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Review: Trial and Error

Trial and Error is the sixth episode in Season Two of Stargate Universe.

“Trial and Error” is another strong episode, and suggests that Stargate Universe may finally be finding the right balance between its new style and its Stargate legacy. After last week’s great balancing act between episode story and arc-building, “Trial and Error” is more of the same combined with a good mix of humor and drama. There are more great performances from the cast, more great writing and the usual quality production.

I want to talk about the latter first because the quality of the production is something that I have a tendency to take for granted with anything Stargate. I expect that the set design is good, the props in place; that the costumes are taken care of; that the make-up is excellent; that the special effects are seamless and spectacular; that the lighting works; that the music is complementary, and the direction is good. But “Trial and Error” is one of those episodes where I can’t help thinking that it is a prime example of how something is more than just the sum of its parts. Had any one of these elements not worked in “Trial and Error,” it would have taken away from the rest. Thankfully, all is brilliantly done.

Special mention has to be made for the great special effects in the space battles. There’s not only the terrific blowing up of Destiny but also the graphics that map the battle and the alien spaceships. But if the special effects deserve an individual mention, so too do the make-up and costuming of Colonel Young, which shows the character’s descent into depression in a very subtle way through the lack of care taken in his appearance.

Which neatly brings me onto the story.

It’s fair to say that the core element of the episode story -- a simulation repeating itself in a doomsday scenario -- isn’t exactly original. But as a common sci-fi trope, repeating events and time-loops is one of my favorites, and “Trial and Error” does a good job with it by making it central to the examination of Colonel Young’s character. I loved that it’s initially through Young’s interactions with the female characters of the crew that we see his decline and pain: loved, loved the scene with TJ reaching out to him only to get slapped back (wonderful acting from Alaina Huffman), and I adored the scene with Chloe who gives him absolution, noting she understands that at some point he’s going to have to protect the crew from her alien changes. But I admit that the best scene of the episode is the one where Scott faces down Young in his quarters and they have a frank exchange about leadership and its burden, about Young’s guilt over Riley. Louis Ferriera puts in a stunning performance throughout the episode. I felt his pain, his weariness, his sense of not knowing what else to do, his depression.

The entire cast though put in good performances once again, and if David Blue and Jamil Walker Smith don’t get the heavy drama of the Young plot, the sub-plot of Eli’s burgeoning romance with the Lucian Alliance scientist Ginn (Julie McNiven) still provides them with material to shine. I loved Greer acting as matchmaker and loved Eli’s fumbling. This thread of the episode provides a nice counter-balance to the other. There’s humor here in Eli and Greer’s odd couple friendship; humor in Eli’s awkwardness -- I laughed out loud when Eli begins to talk about him and Ginn in the middle of the control room.

Another humorous moment is the brilliantly ironic ending where Rush shoots himself in the foot by overriding the ship’s simulation and thus confirming to the crew that Young is the leader Destiny wants. It’s incredibly funny in a dark way. Robert Carlyle plays it perfectly -- again, I felt just how annoyed Rush was with the situation. This is probably the closest Universe has come to duplicating the familiar mix of light and dark in an episode that was so much a feature of its predecessors in the franchise.

But this Universe episode, for the second week running, also provides great balance between its individual episodic plot and the arc-building. The shading here is just right. Both the main plot and the sub-plot use the arc-building within the episode story itself: Young’s decline, Chloe’s changes, the power play, and the Lucian Alliance’s place in the crew.

It’s amazing though that as good as this episode was, the minor gripe that I have with it, is the same minor gripe that I had with the previous one -- and it is around arc-building. What was the point of Scott getting Chloe’s blood and placed in quarantine if nothing was going to be made of it? As it is, Scott’s immediately being OK felt very much ‘we have to get this over with to get on with the rest of the story.’

But again, this week Stargate Universe got it right and delivered a great episode. With declining ratings though, I can’t help wondering if it’s going to be enough to save the show from an early cancellation [and since it has been cancelled since this was first published obviously not!].

Previously published at GeekSpeak Magazine.

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