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TV Shows that Deserved Better: Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles

terminator-the-sarah-connor-chronicles-logoAlong came a show on January 13, 2008 about a machine built to extinguish human life yet reprogrammed to safeguard a single life, a life destined to save humanity. Before the machine was “skinned” and acquired a stolen identity, it had to interrogate a girl, a Resistance soldier from Palmdale, California named Alison Young. After her betrayal of The Resistance and death, her only remnant was her executioner that now wore her face, spoke in her voice and possessed an exact replica of her body. Dubbed Cameron Philips (Summer Glau), she quickly became the most intriguing character of the deceased Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles television show. Sarah Connor (Lean Headey) was softened, made less unhinged, less physically fit than her previous Terminator 2: Judgment Day incarnation but was still as overprotective and determined to safeguard her son, John Connor (Thomas Dekker)’s life. That savior (humanities’ savior) was now imbued with an IT professionals’ level of technological savvy when it came to computers. Season One of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles was all about The Connors vs. Cromartie (Owain Yeoman, Garret Dillahunt), a Terminator model T-888, while avoiding the pesky and persistent Federal Bureau of Investigation, led by Special Agent Ellison (Richard T. Jones). Seeing Cameron, a Terminator whose model number is never revealed, in high school during Season One was hilarious. I wish John’s friend had asked her to prom (or a dance) like he said he wanted to. Imagine him slow dancing with Cameron and eventually trying to “put the moves” on her. What would her response have been? I’m guessing something comical. With the introduction of Derek Reese (Brian Austin Green) during that season came a whole new component to Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles: visions of the future, The Resistance and more complexity to the show.

Season One ended with an off-screen, BS Cromartie / FBI fight, a screenwriter cop-out, and Cameron being blown up, causing the damage to her chip in Season Two and her subsequent evolution. Cameron turning killer in Season Two was one of the best moments coupled with her begging John, that she knew he loved her and that she loved him. This moment served to heighten his sexual attraction (and tension) to Cameron and made their bond that much more complicated. Goram, this really makes me lament no Season Three more than anything. Season Two of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles housed some of the best character development for the cast along with the addition of the T-1001 disguised as Catherine Weaver (Shirley Manson), Jesse Flores (Stephanie Jacobsen), Derek’s old Resistance flame from the future, Riley Dawson (Leven Rambin) coupled with her mission and true purpose, Cameron’s aforementioned damaged chip, Sarah killing someone for the first time, John losing his virginity, Cameron’s damaged forearm and subsequent twitch there after, and her human agitation with Ellison in the final episode, which John knew was impossible or so Cameron tried to remind him.

Then there was the Season Two finale, which turned out to be the series finale, filled with moments and cliffhangers that begged exploration in a following season. “You lying bitch.” Unfortunately, Fox did not see the inner light that shined out from this show. Their eyes, long-term network programming logistics, time and time again, have proven to be short-sighted.

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Many have written off Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles as not being as good as the feature films Terminator and Terminator 2: Judgment Day. How could it ever have been that well constructed? It was restricted of content by virtue of being on network television during primetime. Director James Cameron had no involvement with the show once-so-ever. He did not write the scripts, oversee the production yet they expected it to be as good as the films he sheparded. They were expecting too much and got exactly what they expecting, something not as good as Terminator and Terminator 2: Judgment Day, a clear example of self-fulfilling prophecy, proclamation, whatever one wishes to call it.

Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles was in no way perfect and sometimes tripped over its own good intentions and established mythos of the James Cameron films. Cromatie’s head, unskinned, every inch metallic, came through the team portal with Cameron and the Connors to the future. How was that possible? It was established in Terminator that nothing dead could ever be transported. Hmmm. Second, I always found it strange that John never mentioned the first Terminator sent to protect him, the T-850 model 101. That particular Terminator was one of the only father figures in his life, a creation that died for him, and he never even referred to it once while talking to Cameron (something like: “You’re not the only Terminator that’s protected me. There was another before you.” Then Cameron could have retorted: “I know. You’ve talked about him in the future.”) or about the past. Third, people that should have been killed, like Agent Ellison at the end of Season One, were left alive for seasons that defied most logic arguments to the latter.

What Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles did accomplish was to effectively show aspects of The Resistance (and their logistics, something never seen before), the world they inhabit, and the evolution of The Terminator itself. Audiences were also shown what being on the run had done to the Connors and what a burden pre-destination could be. Biological warfare, the use of nuclear submarines, the jargon coined by the series: T-888 aka Triple 8s aka Trip 8s, Metal, Scrubbing, Monkey Wagon and J-Day were all terms brought from the future back to the present, back to us, Terminator fans.

John Connor was shown as having become the sole reason for Sarah existence. She could not even remember in the series what she wanted to be beyond a waitress, which I found to be (screenwriter) BS. No one forgets their dreams, even unrealistic ones, unless they are brain damaged, dead, or never had them to begin with. Her dependency on John was shown when she destroyed Cromartie’s chip, smashing repeatedly then desperately hugging and clinging to John afterward. The prison house in the future, whose purpose was never explained (I’m guessing Cameron was in that house. That’s how Derek recognized her when he got back to base), and the aircraft carrier where Alison from Palmdale met her end and Cameron began her imitation of her were all highlights of the series.

summer-glau-terminator-the sarah-connor chronicles-posterJohn struggled more and more against a fate there was no escaping from throughout the series. He began disobeying his mother, going out, trying to make other human connections, something his mother and his new protector, Cameron, were against. “We’re not safe. No one is ever safe.” Gloom hung over the family, a closed system that infected almost everyone they came in contact with. John struggled against it, did not want to believe it but it kept happening. The Terminators hunting them never stopped; would never stop.

Lets not forget John Henry (Garret Dillahunt). Even if the overall structure of a Season Two Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles episode was weak, the John Henry segments always made them more interesting. This became increasing so as John Henry gained more abilities and became more intuitive while retaining innocent, child-like qualities that defined the young intelligence as infantile. These two aspects of John Henry worked side-by-side, coterminous, for the betterment of the show.

The ending of the Season Two made a questionable aspect of the series make sense. I always wondered why Weaver, metal, would have Ellison teach John Henry, Deus Ex Machina, morals and help it to develop a conscience towards humanity. In the final twelve minutes of the final episode, it was made clear why. The story line to Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles took a dramatic turn when Cameron’s chip was cut out of her head and was taken into the future by John Henry. All of these moments and questions, amongst others, will go unfulfilled and unanswered.

Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles was a show ended prematurely by Fox. If this was done as an either/or in respect to renewing Fox’s Dollhouse, I believe Fox executives bet on the wrong horse. Since the main characters’ minds on Dollhouse are continuous erased, Joss Whedon, Dollhouse’s creator, is not building characters to sympathize or connect with. This was not the case with Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles nor was its action limited to what only humans could do. On Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, you had human vs. human, human vs. Terminator, and Terminator vs. Terminator fight sequences. On Dollhouse, the confrontations are limited to only human vs. human. Fox lets Prison Break run itself into the ground and yet…well, it’s done now so what is the point. Good ‘ol Fox. They have done it again.terminator-the-sarah-connor-chronicles-season-3-banner

Other posts in the TV Shows that Deserved Better series: Space: Above and Beyond, Firefly, and My So-Called Life.

Buy Season One of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles on DVD and Blu-ray

Buy Season Two of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles on DVD and Blu-ray

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About the author

Rollo Tomasi

A Political Science and MBA grad who started FilmBook during an eCommerce B-School course in 2008. Cinema and TV addict. Former writer at Empire Movies, Blogcritics, and Alternative Film Guide. In addition to writing for FilmBook, he also edits the copy published on the website, manages its writing staff, manages the back-end operations, site finances, its social network accounts, and works with publicists, actors, and companies on press coverage and promotions. He has also created ProMovieBlogger.com and Trending Awards.com.

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