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Review: Air - Part Two

Air Part Two is the second episode in Season One of Stargate Universe.

Review
If Air Part One had the enormous task of engaging me in a new Stargate adventure, Air Part Two had the equally enormous task of keeping me interested. The middle episode of a trilogy is always tricky but this one delivers drama as the story focuses on survival and introduces tension through the theme of power plays. It delivers more information about the ship and its mission but just as in the first part, there is a huge attempt to ‘keep it real’ despite the alien setting.

 

Much of the feeling of reality comes from the realistic condition of the Ancient ship both internal and external. While I may wish for more light, both the special effects and set design are incredible; everything looks grimy, dark, musty and unused – no shiny Atlantis perfection here. The excellent broken down scrubber which is just a lump of black sludge adds to this feeling as does the broken shuttle with its leaky window. It’s nicely seamless.

Equally seamless is the information 'drops’ about the technology. Rush takes the brunt of the exposition about the Destiny with Eli providing a similar role on the discovery of the kino. Some of it clearly is exposition and does come across as a touch awkward particularly when Rush relays the information about the ship’s name and its unmanned history. The introduction of the kino is done better with a nice back and forth between Eli and Scott, and the introduction of the communication stones is also done well as Rush seemingly communicates with Earth.

The communication with Earth deftly raises the question of leadership which creates tension between the characters. Rush is clearly not trusted to lead; Scott assumes command in the absence of Young. But this question of leadership, hinted at in the barbed interplay between Young and Rush in Part One and continued in Part Two, is clearly going to be an underlying theme for the show with Camile Wray also hinted to be the de facto civilian leader as Young and Scott use her to disseminate information to the others.

One early contender for the role of leader is Senator Armstrong but the character is removed from the story by virtue of the main plot point in this second part of Air: the need for someone to die for the rest to live. It’s a very old philosophical question: imagine sitting in a leaking boat with a number of other people; one has to die so the others live – who do you choose? How do you choose?

Here, time is spent on debating the question which is fabulous. I loved the scene between Young, Scott and TJ where Young tries to offer himself but is refused help. This triumvirate of military officers have a really nice chemistry in this scene with a genuine respect and an open exchange of ideas between the three of them that hints at a cohesive, functioning unit. Kudos to all three actors in making that scene work so well.

If Young, ultimately, is refused the option of sacrificing himself: Armstrong is not. The Senator’s sacrifice and death are fantastically done. The whole piece is done with great sensitivity, the impact of his action shown clearly in everyone’s reactions: Greer and Franklin look guilty at allowing the Senator to enter the shuttle, Rush and Eli are left helpless to do anything in the control room. His sacrifice is given time and its impact is not quickly swept under the carpet. Instead, Elyse Levesque absolutely shines as Chloe, who is given time in the story to show both her anger and her grief at the loss of her father. While the scene talking about her father later appears more contrived, the immediate scene post her father's sacrifice where she sobs in the airlock really pulls at the emotions and is helped by the underscore of music.

The death of the Senator again drives home the reality of the situation: not everyone is going to survive. And survival is the key mission directive here. The questions of what to do to survive are at the heart of the plot whether in relation to the Senator’s sacrifice, to how to fix the scrubber, to whether to use what power they have to dial Earth. The survivors are seen looking through the supplies and assessing what they have. Realistically, one person is shown beginning to hoard food; people aren’t perfect.

It is this portrayal of people as complete individuals that once again makes the show shine. They all don’t like each other. The scene between Wray and Greer is fabulous but so too is the frisson between Young and Rush. I can only hope that this tension between characters will continue and won’t be quickly forgotten as in Trek’s Voyager.

Two little niggles that detract: one, the characters all seem so clean at the end of Air Part Two – did they all find the bathroom to wash up?? And second, the passage of time isn’t very clear and seems contradictory: Young has enough time to recover from serious injury to be up on his feet and taking charge by the end versus the absence of proper food and water mentioned in one scene.

However, niggles aside, as the ship arrives at a planet and with the hope they can find what they need to survive, (a nice way of refocusing on the Stargate), the questions of will they find what they need and what happens next definitely leave me interested in tuning in for the answers.

Air Part Two is true to the first part. It too focuses on an overriding vision of real people having to think their way out of life threatening and alien situations. So far, the show has delivered interesting characters, an intelligent and compelling plot, excellent tension and some good drama. It’s a quality addition to the Stargate franchise and I can’t wait to see if this high level of quality can continue in Air Part Three and the rest of the season.

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