It was a very different experience coming up to the final few episodes of season one of Space: Above and Beyond the first time round, not knowing that it would be cancelled on a cliffhanger that still, even now, has fans screaming into the void about the possibility of a second season. With rumours that Operation Roundhammer would begin any day now, episode 20 out of 23, ‘Stardust’, felt like it was gearing up to something big for the end of the season, and for the viewer it was pure excitement, wondering where these last few episodes would take us. Now, on a rewatch, I find myself dragging my feet somewhat, wanting to spin out the experience as long as possible, reluctant to come to the end once more.
‘Stardust’, written by Howard Grigsby, is about the turning point in a man’s life, and whether he can redeem himself even in death. It is also about trust and deception, and doing what it takes to win the war, even when it seems somewhat unsavoury.
World War II’s ‘Operation Mincemeat’ was a bizarre yet successful ploy by the British military forces. They took a dead vagrant and dressed him as a high ranking officer, gave him a false identity and fake documents detailing false military plans, and left him to be found by the enemy. The Germans took the bait, and this deception ultimately resulted in them deploying troops to the wrong place, changing the entire course of the war.
‘Stardust’ takes this story and applies it to the Chig war. Never shy of where their ideas come from, the writers even have Colonel McQueen reference the real life source of this strategy. But the difference here is that there is not just one dead body being used but many, as passengers on a remotely piloted APC that is to be escorted to Chig space, where it will lose control and crash. And the man dressed as the high ranking officer, carrying the fake plans, is known to the General in charge of the mission. General Ranford (Ronald G Joseph) is the highest ranking Native American officer in the world, and James Dark Moon (Pato Hoffmann), former military officer, has just been executed for murder. And Ranford wants to give Dark Moon the opportunity to be the hero in death that he could not be in life.
It’s not the first time that Space: Above and Beyond has dealt with using the dead as bait, but it’s something – perhaps strangely – that many people seem to automatically baulk at, far more so than using live personnel on dangerous missions. But it’s a touching thought, that someone could have the chance to be remembered differently, for actions in death that actually they had no control over.
There is deception going on here too. Throughout the series it has been hinted at, and rumoured, that certain factions of humanity did in fact know about the existence of the Chigs, and that perhaps we even started the war. The enemy now seem to know the military’s every move in advance, suggesting either surveillance or a traitor. And now Colonel McQueen surmises that the Chigs were the alien gods spoken of by the Navajo people, and that the reason that the planted disinformation is written in Navajo is because they already know the language.
At this point it is still unclear whether we are heading for the reveal of a massive conspiracy or if it’s all just a double-bluff that has been drip-fed to us across the season. But either way there is a distinct lack of trust building between the powers that be and the guys on the ground. The 58th have their eyes open, and they don’t trust anyone but each other unless they have the details that they need.
There is some frustration to be felt with the writing of Colonel Klingman, supposedly highly experienced in remote piloting (‘Telepresence’), and yet who needs to be told by McQueen that ‘Bandits on your five!’ means ‘Behind you to the right’. I’m pretty sure she knows that, Colonel. But aside from this gripe, the ideas in ‘Stardust’ are solidly interesting, as are the season arc developments and the speculation around Operation Roundhammer, and we breathe a sigh of both anticipation and sorrow as we head into the home stretch.