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Review: Gauntlet

Gauntlet is the twentieth episode in Season Two of Stargate Universe, and the final episode of the series.

It’s a big ask for any single episode: how do you at the same time close down a season, a series and a franchise that has lasted for almost fifteen years? “Gauntlet” doesn’t do a bad job of answering the question. As a finish to this era of the Stargate franchise, it could be worse. As a finish to this season, it’s OK. As a finish to this series, it’s a good bookend for “Air” (01.01-3).

Where to begin? Well, let’s start with the latter premise: the finish to this series, Stargate Universe. Season two has been so much of an improvement over Season one that when the falling ratings and the news of the cancellation hit, it really did feel like the show was going out before its time. “Gauntlet” backs that feeling up in spades. It’s a quality episode hitting just the right amount of sentimentality while wrapping things up for the crew of Destiny at the same time. The plot -- that they have to stay in FTL and go into stasis to avoid the drones thus losing three years of their lives -- is well done enough that it works.

There are great scenes between the various characters as they say goodbye to loved ones on Earth (loved the Eli/Mom chat); as they discuss leaving their loved ones behind (Wray in a heartbreaking conversation with Scott); as they contemplate what they are about to do (Rush and Chloe sharing a heart to heart about the importance of the journey). There are other moments; Chloe and TJ talking about ALS, Telford and Young saying goodbye, Rush getting to praise Eli, Eli coming into his own, a still blinded Park on Earth seeing out of someone else’s eyes. The recurring characters all get a moment; Park, Volker, Brody, Varro and James. And there’s the table scene with the regular cast of characters all present and accounted for; toasting each other as family. In the last episode of the series, Universe shows that it had found the sense of team that it so sorely needed.

It was a good bookend to “Air.” Where that episode began with them all arriving chaotically, fragmented and scared as the lights came on. “Gauntlet” is the counterpoint to that: they’re all leaving in a sense but calmly, peacefully, accepting their fate as the lights go out. It’s a beautiful thing.

In addition to that, Eli’s original story arc of a drop-out kid who doesn’t understand his own potential is realized here. He gets that he’s smarter than Rush; he gets to step up and do the brave thing; he gets to be the glue between Young’s sacrifice and Rush’s pragmatism. David Blue delivers a sterling performance. Indeed, all the cast do. If there has been one constant on Universe it’s that they have a talented cast throughout regular, recurring and background.

As a finale to the season ending though, really the episode is only just OK. The arrival in the new galaxy, the challenges of that galaxy, the fact that they have descendants living in the galaxy -- all of that is swept away by the decision to skip the rest of the galaxy. I find myself sympathizing with Rush: you can’t help thinking you’re missing out on the journey. Moreover, it kind of makes what happened in this galaxy all rather meaningless. It got too hard so we got out of Dodge. It’s just not satisfying although I appreciate if they’d gotten a third season it would have allowed for exploring a whole new galaxy.

Exploring new galaxies, whether our own or others, has been the journey the Stargate franchise has taken since Stargate SG-1 reopened the Stargate in 1997. “Gauntlet” isn’t a bad way to say goodbye at all. It has humans just like us overcoming alien threats to survive and find their way; it shows the crew as a team because a team, military and civilian, soldier and scientist, has always been at the heart of the franchise. Symbolically it shows the lights going out, everything going into stasis, but the journey continuing: the hope that one day everything will come back to life again. So, no: it’s not a bad way to end it.

If I’d had three wishes though, it would have been that they could have gotten one of the SG-1 cast back for a final scene on Earth showing the Stargate programme continuing in fiction if not reality; that we could have had something to show what was going on with the characters that we’ve followed for so long both SG-1 and in Stargate Atlantis; that the show wasn’t cancelled at all.

It’s a shame that Universe is undoubtedly going to be blamed by parts of the fandom for ending the franchise but it’s not a bad show and had Syfy had the courage to stay with it, I am certain it would have turned things around rating-wise in its third season. Universe deserves better than to be simply remembered as the show that ended this era of the Stargate franchise.

Brad Wright and his many co-producers deserve a lot of credit for their long custodianship of the franchise. While I might not have agreed with every decision made, every storyline pursued or not pursued, he and the whole Stargate team have provided me with hours of entertainment for which I say a grateful thank you. But I can’t deny that a part of me is secretly hopeful that the Stargate won’t be silent for too long.

Originally posted at GeekSpeak Magazine

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