TERMINATOR The Sarah Conner Chronicles Season 2 Premiere Review

     September 2, 2008

Written by Charlie Mihelich

The “Terminator” series sure has a lot of continuity issues to answer for. The first and second films fit nicely with each other, but the third film came alone and preemptively killed off the badass heroine with only a mention of her cause of death; lung cancer. As a big fan of the canon, I’ve always had mixed feelings about “Rise of the Machines”, but I never disliked it enough to feel its contribution to the story should be wiped out of existence completely. Obviously, somebody disagreed and felt there was a lot more Sarah Connor could contribute to the legend, so they brought her back from the dead, moved Judgment Day back from 2003 to 2009, lowered John Connor’s age from 21 to 16, recast Sarah Connor (formerly played by the iconic Linda Hamilton, now played by the talented but not as fierce Lena Headey), and ditched Arnold in favor of Summer Glau as the good Terminator, and then moved forward as if everything was all good. Now we’ve got the fourth film looming in the distance, and there’s no word on which story thread it will continue (except it’s obviously after Judgment Day, meaning the characters in this version aren’t exactly successful in the “war against SkyNet”), so needless to say there is a bit of confusion.

Luckily, the show isn’t all that bad. It provides a serviceable body count and some set-piece action sequences, and it revisits characters from “T2” and “T1” that you may have forgotten (obviously these have all been recast too) that make you say, “oh yeah, that guy!”. The story is decent, though it tends to want to be all things to all people, skewing to a far too wide demographic to be likeable through and through. One minute it’s a teenage soap opera (John Connor apparently has time to go to school), another it’s a CSI style drama, and it spends entirely too much time waxing philosophical about faith (one character asks “Do you know the Book of Revelations?”, to which another replies that he does not, so the first character explains the apocalypse by quoting a Johnny Cash song. Really, though, who doesn’t know the gist of the Book of Revelations?), Jesus, the resurrection, the apocalypse and so on. When it finally stops messing around and gets down to business, it can be a pretty wild ride.

The first season ended rather abruptly after the Cromartie/SWAT team shootout (set to the above-mentioned Johnny Cash song and playing out more like a synchronized swimming performance than a bloodbath, in an odd move) and Cameron’s extra-crispy car ride, which I’m told was never the intention. Given that television production is complicated, I won’t even begin to try to explain why it happened the way it happened, let’s just say that the cliffhanger ending to Season 1 was never supposed to be so cliffhanger-y. Season 2 begins immediately after the end of the season finale, and ties up the loose ends that were left hanging.

I’m going to do everything I can to make sure this review is spoiler-free, so some of what I’m about to say may seem sort of vague. When Cameron emerges from the wreckages of the blown-up car, she’s a little different than before, and John, Sarah, and Derek have a whole new set of problems to deal with before the end of the episode. Ellison must answer for the SWAT team slaughter and explain why he is the only survivor, and Charley gets deeper and deeper into the bizarre world that Sarah Connor has created for herself and her family. That’s all I’m going to say as far as plot goes. You’re going to see some things you didn’t expect, and I don’t want to ruin any of them for you.

It’s hard for me to know what exactly you’re going to see when the episode airs. I watched a screener copy in which the CGI footage was mostly complete but the sound was not, which really revealed to me how valuable sound mixers are for post-production. I will try to deal only with the finished product, because it’s obviously unfair to criticize anything that exists only in the version I’m seeing.

What I will say is that the first ten minutes of the episode are very strange. It must be six minutes before anyone utters a line of dialogue, and it plays out in this bizarre combination of slow motion and regular speed, and it really made me feel as though there was no sense of danger or urgency. Obviously, part of that could be that I’m watching a television show in which I know the main characters can’t die if the network orders more episodes, so anytime said main characters are in danger, I twiddle my thumbs until they inevitably overcome their dire circumstances.

The episode also feels very, I don’t know, “episodic”, which is strange for a television show. Series are supposed to be episodic, no doubt, but when a single episode plays out in vignettes that proceed with no transition or context, it really feels like a lot was crammed into the forty-three minute runtime. There were also some interesting musical choices, but I have no idea how much of it will make it into the final cut.

“Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles” is a decent show that provides an entertaining hour of television and is certainly the only show about unstoppable killer robots around, so I suppose it deserves bonus points for that. What I’d like to see is the kind of crescendo that James Cameron employed in “Terminator 2”, because he understood what makes an epic feel epic. It should build from a whimper to a bang, with a kind of no turning back, balls to the wall inferno of apocalyptic mayhem that makes people believe they are watching the end of the world. It’s a difficult thing to do in this case, because we know Judgment Day won’t happen until the ratings drop (or worse, they might just dump the show mid-season of whatever season it survives until if they drop low enough), which means we know the end but someone has to fill in the middle, and eventually they’re going to run out of things to stuff in there.


Terminator: The Sarah Conner Chronicles returns September 8th on FOX

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