Judge Cynthia Boris came all the way from the future just to write this review.
Our reviews of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles: The Complete First Season (published August 19th, 2008) and Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles: The Complete Second Season (Blu-Ray) (published September 21st, 2009) are also available.
The time: today. The stake: all our tomorrows.
Though the Terminator franchise has been a blockbuster on the big screen, this small screen version of the story hasn't faired as well. The show got off to a rocky first season start, but thanks to the lack of fresh pilots due to the writer's strike, Fox gave the series another shot. It turned out to be their last shot. This is the second and final season of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles on DVD.
Facts of the Case
Sarah Connor (Lena Headey, 300) is the mother of the potential savior of the human race. Thanks to the knowledge brought to her by a man from the future, Sarah knows that a company called Cyberdyne will eventually create an artificial intelligence so sophisticated that the computer, called Skynet, will eventually take over the world. In this future, her son, John (Thomas Dekker, My Sister's Keepr), will lead the rebellion—humans against metal—and presumably save the race, that is, if he can survive his teenage years and make it that far.
As in the movies that came before it, Skynet has sent Terminators back in time to hunt John but John himself has sent a special Terminator, Cameron (Summer Glau, Firefly), back to protect himself…and yes, the term "circular" doesn't even begin to cut it.
Helping out the good guys is John's uncle, Derek Reese (Brian Austin Green, Beverly Hills, 90210). FBI Agent James Ellison (Richard T. Jones, Vantage Point) is the outsider who gets drawn further and further into the madness and Terminator Cromartie (Garret Dillahunt, Life) finds new life as John Henry, an expensive toy for the second season villain, Catherine Weaver (Shirley Manson).
Other new characters include John's love interest, Riley (Leven Rambin), and Jesse (Stephanie Jacobsen, Melrose Place), a former girlfriend of Derek's who likes to shoot first and ask questions later.
There were only nine episodes in the first season, but season two has a full 22. (Trivia: three of the episode titles and the name of one character are all references to one of Josh Friedman's favorite performing artists. Who is it?)
Good things and bad things happened when Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles moved into a second season. On the good side, they opened up the scope of the show with more locations, cinematic-style action, and a wider range of characters. Shirley Manson was an excellent addition to the show, as was the entire John Henry storyline.
On the downside, we had the John and Riley storyline, which never feels quite right, and a series of contextually out of place episodes that serve only to confuse rather than advance the already complex plot.
The bigger problem is the fact that the show gets stuck in the mud early on and has trouble working itself loose. Week after week, John's whining that he wants a life, Sarah is obsessing over her own mortality, and the Terminators just keep on coming. But the trouble with building a superior, highly intelligent killing machine is that you might believe he'll miss once, maybe even twice, but by the third time one of these things fails in its mission, you gotta wonder what's up.
Some of this is solved by the Catherine Weaver character who adds a level of sophisticated menace to the show that is much preferred to that of a marauding machine out to kill everything in its path. The producer really set the tone for the show with a wildly humorous and yet nasty scene in "Samson and Delilah." One of Weaver's employees is taking a leak in the company restroom while complaining about how much she pisses him off. As he zips, the urinal morphs, liquid metal style, into the form of Weaver who confronts the horrified man with, "sorry if I pissed you off, Mr. Tuck. The feeling's mutual." Then she kills him on the spot with a morphed metal sword of an arm. It's unexpected, it's creepy, and it's funny all at the same time, and that's The Sarah Connor Chronicles at its best. Unfortunately, there aren't enough of those moments to make this a stellar season.
Let me state for the record that I like this show. I was a staunch supporter from the beginning, but even my interest began to wane as mid-season approached. There was "Self Made Man," which was pretty much nothing but Cameron doing research with a new friend. It's like a bright red piece shoved into a puzzle of a blue sky. "Allison From Palmdale" left me wondering what that was all about and if you suffer from insomnia, watch "Some Must Watch, While Some Must Sleep," and you'll be out in no time.
They do get points for originality with "Mr. Ferguson is Ill Today." Instead of the normal linear storytelling, this one is told from a variety of character POV's with each one starting with a jump back in the timeline to a point we've already seen from another POV. It's a great study in how the story can change depending on who's telling it. I'm also fond of the action episodes such as "The Mousetrap" and "To the Lighthouse."
In general, it's not the individual episodes but particular arcs and moments that make this season worth watching. Garret Dillahunt goes from the emotionless Terminator of season one to a curious child who can't soak up information fast enough. His scenes with Ellison are some of the best of the season and it's nothing but two men in a small room. The effect that's created with the multiple monitors projecting colored images over their faces is eerie and it gives the scenes the feeling of movement even though no one leaves their seat.
I also enjoyed the scenes with Weaver and her daughter Savannah. They're very chilling and the scenes between Savannah and John in "Adam Raised a Cain" shows us the compassionate, mature side of John that will serve him well as the leader of the rebels in the future. That episode and the final one, "Born to Run" make up for many of the flaws in the series. They're action-packed, emotional and they make you sigh and say, "geez, guys, what took you so long?"
Since they didn't know that they would be canceled when they finished up the run, the final episode is designed to work as both a beginning and the end. You will get closure to all of the big storylines, but then the characters fall into place for what could have been a dramatic third season.
The DVD itself comes in a plastic flipper case that fits into a sleeve. Not a favorite. I do like the booklet that comes in the box. It's loaded with photos but longer episode descriptions would have been nice. The navigation screens are oddly low tech for such a tech-dependent TV show. I was expecting something that moved and morphed.
The special features include commentaries on four episodes. Executive producer Josh Friedman takes lead with most of the main cast joining him for "Samson and Delilah," Thomas and Summer on "Allison From Palmdale," they're joined by producers James Middleton and John Wirth for "Adam Raised a Cain" and "Born to Run." These are a nice mix of enjoyable banter and behind-the-scenes info.
If you're a production junkie, you'll appreciate the eight-part "Continuing Chronicles" series of featurettes. Each one hones in on a specific aspect of producing the show. "Write the Future" takes you into the writer's room, "Conceptualization" looks at the large amount of visual effects used on the show. "Blood and Metal" is a visit to Almost Human Inc, the special effects company that designs all of the facial appliances and Terminator parts. "Designing Destruction" examines both the practical and virtual locations for the show. "Choreographing Chaos" spends time with the stunt team as well as the second unit, detailing what goes in to making the complex action sequences sing. "War Stories" takes a look at the most exciting moments from the season, "Setting the Tempo" is an interview with composer Bear McCreary and "Motivations" sits down with the cast and producers for an in depth look at what makes each character tick.
There's also an amusing gag reel (Thomas Dekker wants to direct, I'd say), a few "terminated" scenes, a featurette on the storyboard process, and a look at the Cameron vs. Rosie fight rehearsal. All in all, a great collection of special features which could give you a whole new level of respect for how this show is made.
On the technical end, the series looks spectacular. The show is very dark but even those images are sharp and clear. The color pops are over-saturated which adds to the surreal feel of the show. I have no complaints about the audio. It's an even mix, which can be tricky with so many explosions and gun shots but I never felt the need to adjust the volume as I was watching.
Trivia answer: Bruce Springsteen! "Samson and Delilah," "Adam Raised a Cain" and "Born to Run" are all Springsteen songs. John Henry was so named for Springsteen's version of the classic folk tune in his "We Shall Overcome" CD.
Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles is all about taking the characters we know from the movies and giving them a vehicle for growth. That's what a TV show can do that a movie can't. Over the course of two seasons, you'll see John Connor go from a frightened, confused boy to a confident, passionate man. Instead of ducking his destiny, he dives into it, head long and that's a nice payoff for time invested. Yes, the series has plot problems, big ones, but since this is a DVD you can rewind and rewatch anything that confuses you and skip the boring parts. As I said, there are some great moments in the season and some truly spectacular special effects. If you're a sci-fi fan you'll find plenty of winks and nods to the Terminator movies and other cult classics.
I'm sorry, but I must excuse myself from this case because I just found out
that I am both the mother and the daughter of one of the producers who just
happens to be married to the sister of my future best friend.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• Episode Commentaries
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