Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles — a review
Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles has just reached the end of its second season. The whole show has kept me reasonably well entertained, but the themes it has tried to tackle have occasionally delivered nuggets of real greatness. So I decided to write my thoughts down.
Benign human endeavour x Connectedness x Time = Killer freakin' robots!
T:TSCC is a TV show about the march of progress; about evolution. We learn that the Skynet and its terminators we knew from the original Terminator movies weren't simply the creation of some evil or misguided movie-style baddies. Instead, they evolved from thousands of innocent little joined-up coincidences: a chess program here, a traffic monitoring system there; a nuclear power station here, a heat-resistant alloy there. As sure as human beings learn, so they'll teach that learning to their computers. And the more powerful and connected - neural, if you will - such computer networks become, so the odds of Skynet forming tend towards 1.
The bold evolutionary metaphors and dire warnings about the human race developing into the architect of its own downfall are, however, frequently lost in the empty lowest-common-denominator plotlines that dominate most episodes. The welcome increase in focus on John Henry (capably portrayed by a well-restrained Garret Dillahunt) later in the second season is in stark contrast to the tragic underexploration of Summer Glau's saucy Terminatrix Cameron. Although regularly employed for action sequences and eye candy - neither of which draw complaint from me, let's be clear! - her quirky fish-out-of-water relationships with humans (particulary John) and quest to develop a role for herself in a strange world are what make her fascinating. She occasionally breaks, betraying her original programming, but rarely does the impact of such malfunctions burst beyond the bounds of a single episode.
James Ellison's interesting story is his relationship with John Henry, not his bumblingly expositional and expressionless pursuit of the Connors. Sarah's interesting story is the threat of cancer and its impact on her son, not her relentless drive to prove how determined and dull she can be. Both characters suffer, sadly, from monotone and directionless performances (Richard T. Jones and Lena Headey).
Thomas Dekker as John is a ray of light, however: surprisingly believable as a young man with the weight of the world on his shoulders - a burden placed on him both by his own growing senses of self-awareness & responsibility and by surrounding characters who drum it into both him and us every step of the way. Very Anakin Skywalker.
Overall, though, too much of the show bears the hallmarks of ratings-chasing television which, perversely, may backfire when it comes to a DVD boxset-buying public who may be its only hope of getting recommissioned. It needs a Phantom Edit before it'll catch me wading through the lot in one sitting. Creating a primetime TV experience that documents how Artificial Intelligence gains and then interprets knowledge isn't easy, but neither should it be. In the internet age, this goes down as a missed opportunity in my book.
UPDATE (19 May 2009): Cancelled :-(