Moving on to the contentious third part of the SGU viewer questionnaire – I asked fans: What aspect of the show would you prefer to see minimized? A multitude of fans surveyed. Top five answers on the board:
Those F**king Stones!: One of the things I loved about writing for both Stargate: SG-1 and Stargate: Atlantis was the scope of the storytelling when it came to tone (action-driven, humorous, tear-jerkers, etc.), scale (epic space battles, run ‘n gun ops, quieter character-driven stories, etc.), and location (off-world, shipboard, Earth-based,etc.). In a sense, we were making a mini-movie every week and what allowed us to tell those bigger, flashier (read: more expensive) stories were the smaller, less flashy (read: less expensive) but no less engaging tales we would tell along the way. And just as important as the kind of story we told were the types of places in which they were set. Back on SG-1 or Atlantis, having the team set off on an off-world adventure EVERY week would have been as tiresome as, say, doing an SGC/city-based bottle episode EVERY week. Tiresome, not just in terms of narrative but visual styling as well. Mom was right after all. You can’t be inside all day. You need to get out every once in a while. Breathe some fresh air.
Especially if you’re trapped on some dark mystery ship on the other side of the universe. Getting off that ship on occasion is important, not only for the well-being of its crew, but the home audience as well. Trust me, if every episode of Stargate: Universe was set aboard Destiny, fans would be very quick to complain. Which is, I’m sure you’ll be quick to remind me, what the stargate is for. And, yes, we have gone off-world and visited strange new worlds (the desert planet in Air III, the ice planet in Water), and will continue to do so in the back half of season one and beyond, but one of the elements Brad and Robert wanted to avoid as much as possible with this new series were the forested planets that became a hallmark of the other two shows as well as the accompanying human-form English-speaking aliens. Never say never but, to date, we’ve been pretty good about keeping our alien landscapes alien-looking and our aliens, well, alien-looking as well. But at the end of the day, CG landscapes and alien life forms don’t come cheap (especially some of the stuff we have in store), so it’s the occasional Earth-based episode that allows us to bring you those alien vistas and encounters. And they also allow us to reveal aspects of our characters that may not necessarily come to light on board Destiny. Take the character of Camile Wray for instance. At first blush, given her shipboard behavior, some may write her off as a humorless hard-ass and yet the episode Life uncovered a whole other side to the character – a compassion and vulnerability her crew mates aboard Destiny are unaware of (for the time being at least).
What several of you have pointed out, however, is that your objection lies not so much with the stones but the way they are used. Instead of using them for home visits, why not tells stories in which they’re used for more calculated ends? Or stories in which they malfunction or their use results in undesired SF consequences? Or, given what they can do, why not introduce a situation in which an expert or experts are brought aboard Destiny to deal with an issue our crew is wholly unprepared for? In response to these questions, I say: You’ll be downright delighted with what we have in store for you when SGU makes its April return.
Sex and Soap: On SG-1 and Atlantis, the personal interrelations between our characters often took a back seat to the adventures at hand. Yes, character relationships were developed over the course of many years of many missions, but the focus was always on defeating the goa’uld or thwarting the wraith. There wasn’t much time for falling in love, much to the displeasure of fans of various romantic pairings (Sheyla, Shweir, McKeller, ShepKett, and Muppet). Unlike SG-1 and Atlantis, however, those aboard Destiny are trapped together with no hope of returning home. As a result, it makes sense that they will eventually find comfort in one another. Over time, relationships will develop and, yes, some of these relationships may eventually become physical. Honestly, the aim is not to titillate but to show that these are real people trying their best to cope with highly surreal situations. As for what the future holds in this regard – relationships (romantic and platonic) will continue to develop as the focus shifts to exploration and discovery.
Darkness and Despair: Yes, Destiny can be a bit of a gloomy place at times which is why it’s nice to contrast those shadowed corridors with bright alien worlds or the occasional sunny day on Earth. But what many of you seem to be saying is “These people should suck it up! I would kill to be in their shoes!”. Well, let me start off by saying “YOU are special.”. Being stranded on a space ship with no hope over ever returning home would be a hard pill to swallow and, in the beginning, most (if not all) of those trapped in such a scenario would be understandably upset. But, like a hot bath or an annoying uncle at Christmas dinner, it’s a scenario they’ll have to adjust to and, if not embrace, then find a way to accept. They just got on board, people. Don’t rush ’em!
Stop shaking the camera!: I remember talking to Ben Browder about the shooting style on Farscape and him telling me that the directorial approach to every episode was to “keep the camera moving!”. Doing so lends a scene or shot a certain dynamism lacking in the more staid or static approach to visual storytelling. Having said that, a little does go a long way. For instance, the type of shooting style that worked so well in Cloverfield would no doubt induce nausea on anyone watching our show.
Pick up the pace!: One of the challenges of starting a new series is establishing the narrative framework, everything from concept to characters, rules and relationships, backstory elements and future prospects. And it’s doubly challenging in the SF realm because we’re often dealing with scenarios and technologies the average viewer may be unfamiliar with. The trick is to lay this groundwork while still moving forward, telling engaging stories like Darkness and Light that not only entertain but inform (Hey, the ship is solar powered!), picking up the tempo as the series develops and our characters evolve. Justice kicks off a run of terrific episodes, culminating in a taut, fast-paced three parter that closes out SGU’s inaugural season.
One of the things I’ve been told by several fans who watched the show live and then screened those same episodes uninterrupted was how some of the elements they’d taken issue with on first viewing were no longer problematic the second time around. For them, it was like familiarizing themselves with a narrative shorthand (ie. the visual style, the pacing of the storytelling) that, once acquired, allowed them to enjoy the show on a whole other level. If any of you have re-screened those first ten episodes (or plan to do so when the DVD hits stores shelves February 9th) let me know if you had a similar experience.
Tomorrow, we move on to your favorite “story moments” from the first half of Stargate: Universe’s first season. And, time permitting, I’ll even hit the mailbag.