Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles returns with its second episode of its second season that goes deeper into the show’s apocalyptic mythos as a dying resistance fighter arrives from the future carrying an inscrutable message warning them to stop Greenway, an employee at a nuclear power plant taken by the resistance that serves as its base of operations. With a beginning that has Sarah Connor dismissing faith, Cameron warning John that some unspoken “They” will not be happy with him for risking his life to save her and ends with bloody writing on the wall and Skynet positioned to control six nuclear power plants, as the resistance and Sarah have failed, while Sarah may also have contracted the dose of radiation that will become her cancer.
Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles Automatic for the People 2×02 is not an altogether grim episode, in ways beyond the REM reference in its title. It is however probably the darkest vision now on network television. It’s really clear now that things have moved beyond the old “Send someone to savekill John” premise of Terminator into an all out temporal war with both sides conducting deep cover operations in the past to prepare for victory in the future. And Sarah and John Connor are out of the loop.
As John begins the familiar struggle with his destiny, he encounters Riley, a girl with her own problems, whom he forms a bond with. Some viewers will again complain why John is in school, a short answer is that he needs to be socialized if he’s going to lead a human resistance. A loner who’s rarely been around anyone except his mother and a fembot might know strategy and tactics, but he will lack the ability to relate to and command people. John’s isolation has already caused him to depend emotionally on Cameron in ways that are unhealthy. But what should be a normal teenage relationship instead has ominous notes, as John gives Riley the signal to call him so that he will know it is her, and human. And that in a nutshell is Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles.
Relying on the apocalyptic themes inherent in the Terminator movies and the name Judgment Day, it was pretty clear that the Terminator writers and producers were bent on introducing some religious themes into Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles. The second season premiere of Terminator the Sarah Connor Chronicles s2e01 Samson and Delilah takes that to a whole new level with an overriding theme of John Connor as Samson and Cameron as his Delilah, unpredictable and capable of betraying him at any moment and destroying the promise of his leadership. Then of course the episode proceeds to muddle this fairly simple analogy with references to resurrection and Babylon that seem like a stretch even on a good day.
Still Samson and Delilah 2×01 kicks off the season in a good way with Cameron’s unexpected transformation from rescuer to relentless killer in a prolonged chase that brings the Connors closer to death than they have ever been on the series so far, arguably even on the pilot. With all the developing plots things have been a little too comfortable for the Connors in Season 1 of the Sarah Connor Chronicles and this episode introduces a major corporate villain, a deadly new terminator and the danger that Cameron herself poses as an unpredictable variable.
Shirley Manson’s appearance will be getting a lot of attention, but from her native Scottish accent and awkward acting, she’s mainly a distraction next to the qualified actors. Aside from the whole joke of a Scottish terminator, already a very poor disguise, Manson’s performance is creepy but the wrong kind of creepy altogether. And while the urinal scene is shocking, between the obvious sexual metaphor and the silliness of, it toes the line of jumping the shark. Still a T-1000 has some major potential as an antagonist that can’t be easily killed, and with the Turk in corporate hands, and the battle between the Resistance and Skynet having moved into the past as Skynet sends its Terminators back in time to make sure that it is “born”, season 2 of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles has the potential for some serious drama.
The Sarah Connor Chronicles s1e09 What He Beheld was supposed to be originally named, The Man Comes Around, a much better name and one that more directly references both the shocking showdown at the motel and the song that plays during it, reminiscent of Battlestar Galactica’s third season finale. It’s an unexpected and inconvenient season finale, ending on a cliffhanger for a series that may not come back (start sending out your candy bars or lipstick or tight present or whatever to FOX now) but a strong episode nonetheless.
From the opening in 2011 as the world ends on Judgment Day to the confrontation with a new enemy to the rise of a new Terminator, What He Beheld is a strong episode that is at times too scattered but has more than enough worthwhile material to see it through. It is ironic that What He Beheld is a much more convincing depiction of a world drifting toward apocalypse then T3 ever was, even though T3 actually ended with nuclear blasts. Yet The Sarah Connor Chronicles has captured the first Terminator movie’s sense of oncoming oblivion.
The Armenian confrontation over the Turk (note the little genocidal pun here and the dark humor in making a genocidal joke in an episode that deals with the extinction of humanity) wanders a bit aimlessly, though the key villain of the East Enders makes for an appropriately nasty foe and it gives Cameron a chance to cut loose and show what she can do when going up against humans, smashing through walls, casually spotting an enemy, killing him and plopping him in his own trunk. Despite all the grim moments it’s easy to forget that Cameron is a terminator but the body in the trunk helps remind us of what she really is.
When Agent Ellison finally goes to the wall, the image of John Connor standing next to the dinosaurs and all the apocalyptic references to war and extinction come together as What He Beheld, instead of showing a Terminator 2 style killfest, instead shows one body after another plummeting into the motel pool until the waters grow red and dark. It’s an understated and yet horrifyingly devastating image and for the first time, all too belatedly, The Sarah Connor Chronicles has a Terminator worthy of the name.
The Sarah Connor Chronicles s1e08 ushers in the first half of the season finale and hopefully not the series finale of the series. Entertainment Weekly is giving it grief for being little more than two back to back episodes, but that’s exactly what they are, two episodes that were shot and completed before the writer’s strike when FOX decided to bow the series out for the season in favor of crap like Canterbury’s Law (canceled in 3 episodes) or Unhitched (canceled in 8). That said Vick’s Chip is still a pretty intriguing episode.
Throughout its run The Sarah Connor Chronicles has been redefining the parameters of the Terminator universe and a large part of that has meant transforming the series universe’s time travel from an emergency tool to an extension of the war happening in the future. Vick’s Chip broadens that even further to show a Terminator 888 actually functioning as an enemy agent, living undercover with a woman and marrying her in order to take control of another predecessor system for Skynet, a traffic control system. This is particularly plausible in light of the end of the Cold War and the need to expand Skynet beyond a simple military system.
Cameron continues to play an enigmatic role, beginning with the revelation that she bogarted the chip and ending with her trusting John Connor enough to let him turn her off and hook her chip into the LA traffic control system and in between experimenting with seduction and quickly substituting a student for John, when Cromartie comes calling at the school. Cromartie meanwhile has become the show’s first real enemy Terminator whom you could take seriously in a league with the movie terminators.
It would be hard if not nearly impossible to properly follow up TSCC 1×06 Dungeons and Dragons and while The Demon Hand s1e07 is not nearly as strong an episode as D&D was, it makes for a good lead in to the season finale and hopefully not the series finale of The Sarah Connor Chronicles, setting the different elements in play. From Derek Reese and Cameron both operating on their own hidden agendas to the contrast between Cameron and Sarah Connor and the difference between having a soul and not having a soul, The Demon Hand sets up some interesting blocks that the finale will either build up or tear down.
Going further in exploring and in the process creating a canon for Terminator that most never even really knew it had, The Demon Hand brings back Sarah Connor’s psychiatrist from Terminator 2, Dr. Silverman, as a reborn fanatic who has mixed the Terminators together with the Book of Revelations to produce some quasi cultic belief system that treats Sarah Connor as Jesus. Of course by calling the apocalypse wrought by Skynet, Judgment Day, Terminator was always asking for a religious interpretation and Silverman seems to suggest that there are more like him out there.
Meanwhile Cameron seems to be following her curiosity about humans while coldly manipulating the Russian ballet teacher and her brother and then leaving them to die when she got the information she needed. And yet the closing of the episode that has her slowly performing ballet routines in seeming search of the language of the soul is a disturbing reminder that she has aspirations to be human with none of the human compassion and empathy that Sarah Connor demonstrated when she saved Agent Ellison from the fire, even though he had been hunting her.
As an interesting side note, Demon with a Glass Hand was one of the Outer Limits episodes that Harlan Ellison claimed inspired Terminator.
Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles Dungeons and Dragons 1×06 is an episode with a stupid name but is probably the best episode of the series and considering that it is only the sixth episode of the series and that there is stiff competition for the title, that alone is a definite credit to the series and makes you regret that this season of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles will only have nine episodes. Hopefully Fox will renew TSCC instead of doing something stupid and replacing it with another New Amsterdam.
I wouldn’t have ever thought an episode centering on Brian Austin Green of all people would be the stand out episode of the series but Dungeons and Dragons is, from its grim depiction of the totalitarian future under Skynet in which men live like rats in the walls of a shattered Los Angeles to the brief yet sharp edged character interactions in the present between Sarah Connor and her ex, Cameron and John Connor, Dungeons and Dragons in one viewing sums up why this series is so good and it’s the episode you should be showing people to make them see it too.
Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles Dungeons and Dragons was done on a TV budget but it still stands out for the future scenes, for the desperation and paranoia of the chained prisoners in the mansions, for the presence of Andy Goode lying on the floor and confessing to being responsible for destroying the world, for the desperation and hopelessness, for that scrap of burned photograph and for the poignant hope of a gateway into the past and a chance to save the world.
Aside from making the dubious choice to revive Brian Austin Green’s career, The Queen’s Gambit is another strong episode from The Sarah Connor Chronicles that follows up its previous strongest episode, The Turk. The Queen’s Gambit though is less about the choices you make and more about how those choices spin out of control.
The Queen’s Gambit begins with Sarah Connor doing chin ups, a scene that’s repeated throughout the episode, along with a ridiculous takedown of Reese, that seems to be apologizing because Lena Headley isn’t up there with Linda Hamilton in Terminator 2 Judgment Day in the muscles department. But on the larger scale The Queen’s Gambit is the closest that The Sarah Connor Chronicles comes to spinning out a canon based on 2-3 Terminator movies.
The Queen’s Gambit includes the chip removal that was a deleted scene in Terminator 2 Judgment Day as a way of disabling a Terminator and the arrival of Reese’s brother from the first Terminator movie. Sarah Connor is in many ways emotionally all over the place but that may be deliberate to allow John Connor to slowly emerge as the real leader, which he seems to be slowly and methodically doing. Summer Glau’s Cameron still wavers unnervingly between childishly open and yet possessed of a hidden agenda, which makes her the likeliest to have killed Andy and taken the Turk.
Since each Sarah Connor Chronicles episode seems to begin with a philosophical framework and the philosophical framework for episode S1e04 Heavy Metal is the Golem, a clay manikin brought to life to serve its master for good or ill. This continues the theme that lifts Summer Glau’s Tin Man or Tin Woman above the somewhat Small Wonderish material at times (and she is a dead ringer for Vicky) as a being with her own unknown agenda.
Heavy Metal, as an episode, isn’t quite up there with the previous The Turk but the story is evolving and Sarah Connor Chronicles is doing something interesting to the Terminator universe. No longer are Terminators just rare attackers sent back at great expense to save or kill the leader of the human resistance but they along with the resistance are now setting the stage for a war and even fighting each other in the past. T3 Rise of the Machines really opened the door to this when it showed the terminatrix assassinating future members of the resistance, Sarah Connor Chronicles goes one step further by showing an actual war building backward in time. This of course makes destroying Skynet that much more complicated.
Heavy Metal continues The Turk’s growth for John Connor as a resistance leader, showing him breaking into the truck carrying the metal bars that can be made into the framework of terminators, taking out a guard and showing leadership skills by talking the guard down. It’s a far more plausible John Connor than Nick Stahl’s whimpy whiny loner who seemed to have very little skills. As Sarah Connor emphasizes when she begins giving her son instructions, this is a mother and son team who can survive on their own. Glau’s Terminator’s final ambiguous scene, looking down at the single bar is unclear. It can be viewed in the reproductive sense for a female terminator, a single potential terminator. It can be viewed as her own attempt to insure her own future, since she was made in that factory and may have damaged her ability to be created. Or something more sinister.
After the rather anemic Gnothi Seauton, The Turk is a welcome promise of the potential of The Sarah Connor Chronicles, the show I dubbed as the most promising new series of the season when I first saw the pilot. The Turk is coherent where Gnoti Seauton was a mess and it’s intelligent, suspensefull and disturbing, all the things that The Sarah Connor Chronicles needs to be to be a truly great TV series.
The Turk brings the reality of Sarah Connor’s war to prevent Skynet from being born home as a morally ambiguous campaign that may itself be hopeless. After all if even the former Cyberdyne internet who sells cell phones is really harboring an AI in his closet, how can anything stop Skynet from being born. Sarah Connor also brings more complex reserves and abilities into play here, manipulating her target and playing spy.
A lot of people have been condemning John Connor going to school as a silly plot and on a certain level it doesn’t make sense, but the other side of the coin is that a teenage boy not in school is more conspicuous than one who is and if he’s going to lead the Resistance, he needs to be able to handle and take control of the kind of gregarious social environment he’s going to encounter in school or at work. Keeping him at home won’t prepare him to save mankind. And indeed in The Turk, unlike T3, John Connor begins to show the the attitude and calculation that suggest he may be the man we need, from interrogating his mother about the AI to trying to save the suicidal girl and arguing with his mother that we don’t need to be like them, this puts Sarah Connor Chronicles on track to emerge as John Connor’s version of Smallville.
Meanwhile The Turk turns a sow’s ear into a silk purse by taking the female terminator’s sudden revert to robotlike behavior in Gnothi Seauton when she was quite real and humanlike in the pilot, as something more complicated and buried with a deeper agenda. “I fooled you”, makes it rather obvious that the machine like behavior is itself a pose. The reasons are unclear but one explanation for such behavior in school is that in the pilot she was supposed to blend in, alongside John Connor though she’s supposed to stand out to make him look normal by comparison and to allow her to intervene when she has to, as she did during the suicide scene, without stepping out of character. By being a “freak”, she can also be invisible and not draw attention to herself because weird behavior would already be in character for her.
Well with the Sarah Connor Chronicles pilot done, Gnothi Seauton comes along to prove that no Sarah Connor Chronicles can’t quite sustain the pilot’s momentum. Where the pilot was laser focused, Gnothi Seauton is an uneven mix wandering far and wide without any real point to a lot of it. Gnothi Seauton touches on some realistic issues as Sarah Connor tries to find new ID’s and copes with the world of 2007, a world where she’s dying, which is another notable attempt by Sarah Connor Chronicles to bring the series in line with the movies. Unfortunately half of it is driven by an idiot plot that involves John Connor doing stupid things to bring police attention to himself while the Summer Glau Terminator and Sarah Connor do stupid things to bring Skynet’s attention to themselves. There are some good moments, all invariably centering on Summer Glau’s eerily distant Terminator, but Gnothi Seauton is inescapably a weak episode in a series that needs better.