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.
“Mr. Ferguson is Ill Today”
November 10th, 2008
At the end of “Mr. Ferguson is Ill Today,” Sarah Connor says that nothing ever changes: that it is the same thing that drives her every day, and that all of her decisions will continue to revolve around that concern. While I don’t doubt this mother’s dedication to her son’s safety, I feel like this statement paints a picture of this show as something repetitive, something that boils down to an action-packed joy ride of destruction at its best and an elaborate holding pattern at its most languid.
And there have been moments when Terminator: Sarah Connor Chronicles has felt like both of those things, especially in the early parts of its first season. However, like the first season finale before it, this week’s episode (the eighth of the show’s twenty-two episode season) is an example of the ways in which the show has resisted becoming a pure action series, and how those potentially slow-moving sections have given the show a chance to build characters who believe in things, who have complex emotions, and who can fire off some guns while remaining grounded in some kind of reality.
As this week’s episode weaves in and out of everyone’s stories, there was never once where I questioned whether that character had something to contribute to this story (even if the device seemed unnecessary, gimmicky), and each of them reached an apex of sorts in this episode as it relates to their characters. For a season that has spent considerable time tracing the origins of Skynet through the introduction of Shirley Manson’s Terminator model, it is telling that the most action-packed episode so far is all about people (as sucky as they might be, Riley) – it’s also the best episode of the season so far.