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Review: Water

Water is the sixth episode in Season One of Stargate Universe.

Review
Universe returns to more familiar Stargate territory with the storyline focusing on a classic theme of interesting alien encounters and off-world trouble. The quality of the overall production continues to excel especially in allowing seeds sown in earlier episodes to blossom to fruition. Unfortunately, the story in Water does not match the overall excellence, providing some good ‘moments’ but missing the opportunity to shine.

The story is solid, but it isn’t a stand-out. It is difficult to separate the main plot and sub-plot as both strands of the story – the discovery of alien bugs on the Destiny and the off-world mission seem to be given equal weight. Part of the issue is neither strand provides a big enough scenario to really capture the audience, to build tension and create drama. Despite the attack on the hapless Gorman, the bugs are positioned as friendly unless provoked so while the chase and resolution is somewhat interesting, it never feels like the entire crew is in danger of being eaten alive. Equally, while Scott falls into the precipice, there is never truly a moment where it feels as though he was in real danger of dying.

The rest of the problem is the pacing; there is an inordinate amount of time for the set-up particularly on the Destiny where there is lots of discussion on what to do. While it’s nice to see the crew interact and undoubtedly some of it was needed for exposition, it meant that the tension is really diluted. On the planet, Scott’s situation seems to happen rather late into proceedings and given the action thereafter is restricted to Young attempting to pull him up on his own, and is broken up by Chloe being told of the situation and her reaction, again, the result is no tension. The story does attempt to construct tension – through Greer’s reaction when the bugs try to get out of the locked room, and through Scott losing consciousness towards the end due to his suit being damaged – it just isn’t enough.

That isn’t to say that there aren’t any good points in the story: both Eli’s board and Greer’s flamethrower are great inventions; Greer’s politeness to Chloe in the face of other opposition to the search is a nice dynamic; Rush telling Eli some home truths provides a great moment of tension between the two; Eli’s pop culture references that go over everyone else’s heads; loved Young’s rejoinder to Scott on the ‘That’s just as stupid, sir’ reminding the lieutenant of who was in charge. There are indeed some lovely character moments.

What it does well too is provide TJ with some much needed screen time. Alaina Huffman delivers a measured performance; providing glimpses of TJ’s insecurity in command by delivering some lines with what is clearly false bravado and serving up expressions of uncertainty at times. Yet nicely the story and Huffman both serve up a TJ who ultimately is seen to step up to the plate and she saves the day by getting the bugs into the container and so off the ship. It’s nice to see one of the female characters highlighted as the hero after such a focus on the male cast in episodes to date. Minor female characters also get screen time with Park being the one in charge of the suits and Lieutenant James finding out about Scott’s new love interest.

The latter is also a nice nod back to James’s own hook-up with Scott in the premiere episode. The broom closet line was funny and added some much needed humour. Spencer’s hording of food and water is also revealed while the alien bugs originate from the planet visited in Air. Overall it’s nice to see this greater focus on continuity – to see that events of one episode will have an impact in another. It is also good to see continuing themes of Rush’s and Young’s power play, and the tension between the military and civilian camps: it’s good to see that everyone isn’t just getting along a la Trek's Voyager. All of this adds realism and believability to Universe.

The overall production quality also continues to excel at giving this realism. The special effects deserve a mention in Water. The swarm of alien bugs is very well done and looks real. The moments where it forms faces are excellent. The ice planet is stunningly beautiful and fantastically lit to make the most of the environment – it looks alien and cold. There are some moments where the ice on the sled does look a little false but overall another good job.

The acting also continues to be of an incredibly high calibre. Robert Carlyle looks is his element as Rush; changing from almost ubiquitous servility in trying to keep Young focused on the ice, to almost relaxed amusement at helping TJ with the bug situation, to mercurial temper in reaming Eli out for speaking out of turn. His performance continues to delight as does Louis Ferreira’s. Ferreira and Brian J Smith did a great job despite the handicap of the suits. Indeed all the cast, both main and recurring, continue to put in good, solid performances although I hope Chloe, and by extension Elyse Levesque (who proved her acting ability in Air Part II), gets something more substantial to do than simply be Scott’s girl in the future.

In conclusion, Water is a solid outing for Universe with high production values and its usual polished quality. But while the story kept the overall arc moving along and neatly revisits some earlier plot elements, it really needed a big injection of tension and drama, through better pacing and greater danger within the scenarios created, to make it stand-out.

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