Contributor: Gregg Wright
There was every reason to believe that “Stargate Universe” would end on a cliffhanger that would leave fans desperate for a resolution that would never come. The season 1 finale kept coming to mind as a worst-case scenario for how the show could end. Executive Producer Joseph Mallozzi’s various statements about the finale seemed to strongly suggest that this was exactly what we were in for. When the cancellation news hit, it was confirmed that the remaining episodes had all already been filmed. With this in mind, I began attempting to prepare myself for the inevitable frustration and disappointment to come as the final credits rolled.
But oddly enough, my expectations were completely subverted. The season finale is nowhere near the gut-wrenching cliffhanger that it was said to be. I suppose one could call it a cliffhanger, in that it feels very open-ended. But the surprise is in how satisfying the episode was and how well it works as a goodbye to the crew of the Destiny. Granted, it’s not ideal. The story is clearly meant to continue. But the episode is a surprisingly beautiful final tribute to the characters and the journey they’re on together. Joseph Mallozzi made another comment that seems to directly contradict all his other comments regarding the finale, stating that “Most would probably consider ['Gauntlet'] a cliffhanger while I would consider it a touching, bittersweet end to the series (if it comes to it)”. He’s actually right with this one.
I actually had a hard time believing that the writers didn’t know that this was the final episode when it was written, considering how little of the episode is dedicated to the drone threat. There are a couple of brief fights with the drones, but it’s nothing terribly spectacular. The majority of the episode is dedicated to Eli’s plan, which involves putting everyone into the stasis pods for a three-year journey which would take them to a whole other galaxy where they’d be safe from the drones. And this is where I thought the episode really succeeded.
Putting everyone into the stasis pods for three years means that everyone on the ship has to emotionally prepare for the next great leap into the unknown. There’s no guarantee that any of them will see each other again. And Eli’s choice to be the one person left awake to try and fix the last stasis pod before it’s too late means that his future is even more uncertain. I can see how the events in the episode could have been manipulated to craft a suspenseful, cliffhanger finale. But instead, the tone is surprisingly hopeful. Yes, there’s still plenty of uncertainty. T.J. still has ALS. Park is still blind. And Eli could potentially fail to fix the last stasis pod and die. But there’s a sense of optimism, particularly for Eli.
What I really liked about the episode was that it left me feeling very good about all of the characters. This was never more true than after most of the crew had been already put into stasis, and the main characters are having one last meal together before they join the rest of the crew. Colonel Young ends up giving a speech in which he acknowledges that they’ve become a family. It’s a great moment that highlights the growth of the characters since the conflict and darkness of the first season. Their future remains uncertain, but now they’re at least facing it together. The episode had the effect of making me realize how much I’m going to miss these characters. It’s not quite what I’d call a tear-jerker. But there is a bittersweet quality to it that’s probably amplified by the cancellation.
The episode seems to get better and better as it goes along. The final moments involving Young, Rush, and Eli (arguably the three most important characters in the entire show), were particularly poignant, given the relationship between the three. The decision over who will be the one to stay awake was a very effective way of encapsulating the characters and their relationships one last time. Rush has trouble letting anyone else take over responsibility when it comes to Destiny. Young and Rush have grown to respect each other. But quite fittingly, are both well aware that they can’t completely trust each other. Neither resents the other for this. They’ve learned to look past their differences and focus on what unites them. Young and Rush both believe in Eli.
Again, the closer I got to the end, the more difficult it was for me to believe that the writers only intended this as a season finale. It was pretty gratifying to see Eli finally learning to believe in himself; to see Rush telling Eli that he has potential; to see Young hugging Eli goodbye; to see the shots of the lights going out in the Destiny as the camera passes through the ship (which seems to nicely parallel the opening shots of the pilot episode); and to see Eli alone, standing in the observation room, looking out in wonder at what’s before him, smiling as the Destiny slowly disappears into the distance against Joel Goldsmith’s beautiful score. Eli’s character arc has finally reached a genuinely satisfying conclusion.
I’d like to give one last shout out to all the people who made this wonderful series happen. To the team of producers and writers, who I never thought could pull off a show like this, I commend you. “Stargate Universe” vastly exceeded my expectations and became a more than worthy successor to “SG-1″ and “Atlantis”, and even surpassed them in certain aspects (though I’ll only say that it’s outright superior to “Atlantis”). “Stargate Universe” was a valiant attempt to create an intelligent, emotional, thought-provoking science fiction drama. And though it had flaws, I believe it succeeded at what it set out to do.
To Joel Goldsmith, your music has been a part of “Stargate” since the jump from the original movie to television. Though early on, you composed alongside a few other accomplished TV composers, you eventually became the primary composer for the “Stargate” franchise, and you have remained in that position right up to the end of “Stargate Universe”. Your contributions to the franchise have been invaluable. I have greatly appreciated the highly thematic nature of “Stargate’s” music. Your music for “SGU” was a definite departure from the franchise’s established sound (which was heavily faithful to the tone set by David Arnold’s score for the original movie), and I was skeptical of it at first, but by the end of the first season your music for the show had won me over. I got the impression that you knew that “Gauntlet” was the final episode of the series when scoring it, because the music seemed to take on a more significant role in the episode than usual. Regardless, I hope that, if the “Stargate” franchise ever returns, that you will return with it.
And finally, I’d like to thank the incredible group of actors that were put together to tell this epic story. Most of you were unknowns to me at the start. I may have had my minor problems with one or two of you. But on the whole, you brought these characters to life with tremendous success. To me, you now embody these characters. Great actors are essential to such a character-centric show, and the acting remained one of “Stargate Universe’s” strongest points for the entire run. I appreciate how supportive all of you have been of the show, and how much passion you seem to have had for it. I will miss seeing you all work together, playing these characters, but I hope that your time on “SGU” will bring you greater success in future projects, which I will try to keep an eye out for. As always, I will continue to hold out hope of seeing you work together again in future “Stargate” installments.
“Stargate” has been an extremely significant part of my life since childhood, standing alongside “Star Trek” as one of the greatest science-fiction sagas ever created. I’ve build up a lot of emotional investment in the franchise. And for the first time in 14 years, its future is uncertain. And coincidentally, events in the finale seem to reflect the condition of the franchise: uncertain, open-ended. But the finale left me feeling surprisingly good. The series could have given us an ending that I would look back on with anger. There’s definitely still some anger. But at least my anger will hopefully be overshadowed by my fond memories of the show. Perhaps, in time, “Stargate Universe” will be more widely recognized as the quality sci-fi TV series I believe it to be.
(Season 2 Final Rating: 7.5)