SG:U's Ming-Na Makes History

SG:U's Ming-Na Makes History

As you may have heard, Asian-American actress Ming-Na (I guess she dropped the Wen at some point) is playing an openly out gay character on Syfy's latest attempt at a flagship science fiction show, Stargate Universe (better known as SG:U).  This is great news!  And I only wish it was happening on a less problematic show.

You can slice it down to the minutia, but suffice it to say that Ming-Na's Dr. Camille Wray is one of the most prominent lesbian characters in science fiction.  (Ming-Na is a sci fi fan herself, and I had to laugh when I saw her correcting her interviewer regarding the sexual orientation of the Kara Thrace Stabuck, who is in fact straight.)

There was a lot of controversy early in the show's short history, when some information slipped that Dr. Wray's body would be possessed by a straight woman, who would use it to have sex with men.  This was rightly seen as a violation, and furthermore tread all too near the old saw that any given lesbian just "hasn't been with the right guy yet."

Producers rushed to assure the public that it wasn't like that, and that it had to be seen in context.  This thing with the possession of another person's body, it's become quite the discussion point within the show.  And in that context, arguably the episode's cross-gender hanky panky is justified.  

In a later episode, perhaps to balance out the earlier controversy, Dr. Wray goes home herself (the stranded characters can travel back to Earth briefly with the help of magic stones).  Once there, she spends a perfectly respectable evening with her Earth-bound partner (played by 24's Reiko Aylesworth).

Unfortunately, one of science fiction's most prominent lesbian characters is currently entombed on a show which is crushingly dull.  SG:U has a fantastic set-up, which is basically "Lost on a space ship instead of an island."  It has an amazing cast, which includes Lou Diamond Philips and Robert Carlyle.  Its episodes contain plot elements and twists which ought to be breathtaking, but overall the chemistry just isn't there.

One problem is that the characters are so poorly defined.  A show with as claustrophobic a set as a single spaceship has to be resolutely character-driven, but SG:U's characters are much of a sameness.  In fact, I just tried to watch the episode in which Dr. Wray visits Earth, but I gave up about a third of the way through.

The comparison between SG:U and Lost is an interesting one.  Both shows essentially have the same set up (with flashbacks being Lost's version of SG:U's magic traveling stones).  And yet, Lost worked hard to build and distinguish its characters from the very beginning.  We keep watching Lost not because we find the show to be interesting (often it isn't) but because we want to find out what happens to the characters.  You could easily distinguish a random line of dialogue of Jack from that of Hurley after the first episode.  Unfortunately the same cannot be said for SG:U.

Maybe it's best that the biggest science fiction lesbian turns out to be boring, just like everyone else.  I mean, it could be worse, right?