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Review: Life

Life is the ninth episode in Season One of Stargate Universe.

Review

The song sings ‘it’s been a worst day since yesterday’ underlining that life on the Destiny isn’t getting any better for the stranded crew even though it’s a day without imminent death for a change. If Time was a return to the more traditional Stargate story albeit told in a creative way, Life is a step outside the Stargate box as it focuses on continuing character arcs and themes. It’s not an easy transition and certainly not an obvious one which leaves me on one hand feeling gratified that the producers are treating me as an intelligent viewer who will get the big picture, and on the other hand, feeling slightly like I’ve been set adrift in a spaceship with no idea of where I am and where I’m going.

Let’s begin with what was confusing, namely the plot. I spent the first half wondering what was the plot; if there was a plot; whether the plot had actually been lost in space along with the Destiny. And suddenly the plot hit me in the second half: power struggles. The A plot is about power struggles focusing in on the four main contenders: Telford, Young, Rush and Wray – with Young, the guy currently with the power, holding anchor on this plot.

The power play theme has been running through the first half – specifically through Air, Darkness, Light and Earth. Here, the power play revolves around Young’s professional position and his private life. Professionally, he and Rush butt heads over the discovery of a control chair. The fallout – loss of morale and anger over false information – seems to be the final straw for Wray who appears to come to a decision about what she needs to do (a fabulous scene in the Destiny shower where there is just a moment where Wray stops crying and suddenly gets a look of determination) following her visit home which may have future implications. I love the potential symbolism of the row boat – in the picture it is the way off the desert island, and as she draws it in at the end when she had originally forgotten it, it underscores to me that she has renewed determination to get home.

Contrasted to the professional power play, Young is besieged on all fronts as he finds Telford inserting himself into his personal life and potentially sabotaging Young’s relationship with his wife. Louis Ferreira really sells the build up of frustration in Young which leads him to lose it with Telford at the end. In the midst of this Wray’s own secure personal life with her partner Sharon is a fabulous contrast. Ming-Na and Reiko Aylesworth absolutely knocked it out of the park with their portrayal of an established couple, very much in love, very supportive and dedicated to each other. The scenes where they are reunited, where Wray breaks down, and where Sharon cries at their parting tug at the heartstrings.

The B plots remains focused on character arcs; one highlights Lieutenant Scott. Brian J Smith does a solid job in the scenes with Scott’s ex-girlfriend and discovering he’s a father, displaying a curious mix of bewilderment, anger, guilt and hurt. His struggle to deal back on Destiny is given voice by Eli who tries to comfort Scott in a cute scene between the two.

Alaina Huffman also turns in another great performance as TJ as she acts out TJ’s inexperience and lack of confidence with the psych evaluations. These are married to the montages at the beginning and the end, all of which are a great peek into who the characters are and how they’re handling (or not) the stress of life aboard the Destiny. I’m beginning to understand that these ‘peeks’ provide information that will be used in the series even if they seem superfluous or padding in regards to the episode.

This entire complex weaving of characters and events with an entire episode (or episodes given in hindsight I think this was really the point of Earth too) really focused on overarching themes is not something Stargate has ever really done before. There were story arcs in SG1 and SGA, and one or two of the characters may even have had story arcs built around them in a particular season (such as Sam’s Jolinar experience in Season Two of SG1), but there was never the level of detail nor continuity that Stargate Universe enjoys.

Moreover with the major story and character arcs focusing on the human story in a sci-fi setting rather than a sci-fi story with human characters, the dynamic has shifted. If SG1 was chocolate cake, easily consumed and enjoyed, Universe is a rich chocolate torte with much more complex flavours that need to be savoured. As a viewer, I find myself challenged – I’m still not sure if I like that or not as a long time Stargate fan and, frankly, I do feel a little lost without the security of the more familiar format that was utilised in the previous episode, Time.

What remains outstanding about Universe is the overall production quality. Everything from the acting to the sets to the special effects just shines. I personally am not a particular fan of the contemporary music chosen in Life but equally I do think the lyrics resonate with the episode and perhaps that was the point of the choice. There’s no doubt though that Universe is consistently turning out a beautifully produced hour of television.

What does this all mean? It means that change is difficult and always uncomfortable. It may help enormously if the A plot in these types of episodes is signposted more effectively rather than taking the subtle route as it did here (and in doing so it caused confusion). It may help to have more episodes like Time which provide a more familiar story format – and I’m hopeful that this will happen. It means that while I enjoyed Life, as gorgeously sinful as the chocolate torte is, I miss the occasional slice of chocolate cake.

Comments

( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
(Anonymous)
Nov. 25th, 2009 03:44 pm (UTC)
Review of "Life"
Hi - can I just say how much I enjoy reading your very lucid summaries and insights you post on GW about each episode-I find it always very challenging to define what exactly it is that I find interesting/challenging- it is easier for me just to say I enjoyed/did not enjoy something.
That may be the difference though between a consumer ( I)and a writer (you). Anyway thank you for your in-depth analysis and considerable time you spend on reviewing and sharing this for everybody's benefit.
Angel1964
rachel500
Nov. 25th, 2009 05:02 pm (UTC)
Re: Review of "Life"
Hi there! Thank you for the comment and feedback. There are times when I find it equally difficult to find something more meaningful to say than 'I loved it' or 'didn't like it' :D Glad you're enjoying the reviews. :)
kimmy4eytj
May. 2nd, 2011 08:00 am (UTC)
Review of Life
Just stumbled onto your reviews via Gateworld. I loved your last sentence in this review which describes my initial reaction to SGU S1. I wasn't convinced that this was a show I would stick around to watch. It took re-watching the episodes before S2 started for me to really see the deeply interwoven arcs. Although, Justice did wet my appetite for more intrigue between Young & Rush.

I'm enjoying re-watching these episodes again as we fans descend into despair at SGU's end. Gone before it's time.
rachel500
May. 3rd, 2011 11:24 am (UTC)
Re: Review of Life
Thanks for the feedback! Yes, SGU is a very different beast and it takes some getting used to but I think its a good show and it's such a shame it's been cancelled. I think if it had been given a 3rd season it would have started to pick up ratings again because the 2nd season has been fab.
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )

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