Contributor: Gregg Wright
The “Stargate” franchise has had its share of episodes featuring character doppelgangers resulting from (among other things) time travel and alternate realities. It’s been a staple of TV sci-fi since “Star Trek: The Original Series” and “Lost in Space” in the ’60s. Despite my love of both “SG-1″ and much of “Atlantis”, I always had mixed feeling about their handling of the subject. The concept of alternate versions of ourselves, identical to us in nearly every way, is a very complex and ambitious subject, which warrants a very mature approach. (To me it always felt like “Star Trek” handled this subject much better overall.)
“SG-1″ could often be counted on to tell an intelligent and mature story, especially early on. But as time went by it began to hew closer and closer to escapist entertainment. This trend continued into “Atlantis”, which arguably reached the franchise’s intellectual low in its final two seasons. Too often, the pervading attitude seemed to be that alternate versions of the main characters were ultimately not as important as the original versions, and were even treated as expendable a lot of the time, when logic clearly counters this naive attitude. “Atlantis” was undeniably worse about this than “SG-1″, but neither show took the subject as seriously as I would have liked.
The most notable inclusion of character doppelgangers in “SG-1″ occurred in the season 1 episode entitled “Tin Man”, in which SG-1 awakes to find that they are no more than robotic copies of their former selves. I remember being thoroughly horrified at this possibility as a youth. It’s all handled rather maturely compared to something one might later see in “Atlantis”. But the episode still managed to leave a bad taste in my mouth after it was over. A later episode involving the return of the SG-1 duplicates only partially redeems the episode. Season 3′s “Point of View” was a much more successful (and mature) approach to the subject of alternates. Our SG-1 must cross over into another dimension to save an alternate Earth from attack by the Goa’uld. It’s a good example of how the early seasons of “SG-1″ could properly handle a serious sci-fi scenario without resulting to juvenile misconceptions.
“Stargate Universe” is, not surprisingly, a good deal better when it comes to maturely tackling difficult sci-fi subjects. In “Twin Destinies” a Nicolas Rush from the very near future arrives on Destiny warning them not to make their scheduled attempt to dial Earth and send people through. Just as he’d warned them only a few hours earlier, something did go horribly wrong and Telford was the only one to make it through to Earth. (This is where the science starts to break down for me, but I’ll get to that later.)
Now we have two Rush’s on Destiny. There’s a bit of minor friction between the two Rushes as our Rush attempts to differentiate himself between the later Rush, which bothered me a bit. Of all people, Rush should be the one to realize that this other Rush is just as much him as he is. Thankfully, this friction doesn’t last long. And the two Rush’s begin working together. Early on, the episode reminded me a lot (in a good way) of an excellent season 2 “Star Trek: The Next Generation” episode called “Time Squared”, in which the crew encounter a duplicate of Picard from 6 hours in the future. It’s a cool idea for an episode, but “Twin Destinies” doesn’t quite live up to its early potential.
Probably one of the strongest points of the episode was the events in the alternate Rush’s timeline, in which Rush and Telford compete to convince the Destiny crew to either attempt to go home or to stay with him on the Destiny to complete its mission. Rush gives a surprisingly heartfelt speech, and it wins over pretty much all of the main characters to his side. It was interesting to see who would step forward and choose to stay, and the order in which that occurred. Greer immediately steps forward, probably because of his extreme sense of duty and loyalty to Young, who had already agreed to stay with Rush before the speech. Volker is next. Then Tamara, possibly because of Young. Chloe is next, which makes sense given her growth as a character. She’s matured a lot since the pilot episode. Scott is next, naturally. Where Chloe goes, he goes. And the fact that Young and Greer are staying probably helps. James immediately follows. She’s still not over Scott, and probably would rather stick with her superior officers.
Varro and the remaining Lucian Alliance members onboard are next. I would have thought they’d have stepped up earlier, given how important Destiny’s mission is to them. (I was glad to see Varro again in the episode, but damn has he been wasted this season.) Another random soldier joins, and then Eli is the last. It makes a lot of sense that he would be the most reluctant to join. He’s been hit harder than most by life on the Destiny, and has become pretty jaded as a result. So he doesn’t feel the same sense of nobility that some of the others do about it. But, he’s not willing to abandon his friends any time soon. They all die, of course, but the choices they made are exactly the choices the current, surviving, versions would make. So the fact that they die doesn’t really detract from the significance of the scene.
As I said, the science of the episode leaves me somewhat confused. In the past, the “Stargate” franchise has never really given a clear answer as to how it solves the paradoxes of time travel. But the franchise has directly supported the “many worlds” theory. I’m not really a fan of the theory, but it could be a means of solving the problems of time travel.
If Rush and the Destiny jump back in time several hours into the same dimension that they left, then his presence there would mean that he would never have traveled back in time in the first place. But using the many worlds theory (I hope real scientists will forgive my limited understanding of the subject), we can extrapolate that Rush has come from the future of an alternate dimension. But what about Telford? The episode seems to suggest that Telford is safe and sound on Earth in our dimension. But didn’t Telford go through the gate in this alternate future? Why would he be on our Earth? It doesn’t make much sense to me, but the end result is that we’re left with two Rush’s on the Destiny and two Telfords (one on Earth and one on the Destiny).
Despite the overall more mature treatment of the concept, the episode still seems to suffer from the need to somehow remove one of each double. Interestingly, it’s our Telford that dies, instead of the other Telford. The Rush vs. Telford conflict is set-up well enough, but the accidental death of our Telford still feels like a plot contrivance meant to solve the long-term problem of having to deal with an extra Telford. At least it’s a step in the right direction, though. I particularly enjoyed the interaction between the two Rush’s toward the end of the episode. Of course, I knew that the other Rush wasn’t going to last past the episode. But having the other Rush decide that his only option is to use the chair made his departure more interesting than it could have been.
I liked this episode, probably because it brought things back to a more grounded, character-based level than the last couple of episodes have been on. But plot-wise, I’m left wondering just what the point of the episode was. Salvaging supplies and parts from an alternate version of Destiny was a clever idea. But I can’t see much in the episode that’s going to be relevant in the long run. Even if the show hadn’t been canceled, it seems likely that we’d never know what happened to the alternate Rush after our Rush helped him use the chair. This might have been acceptable if they’d managed to tell a really compelling stand-alone story, a la “Star Trek: TNG’s” “Time Squared”. Though, to be honest, I think “SGU” is too serialized to support that kind of episode, so they end up feeling out of place.
In my opinion, it’s a bad idea to introduce alternate reality versions of characters in this type of show unless you’re willing to commit to their existence in the long-term (like in “Farscape”), rather than forcing some convenient removal of them on the plot by the end of the episode. I could be proven wrong, of course. But for now, “Twin Destinies” seems to be a relatively good stand-alone episode with some strong points and a number of flaws, and it probably would have worked a lot better if it had contributed to the main story or character arcs in some way.