I will always love the Stargate franchise, but holy hell, it has had some really problematic shit. All is not lost, though. While the first couple seasons of the original show had some pretty awful material, it improved a lot over the remaining seasons. By the time Stargate Universe—its second spin off show—came out, I expected the writers to have learned from all the mistakes of its predecessors. It really didn’t. Stargate Universe’s first season is the franchise at its worst—and that can best be seen in how the show utilizes alien technology.
It might seem odd to start talking about science for a Magical Mondays post, but the science in Stargate is so far advanced that most of it is pretty much just magic. Hell, their galaxy is populated by giant sentient gas clouds, people who ascended onto another plane of existence and turned into pure energy, and even a fucking dragon.
Eventually, the show introduces us to some long-range communication devices that can switch the consciousness of peoples’ bodies. These devices become a pretty big deal in Stargate Universe, but the first season doesn’t seem to be aware of the moral issues surrounding them.
Stargate Universe was much darker and more serious than SG-1 and Atlantis. Like the other series, Universe revolves around the use of a Stargate, a giant portal which can transport people to other planets if they enter a seven-symbol code. An eighth symbol will take them to a planet in another galaxy, and our characters suspect that it’s possible to use a ninth symbol, though when the series starts, no one has ever done that. While our characters are on an alien planet studying the possibility of using nine symbols, they’re attacked from space and need to make an escape. Before they can dial Earth, one of the scientists manages to use a nine-symbol code and they all have to escape to an unknown destination. They end up on an ancient ship that’s been traveling through space for over a million years—pretty much, they end up at the edge of the known universe, and the Stargate on the ship lacks the power it needs to send them home.
Thankfully, the characters are not completely cut off from Earth. They have some long-range communication devices that I mentioned earlier. Using these devices, the characters can switch consciousness with other Stargate personnel back on Earth—they use them for a variety of purposes, such as reporting back to base or saying goodbye to their loved ones. They also use them to have sex, and therein lies the problems.
The concept of taking over someone else’s body has been a big part of the Stargate universe—the Goa’uld, for instance, are parasitic creatures that take over and control people’s bodies, and the Goa’uld sometimes even use those bodies for sex, which is incredibly violating for their hosts. While Stargate has had numerous issues, this was one issue that it never failed to show as being wrong—as such, the Goa’uld are our primary antagonists for the first eight seasons of the original show. Standing in contrast to the Goa’uld are the Tok’ra. They are both the same species—parasites that require host bodies to live—but the Tok’ra only take on willing hosts. They and their hosts form a bond with each and live together peacefully, and they often think of each other as life-partners or close friends. By creating this contrast between the Goa’uld and the Tok’ra, Stargate engages in a conversation about consent, bodily autonomy, and about what is right and what is wrong.
Like all things, the show doesn’t always do the best job handling the issue, but at no point does SG-1 ever forgot that the Goa’uld are wrong to take people as hosts without the hosts’ permission. It feels like Stargate Universe’s first season did forget that. The people who use the long-range communication devices do so willingly; after all, the switch in this case is only temporary, and it is their only way to communicate with those back home. But those same characters seem to forget that they’re driving another person’s body around and they take certain liberties that they shouldn’t. They operate as if they have no boundaries and can do whatever they want, much like the Goa’uld.
As a result, when many of the characters head off to speak to their loved ones, they have sex using someone else’s body without that person’s consent to do so—and for the entire first season, almost no one questions this. So in other words, most of our main characters, the people we should be rooting for, are rapists. This is made worse by the fact that Universe doesn’t seem to realize what’s happened for a good long while.
Surprisingly, and fortunately, Universe eventually does figure this out and though it never addresses what the characters did in the first season, it does start calling out the issue in the second season and becomes more aware of what is and is not appropriate behavior. Eli Wallace, our main character, is the first character to actively speak out against everybody else’s behavior. While his girlfriend Ginn sends herself to Earth, a Dr. Amanda takes her place. Amanda has a romantic relationship with another crew member, Nicholas Rush. Though Rush is the one other character who seems to realize the consent issues, Amanda often tries to kiss him and be physical. This may be because Amanda’s real body is paralyzed from her neck down, and being inside Ginn is the only opportunity she has to be mobile. Eli reminds Amanda at one point that she’s in someone else’s body and that she has to be respectful of that. Amanda then looks in the mirror only for Ginn’s face to be looking back.
The whole concept of switching bodies, or taking over bodies is an interesting one; it’s just not something Universe handles very well for a long time, and because of that, many characters do some really shitty things they shouldn’t. I expected better from Universe because SG-1’s use of the Tok’ra and Goa’uld was so well done. Had Universe been better written and more aware of the moral implications behind the long-range communication devices, it could have given us some nice commentary on morality and consent and only expanded on the issues SG-1 introduced us to with the Goa’uld. While I certainly give the show credit for improvement, it is a problem that should never have existed in the first place.