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Review: Earth

Earth is the seventh episode in Season One of Stargate Universe.

Review
Earth, more than any previous episode to date, signals the difference between Universe and other incarnations of the Stargate franchise. It is jam-packed with character stories, relationships and moments; so much so that these form the meat of the episode rather than the Earth-driven rescue attempt that provides the action and intrigue. Is this a good thing or a bad thing? From an overall series perspective, I’m not inclined to think it’s a bad thing, but from an episode perspective, there needs to be better balance between the overarching storyline with the character arcs, and the individual episodic plot.
 


Character arcs are at the centre of Earth, particularly those who are Earth bound; Eli, Chloe and Young. Eli’s sense of finally doing something useful with his life and making his mother proud is contrasted with Chloe’s sense of uselessness which is compounded by her continuing grief for her father. Young’s command and marriage issues are explored more in depth with a strongly hinted affair with TJ although he and his wife find some kind of rapprochement. It’s good character back-story and exploration of their personal lives, and Earth is packed with the ‘off-duty’ scenes that were rarely explored in SGA or SG1; Eli has a lovely scene with his mother, Chloe with hers; even Young’s make-up sex with his wife is shown.

Moreover, Earth explores the different relationships between characters both on Earth and on the ship; Eli and Chloe’s friendship is explored through their car conversation which highlights Chloe’s view of his as her friend and Eli’s want for more which is highlighted again at the end when Eli zooms in on her holding hands with Scott. Meanwhile Telford’s relationships with the various crew on the Destiny are explored through his interactions with Greer and Rush. There’s a great friendship moment between Scott and Greer where the differences between the two are highlighted.

But.

So much exploration of character leaves little time for the actual story. At the heart of the episode there is a story contained within the boundaries of the weekly time-allotment. Here the plot is relatively simple: Earth comes up with a risky idea on how to get the Destiny crew home, sends in Telford and two scientists to enact the plan despite objections by way of hijacking the bodies via the stones.

There are some great elements here; personally loved the scene where Young and O’Neill discuss Young’s command issues; I loved the scene between Wray and Strom and the hints over Rush’s desire not to return to home; loved the Riley scene (it says a lot for Haig Sutherland’s portrayal to date that I care what happens about Riley and don’t want him to die), and the climax of the power scoop and attempt to dial the Stargate. I liked the tension between Telford and Rush; I liked Camile clearly attempting to influence everyone. I just wanted more.

I would have happily sacrificed a good five minutes of the Earth based character personal lives stuff to have had five more minutes of focusing on the action on the ship and reactions to the change in command from Scott and others (a reaction from TJ would have been good to have seen), on exploring the issues and anger over the hijacking of bodies (and generally the rules around sharing bodies given both Chloe and Young use their temporary homes for drinking and sex respectively), and seeing more of the preparation for the rescue attempt and people’s reactions to potentially going home.

I can’t help but feel that in responding to past fan complaints that previous shows such as SG1 and SGA were too plot driven with not enough character ‘moments’, SGU has overcompensated. Here there are too many character moments (and I can’t quite believe I’ve just written that) to the detriment of the episode’s story - or to put it another way: there are too many character moments which don't have anything to do with the episode's story. And yet I find myself conflicted because, given the other episodes to date where there has been pay-off for things seeded earlier on, I can believe that those character moments will have value in the series as a whole – and will potentially enrich the overarching story arc. As a fan more used to the episodic and contained nature of SG1 and SGA, I am prepared to admit that some of my lack of comfort here may be me struggling to adjust to the new format but I don’t think that’s wholly the issue. An episode needs to be a satisfying, substantial experience in and of itself; and I just didn’t find this was the case with Earth.

Having said that, the quality of Universe overall continues to be outstanding. The acting is first rate: I love Rush; love, love, love the ambiguity of the character and Carlyle just plays him perfectly – showing why he picked up a Scottish BAFTA for Best Actor this week. Lou Diamond Philips finally gets some meaty scenes as Telford here and he makes the most of them; his sense of shock and disorientation in regards to suddenly being dropped in and out of Young’s sex life was very well done. And I really enjoyed seeing Richard Dean Anderson back as Jack O’Neill. He definitely commanded the scenes he was in.

And the rest shines too: the wardrobe is doing well in keeping consistency in clothing (I did laugh out loud at the scientist’s look down at Eli’s t-shirt and the comment ‘can I get something else to wear’), the sets continue to look realistic and relatively grimy; the special effects are stunning, the music is nicely chosen and complimentary to the action on screen, and the stunt work involved with Riley’s accident was well done. There is no doubt that the production values here are very high.

Overall, there is much to enjoy in Earth; many small nuances that provide depth and dimension to the wider story arc of survival being told. The continuing character arcs are great to see as is the exploration of relationships and tensions between characters, but there is a balance that needs to be achieved with these elements and the episode plot, and Earth doesn’t quite get that balance right. I enjoyed Earth but I find myself, strangely, equally dissatisfied with it.

 

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