“Does the computer-hacking drop-out have to save our asses?”Col. Everett Young -‘Darkness’, S1, Ep4.
Amidst the scientists and military personnel from the Icarus Base who stumbled through the Stargate onto the ancient starship Destiny, one person stood out; Eli Wallace. He was neither of them. Eli was, to use a quote from the film Clerks (1994), “Not even supposed to be here today!”
Eli was described in the casting calls as a “Total slacker, utter genius, social outcast.” It was also stated that Eli “Lacks confidence because his true intelligence has never really been recognized, like Matt Damon’s character from Good Will Hunting.” This is a film that Eli references as one of his favorites, in the episode ‘Time’ (S1, Ep8). Essentially, Eli is the stereotypical geek.
From the outset, Eli is presented as the outsider. He had not enlisted into the armed forces, nor was he one of the scientists with the Stargate program, or a VIP from the International Oversight Advisory (IOA). Eli is someone who just happened to solve a puzzle in a videogame.
[See also: Stargate | Sam Carter – A Role Model for Courage and Compassion by Dana Svedova]
This puzzle mirrors the multiplayer social experiment Curiosity: What’s Inside the Cube? In this real-world game, players interacted with a giant cube, which comprised billions of smaller cubes. The goal was to reach the center and discover what was inside the cube, which was claimed to be a life-changing prize (it wasn’t). Unfortunately for Eli, his prize was a visit from Colonel Jack O’Neill (Richard Dean Anderson), Dr. Nicholas Rush (Robert Carlyle), a stack of non-disclosure agreements, and a one-way trip to their spaceship.
Rush: “To complete that particular puzzle, you had to solve a millennia-old mathematical proof written in another language. For that, you’ve won something of a prize.”‘Air Part 1’, S1, Ep1.
Wallace: “Well, whatever it is, I’ll take the cash equivalent.”
Outsider and Everyman
As the resident geek onboard Destiny, Eli is an ordinary person in an extraordinary situation. Plucked from his life in suburban America, Eli is dropped headfirst into the world of Stargate. During his journey to the Icarus base, Eli is given a crash course in wormhole travel, Go’auld System Lords, and the Stargate network, using a series of videos presented by Dr. Daniel Jackson (Michael Shanks). Eli’s sense of displacement was compounded further when they arrived on Destiny, which Dr. Rush estimated was “Several billion light-years from Earth.” They were, to quote The Wizard of OZ (1939), “not in Kansas anymore.” Or even the Milky Way, for that matter.
The principal characters of Stargate: Universe were Colonel Everett Young (Louis Ferriera) and Dr Nicholas Rush; however Eli is the viewpoint character. It is through his perspective that we witness many of the events in the series. In doing so, Eli becomes a proxy for the viewer – his sense of wonder in passing through the stargate that first time mirrors the viewers’ feelings of awe.
Likewise, Eli asks the questions that the viewers are thinking. This allowed the writers to explain established Stargate lore to those unfamiliar with the franchise, without resorting to clumsy infodumps, where characters share information that they already know.
Eli’s outsider status also allows him to be more comfortable with thinking outside the box. His lack of experience with Stargates means he is free of assumptions and unconscious bias. In the first episode (‘Air Part 1’ – S1, Ep1), it is Eli who deduces that the nine-chevron sequence to unlock access to Destiny is a password, rather than an address. Previously in Stargate: SG-1 and Stargate: Alliance, each of the chevron sequences were coordinates for Stargates on different planets.
[See also: Stargate Universe | The Making of SGU Season 2 by James Rundle and Sarah Lucy May]
More importantly, Eli was the balance between Dr. Rush and Col. Young. As the outsider, Eli was free of any factional loyalties. Therefore, Eli’s innocence meant he became friends with everyone and was comparatively trusted by the entire crew. It was Eli who was approached by Lt. Vanessa James (played by Julia Benson), in the episode ‘Darkness’ (S1, Ep4) about whether the command staff was withholding the truth from the rest of the crew.
During the uprising in ‘Divided’ (S1, Ep12), when the civilian authority onboard Destiny – in the form of the IOA – attempt to usurp Colonel Young’s command of the starship, it is Eli who looks on in bewilderment.
Perhaps Eli’s most unlikely friendship was with Master Sergeant Ronald Greer (Jamil Walker Smith), as Greer takes on a protective big brother role to Eli. It is Greer who believes Eli over Dr. Rush in ‘Air’ (S1, Ep1-3). As the newest member of the group, Eli was the neutral party, and as such the one that Greer trusted the most. Later, in one of the timelines of the ‘Time’ (S1, Ep8), Greer teaches Eli how to defend himself.
Greer: “Do you have any idea of what’s going on here?”‘Divided’, S1, Ep12.
Wallace: “No. As a matter of fact, I don’t. Am I the only one?”
In a case of life imitating art, David Blue, the actor who portrayed Eli Wallace, was already a fan of science fiction and specifically the Stargate franchise. David Blue had watched every episode of Stargate SG-1 and Stargate: Atlantis before the series even began. The writer and co-creator Brad Wright joked to the audience at the 2009 San Diego Comic-Con “With David we got not only an actor, but a technical adviser for our own show.”
Eli displays his geek credentials with pride. He despairs at others when they do not understand the sci-fi references he frequently shares. Not only does this underpin the nature of the character, but it provides sources of humor. These moments of levity counterpoint the dire situation the characters frequently find themselves in, as well as providing the viewer with information in the form of points of reference.
“Whoa. Looks like we entered the Hoth system. The Empire Strikes Back? The second Star Wars movie. Okay, I refuse to call it Episode Five.”Eli Wallace – ‘Water’, S1, Ep6.
Unfortunately, Stargate: Universe does incorporate some of the negative stereotypes associated with geeks, such as poor physical condition and sexual/romantic inexperience. David Blue had gained weight for his previous role as Cliff St. Paul in Ugly Betty, and the intention was that over time Eli would lose weight, as would be expected in situations where there are limited resources.
Eli’s relationship with Chloe Armstrong (Elyse Levesque) is initially awkward, as his romantic feelings for her are not reciprocated. This is complicated further when Chloe drunkenly kisses Eli in ‘Earth’ (S1, Ep7), despite her already being romantically involved with Lt. Matthew Scott (Brian J. Smith), only for her to then declare that Eli will just be a friend.
[See also: Stargate | Showrunners’ SGU Season 1 Episode Guide by Ed Gross]]
However, Eli proves to be far wiser than many of us. Eli accepts that he will only have a platonic friendship with Chloe and moves on. In so doing, he acknowledges that he has something truly special with Chloe; a friend. This friendship is soon tested in ‘Divided’ when Chloe sides with the civilian authority, whilst Eli stands with Col. Young and the military. Interestingly, it is Eli who forgives Chloe first, rather than Lt. Scott.
Armstrong: “You’re funny, too. And you’re a genius. And-“‘Earth’, S1, Ep7.
Wallace: “Don’t say it!”
Armstrong: “You’re a good friend.”
Wallace: “Yes. That’s me. I’m a good friend…”
A mirror to Rush
In many ways, Eli is a mirror to Dr. Rush, in that he is his intellectual equal, yet the two are vastly different. Rush is an expert in Ancient technology through years of study, but Eli is a child prodigy with an innate ability to solve complex puzzles. Eli becomes one of the few people that Rush is willing to work alongside.
This divergence in the nature of their intelligence makes them complete opposites in their approach to problem-solving. Rush’s drive and determination make him methodical and clinical, always focused on his long-term goals without considering the cost. This is countered by Eli, who is intuitive and curious, but also lazy and easily distracted.
One of the reasons why Eli was able to solve the puzzle embedded within the Prometheus game was that it was framed in such a way that it intrigued his intellectual curiosity for well over a month. If the puzzle had been framed as an academic challenge, Eli would have quickly become bored and lost interest.
It is mentioned a few times that Eli is a Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) dropout, yet it is we later learn he left MIT not because it was too much for him, but because it never sufficiently challenged him. This is a problem sometimes faced by people with exceptional IQs, if they quickly become bored when dealing with conventional problems.
Eli’s innate intelligence and curiosity mean that he is a natural inventor. It is Eli who discovers the remote cameras, which he names kinos, and it is his intuitive genius that allows him to see their uses as recording devices and remote surveillance platforms, as well as using them to make an improvised hover-sled.
“Solving the issues of dialing the ninth chevron. I’ll devote two and a half years of my life to that. Meanwhile, my wife is gonna spend her dying days alone while I’m off, out, trying to solve that little problem. And then some kid, some big child, with no meaningful education is gonna jump in at the last moment, and solve it just like that. No sense of ambition; spends most of his time playing ridiculous games, yet he’s the genius I’ll never be.”Dr. Rush – ‘Human’, S1, Ep14.
The naming of the character was an interesting choice. Eli is a Hebrew word, meaning ‘high’ or ‘ascent’. This has significant parallels in the Stargate universe, given how the Ancients, who built Destiny and the stargates, ascended, which in this case refers to the process of becoming a being of pure energy.
Eli can also mean “My God”. When Jesus was on the cross, the Bible says he cried out a line from Psalm 22: “Eli, Eli, Lama Sabachthani?” Translated, this means “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” This is referenced in the first episode of Stargate Universe, ‘Air Part 1′ (S1, Ep1). During the Lucian Alliance’s attack on the Icarus Base, when trying to unlock the ninth chevron, Dr. Rush shouts: “Eli, Eli! I need your help.”
Eli metaphorically becomes the savior of the crew of Destiny in the second season finale. He effectively sacrifices himself, by allowing the others to use working hibernation pods. There is the hope that Eli can repair the remaining one, but no guarantee that it can be achieved.
Although Stargate Universe was cancelled after the second season, the show’s storyline was effectively continued in issue one of the six-part Stargate: Universe comic Back to Destiny, which recounts Eli’s attempts to repair the hibernation pod.
Young: “You’re sure about this, right?”‘Gauntlet’, S2, Ep20.
Wallace: “I’ve never been more sure of anything in my life.”
Young: “You’re a good man, Eli. You get this done. I’m gonna see you on the other side.”
We are all geeks now
Like many fans of Stargate, Eli was an unabashed geek. Not only is Eli the odd one out, he embraces the ‘ascended fanboy/fangirl’ trope: a fan or geek whose fantasy-based hobby turns into reality. Thus, they become a part of something greater than themselves.
The writers of Stargate Universe acknowledge this. Eli asks the questions that we are all thinking and shares our wonder of stargates and the vastness of space.
Eli grew more confident throughout the first season. He realizes his limitations and seeks to overcome them. In so doing, his character grows beyond the initial archetype by to become something far more – someone we can both relate to and aspire to become.
“For too long, I’ve been content to stay in his shadow, play the part of the eager young protégé, take his orders. But I’m not afraid to say it anymore: I’m smarter than him and all three of us know it.”Eli Wallace – ‘Gauntlet’, S2, Ep20.
Stargate | The Eli Wallace Trivia Quiz
Stargate Universe | Showrunners’ SGU Season 1 Episode Guide
After ten years designing drainage systems, Peter Ray Allison finally realized sewers were full of crap. Rather than having a midlife crisis, he became a freelance journalist specializing in technology and science fiction and was once called a ‘blessed geek’ by Virginia Hey. Peter’s work has been published by the BBC, The Guardian, and The Independent, amongst others. Peter is also a regular podcaster for Geek Pride. www.peterallison.netFollow Peter on Twitter @PeterRayAllison