With the release of another Terminator movie this month, one of the better versions of this franchise came in 2008, just not on the big screen. The Fox TV show,Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, seemed like an odd choice for a franchise that had entered blockbuster territory after Terminator 2: Judgment Day. Being the original Terminator was a low budget affair that maximized its budget to become a influential Sci-Fi movie, could a weekly TV show do justice to that? In a word: yes.
The show makes the smart move of placing itself as a sequel to Judgment Day (the show literally starts around the late 90’s), with Sarah Connor (Lena Headey) and teenage John (Thomas Dekker) trying to live normal lives, but occasionally having to uproot when it seems things aren’t safe. Sarah’s paranoia is well-founded, when another Terminator named Cameron (Summer Glau) arrives as their protector, and to help them try to stop SkyNet from becoming operational. Through time travel, the trio end up in the present day, where they only have a few years to fight the creation of SkyNet. Add to this an FBI agent (Richard T. Jones) on their trail and a evil Terminator who has followed them into the future, you get the setup for what comes next.
What was surprising is how the show didn’t really forget its past, referencing characters from the first two movies, and exploring the dark future of the machine-controlled Earth. Where things were simplified in the movies, the war between man and machine got really complex, and that’s before you include the time travel into it. The time-travel introduced John’s uncle, Derek (Brian Austin Green), as another ally from the future, but one with knowledge that seemed to go against what we knew. That became clearer in season two when a flame of his from the future seemed to have a different past than what he knew her to have. The concept of people from the future coming from timelines changed by the past was a interesting one to think on.
And even with the intellectual time travel and what separates man from machine discussions, the show had some great emotional depth in its characters. Headey’s portrayal of Sarah is a potent one, being a woman torn between being a mom and a warrior, as is Dekker’s portrayal of John having to grow into a leader and not just a follower of his mom. And then there’s Glau’s Cameron, who is probably the best Terminator since Arnold Schwarzenegger embodied the role, but for being gradually a more complex character. Even it’s fellow Terminators, like T-1000 Shirley Manson (yes, Garbage’s Shirley Manson) and Garrett Dillahunt’s Cromartie Terminator (who had an arc so insane I could spend longer discussing how many turns it took) were revealed to have more layers of complexity than what was on the surface. As much as this was an action drama, it was also about the toll of having to prevent a future that would decimate humanity.
And on a production level, The Sarah Connor Chronicles did well with the restriction of not making every episode an action spectacle. You could get moments of drama like watching John’s unusual relationship with Cameron, and then watch Cameron slam a guy bigger than her through a wall in the next beat. Add to that the score by Battlestar Galactica (the new one) composer Bear McCreary, which took themes from the movies and incorporated them into some stirring music for the series. Add to that the unpredictable nature of what could happen next (including one character’s shocking and sudden demise very late in season two), and you had a show that had a loyal audience, but should have had a larger one.
The first season of it was meant for mid-season (13 episodes), but thanks to the Writer’s Strike that year, only 9 got produced. But the show did okay in the ratings, and managed to get a second season, although with ratings dropping during season 2, it was cancelled afterwards on a game-changing cliffhanger finale. And it’s a shame, because this may be the best continuation of the Terminator franchise after T2 (especially if the reviews of the sequels afterwards point out that glaring fact). And despite leaving a lot of balls in the air for its last episode, its one of the more solid and thought-provoking entries in the 00’s of Sci-Fi television.