haaawwwwttt: Summer Glau as Cameron
What a lovely surprise. Like many, I doubted that Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles would resemble anything like watchable drama. It was too easy to imagine a myriad of ways it was destined to fail. The potential for gripping narrative seemed to evaporate the moment you contemplated how “the franchise” was likely to be adapted. Indeed, the pilot was nothing more than a rehashing of the movies basic structure, with less budget. Perhaps necessary for the 12 viewers who tuned in without prior exposure? The entire hour rendered meaningless as the ending notes announced “But none of that mattered. And now: The setup for the TeeVee show.” Well, with the WGA strike diminishing my options, I tuned in next week anyway. Without the movies to ape, the subsequent episode was even worse. Only in retrospect do I realize that that was the first sign of life.
To watch the first season of Terminator is to watch a show that grows more self-assured, compelling and, hell, unique with each step. It seems to need a degree of serialization, perhaps explaining the rocky start. But more importantly it has demonstrated a welcome willingness to learn and adapt and improve upon itself. Never more evident than in Summer Glau’s brilliant and oft commented upon portrayal of the terminator Cameron. Showrunners Friedman and Wirth have tried justifying the character differences observable over the run by saying variously that “in the pilot she was waiting for them for 73 days… once she changes environment, that personality as it were gets shed” or “whatever she does may be for a particular purpose”(please) . If that’s what needs saying to satisfy quivering Kleenex-welding fanboys, fine. Bolox, sez I. I’d rather see a show course-correct its way to greatness than stagnate in consistency. When first introduce I cringed hearing the name was “Cameron” (I see we worked hard on our clever homage) Nine – nine! – episodes later I find her the oddest, most compelling reason to watch this show. Glau’s collaboration with the writers make every non-action scene she’s in a curiosity, dialog twined with a performance that make you scream “OMG??! WTF up wit dat bitch?!;a;lkj 2lkj2!” Her pitch perfect tiny nuances can both creep out and fascinate; sometimes simultaneously. It’s a tightrope walk that has proved most watchable (oh, plus: She’s haaawwwwttt)
Terminator is slowly but surely honing in on what it wants to be. Individual episodes don’t adhere to formula, at least not one yet evident. It’s also shown a desire to innovate and avoid retreads of the perfunctory. The brilliant Johnny Cash fight scene case in point. An unexpected tone acknowledging the required beat, sidestepping the obvious and unabashedly declaring “this will be different than the movies, and that’s not a bad thing.” It’s not a point I would have conceded after the first few episodes. While initially suffering where it departed from the franchise that birthed it, the fierce determination to strike out on its own is early proof that this show has legs.
While the plotting and tone is ascending nicely, the show is not without its problems. If you’ve seen the show, you know where I’m going: Sarah Connor is the biggest problem with The Sarah Connor Chronicles. That Lena Headey is no Linda Hamilton is gnawingly apparent, yet hopes of forgiveness are drowned like puppies by the scripts she’s given. Some taming of the “I just stabbed a guy with Drano™ escaping from the crazy house” persona seems acceptable, after a few years on the outside. Yet it’s as if they siphoned off all traces of extreme cool badassity we all remember and loved into the Derek Reese proxy and replaced her character sketch with Judith Light’s from Who’s the Boss. While asinine headless Terminator arcs can be fixed with a few episodes of plotting and a bit of mental retconning, Sarah Conner seems a more permanent albatross. Still, as the show found its rhythm it became more and more possible to look past such glaring flaws. Let’s not forget Reese shot a dude in the head in front of a six year old. Cold. While Sarah may be forever tragically neutered, at least the show in toto has some hairy ones of reasonable heft.
I’m finally warming up to a few of the other departures from the films, such as the apparent multitude of time-traveling Skynet and resistance fighters. Some are particularly inspired, like the untrustworthiness of a reprogrammed terminator, or the introduction of Kyle’s brother Derek. And for them to invest all that story capital into Reese’ ignorance of his relation to John Conner, just to spend it on a scene where he buys him
a beer an ice cream? Aw damn, I was all crying like a sissy girl. Go on with your bad self and lie that you didn’t get a little misty-eyed. If that’s what happens as the narrative drive of the serial supplants those of the films then you, dear showrunners, may just have a show on your hands.
By Friedman’s own admission, they fluked out on the final strike-induced impromptu finale “one episode more or one episode less [and] I think it would be probably less satisfying”. So what could we hope for in an actual planned finale instead of the truncated arc we all saw? I’d like to find out. While the scuttlebutt is that renewal is almost certain, I believe I shall be most cross if Fox’s May upfronts don’t contain a chrome-plated face of death or two, wrapped in a pretty bow. The first outing was in a barren TV landscape pitted against the publics, and my own, non-existent expectations. The more daunting sophomore effort will certainly be a challenge, and one wonders if they will be able to… but wait, this is the same note I came in on ;) I await curiously to see where the show will take us next, hoping the sparks of ingenuity continue to grow brighter, and perhaps for a bit of ice cream and Johnny Cash.