Turning the Corner on Terminator: Sarah Connor Chronicles

I have been watching Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles from day one, which considering the shortened first season, hasn't been that long. And it has kept me coming back consistently because the show is well-written and creates a dramatic sense of danger every week. It's not in a must-see category (the only one I can put in that place is Battlestar Galactica), but building with each episode this season, surprisingly, it has started a campaign to join the elite.And how do good shows become elite? I don't have the playbook with me, but this is how Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles (henceforth, T:SCC) is doing it.

It should be no secret that you have to start with solid writing. Heroes, for example, has flashes of brilliance, but is far too inconsistent. Worse, it has a near-boundless template to work from. T:SCC has a pretty simple (yet fantastical) premise that has been the template for the series and the past couple movies: A Terminator from the future comes back to protect John Connor. In the series, you have his mother in a starring role, and throw in John's uncle Reese, and you have a solid dynamic. And it has been working, but the shtick has been done with the robot/human interaction for a long time now, and let's just say it is tough to find new ways to make jokes about robot understanding while saving John.Luckily for us, the terminators we have seen (by my count, at least four) are far more interesting, even shocking in their behavior. I mean, let's face it, the show is called "Terminator" for a reason, not just "The Sarah Connor Chronicles". The protector robot figure, "Cameron", got caught in an explosion at the end of season one, which reset her programming to kill John in the opener. After trapping her, and against his mother's judgement, he "fixes" her and restarts her. Needless to say, this new Cameron acts a little different, more contemplative, less robotic, and now has resurfacing memories from before she was captured and reprogrammed. And in the very least, she reacts badly to anyone now who suggests that she needs to be "fixed".

Shirley Manson's T1001 terminator is another story. Apparently head of large corporation, she is interested in finding a stray terminator. And she has a daughter. Not something we've seen before.Nor have I seen some of the intensity that the episodes have brought recently. The third episode, "Mousetrap", was dramatic as it was final for one of the recurring characters.

No disrespect to Linda Hamilton, who was great in her two movie roles, but Lena Headey, brings a wonderful intensity, humanity, and tenderness to the title role. She totally owns it now. To my own shock and awe, Brian Austin Green has completely shed any resemblance to his 90210 days; he's completely believable in his role as a future soldier. Thomas Dekker as John Connor ably conveys the frustration of a future hero who at once is all-to-aware of his importance and desperate for some semblance of a normal life. And Summer Glau as the protectant terminator "Cameron" is as spot on as you could hope for.

The most recent episode, from last night, "Alison from Palmdale", was everything you want in a Terminator series and yet not typical. It told the story of Alison Young, who was a captured youth from the future who was apparently the model for the infiltrator model "Cameron". Cameron herself, likely due to John's on-the-fly reprogramming of her damaged chip, suddenly can't remember who she is beyond the information she got interrogating the imprisoned Young back in the dark future. Amnesiatic Cameron ends up in a half-way home, where through a series of sessions to a counselor, begins to remember everything, finally declaring that her mission is to put John Connor's head "on a pike for all to see". By the end, she is reunited with John, who has no idea she remembers everything, and how dangerous her personal discovery is becoming. Worse, thanks to her memory and temporary friendship with a suspect girl, she now begins to lie to him. Flashbacks, flashforwards, self-reflection, revelation, and death. My interest is only rising.

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