Blocked by Command Ships at every star and unable to gate for supplies without alerting the drones, Destiny must take a stand or be left adrift.
It seems like such a simple premise for an episode that stands not only as a final episode to a series, but the last one of a fourteen year old franchise. Yet, that is what “Gauntlet” is. And as such it is a monumentally bittersweet episode. The interesting thing is even though it is a cliffhanger and was intended to propel the show to a third season, it is somewhat fitting as a final episode as well. I have many words to say write about Stargate Universe and the Stargate franchise as a whole, but here I’d like to focus on this specific episode. WARNING! There are spoilers below! But it’s the final episode, so deal with it.
“Gauntlet” begins with a very tired and haggard Colonel Young finding out some bad news: the automated Command Ships have staked out every star along the Destiny’s path, meaning that the ship will eventually be unable to replenish its power supplies. It also means they are unable to replenish there food stores. With a month of supplies left, Young and Rush confer with Telford back at Homeworld Command and let Earth know they really need a supply line from home. Unfortunately, the Langarans still refuse to attempt to dial Destiny, so the ship and its crew are on their own. With that, the crew starts brainstorming ideas. One short term idea is to modulate the Destiny’s shields to the exact frequency of the drone weapons and drop out of FTL right on top of a Command Ship and blast the crap out of it. The plan works and the ship is able to get a few new supplies with minimal damage. However, this plan will not continue to work as the damage with mount with each attempt.
Then Eli hits upon a brilliant plan. He proposes one continuous FTL jump to take them around the danger-filled path and on to the next galaxy, hopefully leaving behind the Command Ships and Drones. The big catch is that the journey will take three years. And to have the energy to maintain the FTL until the next galaxy, they will have to turn off every other system on the ship, including life support. And they can’t get any more food because of the drones. If only they had a way to put everyone in status for the duration of the trip. Oh, hey, how about those stasis pods they discovered a few episodes back? Those will do nicely…except, even after a successful mission to retrieve materials needed to repair some of the inoperable pods, they have one less working pod than they have people. Someone will have to stay awake. After everyone gets a chance to use the stones to visit loved ones on Earth, Young and Rush both volunteer to stay unfrozen, the former because of duty, the latter because he feels he can repair the pod quickly enough to join the others as popsicles. That’s when Eli steps forward. As Rush admits that Eli is more of a genius than he is, it is agreed that Eli will be the one to remain. He has two weeks before he needs to cut off the power and either enter stasis or die. As the others sleep, Eli looks out of the largest window and smiles…
What is most striking about “Gauntlet” is the feeling that they have all finally come together as a crew. This has building for most of the second half of the season, but you really understand it here. There is no more bickering, mistrust or power struggles. They have all really unified, even Rush. There are several scenes of many of the crew hugging and saying see you later as they all are put into stasis and that may be the most emotional part of the episode, especially realizing that they and we are saying goodbye. This is a group of people who started out not knowing each other and being put in the direst of circumstances and now we see that they all do genuinely care for each other. Left to fend for themselves, they have risen above their differences and have learned to become a family finally.
The performances in this episode are outstanding and practically everybody gets a few moments on screen. There are many standout moments for me. Ming-Na has a particularly beautiful scene with Brian Jacob Smith as they both commiserate about their visits home. Their two characters haven’t interacted much so it was nice for them to have this moment. Jennifer Spence and Jamil Walker Smith have a touching moment where Lisa Park asks Ronald Greer to not volunteer to be the one who stays awake and you believe Greer when he says he won’t. Greer has come such a long way and he remains my favorite character of the series. Peter Kelamis and Patrick Gilmore do what they do best in their scenes and prove that they are an essential part of the heart of the show. Lou Diamond Phillips gets a couple of poignant scenes in, the first having to tell Young that Earth can’t help them, the second when he is told that essentially the Destiny crew is done asking Earth’s opinions and are making their own decisions now. Then there is the power trio of Louis Ferreira, Robert Carlyle and David Blue. The last couple of scenes together with these three really bring home the sense of newly formed camaraderie. Their characters were certainly at odds at the very beginning and each had their own motives, but now they are united – for the sake of the crew. That phrase was previously used as a tenuous truce between Rush and Young, but now it truly means something.
The script for this episode is the final one written by Joseph Mallozzi and Paul Mullie. Together these two have written some of my favorite and most of the best episodes of the entire Stargate franchise, over the course of all three series. Coincidentally, they began writing for the franchise during the fourth season of Stargate SG-1, which is when I started watching the show. They tend to highlight the characters and the relationships between them as well as hitting wonderfully emotional little moments. I was excited when I first learned they would be writing the season finale and when that turned into the coda for the series and franchise, I knew it would be a powerful script. I was right. My first episode of SG-1 was “Window of Opportunity” which was written by these two and now “Gauntlet” is my last ever Stargate episode. I started with the best and that’s a great place to end.