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Review: Subversion


Subversion is the eighteenth episode in Season One of Stargate Universe.

Review

The beginning of the end of SGU’s inaugural season starts with Subversion, and it has to be said it starts on a high note. It’s dramatic, packed with revelations, action and character moments. It makes the most of Stargate mythology, helped by cameos from old alumni Michael Shanks and Richard Dean Anderson. But the season arc building and story set-up to get Rush on the mission could be improved.

I’m going to begin with the good: the pacing was perfect. From Rush’s dream sequence to the cliff-hanger at the end, the episode skipped along compellingly. I think much of this had to do with the mix of action -- the action on Earth, Rush’s capture by the Lucian Alliance, the interrogation of Telford on Destiny even the baby shower. Importantly, every scene was kept tight and focused, and nothing felt like it was dragged out or padded.

Another enjoyable aspect for me as an old time fan was the amount of Stargate mythology included. The Lucian Alliance was introduced in Stargate SG-1’s season 9. On the whole they were treated as comic relief in contrast to the more serious enemy of the Ori with perhaps the exception of Company of Thieves. In many ways, Kiva and her crew really reminded me of the more serious take portrayed in that episode. Telford’s reasons for betraying Earth are nicely linked back to the events of the Goa’uld defeat and the rise of the Alliance, with realism in terms of lack of planning for rebuilding versus the fight for freedom.

It was interesting to see Telford’s answer which reveals that in the eyes of the Alliance, Earth are the bad guys -- that whether one is a traitor or a patriot depends on the viewpoint. This is very in-keeping of SGU’s stance of generally keeping things ambiguous in terms of heroes and villains. This ambiguity is once again played with as truths are revealed behind the professional tension between Telford and Young, as Young is shown uncertain of Rush in the beginning and whether he is the traitor, and in the contrasting interrogations of Rush (a great performance by Carlyle in the torture scenes) and Telford. The Alliance starts out with violence and threats of death but ultimately Young goes there too. It poses the question: are we all that different from them?

The baby shower is wonderful in contrast, providing a light relief from the horror and tension. TJ as a character has come to embody the best of humanity and the heart-warming friendship shown in the gifts for the baby from the rest of the crew, and in conversation she shares with Chloe (a scene I absolutely adored), underlines this. We may be capable of inflicting pain but we’re also capable of acts of kindness.

It’s also good to see the range of reactions to the interrogation of Telford: from Wray’s concerns to Scott’s uncertainty to Greer’s eagerness to Brody following Young’s directive to vent the room in front of a horrified Volker and Eli. Not everyone is in agreement -- something else SGU is consistent in showing.

But I’ve strayed from my original point which is the use of Stargate mythology and indeed, the use of characters. It was great to see Shanks and Anderson as always. I would venture a guess that some fans will be unhappy at how much they are used here given the hype around their appearance as these are nothing more than cameos. But I loved seeing Daniel tracking Rush, the mention of Carter, the scene where Daniel protests to Jack at leaving Rush with the Alliance and at the possible interrogation tactics. I loved seeing Jack with Young (loved the ‘stating the obvious’ line), and loved seeing him on Destiny.

I was also happy with the casting of Rhona Mitra as the Alliance leader, Kiva. She gave a great performance and plays off Carlyle beautifully. I wasn’t so happy though to see Mike Dopud playing his third franchise character. As much as I love him as an actor (he was outstanding in Stargate Atlantis’s Tracker), seriously – couldn’t the part have been cast to someone we haven’t seen before? Or if he was to be cast couldn’t the part have been renamed to the character he played in SG-1’s Bounty? Dopud does great work but I get irritated with the casting of actors in multiple roles.

Casting that aside, my other major complaints are with the story. Firstly, Rush volunteering for the mission seems out of character. Rush has been shown in the previous episode as being terrified at the prospect of being captured and tortured by aliens, yet we’re supposed to believe he puts himself forward for the mission? While I appreciate this set up the “is it Rush or Telford who is the traitor?” stuff, it was something that didn’t ring true for me.

Secondly, the season arc building needs work. Having seeded the stuff with the hostility between Telford and Young, and the mess over Emily, there has been nothing since Life. We’ve had to assume much in the episodes since. Something could have been added--a comment about Young’s situation with Emily when TJ broke her news, or a grimace when Telford resumed his turn at the communication stones. Just…something.

SGU delivers its best episodes for me when it combines the best of the franchise’s history with its character-driven focus such as previously in Time and Human. It does it again here and, despite my complaints, I thoroughly enjoyed this episode and I’m looking forward to seeing the climax of the story as we head to the season finale.

Previously published at Geek Speak Magazine.

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