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Review: Pathogen

Pathogen is the fourth episode in Season Two of Stargate Universe.

There are moments with TV shows where you want to reach through the TV, wrap your hands around the show in question and squeeze the living daylights out of it because it’s frustrating the heck out of you.

Of course, that could just be me.

There were definitely moments in "Pathogen" where Stargate Universe irritated me enough into wanting to shake the TV. The thing is, it has nothing to with any specific moment I was watching and more of a cumulative ‘will you get to the point already?!’ freak-out in terms of the meandering pace and the now-familiar feeling that the episode lacked its own plot.

Two of my ‘what needs to be improved’ notes from Season 1 were pacing and the need to balance arc building with the episode in question, and four episodes into Season 2, they still need to be improved. The latter in particular is the thing that’s irritating me most. If old Stargate struggled to move beyond its episode of the week format, Universe is like a dog allowed too much leash and has far too much arc building at the expense of a cohesive weekly episode plot. This episode actually has four plots but all are tied in with arc building whether on the character front or the major storylines, leaving the impression conversely that there is a serious lack of plot.

The problem with four plots is balance. While the writing and direction manage to balance the time devoted to each, the rest of the balancing act is not there. Two of the plots are emotional character stories (Wray’s and Eli’s), one is a mystery (Chloe), and one feels like the set-up of a psychological thriller (Simeon’s). All have people standing around and talking. None have any particular action. Overall, the effect is a slow meandering pace with a soporific effect reminiscent of Horlicks (or any other malted milky bedtime drink). Had one of the plots been action-oriented, the overall episode may have gained some sense of momentum.

But it’s not the plots individually are bad. Taken on their own merits, each plot has something to offer. The saga of trying to make Chloe into a more engaging character dovetails nicely with the Rush-is-going-mad arc. I’m still loving Rush talking with manifestations of Franklin and Gloria; still loving Rush’s evasions and happily throwing Chloe to the wolves to cover for his own actions. And I’m sure in terms of the arc, this is important and vital and will all pay-off in some huge way. Because if it doesn’t, I’m going to be seriously unhappy.

Equally, the Lucian Alliance plot is interesting as they get released into the general population. I love Simeon (Robert Knepper in fine form). He’s creepy and radiates violence in a way that delights me as a viewer. I loved the scene in the mess with everyone standing up for Park, and the later stand-off between Simeon and Greer in the corridor. I love that I was worried about Greer in that scene; I loved the tension that both men radiated. Jamil Walker Smith continues to make Greer believable and the guy I’d want protecting my back on Destiny. I love that Simeon is loyal to the Alliance; I love that maybe Varro (Mike Dopud) isn’t. I love the continuation of the something between Varro and TJ. I would have loved for more with this plot.

The Earth-based plots by comparison are not quite so engaging, although both show the impact to loved ones left behind: Camile’s partner is slowly losing it and Eli’s mother has lost it. The emotional stories here are wonderful and fabulous in their own way -- and it’s the type of story that Carl Binder really excels at writing. It would perhaps be remiss of me not to mention that Robert Carlyle does directing duties on “Pathogen” and if this is the kind of performance he can inspire in his fellow cast members, I’m all for encouraging him to do more behind the camera. David Blue and Ming-Na both do an outstanding job with their plots which are intertwined and reflective of each other, and I like the idea of Eli’s Mom and Sharon turning to each other for support back on Earth. I loved the moment Eli’s Mom got to use the stones and see Eli, and see the wonder of space (great special effects).

One of the other things I enjoyed about this episode was the sense of a team that is slowly beginning to emerge through the tangle of relationships on Destiny. Eli turns to Wray on Earth and she comes through for him; everyone stands up for Park; they all try to help Chloe. It’s nice to see because “team” as a concept has always been at the heart of Stargate.

Overall, this isn’t a bad episode. Universe continues to deliver a quality product. But it does need to improve the pacing, to give a satisfying chapter every week and not only what seems to be more prologue. I said it about the last episode and I’ll say it again this time: enjoyable moments do not equal a good plotty episode. I’m still waiting and hoping that I don’t get the urge to reach into my TV monitor and strangle the show next week.

Previously published at GeekSpeak Magazine.




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