Stargate Universe concludes its two-season run tonight, marking the end of a television franchise that's spanned three series and almost 14 years. Is "Gauntlet" a satisfactory conclusion for the series or Stargate as a whole?
"Gauntlet" serves as a conclusion to the drones arc that Stargate Universe has been following for the last few episodes. As the crew of the Destiny tries to resupply, they discover that every gateable world with provisions is occupied by drone command ships.
After a victorious but costly encounter with one of the waiting drone ships, Rush, Eli and Colonel Young conclude that further attempts to resupply will only end in disaster. Eli concocts a solution: place the crew in stasis pods and make a massive subspace jump to the next galaxy on Destiny's universal route.
This presents its own problems. First of all, they'd be going even farther away from Earth (which isn't necessarily a bad thing for all of Destiny's inhabitants) and they still need some very specialized supplies to get all the pods operational. Naturally, someone's going to have to stay behind and risk dying when the life support shuts down for the jump.
Stargate Universe has felt like the black sheep of the Stargate family since its debut two years ago. Having more than a little in common with the likes of Battlestar Galactica and Star Trek Voyager, Universe has seemed less and less like a true Stargate show as it has continued. For example, the finale has only one short scene with the Stargate itself, the plot device that's supposed to anchor the franchise.
That said, the departure from established norms isn't entirely unwelcome. Stargate SG-1 definitely got long in the tooth in its later seasons and Stargate Atlantis felt in many ways like a remixed version of the original, swapping out the setting and characters but keeping an all too similar feel. Universe's gritty atmosphere and desperate characters gave us something new, even as it expanded on the Ancient lore established way back in the SG-1 pilot.
The central conflict of Stargate Universe isn't so much the alien bad guys as the motivations of the crew itself: Dr. Rush wants to explore the universe (along with Eli, to some extent) while everyone else wants to go home, or failing that, at least stay alive. There's very little of that conflict in this final episode: everyone seems resigned to their fate, which I couldn't help but see as a bit of projection on the part of the writers.
As the crew makes tearful goodbyes to their loved ones by way of the mind-swapping Ancient communication technology, Rush and Eli make the preparations for the pods and the jump. It doesn't leave the rest of the cast much to do except contemplate, with some especially expositional dialogue letting the audience know where everyone is emotionally.
In short, the episode functions more as a goodbye to the characters and Destiny as whole, and not the conclusion to the series that fans may be hoping for. There's a distinct lack of space action (just one short battle and a remote-controlled bluff) and a lot of explanation as to the ship's chances – or lack thereof – if they follow the plan.
It leaves the series surprisingly open-ended. Literally anything could happen after the lights go down on Destiny: expect a metric ton of fanfiction to flood Stargate forums in the next few months. It's not as if the series could have been properly completed; Syfy announced the cancellation during the mid-season gap. But it still feels like there's very little accomplished by the crew in the time they've had away from Earth.
The acting and production values are on par with the rest of the series, solid without being stellar. Stargate Universe has taken a lot of cinematography cues from Battlestar Galactica, a choice that clashes with SG-1 and Atlantis. I'm not opposed to shaky cameras and moody sets, but they feel as out of place in the finale as they did in the premiere.
Eli is the only character who gets some real resolution, a fact that he and the others point out with surprising bluntness. Everyone else (especially Young, Tamara and Dr. Park) is left to dangle in the semi-hopeless situation. It's definitely a downer, especially considering the bigger victories and moments in the last few episodes.
Even if Syfy hadn't moved Stargate Universe (along with the likewise doomed Caprica) to a new night in favor of professional wrestling, I doubt it could have survived more than another season. It's a disappointing end to a long-running franchise; I'll go so far as to say that with a little tweaking and some reshoots, the recent episode arc with the planet Novus would have served as a far better conclusion. As it stands, the series ends with a whisper, not a shout.
At least fans won't have to wait long to complete their Stargate collections: Season 2 of Stargate Universe hits DVD and Blu-ray on May 31st.
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