A Universe of Gates: Thoughts on ‘Stargate: Universe’

stargate

Been a while since I’ve written a post – returning to work after maternity leave will do that to you! – but part of it can also be explained by what I’ve been watching on Netflix: Stargate: Universe.

For context, you need to know that I loved Stargate; SG-1 began broadcasting when I was in my early teens, and I was (and remain) a devotee of both the story and the story-telling. Okay, the first two seasons are a little hit and miss, but as the series grew it was plain that this was wholesome storytelling, in so far as it delighted in the personalities and quirks of its protagonists, was able to paint against a grand canvas, but didn’t take itself so seriously that it couldn’t explore itself through the lens of the parodic. The series was a winning mix of character driven story telling, with humour, compassion and challenge, with a good dose of sci fi. Perhaps, as Christopher Judge (Teal’c) said in a recent interview, the series wouldn’t be made today – but there’s real charm and quality to it. Much the same can be said for its spin-off, Stargate Atlantis – which I also enjoyed immensely. In fact, I love the series so much that when I first applied to Cambridge it was to read – you guessed it – Egyptology.

You can imagine how excited I and my fellow Gatephiles were in 2009 when Universe was first broadcast – we were looking forward to more of the same (even if we were expecting rather better cgi). It’s not what we got.

Judging by the way the ratings figures look, I stuck it out longer than many. But I didn’t last. Just five episodes into the 2009 run, I gave up. To me, it just wasn’t Stargate.

Fast-forward to 2016. I’ve been rewatching SG-1 while subjecting my husband to this formative part of my adolescence, and come across SG:U. I’m still routinely stuck on the sofa nursing a baby in the evenings, so I decide to give it a go – for completeness’ sake.

The short of it is that 7 years’ absence has given me the ability to see the series for what it is. Criticised by many as too much like a soap opera or masquerading as the revamped Battlestar Galactica, Universe is dark, gritty, more interpersonal than interplanetary (especially in its first season). It’s a story about ‘the wrong people’ – in the wrong place and at the wrong time to boot. It’s difficult to really empathise with any of the characters because, with the possible exception of Eli Wallace, they are all flawed, broken, or outright self-serving people. Even when, like the O’Neill’s, Carters, MacKays and Weirs of the preceding shows, they are strong, cunning, intelligent or diplomatic, it comes at a price, and 11th hour plans never come off without a hitch. Nobody has plot armour.

It was a bold – and intentional – step on the part of the writers and producers. And it was in many ways the death of the franchise. But with the benefit of emotional distance, it’s clear to me that while SG:U is not really ‘Stargate’, it still in many ways exemplifies good, character driven story telling – which was, after all, what really made its predecessors.

I felt like it was a third of the way into the second season before Universe really found its feet, by which point its cancellation had been sealed – just as the series started to explore a little more of its inherent scifi story hooks. By the time I reached the closing shots of the final episode, I was close to tears. I had genuinely come to care about these characters, and wished that I had just a little more time with them.

The entombment of Destiny‘s crew in stasis and the uncertainty of Eli’s fate is poignantly metaphoric of the fate of the franchise and its fans. Like many of the latter, I feel betrayed by the impending Stargate reboot, which intends to make almost 20 years of wormhole travel worth much less than one of the parallel universes in the quantum mirror. The eradication from canon of these series feels like the equivalent of hurling the toys (and soother, and muslin, and bottle) from the pram in a maelstrom of intellectual property fury. It is, to put it bluntly, not cool.

I have no doubt that the rebooted Stargate movie trilogy will look impressive, or that it will amass vital dollars in theatres. It will probably even accrue a new generation of fans who dream of aliens amid the pyramids of Giza. But, Emmerich and co, here’s the snag: 20 years of storytelling doesn’t just disappear because you will it to. And, when all is said and done, I rather suspect that the new fans will go back to the television series; and that the box sets of SG-1, Atlantis, and even Universe will be highly tradeable commodities on eBay long after the collector’s extended rebooted Stargate Trilogy edition drops down to £2.99 and free postage.

Like my writing? Check out my sister site www.annathayer.wordpress.com to learn about my award-winning fantasy trilogy, ‘The Knight of Eldaran‘, and my work on Tolkien and Lewis. Yes, you got me: I’m a geek.

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