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Stargate Universe Revisited – “Water”

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The survivors aboard Destiny are still dealing with the basic necessities of life in the sixth Stargate Universe (SGU) episode “Water.” With the air and power issues resolved—at least for the moment—the Icarus Base refugees are now suddenly confronted with an exponentially growing shortage of drinking water. No one is certain why the water is disappearing, but it’s obvious that if they don’t get water soon, they will all perish aboard.

When Destiny drops out of its faster than light (FTL) mode with a planet in range that should contain water, Dr. Nicholas Rush (Robert Carlyle) believes it has done so because there’s drinkable water on the planet. Although Rush still has no control over Destiny’s propulsion and navigation systems, with his knowledge of Ancient technology and non-stop study of the ship’s databases, he’s beginning to understand enough of the ship to realize they’ve landed here for a reason.

Colonel Everett Young (Louis Ferreira) and Lieutenant Matthew Scott (Brian J. Smith) use the Ancient space suits and head to the planet through the stargate, leaving T.J. (Alaina Huffman) in charge.

The planet is inhospitable: cold and toxic; the entire surface is a sheet of ice. Although much of the ice contains too much ammonia to be drinkable, the pair locate a frozen waterfall some distance from the stargate. But Eli’s (David Blue) ingenuity comes through. Taking several kinos (floating camera balls) and placing them beneath a platform, he’s created a floating sled. Even the highly unimpressible Rush is impressed with his inventiveness.

Young and Scott begin to send ice back to the ship via the stargate before Scott falls through a breech in the ice and into a crevasse, becoming trapped in a too-tight space. He’s really stuck, and Young is unable to free him. The situation becomes dire when Scott’s suit springs a leak. Time is also an issue, as the ship will jump back into FTL, leaving Young and Scott little time to get back even if Scott is freed from the crevasse.

Aboard Destiny, they eventually realize that the source of the water shortage is a tiny water-consuming alien life form that has hopped a ride aboard the ship. Apparently, it is the same bug Scott believed he’d seen on the desert planet in “Air Part 3.” During that episode, Scott had been guided to a barely-there water source by following what appeared to be a desert hallucination, but which had been, in fact, microscopic bugs that swarm into a more visible form.

One of the things I like about SGU is that there are always consequences for the actions taken by the crew. Some of those consequences don’t happen until many episodes later, but there are usually, often dangerous, consequences. This is a perfect example. The bugs had helped them solve one problem, but have caused another.

As helpful and intelligent as they seemed to be back on the desert planet, aboard Destiny, they are a huge threat. When provoked, they attack and are effective at flaying flesh from a human body. Greer (Jamil Walker-Smith) wants to blast them from existence with a homemade flame-thrower. (Like Eli, he’s also a pretty inventive guy.) But TJ, now in command seems to understand that the bugs are intelligent and are trying to communicate, and she would rather get them off the ship than annihilate them, as Greer (Jamil Walker-Smith) seems inclined to do.

Interestingly, when trying to herd them into a water-filled barrel, TJ removes her flack jacket, showing herself to be unarmed and defenseless—demonstrating to the tiny aliens that she is no threat to them. By trapping them in the barrel and sending them through the stargate, she is actually sending them to a paradise of sorts—sustenance aplenty for the hydrophilic critters.

She and Rush also decide not to tell Young about the situation on board while he and Scott are busy on the planet. A furious Eli cannot comprehend why Rush and TJ would lie to Young and tell him that everything’s under control. But TJ has made a command decision—and one for “the greater good” of all aboard. Eli is just wrong, and as Rush points out, immature. The survivors need water. Fact. The bugs need to be moved off the ship. Also a fact. No one but Young and Scott can bring back water from the planet. Dealing with the bugs would be a distraction for the Colonel, especially after Scott’s accident.

After all, what can Young do that TJ and Rush cannot?

It’s interesting that the camera focuses on Rush through a lot of TJ’s decision making; it’s almost as if he’s considering her leadership qualities compared to Young’s. He is less oppositional towards her than he is with Young. When TJ asks his advice, Rush does give her his signature philosophy, “Always think of the greater good.” But he leaves the decision making in her hands without really questioning her authority.

I have to wonder what “greater good” Young has in mind, however, when he insists on remaining with Scott on the planet, refusing to leave him stuck in the crevasse, even if it means dying—or killing everyone on Destiny along with him. I think by this point in the story we have a pretty clear picture that Young has simply lost his taste for command.  “I’ve done it too many times and I’m not doing it again,” he tells Scott. And even the young lieutenant  wonders whether his commander has a death wish.

Young’s state of mind goes a long way to explaining his constant refrain about the survivors being “the wrong people” for the mission and his single minded focus on getting everyone home. Perhaps he is projecting—he is the wrong man for the mission (at least at this juncture)—a point made by Rush, and in a later episode during a conversation back on Earth between Young and General O’Neil (Richard Dean Anderson).

Young is wrong for the mission at this point—his attitude, his weariness, his distaste for command are all terrible attributes for a leader dealing with on ongoing crisis conditions, and when nearly everything they do is a risk. He blames Rush, and I get that. Rush’s impulsive action back at Icarus Base sent the entire crew to Destiny, which they have found to be a rust bucket of a ship with many, many problems, and not enough time to begin to understand and tame her. Every problem they run into reinforces Young’s contempt for Rush; every new problem, by extension, becomes Rush’s fault because had he not brought them to Destiny, then they’d be safe and snug back home on Earth.

So when Rush suggests that Young might have to leave Scott on the planet, yes, it is cold, but it also refelcts reality; it’s a choice that might have to be made—and soon. If not, not only will Scott die, so will Young, and the survivors will not get the ice they need—and the space suits, so crucial for exploring inhospitable planets and entering damaged areas of the ship, will be lost forever. In the end, who is right? Yes, Scott is saved, but only by random chance—a tremor. What if that tremor had not occurred when it did? 

What Rush suggests is not unreasonable—even Scott agrees. Yes, it’s pragmatic and rational—a decision made without emotion, yet with the best interests of the entire crew in mind. Young’s “I’ll get you your damn ice; that’s all you really care about anyway,” is needlessly nasty. The ice isn’t for Rush—it’s for all on board.

When I first saw “Water,” I though it was the weakest of the first six episodes. There is a lot of time spent on the planet observing Young and Scott bond, and those scenes do slow the episode down a bit. But upon reflection, it really stands out as an opportunity to see the conflict between Rush and Young develop, as well as observe the way in which Rush interacts with a military leader who is not Young. It is also a good discourse on why Young may not be best suited to lead the survivors, and that only intensifies in the episodes to come.

I hope you are enjoying these little essays on what has become one of my favorite science fiction series. What did you think of the episode “Water?” Let me know in the comments thread below!

NOTE: Stargate Executive Producer (and Stargate Universe consulting producer/writer) Joseph Mallozzi will be joining me for two Let’s Talk TV Live Specials focusing on Stargate Universe. The dates for the live broadcasts are Wednesday, December 26 and Wednesday, January 2. December 26 we’ll be discussing the series with a focus on its first season, and then on January 2, we’ll hone in on season two and what’s coming up next for Mr. Mallozzi. There will be time for questions and comments from the audience as well.

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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.