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An unmanned spaceplane landed itself at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California after being in orbit for 7 months. The craft, called the X-37B, is an approximately one-quarter scale version of a standard space shuttle, and is powered by a combo of lithium batteries and solar panels:
This is the first time in the history of the US space program that a spacecraft has successfully completed re-entry and landed on autopilot.
While the Air Force hasn’t been forthcoming on what exactly the X-37B has been doing for the last 7 months, suffice it to say the craft returned in better-than-new condition, and has no memory of where it’s been and how it got home.
I’ve been putting off watching the remainder of Stargate Universe’s first season because, to be perfectly honest, it’s kind of a drag to watch.
The two previous television incarnations of the Stargate mythos—SG-1 and Atlantis—worked well as formula genre television. There were really fun good guys, really entertaining, over-the-top bad guys (seriously, Apophis), plenty of space battles, aliens, and cool retro-future steampunk civilizations to explore on a weekly basis.
SGU is a willing departure into a more “real” science fictional world. When The Destiny’s accidental human crew encounter alien technology, they aren’t able to figure it out in all of 5 seconds. They’re also susceptible to the “real” emotional strain of being trapped in another galaxy on a mysterious ship with no idea where they’re heading and if they’ll ever get home. That, it seems, is the whole point of SGU- to prove to the audience that real space exploration, should humans ever get to try it, will not be all “open hailing frequencies” and exciting human-alien relationships, but an intense psychologically challenging experience that will force us to question everything we think we know about ourselves. (You know, kinda like…B-S-G, except without any appealing characters)
In fact, in SGU, space travel seems to take everyone’s flaws and amplify them tenfold. The show’s mantra (for the first half of the season at least) was always “This is the wrong crew, in the wrong place.” In other words, these characters are not highly skilled super humans who were born to whiz through space being awesome. They’re flawed people who either crumble under pressure or overcome their inadequacies depending on what the writers need them to do that week.
After the first half of the season, which I dutifully watched hoping that things would get more exciting and less dour, I was almost relieved when the show went on its mid-season break. One less obligation to watch the frustratingly “real” characters undergo a series of psychological tests, masquerading as space exploration. Because the more I watched SGU, the more I felt that too much reality in a science fiction show can really suck the life out of a series. And as much as I wanted to pretend like Stargate Universe was going to be a decent show, week after week it sucked the life out of me. (*One noteworthy exception: the episode “Time”).
So where does SGU stand now? The post-hiatus episode “Space” was okay—kudos for 1) aliens, and 2) a space battle. But what really stood out in the episode (and not in a good way) was not the alien/human conflict, but the internal crew conflicts. Col. Young vs. Rush, Col. Young vs. Camille, Eli vs. Everything, the civilians vs. the military…it just doesn’t stop. I get it, ok? When you take a bunch of humans and trap them on a ship, they act out all their petty human tendencies. Yada yada yada. I want more aliens.
No matter what side of the SGU line you fall—whether you think it’s a great step in the right direction for grittier, more reality-based sci-fi, or whether you think it’s a giant, boring flop, SGU and Google Analytics has proved one very reality-based truth about it’s very real human audience: People like Julia Benson’s boobs.
Since early April, when SGU started airing new episodes, and featuring actress Julia Benson more prominently, about 40% of the traffic on my little blog has been devoted to people desperately seeking more information about Benson and her boobs. At first I thought it was a random spike due to the return of SGU. But the searches have remained consistent- every day, more and more people end up here because they think I might be able to shed new light on Benson’s boobs.
They are of course sorely disappointed, but their trail of desperation remains alive and well in my analytics, bringing me all sorts of reasons to giggle at the inventive search terms they’re inputting into the google machine:
If the SGU writers/producers and Syfy execs can be sure of anything, it’s that when Julia Benson flashes across the scene, their largely male audience pays attention.
I’m renaming this whole phenomena SGU’s “Boobgate.”
Here’s the original post that the boob-oglers keep landing on.
Reason 1.3 Because after one 20 minute episode, I cared more about the Elric Brothers and Winry Rockbell than any character on SGU during its entire half season.
Reason 2.89 Because Fullmetal Alchemist has AWESOME, complex, and often hilarious villains. Scar, King Bradley, Kimblee, and the Homonculi are fascinating. SGU? Not so much.
Reason 3.1415 Because after watching a comparable amount of both Fullmetal Alchemist and SGU, I can name at least 15 different characters from Fullmetal Alchemist, describe to you what they look like, what their personalities are like, what complex relations they might have with other characters, what drives them, etc. I’m still struggling to identify more than the main cast of SGU, and I still don’t feel like Rush has any realistic motivation for being as selfish and curmudgeony as he is. There’s suspense built via the careful release of plot points, political intrigue, or character backstories, and then there’s just an utter lack of explanation leading to me not caring.
Reason 4.23333333333 Because Fullmetal Alchemist is animated AND in a language I don’t understand, and yet somehow the themes of loyalty, family, commitment, betrayal, human ambition, greed, and innocence speak to me with more reality than the live action of SGU.
If you haven’t been watching Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, you need to catch up, right now. Then you can decide for yourself. As for me, until SGU’s writing steps up its game (more episodes like “Time” please), I’ll keep on drawing ridiculous comparisons between it and Fullmetal whilst shaking my head ruefully.
I, like many people apparently, have mixed feelings about SGU. As the show’s producers have repeatedly said, SGU is not supposed to be another SG-1 or Atlantis—and that’s fine. I get it. It’s a television show, and in order to survive SGU needs to expand its viewership and appeal to as wide a base as possible.
There seems to be a lively debate online as to whether SGU is innovative, sexy, and awesome, or slow, boring, and predictable. After viewing this week’s episode “Earth,” SGU proves once again that is all of those things at once.
“Earth” is all about the communication stones, those magical body-swapping calling cards that make it possible for Destiny’s crew to commune with people back on Earth. These communication stones are potentially the show’s greatest flaw, and this episode, while innovative in its exploration of characters’ backstories, proves that SGU might have been better off leaving the stones behind.
The episode begins with Gen. O’Neill ordering Young to put the Destiny and her crew in mortal danger in an attempt to dial back to earth using the power of a star to hotwire the connection. In order to force Destiny back into a star, the crew needs to quickly deplete Destiny’s power supply by firing all of her weapons at once and triggering the solar recharging sequence. The plan sounds insane, and if this were SG-1 or Atlantis, it might just work. But it’s SGU, so we know from the get go that the Destiny has a 0% chance of pulling this off.
While this is happening, Young, Chloe, and Eli have swapped bodies via the communication stones with Telfor and two other Homeworld Security people (who are they? who knows..). While in body-swap mode, we learn a little bit more about each character and their relationships back on earth. Eli has a touching moment with his mother, Chloe gets wasted at a bar and finds out her best-friend is dating her ex-boyfriend, and Young has sex with his semi-estranged wife.
Wait a second. Young has sex with his semi-estranged wife—in Telfor’s body? Chloe gets wasted—in some other person’s body? Did nobody think to establish communications stone protocols? Now, it is possible that these issues will be raised and potentially addressed in future episodes. However, given that the crew have been using these stones since the very beginning, it’s difficult to believe that certain rules were not put in place to prevent what is ostensibly abuse of another person’s body.
Imagine, for example, if Chloe had decided to use her counterpart’s body to have sex with Eli (something Eli actively fantasizes about in this episode, while inhabiting his handsomer counterparts body). If her counterpart had “awakened” from the body swap to find her body had partaken in a sex act without her express consent, doesn’t that constitute rape?
SGU skirts the issue by cordoning the non-consentual act to men’s bodies, where Telfor briefly “awakens” to find himself having sex with Young’s wife. His reaction is one of surprise, but not necessarily displeasure. Young’s wife has no idea that her husband is temporarily not the man she is having sex with. Is she now participating in a non-consensual sex act? These are huge ethical issues that SGU hasn’t come close to dealing with. If the show intends to be darker, grittier, and more real, then I hope the next episode explores the real outcomes of abusing the communications stones.
Back on Destiny, the attempt to dial Earth has predictably failed as Young, Chloe, and Eli return to their own bodies. The tension that should arise from learning that Destiny’s crew will be stuck millions of light years from Earth falls flat, since as an audience we already know Destiny’s not going anywhere. Young’s attempt to rally the troops in his big speech at the end rings somewhat hollow, as nearly every episode has ended in similar form. The mantra that they’re the wrong people in the wrong place has been repeated so many times, it’s difficult not to groan a bit whenever someone says it during the show.
As a viewer who appreciates good storytelling in any show, the communications stones have become the achilles heel of SGU. The writers rely upon them to explore character backstories, but in the meantime, we’ve ceased caring about the many, many people stranded on Destiny who I can only imagine are going nuts with nothing to do, and only goopy rations to eat. The real tension that should be at the center of the show—that Destiny cannot return to Earth—has been prematurely dissipated by the fact that the communications stones allow Destiny’s main cast to jump back and forth, seemingly on a whim, and talk to/sleep with whoever they need to whenever they want.
SGU needs to study its predecessors a bit more closely. Battlestar Galactica, a show that SGU seems largely inspired by, sustained tension by ensuring that the audience never knew when and if they were going to be completely decimated by the Cylons. Their survival was never a foregone conclusion, nor was it ever possible to assume that the BSG crew would find Earth. Even Star Trek Voyager, a show very unlike SGU in tone and style, sustained tension by isolating the Voyager crew from Earth. They literally had no way of telling their loved ones where they were and if they were still alive. Yet in that absence of communication, the writers managed to show audiences so much about character backstories.
SGU has its moments, and Eli and Chloe’s scene in the club is one of them. Eli gets the chance to live life as an attractive “always-gets-the-girl” kind of guy, while Chloe has the opportunity to learn how other people honestly perceive her. It’s a touching moment where we see these two relying on each other and coming closer together, even if only as friends (much to Eli’s dismay). Nevertheless, I stand by my assessment that the communications stones were a mistake, even if they do allow for occasional intriguing body swap revelations to unfold.
One last thing—Chloe seems remarkably upset about her best friend sleeping with her ex, even though she’s currently having a pretty hot and heavy relationship with Lt. Scott. It just doesn’t really add up. These emotional “short-cuts” are cropping up in too many places.
The secret, unaired Stargate Universe episode, “Triscuits,” opens with Eli Wallace rummaging through the supply room and finding a box of the titular, lightly salted, baked wheat crackers. He thrusts his right hand into the box with gusto, only to emerge with a mere fistful of cracked, wheaty crumbs. At that exact moment, Destiny drops out of FTL as the camera pans out to various confused-looking crew members, holding their heads in hands and wondering what life-threatening misadventure the ship has in store for them.
A lone scream from Eli cuts through the confusion, sending TJ and Chloe running toward his plaintive cry. They find him huddled in the corner of the supply room, rocking back and forth while clutching the now completely empty box of Triscuits. ”No…Triscuits…no…Triscuits..” Eli mutters repeatedly. Chloe tries to wrench the twisted, emtpy box from Eli’s desperate hands as TJ gives him a hearty dose of tranquilizer.
Meanwhile, in the gate room, Destiny has dialed an unknown planet. A Kino sends back intel that the planet’s atmosphere, while barely capable of sustaining human life, shows remarkably high concentrations of dietary fiber, sodium, and polyunsaturated fat. Col. Young insists that they should try dialing Earth while Rush disagrees, arguing instead that Lt. Scott should head to the mysterious planet and bring back whatever is producing off-the-charts levels of salty, life-sustaining nutrients.
Col. Young begrudgingly concedes to Rush, but only after volunteering himself to go on the dangerous mission with Lt. Scott. Young and Scott head through the gate and find themselves on a barren, rocky, dust-covered planet with no signs of life. Young scoops a bit of the dust into his portable chemistry set, shakes it, and sighs as he realizes that the dust is a deadly compound of trans-fat and monosodium-glutamate. He and Scott decide to hike several miles away from the gate, toward a giant mountainous ridge. At the base of the mountain they find the entrance to a cave, and though they’ve only 45 minutes left before Destiny jumps back into hyperspace, they push on. Once inside the cave, Young and Scott are shocked to find acres and acres of what appears to be a crop of alien wheat. Young gets on the radio and shouts to the crew of the Destiny, “We’ve found it! We’re going to live another day!”
Back on the Destiny, TJ and Chloe hear the good news and hug each other—a long, slow hug. Eli awakens from his tranquilizer stupor to see TJ and Chloe awkwardly staring at each other, pulling away from their hug, and sensing awakening feelings that they’ve never had time—and may never have time—to explore.
The countdown clock is at less than 15 ancient seconds when Young and Scott come hurtling through the gate at the last second bearing sacks of golden alien wheat. Eli runs to greet them, cracking a joke about how they’ll have enough Wheat Thins to last another million years. Young stares at Eli, and says without smiling, “That’s not funny.”
The episode ends with a montage, panning from Rush to Young, Eli to Scott, TJ and Chloe, some random civilians, military people, and everyone else. They sit at various tables, slowly crunching on the lightly salty, alien wheat product, mesmerized by the miracle that has allowed them to live to see another day.