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Character Analysis

Stargate | SGU's Everett Young and the Limits of Force

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“Nobody signed up for this, and I can’t just assume they’re going to follow my orders. I cannot rule this ship by force.”

Col. Everett Young, ‘Justice’ – S1, Ep1

Colonel Everett Young (played by Louis Ferreira) was the military commander onboard the Ancient starship Destiny in Stargate: Universe. Unfortunately for Young, not everyone onboard Destiny was in the military. If Young was going to lead the crew of Destiny home, he was going to have to adapt his command style.

Perhaps it goes without saying, but Stargate: Universe is quite distinct from Stargate: SG-1 and Stargate: Atlantis. Both of the previous shows in the Stargate franchise were science fiction adventures, but Stargate: Universe had a greater emphasis on realism and the interpersonal relationships between the crew members of Destiny.

[See also: Stargate | Eli Wallace – SGU’s Fanboy Turned Savior by Peter Ray Allison]

The Nature of Leadership

As such, Everett Young was vastly different from Jack O’Neill (played by Richard Dean Anderson). Although the characters share similar qualities, due in part to their military backgrounds, the nature of their respective shows meant that they are portrayed quite differently.

A key example of this is in the episode ‘Earth’ (S1, Ep5), during which Young disobeys a direct order. When this occurred in previous iterations of Stargate, it would have resulted in the commanding officer shaking their head with a rueful smile; but here, given the realistic nature of the show, there are far greater consequences for insubordination.

O’Neill: You’re being given a direct order, Colonel.
Young: And I’m telling you that, regardless of the consequences to my standing, I’m going to take the situation under advisement. I will let you know my decision tomorrow.

‘Earth’ – S1, Ep5.

The irony of this moment is that in Stargate SG-1, O’Neill would frequently disobey a direct order from General George Hammond (played by Don S. Davis), for the good of the team. This irony is not lost on Everett. He later says to O’Neill:

“This is wrong and you know it. I spent most of my career looking up to you because you always did the right thing even if it meant disregarding the chain of command.”

Col. Everett Young, ‘Earth’ – S1, Ep5.

[See also: Stargate | Furlings, Financial Crisis, and the Fall of Stargate Worlds by Graeme Mason]

Dr. Rush (Robert Carlyle) and Col. Young in ‘Incursion Part 1’ – S1, Ep19. | MGM, 2010.

Despite this, Young expects his orders to be followed unquestioningly and without hesitation. During the second season, to the horror of Camile Wray (Ming-Na Wen) and Lieutenant Matthew Scott (Brian J. Smith), Young gives an order that they believe will kill someone who is being interrogated.

Scott: If I had known that killing him and bringing him back was the only way to beat that brainwashing technology, I’d have been behind you one hundred percent.
Young: So, you’ll follow orders as long as I explain everything to you beforehand?
Scott: No, sir, that is not what I meant.
Young: That’s good, because if it was, we’d have a problem, Lieutenant.

‘Incursion Part 1’ – S1, Ep19.

Military Leadership vs Civilian Authority

Young never intended to lead the expedition to Destiny. When we meet Young, at the start of Stargate: Universe, he is the commander of the military research base, Icarus. By the end of the first episode, he is catapulted into becoming the commander of a mixed crew on board an Ancient starship.

Although Young was an experienced commander of military personnel, onboard Destiny he became responsible for a contingent of civilians that had also escaped the Lucian attack. These civilians were scientists and administrators from the International Oversight Advisory (IOA), the governing body of the Stargate program.

Leading a team of civilians is vastly different from commanding a military unit. Young knows this – he says as much to O’Neill on more than one occasion. Ultimately, Young is not the right man for the job. Unfortunately, due to the circumstances, he is the only person who can assume the role.

Young: I can’t force people to do something they don’t want to do.
O’Neill: You’re in command of that ship! It’s not a democracy.
Young: I’m sorry, sir. It’s just not that simple.

‘Earth’ – S1, Ep5.

As Wray explains to Kiva (Rhona Mitra) of the Lucian Alliance, civilian governments control the military.

Civilian authority is vastly different from military rule. In the military, there is a clear command structure and social hierarchy based on rank and promotion, with an overall leader in command – in this case, Young. Civilian authority, on the other hand, is typically governed by democratically elected officials or appointees on recognized merit and expertise.

[See also: Stargate | How the GPT-3 A.I. Wrote its First ‘Starcake’ Script by James Hoare]

However, the Icarus Base and Stargate Command are part of the United States Air Force, and the expedition to Destiny is effectively a military operation. It is this conflict of interests that leads to much of the interpersonal conflict between Young and Wray.

Admittedly, this is exacerbated by Dr. Nicholas Rush (played by Robert Carlyle). Rush is the crew’s expert on Ancient technology. However, Rush and Young’s conflicting interests put them into direct conflict on many occasions. Young is determined to return the crew safely home, whilst Rush desires to learn everything he can about Destiny and Ascension – the secret of eternal life through living as a being of pure energy.

This rift between the two escalates to the point where Young physically assaults Rush in a moment of anger, before abandoning Rush to almost certain death. This was a decision that Young made in a fit of rage, although it could be argued that Rush had not helped matters by framing Young for murder.

The Use of Force

Young’s inexperience in managing a civilian contingency led to the civilians attempting to take control of Destiny. Led by Wray and Rush, the civilian crew were able to divert control of the ship’s systems away from the control interface hub. Eli Wallace (played by David Blue), the only civilian who Young seemingly trusted, was the only civilian crew member who found themselves unwittingly siding with Young.

Young is a military officer, and his first response to any attempted coup is to react with force.

Johansen: You don’t have any idea what you’re up against.
Chloe: I think we do.
Johansen: Not a clue. Sorry, but a bunch of civilians up against the colonel’s training and experience?
Chloe: It’s about listening to reason.
Johansen: Not once you took this ship. That made it war. And that’s what we do.

‘Divided’ – S1, Ep12.

Young’s retaking of Destiny is swift and deliberate. However, it was also done using non-lethal force. As Scott points out later in the episode: “If you have to use force, so be it, but we still have to live with these people tomorrow.”

Young’s decision, after the coup is halted, is to simply allow everyone to return to their rooms. There was no attempt at arrests or lockdowns, but equally, he understood that the underlying issues behind the coup still needed to be addressed. This resulted in Young deciding to share leadership with Wray. Eventually Young would come to rely on Wray’s insight.

MSgt. Ronald Greer (Jamil Walker Smith) pulls a gun on one of the civilians in ‘Divided’ – S1, Ep12. | MGM, 2010.

Young’s response to the Lucian Alliance taking over Destiny is markedly different from his reaction to the civilian coup. He returns to his military training and is prepared to pump oxygen out of the gate room and have the attackers suffocate to death. It was only the presence of Rush, in Telford’s body, despite both of them having an antagonistic relationship with Young, that stopped him from proceeding with this plan.

Young’s sense of responsibility as a leader means that he feels duty-bound to protect those under his command. Although Young almost killed Rush, it was a decision that he later came to regret. Rush is still Young’s responsibility and therefore he cannot sacrifice him. Of course, Rush knows far more about Ancient technology than anyone else onboard the ship, so there was an additional motive for saving him.

The Duty of Leadership

Young’s sense of duty comes to the fore when the crew of Destiny encounters a planet that is perfect for supporting life. Some of the civilian crew, led by the scientist Robert Caine (Tygh Runyan), decide to leave Destiny to live on the planet. But so do some of the military personnel, including Scott and Lt. Tamara Johansen (played Alaina Huffman). Whilst Young is willing to allow the civilian crew members to leave, and even give them a damaged shuttle for shelter, he demands that the military personnel return.

Although much could be said about personal freedoms, military personnel voluntarily enlist for a set tour of duty with the armed forces. They are therefore duty-bound to complete their tour prior to leaving. Desertion is a criminal act.

[See also: Stargate | How ‘Death Knell’ Made Sam Carter Real by James Hoare]

Rather than trying to persuade the military personnel to return through their sense of duty, Young offers them an ultimatum. In this situation, Young becomes the ‘bad guy’, by shouldering the blame from those he has forced to return. Through this, Young ensures that those who return do not come to regret not staying on the planet, as he took the decision from them.

Young has a tough demeanor, but he is also fair and enjoys the loyalty of those who know him. However, this is not universal. Lt. Vanessa James (played by Julia Benson) questions Wallace about the possibility of Young withholding information from the rest of the crew. Nonetheless, he earns the crew’s respect over time and James eventually becomes loyal to Young.

The shuttle clips the side of a mountain in ‘Aftermath’ – S2, Ep2. | MGM, 2010.

Throughout the series, Young is forced to accept that he will never save everyone: a realization that eats into the core of his being. This comes to the fore in ‘Aftermath’ (S2, Ep2) when Sgt. Hunter Riley (played by Haig Sutherland) is trapped and fatally wounded in a crash. After all other options have been tried, and with time running out, Riley begs Young to end his suffering, which he regretfully does.

Riley: How much time until Destiny jumps?
Young: We’re good. We’re fine. I don’t want you to worry. We’re okay.
Riley: I’d ask for your gun but I don’t want them to blame you. Sir, please. I’m in pain.
Young: I’ll get T.J.
Riley: No.

‘Aftermath’ – S2, Ep2.

Ultimately, it was the death of Riley that caused Young to question his ability to command the crew of Destiny. Around the same time, Young was having a recurring dream about aliens attacking the ship, with Destiny losing every time, no matter what he tried. Although these dreams were part of Destiny’s simulation programme, these were not the cause of his crisis. They simply exacerbated what was already there.

However, it is these doubts and his desire to always do more for the best of his crew that makes him such a good leader. Young may not be the most diplomatic, or able to negotiate the politics of civilian governance, but he is a determined military commander, and, in a crisis situation, that is what is needed.

An Imperfect Leader, but the Perfect Commander

The differences between Stargate: Universe and previous shows in the Stargate series meant that Young’s approach to command would also be radically different. Expecting Young to enjoy the same flexibility as previous commanders would be to lose some of the verisimilitude inherent in the show.

Young is instead forced to respect the chain of command and struggle with incorporating the leadership of civilians within a military operation. Through this, we are presented with a far more human and realistic portrayal of the vagaries of command.

Young is not the perfect leader. But, in a crisis situation, at the other end of the universe, with limited resources and minimal support, Young is exactly the sort of leader that is needed.

That is why we need you – because you feel it; and not so much you can’t get up and do it all over again the next day. You know, a real leader, a good commander is not so callous that he stops caring; just enough that he can keep on going. We both know you are a good commander. It is never going to stop hurting. That’s the whole point. For the sake of everyone on this ship, you are going to have to live with it.

Lt. Matthew Scott, ‘Trial and Error’ – S2, Ep6.

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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.

Follow Peter on Twitter @PeterRayAllison

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