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Review: Aftermath

Aftermath is the second episode in Season Two of Stargate Universe.

It’s hard to describe exactly why I thought “Aftermath” so brilliant because it is brilliant on so many different levels that it’s hard to know where to begin; the very clever arc, a truly heartbreaking episodic plot, the tension, the effects, the cinematography and the acting all deserve recognition. There are few flaws but perhaps it is with the flaws that I’ll begin.

The whole thing rather feels like we’ve gone back to the beginning; little food, dire straits, Rush and Young at odds with each other, a power struggle, and the small matter of who lives and who dies. There is a distinct feeling of “we’ve been here before” and that there is a lack of momentum, of the story moving forward. Actually, with respect to the power struggle arc, it feels like momentum but in the wrong direction: as though Young et al have taken two steps forward during the last season, only to slide three backwards at the beginning of this one. It’s incredibly frustrating and I’m sure for some fans too frustrating. I quite like the theme that sometimes when you’re climbing out of an abyss, you’ll fall and have to start over again; that it is frustrating, tiring and demoralizing. And I really wouldn’t like to say whether this is a hidden commentary from the producers on Universe overall and how they felt Season 1 was received.

The other main flaw that hits me is one that was very prevalent in Season 1 and that is the pacing. The scenes where the fate of the Lucian Alliance force is discussed resemble slow-moving treacle. These scenes are mostly sitting around and talking; there’s no motion, no action, and despite what should be an interesting human interest question of how to deal with prisoners of war, nothing compelling in what is said. Perhaps the best moment is Riley (Haig Sutherland) pointing out that how a society treats prisoners of war is a measure of that society’s morality.

The problem pacing means the episodic plot which on the face of it is standard Stargate trip-to-a-planet-goes-horribly-wrong concept is dragged down a little which is a real shame because it is brilliant. Simply put, Rush finds the code to unlock Destiny’s systems and gain control of the ship but tells no-one. He stops Destiny within shuttle distance of a planet to enable them to replenish their supplies but he misses key information and the shuttle crashes, fatally injuring Riley and resulting in the rest of the shuttle crew having to unbury the Stargate in order to gate back to Destiny before it gets out of reach.

I just love this plot, although I hate that they killed Riley. His dry sense of humor has been a highlight of episodes in the past and he’s a very likeable character. But actually killing Riley makes this plot work in a way killing another red shirt would not have done. We’re invested in Riley; we like Riley. For most of the episode, I was on the edge of my seat waiting for the Hail Mary, the wondrous solution that would appear and save Riley. It builds a fabulous amount of tension, and is completely compelling. When Riley asks Young to kill him rather than leave him to die alone and in pain; when Young kills him… the silence and the pain of both the request and decision seeps from the screen; kudos has to go to both Louis Ferriera and Haig Sutherland for outstanding performances. The grief of the crew that follows in the wake of his death is one to which we can relate. Killing Riley is a good, if totally evil, choice on the part of the producers.

What is also fantastic is Rush’s part. Robert Carlyle is fabulous as Rush slides further into mad professor zone. There’s so much to love in this strand of the story, from the bridge design, the lights which light up the bridge (yay, lights!!), Rush talking to his dead wife (great guest appearance by Louise Lombard) and Franklin (Mark Burgess), the way Rush justifies every decision. What I mostly loved is the clever depiction of Rush as a madman not stable enough to lead the ship, through his own declaration of Young as such, and showing the evidence through Rush’s own actions, talking to dead people, suffering from nightmares of his torture, equally suggests very strongly that neither is he. It’s clever storytelling.

I also have to give a shout-out to the special effects for the shuttle crash, which is just heart-stoppingly good and another shout-out for cinematography. The scene where TJ confides in Riley about her experience of travelling back to the planet and her hope that her baby is safe is so beautifully lit; just stunning. I also really enjoyed the scene with blowing up the debris burying the Stargate -- there was humor and a needed lightness in the banter that contrasted well with the rest of the episode.

All in all, the strength of what is right about this episode eclipses what is wrong. If this is a reset to the beginning in story terms, it’s a good reset that hopefully will build a stronger path going forward. But Universe really does need to start moving forward. Heartbreaking angst may make for a good episode but it’s not exactly enjoyable, and if people don’t enjoy what they watch, they don’t keep watching.

Previously published at GeekSpeak Magazine.


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