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Review: Air - Part Three

Air Part Three is the third episode in Season One of Stargate Universe.

An episode of contrasts, Air Part Three continues to focus on the renewed vision of Stargate as a tale of every day humans out in the universe dealing with real problems while on the other hand taking a much more serious take on the Stargate universe itself. Good and bad in parts, the overall effect of Air Part Three is to produce something visually wonderful, intriguing and thought-provoking but which isn’t very captivating at times.

Let’s start with the very bad. The pacing of this third part of the story was horrendous particularly through the second and the beginning of the third act. It was so slow that at times it felt like it was walking through molasses. As a result, my attention wandered away and yet at the end I couldn’t help feeling that I had missed something of import and had to go back and force myself to sit through the bits where I had drifted. What I missed wasn’t very much as it turned out but still, given the overall more character driven nature, I wondered if these nuggets would somehow be of import going forward.

The plotting was a large part of the problem with the pacing. On one hand, I applaud the decision to continue showing the impact of the Senator’s death. Too often in previous incarnations of Stargate, the characters reeled from the loss of a loved one in one episode only to be perky and bright the following week as though nothing had happened. That didn’t happen here: kudos. BUT. And it is a big but, there isn’t any forward momentum; no originality in the scenes with Chloe’s mother who is a caricature at best and a cliché at worst. The one note of interest – Mrs Armstrong’s threat to tell the world about the Stargate programme may have had more impact if she had been threatening Young or O’Neill or even a franchise character like Major Davis rather than the non-descript and bland Major Green (and seriously, some reaction from the actor rather than polite disinterest would have been nice).

All in all I would have preferred to have stayed with Young and O’Neill. The scene between the military command was solidly done but incredibly brief. I wanted more. If Richard Dean Anderson is making time to play Jack O’Neill in Stargate Universe then – for crying out loud – make the most of him. While I don’t expect him to take the lion’s share of the screen time, there was certainly potential for the story to have expanded his role here to have included much more in terms of mentoring Young; dealing with Telford after his sojourn to the Destiny; consoling and/or advising Chloe. An interesting sub-plot could have been constructed around Jack and the Earth-side visit that might have offset the tedium of the main plot.

And yes, the main plot is for the most part tedious. Revolving around the need to find a replacement for the carbon scrubbers in the Destiny, the bulk of the action – and I use that word loosely – takes place on the desert planet with lots of walking. The problem is that ultimately even when showing the characters’ reactions to walking on a desert planet trying to find a solution to their problem, ultimately all they’re doing is walking in a vast desert looking for stuff – and that’s just not very interesting.

However, once this part of the plot picked up it did get very interesting. I loved the flashback’s to Scott’s past; the back-story to the character was nicely slotted into the moments with the sand storm creature (and a thought-provoking ambiguity of whether it was a creature), and revealed lots of things about him that were semi-confirmed in his talk with Chloe later. I also enjoyed the Rush/Greer tension which plays on the old scientist versus military dynamic of old. I loved the fact that the other team planned a mutiny because they didn’t trust Rush. And I loved that the decision to show an equal display of strengths and flaws in these characters is continuing.

There were some good plot moments elsewhere: TJ drugging Telford to ensure Young’s body was given respect was fantastic – the character’s best moment to date (I am hoping the female characters do get more to do in terms of saving the day going forward). The end climax of the race to the ‘gate was fabulous from Greer acting on the SGC’s ultimate code to never to leave a man behind, Scott’s success with the getting the lime, Rush being proven right on so many things (despite his dislikability) including having Eli stick his hand in the puddle; just great. Dramatic, tense and stunning. It is underscored by some fantastic music that deserves high praise for enhancing that sequence completely. The contemporary music at the end seemed fitting if not my personal taste. The end shot of some kind of ship disengaging from the Destiny was very intriguing.

The other highlight in this episode for me was the beautiful cinematography in the desert sequences. It really gave the ‘other world’ effect that was needed and gave the episode a production polish worthy of a movie. The light on the planet was a great contrast to the continued dark of the Destiny and even the Homeworld Security interior.

As the third episode in a new series, I’m left a little torn. I love the idea of a character driven Stargate series yet I think this episode slips too much into focusing on the characters and their personal issues to the detriment of the plot. Indeed, one could ask what plot? This episode needed a strong sub-plot and that was missing. The production continues to be of a high quality including the performances, and I continue to be intrigued, but the series needs to find a better balance between character and plot going forward if it’s going to maintain pace and attention. Overall though, not a bad wrap-up to the beginning, and I'm looking forward to next week.




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