Friday, April 10, 2009

Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles

Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles- Season 2

Note: This will NOT be a spoiler-free post.

I know I've only covered movies in my blog so far, but I watch television too, and there's plenty of good entertainment still on there. Besides, it's my blog, and I make the rules. Anyway, this is only a small departure from my usual subject matter because, after all, The Sarah Connor Chronicles is a show based on the Terminator movies. It can be confusing to those who are only mild fans of the movies, as it lies on a different timeline than the third and (upcoming) fourth movies.
I was skeptical about the potential of the show before it premiered. After all, the movies were rated R and were filled with brilliant action and awesome special effects. Those things can't be translated to the small screen; can they?
The first season proved that the concept would work on television. They simply alter the material to make it like a PG-13 film, and show the Connor family's continuing adventures that are hinted at in the movies. It takes place maybe five or so years after Terminator 2: Judgment Day, when Sarah Connor and her son John are on the run and constantly trying to stop Skynet from being built and Judgment Day from happening. Sarah is played by Lena Headey, who everyone knows from 300. John is played by Thomas Dekker, who most people will recognize from Heroes. Cameron is the Terminator, disguised as a young, hot girl, sent back through time to protect John. Cameron is brilliantly played by Firefly alum Summer Glau, and is definitely the favorite character of the series. Often the best part of a particular episode is something Cameron does or says. Other Terminators, all looking different from one another and none of them looking like Arnold Schwarzenegger, are sent back to do different jobs. There is always one that is looking for the Connors to kill them. The human resistance- led by a future John that we never see- also sends humans back through time. One of them happens to be Derek Reese, Kyle's brother. For everyone familiar with the mythology of the films, this means Derek is John's uncle. Derek is played by Brian Austin Green, who is best known for being engaged to Megan Fox in the real world. Season 1 ended with a car bomb blowing up with Cameron inside, leaving her fate unknown.
This season started out with the best episode of the series thus far. Cameron was not destroyed, but she was damaged, and she attempted to kill John. They fixed her, and continued their adventures. John met a girl at school, Riley, and fell in love with her. Cameron was jealous; Sarah disapproved. Eventually it was shown that Riley was from the future and her mission was to get John away from Cameron. Riley was killed by Jesse, Derek's girlfriend from the future. Derek then attempted to kill Jesse; whether or not he succeeded is unknown.
James Ellison, in the first season was an FBI agent. At the beginning of this season, he has seen enough evidence to believe the Connors' story and quits his job. He is slowly drawn to a big computer corporation looking to make the most advanced robots on the planet. The company is run by a Catherine Weaver, a Scottish woman that is more than she seems. It is revealed that Weaver died a while back, and a liquid metal Terminator has been living her life. Bringing in the liquid metal, made very popular in the second film, was a great addition to the show as it lured in more viewers and put a new spin on the show that is impossible to acheive with the limited run time of the movies. Garbage's lead singer Shirley Manson has a very impressive acting debut as Weaver.
While a good show, it is far from perfect, or even great television. For every exceptional episode that airs, a crappy weird one is also made. The show has just as many assets as it does pitfalls. Its strong points include John's new haircut, Cameron's faultiness, the aforementioned liquid metal Terminator, the episode where Sarah has to take care of a young boy targeted by machines, the origins of Cameron, the episode where a Terminator accidentally travels back to the 1920's, and a daytrip down to Mexico that turns deadly. Its weak points include the alien invasion episode, the sleep clinic episode, Sarah's unexplainable obsession with three dots, and the often creepy sexual tension between John and Cameron. The show's writers seem to write a lot of filler episodes, saving the good stuff for later, which is a good tactic to lose viewers quickly. The show's time slot being switched from Monday to Friday nights didn't help either.
Due to the writer's strike, season 1 was vastly shortened down to a pathetic nine episodes. Season 2 was given more or less a full season with twenty-two episodes. The extra time allowed for a lot more character development and free range for new characters to come, go and get killed. I would have to say that the second season was better, despite its obvious faults. The first season tried to bring viewers in by giving them exactly what they expected and wanted: lots of robots fighting in long action sequences. However, the second season excels by largely staying away from mindless sequences like that. (Although the occasional robot fight is thrown in, and it is always welcome.) The second season focused on a lot deeper issues that the first season was only able to briefly touch on: topics like the difference between computer intelligence and human wisdom, the role of religion in this death-filled sci-fi universe, young love and the yearning for a normal life, and above all, the connection between a mother and her child. It is when the show does quiet scenes with just two actors that its true colors come out, and it is that aspect of it that brought me back to watch it week after week, even on the awkward Friday night time slot.
As for the season finale, it was actually kind of a letdown, except for the last five minutes, in which Sarah and John are separated, potentially forever. The second-to-last episode was actually much better, in which Savannah, Weaver's young daughter is targeted and saved by the Connors. Derek is killed (who saw THAT one coming?!) and Sarah is arrested by police, leaving John alone with Cameron. In the finale, they attack the police station and free Sarah and visit Weaver. Surprisingly, she is a benevolent Terminator that apparently has been programmed to help the Connors. Cameron finds John Henry and removes her own chip and gives it to him. (If you haven't been watching, John Henry was a Terminator trying to kill John before they destroyed his chip. But, his super-advanced body was stolen by Ellison and experimented on by Weaver and her company. They were training it to be a good Terminator that could help the world, not kill people.) They have also apparently built a time-travel device in the basement of the building (that, conveniently, has never been mentioned before). John Henry used it to travel through time, so Weaver and John follow him. Sarah refuses to go; she stays in the present with Ellison. When they arrive, John finds out he is in the apocalyptic war-torn future where, in a Pulp Fiction-like twist, Derek is alive, and he gets to meet his father Kyle for the first time.
The whole thing was obviously a set-up for the third season. Well, more like a promise for what the third season could potentially hold. The show's ratings have been dropping steadily and it is very possible that it will not be renewed for a third season. The episode that aired tonight would have been a very disappointing series finale.
So, if you have not watched the show, take a look at it online. If enough interest is built, Fox may decide not to cancel it and bring it back. The show is fun to watch and the Terminator story is very relevant to today, as it could plausibly happen that humans could be at war with the machines we make.
One final note: has anyone else noticed that they never actually say the word 'Terminator' in the show except when referring to the title? They always say 'cyborg' or 'robot,' or 'metal,' the future people's nickname for all things robotic. My guess is that this is a legal thing; the show's producers don't own the rights to the word. But the show is being produced by the same company that is making Terminator: Salvation, the next film in the franchise. Does that mean they won't be able to say 'Terminator' in the movie either? This is mildly annoying and I hope it's a problem they can fix. It's hard to fight an epic war with an enemy when you can't even say their name.

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