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Another One Down The Tubes: Stargate Universe - Synchronicity swirls and other foolishness

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November 12th, 2010

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02:50 am - Another One Down The Tubes: Stargate Universe
So, starting last year, Becca and I have been watching Stargate Universe. I've definitely been enjoying a SF show where the science largely make sense. The wacky Stargate tech remains quite wacky, but when the characters talk about physics or astronomy, it makes sense in a way that is very rare indeed for TV SF. In addition, the acting ranges from fairly good to excellent (the excellent acting coming from the ever-wonderful Robert Carlyle). I've never watched more than an episode or two of the previous two Stargate series, both because they were too military-focused for me, and more importantly, because the acting and writing were so universally terrible that I found them too bad to watch.

None of this is true with SGU, but I'm done with it. It's a show with an ensemble cast, and since the characters are of limited number and stuck on a starship billions of light-years from Earth, I also figured that we wouldn't be seeing much in the way of gratuitous character death. This has been true, but the one problem the show has had from the beginning is sexism. The male characters get considerably more screen time than the female characters, and most of the time the female characters appear, it's as an adjunct (typically a love interest) for one of the primary male characters. The lesbian diplomat is an exception, but she gets on average very little screen time and rarely does anything of import. To make matters worse, the two young & attractive female characters (Chloe & T.J.) are the designated victims, being the two characters most likely to be captured and held hostage by both aliens and humans. However, that was only the beginning...

I've been hoping this would get better, but it hasn't, and in fact, it just got worse. Over the course of the last few episodes, one of the major female characters (Chloe) has been infected with some alien DNA thing and so is confined to a cell. Then, they introduce a new female character (Ginn), and while she soon ends up as a love interest, Becca and I both wondered if she might be doing so because of some plot (since she's a member of a group of off-world humans who attempted to invade and take over the ship, lost, and are now captives. Also, she seemed interesting, and I was willing to cut them some slack because she was a love interest for the cubby but brilliant geek (Eli), who mostly gets the treatment one expects from a somewhat macho show. Last week, my comment was "If she's marked for death in the next couple of episodes, I'm done with the show", and Becca agreed. This week's episode ended with the most thuggish of the captive men going to kill her, and sure enough, the teaser for next week's episode is that she's dead, in a way that also killed another somewhat interesting female character who had temporarily traded bodies with her.

Worse yet, it's clear that both characters died to provide angst plots for the male characters who were in love with them. The writers could have had Ginn be killed because she was secretly working against the crew, they could have had her relationship with Eli break off (providing Eli-angst) because she was simply using him to try to get in better with her captors in an effort to gain more freedom - there were lots of possible options to achieve the same results, but these options would have involved female characters with agency, and it's remarkably clear that the writers of this show are not in any way interested in doing this. My guess is that the writers honestly have no idea what to do with female characters and are convinced that anything important that doesn't have to do with being either a mother or a victim (or both) must focus on male characters.

ST: Deep Space 9, ST: Voyager, & Babylon 5 were all SF shows with a fair amount of sexism, but which did vastly better than SGU. Farscape was an SF show on the same network as SGU that did quite well with female character and had a gender-balanced crew where both male and female characters were active and where either male or female characters could be captured and in need of rescue. There's no excuse for this level of sexism in 2010 and there wasn't 15 years ago, when several SF shows were doing considerably better. I don't think that asking for a SF show wtih actual female characters is really too much to ask.

I'm again struck by how much worse SF&F TV had become since somewhere in late 2002-2003 – the ripple of 9/11 and the creeping conservatism that followed affected TV by then, and things went rapidly downhill. After that we got shows like Supernatural which are all about white boys either killing women and people of color or coming around after women and people of color have been killed. There have been a few excellent shows since that time – The Dresden Files, Journeyman, and Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles are the three most obvious, but the first two were canceled in mid-season and the last only made it two seasons. In contrast, I fear that offensive crap like SGU, like so much other bad SF&F on TV will be around for quite a while. At this point, the only SF&F show I'm left watching is The Vampire Diaries, which despite being cheesy teen vampire soap opera, is both remarkably well done and shockingly free of this sort of nonsense.
Current Mood: annoyedannoyed

(6 comments | Leave a comment)


[User Picture]
Date:November 12th, 2010 08:00 pm (UTC)
You mention gratuitous character death as a possible complaint. I'm a little surprised: my main annoyance with TV series has often been that the producers are far, far too reluctant to kill off any characters. I've been watching BSG recently, and been constantly annoyed by the way they keep threatening major characters in a way that makes the viewer think somebody might die soon, but the threat is almost never carried through. It's very frustrating in that you know nothing's ever going to happen no matter how dangerous the situation, which keeps eating at my suspension of disbelief.
[User Picture]
Date:November 12th, 2010 09:14 pm (UTC)
This sounds similar to the reasons I dislike the portrayal of sex and gender on Lost, although the sexism in the show was admittedly my secondary concern (after the fact that it was clear they were spinning bullshit with no idea of how to resolve it).
[User Picture]
Date:November 15th, 2010 07:19 pm (UTC)
Yea, the recent slaying really pissed me off too. I'd have much preferred more of the 'improper' use of the stones they were implying being a source of conflict between Eli and Rush. And now that they've finally given us some meta plot I start to wonder if they are fearing an early end to the series and so are moving to wrap it up.

Been watching through the Atlantis series lately, since starting SGU. I was interested in some back story, and found to my amusement that SGU is almost the same premise and initial plot arc as Atlantis. There are even episodes that are closely redone. But by about half way through the first season it picks up pretty well, and we're enjoying it well into the third at this point. Its a bit campy, the characters freely reference geek references (cause well, they're geeks afterall) like how star trek episodes relates to their current situation or who played catwoman in what years. The writing is sometimes episodically lazy, but I'd say a good half or so of the episodes at this point are quality so its been worth wading past the mediocre ones. And the alien space vampires are cool, which helps. Nowhere near the production quality of SGU, but its fun and kinda light.

But I mention as I think you'd find it more tolerable gender wise as it doesn't do the thing SGU has devolved into (which incidentally I thought they started out well in that regard but as of the missing baby thing -which I hated- really lost it). Almost asexual in its treatment. There are important and powerful females who have solid roles. There are some vaguely implied romantic tensions, but really no romance. I think that really helps keep it all straight. Gender remains quite irrelevant this way. And come to think of it, I think the annoying egotistical scientist is a hostage more than anyone else, for a change. Also, 3 seasons in and noone has had an alien Wraith baby. This is a good sign :)

What's terrible is that now I'm considering going back again and catching up on SG-1 due to plot overlap, realizing that the current setting actually spans at least 3 galaxies. What I've seen of it is even more snarky and campy than Atlantis, so I phear. But we'll see when we get to that if we can deal with it.
[User Picture]
Date:November 15th, 2010 07:43 pm (UTC)
I love reading your posts about media because it reminds me how subjective interpretation can be. I think we're very similar politically, and we both watch media with a critical eye towards sexism, racism, trans- and homophobias, particularly in media that is supposedly progressive and is isn't. However, we don't agree on many shows. For instance, I'm a Whedon fan, who finds Amy Pond useless, I enjoy Supernatural as a guilty pleasure and the gender politics of the Dresden Files drove me up the wall! I don't even think you're wrong while I'm right, we just have radically different prioritization/interpretation as to what constitutes problematic behavior.

Until your post about the Vampire Diaries, I considered it a Twilight TV analog which I barely paid attention to but you made me realize it really has gotten a lot better this season. Still, I would have bet money you quit around episode 3.

Thank you for sharing priorities, but with a very different lens.
[User Picture]
Date:November 15th, 2010 08:05 pm (UTC)
Still, I would have bet money you quit around episode 3.

The fact that I'm watching The Vampire Diaries is largely a matter of good luck. Becca and I started watching around episode 9, once it had gotten well better. Having gone back and watched the first few eps, I would definitely have stopped watching, not just for the gender stuff, but because I thought it was utterly dreadful. I've rarely seen a show get that much better.
[User Picture]
Date:November 15th, 2010 08:29 pm (UTC)
I barely kept watching it. I set a series recording for it when it debuted, I gave it a couple of episodes, didn't like it. Since I never got around to deleting the recording, I'd miss a few weeks only to throw it on in the background while I was coding and had nothing else to watch. The addition of Katherine does a lot to off set Elena The Constant Victim.

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