Wednesday, May 18, 2011
Stargate: Universe (and on endings in general)
When a young show gets cancelled, there's always that group of people who meant to watch it, might still watch it, but are worried that they'll be left hanging. When you have a show of this nature, there are four ways it can end:
1) Complete closure (more or less)... the way to go if you know the next stop is going to be the final one. For comparison, Stargate: Atlantis had a definite ending.
2) Partial Closure... I first noticed this with 24... the first season was picked up for 13 episodes, and if the show had been cancelled at episode 13, you wouldn't have felt like you were left hanging... because even though the overall mystery hadn't been resolved, closure to the most immediate crisis was given. Watch for this in any new show you watch... season 1, episode 13 is always going to be big. And some might debate this, but I felt that Flashforward was a satisfying ending, because even though the full story is left untold, we still had the journey of seeing the original flashforward through to its resolution.
Partial closure is an ending of sorts... there are still a lot of loose ends, but we get the conclusion to a major storyline. But let's be fair... if you know your show is on the bubble, it's not always possible to write two endings or refilm a new ending if things don't work out. And if you tie things up too well, you have to start over more or less... take 24 which I just mentioned... they tied things up pretty well, and so episodes 14 and 15 were kind of the dullest of the season as they tried to kickstart the second part of the story in gear. If Return of the Jedi had never been made, would you tell people not to watch Empire Strikes Back? I've learned to be satisfied with partial closure, because it's a fair compromise, and it beats the next two alternatives.
3) The adventure continues... In this age of serialized television, you'll generally only have this if it's cancelled abruptly and not allowed to even complete its original half or full-season contract.. Firefly comes immediately to mind... the movie happened against all odds, otherwise, we may have never found out why River was being hunted without reading comic books. And Smurfs! When smurfs were cancelled, they were lost in time! As far as I know, those blue beasties have been trying to find their way back to Smurf Village for about two decades.
4) CLIFFHANGER... despite the joke I made, V was a cliffhanger. And that's something that I find completely irresponsible if a show's producers aren't relatively sure they'll see another season. I suspect they do it to pressure the networks into picking them up. I also suspect it rarely, if ever works. I strongly resent shows that do this.
Not everything fits perfectly into these little categories I've made; it's more of a guideline. Take Heroes... was the revelation at the end a closure of any sort, or was it a cliffhanger? There was a lot of disappointment, but for me, it's as close to closure as I would expect from a series like this.
So which one is Stargate: Universe? The reason I've gone into detail here is because I was hoping that it would help me figure out how to categorize SGU, but I'm kind of stuck. They set up a new chapter for the story in the third season, which I would almost call partial closure, except nothing was really resolved in terms of the overall story at the end of this chapter, so it kind of falls somewhere between two and three, with a small touch of four in terms of the fate of one of the characters. I'm not entirely sure how to feel about that.
Stargate Universe is pretty different from the Stargates that came before, as it threw out the light-hearted nature of past shows and embraced the trend of gritty. It's a funny thing... I've always felt the light-hearted action shows got a little to cutesy at times... there are a couple episodes of Stargate: SG1 that are downright goofy, but there's something about the gritty trend that makes me a little sad.
At first, SGU didn't work for me... the first half of season one was my "dvr obligation"... when I have, say, five different shows on my dvr, i tend to watch them in order of least interest to most interest. And when I realize I'm just trying to get through a show to get to the "good" shows, I start to wonder if I should be bothering at all. Maybe I set a show up for failure that way, but I just did not get into it during the first half, and almost quit.
When it came back for the second half of season one, i ignored it at first until there were about five episodes on my dvr, and then felt obliged to watch them instead of just deleting them, so i had them playing in the background while i was doing something else. And to my surprise, I got sucked in. Completely. The season ended and I wanted more.
It came back strong in season two, building on the events that occurred in the previous finale... but then the mid-season finale ended on a weird cliff-hanger of it's own. Seriously... it really felt like just another battle in a series of battles, then "to be continued" came up... what? That was the most non-cliffhanger cliffhanger that I've ever seen.
The second half of season two had an interesting little sub-story involving a temporal anomaly and an alternate reality of sorts for the crew. This alternate crew storyline had a closure of its own that I think could have been twisted around to a conclusion for the series. In the end I'm sure the conclusion of that story, near the end of the series, will be on every SGU fan's favorite lists. While it went out early, I think it went out strong.
In spite of the non-ending, I would still strongly recommend this to anyone. I don't think you need to have seen the other series to get into this. The stories here are strong, and the characters grow on you. And given that this series has been a cornerstone of sci-fi channel for the last decade, I seriously doubt this is the end in spite of the fact that noone seems to want to commit right now.
All three Stargate series and the two SG-1 movies are available to instant view on Netflix. Many, many hours of good sci-fi if you haven't checked it out yet.