THE SITUATION SO FAR: Last week, a mixed group of soldiers and civilians from Earth got stranded aboard a giant alien spaceship several billion light-years from home. The ship is abandoned and on autopilot, and it’s got some problems. For one thing, it’s sprung a leak, and although this is a slow leak that’s apparently been leaking for a long long time, our heroes have the incredible bad timing to arrive on board just hours before the air becomes too thin to breath. After some running around in the thinning atmosphere, they manage to plug the leak by sacrificing a U.S. congressman to the gods of vacuum.
But that’s just a stopgap measure, because the other big problem is that the ship’s carbon-dioxide scrubbers need a filter change. Robert Carlyle, the Scientist of Questionable Morals, manages to communicate this problem to the ship’s computer, which then drops the ship out of hyperspace and opens a stargate portal to a nearby planet. According to the computer, there are other stargates in range, but the other ones are locked out by the computer, strongly suggesting that this particular destination has the stuff they need to fix the scrubbers. Oh but there’s a catch: right after opening the portal, the computer puts up a clock with a twelve-hour countdown. That’s how long they have before the ship goes back into hyperspace, ready or not…
…which brings us to this week’s episode. One of the first things we learn is that, yes, the twelve-hour deadline is a purely arbitrary plot contrivance: the stargate is only open intermittently, so it’s not a constant drain on power, and the ship is just floating in space. There’s no good reason for it not to keep floating there until the scrubbers are fixed. This is the kind of logic hole I’d be happy to overlook if the rest of the show were interesting, but unfortunately it’s not.
The stargate opens in the middle of a desert. The away team tests the sand and finds traces of a mineral they can use to fix the scrubbers. But the concentration in the sand isn’t high enough—they need to find a dry lake bed. At this point, it’s entirely predictable that (a) they will find a dry lake bed, but (b) not until the eleventh hour, and (c) there will be a last-minute race back to the stargate intercut with shots of the digital countdown clock. Meantime, they’ve got eleven hours to kill. Unfortunately, they’re in the middle of a desert, so there really isn’t anything for them to do but wander around aimlessly,* complain about the heat, and bicker. At least, that’s all the screenwriters were able to come up with.**
Lisa and I quickly got bored and started asking impertinent questions, like, “Why can’t the computer use the stargate to exchange fresh air from the planet for the stale air aboard the ship?” and “Why don’t more people from the ship come to help the away team search, or at least hang out on the planet breathing fresh air rather than using up the limited air on the ship?” and “Seriously, why are all the characters suddenly so stupid?” This got us through the episode (which ended exactly as predicted), but I don’t think it’ll keep us coming back week after week.
* Technically they do have an aim, but since the lake bed cannot be found before the eleventh hour, any searching they do before then is just empty theater.
** OK, they do also give Lt. Scott a hallucinatory flashback—something about how he used to be a Catholic priest in training, until he got a sixteen-year-old girl pregnant and decided to join the military instead—but it’s not worth going into detail about.