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Terminator the Sarah Connor Chronicles 2×13 Earthlings Welcome Here episode review

Terminator the Sarah Connor Chronicles doesn’t seem to be much good at finales, and Terminator the Sarah Connor Chronicles 2×13 Earthlings Welcome Here, its fall finale, for the next two months, until it’s reunited to fail together with Joss Whedon’s Dollhouse on Friday nights, is little exception. Bad episodes of Terminator the Sarah Connor Chronicles lately aren’t conventionally bad, instead they are bad in an X-Files sort of way, in which after you’ve watched an hour of symbolic allusions, characters pursuing some senseless quest, there are mysterious events that make no real sense, you shake your head and ask for your 43 minutes back.

That’s where Earthlings Welcome Here puts us, appropriately enough an episode, which like the X-Files, is centered around UFO’s. For a finale that is supposed to convince viewers to tune in 2 months from now, Earthlings Welcome Here almost goes out of its way to make you hate it. Not only does it have Sarah Connor abandoning her son on a quest for three dots that came to her in a dream, it has John Connor continuing his surly teenager routine, more Riley backstory, and an ending that makes you want to throw a shoe at the television Iraqi style.

I don’t hate Riley nearly as much as many fans of the series, and Earthlings Welcome Here does a decent but belated job of giving her some decent backstory, but then ends it on an abrupt note. Sarah’s quest meanwhile takes her to a transvestite who lives in a trailer, unconvincingly played by a woman, who sees drones with the three dots markings. There is no apparent reason to make Alan Park a transvestite or stage Victor Victoria in the desert, but it’s part of the aimless noise that populates this episode.

Even as Jessie turns more apparently evil than ever, Derek remains off stage, Sarah is chasing UFO’s and John is chasing Riley, and the series is chasing fleeing viewers. There is no coherent sense to anything, and by the time Sarah stumbles into a warehouse by herself and without backup, and stumbles into a senseless fight that leaves her wounded, only to behold a drone that looks a good deal like something Skynet might throw together, you’re reminded of late season X-Files episodes just like this that made you question why you were even bothering with the series anymore.

Terminator the Sarah Connor Chronicles 2×12 Alpine Fields episode review

On paper Terminator the Sarah Connor Chronicles 2×12 Alpine Fields is built on a good model following in the footsteps of great TSCC episodes like Dungeons and Dragons, and Goodbye to all That, moving back and forth between Derek’s experiences in the future and the need to protect Terminator targets in the present. But that’s on paper, on television Alpine Fields suffers from a lack of tension and suspense, and having to endure too much time with a ridiculously annoying family.

As the episode cuts back and forth between the present and six months in the past, or six months in the future, and the present; it’s never too clear where this episode lies, and Derek’s own flashbacks or flashforwards, you can already see part of the problem. Not only do we have flashbacks, we have two sets of flashbacks, which takes a certain deftness to pull off.

Derek with the dying pregnant mother of the girl he will one day save, who will in turn save the human resistance plays too flat, but it has nothing to give it any real punch. The ball and chain here though are the extended flashbacks to the family’s past, that feature an annoying couple whom Sarah must help escape, and by helping them escape, I mean spending 6 to 8 hours sitting around and arguing while a Terminator wanders around somewhere outside.

Piled on the frosting is a future storyline that relies on the dubious idea that the last remnants of humanity fighting for their lives can produce a cure to Skynet biological weapon in a matter of hours based only on the blood of an immune girl, something even we couldn’t do given a decade. Terminator the Sarah Connor Chronicles 2×12 Alpine Fields isn’t a bad episode, but it is an episode that is more weak and diluted than anything else.

Terminator the Sarah Connor Chronicles 2×11 Self Made Man episode review

When fans and viewers argue over when and whether Terminator the Sarah Connor Chronicles actually jumped the shark, the episode Self Made Man will likely be a major entry in the field. When taken together as a whole, Terminator the Sarah Connor Chronicles 2×11 Self Made Man isn’t a bad episode, so much as it’s an episode with a goofy premise. And that isn’t a distinction without a difference.

When you break down Self Made Man, it becomes two episodes. The first episode is an interesting and occasionally unnerving look at what Cameron does when everyone else is sleeping. The second episode is a goofy look at a Terminator who goes back to the Jazz age and meets Rudolf Valentino. And while the footage of jazz babies and a Terminator nitpicking Valentino’s movie to his face is a small part of the episode, it’s the most striking and eye rolling part of the episode.

The idea behind Self Made Man is strong enough, a Terminator accidentally going back in time and killing a man who was responsible for building a skyscraper that will be the forum for a speech in 2010 that the Terminator has been sent to enter and assassinate the Governor (nice Arnold reference too). Being a purely logical machine, the Terminator robs banks to gain money to open his own construction company, destroying his rival, seizing his land, building the tower and going into hibernation to await the time of the assassination. The idea of that kind of relentlessness is disturbing on many levels, but what Self Made Man does is distract you from that for as long as it can with goofy historical references and a cheap attempt at a trip in time.

The actor cast is a big part of the problem, looking more like a zombie than a killing machine, stumbling around in clothes that don’t fit, and discussing movies with Valentino, just doesn’t pass. But the series has had a lot of problems casting its Terminators, and few of them really fit.

Overlaying all that we have Cameron’s interaction with a crippled librarian, that brings out too much of her nurturing side to be credible, but still manages to close on a chilling question. Behind that we have John’s ongoing relationship with Riley, which is playing on the dark side of the street, but not actually going anywhere interesting.

So while Self Made Man isn’t the ridiculous mess you would expect from the previews, it is a mistake in many ways.

Terminator the Sarah Connor Chronicles 2×10 Strange Things Happen at the One Two Point episode review

Terminator the Sarah Connor Chronicles 2×10 Strange Things Happen at the One Two Point should have been the episode to redeem the series’ recent slump. For one thing it was written by the writing team of Zack Stentz and Ashley Edward Miller, who have a fairly good track record on the show. For another it actually offers some big events. Unfortunately though it’s rooted in Sarah’s bizarre obsession with three dots, set up in the previous episode, which lead her to investigate an AI company without funding, and then bizarrely enough fund it, only to realize that the whole thing is a scam.

On the Ellison vs Scottish Terminator front, not only are the gratuitous biblical references and metaphors back, but Skynet actually gets two names, Babylon and John Henry, while the Scottish Terminatrix seems determined to have people teach the poor kicked around AI some morals and ethics, which is a bit on the inexplicable side.

Meanwhile it turns out that Riley comes from the future and has been working with Jessie as part of some operation aimed at John. Her story is that he’s gotten fixated on Cameron and is making bad decisions, this sort of pays out considering that John’s behavior took a turn for the wacky after Samson and Delilah when Cameron told him she loved him, while in evil killer mode. This is a marginally better explanation than the ridiculous “John is all shook up after killing a man who tried to murder him and needs therapy” story we’ve gotten so far this season. The likelier story though is that she’s a Gray.

The bulk of the episode though involves Sarah getting to know and getting involved with the head of the AI firm, who’s also the father of the firm’s chief and only researcher, who plays her easily, followed by Sarah bursting in and beating the crap out of him. Now I’m all for a tough Sarah Connor, but I don’t think anyone buys Lena Heady beating the hell out of a man her own size, let alone shoving him around the room like he’s a rag doll. Linda Hamilton maybe. Lena Heady, certainly not. But the real issue is that the series’ Sarah is a weaker more diffuse character, not the tough mother who stuck to her guns above all else. She crumbles when the CEO begins his pathetic hammy routine about doing it all for his son and his dead mother. Just as she crumbled back in the bowling alley bathroom and when faced with the snitch and so many times before.

In the first two Terminator movies, the humans survived in no small part because they were as willing to fight for their lives as the Terminators were to kill them. In the series that is increasingly no longer the case.

Terminator the Sarah Connor Chronicles 2×09 Complications episode review

After the collections of elaborate names and references, Terminator the Sarah Connor Chronicles 2×09 Complications has a refreshingly simple name, but not a particularly refreshing plot. Instead what might pass as the main story involves Sarah Connor on a return trip to Mexico taking ill with a fever and having a series of hallucinatory dreams full of all sorts of wacky symbolism. That sort of plot is usually a terrible idea and Terminator the Sarah Connor Chronicles 2×09 Complications isn’t much of an exception to the rule.

By the time the episode drags Sarah Connor back to a shrink, I couldn’t help missing Linda Hamilton’s Sarah Connor who would have put three bullets through any shrink who came near her. Naturally the writers of Terminator the Sarah Connor Chronicles have already forgotten that Sarah Connor spent years locked up, drugged and tortured in a psychiatric hospital. So naturally the first place she goes for answers is to a shrink.

The far more interesting second story involves Derek getting dragged into Jessie’s kidnapping of a man she claims is one of the Grays from the future, who is collaborating with Skynet. Issues of alternate futures come up, as does Jessie’s agenda, as she clearly knows a good deal more than she’s telling, while Derek can’t seem to remember anything at all. When Fischer’s younger self is dragged in and put in the same room, it’s a great Science Fiction moment that reminds you of what Terminator the Sarah Connor Chronicles could be if it let go of all the Battlestar Galactica angst and tried telling great stories instead.

Meanwhile John and Cameron go off on a fool’s errand looking for Cromartie’s body, which has been stolen by Agent Ellison. But despite that, Cameron still steals major chunks of the episode, as Glau plays her with disturbing alien awareness, that is most pronounced when she inhumanly discusses her sensations or asks about the tortoise and then turns Ellison right side up after beating him nearly senseless. It’s a nice adaptation of Blade Runner’s famous tortoise empathy test and a chilling moment all in one.

Terminator the Sarah Connor Chronicles 2×07 Brothers of Nablus episode review

Terminator the Sarah Connor Chronicles 2×07 Brothers of Nablus is probably the worst episode of the series for this season, if the show turns in a worse episode than this I hope my Tivo skips it. Written by Ian Goldberg, who had previously written only one episode, the weak season one finale What He Beheld, Brothers of Nablus is a cartoonish version that somehow encapsulates everything flawed in Terminator the Sarah Connor Chronicles and makes it a thousand times worse.

There’s the senseless religious references that have now turned into a drinking game for the series. Worse yes in Brothers of Nablus it’s the machines who seem to feel the need to give religious lectures. Cameron even recites the title Brothers of Nablus story, a story that happens to have nothing to do with anything in the episode. There’s John’s immaturity. There’s a plot that has a lot in common with soap operas and in which very little matters.

The episode begins abruptly with a Terminator suddenly bursting in to kill and apparently replace Agent Ellison, only to have Cromartie kill it instead. The whole thing is too abrupt and leaves you uncertain whether you’re seeing a dream sequence or not. The opening then cuts even more abruptly to the current Connor residence where the Connors just discover that they’ve been robbed. So Sarah and Cameron head off to hunt down the robbers on Derek’s guidance to meet a Shylockian stereotype of a fence who sends them off on a contrived trail that forces us to endure pointless scene after scene with various characters including a dentist who owes the fence money and the robber’s parents. Why Ian B. Goldberg felt we needed to sit through this 99 cent store version of Crash is a question best directed to him.

Meanwhile Cromartie is on Cameron’s trail and runs into the blonde street girl from Allison in Palmdale who’s happy enough to identify John Connor for him. So naturally Cromartie takes her along for a ride and wacky dialogue and witty hijinks. Now Terminators are killers, they’re also low on personality. But Cromartie is happy enough to play straight man and is ridiculously humanized in Brothers of Nablus. Cameron tops him meanwhile by telling Sarah about “her position” on security while quipping that no one likes a nag. At this point we’re a hop and a skip away from being in a robot sitcom.

Brothers of Nablus though doesn’t hit bottom until we get to John who hooks up with Riley again, runs into Cromartie at home and then doesn’t tell anyone about it, but does engage in a ridiculous shouting match with his mother. Considering the growing backlash against the series’ portrayal of John Connor, it’s really time to cut out this depiction of John Connor as a whiny brat. Enough is enough. This is preceded by Cameron turning a bowling alley into a kill zone while Sarah proves too weak to kill the one survivor, despite the bloody mess with a witness she has left behind now.

There’s more to Brothers of Nablus, including Derek’s affair with Jessie, another annoying character whose only appeal comes down to the skimpy bikini she wears in this episode. There’s Ellison’s arrest which also comes down to nothing, though not before a Terminator tells him that he’s just like Job (we get it, enough already, please stop). But Terminator the Sarah Connor Chronicles s02e07 Brothers of Nablus is simply irredeemably bad and a good argument why Ian B. Goldberg should never be allowed to write another episode on the show again.

Terminator the Sarah Connor Chronicles 2×06 The Tower is Tall But the Fall is Short episode review

Terminator the Sarah Connor Chronicles 2×06 The Tower is Tall But the Fall is Short is a weak episode at a time when the show needs a strong episode, worse yet it’s a weak episode that manages to collect most of the things wrong with Terminator the Sarah Connor Chronicles and pile them all up in one big bunch. From Connor’s moodiness, to a disposable Terminator of the week, to another pointless relationship, to treating time travel as something casual to more kid centered episodes, The Tower is Tall but The Fall is Short manages to get just about everything wrong.

Just about. Shirley Manson has improved well enough to turn in a quietly creepy performance as the T-1000 who is forced to play an inhuman mommy to a little girl who knows it isn’t her real mother. Shirley Manson isn’t quite good enough to sell it perfectly, but she does quite well. Unfortunately that seems to be an excuse to drag the Connor family, such as it is, to the shrink’s table. This shrink is a VA vet who is supposed to be amazingly insightful and yet when faced with a terrified little girl never once seems to suggest the idea of abuse. Finally he’s a target for Skynet and yet seems to be providing therapy to Skynet to make it more well adjusted. Apparently the idea is the doctor is trying to treat whatever made Skynet turn afraid and vicious making him a target for Skynet, it’s a somewhat interesting but ultimately too touchy feely idea in an episode filled with touchy feely ideas.

Meanwhile John, Derek and even Cameron have gotten on the therapy express pushing Sarah to do the shrink thing. Now this is a dark show set within a very dark universe, a universe of tough minded people who don’t spend their time in therapy, and it’s insulting that Terminator the Sarah Connor Chronicles 2×06 The Tower is Tall But the Fall is Short suddenly begins treating them as if they were characters on Ally McBeal. The final revelation that John killed a man for the first time and is all shook up over it is weak when you consider that John has spent his entire life on the run and in deadly battles. Yes he maybe didn’t kill anyone but in Terminator 2 he saw massive carnage and now he’s borderline suicidal because he had to kill an Armenian gangster who was attacking his mother? I don’t buy it and I doubt many viewers do.

Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles Goodbye To That 2×05 review

Once again with Goodbye To That 2×05, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles takes us through a world on the edge of an abyss, channeling that same end of the world angst that the James Cameron Terminator movies did so well, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles continues to excel at showcasing our world in its pre-apocalyptic stage.

Goodbye To That S2e05 picks up T3’s plot about Terminators going back in time to assassinate key members of the resistance, extending the temporal war further, as alerted to an assassination plot by a newspaper story about a murder of a man with the same name as Martin, a member of the resistance, Sarah Connor and Cameron scramble to protect a boy who also carries the same name while Derek and John run off to protect the real Martin.

There are continuing plot problems here, namely Sarah’s increasing willingness to put John at risk and take on Terminators with little to no realistic chance of defeating them. Some reviewers are griping about Derek being able to take out a Terminator, but that’s not unrealistic because if the Resistance couldn’t kill Terminators there wouldn’t be a resistance, just a bunch of corpses. Sarah’s nurturing side being stimulated is handled better in Goodbye To That then it was in last week’s Allison In Palmdale. Seemingly she’s being put through the stages, first with an unborn child and then a little boy, that may enable her to reconnect with John again.

But the strength of Goodbye To That lies in the military side, integrating Derek’s flashbacks and the real world waiting to intrude on a military school that is only preparing boys like Martin for the real war they will soon have to fight and the burden weighing on John Connor. It’s far darker than anything HBO is putting on and despite the sneers from Mania and IO9, it’s a better and more evocative show as the flashbacks build to the revelation that saving Martin’s life only enabled him to die in the war to come and that he died to save John Connor, turning the plot on its head as an assassination attempt indirectly aimed at John Connor himself. When Derek tells John, “We all die for you”, he reinforces his role once again as an unwilling savior for a world about to be destroyed while carrying the burden of humanity’s survival.

If Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles survives for several more seasons it will become a truly groundbreaking series. The writing is there. The acting is there. And the concept is there. It is ultimately the story of one man chosen before his time to save the world and the journey he takes to get there. It’s the ultimate Chosen story but without the prophecies and the only visions are of destruction. It’s the ultimate journey into the apocalypse that makes the fixations of SciFi shows like Babylon 5, DS9, BSG and Andromeda on turning their character into a chosen one seem childish by comparison.

Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles Allison from Palmdale 2×04 episode review

If Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles Allison from Palmdale 2×04 does nothing else it reminds us of why it and not cable favorites such as Dexter or FOX’s new favorite Fringe, is the darkest show on television and Cameron is the most disturbing character on a series that features a gun toting family running for their lives and routinely hijacking vehicles at gunpoint and turning civilian areas into war zones. And Allison from Palmdale s02e04 pushes that already disturbing line on Cameron, at once humanizing her and making her monstrous as losing her memory once again, she associates instead with the murdered girl whose identity she incorporated as part of becoming a Terminator.

Allison from Palmdale is a disturbing episode on many levels. On one level it shows how the Terminators were created, itself a valuable contribution to the Terminator canon, on another it shows us humans as another species being hunted to extinction by ruthless killers who always know exactly where to put the net and on a third it’s the story of a girl who was sent off to die despite fighting against it to the last and how her killer came to wear her face and how that killer is becoming something more now and something partly human. It’s the kind of thing Angel Season 5 might have tried for with FredIllyria but failed badly. Cameron succeeds quite disturbingly until by the end when she steps into the vehicle with John Connor you no longer know just exactly which Cameron you’re looking at, the evil one, the one who’s ruthlessly homicidal and yet has her softer moments or is there no real difference at all?

It’s Summer Glau’s performance that brings the different faces of Cameron and Allison Young herself to life, a girl still unborn but whose fate in a future cybernetic concentration camp has already been decided. She exemplifies the encompassing tragedy of Judgment Day and the terrible decisions that have to made for mankind to survive. It’s telling that the same people who embraced the self-conscious soap operas of Battlestar Galactica as “dark” have nothing but contempt for Terminator The Sarah Connor Chronicles, maybe because TSCC is what BSG would have been had it stayed true to its premise, the story of man as a hunted species in his darkest hour fighting to survive.

Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles Mousetrap 2×03 review

Ever since Cromartie’s head bounced out of the temporal event and into the future, he’s been an unspoken threat and a menace lurking in the background, a threat that exploded in the first season finale wiping out an FBI SWAT team and tearing holes in the lives of Charlie and Agent Ellison. In Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles Mousetrap 2×03, Cromartie brings the threat home by creating an elaborate mousetrap to catch John Connor.

Cromartie is Mousetrap’s strong suit, less the conventional T-800 Terminator and something closer to the T-1000, S2E03 Mousetrap demonstrates his ingenious ability to set a trap, operating at an inhuman level that makes him an eerie match for Cameron. Unfortunately his ingeniousness comes at the cost of rendering Sarah and John Connor into idiots playing out an idiot plot.

John Connor has gotten ridiculously whiny lately and Sarah Connor’s actions in this episode are completely out of character. Putting her son at risk twice in order to save Charlie’s wife would be bad enough, but going into a building with a Terminator inside backed by two humans, one of them holding a 9MM pistol is just laughable. Cromartie vandalizing their car instead of blowing them to hell is also a little dubious though justifiable as part of an overly complicated plot.

While Mousetrap is an appropriately dark episode, the heart of the series as of the original Terminator is the humans rather than the machines. And while the second season of Terminator The Sarah Connor Chronicles is doing a great job with the Terminators, it needs to step up its game when it comes to John and Sarah Connor.

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