Apr 16 2009 1:07pm

The Future of Sarah Connor

Last week, Fox aired the season finale of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, which might very well be the last episode ever. Ratings have not been kind to the show and its future is uncertain at this point.

There’s much to like about TSCC, but there’s also a lot the show did wrong. While the second season started off with some interesting developments and the introduction of some new characters, it failed to capitalize on these quickly enough and seemed to meander without any idea of where it was going. Add to that a string of episodes focusing on uninteresting characters ancillary to the plot and it’s no wonder that people’s attention wavered.

What makes this such a shame is that the last five or six episodes of Season Two were so great. They found a direction, plot threads started to come together. We got an idea of what was going on after all of this time. And the finale, while answering some questions, set things up for a hell of a third season. Which I now want to see.

So what went wrong?

In my opinion, too many episodes were spent this season focusing on saving some new guest star of the week from the Terminators. Yet another machine was sent back in time to kill someone who was important for some vague reason and Sarah and John spent the episode trying to save them. Which I found I didn’t care about. Neither did I care about the visions that Sarah was having about colored dots.

The sad thing was that they had plenty in the show that was interesting. The idea of time travel and whether or not they were changing the future. John Connor’s path from smart kid to future leader and savior of humanity. Derek Reese, John’s uncle and the brother of Kyle Reese from the first movie who had traveled back in time. Derek’s girlfriend who was now also in the past and trying to get John away from his reliance on machines. Not to mention the strange liquid metal Terminator trying to build an AI, played by Shirley Manson.

They didn’t get to those things until the last five or six episodes. And when they did, the show really started to shine. We saw that the future timeline could be changed. And that as Sarah and team tried to prevent Skynet from being created, other events would occur to make sure it happened. Like a time travel chess match between the humans and the machines.

We learned that future John not only used repurposed machines, but that he was reaching out to the newer liquid metal models and, in the final episode, we find out that Shirley Manson’s character was working with the future John Connor rather than against him.

Then of course there was the jump into the future which changes the game significantly. Instead of living and surviving into the post-Judgment Day future, John Connor skips ahead without necessarily learning all the lessons he needs to learn to be humanity’s savior.

One of my favorite things about the television series was the time they spent in the post-apocalyptic future. Not as much time I would have liked, but enough that we got a better sense of what was going on. And the end of the second season had much more of that (particularly a creepy sequence on a nuclear submarine). The second season ender promised even more of the post-apocalyptic shenanigans.

It’s almost cruel. Now I want to see the adventures of young John Connor in the future. In a time where he never existed in the future to send his father back and start this whole process in the first place. I want to see who the human Cameron (or Allison or whatever her name is) really is. I want to see what Shirley Manson is really all about. And why did Sarah Connor step away from John and let him go forward into the future?

The sad reality is that we’ll probably never see that. The rumblings are that most of the cast members have moved on to other projects. Speculation on the internet is that the show is indeed canceled.

In another post I compared Battlestar Galactica to a girlfriend. The Sarah Connor Chronicles, then, would be that girl that you’re friends with, that you don’t really notice, only to later realize she’s really cool and quite a catch. Of course that realization happens the day before she’s about to move to the other side of the country.

Goodbye, Sarah Connor Chronicles. I’ll hope to hear from you, but I won’t hold my breath.

Ian Tregillis
1. ITregillis
The first season of this show impressed me. I liked how it tried to avoid showing me things I'd already seen a hundred times, and how it tried to find interesting ways to tell the story.

But I was disappointed with chunks of the second season. I got bored when it started spending time on things I didn't care about. I kept watching, though, because every so often there were glimmerings of something really cool coming down the pike. It did seem to find its stride, but too late.

Oh, well.
Mitchell Downs
2. Beamish
Much like Battlestar Galactica I got the sense from this second season of TSCC that they had no end story in sight. They were working purely from concept and kinda hoping that a story would appear.

So we get the episodic "adventure of the week" stuff early in the Season and then they suddenly see where they are going about mid season; spend far too many episodes on the Riley story and get it all together in the last half dozen.

Only now it is too late. Too many people were fed up with those early directionless episodes and abandoned the show. I would hope they can work out some kind of 10-13 episode short season to at least wrap the show.
Jonathan Flynn
3. Flynn
This show has been the stand out science fiction series of this season. After BSG it's so nice to see robots acting like robots, that is, not like humans! Weaver is apparently sentient and non-hostile... but she hasn't found religion or got in touch with her feelings or whatever -- she's just not interested in killing every other intelligent being.

In terms of the plot progression, I think this show will work better on DVD, where the slower pace won't be accompanied by waiting weeks or months of real time. The word is that the stand alone episodes were a push from Fox to bump the ratings. Some of them were neat -- "Alpine Fields" was cool, or the one with the Terminator in the early 20th century.

Another thing that probably works better on DVD is that they don't seem to use 'hooks' in the early part of the episodes on this show. When they do have an action scene it's often in the middle or the end of an episode -- they don't just throw in a firefight or whatever to get your adrenaline pumping. This probably has a lot of live viewers people switching away.
4. Schizohedron
Someone get the producer and scriptwriters in the same room with a team from Dark Horse Comics to see if they can work out a deal for a third season in comic-book form! Even if they can't get the actors, at least the ideas and plotlines could flourish that way.
Rajan Khanna
5. rajanyk
@3 I don't understand why the execs think stand-alones help make the show accessible. The times that's happened in recent memory it's led to absolutely awful episodes. BSG, for example. The string of really bad episodes around the time of Black Market were supposedly due to a push for stand-alone episodes. But they shy away from what's interesting about the shows,and they always come off as too constrained. I doubt they pull in new viewers who, if they do give it a shot, write it off as boring..

@2 I agree about the planning. I read an interview with Shirley Manson where she mentioned that when she started on the show, she asked what her character was all about and the show writers hadn't figured that out yet. When they did figure it out, it was great, but that aimlessness was definitely felt.
Pablo Defendini
6. pablodefendini
I think the show has indeed had its directionless moments, as mentioned above, but yes, the final episodes of the season really brought everything together very, very nicely.

For what it's worth, I think the title of the show was a huge misnomer. Despite Lena Headey's fantastic portrayal of the title character, I found myself really not caring too much about her story anymore. I kind of think that after three movies, and the first season of the show, Sarah Connor's story is played out—she's John Connor's mom, she's a badass, and she's charged with taking care of her son, the future leader of the human resistance. But that's about as far as we can take her, I think, and keep her interesting.

Much more interesting to me has been John Connor's development from snot-nosed genius-brat to the grim, determined leader he's started becoming of late in the show. Add to that the fact that John, due to his being who he is, is the nexus of all these weird relationships with the other characters on the show, where they have to protect him on one hand, but also treat him as the leader who has the final say in how things play out, and you've got some really compelling interplay going on. For example, the sexual subtext between the Terminator Cameron (Summer Glau) and John hints at the fact that yes, John has basically been raised by machines, and he sees them in a fundamentally different way than the rest of humans (which opens the door to the very interesting concept of Manson's T-1000 working with the humans). Additionally, I found his relationship with Derek (played with surprising skill by Brian Austin Green—yes, David from 90210 grew up, and he's got acting chops!) to also be very compelling, and play to John's obvious daddy issues.

As you say, Raj, the final episodes, and the last episode in particular, set up some really, really, really interesting concepts for next season (if it happens). As a matter of fact, the first thought I had when I saw John was shunted into the future, was that this was a novel way of inserting him into his destiny, if you will. I mean, who's to say that this isn't the way John ended up in the future in the first place? To my knowledge, we haven't heard of John Connor necessarily living through Judgement Day....
Rajan Khanna
7. rajanyk
@pablo - I agree with you that Sarah's story didn't really have much to add. I think that Lena Headley did a great job with subtly portraying her tough love approach to protecting John, those moments where you saw that she really did care and she was trying to walk this tightrope in being a mother and protecting/grooming him, but we get it. Their attempts to add plot threads with her cancer and later her visions didn't really help either.

And I was thinking the same thing about John in the future. Maybe this is how he ended up there. Though I'm wondering if in that future they have time travel. I assume the project was still developed, but without John there, did the humans capture it. I also would like to see them play with the idea that maybe John isn't that necessary. Maybe they get along fine without him. But I guess now it's unlikely we'll see that.
David Bilek
8. dtbilek
I mean, who's to say that this isn't the way John ended up in the future in the first place? To my knowledge, we haven't heard of John Connor necessarily living through Judgement Day....

It's a good theory but there are too many holes in it. To pick one big one, John doesn't have the famous photograph of Sarah in the jeep with the headband. The one he gives to Kyle and which Kyle carries back in time.

We know the photo exists because we've seen it in the series (with Headey instead of Hamilton).

I agree that the relationship between John and Cameron has been handled with great skill, although it's hard to call whatever it is "subtext" after the finale.
- -
9. heresiarch
dtbilek @ 8: "I agree that the relationship between John and Cameron has been handled with great skill, although it's hard to call whatever it is "subtext" after the finale."

What are you talking about, that was just him checking her power core to see if it was leaking. Perfectly innocent!

Pablo Defendini
10. pablodefendini
dtbilek @ 8

heh. you're right. that scene was pretty over the top.

For the record, reports of the show's death are premature—both Dollhouse and SCC are in trouble, and it really does look like they're getting the axe, but there have been no formal announcements either way, afaik.
Rajan Khanna
11. rajanyk
True - I think internet rumors are spreading "the sky is falling" news, but I do think it's an outside shot. Though I think people are mobilizing to try to save it.
12. David Ellis201
I've liked this show from the beginning---and seem to be about the only person who did.

What particularly captures my interest is the development of the character of Cameron. I'm a sucker for the whole Pinnochio/Tin Man theme in SF.

I just hope the character reappears in some form in the movies. Though I suspect it won't. This looks like its going to be a timeline that never was.

At least that's a coherent concept in the context of the Terminator universe.
Theresa DeLucci
13. theresa_delucci
Finally caught the finale last night.

No, I liked it from the beginning, too. Not totally in love with it like I am now, but willing to give it a chance. That season one finale Johnny Cash-scored shootout cemented my loyalty, it was that badass. If BSG is a (disappointing) girlfriend, Terminator was, for me, a friend with benefits you slowly realize is actually solid relationship material. Or something. Ha! I feel like I know too much of Raj's psychology now. Anyway...

The last ten minutes of the finale were crushing and it'd be a damn shame if the show never comes back. However, I felt it wrapped up the season well enough and provided some interesting questions to ponder if that really was the series finale. (Frak! Please, no...) Questions about fate, destiny, loyalty, free will... Will John Connor become the hero he was supposed to be after skipping through time? What role does Cameron play in his development, both as a human and a machine? I'm also looking forward to more time in the post-Judgment Day world. And more Derek. I was heartbroken after he died! That was the same week I saw a certain episode of House and it was just one great character too many getting shot in the head for me. I actively avoided watching the finale for a week in case anything tragic happened to Ellison.

I agree that the season was slow to start, but I thought the standalone episodes were fantastic - especially "Say Goodbye to All That," "Self Made Man." Much more enjoyable to watch than a lot of other standalone episodes for the stylistic narrative choices. But I agree that Sarah's dot-search was lame and plodding and Riley was the most annoying TV character since Season 5 Dawn Summers on Buffy.

The show isn't quite dead yet. I really hope Fox reconsiders cancelling it. The movie to Friday night was a huge mistake, probably even more than early plotting missteps. TV watching is not the same as it was twenty or even ten years ago and ratings should not be counted the same way, either.
Soon Lee
14. SoonLee
Finally saw the final episode this week; it finally screened on free-to-air TV here. Agree with the sentiment that the last part of the season has been truly gripping viewing. It's a real shame that it got cancelled just as it was hitting its stride.

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