In the latest episode of our Stargate Universe Rewatch, we check in with "Time". This is Stargate Universe's first time travel episode, and one of the best of the franchise. Part found-footage episode, part deep character piece, part monster horror. This episode combines a number of genres and does them all justice. This is one of my favourite episodes. Listen to find out why.
Welcome to Nerd Heaven
I’m Adam David Collings, the author of Jewel of The Stars
And I am a nerd.
This is episode 57 of the podcast. Today, we’re talking about the Stargate Universe episode Time.
The description on Gateworld reads
A team from Destiny arrives on a jungle planet, where they find a kino with footage of themselves they haven't shot yet.
This episode was written by Robert C Cooper
It was also directed by Robert C Cooper
And it first aired on the 13th of November 2009.
Much like Star Trek, Stargate has not always handled time-travel consistently. The rules have changed from episode to episode.
There’s three main theories of time travel that fiction generally uses.
One is that there is only one timeline, but you can go back and change things, re-writing history. This is the type that was used in the first Back to The Future. It’s the way most of us grew up thinking about time-travel.
Then there’s the closed loop kind of idea, where you can’t change the past as such, because if you go back and do something, the consequences of whatever you did would already have been seen and experienced before you left. This is the type of time-travel I’m using in my fiction.
And then there’s the more modern idea, popularised by the Star Trek 2009 movie and Avengers Endgame, and often used in Stargate Atlantis. This is where an incursion back into the past creates a new timeline.
There’s two main ways to travel through time in the stargate universe. The first is when a stargate wormhole intercepts a solar flair. That can cause the wormhole to loop back to the same gate, but at a different point in time. This was first discovered in the SG-1 episode 1969.
The other way to time travel is by using technology. The ancients spent a lot of time researching time travel, trying to go back and prevent a cataclysm that wiped them out, those that didn’t ascend, of course. But their experiments were unsuccessful. All they did was create a groundhog day machine. So they gave up.
But one of their scientists eventually figured it out, and built a time machine into a puddle jumper. Because, you know, Delorians hadn’t been invented yet.
This episode introduces time travel into SGU for the first time. When they launched Destiny, the ancients had not yet cracked the secret of time travel, so as you’ll see, this episode makes use of the solar flare idea.
The episode opens with keno footage of a large team emerging from the stargate. The keno appears to be damaged as the image fritzes a little. They’re in a lush jungle. So far, we’ve yet to see the typical Canadian forest planet that became almost a meme on SG-1. But then, they manage to avoid doing that constantly on Atlantis as well. This planet was actually shot on a soundstage.
This is certainly a big group. A whole lot of scientists. It’s like they’re doing a planetary survey. I mean, they might as well. They can’t get off this ship, but it does give them a chance to stretch their legs from time to time, and most of them did sign on to be explorers, of a sort. Who could resist the lure of an alien planet. It actually makes a lot of sense that they’d send a bunch of people. Everyone would be clamouring for some fresh air, I imagine.
Even Chloe has come to this planet.
And again, it makes sense for those who aren’t scientists or explorers to begin learning new skills. There’s not much call for political science on board Destiny, so Chloe would be wanting to make herself useful.
Apparently, it’s very hot there. Suddenly this planet sounds less appealing. I really struggle with the heat, and we’ve had some really hot days around here lately.
This actually gives the feeling of a found footage episode. The entire episode isn’t kino footage, but a good chunk of it is. It’s a bold move, given they always portray Kino footage as having all these artifacts on the edges of the screen.
And that’s kinda weird when you think about it. I mean, I get why they do it. It’s common to degrade the image in some way to make it clear to the audience when they’re watching a recording. But the kinos were invented by the ancients. They could construct an interstellar starship, and stargates, but they can’t make a camera that records a decent image?
Of course, the kinos are millions of years old, so maybe they’ve degraded a bit over time.
And there’s an important production reason for this. Because this is all kino footage, it meant they had to do a lot of big long takes. That can obviously be more challenging for actors. The occasional fritz of the kino allows them to do a subtle cut to a different take occasionally.
They found a bunch of alien vegetables on this planet. Eli is keen to try them out to see if they might be edible. But he does it in a very un-scientific way. He just takes a bit and is gonna try another. But if he reacts, they won’t know which one it was.
This does raise an interesting question, though. How do you test whether a plant is safe for human consumption other than having a human try it? Are there tests you can do in a lab? Possibly. I mean, you can probably test for known poisons, but are they equipped for that? In the end, the best way might just be for have everyone try a different vegetable and see who reacts. It’s pretty risky. But I guess that’s how humans figured out what was poisonous in the old days.
But Voker is sick. He threw up recently. He hasn’t eaten anything, and then he passes out. Several others pass out too. Chloe is starting to get affected too.
The natural inclination in this situation is to want to gate straight back to destiny, but TJ is a little smarter than that. She raises the important fact that if they return to the ship, they might be taking whatever this is back with them. IF it’s a virus, they could infect the rest of the crew. They’ve got 36 hours before Destiny jumps away. That’s over a day, so they get a reasonably generous timer.
After the title card, we’re still watching Kino footage. At this point, first-time viewers are probably expecting the entire episode will be found footage.
We get an interesting little exchange between Rush and TJ regarding the way she’s using the medicines. One theory is that they’re suffering from something similar to bacterial meningitis. By the time she confirms this, if she hadn’t already given them antibiotics, it could be too late, so she’s injected people just in case, based on what Rush describes as a hunch.
He has a valid point that she could be wasting their antibiotics. They have a limited supply. Once they’re gone, that’s it. They can’t get more from earth. But as TJ rightly points out, it’s her call. And she’s following her instincts in her attempt to save lives. I can see both sides of this argument, but isn’t it just so like Rush to be the one to employ cold-hearted pragmatism here. He’s definitely a man without much compassion for others.
The limited medicines are a serious concern, though. They’ll be wanting to find plants that might have medicinal properties on these planets. Eventually, they’ll have to try to make their own drugs or go back to a medieval level of medicine. And that’s scary.
They’ve found some tree stumps spewing some kind of smoke. Could that be the cause? Maybe.
And then it’s night time, and it's raining.
I love it when Eli says “it couldn’t get much worse,” and Rush says “That’s just a failure of imagination.”
He’s right of course, but that’s when we hear screams. Soldiers are frantically shooting machine guns into the dark. We don’t see what they’re firing at.
I’m not usually a big fan of the ‘hide the monster’ trope. I prefer to just see the monster, because, you’ know, monsters are cool.
But this is really effective. Oh we’ll eventually see what they’re shooting at, but in this scene, just seeing their reactions, wondering what it is, and hearing Rush yell to Eli “Dial the gate,” is very creepy. And that’s actually the purpose of the ‘hide the monster’ trope.
It also helps that the characters themselves can’t see the monster. I think this trope annoys me most when the characters can see the monster, but for artificial reasons, the camera won’t show it to us. That bugs me.
Anyway, there’s something wrong with the gate, so they have no escape route.
It gets really bad when the kino falls over, we see everyone getting taken down, and then Chloe comes into shot. Some kind of worm things burrow into her and out the other side.
The camera lingers for a moment on her very clearly dead body.
And that’s when we cut to the real world. This is the first scene in the episode that isn’t kino footage.
A bunch of our characters are watching the same footage we’ve just seen. Eli is horrified.
And so is Chloe. Yes. Chloe is watching footage of her death.
This drives her to run away and throw up, as well it should.
Eli turns away from the footage and says. “Okay. What….the. …..”
And then we cut away.
Fair enough., I think we can forgive Eli for saying what we all know he was about to say, given what he’s just seen.
We’re quickly given some context. They dropped out of FTL. The gate opened. They sent a kino through and then followed, only to find there was already a kino there. The data store was full.
Now this is a weird little moment. Brody says “The data store was full.” Then we immediately cut to a flashback of Eli picking it up saying “it looks like the data store is full.”
Why that redundancy? If this was a book, the editor would have pounced on that.
Honestly, you don’t need both, so I find that really odd.
We also learn that the team found human remains on the planet. Rush picks up a skull. That’s pretty disturbing. Unlike the Milky Way and Pegasus galaxies, this galaxy is not populated by humans, so that must have seemed a huge mystery in itself before they started watching the footage.
Given the skull was dry and free of any flesh or skin, they must have been there a long time.
We haven’t seen all the footage yet. Evidently Eli and Rush survived the night. A few others. The aliens are nocturnal, so they’re relatively safe for now. Other than the disease, of course.
As usual, people are whining at Eli for spending his time talking to the Kino.
“Do I have to remind you again that documenting this could be important?”
“Who do you think is ever going to see that.”
I love how Eli turns to them all and says “See!”
Some wonderful vindication for him in that moment. I really like that.
The Kino was damaged during the night and can no longer fly, so Eli strapped it to his helmet. From this point on, actor David Blue actually did a lot of the camera work himself. He walked around the set with a massive camera rig attached to his head. I imagine it must have looked pretty funny.
We get another good character scene between Eli and TJ. Eli is noticing how hard it is for TJ when she can’t help people. And I get that. In my work, if I fail, the worst that usually happens is that somebody can’t use a piece of software. IF she fails, people die. That’s a heavy burden that all medical people carry.
And then Eli shares a little about his mother. We learn that she was a nurse but she got stuck with a needle trying to restrain a junkie in the ER. She got HIV.
That really sucks.
So that’s the health problem his mum has. I wonder if you’re allowed to work as a nurse if you’re HIV positive. It could be considered a risk to patients. I should ask my wife. She’s a nurse.
This explains why she’s got a serious health problem but she’s able to do things around the house.
Actually, come to think of it, didn’t we see her in a uniform in a previous episode? That means she probably is still working.
But she probably has to take all kinds of expensive medicines.
Honestly, for such a massive fan of this show, I’m embarrassed at how many details I have forgotten since my last watch-through. And I apologise for that.
Anyway, Eli’s dad couldn’t handle it so he left. And that also sucks.
Eli was only 14 at the time, so his mum has been living with this for quite a few years.
It’s a really emotional moment. Eli might not have chosen to reveal this intimate information about himself to all these people watching. He chose to open up to TJ on the planet. David Blue does a great job of just looking down and trying to cope with the emotion of all this stuff coming out.
Chloe looks at him with such sympathy and compassion. It’s touching.
And then, when Eli says he’s afraid his mum will give up if he dies out here, Scott puts his hand on Eli’s shoulder.
And that really moved me. I know I give Scott a hard time but that just shows the good but flawed man he is. And in a ship full of deeply flawed people, he does stand out as a good bloke.
In the end, all these people are family.
This is immediately followed by another great character moment as Eli shares a moment with Rush, talking about how he first came face to face with his own mortality at his grandfather’s funeral.
And Rush is being surprisingly human. Rush has had to face mortality as well. We know he lost somebody he loved.
But his way of responding to this is, “did it change you? Did it inspire you to do something worthwhile with the short time we have in this life?”
That is such a Rush response. But I like it. I think that until now, Eli has been taking life for granted. He hasn’t done much with his life. But ending up here on Destiny has given him a chance to really do something that matters.
Rush also mentions ascension. The process the ancients went through to transform their consciousness into an immortal form.
When Eli asks if he really thinks that’s possible, the way he says “I know it is,” with such determination, suggests strongly to me, that this is Rush’s ultimate goal. He wants to learn how to ascend.
He admits it may not be possible for him personally, but that idea is the reason he’s out here.
Again, this is a believable obsession for somebody with Rush’s personality, that has lost a loved one.
He wants to defeat mortality.
And then another wonderful character scene. Seriously, they just keep coming. This time we finally see a little past the cracks in Greer. He’s really shaken by the idea that all those people died under his watch. But it didn’t happen. And so he refuses to acknowledge it as a thing. And yet, he’s still sitting here in the gate room, wrestling with his demons.
This is the big difference between SGU and other Stargate shows. They’ve all done time-travel shows, but SGU taces that sci-fi concept and uses it to explore deeper character issues.
And don’t get me wrong, SG1 and Altantis both did some good character stuff, but nothing that compares to what Universe did.
This is when things get bad. Chloe collapses. It’s about 3 hours since they jumped out of FTL. That’s about the time people started getting sick in the recording.
So the team that went to the planet and found the kino have brought whatever it is back to the ship.
Back in the recording, Greer is teaching Eli how to shoot a gun. They try to even the odds a little by blowing up one of the stumps where the aliens sleep. They probably took out more than one.
But night time eventually comes and they’re all on guard ready to defend themselves.
Rush decides that somebody should try going through the gate. If he makes it to Destiny, he’ll radio back, and then he jumps in.
He quotes a line from the 1969 movie Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. It turns out to be a favourite of both him and Colonel Young. So, those two actually have something in common.
Eli hears nothing back and the wormhole closes.
Then we get the twist. TJ has found the cause of the sickness. It’s nothing to do with the jungle planet. There’s a microorganism in the water that Young and Scott brought back from the ice planet (glorious continuity).
So everyone on Destiny is infected.
And that’s bad news.
Next morning, on the recording, and Eli is dead. Scott is the only one left. And he gives this gut-wrenching scream of anguish, which is totally the correct response for a real living person.
Of course, he’s also a professional soldier, so after he’s had his moment, he picks up the kino and records his final thoughts, detailing what has happened.
Destiny will be jumping soon, but the stargate is still not working properly.
He plans to send the kino through the wormhole to Destiny in hope that they can at least see the message.
And here’s the moment that explains it all. It goes through the gate and seems to land in the same place. Except it’s daylight. And Rush is lying dead on the ground.
Rush understands immediately. The Kino went back in time. It’s the old wormhole through a solar flair thing. The exact same phenomenon that caused SG-1 to go back to 1969 all those years ago.
That’s why the wormhole was unstable.
So that skull they found was Rush.
Here in reality, the solar flair hasn’t happened yet. So they can still gate to the planet.
TJ has a good theory, based on Scott’s last message. The venom from the aliens could cure the disease.
Now they have to go back to the planet to recover them. It’s night, which means they’ll be active and dangerous.
TJ has run out of antibiotics and the first patient has died.
Then another nice character scene. Eli wonders why we always wait until it’s too late to tell people what we really feel. And think. So he opens up to Chloe. Fully. Sadly, she’s unconscious.
But contrary to what you might expect, it’s not a profession of undying love. It’s not really even about him. It’s about her. He talks about how amazing she is. How her presence in his life makes him so much happier.
He talks of never having had a best friend before.
Right now it doesn’t matter what kind of love they share. It doesn’t matter that she chose Scott rather than him. What matters is that they do share a form of love. A very special friendship.
And he begs her not to die.
But she can’t hear him.
And she dies.
It’s a moving scene.
In fact, it’s TJ’s reaction that is the most moving.
This is a great episode because it really lets us live in these gut-wrenching moments without having to lose the characters long term. Not many TV shows can pull that off.
Farscape did it in a very unique way. And if you’ve seen that show, you know what I’m talking about.
That had even more impact and lasting consequence than this did.
Rush reports the news to the team on the planet. We’ve already lost 4 people. I guess he does it to reinforce the sense of urgency. But now Scott has to hear that the woman he loves is dead. How do you just keep going after hearing something like that?
Young just says “Lieutenant, we need you.”
And he’s so professional that he’s able to carry on. I guess that’s what it means to be a soldier. You put aside your grief until later. Because right now you’ve got a job to do.
The aliens attack. And within moments, it’s just Scott.
Greer and Young are dead.
He’s probably not going to make it very long.
So he does the one thing he can do.
And it’s clever thinking.
All hope is lost for this time around, but things could be different next time.
He records a message, detailing the disease in the water and the cure that the alien creatures represent.
Then he sends the kino through the wormhole, into the distance past. So that it can eventually be found by Destiny.
This is where the episode closes. We don’t see the crew curing the disease in the next timeline. But we don’t have to.
This is a fantastic episode. It mixes three genres. Science fiction, drama, and horror. And it does all three really well. It has some interesting twists and turns, and some really heartfelt moments.
We get to see some hugely emotional tragic moments, and those moments have real weight to them. Yes, we kind of pull a reset button at the end, but not a full hard reset. Those deaths still happened in their respective timelines. And they were treated like they mattered.
This is one of my favourite time-travel episodes, and probably one of my favourite episodes of the entire franchise.
I love it.
The interesting thing is that this episode works whether you use the traditional type of time-travel, where there’s just one timeline, but it can be altered and re-written, or the more modern type, where each incursion into the past creates a new separate parallel timeline.
So there you have it.
Next time, we’ll be talking about the episode “Life”. It’ll do some more delving in to character, as well as present yet another potential way home. So our second, “will they get home” episode.
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Have a great two weeks. Live long and prosper. Make it so.