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

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     “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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Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles – Season 2, Episode 22 – “Born to Run” – The Danger of Cliffhangers

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     There are a lot of good ideas in the Finale, but this is a show that could have still left things open and ended as a complete story…instead they took the full cliffhanger route, which leads me to believe they must have thought they wouldn’t be cancelled or they were really irresponsible with their story.

       “Born to Run” does accomplish a lot and we see how the events of the season have changed and shaped characters, but the plot holes and mysteries still bring it down, which I’ll get into more detail in the assessment.

     The episode was directed by Jeffrey Hunt and written by Josh Friedman.

    The story involves Catherine Weaver asking John and Cameron to join her while they plot to destroy John Henry and rescue Sarah Connor. Nothing is as it appears to be when Skynet attacks though and John Connor and Catherine Weaver take the Time Machine to the future to find John Henry.

The Pros: Catherine Weaver – Catherine Weaver knows Skynet is the enemy and now that the ball is in her court she does all she can to bring the Connors over to her side. We see her use her liquid skin too to stop a Skynet drone and later travel with John Connor into the future. I got to say I would have loved to watch that team up. She is a great character.

John Henry – John Henry convinces Cameron to help him as she gives him her chip so he can turn on the Time Machine to go to the future. I wish we could have got more, but I really like this character and the little time he is in the episode is enjoyable.

Agent Ellison – Ellison is able to stare down Cameron and deliver Weaver’s message on joining them and after the Weaver reveal he doesn’t go into the future, he stays with Sarah Connor on the other side to try and stop Skynet in the present.

Cameron – Cameron gives up her chip in order to save the future and it is the loss of her that motivates John to go with Catherine in the Time Machine. She is also hostile to Catherine’s offer, showing she remembers what Jesse told her about the T-1001 destroying the human crew.

Okay: Sarah Connor – Sarah Connor is dealing with her mortality and at this point is afraid of losing what solid ground she has left. This leads her to staying behind with Ellison to fight Skynet in the present.

John Connor – John is motivated to go into the future to find Cameron, instead he finds the resistance member Allison and his father Kyle Reese. What this all means besides his joy remains to be seen…and we’ll never know.

The Future – Going to the future, one of the future is an interesting idea so I won’t put it as a con. Sadly it doesn’t work because of the Cliffhanger.

The Cons: The Cliffhanger – John meets his Father Kyle Reese in the future and no one knows who he is. All I had were questions, that isn’t how you end a season.

   This episode could have ended with the alliance between the 3rd Faction of Machines and the Connors and with them ready to fight Skynet and able to win as we have learned from this series, that is what was missing before…or the alliance could fall apart and the bombs fall showing the future can’t be changed…either would be better than the cliffhanger we received. They really should have done more myth building in the 22 episodes they received in their 2nd Season.

Final Score: 7 / 10

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Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles – Season 2, Episodes 18-19 – “Today is the Day” Parts 1 and 2 – To Be John Connor

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      These episodes made me realize again why I have hated the character of Derek Reese. He is a bit of a hypocrite and the fact that it is left ambiguous that he did a horrible act does not reflect well on his character as a person. He is clearly no Kyle Reese and never was.

   The episodes were directed by Guy Norman Bee and written by Ashley E. Miller and Zack Stentz.

      The story involves Jesse’s backstory as we learn what happened when she was sent on a secret mission that was being run by a Machine working for the Resistance. In the present the lie of what happened comes to the surface as distrust of Cameron continues to grow.

The Pros: The Mission – The mission is to do a pick up at a Oil Rig and deliver it to John Connor. Distrust of the machine in control of the mission leads to the crew rebelling and the T-1001 in the case being released and killing one of the crew in self-defense. It ends with the T-1001 telling Jesse there will be no Alliance with them. It’s sad but it shows why Jesse no longer trusts “Metal.” I really liked how they handled this two-parter episode.

Sarah Connor – Sarah Connor is the one trying to protect John from Cameron and is onboard with killing her until they learn the truth about Jesse being the one to have killed Riley. We see just how much her distrust has grown.

Cameron – Cameron is shown to have a good core again in this as she does everything to show she is trustworthy and we get to see why John trusts her as they share more tender moments together. It’s a great relationship.

John Connor – This episode is really about John Connor embracing his role as we see that he did not protect Riley but let her make her own choices and he does the same with Riley, Derek and everyone else. He has become the detached leader with the only real close person to him being Cameron.

Jesse – Jesse’s story is a tragedy and in my opinion she is one of the best characters on the show. It took the 3rd Faction of machines killing her people on the sub for her to turn against them fully as we see she had no problem working with them prior. In the end she loses her’s and Derek’s baby in the miscarriage but is never given the chance to share that with Derek as he has gone all paranoid. She is a flawed character but is no more better or worse than any other character. They should have still used her as part of the team not exiled/killed her.

The Cons: Derek Reese – Not even the suggestion of killing Jesse…Jesse was flawed but everything she did in the fight was in self-defense, she was also one of the few allies they had against Skynet…great going hero, if you did shoot her you stabbed yourself in the foot and killed the person you love. What sympathy I had for this character went away since there is only the possibility he didn’t kill her and that isn’t enough to save how much the alternative makes this character a bastard.

 This was a solidly great episode and one that really shows what the future is like and how the work camps have made humanity raw and angry and that things are not as they appear…from Jesse learning she was pregnant from Cameron, the T-1001 being a possible ally against Skynet. This was a beautifully tragic episode that really illustrated the best this episode had to offer.

Final Score: 9 / 10

Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles – Season 2, Episode 3 – “The Mousetrap” – Skynet’s Traps

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     Skynet continues to show why it is an awesome foe. In this Charley’s wife is kidnapped and we see Chromatie act with an extremely high level of intelligence and we see Catherine Weaver getting her enemies in her court showing just how good she is at shaping the players in the game. It’s a really great episode and a lot of fun, with some great use of character loss and cost.

     “The Mousetrap” was directed by Brian Spicer and written by John Wirth.

     The story begins with Chromatie capturing Charley’s wife as they try to make their escape out of town. This leads to him bringing Sarah and Derek in to help save her while elsewhere John dates Riley as Cameron tracks them and Catherine Weaver reaches out to Agent Ellison for a job.

The Pros: Chromatie’s Trap – Chromatie’s trap is brilliant. Michelle, Charley’s wife is hooked to a fake bomb while the actual bomb is elsewhere in the building. In one fell swoop he gets rid of all of them leaving John with no protection. It nearly succeeds too if not for Derek finding the real bomb.

Catherine Weaver / T-1001 – Weaver is good at wearing masks and in this she tells a story about how she wants to find the creatures that shot down a plane she was connected too. She is empathetic and sympathetic…a complete contrast to the killing machine we’ve seen earlier.

Chromatie – Chromatie is deadly in this and manages to kill Michelle Dixon, injure our heroes and nearly kill John. The only reason he doesn’t win is he sinks to the bottom of the water when he attempts to jump in after John. Terminators can’t swim.

Charley Dixon – Charley’s world comes to a head in this and in the end he leaves reaching out to Sarah in anyway as she was ready to let Michelle die in order to save John. John is the one how reaches out after Michelle gets killed and it’s a powerful scene as we see just how deeply he loved her.

Michelle Dixon – Michelle’s a fighter. We see her attempt to escape and even at the end she runs when they don’t have a vehicle and she’s losing blood. In the end she dies in her husband’s arms. R.I.P. Michelle Dixon.

Derek Reese – Derek is smart and figures out Chromatie’s trap. He doesn’t think of the Dixon’s though and shows just how broken and bitter Sarah could become…he saves the day but he fights looking out for others all the way there. For him it is all about survival.

Sarah Connor – Sarah Connor is in her worst place in this as we see her lash out at the Dixon’s when she finds that Chromatie’s trap worked and they have to stop in order to save Michelle and get her to a hospital. Later we see her mourning Michelle but I wonder if she realized what she had become in those moments.

John Connor – John’s having a normal life and actually manages to look after himself. He outsmarts Chromatie and is there for Charley as Charley mourns his dead wife. He is a stand up guy in this episode.

Cameron – Cameron is the protector again and her role is finding balance with John as we see in this, John is fully capable of protecting himself against the Terminators at this point (including Cameron).

   This was the best episode so far. It had loss, we got to see that Skynet is always one step ahead and how they get one step ahead and that there is very little the Resistance can do against them except to survive. There is power in that and the loss of Charley’s wife you actually feel as she was powerless before all of these events out of her control.

Final Score: 10 / 10

Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles – Season 2, Episode 2 – “Automatic for the People” – The Human Desire for Skynet

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    This was a good episode showing the futility of the Resistance’s efforts to destroy Skynet. They come up with this awesome plan to save the powerplant and have it be successful leading to a Resistance victory in the future…or a meltdown which leads to Skynet taking control of the facility. Suffice to say, you can guess what happens from the title. It is done really well though, the writers once again are giving us a really good story.

     “Automatic for the People,” was directed by Jeffrey G. Hunt and written by Natalie Chaidez.

     the story begins with a Resistance Fighter traveling back in time to send a warning to Sarah, John and Derek about the plans with the Nuclear Plant. This leads to Sarah and Cameron going undercover as workers and getting close to the people who work there. Things soon go south though around the same time John begins seeing someone at his school and the Terminators act.

The Pros: Greenway – Greenway served abroad and ended up divorcing from his wife. He is stressed out guy who is good at his core. Sarah ends up becoming friends with him even, sadly it doesn’t last long as he is replaced by T-888 seeking to destroy the plant. His character’s life was short but Paul Schulze did a great job.

Mr. Nelson – This guy is a creep and gives Sarah a wash down since he fakes her being infected with radiation. The guy shows just how bad people can be and they don’t even have to be Terminators. Suffice to say I found it rewarding when the Terminator who became Greenway punched him in the face. He is a good human antagonist, Dean Norris (Hank from “Breaking Bad”) does a good job as him.

Agent Ellison – Ellison is back as the protector as he talks to the Dixon’s about skipping town so they won’t get killed after Charley tells his wife the truth about the Terminators and Sarah Connor.

Catherine Weaver – Weaver appears briefly in the form of a man taking control of the Nuclear Facility to give it technology that will protect it in the future. Her sphere of influence and control continues to grow.

Sarah Connor – Sarah goes through a few cancer scares but come out alright in the end as she deals with the fact that she can’t control John’s life when he brings home Riley and that she can’t control her own life as she doesn’t know if she’ll get cancer or not. It’s very well done and it forces her to let go of trying to control everything around her.

John Connor – John tries to have a normal life and succeeds a little bit, but he’ll always be on the outside as the murder is on his mind, his destiny and the ongoing threat of Skynet hunting him.

Cameron – Cameron goes undercover and manages to hold off the T-888 until Sarah rescues her and together they finish it off, preventing the Facility from going through a meltdown. This is a decent episode showing her complexity of emotions and programming.

The Cons: Riley – Her character feels very forced and only exists as a plot device for John to try and have a normal life in High School. Not a fan of contrived plots, especially when they are obvious like this.

   Minus Riley, this was a great episode. We saw how for safety and security reasons Skynet will win as the populace will embrace automation for the sake of protection and how no matter how many fights they win, Skynet is stronger and smarter. I really feel like the Terminators are a threat this season, and that’s been a long time coming.

Final Score: 9 / 10

Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles – Season 2, Episode 1 – “Samson & Delilah” – John and Cameron and Skynet Revealed

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    Season 2 starts out being great! Which is wonderful considering so many threads from last season combined with the writers strike lead to the weakest episode of the series prior. I got ot say, I like the T-1001 Catherine Weaver and I like that Cameron was shown to have free will and be more than her programming. This is an example of what the show can do when it remembers it’s themes and focuses on character development.

   “Samson & Delilah” was directed by David Nutter and written by Josh Friedman.

    The story picks up where we left off with Agent Ellison choosing silence as Derek works with Charley to find John and Sarah as Cameron hunts them as her chip is injured and she has returned to old programming. We also meet Catherine Weaver who is seeking the Turk for her corporation.

The Pros: The Opening – As Cameron hunts Sarah and John “Samson & Delilah” plays and it is an awesome song that shows the intimacy of the fight that is going on as the Connors run from the one who was their protector.

Agent Ellison – Ellison chooses to go silent but not help the machines as he realizes that no one will believe the truth. It is realistic and it is great seeing him face Chromatie and tell him no. It shows that even when he is scarred and in over his head, he won’t cave to monsters.

Derek Reese – Derek is the one testing everyone on their loyalty…be it Cameron and wanting her destroyed to seeing if Charley is willing to go all the way to join the team and how serious he is about his marriage. It’s nice to see him in this role as he is just a minor character and not major, as he should be if they won’t kill his character off.

Sarah Connor – This is a good Sarah Connor episode. She is ready to die for John on multiple occasions but shows that she will listen to the other side if it comes down to it as she doesn’t stop John when John decides to save Cameron (who is hunting them) rather than destroy her. It is powerful and shows she respects her son’s choices. She finally kills in this when her and John fight Sarkissian.

John Connor – He gets the look that John has in “Terminator: Salvation.” I like the look better on Christian Bale, but it at least works for the character, and it shows how he is dealing with all the trauma of being hunted by his own creation and having to fight his Uncle and Mom to save her life. That would take a toll on anyone. He kills for the first time when he and Sarah murder Sarkissian in self defense. This makes him harder than who he was before showing echoes of the Resistance Fighter to be.

Cameron – Cameron is in old Terminator mode after the attack on the jeep. She nearly kills John a few times before Sarah and John trap her and John removes the chip. During that times she claims to be fixed and that she loves John. We never know if he believes her or not, but he pulls the chip out. Later he puts it back in when he realizes how much they need Cameron and that he loves her too.

Catherine Weaver / T-1001 – Is the CEO of the Zeira Corporation and with a new team plans to use the Turk to create Skynet. She is a Skynet agent from the future and a Liquid Terminator like the T-1000, though she is a slightly more upgraded model being a T-1001, she also has feelings as we see her kill someone who she hated after the meeting. She is deadly and I like her as an enemy.

This was the first time the show felt like more than a test run. If the rest of the season is like this it will be one of my favorite shows. All the buildup in Season 1 lead somewhere. Sarkissian lead to the Connors killing a human, the Turk now is in Skynet hands and Ellison is going underground and refusing not to fight them. Cameron is also back as an ally once more. This is good television.

Final Score: 9.7 / 10