“What He Beheld”
Season One, Episode Nine
Airdate: March 3rd, 2008
In the show’s second season, Terminator: Sarah Connor Chronicles emerged as something quite surprising: a competent science fiction drama with a sense of character and a growing identity. So picking an episode to include in the Time Capsule to reflect this feels like it should come from the second half of the year.
But I kept going back to “What He Beheld,” the first season finale that convinced me the show was going to be capable of being something more than just an attempt to capture the franchise’s storylines in a serial dramatic setting.
The series has since gone on to delve into deep psychological issues, both of the humans within the story and the Terminators who coexist with them. But the sequence, set to Johnny Cash, of the various police officers being thrown aside by Cromartie was the one that showed me the show was aiming higher: what could have felt like an attempt at shocking the audience with violence was played entirely artistically. There was no sense that the show was exploiting their deaths, but capturing them in the most artful of ways: we see the pool’s stillness just as a body tears it apart. The apartment building setting isn’t designed for eye candy but the sharp contrast of the mundane living arrangement meeting with the trauma of the action involved.
The show’s second season has built on this development: it was one scene to begin with, but each subsequent episode has built on it. Yes, the show still has its down periods, and every now and then I think that its vague storyline could use some clarity, but Terminator: Sarah Connor Chronicles is everything Heroes wants to be: a smart, sophisticated piece of science fiction that might not be Battlestar Galactica but certainly feels like the kind of show that, given time, could prove a worthwhile journey.
Related Posts at Cultural Learnings
[For more details on the Cultural Learnings 2008 Television Time Capsule, click here!]
“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.
September 22nd, 2008
It is clear that my Monday evenings are officially going to become way too busy – here it is Wednesday, and I’m just getting to the week’s episode of Sarah Connor. This is only going to get worse when Chuck returns next week (Although I already downloaded that premiere [available on iTunes, Hulu and Amazon] and will have a review ready ahead of time), so I don’t know if I’ll be blogging Sarah Connor except maybe to drop in some thoughts later in the week about a particularly solid episode.
Which, really, brings me to “The Mousetrap,” an episode that feels (much more than last week’s) like something closer to where the show was at towards the end of last season. This is both good and bad: on the one hand, the show can’t constantly be this action-driven, placing characters in mortal danger and having Garrett Delahunt ever so close to finally killing John Connor, but on the other it results in an episode that moves along at a strong pace. Yes, I still have some issues with Shirley Manson’s inability to act, and I think that they do need to get a bit more natural pace going along, but there’s enough positives here that I have no intentions of stopping watching the show altogether as we dig deeper into the fall season.
“Samson and Delilah”
September 8th, 2008
The last time I took a look at Terminator: Sarah Connor Chronicles, you’d think that I wouldn’t be here blogging a second season premiere. Not only was I fairly harsh on the show’s third episode, but the ratings were declining and the buzz was slowly dying. In a strike-damaged season, there was no question that a show like Sarah Connor would just get lost in the wind, a failed attempt to capture a franchise audience with a show that wasn’t living up to its potential.
Well, I had more or less written it off in this fashion, but in the slow summer months I revisited the series and finished off its nine episode run. And while I wasn’t quite driven to blog about my experience, I was quite simply pleasantly surprised: it wasn’t poetry, but the season finale in particular demonstrated a willingness to embrace a larger dramatic perspective, and the episodes leading into it did a strong job of furthering the show’s connection to the broader franchise storyline. As some have taken to saying: it might indicate that we’re living in an opposite world, but Brian Austin Green’s arrival in the series actually coincided with a strong improvement in quality.
So with this new perspective, the show’s surprise second season renewal seems more than justified: it’s a show that was on a definite upward swing heading into the its final episodes, and with the strike limiting pilot development this is one of many shows that deserve a chance to recapture audiences’ attention. So while the momentum is in its favour, and the cheaply priced DVD set likely sold quite a few people on trying the show for the first time, it does need to prove that it can sustain itself in its sophomore season.
The verdict on that front, though, remains iffy: with a rather tepid introduction of the new corporate conspiracy and a chip malfunction that creates a particularly volatile rollercoaster ride of a premiere, “Samson and Delilah” is a heavily action-oriented episode that feels like an organic, but frantic, followup to last season’s cliffhanger explosion. And while I could have done with more set pieces that didn’t feel like one long chase scene, there are moments here that remind us that this show is in better hands than I thought eight months ago.