Sunday, January 13, 2008

Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles - 'Pilot' (1x01)

With the prospect of up to a year without new shows, I figured it’d be worth checking out Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles. I really enjoyed Terminator 2, but I wouldn’t say I’m a huge fan of the film series. However, good TV sci-fi is hard to come by, so I gave it a look. The first episode is consistently entertaining, even as it raises the question of how this is going to support a season’s worth of episodes, let alone a whole series.

The thing that made the show work for me was the relationships between the three central characters. From the beginning, there was an intensity to the emotions that just wasn’t there in the lackluster Terminator 3. What made Terminator 2 so fantastic was the creation of a family amidst the action. The ending works because we care about Arnold as a character, not because of the action stuff.

This show bumps the characters up a few years, so instead of getting a father figure, John is getting a girlfriend figure. After years on the run, we’ve got to assume he hasn’t had much in the way of attention from the ladies, there’s only one woman in his life, his mother. The thing that made the episode work was the bizarre love triangle at the center of things. Sarah is so fiercely protective of John, you get the sense she was only with the guy at the beginning to give John some kind of a father figure. It’s John who has qualms about walking away, not her. She has centered her whole life around him, and it’s hard for her to face the fact that he doesn’t need her to protect him anymore, he’s got Cameron.

It produces a weird dynamic between her and John, they’re very close, and it seems almost too much so at times. I think that’s something interesting to play with, the notion that Sarah’s so obsessed with John’s destiny, her feelings are going to an inappropriate place. And, at the same time, will John fall in love with the robot Cameron? What role does Sarah play in his life now, she’s been bumped out as both source of love and protector? It’s an appropriate metaphor for what it is to have a child grow up.

Unlike a lot of reviewers, Lena Headey as Sarah really owns the show for me. Summer Glau is good at what she does, but she’s right to remain as a supporting character. She doesn’t take control of the show the way Katee Sackhoff did on Bionic Woman, I think Sarah’s strength and slightly unhinged quality are what drives the show. That said, I would like to see her pushed to a crazier place, as she was in Terminator 2. It looks like there will only be three main characters on the show, and the tension between them is what’s going to fuel events. Really, it’s a clash between Sarah and Cameron, with John just sort of standing there in the middle.

So, I’ll give the show a few more episodes. It’s not great, but the production values were pretty solid, and there’s a lot of potential there. The central question is whether they’ll let the premise evolve beyond just running from terminators. There’s a lot of interesting stuff within the mythology, but it’ll take a while to see what the show can do with it. But, I’ll give it another look tomorrow, and ultimately, that’s a pilot’s biggest goal, to get you to the next episode. Perhaps the saddest thing about the show is thinking how perfect a partner it would have been for Joss Whedon's Dollhouse. Damn the strike and its continued existence!


MJ said...

So I'm not the only one who thought John and his mom stood a little bizarrely close during the nude scene, right? Right??

Patrick said...

Yeah, didn't seem like the first time they were naked together. I haven't seen the second ep yet, but hopefully that weird tension will remain. It's something different at least.