Judge Dan Mancini bids this cancelled series a hearty hasta la vista...baby.
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 (published September 22nd, 2009) are also available.
The battle for our tomorrow starts today.
Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles is no more. Flagging ratings caused Fox to cancel the show in May of 2009. If you were a fan, the good news is that Season Two has landed on Blu-ray in a box set that presents the episodes with impressive video and audio transfers, as well as a solid slate of supplemental content.
Facts of the Case
Sarah Connor (Lena Headey, 300), her 16-year-old son John (Thomas Dekker, 7th Heaven), and their Terminator protector Cameron (Summer Glau, Serenity) have leaped through time from 1999 to 2007 in an attempt to escape Cromartie (Garret Dillahunt, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford), a T-888 model Terminator sent from the future to kill John, the future leader of the human resistance against a malicious, self-aware computer called Skynet that is destined to initiate a nuclear holocaust in 2011 that destroys life as we know it. Sarah, John, and Cameron are joined by Derek Reese (Brian Austin Green, Beverly Hills, 90210), a soldier sent back in time by the future John Connor to assist them in stopping Skynet.
Season Two of the series picks up moments after Season One's cliffhanger ending. Sarah and the others are in pursuit of the primitive chess-playing AI, called the Turk, that will eventually evolve into Skynet; Cameron has been blown up in a booby-trapped Jeep, and Cromartie has viciously murdered an entire FBI Hostage Rescue Team led by special agent James Ellison (Richard T. Jones, Vantage Point), who is investigating the strange events surrounding the 1999 disappearance of Sarah and John Connor. The Connors' quest for the Turk soon leads them to ZeiraCorp CEO Catherine Weaver (Shirley Manson, lead singer of Garbage), who wants the computer in order to advance her own experiments in artificial intelligence.
This five-disc set contains all 22 episodes of the series' second season:
I don't want to perform an in-depth post-mortem on Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, but the show's writers and producers missed an opportunity when they failed to ground the series in character dynamics. As I watched the second season, I couldn't help but wish that it had placed young John Connor in the middle of a tug-of-war between his mother, who only wants to protect him, both for his benefit and the benefit of humankind, and Derek Reese, who believes John is destined to lead the human resistance and is eager to allow him to grow into the hardened soldier and brilliant military strategist he knows from the future. That tension would have enabled the series to explore issues of free will and predestination and address the question of whether the future is fixed or in flux without being heavy-handed or overtly philosophical. It would have firmly planted the show's ideas in drama and character. Instead, Sarah, Derek, and everyone else worries about protecting John and chastises him about any minor risk that he takes, while he whines and mopes incessantly about his weird and dangerous life. It's like Dawson's Creek or Beverly Hills, 90210 only with killer robots.
As the characters go through the same motions they did in the nine episodes of Season One, Season Two rapidly devolves into a mess of subplots involving evil corporations, AWOL FBI agents, an awkward teen romance, and a bevy of cybernetic killing machines of various model numbers, all of whom are far better at imitating the subtle details of human behavior than any of the Terminators in the feature films (with the exception of Marcus from Terminator Salvation). It's not that I had trouble following the increasingly labyrinthine story arc, it's that by around the mid-point of the season, I just didn't care anymore.
As in the first season, the best episodes in this set are those that put Brian Austin Green front and center as Derek Reese, the brother of Kyle Reese from The Terminator and, therefore, John's uncle. In "Complications," for instance, Derek's encounter with an AWOL resistance soldier and former lover who "remembers" the future differently than he does, leads him to suspect that time is more malleable than he had believed. Meanwhile, he demonstrates his bona fides as a badass freedom fighter from the post-apocalyptic future when he captures a human traitor who has sneaked back to 1999, then takes the man's younger, present-tense self hostage so that he can extract information about Skynet from them by any ugly means necessary (and by "any ugly means" I'm referring specifically to those that involve fingernails and a pair of pliers). Derek Reese is at turns admirable for his wile and toughness and terrifying for his disregard for anything (including human life) other than his mission. Though he despises Terminators, he is in many ways like them, cold, focused, and violent. That tension makes him the show's most interesting character apart from Sarah.
Each of the season's episodes features solidly choreographed and shot action sequences as well as strong performances by the cast, but the 22-episode season suffers from a formula that is a grab-bag of repetitious flights from Terminators, attempts by Connor and her team to track down and eliminate people associated with Skynet's rise to malicious power, and the team's melancholy attempts to carve out something resembling normal lives for themselves. What worked fairly well across the brief nine-episode run of the first season grows thin and threadbare across the 22 episodes of Season Two. Summer Glau's quirky Terminator Cameron, in particular, comes across as an idea whose time has come and gone. An attempt to put a new spin on the character by way of her programming being scrambled by an explosion during the first season finale feels more desperate than inspired. And John Connor's attachment to the cyborg is contrived—especially when compared with his plausible and fairly touching bond to the T-800 in Terminator 2: Judgment Day.
Despite these flaws, the second season of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles (and the first season, for that matter) are superior to either of the last two Terminator feature films by virtue of the fact that they place Sarah Connor in the center of the action. Any Terminator story without Sarah Connor is a lesser Terminator story—period. John Connor may be the franchise's man of destiny, but his mother is its central figure, its true hero. Lena Headey does amazingly well stepping into Linda Hamilton's iconic shoes. She brings her own style to the role, but still plays Sarah as one bad mama-jama willing to do anything to protect her son and to prepare him for the hardships he must face in a bleak and unforgiving future. It's too bad the show is less interested in Sarah as a character than in spinning a time-hopping melodrama with too many characters and too many subplots.
This Blu-ray set presents the show's episodes in an attractive 1080p/VC-1 transfer that delivers sharp detail in close-ups, accurate colors, and rich blacks. It looks magnificent for a television production. Audio is less impressive, but still solid. The only option is a Dolby 5.1 surround track that is rich, loud, and detailed.
For extras, we have cast and crew commentaries on four of the episodes, "terminated" scenes, and a gag reel. There are eight behind-the-scenes featurettes that cover everything from the story, to the special effects, to the stunts: "The Storyboard Process: Cameron Goes Bad," and "Cameron Vs. Rosie Fight Rehearsal," "Write the Future," "Conceptualization," "Blood and Metal," "Choreographing Chaos," War Stories," "Setting the Tempo," and "Motivations." Finally, "Collision with the Future: Deconstructing the Hunter Killer Attack" is an interactive featurette that allows you to explore the production, direction, special effects, and visual effects from a key sequence in the "Born to Run" episode.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
In a serendipitous turn of events, the series' writers crafted a season finale that, though intended to be a cliffhanger leading into a Season Three that now won't be made, works perfectly as a gently poetic series finale. The melancholy wrap-up finds John and Sarah separated, and John face-to-face with an important character (who will remain nameless here—I don't want to spoil it for anyone) from James Cameron's The Terminator. The last five minutes of "Born to Run" are the best five minutes of Season Two.
I enjoyed Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles enough to be disappointed by its cancellation, but I can't say I'm surprised. Throughout its second season, the show flailed around wildly, introducing masses of new characters (many of them superfluous) and plot threads in a desperate attempt to land on something that would ignite audience interest. I won't claim it would have saved the show, but a greater focus on Sarah and John Connor would have been more appealing.
Despite its flaws, great action sequences, a few interesting plotlines, and some top-notch production values make this second season set worth a rental if not a purchase.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• Episode Commentaries
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