Now before all of you old-school fans start freaking out and calling sacrilege, I will clarify that, in my opinion, Atlantis totally blows Universe and SG-1 out of the water. It was my first love in this 'verse and I will probably always consider it the best. That being said, the other two are very, very close to each other (and still right up there at the top of all of the other television I watch). But yeah, I have come to realize that I definitely like Universe at least a little bit better than SG-1. This could be because like Atlantis, this is one that I have watched from the beginning, rather than stumbling across it late and then going back to catch up. That is in no way an invalid way of falling in love with a series, but when comparing similar shows, it can make a difference, methinks.
As much as I adore the core cast of the original show, the ensemble cast of Universe has never stopped blowing me away, not since the very first episode. The range of talent here is only a part of the equation. The characters are varied and feel in many ways much more real than O'Neill, Carter, Jackson, or Teal'c ever felt. One of the changes the show runners made with Universe was to make it actually about the characters themselves, and not just the idea of traveling through the stars. I think there are a lot of people who are going to look back and blame the show's downfall on that change. But for me, it was nothing short of magical.
Last night's episode was an absolutely outstanding example of this (and yes, there are spoilers ahead, run away now if you haven't seen the episode).
Following straight from last week's "Common Descent" we now find the crew of Destiny exploring the city/nation on Novus that is the legacy of their alternate-timeline selves. Due to the seismic activity that sent the already encountered expedition off-world in the first place, the city is now a ghost town. It is sadly devoid of life, but the expedition members and crew hold out hope. They discover a sealed underground bunker complex and get Destiny to blow open the doors from orbit (that was a pretty neat scene, actually) since they can't get in on their own. Sadly, they still find no survivors inside, but they do find the planet's archives--ALL of the records and knowledge that the people of Novus amassed over their two thousand years of existence. This includes all of the Kino footage and many diaries from the original settlers--the alternate versions of the crew.
"Epilogue" is a lovely exercise in "what if," showing us (and the crew) how life could have played out had they been forced to abandon Destiny. Not only did they manage to survive, but they managed to thrive. They built a society that, while not perfect, grew into the millions and made exceptional advances in science and medicine. Yet they still had muzak in their elevators. Awesome. In addition to the vast stores of knowledge, they also discover many supplies in the bunker complex that will serve useful to them in their travels (especially since they are now cut off from using the stargates as supply lines for the foreseeable future due to the drones on their tail). While they work on getting that loaded up, they peruse the database, finding out what happened to their alternate selves and also trying to find out what happened on Novus to bring it to its current state.
It turns out that a black hole had wandered into their solar system and the resulting gravitational forces had been working to tear Novus apart. The people had enough warning of this to send their people off-world to several other planets via the gate network. Once they gate was destroyed, the two nations (remember, Brody led a group that split off not too long after the founding of Novus that believe Rush would return with the ship to rescue them) got their acts together and joined forces. They pooled their research and built enough space ships to transport the rest of the planet's population to one of their expeditionary worlds. Unfortunately they didn't have time to develop faster-than-light travel, so it would take them about two hundred years to get to their destination, but that's better than remaining behind and watching your civilization (and planet) get completely torn apart by a black hole, amiright?
Unfortunately, Destiny arrived on Novus about 37 hours before it would become completely uninhabitable. So while they are trying to load up their ship with supplies and figure out a way to copy the archives, the city (and bunker) literally starts to fall apart around them. They manage to make it out just in time, but only get about a third of the archival database. The planet the refugees were headed for is only a ten day travel by FTL, so Young decides to take the survivors of the expedition there and drop them off. They can meet up with the people who went there from Novus through the stargate and prepare them for those that are coming by ship sometime in the next few centuries.
It was actually a pretty straightforward plot, but it was imbued with so many wonderful character moments that this episode shined brightly. The present day antics on Novus were interspersed with Kino footage from the alternate crew, as well as scenes that played out as diary entries were read by our Destiny crew. We got to see all of the different couples pair off, as well as get a few glimpses of how the people in the present reacted to said pairings. Since T.J. ended up back with Young, Varro and James ended up together. This bummed me out a bit, because I have secretly been rooting for James and Eli since season one. I don't know where it came from, but, well, that's my ship I guess. Eli ended up with random consolation prize chick. I thought his reaction to that was pretty spot on. (Okay, okay, she has a name, yes, Corporal Barnes. I am sure she is quite lovely and worthy of our Eli, really. She's certainly never done anything bad on this show that I can remember. But every time I see her, I will always remember her as the random psycho oddly feminist baddie from that weird trapped-in-the-hospital episode of The 4400, sue me.) I was amused at Chloe's quip to Eli about Barnes though. "Something to consider?" Oh dear. Greer and Park do end up together in the alternate timeline of course. I wonder how Volker will feel when he hears their first kid was named after him? Sadly, he was the first death on Novus, since they got booted off Destiny before T.J. had diagnosed his kidney failure, and without access to the ship's medical equipment she wasn't able to save him. Boo.
Speaking of deaths in the alternate timeline, we also learned from the Kino footage and diaries that T.J. has ALS (Lou Gehrig's Disease), yipes. She first started showing symptoms about five years after settling on Novus and didn't last too much longer than that. Our T.J. was, needless to say, a bit freaked out to learn about this. Then we learn from one of the expedition members that their people actually found a cure for ALS about two hundred years ago and the information is all in the archive. Hurray! Hope! Of course, this is about when things go pear shaped and they have to bug out, and unfortunately the info they downloaded didn't include the cure. Bummer. (If anything, I am glad I am not going to have to watch this plot line play out, because it would completely break my heart to watch what T.J. is going to have to go through because of this knowledge, regardless of the outcome.) Also, as they are making their nick-of-time escape, Varro is extremely very badly wounded. He survives (barely), but is not in good shape at the end of the hour. All in all, not a good episode for poor T.J.
A few random thoughts:
I love that Brody, father of the "enemy nation" was shown in a bit of Kino footage being the cantankerous "get off my lawn" guy. That almost reduced me to giggles.
Volker's analysis of Rush's taciturn attitude toward the whole descendants-of-the-alternate-crew situation was interesting, and I think pretty accurate. Rush would be rankled to see how the group thrived not only away from Destiny, but also away from him.
I will be curious, when everything is said and done, to find out what kind of plans the show runners had for this story line to play out. I think it is something that could easily be an incredible game changer, but fear that more likely it would have just ended up being an awesome possibility that was picked up and played with briefly before being tossed aside and forgotten. Joe Mallozzi is planning to do a bit of a reveal-all entry (or entries) on his blog once the show wraps up, since the movies have officially been killed. I will definitely be checking it to see what he has to say on this front.
Two more episodes to go, folks. Damn.
See you next week.