Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (September 15, 2009)
While terminators themselves are nearly unstoppable, apparently Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles proved less resilient. After two seasons and a mere 31 episodes, the show got the axe.
Which is too bad. Although I wasn’t wild about Season One, the series showed promise. At least I was able to pick up with Season Two and see if it improved on the first collection of programs. We’ll view them in the order broadcast, which is how they appear in this six-DVD set. The plot synopses come straight from the packaging.
Samson and Delilah: “Rocked by her Jeep explosion, Cameron (Summer Glau) reverts back to her original mission: terminate John Connor (Thomas Dekker). Will he be able to save himself?”
Though I really wanted to like the series, Season One left me somewhat cold. I thought it worked acceptably well but it never became a particularly engaging show.
Will Season Two improve on that model? Maybe. On the positive side, it gets a full year to explore its stories; Season One didn’t launch until late in the 2007-08 TV season, so it was limited to a mere nine episodes. Season Two boasts 22 shows, and that may allow it to prove more satisfying.
It also introduces Garbage frontwoman Shirley Manson as a slick new terminator. I love that band, and I think Shirley offers a cool presence. It remains to be seen how well the series will use her, but her inclusion means S2 gets off to a good start.
Other than the introduction of Manson’s Catherine Weaver character, “Delilah” doesn’t do much more than wrap up S1 and hint at S2’s possibilities. The problems with Cameron give the show some edge, as we must consider the possibility she’ll go “rogue” again in the future. Otherwise, this is a typical “wrap up one year and start the next” show, so temper expectations accordingly. It does what it needs to do, though, and it gets the season off to a decent start.
Automatic for the People: “A new friend infiltrates John’s social life while Sarah (Lena Headey) and Cameron infiltrate a nuclear power plant to find its connection to Skynet.”
After the expository “Delilah”, we get a higher level of action here. The material at the plant allows the show to add some intensity and become a bit more exciting than its predecessor. The new character of Riley also contributes a hint of future intrigue, as it seems likely she’s going to turn out to be more than just John’s potential girlfriend.
The Mousetrap: “It’s a slick game of cat-and-mouse when Cromartie (Garret Dillahunt) kidnaps Charlie’s wife to isolate John. Can Cameron protect John like he protected her?”
While “People” gave us action and exposition, “Mousetrap” leans more toward just the former. It throws us into material meant to provide drama but it doesn’t do much to advance the series’ overall plot – well, not in an obvious way, at least. That makes it less enthralling than it could be but still engaging.
Alison From Palmdale: “Cameron goes missing after her glitch returns, sending a desperate John in search of her and revealing her true origin.”
I never really expected to get a terminator origin story, and that’s what makes “Palmdale” a cool episode. We learn about the human inspiration for Cameron during this intriguing episode. Add to that more hints that Cameron’s screwy wiring will continue to impact her functioning and “Palmdale” provides a solid show.
Goodbye to All That: “Derek (Brian Austin Green) leads John on his first mission in defense of a military school cadet with a vital future role in the Resistance.”
While the “A” story listed above has its merits, I prefer the “B” story in which Sarah and Cameron protect a kid with the same name as the cadet. It hearkens back to elements of the original Terminator film and gives us an interesting spin on things. The other elements work fine as well, and this become a good episode.
The Tower Is Tall But the Fall Is Short: “The weight of their mission takes a toll on the Connors when they infiltrate the office of a family therapist who also has ties to ZeiraCorp.”
So far we’ve only seen bits and pieces of Weaver, so it’s nice to get more about her – and her daughter. Previously I made assumptions about their relationship, while “Tower” spells out the situation. It’s also interesting to see a “family” as messed up as Sarah and the others go into counseling. Add to that one of the coolest terminator fights and “Tower” offers one of the year’s best episodes.
Brothers of Nablus: “The Connors’ new identities are put in jeopardy when their house is robbed. Has Skynet found them already?”
Back in Season One, Ellison was arguably the most interesting character. Season Two makes him kind of dull, and that’s a negative that I hope will change as the year progresses. I do like the way the tension between John and Sarah amps up here, though.
Mr. Ferguson Is Ill Today: “John and Riley’s (Leven Rambin) getaway to Mexico has unforeseen consequences that bring the entire group south of the border and Sarah face-to-face with Ellison (Richard T. Jones).”
“Ill” takes a pretty straightforward story and mixes it up via some unusual narrative techniques. Each segment comes from a certain character’s POV, so it dances around in an interesting way. This could’ve been a gimmick, but it actually works, and it makes the show more compelling than otherwise might’ve been the case.
Complications: “Fever dreams convince Sarah that a ‘three-dot’ symbol will lead her to Skynet. Derek wonders if they’ve changed the future.”
Given that so much of the series’ basic premise deals with the concept of changing the future, we don’t often get much exploration of that subject. “Complications” alters that path, though, as it digs into various repercussions in a winning manner. Granted, this makes it moderately confusing at times, but it also presents some bigger than usual plot points that create intrigue for subsequent episodes.
Strange Things Happen At the One-Two Point: “The three-dot symbol leads Sarah to a company with a surprising connect to Andy Goode’s Turk. Riley becomes a liability to John.”
When Riley first came onto the scene, I predicted she wasn’t what she seemed. Score one for me! I won’t spill any more beans because I don’t want to provide bigger spoilers, but we do learn some significant info about Riley here. Other plot areas develop as well and the show moves things along nicely.
Self Made Man: “Cameron never sleeps, so what does she do at night? Chase a T-888 that’s been lost in time.”
After so many shows that focused on the series’ overall storyline, we go off on a tangent here – I guess. With Terminator, you never know when an apparently isolated tale will come back and become important. Nonetheless, “Man” feels self-contained, and that limits its effectiveness. I thought the main story was really starting to take flight, so it’s a bit of a disappointment to get something that doesn’t obviously advance matters. Nonetheless, the episode remains interesting, mostly because Cameron is such a compelling character.
Alpine Fields: “Sarah and Cameron work to save a family on the list with a connection to Derek and Jesse (Stephanie Jacobsen) in the future.”
Again we get an episode with no obvious connection to the main storyline – and one that’s less enjoyable than “Man”. “Fields” sets up a character with future relevance, but it still seems to be a one-off, as it doesn’t appear that the person in question will re-appear in this series. Some interesting bits appear, but I’d like to get the main plot back on track.
Earthlings Welcome Here: “At a conference on UFOs, Sarah gets a clue that puts her on the trail of the three dots. Riley has second thoughts about her mission.”
We go back onto the series’ main story here, and it takes on some surprising twists, mainly because I never expected UFOs to become a factor in Terminator. That’s not a big emphasis, though, as the episode does more to explore Sarah’s dots as well as the John/Riley relationship. This doesn’t become the most fascinating episode I’ve seen, but it acts as a decent advancement of the plot.
The Good Wound: “Gravely wounded Sarah is guided by the image of John’s father, Kyle Reese. Weaver (Shirley Manson) to protect John Henry.”
With the ghostly presence of Kyle, “Wound” connects to T2 more than more of the series’ episodes – well, it links to the extended cut of that flick, at least. Frankly, I could live without all the Kyle. I know he acts as something of an inspiration to Sarah, but I think prior films and shows have done all they can do with him, so he becomes a bit of a drag. The parts with Weaver are more interesting, though, especially since they let Shirley do some long overdue terminatrix action.
Desert Cantos: “The Connors investigate the company town connected to the destroyed factory and find something startling. Weaver searches for a survivor of the explosion.”
“Cantos” definitely falls into the category of a “plot thickening” episode. It does a lot to move along the main story, though not in a simplistic manner. Instead, it uses a clever technique of developing the tale through a funeral. It takes an unlikely setting and features it well as it develops the story.
Some Must Watch, While Some Must Sleep: “Night terrors at the sleep clinic: Sarah’s disrupted sleep patterns lead to a shocking discovery.”
Terminator liberally uses flashes between past/present and dream/waking. That factor becomes a prime element in “Sleep”, as it jumps between them in a manner that leaves us uncertain where we are. Though this can be a bit confusing, it pays off in the end.
Ourselves Alone: “Riley’s mission is in jeopardy when she fears Cameron has discovered her secret. Cameron confesses to John that her glitch has returned.”
“Alone” focuses more heavily on character topics than usual, but that doesn’t make it slow or off-topic. Indeed, it provides one of the most emotional and dramatic episodes to date, as some events with significant ramifications occur. Though not much plot-driven material evolves here, the program delivers a lot of material that develops other aspects of the series, so it’s a good one.
Today Is the Day Part 1: “Jesse flashes back to a life-altering mission about her submarine, the Jimmy Carter. Sarah and John decide it’s time to move.”
Whenever I review a two-part episode, I save my thoughts for the second segment. Why change now?
Today Is the Day Part 2: “Will you join us? Jesse’s sub mission in the future takes a fatal turn that has unforeseen effects on John, Sarah and Derek in the present.”
We expect something momentous from a two-part episode, and “Day” doesn’t disappoint. It sheds a lot of light on Jesse’s distrust of the machines and does a lot to add depth to various characters. Like “Alone”, it doesn’t focus much on overall plot issues, but it still gives us a lot to consider, and it proves dramatic and effective.
To the Lighthouse: “Fearing for his life, Sarah stashes John in a safe house, away from Derek and Cameron. John Henry realizes he is not alone.”
After all the high drama of the two-part episode, “Lighthouse” allows the series to catch its breath. That doesn’t mean nothing happens, of course, as some significant elements emerge here. The show just feels like a bit of a disappointment after the theatrics of the preceding shows.
Adam Raised a Cain: “When John attempts to rescue Kaliba’s latest target, he finds himself closing in on Weaver, but at what cost?”
With little time left before the season’s end, “Cain” should build to something big, right? Alas, it seems pretty small scale, in my opinion. We do get the surprising demise of a main character and a few decent plot elements, but the show doesn’t create the “I can’t wait for the next episode” anticipation I’d like.
Born to Run: “The Connors come face-to-face with Weaver in a confrontation that shakes John to the core and changes his fate forever.”
The series was canceled after “Run” aired, which meant that it was possible Chronicles would end in an unsatisfying way. Does it? Sort of. On one hand, “Run” actually can be viewed as a decent conclusion; it takes things in a direction that ensures we’re not totally left hanging. On the other hand, it just doesn’t quite gel. It has some cool elements but it simply doesn’t give us a slam-bang ending to the season, much less to the series. Granted, with all the related Terminator product out there, nothing will ever give us a true wrap up, but “Run” ends things on only a moderately satisfying note. Since the first three-fourths of Season Two was so good, that makes it a bit of a disappointment.
Concluding trivial aside: the final two episodes used the titles of Springsteen songs. (In a loose way, “Samson and Delilah” does as well; Bruce covered that one.) Why not name some shows after Garbage tunes? Plenty would work for Terminator: “I’m Only Happy When It Rains”, “Bleed Like Me”, etc. Maybe this would seem too obvious.