Classification: Plot Device
Just in case some reader hasn’t seen any of the Terminator movies (is there such a person?). Here’s a quick recap of the series: In the very near future, Skynet, a super-powerful military computer gains consciousness and declares war on Humanity. It is a bitter and costly war, billions of humans die, and in the end we almost lose: but thanks to John Connor, a resourceful and intelligent leader, we manage to win. However, Skynet has many tricks up its sleeve: in the first movie, it sends a Terminator, a cyborg that looks like Arnold Schwarzenegger to kill Sarah, John’s mother, before he is born, hoping to alter the timeline and assure a victory. But future John is aware of this plan, and so, he sends someone, a trusted lieutenant, Kyle Reese, to protect her (which he does, quite successfully – and becomes John’s father in the process). In terminator 2, John is a young teenager, and Skynet sends a powerful, shape-shifting new type of Terminator (the T-1000) to kill him. However, future John sends a ’standard’, Terminator to protect his younger counterpart (again, oddly enough, one that looks like Schwarzenegger. A pretty bad idea, IMO).
Terminator – The Sarah Connor Chronicles is the television equivalent of the Terminator movie franchise. It takes place somewhere between the second and the third movies, and presumably, things will take a different turn of events than they have in Terminator 3. In the show we follow the life of Sarah Connor, and her teenage son, John Connor – future leader of humanity and its savior against the war against the machine.
As it turns out, Skynet sends numerous Terminators to kill John and other important figures in the future human resistance. An additional goal of these terminators is setting up operations: machines, weapons, explosives, so that when the war begins, Skynet will be better prepared. Future John is aware of this, so he sends two of his most trusted allies to the past: Cameron, a reprogrammed female Terminator, and Derek Reese, the brother of Kyle Reese – John’s father. He also sends additional agents that work independently – though occasionally the gang has some contact with them.
The first season was pretty bland. We follow John’s life as a high school teenager, and episode after episode, he, his mother and Cameron hunt the occasional Terminator sent to the past. It’s not that it was a bad season, but it was just – well – not too interesting. The series does have an additional story, focusing on Cromartie, a terminator sent specifically to kill John (unlike most of the others) that has proven to be quite persistent, resourceful – and very dangerous.
After finishing the first season, I nearly gave up the show. It wasn’t bad, but I wasn’t sure it’s good enough to justify spending time watching it. However, in the second season there was a dramatic improvement. The show stopped killing Terminators every week but started developing a much more complex plot, one that involves future flashbacks. The season included elements such as: a T-1000 (the shapeshifting new type of Terminator) being sent to the past and tries to build skynet – and strangely – teach him ethics. Riley, John’s girlfriend – who knows a lot more about the future than she lets John know. Jesse, supposedly a refugee from the future, but in reality following an agenda of her own. In the second season, Terminator – The Sarah Connor Chronicles became much better. In fact, it’s probably my favorite Sci-Fi TV show on the air (and that’s saying a lot).
What I particularly liked about the second season is that it became, darker, much darker – and also – what’s the word I’m looking for: philosophical. For example, there is an episode which focuses on Cameron (the reprogrammed terminator). Since she doesn’t sleep, she likes going at night to libraries to read books and watch old movies in an attempt to gain a better understanding of humans (always a smart thing to better know your prey). During one such visit, she spots an anomaly in one of the old movies from the 20s: she recognizes a Terminator that from some reason was sent there. This causes Cameron to initiate an investigation into the matter in order to discover why was a terminator sent to such a far point of time, and how could its mission be averted.
(Skip if you don’t like spoilers): as we later find out, this was not the goal of Skynet: as a result of a malfunction, the poor Terminator simply arrived in the wrong time, and accidentally killed someone in a fire, causing the timeline to diverge. Determined to achieve its mission, it spends decades doing various uncharacteristic things (starting businesses, driving competitors out of business, etc) only so it could restore the timeline to what it is supposed to be, and accomplish its mission: which is to kill someone.
This episode is completely unrelated to the main story. In fact, a viewer could skip it and not lose anything. However, including such a ‘minor’ plot adds so much to the series. Not only it is a very intriguing mystery (why was the terminator there?) and a compelling story (how did it restore the timeline?), but we also learn a lot about terminators in general, and Cameron specifically. In my opinion, including this type of episode in a show is what turns a good series into a great series. It’s taking the time to fill in the small details. (one comparable example I can think of is ‘Lower decks’, the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode that focuses on several junior officers).
Although the series is not over, and things may very well deteriorate, right now I’d give the first season 3.5/5.0, and the second season: 4.5/5.0. However, so far the second season just keeps improving: and I expect greatness from the next seasons. All in all, highly recommended. I just hope it won’t let us down like other shows that used to be good.
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Tags: Artificial intelligence, Cyborgs, Dystopia, Future, Futuristic organization, Temporal effect