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Review: Cloverdale

Cloverdale is the fifth episode in Season Two of Stargate Universe.

If I was tempted to strangle the life out of the show after "Pathogen", this week I want to reach into my TV and hug it to pieces. Finally, finally, finally, here is an episode that has its own plot front and centre, and yet continues the wider arc-building. Not only that but it actually has balance (I could cry happy tears) with one thread containing action and tension, and the other containing an intriguing character study. Wonderfully written, wonderfully acted and beautifully directed. I loved it.

Let me start my lyrical waxing over the plot. Firstly, yay for a cohesive episode story! It’s not that the other episodes have lacked plot exactly but rather in the mix of arc-building plus an episode plot, the latter has felt like it’s been the backing singer not the main attraction. Here the roles are switched, with arc-building relegated to slinky dance moves in the background and the episode story getting its chance to sing in the spotlight. I much prefer this combination to the other.

And I loved the whole thing. For one thing, the whole homage to 1950s B-movies is brilliant; from the idealized American small town of Cloverdale to the actual reality of the plant monsters. I loved how the reality was incorporated into an actual horror movie in Scott’s vision -- the MGM lion was a nice touch -- with the reveal of what happened and the perfect movie square-jawed hero and pretty girl. This is clever writing for me.

I also love how the shift between Scott’s unconscious and the real events were signaled with Scott’s collapses in his vision; the startling difference in color washes and lighting between the reality and the vision; the way some of the vision is told through Eli’s video-graphy. Moreover, I loved the balance between the two elements of the psychological and character study in the vision against the tension, drama and action of the race to save his life on the planet.

The action element in Scott’s reality is well-judged; there’s movement, pace and Greer kicking ass (Jamil Walker Smith just eats up the scenery). I loved the return of the flame-throwers and the monsters chasing after the planet-side team. The chase builds great tension, not only to get away from the monsters, but also in the race to find a cure for Scott’s alien infection before the ship goes to FTL or they lose him completely. The last minute save of Chloe’s alien blood was not surprising but it was a good denouement. It was also good how the team’s roles with Scott in reality reflect their roles in Scott’s vision.

The vision part is fascinating. Too often during these types of episodes, (SG-1’s “The Changeling” and SGA’s “Phantoms” come to mind), enough isn’t made of the vision element which opens a window into how a character may feel about himself and the people around him. Here, the vision is so stuffed full of revelations about how Scott thinks of himself and others on Destiny that there are things that are occurring to me some hours after watching the episode. And that’s a very good thing. The story is a great exploration of Scott.

Kudos has to go to Brian J Smith for how well he acts throughout the episode. Given the amount of undeserved hassle he got from fans last season for all the bedroom antics and the infamous storage closet scene, Smith here seems to revel in showing the audience who Scott really is. I loved the moment between him and James in his unconscious; the knowledge that he’s attracted to her but won’t act on it; that he knows he’s not fair in his behavior toward her, and how he wants to erase that moment is very telling. He does a great job at conveying Scott’s increasing confusion and befuddlement in his vision, the knowledge that something isn’t right mixing with his subconscious concerns about his relationship with Chloe.

Indeed this episode is a feast of shippiness for the shippers out there. Kudos also goes to Elyse Levesque for her performance particularly in how Chloe realizes that she may be immune to the alien life form. In fact, I think kudos to the whole cast. Louis Ferriera makes the most of being let out of the Young military straitjacket as he assumes the role of Scott’s Dad in the vision; there’s a great cameo by Lou Diamond Phillips as Telford the Sheriff; David Blue acts his socks off in conveying Eli’s feeling of betrayal and pain at Chloe’s actions. Everyone delivers.

So good was this episode in fact that I don’t really have any gripes about it. If there is one minor one it’s that having ended the last episode with some kind of secret agreement established between Rush and Chloe over her continuing alien body changes, nothing is really made of that, and this episode pretty much wipes out that conspiracy and subterfuge before it ever goes anywhere. It leaves me scratching my head over what was the point really. But in terms of my enjoyment of the episode, this is a very, very minor grievance.

All in all, this episode is fabulous example of how great Universe can be when it gets it right. Again: I loved it.

Previously published at GeekSpeak Magazine.

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