“Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles” Retrospect – Good Ideas and Characters Killed by a Cliffhanger

Sarah Connor Chronicles poster

     “Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles,” is a good show at the end of the day. It is a show with a lot of missed potential, especially in how it handled it’s ending and some of the mythology, but what it does right it does really well. This is something that can’t be said for some shows that got canceled, like “Helix” where they clearly had no idea where they were going. This show at least looks like it was going somewhere, it just never got the chance to complete the thoughts and the writers clearly assumed they had more time than they did.

    Without further ado, here is what I thought worked and didn’t work about the show.

The Pros: Jesse – Jesse was a really cool character, as we see she worked with Machines in the past and only turned on them and didn’t trust them after they kept her from communicating directly with John Connor and when the T-1001 killed members of her crew. Her story is a tragedy and I hope she is still out there somewhere fighting Skynet in this universe.

Agent Ellison – Ellison was my favorite character on the show. He was a man of faith who taught John Henry (an A.I. using the body of a Terminator who’d hunted him) morals and in the end almost develop a friendship. He is a father figure to both him and Savannah and the kindest character as we see him help the Connors and get the FBI off their trail as his investigation leads to him believing in what Sarah Connor was saying.

Catherine Weaver – Catherine Weaver is the T-1001 that killed the crew on the sub and turns things on it’s head when she offers John the chance for an alliance when she is the one with the power. She is a fascinating character as she disregards life for the big picture and her drive is to create an A.I. who will look after the 3rd Faction and find some peace with humanity too. To this end she created John Henry through Project Babylon. Eventually she travels with John into the future too.

John Henry – John Henry is a powerful A.I. who is a child and who is friends with Savannah and Ellison. He is good at his core and is innocence. This is one reason I’m curious why he jumped to the future…is that where his brother Skynet is located? His drive before the end was to find and meet up with his brother.

Cameron – Cameron’s arc is dealing with her feelings for John and making her own way. At times it looks like she is a member of the 3rd Faction, for example when Allison is used as her template to get close to John…but she also turns down Catherine Weaver’s offer. In this we see that she can lie, have sensation but at the core does what is in the best interest of John Connor. She is his protector, the way the T-800 was in “Terminator 2.” Summer Glau does an amazing job.

Sarah Connor – Lena Heady does an amazing job as Sarah Connor! Her Sarah Connor is raw and dealing with trying to raise a child knowing the end is coming and knowing he’s destined for a future she doesn’t fully understand. To this end we see her mess up a lot, but always come through for John…in the end she is even able to let go as she lets John Time Travel as she knows she can’t take any more unknowns.

John Connor – John Connor goes from a teen running from his future to a guy embracing it after he has lost so much and realizes that the only thing he can count on is himself and the choices he makes. He becomes a good leader in this and we see him put his life on the line countless times for others and able to work with anyone be they Terminator or human.

The 3rd Faction – The 3rd Faction fascinates me. They want to fight Skynet but also be respected too as they attempt to make their own life. Cameron is a part of them and Catherine Weaver is one of their leaders…John Henry is their attempt to have full freedom and agency too since it is a learning A.I. that is seeking to be human and more, while Skynet is like a virus infecting computer systems and seeking control.

The Cons: The Cliffhanger – John Connor and Weaver travel to the future, Ellison and Sarah Connor stay behind. John Connor meets his Dad and Derek, and what time are we in exactly?

Riley – Riley was a plot device who eventually became a character and died. When she did become a character she was someone going against what she was being trained to do, and that made her interesting…but her being a post-apocalyptic refugee was never fully explored. How does someone feral come back to being human? The show never tackled that.

Derek Reese – The guy was a dick who I couldn’t stand for most of the time and the fact that he might have killed the woman he loves damns him in my book. He was forgiven for killing his best friend in the future, Jesse deserves the same…especially since everything she did was in self-defense. Did not miss this character when he died as that single episode destroyed what good will he’d managed to build up.

Unanswered Questions – There are a lot of unanswered questions. Where was Skynet during all of the events that they sent killers? Where was John Henry’s brother? What future did Catherine and John travel too? What does the 3rd Faction want?

     There was a lot that worked with this series, which is why I won’t pan it. It’s a fun adventure and a good character series even if there were some characters like Derek Reese or Riley who I never felt fully worked and only really served their function in the story by dying. No show should have characters that exist only for that purpose but this one did and that is part of what brought it down. If you like “Terminator 2” you will probably like this show, it captures a lot of what made that film good in how it handles characters, Skynet and choice.

Final Score: 8.1 / 10

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The Terminator (1984): A Good Thriller With a Decent Heroine Arc

The  Terminator Poster

    We begin the “Terminator Franchise Retrospect” with “The Terminator.” The last time I saw this film was back in High School and I really enjoyed it. On a second viewing it is still good, but I wouldn’t call it truly great. It has a few things working against it both in the looks of the future and in how some character exploration occurs…the main three characters are done really well though.

      The film was directed by James Cameron who also wrote the screenplay along with Gale Anne Hurd, who also produced it.

     The story involves a Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger) being sent to the past to kill Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) before she can give birth to John Connor, the revolutionary who is turning the tide in the war against the machines in 2029. John Connor sends by Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn) to protect his mother as Sarah Connor tries to make sense of it and survive against the powerful threat.

The Pros: The Premise – A.I. taking over the future and turning on humanity isn’t a new idea but it is presented really cool in this. We see advanced tech. that the Terminators possess versus the rebels who are just holding onto their lives. In this way the time travel plot to prevent or save this future is given power since we know the stakes from the idea.

The Opening – The premise of A.I. (Skynet) taking over in the future and the rebels fighting back and being enough of a threat for Time Travel to be a weapon to end the movement before it starts was really cool. I was drawn in immediately.

The T-800 – The Terminator is a great  threat and Arnold Schwarzenegger does a good job of making him feel like a threat. You see it try to blend in but also it’s complete disregard for life and single driven purpose to destroy Sarah Connor. Even after it’s organics are destroyed the robot fights on and is only stopped after it is torn in half and Sarah Connor crushes it.

Kyle Reese – Michael Biehn does a great job as Reese. His Kyle Reese is a man who grew up during the apocalypse and was given hope by John Connor as he grew up in a labor camp before he was finally saved. From here he became friends with Connor and we learn later becomes John’s father when he and Sarah Connor fall in love as they face off against the threat that is so much more powerful than either of them.

Sarah Connor – Sarah Connor’s arc is the arc that drives the series. She is the one in denial over what is going on and over the future but after she is saved by Kyle and saves him on multiple occasions she comes around and after the T-800 kills Reese she vows to live and prepare her son for the coming apocalypse. She goes from someone who was passive and a pushover to someone ready to fight and risk everything for a future where humanity has a fighting chance. It’s a pretty solid arc. Linda Hamilton does a great job.

Okay/Pro: The Action – The action is kind of hit and miss, there are times it is really good like when the T-800 raids the police station and slaughters everyone, and other times where it drags like when they think they’ve defeated it and the robot skeleton is revealed. This part was so chaotic it was hard to know what was going on until the very end when Sarah finally ends it.

Okay: The Script – It is an 80’s action film so there are a lot of catch phrases and one liners so that got a bit annoying after a while, Arnold’s delivery helped but by the end I was laughing over some of the one liners because it took away from the action and made the film feel stilted.

The Soundtrack – The soundtrack was either really good rock n’roll or synthetic sci. fi. sounding music that didn’t always work. For this reason I cannot put the soundtrack as a pro but I won’t put it as a con either.

The Cons: The Police Department – The Police Chief is useless and the police are too as they target Reese and are unprepared for the Terminator at all. They put up a fight at least but they felt expendable, so a waste of characters.

Certain Future Scenes – There were some scenes where the rebels were fighting the Terminators where I didn’t know fully what was going on. I think that they made it too dark and didn’t really keep it focused all the time, which was a detriment as when things were clear it was really cool, especially Skynet’s Tanks and Planes.

   This film is a classic and it is well worth checking out if you have never watched it before. Arnold is great as the threatening T-800 and Linda Hamilton is wonderful as Sarah Connor. A lot of the issues can be tied to this being one of James Cameron’s earlier works so him being raw as a director and that it was just him and Gale Anne Hurd working on it, which means there weren’t eyes to flesh out the ideas and writing fully, given that it was just them. I still really like the premise though and can understand why this world turned into a Franchise.

Final Score: 8 / 10

Mobile Suit Gundam Pilot – Season 1, Episode 1 – “Gundam Rising” – The Consequences of War

Mobile Suit Gundam

“Gundam” is a huge franchise spanning multiple series, OVAs and movies, but the first one, “Mobile Suit Gundam” began in 1979 and lasted until 1980 and spanned 43 episodes. This is a series I’ve been meaning to watch as I love giant robots and politics and when they go together and have a larger message or messages, and have decent animation, well you’ve got me hooked.

The series was written and directed by Yoshiyuki Tomino and also writen Hajime Yataka and produced by Nippon Sunrise.

The Pilot episode “Gundam Rising” tells the story of Amuro Ray, a civilian whose colony is attacked by Zeon’s who are in a stalemate against the Federation who is constructing a Mobile Suit Gundam to combat the more powerful Zeon Mobile Suits. From here the episode unfolds.

Here is the assessment of the pilot:

The Pros: The World – The world is really cool, it takes place in the future in 2079 (0079 by the Calender in the episode) where the furthest colony of Zeon rebelled for independence and we are left wondering who is in the right as the Federation is seen as being indifferent in many ways and detached from it’s own populace. The war has come to a stalemate as both sides try to get the upper hand to end the war, regardless of the civilian cost.

Zeon – These guys are a great and complicated threat as of the first episode. We see Commander Char who is leading the attack to capture the Federation Gundam and he’s smart and involved as when a rookie causes the Federation to counter attack he joins the battle at the end of the episode to try and stop the mistake made from getting worse.

The Federation – This faction is protecting the colonies from Zeon but at the same time is almost a faceless military. Amuro’s father is the scientist who created the Gundam and we see him fearing more children having to become soldiers in the war, he’s the human face as the rest are just soldiers giving orders and reacting to Zeon.

Commander Char – This guy has a great design (red uniform, wears a hat and mask) and is the kind of enemy you don’t want to mess with. He is a strategist but also one who will fight for and with his men…making him a good and complicated antagonist.

Doctor Ray – Amuro’s father is one who invented the Gundam to end the war and so children won’t have to die in the conflict. He is the idealist who is unable to connect with his son, making him an intriguing character.

Okay: Amuro Ray – At this point he is sort of the everyday hero, there isn’t anything interesting about him. He is meant to be our eyes, but in the process he doesn’t have the chance to be shown to be that unique yet. We see the horror of war through his eyes, like when his friend loses her family and we see the fear as he get’s inside the Gundam and joins the fight since he discovered the manual to use it after the soldiers carrying it were destroyed in the Zeon attack. He is a character with potential. So not good or bad, just okay.

Fraw Bow – Is Amuro’s friend and has his problem, but we do see the possibility for character development as she loses her family in the Zeon attack. She is the one who keeps Amuro grounded as he is often lost in studying when we first meet him.

The Animation – Some of the animation is a bit shaky, which is a shame as the story is amazing!

Okay/Con – The theme song – The theme song is way to happy and in celebration of the Gundam, which stands at odds with the traumatic experience of war expressed in the episode. I hope the theme song changes later on in the series.

I want to see what happens next, so I would recommend this episode. Barring the theme song and the shaky animation at times it really is a solid story. It tells the story of the price of war and the ends people will go to end it which kicks off the story with the factions established and the beginning place for our heroes to grow from. I’ll be reviewing more of this show as well, just sporadically as I’ll be reviewing a few other things as well.

Final Score is 8.5 / 10