Air, water, light: essential elements to our survival as humans. Stargate Universe (SGU) begins in the quiet of a vast empty spaceship gliding through the starlit cosmos. She comes to life slowly as if awoken from a deep sleep, and then, through a shimmering mirror-like portal, bodies hurtle through along with luggage and other portables.
Dust-covered and dazed, they stand, if they can, gazing around to take in their unfamiliar surroundings. The military personnel amongst them try to assess, warily peering around corners, weapons poised, not knowing where they are or what to expect. They are on the vast (and no longer empty) spaceship, stranded, as they will soon learn, with no way of getting home, several billion light years from Earth. They've no idea where they are, nor why they are here.
They have traveled, we learn through "the Ninth Chevron" stargate portal, a mythical wormhole address established by the Ancients, an advanced civilization long ago vanished, and leaving behind their sophisticated technology throughout our galaxy, and as we learn in "Air Part 1," much beyond.
I've read many of the reviews written by Stargate fans (and even some critics) comparing SGU to the old '60s series Lost in Space. There is actually little to compare the two shows. Lost in Space was a light take on Robinson Crusoe wrapped around a heartwarming family drama. The Drs. Robinson, their children and pet robot wandered from planet to planet looking for a way home. Stowaway Dr. Smith was a cowardly but generally harmless curmudgeon (because he was so over-the-top cowardly). SGU is not Lost in Space 2.0. But neither is it Stargate 4.0. It is very much its own series, borrowing a shooting style from gritty dramas like The Shield and Battlestar Galactica, but telling an original story (well, nothing, I suppose is ever completely original).
All space exploration, I suppose, is a bit of vanity, even hubris. Why put so much money and effort into unlocking an ancient, unknowable portal? Why bother? What's on the other side of it? To put it in classic sci-fi TV terms, "to go where no one has gone before." It is the nature of exploration, whether by ancient mariners on Earth's high seas or the Mercury astronauts of the '50s or Neil Armstrong and his "one small step for a man; one giant leap for mankind" moment.