Terminator: Sarah Connor Chronicles – “Gnothi Seauton”

“Gnothi Seauton”

January 14th, 2007

Last night, I was (attempting) to take part in a podcast which I will have more on sometime today or tomorrow. Due to some microphone issues, chances are that my contributions will be limited – plus, to play the excuse game before it even releases, I’m sure my current cold did nothing to help me in this account. But, regardless, one of the topics I was meant to discuss was Terminator: Sarah Connor Chronicles.

With eighteen million viewers, the highest demo premiere in three years, and a viewer consensus of “Well, that was less wretched than I predicted!”, last night’s second episode had a lot to live up to. In terms of ratings, the series held onto better numbers than expected, dropping considerably but not dramatically from its inflated premiere numbers (PIFeedback). But the real question is on a creative front: could the breakneck pace of the pilot develop into a sustainable drama series?

After last night’s episode, and despite my reservations, I think it will. At the very least, it’s preferable to the glut of reality (Or the proposed season of 24), and is a breath of air that seems more fresh than it may actually be.

After the pilot’s time travel concept, we find our heroes struggling with their new environment: John is stuck in the house without an I.D., Sarah is busy enjoying her anonymity, while Cameron continues to acclimatize herself to her surrounding in a very tabula rosa sense. The title of the episode is latin for “Know Thyself,” so it is clear that identity is one of the key issues the series intends to confront in a broad thematic sense.

More importantly, however, is the identity of these characters within the framework of the series. Sepinwall has voiced his concern that Lena Headey, like Michelle Ryan in Bionic Woman, is going to be overshadowed by Summer Glau, who is decidedly more badass. I don’t doubt his contention, but I want to make an important distinction. Ryan was overshadowed by Katee Sackhoff, but it was a character issue as much as it was a performance one. Sarah Corvus was better than the titular bionic woman both physically and in terms of awareness – sure, there were some mental quirks to Corvus’ development, but she was just a more interesting character.

While Summer Glau’s Terminator model has nuance, she ultimately needs the help of Sarah Connor in her efforts – the second episode did a great job of emphasizing that they are a buddy team which depends on one another for various parts of their life. Sarah needs Cameron for protection, for both her son and for herself, but she is also able to contribute to both her social/personal development and to the occasional assist in the heat of the moment. I think Headey is doing an admirable job with the role, and there is potential in both her and Glau’s character.

Their storyline was actually strong overall in this episode: to get IDs, the two track down resistance fighters sent back in time to help stop SkyNet, but when Sarah and Cameron arrive three are dead and the Terminator who killed them gives fight. Without that avenue to gain identification, Sarah goes to an old contact who opens up some doors to her old life and to the potential for identification. Cameron ends up killing Enrique, the old contact, after discovering that he had become a government rat.

Her reasoning was that Sarah, who was doing the the talking in the standoff, was never going to do it herself: it’s an intriguing message that especially hits close to home with the episode’s revelation that Sarah Connor DID die of cancer within this timeline, although later than Terminator 3 mentions. I kind of like that she isn’t an immediate badass, that being on the run has damaged her and her son in ways that make her character something more than that.

My two major complaints about the series can be found in John Connor’s stupidity and the overbearing narration. On the second point, it seemed like Sarah was reminding us of her identity issues far too often: the narration is neither powerful more useful, providing largely unnecessary exposition in scenes best left silent. I’ve seen worse, mind you, but it really isn’t doing the show any favours.

Similarly, it appears that Thomas Dekker spent too much time on Heroes, and makes a series of mistakes more representative of a pre-teen nuisance as opposed to a teenager trained that everything is safe. His fascination with Windows Vista and the quasi-Apple Store environment seemed lapse and stupid, and if I am going to take him seriously he needs to stop breaking into his ex-potential stepfather’s house. I understand that he’s acting out, but he seemed much better taught even in the pilot. I mention Heroes because it reminds me of Peter’s ignorance to any sense of logic whenever the producers desire him to act like an imbecile for plot purposes.

Otherwise, though, an enjoyable second hour. My only worry is that it appears that John and Cameron are headed back to school, and I’m really hoping that this doesn’t ruin the Sarah/Cameron pairing which I am quite enjoying.

Cultural Observations

  • It was a small beat, but the address of the computer store where John did his surfing was “1337,” a nod to geek culture.
  • I’m having issues taking Dean Winters (Who plays Sarah’s ex-fiance) seriously in a dramatic role after he played Dennis, Liz’s beeper-selling boyfriend on 30 Rock. Some scenes he is fine, but others he just doesn’t feel natural in the role. I’m having less issues taking Sonya Wagner (Tell Me You Love Me, Penny on Lost) seriously, but she is on a rather ridiculous number of shows at this point and I am beginning to wonder if she has a twin.
  • There was some nice subtle stuff between the mute woman at Carlos’ place and Cameron which was certainly derivative of a number of different concepts but still worked for me due to its charms.


Filed under Terminator: Sarah Connor Chronicles

5 responses to “Terminator: Sarah Connor Chronicles – “Gnothi Seauton”

  1. nerdchieftain

    I think you misunderstood the story reason for John’s interest in cell phones, flat screen LCD’s, razor thin laptops and apple stores: He is from 8 years in the past, where these things did not exist. Of note, he did know how to use the WWW, which was just beginning to become well known in 1999.

    We already saw in the first episode he has an interest in hacking. His behavior is consistent with the situation (8 years time travel) and the character (interested in computers).

  2. I should clarify: I speak less of his fascination as a whole and more on his idiotic decision to use it to look up HIMSELF. Considering that his mother apparently bred him to be extremely safe, I can’t imagine why he’d risk using new technology. It turned him into angsty teenager #4, and it just didn’t give him enough credit as a character.

    Does his affection for technology make sense? Absolutely. However, unfortunately, they played it was teenage rebellion more than meaningful story point.

  3. nerdchieftain

    That’s a good point. It seems like the new John Connor has less common sense than his rebellious, ATM card thieving counterpart from T2. And he’s now ~4 years older?

    I definitely agree the mall isn’t the place to surf the net. The library would be a better choice for discretion.

    We know that John’s character knows how to use heavy ordnance. As a fan, I’d like to see him step up a little bit and light up a Terminator.

  4. Nate

    Can anyone tell me what laptop john uses in the store.Someone said it was a dell xps but which one what number make.Please and thank you.

  5. 1337 Geek

    Does anyone in the Terminator series ever use Linux or Mac OS X? All I’ve seen is Vista product placements.

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