December 1st, 2008
After catching up with last week’s episode of Terminator: Sarah Connor Chronicles, I posted on twitter that anyone who was actually interested in science fiction television should be watching this show instead of Heroes (Five episodes behind and feelin’ fine). There are a lot of reasons for this, from the show’s willingness to engage with the human implications of its events to its simultaneous interest in building its characters individually as opposed to en masse as part of broader story arcs. While at times one wishes the show would be less vague in terms of the grand scheme of things, it manages to take that vague setting and find a foundation in the characters and their plight.
At its core, “Self-Made Man” is a procedural mystery: spotting a Terminator model in a photograph from New Year’s Eve 1920, Cameron goes on a journey through the archives in search of a clue to why a Terminator would be sent back to that particular date. But what the Josh Friedman and his staff have been demonstrating all season is that they have a command of this series: even those elements which feel quite simple (in this case, largely inconsequential and without detailed reasoning beyond an episodic context) are executed with such a precise sense of both character and theme that it doesn’t matter when we don’t get the “Why?”
While other shows spend so much time focused on building suspense for that particular question and forget to build characters, Terminator is carving out a niche for itself as the kind of show that uses its characters for more than acting out plots – while it’s still not to the level of some of Lost or BSG, it is nonetheless quality science fiction television at this stage of the game.