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Stargate Universe Revisited – “Light”

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Until Stargate Universe‘s episode five, “Light,” we still see the crew of the Ancient ship Destiny as military and civillian, almost always working at cross purposes and in conflict. There is zero trust between Dr. Nicholas Rush (the brilliant Robert Carlyle) and de facto Mission Commander Col. Everett Young (Louis Ferreira). In “Light” we finally see them, of necessity, beginning to trust each other, at least minimally—and temporarily—and only of necessity. But it’s a start, and in the end, critical for all of their survival.

At the end of episode four, “Darkness,” Destiny, still on autopilot, had performed a narrow breaking maneuver and changed its course, heading right for a star. With still little understanding of the Ancient ship’s systems, Rush is at a loss to explain what’s happened. He must have theories, but he’s not shared them with anyone. My guess is that he suspects that Destiny might use the stars to power itself, but I’m also guessing he believes it’s just a hunch—a gut feeling; something he’s not yet willing to share.

The crew members are faced with seemingly inevitable death; the ship will dissolve into the star and everyone on board her will perish from heat, gravitational forces and the eventual breakdown of the ship’s hull. We see how each one of the main players react to this inevitability, and perhaps more than in the first four episodes, we begin to know them. 

When Destiny drops out of its faster than light (FTL) mode, it does so in range of three planets, one of which seems at least minimally habitable. This appears to be the ship’s MO in understanding the crew’s needs, as well as the ship’s needs. They haven’t the power to use the stargate, so the only choice they have is to use the shuttle to transport down to one of the planets—the one Rush believes can support life. The “Goldilocks” planet, he calls it—not too hot, not too cold. 

The shuttle, fully loaded with supplies, can only hold 17 passengers. But there are 80 or so crew members aboard Destiny, so how to choose? And who to choose? Young decides on a lottery system to select 15 of the 17, reserving two spots for himself to choose.

Removing himself from the lottery, Young selects  the only other qualified pilot, Matthew Scott (Brian J. Smith), and medic T.J. Johansen (Alaina Huffman). Scott is also Young’s second in command and, although he’s inexperienced, he has already shown some leadership skills, even if he’s not an exceptionally brilliant mind. These are both good choices, if the survivors have any chance of making a go of it on the planet.

Although Young’s decision to eliminate himself from the lottery seems a noble decision, he really has no other choice. As the military commander, it is his responsibility to stay with the bulk of the crew, not letting them perish alone while he abandons ship; he takes himself out of the lottery because he has no other choice.  

The crew’s other nominal leaders, Dr. Rush and Camille Wray (Ming-Na) disagree with Young’s lottery decision, believing that the survivors who transport to the planet would have a better chance of survival if Young exerts more control on the selection process.

Wray, a politician, and official of the IOA, believes that Young should hand-select those that will be sent ahead to the planet. The people with the necessary survival skills will lead to a better outcome on the planet’s surface, and she believes Young’s choice is a cop-out, and a refusal to do his job as commander. Young will hear nothing of Camille’s argument (perhaps it hits too close to home for him).

Threatening to take her name out of the lottery entirely, he warns her to leave the subject alone. For what it’s worth, I think Camille has a point, but she backs off, not wanting to press Young further, lest he makes good on his threat. Her reaction enlightens us about her leadership qualities as well; she is not especially courageous – a weak leader. It’s a significant reveal given events later in season one.

Young’s refusal to take responsibility for selection feeds my sense that he has lost his taste for command (something that only grows as time goes on), and perhaps that he really isn’t fit to lead the survivors and make the sometimes hard choices. 

Rush’s reaction during the entire episode is fascinating, as he is much chastened since his breakdown in “Darkness.” Perhaps the weight of the unforeseen consequences resulting from dialing the Ninth Chevron has softened him. His attitude throughout “Light” is  conciliatory, even with Young.

Like the colonel, Rush has removed his name from the lottery. But his motives are different, and much more personal. Going through the Ninth Chevron gate has been his life’s work, something  that has cost him greatly and very personally. It is, as Rush says, his destiny to be aboard the ship, and to die aboard her makes more sense to him than trying to survive “on a rock with a bunch of strangers.”

The relationship in this episode between Rush and Young takes on an interesting new dimension. I believe that Col. Young finally realizes that tinkering with the ship’s systems without Rush’s input had been foolish. While Rush had been trying to understand the ship’s systems and power needs, Col. Young had been allowing personnel to push a lot of buttons, and ultimately to make the power-draining move of dialing the ship’s stargate.

 Dr. Rush acknowledges that Young’s tinkering ultimately has made no difference. The ship is hurtling into a star, and Young’s actions haven’t caused that.  I think, in a way, Dr. Rush places the responsibility on his own shoulders; he just wasn’t able to learn enough quickly enough to save the ship, the crew, or his own work.

 As the ship draws toward star, closer and closer, there is aboard Destiny, a sense of fatalism, and even awe, about the sort of end  they are all out to meet. Col. Young meets that end tearfully realizing he will never see Emily again; Sgt. Greer (Jamil Walker Smith) can think of nothing more wondrous than dying this way. Dr. Rush goes to his quarters to finish a “truly mediocre” book, a mass-market paperback (a sci-fi thriller, perhaps?), listening to a classical piece on his iPod. The melancholy, haunting violin solo, in retrospect (given what we learn about his wife in “Human”), perhaps brings him closer to his deceased wife Gloria. Is this the way they ended each day of their marriage–lying in bed, listening to a peaceful bit of classical music, reading side by side? 

But as too much time passes, Rush wonders why they aren’t dead yet. Rush is delighted to realize that they’re all still alive, and that he’d been wrong. Had he an inkling about it–that Destiny refueled using the stars? Whether he’d had a theory or not, he is just flat out excited that they’re not going to die.

Now that they are going to live to see another day, they must get the shuttle back aboard the ship. Everyone: Young, Rush, Eli, and the crew of the Shuttle now must work together. Requiring trust among all of them, each plays a role, finally working as a team, and really for the the first time. Once the shuttle is finally back aboard, the crew can celebrate a small victory.

The final scene of the episode still troubles me, even after many viewings. I understand why Rush doesn’t want to celebrate with the heroes of the day. He brushes aside all mentions of his courage in removing his name from the lottery and his role in saving the shuttle.

In Rush’s opinion, there is not all that much to celebrate; they are really right back where they started before the power went out, if only with more reserves aboard (which is a good thing). They still know little about how the ship operates, how to control it or where it’s going. This is Rush’s main focus, and besides understanding how Destiny is powered (no small thing, to be sure), there is still too much he doesn’t know. 

Besides that, up till now, the crew, including Young and Wray have treated him like a pariah; why would he socialize with them now? Rush also seems far too reserved, isolated, and guarded to be sociable with people he doesn’t really know. But the crew, and especially Young, are trying to reach out to him, if only for the moment. So, Rush is being a bit of a jerk here.

But what I really don’t get is Young’s assumption about Rush; that somehow he’d known the ship would use the star to refuel and that he’d kept it a deep dark secret for some hidden agenda. So what if he’d known or suspected the truth? What possible good would it have done to let anyone in on it? He couldn’t have known with absolute certainty, and had he claimed to have known, and kept the crew all on board, he certainly would have taken the blame for losing all their lives if he’d been proven wrong. 

Rush neither affirms or denies whether he’d known. As Eli (David Blue) says, Rush’s pure joy in realizing they had survived the star is proof enough that he couldn’t have known for certain. But that tiny bit of doubt is enough to turn Young back into full distrust mode.

“Light” is one of my favorite episodes of season one. It has a great plot and some wonderful performances, as well as being beautifully shot, especially as the interior of the ship becomes bathed in the star’s orange glow. The metaphor of the crew (and the ship) coming out of “Darkness” and into the “Light” carries through from the titles of the two episodes to the ultimate coming together as a team, and the unfolding of several main characters as they are revealed to us.

My series of pieces on Stargate Universe continues next week with “Water.”

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About Barbara Barnett

Barbara Barnett is publisher and executive editor of Blogcritics, as well as a noted entertainment writer. Author of Chasing Zebras: The Unofficial Guide to House, M.D., her primary beat is primetime television. But Barbara writes on an everything from film to politics to technology to all things pop culture and spirituality. She is a contributor to the book called Spiritual Pregnancy (Llewellyn Worldwide, January 2014) and has a story in Riverdale Ave Press' new anthology of zombie romance, Still Hungry for your Love. She is hard at work on what she hopes will be her first published novel.
  • ashimon

    Interestingly, I did not really have a problem with the final scene. I mean Young and Rush’s relationship has always been uneasy and the necessity to cooperate did not change that at all. Young never trusted Rush and Rush doesn’t really trust Young.
    But my take on this is that Young probably realized that if Rush is really the brilliant scientist he claims himself to be than it must have occurred to him that the ship may use the sun to recharge (I am no hard scientist, but having energy problems and going toward the largest energy source that there is made me figure out rather early that they would use the sun to recharge). And let’s be honest, Rush isn’t the person of beautiful and noble gestures — it seems he always have an (hidden) agenda.
    I think partly the issue is of principle for Young: if he does not have all the available information, he cannot make the best possible decision (This is something that comes back later in the season and even in the second season.)
    It could have also changed the nature of the decision because if there is a chance that they might survive on the Destiny probably not everyone would have wanted to participate in the lottery.
    As for Young’s decision to take himself out of the lottery: I think you are right, he had no choice. But that does not mean that the act can’t be viewed as heroic. If he is a good commander he can’t go, but it makes it no less a personal sacrifice. Young was “cursed” with the ability of being able to do the math: 1) injured people has no place on the mission, 2) the captain (or so) always goes down with his ship, 3) his choice could serve as a good example for those who were not lucky to be selected on the lottery. I have found rather intriguing that it was not one of the civilians but one of his soldiers who could not understand this. The embarrassment on Young’s face is clear when Spencer starts acting up.
    I found your take that Young chose to do the lottery instead of hand-picking the shuttle crew as a sign of his unwillingness to command interesting. I am not sure I agree with it, but it has never occurred to me before.
    Ugh, I guess this got a little lengthy…