Stargate Universe: Bad Writing or Flawed Characters?
I've just finished binge-watching "Stargate: Universe" on Amazon Prime. Although you can join Stargate Command and watch all the shows there for less money, since I was already a member of Prime I decided to wait and see if I could catch the show there. It recently appeared in the available shows list.

"Stargate: Universe" is the third official series in the Stargate franchise. A fourth show people occasionally reference from the early 2000s was disavowed as non-canonical, so I don't know much about it. "Stargate: Universe" was created by Robert C. Cooper and Brad Wright, and it lasted only 2 seasons. But it failed because MGM went through a serious bankruptcy. The show was doing fine and had a very strong fan base. Unfortunately, no one was ever able to revive it. The best that has happened so far is a 6-issue comic book was put out from June 2017 through September 2018, but from what I've read the story line is post-canonical (not sure that's a fan term, but Cooper and Wright and their team had little to no input into the storyline).

The 1994 movie "Stargate" was developed by Dean Devlin and Roland Emmerich for their Centropolis production company. But MGM owned the rights. Devlin and Emmerich wanted to make two sequels but never got the chance to do so. MGM instead launched the very popular "Stargate SG-1" television show. Kurt Russell and James Spader starred in the movie as Colonel Jonathan "Jack" O'Neil and Dr. Daniel Jackson respectively. Richard Dean Anderson and Michael Shanks took over the roles in the TV show (Anderson's colonel spelled his name with two els, O'Neill). Some minor characters from the movie were carried over into the show, and two of the original actors (Erick Avari and Alexis Cruz) reprised their roles as Kasuf and his son Skaara.

"Stargate SG-1" spawned "Stargate: Atlantis" and "Stargate: Universe". Anderson and Shanks reprised their roles from "Stargate SG-1" in both series. Anderson was a semi-regular in the first season of "Stargate: Universe" but he didn't appear in the second season.

The premise of "Stargate: Universe" is that Earth's Stargate Command, operating under the direction of the International Oversight Authority and Homeworld Command, has established a base on a distant planet named Icarus. The planet has deposits of Naquadria, which is an unnatural derivative of the Naquada used to construct stargates and various advanced technological devices (including the weapons of the Goa'uld in "Stargate SG-1"). The Icarus base is commanded by Colonel Everett Young (played by Louis Ferreira) and it's the home for the "Ninth Chevron" project (dubbed "Icarus"), which is led by Dr. Nicholas Rush (played by Robert Carlyle). Colonel David Telford (Lou Diamond Phillips) has been tapped to lead a team through the Icarus stargate should Rush's project succeed.

Unbeknownst to Stargate Command the Lucian Alliance (introduced into the Stargate franchise around season 8 of "Stargate SG-1") has brainwashed Telford and planned an attack on the Icarus base. They want to open the 9th chevron for themselves (for reasons later revealed toward the end of season 1). During the attack on the base the Naquadria deposits become unstable and the planet explodes. Colonel Young leads many of the base's military and civilian personnel through the stargate when Rush and his most recent recruit, Eli Wallace (played by David Blue), figure out how to generate the power they need to unlock the 9th chevron.

The accidental expedition arrives on a million-year-old spaceship the Ancients had sent out to explore the universe. The premise of the show is that Young leads these survivors in a self-appointed mission to get home while they figure out what the ship does and where it's going. No one knew, prior to their arrival on the ship, where the 9th chevron was supposed to lead.


Much as I would like to discuss the show in detail, that will have to wait. There are always a few scenes in every TV show that make you sit up and throw something across the room. This kind of armchair quarterbacking is common and sometimes the fans ask awkward questions of the writers at conventions. For example, one year I asked Stephen Sears why on "Xena: Warrior Princess" every army only seemed to have 6-7 guys in it. He explained TV show budgeting to the room (and it was actually a pretty interesting explanation). He also said they were aware of how these small armies looked and they were looking for ways to improve on their presentation without breaking the budget. It wasn't long, in fact, before X:WP and similar shows began using video special effects to turn 7-10 actors into huge armies covering large stretches of ground.

In any event, there are occasional scenes in "Stargate: Universe" that make me cringe. Overall I love the show and will probably binge-watch it again. So this nit-pickery is not intended to be a back-handed compliment to the show. Rather, as I think about some of these scenes, I wonder how subtle the writers were being.

In "real life" when we're under stress, we sometimes make less-than-perfect decisions. We've all got memories of critical moments where we wish we had done something different. Hindsight is 20-20 vision, as they say. So it seems logical to me that writers for a TV show might create such moments for their characters. In fact, entire episodes have been written around the premise of someone regretting a bad decision made in the heat of the moment. But with "Stargate: Universe" there are a number of these moments that come and go and there isn't any agonizing over what happened.

So that makes me wonder if the writers simply didn't see a possible plot hole or if they took the attitude of, "Let's just have some flawed characters who don't make perfect decisions without everyone agonizing over each poor choice".

Here is a case in point from one of the last episodes. It's called "Blockade". The premise is that the Destiny (the ship Young's people found) has accidentally stumbled into the remnants of an ancient war that was apparently won by automated weapons, command ships with fleets of drones. The drones are programmed to seek out and destroy "alien" (to their parent civilization) technology. So far they have wiped out every civilization they have encountered. Destiny has superior technology but the superior numbers of the drone fleets make them unbeatable. The drones' machine intelligence figures out how the ship refuels and they park their command ships at every suitable stopping point along the ship's projected (and pre-programmed) path.

To get around the problem Colonel Young leads most of the crew off the ship while 3 members remain behind: Dr. Rush, Eli Wallace, and Dr. Lisa Park (Jennifer Spence). Rush and Wallace will guide the ship into a highly unusual refueling sequence the drones haven't anticipated. Park, meanwhile, will try to save as many of the crew's hybrid plants as possible (they depend on them for fresh food).

Destiny doesn't use Zero Point Modules, which are known to power many devices made by the Ancients. Instead, since the ship and its counterparts were expected to operate over long periods of time without any crews, it occasionally dives into a star and scoops up plasma energy (or something like that). The ship normally chooses stars within a narrow range but this time they go into a blue giant.

As the ship approaches the unusual star its automatic systems control routines shut down (and lock down) most parts of the ship. Park is trapped in a highly exposed area. Eli and Rush are unable to override the ship's lockdown.

At this point in the episode I'm thinking, "I would just turn the ship around and see if it reversed the lockdown sequence". That seems logical to me. They began the episode with 40% power reserves so it's not like the ship couldn't navigate around the star system for a while. There was clock running on the operation. Colonel Young was expecting to return to the ship in about 7 hours, so obviously they couldn't just mosey around the star system at their leisure. But still, how long would it take to get 1 door open?

Instead Rush overrides two automatic course corrections to keep the ship heading toward the star. If you've watched most or all of the series up to this point, you will be aware that the ship is artificially intelligent (not with a full personality like Andromeda) and it occasionally does things for the benefit of the crew (without explaining to them what it's doing, since communication is sporadic and very limited).

I cannot help but think, every time I watch that scene, that Rush wasn't "just being Rush" (you have to watch the whole two seasons to understand how he thinks). I honestly think this is an error i judgment, a real mistake. But what is not clear to me is whether it's the character's mistake (intentionally written that way) or the writers' mistake.

The fact the ship tries to change course TWICE suggests to me the writers thought through the ramifications of the scenario. But their thinking might be, "The ship knows it shouldn't dive into a blue giant and so will try to veer away". Or their thinking could be, "The ship knows it can rescue Dr. Park without too much effort and tries to do so."

This is, unfortunately, one of those many spur-of-the-moment decisions that come and go and no one dwells on it. Maybe they would have done that in a 3rd season episode. One of the cool things about "Stargate: Universe" is they often took their time with certain sub-plots. They set up some detail in one episode and several episodes later exploited it for a larger plot.

So one of the (not so) great mysteries of "Stargate: Universe" is whether Rush's decisions as he and Eli were steering the ship (manually because the ship was shutting down its automated systems to protect everything from immense heat and radiation) would come back to haunt him - or was this just a case of weak writing?

I guess we'll never know. If any of you have watched the show and remember this predicament, I'd sure love to hear what you think about it.

MYCode Guide

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