Bringing down metal: Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles

Guest Warrior - AJAX

Season 2, Episode 5: Goodbye to All That

Original Air Date—6 October 2008

[Airing Mondays on FOX, though not tonight because of the baseball playoffs. You can catch up with FULL EPISODES on and]

Much of the episode revolves around a small plot device that goes all the way back to the original Terminator Film: fragmented information leaves the machines targeting people in the past by partial name. In this case, Martin Bedell. The episode opens with an unnamed Terminator (Patrick Kilpatrick), who interrupts a backyard barbecue, asking the chef, "Martin Bedell?" before snapping his neck (I think it was a broken neck... whatever). This goes right back to Arnie in The Terminator, asking women "Sarah Connor?" before hauling out that colt .45 with the laser sight and blasting them in the brain. Our team of heroes; Sarah, John, Derek Reese (John's uncle) and Cameron (the 'friendly' terminator) split up to cover two additional Martin Bedell targets. The girls rescue/kidnap an adolescent Martin out of the Terminator's grasp, while the boys infiltrate a military academy to find and protect a teenage Bedell.

Long story short, Sarah does a little mommy/son bonding with young Bedell over The Wizard of Oz (the novel, not the movie), while John ponders the nature of his (and Bedell's) lack of choice in their respective time-mandated destinies. Derek reflects on the ultimate, usually grim, fate of many of Future John's friends and allies. And they manage to deal with the new terminator before he kills anyone significant with the help of a fifty-caliber sniper rifle, several claymore mines, a pound of thermite, and a conveniently placed and highly flammable tarpit. Lets just say they don't talk the machine into surrendering.

Pros: Several future-flashbacks via Derek. Glimpses of the future are always keen in T:TSCC. In this one the resistance engages a machine supertank (called an Ogre, for anyone who might remember a similarly named computer game from back in the mid-eighties: Go Commodore 64!) in order to save a large number of prisoners, including a captured John Connor.

The .50 cal sniper rifle. I'm so glad someone finally realized that blasting clip after clip of dinky 9mm ammo into terminators is fundamentally stupid. Shooting it from the hip and scoring headshots... well, not so good. But at least the humans are starting to bring the right party favors to the event.

Military folk in Future John's posse. JC is too busy on the run to go through a formal marine boot camp, so its nice to have even an unspoken acknowledgement that in the future he's not just a gifted amateur: some folks who really and truly know their stuff are in there advising the Future Alexander the Great.

Cons: Pretty much the whole kidnapping-the-kid-Bedell plot arc. Cameron's a machine with extremely limited skills with kids, while Sarah's been on the run (from both machines and the American Federal Government) for about the last decade and a half, with little time to read Parenting Today, or Baby Whisperer. Trying to make her seem more maternal is, pardon the recently enshrined international catchphrase, putting lipstick on a pig. The sooner John, and the viewership, stop expecting Sarah to suddenly turn into the empathetic/sympathetic nurturer, the better.

Just wandering into the base and getting a job and/or scholarships. Derek winds up being hired as an instructor shortly after getting John admitted into a prestigious military prep school. Anyone ever heard of 9/11? I understand they're not storing nuclear weapons on campus (though in a previous episode Sarah and Cameron both got hired as janitorial staff at a problem-stricken nuclear reactor with about as much difficulty...) but you'd think with all those congressmen's sons and... well... I don't remember seeing any female cadets... hmmm... could be another con there... but anyway to go from complete stranger wearing fatigues and lieutenant's insignia to paid (and armed) instructor over the course of a fifteen minute interview? Hmmm. Not so much.

Its a time machine, not a revolving door. Or, too many Terminators spoil the broth. The unspoken theme in the terminator movies was that time travel was extremely difficult and hugely energy expensive. Hence, Skynet sent a single terminator back in 1984, the original Arnie T-800, to kill Sarah Connor and retroactively abort John Connor, hero of the human race and leader of the resistance. The resistance responds by sending back a single man, Kyle Reese, who eventually became John's father (and incidentally creating an unresolvable time paradox about John's origins, but I digress). In T2, Skynet sends back a single T-1000, the original morphing metal robot to kill an adolescent John Connor (somehow overcoming the whole 'field generated by a living organism, nothing dead will go' rule put into place back in the original movie). Human response, send a single reprogrammed T-800 to stop the T-1000. And in T3 Skynet sends, you guessed it, a single T-X Terminator (now looking like a bitchy fashion model)back to kill a twentysomething JC. Human response: sending an oddly aged-looking T-800 back to save John (and avoid excessive nude/skin scenes which graced the first two movies). Now we're into the series and in a season an a half we have seen no less than six terminators (Cromartie, Cameron, Catherine Weaver, The Metal Thief, Nuclear Plant Infiltrator, Bedell Hunter), and four humans (Derek Reese and his team) come back from the future, PLUS Cameron, Sarah, and John jaunting a handful of years into the future using a highly compacted time-device secreted in a dozen safe deposit boxes in the vault of a bank, assembled by another team of humans sent back from the future to the sixties to gather the needed components.

If time travel is as it appears to be in the series: simple and inexpensive, why the hell isn't Skynet sending a hundred (or a thousand) Terminators to nail JC. For that matter, why didn't they do so back in the movies? Let us say then that using the movies as a basis instead, that time travel is a darn tricky problem to resolve, writers in the series are seriously overusing this extremely cheesy plot device to introduce new characters at will. And they should stop really soon, and hopefully start using the characters they've already introduced instead.

Cromartie is one of the most interesting villains since the original Schwarzenegger. Started by Owain Yeoman (who has since moved on to The Mentalist), but continued by Garret Dillahunt (most well known from Deadwood), he's a usually terse, focuseded character who occasionally coins some seriously Yoda-like wisdom (this is Empire Strikes Back Yoda, speaking in cryptic riddles and hidden knowledge, not Ping-Pong Lightsaber Yoda who came to prominence in certain ridiculous movies I'd rather commit hari-kari with a popsicle stick than speak of at length). No reason at all this character couldn't do much (if not all) the devious cybernetic cloak-and-dagger work, with a side-order of find-and-kill-John-Connor, rather than introducing a new machine that will be melted down to slag within 45 minutes. Catherine Weaver (Shirley Manson), the series T-1000, currently impersonating a mega-wealthy corporate CEO, could also be used to cause all manner of Skynet endorsed mayhem, in any number of liquid-metal guises.

I feel this episode showcases much of what I like and dislike about the series as a whole: interesting and eyecatching, but a bit lazy and unfocused. Demographic work, I understand, is necessary to diversify and entrench a core viewership, so there will be 'mom' moments for Sarah, 'son' moments for John, and amusing Data-like (from Star Trek Next Gen) moments where Cameron is attempting to better adapt to living among humans. But at its core is something as hard and gritty and metallic as the machines they often fight: a mother preparing her son for war and apocalypse. The closer the writers stay to that, the happier I'll be.


(Apple to the) 'Jax