A future for Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles?

Judgment Day may come sooner than planned for the Connor clan on Fox’s series, and as a loyal viewer without a Nielsen box, I’d like to take some time this Friday afternoon to encourage people to watch this solid show.

Some spoilers ahead.

Ratings are down more than a third from December, when the show aired on Monday nights. Why must Fox put genre shows in the Friday ghetto? I hardly ever watch shows on a Friday night. Why are Fox and the self-loathing SCIFI Channel convinced geeks stay in on Friday nights? Why don’t downloads and iTunes purchases seems to weigh on a show’s lifespan as dramatically as live viewing ratings, especially for genre shows? Am I missing something here?

Here’s another idea: move Terminator back to Monday nights with 24, where it got better ratings. I know it’s easy teaming fanboy/Whedon (same difference) favorites Summer Glau and Eliza Dushku up for sexy Fox promos, but the shows appeal to different audiences.

Terminator is gritty, dark, and dire. A sense of urgency pervades most episodes as the coming apocalypse weighs heavily on the souls of every character. Similar to 24. The first season grabbed me with its deftly choreographed action scenes and impressive array of weaponry—from down ‘n’ dirty shotguns to high-end cyborgs hiding in the body of pencil-thin former ballerinas. Lena Headey gives Sarah’s struggle to protect her son from his impending fate a vulnerability that was missing from Linda Hamilton’s popular performance in T2. Another highlight for me was FBI agent James Ellison, a bit of Fox Mulder’s “I Want to Believe (in Robots)” with a dash of likable sermonizing that makes him less of a thorn in the Connor family’s side and more like an unwitting father figure. Then add in the who-knew-sexiness of Brian Austin Greene and the homicidal smirk of character actor extraordinaire Garret Dillahunt and you’ve got a solid cast.

So what’s going on in season two that is pushing viewers away? This season has been mostly good, but a little uneven in focus. Sarah’s been on her personal mission to look for the meaning of three dots. Dots. For half a season. Finally, the meaning was revealed to us (I think) but it took long enough. Cameron’s programming was screwy for a bit, but she’s mostly okay now, possibly developing a soul. Derek Reese is for some reason not staying with Sarah and John anymore, but is off having sex and adventures with a girlfriend from the future. And then there’s the future leader of humankind who is mostly being angsty with one of my least favorite characters on TV: Riley. John’s girlfriend has annoyed me since she showed up with her “wacky” personality that morphed into the kind of emo existentialism that would make even Peter Petrelli say, “Jeez, get over it.” I felt like the sudden reveal of Riley’s…er, past, as a refugee in the future brought to the present to keep John away from Cameron, was a last-minute writers’ fix to give this character a point. And I was pissed her suicide attempt failed. I know that sounds horrible, but it’s a TV character, okay? And it just further reinforced my feeling that Riley is like every lame teenage stereotype ever.

The biggest shortcoming for me is that Ellison is not connected to the Connors as much; he’s working for Shirley Manson’s liquid metal businesswoman Catherine Weaver. The two of them riff off each other nicely and I think Manson’s acting has improved quite a bit, but… enough with the tease already! We know she’s trying to build better robots and bring about Skynet. Let more characters in on the secret. There’s a glimmer that this is going to happen with Ellison’s introduction to John Henry, Weaver’s pet computer program using the body of known Terminator model Cromartie. Garret Dillahunt can play a convincing murderer a million different ways and I loved his Bionicles speech and chilling assessment of his body. And let me express appreciation for the arms of Catherine Weaver as she skewers the employees of a secret military operation. This is the kind of fun I love on Terminator.

I know that seems like a lot of complaints, but it’s not. The individual plots (minus one) are entertaining on their own. But now all points are leading towards the discovery of where Skynet begins, where it can be stopped. Where Derek’s girlfriend and John’s  will be discovered for who they are and, I’m sure, get at least a major beating. Judgment Day cannot be stopped. It will never be stopped because the entire franchise needs it to happen, but these characters are going to try. And that’s why I tune in. For the car chases, gory shotgun wounds, little bits of pop culture philosophy, and the many episodes that play around with conventional storytelling devices. I loved the different movements of last week’s “Desert Cantos” and the Rashomon tale of “Mr. Ferguson is Ill Today” and the flashback/flashforward of “Goodbye to All That.” By the way, the episode titles themselves are bizarre almost to the point of obscurity.  Another bonus of the second season: the voiceovers are almost entirely gone.

I don’t come to the show expecting the heaviness of Battlestar Galactica or the emotional depth of Lost, but sometimes I find it. Mostly, the show is a fun diversion that plays right to the action fan in me who loves big explosions, killer robots, and a good bit of campiness. I fear, like with so many shows I’ve enjoyed before it, Terminator won’t be given the chance to regain its footing. Will I shed a tear like I did when Angel and Farscape were canned before their time? No. Will I be even less inclined to watch new shows until they are confirmed for second, and now maybe even third, seasons? Yes. But for now, Terminator is still on the air. So for now, I will watch.

But not on a Friday night.

Summer Galu talks to SCI FI Wire about the season 2 finale here.

Terminator: The Sarah Chonnor Chronicles lives, for now, Fridays on Fox at 8 P.M. EST.

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