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Review: Pain

Pain is the seventeenth episode in Season One of Stargate Universe.


What Pain lacks in originality, it more than makes up in tension as suppressed emotions bubble to the surface under the guise of an alien tick infection. The actors put in great performances, the direction is sharp and the tension fantastically taut with a storyline that does much to examine the inner workings of the affected crew. On the other hand, the lighting does nothing to help and everything to annoy.

While understandably, the producers wanted a new style sometimes the dark, shadowy lighting of SGU is, well, too dark and shadowy. I’m not a fan of a lack of lighting and this episode has particularly horrendously bad lighting. No doubt it was meant to invoke a tense atmosphere, to underscore the chaos and confusion wrought by the hallucinations. But at times I was struggling to see what actually was going on. It needed more light.

I will say that the episode did achieve a great level of tension with the duality of spiraling hallucinations suffered by Greer and Rush as both fear a hostile takeover of the ship -- Rush by external forces, Greer by internal. The direction in these scenes was well-done with some great shots of reality versus hallucination; long shots down corridors; shadows flitting across walls. As Wray gets caught in the middle, stabbed by Rush who thinks she’s an alien, and held hostage by Greer who faces her down with a gun, there is a definite sense of danger. I really feared Greer was going to kill her despite my knowledge that Wray survives for future episodes. It was well-played by both Jamil Walker Smith and Ming-Na. Carlyle also does a good job of playing a Rush mad with fear; the scene in the corridor where he hallucinates being trapped in a water chamber again is particularly well done.

I also just want to give a shout-out to Haig Sutherland who delivers another wry and understated performance as Reilly. The character is a favorite of mine not least because he provides some much-needed humor. In Pain he provides the only faint hint of humor as he comments that he thought Greer would be the first to crack, and his comment not to forget the bug spray in the final scene as Destiny stops by another planet and risks more danger. In fact, all of the cast put in great performances, from the supporting players such as Julia Benson and Patrick Gilmore to Elyse Levesque who does a stand-out performance as Chloe saying goodbye again to her father. Her pleading to Eli that she’s not ready to lose him again; that she knows he isn’t real, and later when she’s forced to lose the tick in the infirmary brought tears to my eyes.

One of the reasons why the performances are so strong is because the material is so great that they have to work with. The story, while touching on usual fears (claustrophobia and fear of snakes), really makes the most of exploring the underlying emotions eating away at the Destiny crew: from James’ longing for and anger at Scott, Scott’s own guilt at being away from his son, and Chloe’s grief for her father. Even Greer’s fears of another civilian coup with his suspicions of Wray and Rush, and Rush’s fears of the aliens are revealed here in greater depth. All of it builds on the previously established storylines which enable the subtle tease of the first five minutes where the audience is left to wonder if James’ has really attacked Scott, whether he has cheated on Chloe. The tease works wonderfully until Scott makes his “real” appearance and there is a slow dawning that something else is going on. This is one episode where if you know what’s happening, it literally is a spoiler.

The only downside to the story is that it isn’t the most original story ever. The whole alien influence and/or infection bringing up repressed emotions and fears thing is one of the most prevailing devices in the sci-fi genre. And writer, Carl Binder, has even done it before in the franchise in Stargate Atlantis’ episode Phantoms. My main complaint of that episode was that it didn’t explore the psyches of the characters enough. Pain is more successful in that regard than Phantoms but it too could have gone further -- perhaps by focusing on fewer characters but more in depth. We don’t really learn anything new in Pain about our major characters; Chloe gets the most development by being able to say the goodbye to her father that she was denied by the nature of his death.

Nevertheless, Pain is a tense and well-executed episode. It perhaps lacks the depth and originality it needed to be truly classic for me, but it is a good solid outing for Stargate Universe and delivers an enjoyable hour of entertainment. It says something that my major gripe with the episode was simply the lighting.

Previously published at Geek Speak Magazine.




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