Sarah Connors -
Cameron Phillips -
John Connor -
Agent Ellison -
Richard T Jones
Derek Reese -
Brian Austin Green
Catherine Weaver -
OTHER SARAH CONNOR SEASONS
OTHER TIME TRAVEL SHOWS
It's two years since Sarah Connor, her son John, computer scientist Miles Dyson and an unnamed terminator destroyed the technology that would later be used to build the Skynet defence system that would bring about the apocalypse and start a war against the humans (all of which is told in TERMINATOR 2:JUDGEMENT DAY). Now the killer cyborgs are back on the trail of Sarah and John and they are closer than ever.
Someone will succeed in building Skynet only a few years later and so the future has not been derailed, only delayed. A female terminator has been sent back to not only protect future saviour of the human race John, but to take them forward in time to the present day so that they can track down the new mind behind the new Skynet and try once again to forestall the end of human civilisation.
THE TERMINATOR burst on an unsuspecting public and made the careers of both director James Cameron and star Arnold Schwarzenegger, both of whom went on to make the bigger, bolder (though not necessarily better) sequel that events in this opening episode follow. There is the inevitable delivery of backstory (this carried out by an FBI agent explaining to a man why his girlfriend just ran out on him) that is as clumsy as it is annoying to anyone who is familiar with the films. This, however, is sandwiched between chunks of solid action that take the place of any sort of coherent plot. Terminator arrives, shoots the place up and the Connors get away. Terminator shows up again and... well you get the idea.
This being the pilot, it is unfair to judge the show too harshly, but considering that there is a sizeable amount of story to get across, it is surprising how much of the time is spent on running around, shooting and blowing things up. If this is setting the standard for the rest of the series then those wanting a bit thought with their destruction might have to go elsewhere.
Lena Headey makes for a convincingly complex Sarah Connor, driven and hard, but at the same time very much the loving mother. She's harsh because she has to be. Summer Glau is the go-to-girl for kick ass action following SERENITY and manages to give an impression of a Terminator, but is still too soft and human. She is, after all, 'different' from the other models. Thomas Dekker is the one that comes off worst, his John Connor making little impact in this first hour.
If action-driven destructive sci-fi is your thing then TERMINATOR:THE SARAH CONNOR CHRONICLES is looking very much the business. If something a little more subtle than a sledgehammer is what you're after then it possibly isn't.
Now in the present after an 8 year time jump, Sarah, John and Cameron are in need of new fake papers. Luckily, Sarah knows a few people. So does Cameron, revealing that there are freedom fighters sent back in time by John working in the city. When they pay a visit to one of the safe houses, however, they find that there are also terminators carrying out tasks that have nothing to do with the assassination of John. They also learn that even friends cannot always be trusted.
This second episode is not quite as action-fuelled as the Pilot, but it does have one cyborg on cyborg kick fest to be getting on with.
The main flesh of the rest of the plot is to do with coming to terms with the present and the situation that they find themselves in. Firstly, John finds out how far out of step he now is with his new world. His mother realises that the people she once knew and counted on are no longer familiar to her. The shock of learning that the time jump was made not to save John from the termnators, but to ensure that Sarah has enough time to achieve her goals before she dies of cancer is a brave and brilliantly-played twist that elevates the show immediately in our estimation and shows why Lena Headey was a wise choice for the casting of the lead role.
The show does seriously trip itself up, however, by having the head of the terminator that nearly caught them in the bank fly through the time shift. That is not, in itself, so bad, but the fact that the body has been lying in a junkyard in perfect condition unnoticed is absolute nonsense, especially as it must surely have been found at the bank in the aftermath of the time jump. That the body can then be reactivated and wander around remotely controlled by a head that is miles away is hilariously bad. How does the body see or the head see remotely to control it? Our minds boggled somewhat at the whole idea and wondered why it was even necessary when the episode had already established that there were terminators in the present anyway. Fortunately, there is enough good stuff going on elsewhere for this to not completely destroy everything.Top
Sarah turns her attention to the search for Skynet. The support team that were wiped out before they could be contacted were actually a Skynet detection team and their clues lead her to a mobile phone salesman who just happens to have invented an artificial intelligence system that seems capable of learning from its own mistakes. John and Cameron, meanwhile, are trying to adjust to a new school where they don't know the social rules, something that brings John into conflict with his mother when he is prevented from helping a would-be suicide.
The terminator whose head came through the time rift has also been busy. It's stolen all the blood that it needs to create a new covering to its body. All it needs now is a scientific genius who is amoral enough to help it.
After the relatively high action quotient of the opening two episodes, this one really slows things down to a crawl. Very little plot progression takes place at all in terms of the good guys, with all the emphasis going into the morality of their situation and task. Sarah is asked by Miles Dyson's widow whether the man she just identified as being known to her husband has to die now. John is incandescent that the fact he has to keep a low profile means he can't help people and Sarah herself struggles with the right and wrong of what she is doing, obssessing over memories and dreams of the scientists who built the first atomic weapons.
The acting remains quite strong and the character-driven nature of the episode allows that to show, but it also allows it to be a little dull. Summer Glau's Cameron is also not fully convincing as her programming makes her seem more like an imbecile than simply unfamiliar with the ways of humans. Surely her programming would have been a bit better than this.
The special effects are excellent with Sarah's opening encounter with a roomful of terminators being brilliantly realised.Top
During her nocturnal researches (she doesn't sleep), Cameron has turned up the evidence that proves Cromarty, the terminator from the past, has managed to succeed in following them into the present. He is currently stocking up on a supply of a special alloy from which an army of terminators can be fashioned. John wants to take the fight to the enemy this time, but finds himself trapped on the inside of a bomb shelter with a terminator whilst his mother and Cameron desperately try to track him down.
This is much more like it. A TV version of THE TERMINATOR ought to have more action that last week's The Turk and thankfully this one does. It starts as an investigation into the meaning of the shipment of metal, turns into a race against time tale and then comes up with a showdown. The final fight between Cameron and the other terminator is a bit of let down, but at least it is there.
The plot strand with Cromarty getting himself together and now a new face has moved on from the initial silliness and started a slow burn to the inevitable season conclusion. That the clues expected to lead to him don't actually go anywhere near him, but to an entirely different conspiracy is quite nicely random.Top
Andy, the inventor of the system that might one day become Skynet has rebuilt it after it burned down (see The Turk) and is taking it to an international chess championship of computers, the winning prize being a military contract to develop the system further. Sarah believes that she will finally have to kill the man, but someone gets there first, someone who might be blood relation to John and someone who has just been arrested. It's time to arrange a jailbreak, but they are not the only ones chasing the man.
The show has finally hit its stride and is confidently moving forward. The story here is pared down to essentials, starting off with a slow burn and then morphing into a full action story that takes us in a couple of unexpected directions.
The strong plot and acting takes the emphasis off the action that is Ok, but far removed from the intense spectacle that we are used to from the films and so seems much less than it actually is.Top
Dungeons and Dragons
John brings Charlie, Sarah's brief one-time fiance to the house to save John's uncle. This means that he is exposed to the truth about Sarah and about the future. As he battles for his life, Derek relives the events that would bring him back to what we know as the present.
This is a tightly plotted and tautly acted episode. The present day section is all about the emotional tensions running through the Connor household. There's the unresolved tensions between Sarah and Charlie, Charlie's coming to terms with the truth, the threat that both men represent to Cameron, Derek's antipathy towards the terminator and it's all bubbling away below the surface, well-scripted and very well played by all involved.
Then there's the future section in which Derek Reese is captured by Skynet, tortured and learns (he thinks) how to save the future. The TV show can't possibly hold a candle to the kind of movie budget that was lavished on the movies (especially 2 and 3), but the future is impressively realised, brutal and dark.
TERMINATOR:THE SARAH CONNOR CHRONICLES is improving steadily and we look forward to the next episode.Top
The Demon Hand
Cameron fails to regain the terminator hand severed in the action whilst retrieving John's uncle from the police. That is now in the hand of Agent Ellison who is himself on the trail of the psychiatrist that treated Sarah whilst she was in a mental institution. Sarah sets out to regain the hand herself and sends Cameron to find the russian who stole the Turk.
The main plot gets back underway in an episode that is both self-contained in the hunt for the hand and moves the main plot forward, the Turk computer that wants to grow up and be Skynet having already been sold to another party, but this is still all about the characters. Sarah is forced to face a hard time from her past and decisions that she made then. John has to learn that all humans have limits and love allows all whilst Derek Reese has to wonder about his prejudice against the machines and the lingering effects of what they did to him in the future (the truth of which we are sure is yet to become important).
The writing continues to be good and the cast make the most of it. The contrast between Sarah and Cameron is neatly portrayed in how they deal with their opponents in dangerous situations. Cameron's response is chilling in its inhumanity. Summer Glau does get a killer opening, however, as she appears in motorcycle cop disguise to disable the power and infiltrate a police station. It's a classic Terminator moment (without the guns and destruction).
The run of quality drama continues.Top
Derek Reese finds that Cameron has hidden the chip taken from the terminator that was destroyed in his breakout. John accesses the chip and learns that the LA city traffic management system is a perfect fit for starting up Skynet along with the stolen supercomputer, the Turk. When an attack on City Hall fails, John has to take Cameron's chip out and use it in an attempt to destroy the network without destroying Cameron's programming.
The plotline of this episode is a bit contrived to make all the pieces fall into the laps of the heroes. Cameron has to save the chip (whose side is she really on?), they have to decide to look at what's on the chip, they have to go in search of a woman whom they know to be dead so that they can discover that it's another woman and thus track down the truth about the whole LA road control system. It doesn't quite hold together as a whole with too many coincidences and dodgy decisions being made. That said, none of it really matters as the narrative pushes itself along with enough force for the audience to forget that, the continued undercurrents around Cameron's allegiances stir uneasily and it's a nice turnaround that the attack on City Hall fails so miserably, setting up a finale that is a little anticlimactic.
Most importantly, every part is being played will full conviction and that makes the whole thing so convincing even when the plot doesn't hang together quite so well.Top
What He Beheld
Now that she knows the name of the man who has the Turk, Sarah tries to buy it back. When that fails she tries to take it back. The dealer ends up dead, or does he? Cromarty, the terminator tracking John, is cornered by Agent Ellison, but responds by taking out the entire SWAT team. It's John's birthday. He gets to see his dad and Cameron learns the meaning of the phrase 'car bomb'.
Season 1 comes to a crashing halt thanks to the writers strike that struck Hollywood in the middle of it, but this makes for a terrific cliffhanger. Cameron's a terminator so we know that she's going to walk out of the explosion, but what's going to happen to Sarah and John in the meantime? We want to know and the series cannot get cancelled during the strike. It has to come back.
What has been so good about the show is the strength of the characters and that shows again here. The plot is essentially about their humanity and the struggle to keep a hold onto it throughout their battle. The scene in which Derek takes John to see his father as a child playing in the park is extremely powerful and underlines everything that they are fighting for. It defines Derek as a character and humanises him a bit.
We're cheated of the one good action sequence as the SWAT team are destroyed by a single terminator, this being shot from the viewpoint of the bottom of the pool into which the bloodied bodies fall. This might have seemed an interesting and artful slant, but it does rob the scene of its impact entirely.
Now we just have to sit back and wait for the rest of the season to appear.Top
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