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Review: Darkness

Darkness is the fourth episode in Season One of Stargate Universe.

Review

Darkness is a strangely compelling continuation of Stargate Universe’s first season. Strange because nothing much of interest really happens beyond the lights going out and compelling because of the human interest story being told and the incredible wonder of the Universe itself.
 

On first watching, I admit I got to the end and was completely bemused about why Darkness held my attention. In retrospect, it really shouldn’t have given the lack of any action for the most part and the main event being the power outage. Yet this is to miss the incredibly layered story Brad Wright has written. Firstly, kudos for the foreshadowing in previous episodes; this storyline is a nice pay-off to the set-up of Rush advising against using power and Park highlighting power conservation to the visiting Telford in Air.

Moreover, it’s hard to believe that this is the first of a two part story because there is a complete integrity here in the power outage storyline that doesn’t feel like it’s simply a set-up: the beginning where the issue is highlighted, the power going out; the search for a solution, and a potential ‘rescue’ at the end. The pacing of the story is masterfully done and helped by the overarching story of the series which is ‘how are these guys, just like us, managing to survive in a literally alien situation’.

The opening scenes of Young and Wray meeting with groups of the crew in the mess, assessing skills and assigning duties along with others such as Eli being interrogated by some of the crew for the ‘insider’ info and discussion of basic realities such as lack of showers, caffeine and cigarettes all tell the human interest story of survival. The kinos in particular focus on how the characters – even those on the periphery – are handling the situation (or not).

This overarching story also picks up on one of the other themes seeded in Air: that of power struggles. Rush and Young clash over the use of power, Telford is incensed at what he sees as Young’s incompetence when he briefly takes over and discusses removing Young from command, Wray pulls faces when Young gives her an order and through it all, Young commands. Darkness is very much the Colonel’s story: he is the one in the spotlight as he organises the ship, deals with Rush’s collapse and tries to find a solution. He also gets a visit home to his wife which gives us a rounded view of the man in charge showing both his personal angst against his professional calm authority. A good performance by Louis Ferreira.

If the complex story provides the framework for maintaining pace, I’m also going to give credit to returning Stargate alumni Peter DeLuise for the direction which delivers it. The movement from scene to scene is sharp; the insertion of the various kino recordings neatly placed to break-up the main story. However, I wasn’t crazy about some of the camera angles (particularly the first walk through the ship with Eli and Chloe where the camera seemed to be at knee height looking up at them) and some of the shots chosen to me seemed to dilute the impact of the scene rather than make the most of it (such as the Eli and group scene). I also think some of the changing point of view on Young/Telford was confusing. While the shot of Young looking in the reflection on the car window and seeing Telford was well done, the shot from his wife’s perspective to see Telford only a moment later for Young to be there was jarring.

I’m also going to say from a series perspective that I am concerned about the mix of character focus at this point particularly in regards to the women. I am wondering when either TJ or Wray is going to take centre stage. I keep reminding myself that it’s early days; it’s an ensemble cast and there will no doubt be more emphasis on the female characters in later episodes.

But.

At this point I feel I know Volker better than I know these regular female characters. Perhaps it’s understandable with Wray who by all accounts wasn’t immediately envisaged as a regular but all we seem to learn about TJ was that she was going to leave the Air Force and isn’t supposed to there at all. And that’s all we learn about her, all the time. Here, there are three scenes which effectively give us that information: between Wray and Young at the beginning, between Greer, TJ and Scott in the shuttle, and TJ’s own kino. Do we really need three scenes to tell us the same thing? If two of those scenes had expanded on the information, given us something new, that would have been something.

I will concede that I probably know as much about Greer as I do about TJ though which brings up the question of why we had so much focus on the secondary cast and why for the fourth episode Eli and Chloe take up a good quarter of the screen time. Maybe it is a continued attempt to show the ‘every man’ perspective again but I don’t believe the audience continually need that perspective even this early and I want to know more about the other characters.

My final comment has to be about the sequence with the gas giant. Wonderful special effects and visual imagery combined with superb musical underscore. Here was the magic of the universe up close and the crew finally getting to experience a moment of awe that provides a hopeful note, a light in their darkness.

In summary, Darkness is an impressive episode. I’m loving the complex story-telling, the layered themes and sub-plots. It continues to be excellent and quality production and something that makes me want to see more. And that’s my main complaint: I want more. Especially around the characters not yet focused upon. Kudos for an accomplished episode: I’m looking forward to the second part and Light.

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