After a slow start, the second 10 episodes of the first season of Stargate Universe show the cast and creators gradually becoming more comfortable with their creation. As a result, the episodes are tighter, more dramatic, offer more character development, and ratchet up the tension considerably. In other words, all the potential of the concept is finally realized. For the first time, the crew encounters threats from within their group, from outside human forces, and even from otherworldly entities. Cap it off with one of the most intense cliffhanger endings any sci-fi show has ever given us, and you have a fantastic first season.
In just 10 episodes, the back half of Stargate Universe manages to pack in more excitement than should have been possible in so few hours. It's particularly astonishing considering this same creative team was guilty of dragging storylines throughout the first 10 (available in the SG-U 1.0 DVD set). It worked out well for the fans, as the lengthy break between halves left us salivating upon its return. To have it return so much improved was a real treat indeed.
With a massive cast of survivors, we finally get an opportunity to delve deeper into the personalities of some of the more prominent characters, with background material provided for Dr. Rush (Robert Carlyle) and Msgt. Greer (Jamil Walker Smith), two of the series' most misunderstood characters. Also coming into her own in this set, both dramatically and in her role on board the ship, is Camile Wray (Ming-Na). While originally cited as a guest star, Ming-Na was soon upgraded to a series regular, and it's a pretty major coup for the series. A critically acclaimed dramatic actress, she commands the screen and is the perfect foil for Col. Young (Louis Ferreira). Her rise to power creates a triangular power struggle, as she does not align as easily with Young's usual foe, Dr. Rush, as she might like. As the crew of the Destiny is comprised of both military and non-military personnel, it makes logical sense for someone to step up and represent the civilian population, and that's just what Wray does. The tension between the military and civilian population culminates in a coup by Wray and her followers. But dissent within the ranks is the least of everyone's problems.
The second half of the season also introduces the first alien race to the spin-off series, and they are alien indeed. As fans have come to expect from SGU's attempts to break new ground, the aliens are not handled in a traditional way, an approach that stands out from the various Star Treks, or even prior Stargate series. This crew is so far out of the realm of what they signed on for that every encounter is completely awe-inspiring and terrifying. That's no different for the experiences both Chloe Armstrong (Elyse Levesque) and Rush experience at the hands of these aliens.
It's a conflict of a different sort toward the end of the season as, once again, Young's control of the ship is in jeopardy. This time, however, there's an element of betrayal at hand, and it creates a shocking sequence of events, culminating in a series of shocking cliffhanger endings -- the sort of cliffhangers that would have fans up in arms if the show hadn't already been renewed for a second 20-episode season.
Long-time fans of the franchise will also appreciate the appearances of Jack O'Neill (Richard Dean Anderson), Michael Shanks (Daniel Jackson), and Sam Carter (Amanda Tapping), continuing in their original roles, firmly tying SG-U into existing Stargate continuity. Lou Diamond Philips also gives a fantastic performance in a recurring capacity as the hard-nosed Col. Telford.
I was pleasantly surprised to see this three-disc set simply packed with extras. If I'm going to pay for half of a season, it had better be worth the $29.99 SRP, and SG-U 1.5 certainly is. The extras are broken up into two categories and then spread across all three discs, rather than being rounded up and tacked on at the end. This gives them more of an essential feel, as they can directly tackle some of the events seen in the episodes they share a disc with.
"Destiny SML (Star Map and Log)" is the title for a series of 15 video shorts. These include interviews of the show's creators by various cast members, a set tour, a look at the design of the alien race, dive training, interviews with a few cast members, and, toward the end, a retrospective about filming the show by the cast and crew. All in all, it's a very satisfying collection of vignettes that round out the experiences behind the making of a television show.
The only complaint I can lodge is that I had issues with the sound in places, Particularly in the opening moments of some of the shorts, the background music would occasionally overwhelm the people speaking. Conversely, on many of the shorts, I found the audio to be too soft, requiring me to turn my system up higher than usual to hear what they were saying. If you watch the shorts first, adjust the volume for them, and then watch an episode, you'll be in for quite a blast!
A series of 30 Kino shorts were produced for the web, in conjunction with the episodes airing on Syfy, and the final eight of those are reproduced here. As with the behind-the-scenes shorts giving us a feel for how the episodes aired, these documentary-style looks at the characters give us some more background to their motivations and even answer some questions the fans have been wondering about -- like how the people who agree to switch bodies with Destiny crew members feel about their bodies possibly being used for the hanky panky! These shorts are a great addition to the series, as they give us more insight to the characters than a plot-driven episode might be able to. Hopefully, they'll continue into the next season.
All 10 episodes also feature commentary by various actors, producers, the effects supervisor, and the director of photography. Honestly, it's the level of content you'd expect to find on a Blu-Ray set and enough to fit a whole season, much less just the second half. SGU 1.0 was packed with extras of its own. You can't ask for much more value for your dollar than that.