I want to preface this by saying that I am a huge fan of the Stargate franchise. I've watched every episode of Stargate SG-1 multiple times and I probably know more about the show than any other show, The X-Files included. I've watched all of Stargate Atlantis though not as avidly, so I have a predisposition to Stargate that may introduce bias into my review. I'll try to stay objective and view this as just another show, but seeing some of the old characters brought out lots of nostalgic feelings.
First Daniel Jackson (Michael Shanks) came, then Samantha Carter (Amanda Tapping), Walter Harriman (Gary Jones), the second greatest Stargate character (behind Teal'c of course), Jack O'Neill (Richard Dean Anderson), and lastly Dr. Bill Lee (Bill Dow).
The opening scene starts in medias res and is very chaotic with people jumping through the gate on top of each other. It's nicely done, but felt too stylized. The shaking camera and screams seemed canned and didn't fully convey the enormity of the situation. In fact the whole episode felt too focused on a dark tone and total disorder instead of the characters and story.
The episode switches between the ship and the progression of Eli Wallace's (David Blue) discovery in a video game to a spaceship and then to the Icarus base where they had hope to use the 9th chevron. While the absurdly pompous senator played by Christopher McDonald (think Barney Frank on steroids) is giving an equally absurd toast, the base comes under attack from the Lucian Alliance which is a nice extension to SG-1.
I was confused how the Lucian Alliance managed to get enough Death Gliders and Al'kesh to mount an attack since they were in shambles last time we saw them. I was also confused how they couldn't pick up the Ha'taks on sensors. The base cannot hold off the attack and since Dr. Rush activated the 9th chevron, they go on in.
The episode switches between the ship is apparently traveling faster than light yet not through hyperspace. The ship's life support system isn't working and there is still no clear hierarchy or even a sense of order. There is a moment of tension when Ronald Greer (Jamil Walker Smith) turns his gun on Nicholas Rush (Robert Carlyle) which was completely random and made me hate Ronald immediately. Greer was in detention before, so he's probably trouble. Searching for life support, Rush and Wallace discover they are several billion light-years from home.
Dr. Rush takes these devices which let him control people back on Earth to talk to O'Neill who appoints him the leader. He tries to impose order, but is shouted down. While the story of the episode is to regain life support, it is punctuated many times by constant reinforcement that their situation really sucks, humans aren't perfect, and oh yeah, their situation sucks. The ship is saved after the sacrifice by the senator (a positive since he was annoying) and all the well for now (not really...).
Everett Young (Justin Louis) is the military guy in charge and doesn't like Rush much. I'm not going to go over the other characters since none of them really set themselves apart. As the series progresses, I'll bring them up.
Why do new shows need 2-hour series premieres? They don't. The premiere of Warehouse 13 was unnecessarily long and the premiere of Stargate Universe seemed too long. It's difficult to sit for 2 hours of the same show. The next time someone wants a longer series premiere, I would recommend an hour and a half. It would allow for a good set-up while keeping people interested.
Stargate Universe may end of being a great show with depth and complexity, but so far all it is is a show with good visual/special effects, cool sets, and a very dark tone. Syfy is trying to pander to a new audience, but I'm afraid they may lose their existing fans. While the Stargate still remains a force in this new series, SGU is vastly different than SG-1 or SGA. There isn't really any upbeat moments or humor. I will keep watching and while the concept is very interesting, the scripts must be beefed up.