious strangers.

Daniel has tracked them and is watching from a safe distance. They’re using some kind of jamming technology so Jack can’t see what’s going on in there. Good thing he has Daniel. Apparently, the technology doesn’t block radios.

 

I’m really glad they brought DAniel back for this. It’s not a huge part, it’s absolutely the right way to do a callback to previous shows. It makes good sense in the story that Daniel would be doing this. And it’s a joy to hear him and Jack interacting like this.

 

Then another vehicle turns up. A woman gets out and immediately demands to know who Rush is. She knows he’s not Telford. He didn’t use the right code when he called in. This is absolutely believable. Rush would have had to be very lucky to fool these people. They know about the ancient communication stones so the woman immediately puts two and two together.

 

And then a Goa'uld cargo ship decloaks. 

Daniel calls in the cavalry.

AT this point, Rush’s innocence can be assumed, as can Telford’s guilt.

 

But they’re too late. The bad guys have flown off in their ship with Rush,

 

Think about how far DAniel has come from when we first saw him in the STargate movie played by JAmes Spader. At that time in his life he was so awkward. All he knew was his theories. And now, he’s a gun-toting spy. The guy has grown so much, but it’s been a very slow and steady character development. All very believable done. That’s the advantage of having a 10+ year franchise. You really get to see these people change. It’s awesome.

 

Next we get a great character scene with TJ. She was really enjoying her baby shower, it was all very positive. But now, as her friends have left the party, and she’s alone with her thoughts, she’s forced to confront those feelings she’d pushed away. How can she possibly give her baby a good life on this ship? What kind of life would that be?  Her child deserves so much better.

 

Chloe makes some good points, to comfort her. Getting home might seem impossible, but they’ve been averaging 3 impossible things per week since they arrived, so why assume the worst?

And aren’t we just so good at that? We always assume the worst. I know I do that quite often. But it’s possible they may get back some day, and the child will be able to grow up on earth.

She also says that the worst case scenario, there are lots of people on the ship who will care about the child. For all that it will lack, it won’t lack love.

 

So let’s think about this. Assuming the child has to grow up on Destiny, is that as bad as TJ thinks? There’s no denying that life on Destiny is hard. Getting enough food can be a challenge, and when they do find food, it often doesn’t taste great. But most of the suffering these people are going through is because of what they used to have. They miss the creature comforts of Earth. They miss their families.

 

TJ’s child is not going to know any life other than what she experiences on Destiny. She doesn’t know anybody back on earth to miss. She’s never been there. Earth will just be “that please you visit with the stones.” That will be normal for him or her.

 

I think the baby may have a better and more fulfilling life than TJ is giving it credit for.

I can’t help but think of Naomi Wildman on Voyager. That ship was her home. She could never understand everyone else’s obsession with a planet she’d never been to. Admittedly, Voyager was a luxury cruise ship compared to Destiny, but I think some of the principles still apply.

 

Naomi did have  an emotional need to connect with the father she’d never known, but TJ’s baby won’t even have that issue, because Young is the father and he’s on the ship.

 

Back on earth, they’ve figured out the identity of the Lucian Alliance woman Kiva. Apparently she’s highly ranked and brutal. It’s pretty scary to think that they have people living on earth.

Daniel is concerned for Rush’s life. Young a little less so, afterall, Rush volunteered for this. He knew the risks.

 

Kiva is played by Rhona Mitra. Interestingly, she was the live action model for Lara Croft in the Tomb Raider games, before the movies. I’m assuming that means she did some motion capture work for the game.

 

Young wants permission to get the truth out of Telford. 

Jack seems to be willing to turn a slight blidn eye to whatever means Young might use to get the information. “He didn’t say how he was gonna get it out of him.”

Now Daniel is really concerned. Telford may be a traitor, but he still has rights. Torturing him is not justifiable.

 

Young makes the point that the people who made the rules weren’t thinking of a situation like this. But I’m not sure I see anything about their extraordinary situation that justifies torture.

I’m kinda of shocked to see JAck so okay with all of this, but I think maybe he knows that Young won’t go that far. He trusts Young’s character.

I dunno.

 

Seeing the cargo ship flying through hyperspace gave me nostalgic feelings for SG-1. It’s often the little touches that excite us.

 

Rush is still trying to maintain the illusion that he is Telford, and that he didn’t give the code on purpose.

 

Rush is actually pretty clever here. He gives a reasonable explanation. “I was concerned the SGC were getting suspicious of me, so I wanted it to look like you took me by force.”

 

And it almost convinces Kiva. It’s handy that Rush knows her name. Not sure how.

 

So Young has Telford locked up and is questioning him. This whole residual memory thing seems to be something unique to Telford. Scott was swapping bodies with Teford when he saw the flash of Telford with Young’s wife. Young must have swapped with Telford at some point in the past, as well.

 

Young theorises that is Telford’s guit, that deep down he wants to confess.

Young isn’t ready to use any physical forms of persuasion on Telford yet, but Rush isn’t so lucky. Kiva is torturing him. She wants to know who Rush is, and whether he ‘s of use to her.

 

Greer, ever the loyal soldier to Young, can’t stop himself. When Young and Telford get into a fight, he comes rushing in and starts pounding Telford with his fists. After Telford throws the first punch, Young seems willing to hit him back, in an attempt to get him to confess.

 

At this point, Rush has admitted to Kiva that he’s not Telford. Kiva assumes none of the scientists on Destiny could endure such torture, so he’s got to either be Young or Scott. She sure knows a lot about the people on Destiny. But then, Icarus was of interest to them. That’s why they tried to take the base in episode 1.

 

Anyway, credit to Rush for being tough enough to not break under all this. 

 

Kiva gives her word that she’ll not kill him if he gives her his name. Of course, she’s the kind of person who tortures others, so you probably don’t want to put too much faith in her honesty.

But Rush can’t hold out any longer. She says she won’t kill him. He grasps onto that and blurts out his name.

 

It’s at this point in the episode that I suddenly realise, Rush is getting a double dose of torture. His mind is being tortured by Kiva, and his body is getting smacked around by Young. So when he returns to his body, he’s gonna have some injuries to deal with.

Young has to remember that. It’s actually Rush’s body he’s punching.

 

This is where we learn what the Lucian Alliance are actually up to. They’ve found another Icarus planet with Naquadrian deposits. They have Rush’s formula for dialing the ninth chevron. They’re gonna try to get to Destiny.

 

Young tries to guilt Telford by talking about the victims of Icarus, and the other incident, but then he offers him a sliver of hope. Maybe it wasn’t your fault. Maybe they brainwashed you. He wants Telford to search inside his hidden memories and reveal where they might have taken Rush.

 

There’s some really great writing and acting going on in these scenes. Not to mention impressive make-up effects with all the blood. Looks very realistic and icky.

 

Some people look at a show like this, they look at Young’s actions, and they dislike the show because the hero is doing bad things. For them, that ruins the show. PErsonally, I like flawed characters, so my reaction is very different. It doesn’t mean I approve of what Young is doing any more than they do, but it doesn’t mean the show is bad.

 

And then we see the cargo ship arrive at the planet. And there’s a goa'uld pyramid. More nostalgic SG-1 imagery. Honestly, I love these little moments just as much as the appearances by the actors.

 

The inside of this pyramid base is actually a redress of the gateroom set from SG-1. So was the gateroom on Icarus base in Air part 1. They do a great job because I’d never have known if I wasn’t told.

 

By this point, you might be noticing that all of the Lucian Alliance people are speaking english.

Now the Stargate TV franchise has always had this conceit that all aliens, and humans on other planets, speak English. They didn’t want to have to spend half of every episode dealing with communications problems, and I understand that. Most sci-fi shows come up with some magical technology to hand-wave this away, but Stargate doesn’t. It’s harder for them to come up with something because it’s set in present-day.

Stargate Atlantis continued this conceit. Even in the Pegasus galaxy, everyone they met spoke English.

 

Now Stargate Universe took a different tactic. The aliens we met in this show, and there aren’t many of them, were much more alien. They didn’t speak English. In fact, the blue aliens we’ve met so far don’t even have the vocal equipment to speak english words. The best they can do is make squawking noise.

However, when it comes to humans, even humans whose ancestors were taken from earth millennia ago by the Goa'uld, the show maintains the conceit of them speaking English.

This used to bother me a little. Because SGU was a much more grounded show. But thinking about it this time around, we know that humans from the Lucian Alliance have infiltrated earth. Kiva looks very much the earthling in her business suit and earrings. It is very believable that those who have been to earth have taught English to the others.

So either way, it works.

 

Anyway, Rush has a whole new challenge now. He has to calculate how to power a stargate on a new Icarus-type planet. IT could take him the rest of his life. And that’s assuming he gives the Lucian Alliance his full cooperation.

 

When Rush tells them the bad news, Kiva isn’t happy. He says Olan’s work is shoddy at best. He might have to start from scratch. So Kiva has Olan strangled to death. Rush is visibly horrified by this. He even admits he was just stalling when he said that. Kiva is living up to her brutal reputation. She’s cemented herself as probably the most hateable villain we’ve had on this show.

 

Camille is very concerned about what’s going on with Telford in that room. She approaches Greer in the hopes he’ll tell her something.

He just tells her it’s a military matter. It doesn’t concern her.

And honestly, that’s a fair answer. This IS a private military matter. Until they know the full truth about Telford, there’s no need to spread this throughout the whole ship.

But as Camille says, it’s that kind of talk that led to the coup. 

Scott isn’t willing to tell her anything, but when the door opens, and Young comes out, she catches a glimpse of a very bloody Rush, which of course is Telford.

 

And this is when he brings O’Neill aboard. This was a special thrill for me, to see Jack on board Destiny.

 

Jack authorised Telford to be held without charge or council, but not exactly the attack by greer. Young has also roughed Telford up, but they’ve both kinda given as good as they’ve gotten.

 

There’s this one moment when Telford just switches. He admits that he’s been in on this. He’s working with the Lucian Alliance. “You should look at your faces. You’re so surprised,” he says. Young really had been hoping there might be some other explanation. It’s some good acting from Lou Diamond Philips the way he suddenly turns it on and becomes a different character.

 

I guess that means that Telford is quite an actor as well.

 

So this was pretty big. Yes, Telford has been something of an antagonist in the show, but in this scene, he transitions from one of the good guys to a full-on villain. It always feels bold when shows do this.  Now we still don’t know for sure, at this point, if Telford is being mind-controlled, but either way, this character has been hiding a dark secret since before we first saw him on screen. I love this stuff.

 

Anyway, he starts trying to justify his actions. He says he wasn’t brainwashed, he simply came to his senses. And he makes a couple of decent points. They freed millions of people from thousands of years of slavery all over their galaxy. What did they think was going to happen? The power void left behind by the Goa'uld was filled quickly by people from those freed worlds. The strongest and most ambitious of them. The Lucian Alliance. SG-1 didn’t always give a lot of forethought to the consequences of their actions when taking down the Goa'uld. Which is not to say they were wrong to do it, but things were a little more complex than Jack sometimes was able to appreciate.

 

Jack has heard enough. He ordered Young to do whatever he needed to do.

That’s a little concerning. What exactly does he think Young is going to do? I’m again, a little surprised that Jack is so cool with all of this.

 

Scott has told Camille the truth. She knows everything. She feels Rush’s life is more important than any intel they can get. She wants to cut the connection, which would leave Telford in the alliance’s custody. But, as he’s admitted, he’s a traitor.

 

Young has the air pumped out of Telford’s room. Eli and Volker are hesitant to push the button, but Brody does it. I wonder, does Brody assume Young is bluffing, and they’ll put the air back in shortly, or is he actually, in his mind, following an order to kill somebody? That’s a pretty heavy thing to do, and Brody’s not even military.

 

Telford is convinced Young’s not going to kill him.

And that’s where the episode ends. On a major cliffhanger, which leads directly into the two-part season finale.

 

It could be argued that what Young has done up until now is not, in fact, torture. I mean, Telford had an opportunity to defend himself. He wasn’t tied to a chair and forced to take punches. But this? This is close to crossing the line. But how else is he going to get the information they need?

 

What do you think of Young’s actions in this episode? 

Torture is evil and wrong. I feel quite comfortable and confident saying that. 

What Kiva did to Rush was clearly torture. What Young did is more debatable.

 

Personally, I don’t think torture is ever ethically justifiable.

But there could be situations where it feels less clear cut.

What if the person being tortured is really evil. An extremely bad person. Like, even worse than Kiva. And say that your child was going to die unless you got information out of that person. It still may not be ethically justified, but as a parent, I’d find my principles sorely tested in that situation. Because I’d do anything to protect my children.

 

Interestingly, in this whole scenario, it’s not Telford that Camille is worried about at the end, it’s Rush. Yes, they’re trying to get intel to rescue Rush, but they could save his life simply by deactivating the stones. But Young wants more than to just save Rush. He wants to bring down this Lucian Alliance conspiracy. These people who have infiltrated Earth. That’s what’s really about, because without Rush, they won’t have any hope of dialling Destiny.

 

Young is probably going too far at this point. Camille might be right.

 

This was an incredible episode. It was wonderful to see Jack and Daniel from SG-1, and it was wonderful to have references to elements from the greater Stargate lore, like Goa'uld ships and the Lucian Alliance, but even without all of that, this was still an amazing piece of story-telling. Great writing, great acting. I loved it to bits.

 

So next time we’ll be looking at Incursion Part 1, where we continue this story with the Lucian Alliance. Things are gonna get  epic. Can you believe we’re here? We're almost at the end of season 1.

 

Have a wonderful 2 weeks, 

Live long and prosper

Make it so.

 

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