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Featured TV on DVD Review: Stargate: Universe: Season Two

June 9th, 2011

Stargate: Universe: Season 2 - Buy from Amazon

When Stargate: Universe debuted in the fall of 2009, it drew 2.346 million viewers, which is respectable for a cable show. However, by the end of the season, it's ratings were down significantly, and the Season two debut managed just 1.175 million viewers. Clearly the show had alienated much of its fanbase and those remaining were not enough to sustain the show. But was the show unjustly compared to Stargate: SG-1 and Stargate: Atlantis? Or are there more problems here?

The Show

First a quick recap of the setup. The show starts with the introduction of the Icarus project, which was setup to crack the code of the ninth chevron. The ninth chevron would allow transport between Stargates in different galaxies, assuming you had enough power. During the initial test on a distant planet, the planet was attacked by the Lucian Alliance and in a desperate attempt to get out, they dialed in a ninth chevron location and found themselves on the Destiny, a ship build by the ancient race that first made the Stargates. The 80 or so survivors that make it to the ship include some military personnel, scientists, politicians, and civilians, who don't exactly get along well and there's a power struggle. This power struggle continues, despite the ship coming under attack by aliens looking to get the technology the ship possesses. And then the Lucian Alliance returns.

If you've never paid attention to the Stargate universe, then most of what I told you is gibberish. I apologize, but there's little I can do to compress 15 seasons of backstory into one review without running into this problem. Essentially, to simplify without getting into the names, this is a show about a group of humans trapped on a ship they can't control and without adequate supplies, who are being attacked by forces, both known and unknown, and who can't get along well enough to deal with the basic survival situation, without the added strain of the attacks. It differs from the previous shows by being a lot darker, as it's more about survival than exploring the unknown, but it also has a lot more demanding central story. There are far fewer one-off episodes and nearly every single episode is there to push the main story forward. On the other hand, in Stargate: SG-1, no matter how much a threat the Goa'uld were, there was always enough time in the season to explore several new worlds and have adventures that wrapped up at the end of the hour.

The main threads for season two are, well, tough to discuss without getting into spoilers. Briefly, after the Lucian Alliance attack failed, several of their members were left on board, which puts further strain on the ship's already limited supplies. Not to mention the hit to the morale of the ship. T.J., who was pregnant, was shot and lost her baby. However, while she she was recovering from the wounds, she had a vision of a planet where her baby would be cared for. This was perhaps real, or perhaps imaginary. This is a common theme, as Rush is also hallucinating, maybe. He has been working long hours trying to figure out how to work the ship, but there's also a chance the ship is trying to communicate with him. This is not as crazy as it sounds, as he did break the master code, which involved hooking his brain into the ships computer. However, he doesn't want anyone to know he's done that, because his still doesn't trust Everett Young, the military leader of the ship and the one in command. He seems to be losing his mind as well, as the strain of command begins to get to him. Then there's Chloe, who at another member of the crew who was shot during the Lucian Alliance attack; however, she recovered really quickly. Too quickly. And they learn she's been infected with something by the aliens that abducted her in the first season and who are trying to capture the ship.

Wow. That's a lot of greyed out text. But it really is impossible to discuss the plot in any detail without running head first into spoilers. This does create a much more complex story, which should draw you in and keep you engaged. On the other hand, with so many character, so many stories, so many relationships, it does feel a little on the soap opera side from time to time. This is especially true with the power struggles we saw over the show's two-season run. This also gave the show its much darker tone when compared to the other two Stargate series. This is not a show about exploration and hope for humanity, but a show about just trying to survive with multiple threats, both internal and external. The crew never got a chance to bond and develop a real trust for each other. And even while the level of trust was growing, the Lucian Alliance POWs were thrown into the mix causing more problems.

It is a lot darker show with heavier emphasis on drama, conflict, and suspense rather than action. This change is likely what alienated the fanbase, but I liked it. Although they really could have used more comedy to help the dramatic moments work better. Even Eli Wallace, the supposed comic relief character has a lot of drama in his life.

The Extras

The extras on the five disc set include audio commentary tracks on all 20 episodes with various combinations of cast and crew. There are a couple members of the main cast that don't show up, including Robert Carlyle, but for the most part the rest make multiple appearances. There are also 20 featurettes spread over the five-disc set. Many of these are just a few minutes long and deal with very narrow subjects, like Robert Carlyle taking over the director's chair, or particularly complex stunt / special effects scenes, etc. There are a few longer featurettes, including a 20-minute one of the change in shooting locations from the Vancouver area to New Mexico. Another nearly 30-minute episode details the various technology on the ship. In total, there are well over two hours of extras here.

The Verdict

I thought season one of Stargate: Universe showed potential, even if the cast and crew hadn't quite gelled by the end of the first season. In Season Two, it looked like it was getting to that point. However, low ratings still killed the show before it could reach its full potential. The sheer volume of extras means the five-disc set is a must have for fans of the show, while if you didn't check it out the first time, at least give it a rental. But start with season one on DVD or Blu-ray.

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