”Terminator” recap: Now who’s crazy?
After a long day of parsing Oscar dresses, freedom fighters, I came to tonight’s episode of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles dying for a little something to take my mind off all the chiffon. I also walked in wanting to like this damn show, no matter what. After all, several of you seem to enjoy it; I can feel your passion raging through the comments section like a house fire set by a mad psychiatrist. And while I remain unconvinced that the show is not merely pretending to be decent until all the real shows come back (is it March yet?), I am legitimately happy to say that I think this hour was the strongest yet — and not just because I begged it to be.
No, I think what T:SCC managed to pull off for the first time tonight was a unity of tone, a strength of purpose, and an intactness of plot. Here, finally, was an Ellison story line that didn’t have me reaching for the remote. Here, finally, was a John Connor upset about something tangible, instead of just moping under his bangs. Tonight we got a glimpse of actual craftsmanship in the direction — that scene between Bag and Cam at the breakfast table! — and, most of all, we tapped into the Terminator mythology in a way that neither insulted our intelligence nor required obsessive knowledge of the original films to appreciate.
We opened on some seriously scary music. Oh, wait. That was just my DVR recording the end credits of Moment of Truth (or, as my friend Jessica once called it, Are You Lying?). We actually opened with a girl on a motorcycle, dressed like Robert Patrick. It was Cam, all decked out in cop suit and Ray-Bans and shiny white helmet. She broke into a power plant and disabled a turbine, setting off a blackout in L.A. She then drove to a police station and — in the ensuing evacuation chaos of the power outage — broke into the evidence room, where she pawed through poor dead Andy Goode’s evidence box, looking for something. Not finding it, she took the evidence sheet instead, on which Agent Ellison was listed as the last person to check the box out.
Ignoring for a moment the implausibility of a police station ordering an evacuation during a blackout — I used to live in Queens, I know from these things — this was a nice taut open, cross-cut with scenes of Mom prowling a crypt, looking for Andy Goode’s grave. I get it: The dude is dead, and in a series of boxes. And, thanks to the voice-over, I know the one thing that was not in those boxes is his soul. Also not in the boxes: the T-Eightball’s severed hand, which is what Cam was looking for. Mom tried one last trick: calling the FBI, pretending to be LAPD, looking for a prosthetic hand. Because he is the only FBI agent in L.A., Ellison was there when the call came in. He lied, said he never saw the hand, and headed on home — with the files on Sarah Connor, including videotapes of Sarah ranting and raving in Pescadero. She seemed like a crazy person, going on and on about the machines. But she’s not so crazy, is she, Agent Ellison? You’ve got a freaking Terminator hand in your freezer, don’t you, Agent Ellison?
Ellison went looking for Sarah’s original psychiatrist, Dr. Silberman [yes, we had ”Silverman” here, which is what we thought Ellison was calling him, as well as what Fox called him in the press release, even if he was Silberman in the movies; thanks for the catch, readers!], who had retired to a cabin in the woods. Meanwhile, Mom broke into his house, saw her file, and stole one of the tapes. Simultaneously, Cam was tackling a little recon project of her own: going undercover in the dance class of Maria, who is Dmitri the Russian chess guy’s sister, hoping to get information on the whereabouts of the Turk. (Cheap way to get Summer Glau into a leotard? Are the male Terms programmed to dance, too?) The robot’s upper body was a little mechanical, said Maria, who explained that ”dance is the hidden language of the soul.” Cam processed that information (also, that she is a cat), and at the end of class, a Russian man came and threatened Maria, trying to discover the whereabouts of Dmitri. Oh, dear. But Cam returned, saw the Russian man threaten Maria again, and kicked him in the chest (into but not through a wall). This earned her enough trust that Maria took her to a terrified Dmitri, who was hiding out from these guys who want their money. Turned out the $20K he scored by programming the Turk to lose and then stealing it wasn’t enough. Thankfully, Cam got the info on who hired Dmitri right before two more Russian mob types busted in and killed both Dmitri and Maria. Let’s hope that info is correct. Otherwise, Cam’s gonna feel like a real tool for not preventin’ them murders.
NEXT: Brian Austin Green acts!
Back at home, Bag was now healthy enough to be up and about, loading guns in Mom’s room and whatnot, which is where John found him when he got home from school. They had a discussion about trust — Bag doesn’t trust Charlie, and he really doesn’t trust Cam (”Walking around with a name, like it’s a person”) — until Mom came home, fought with Bag about ”the machine,” and told him if he ever goes in her room again, she’ll bust his head. Too bad these two were so busy trying to manufacture something resembling sexual tension, because John was stealing the videotape out of Sarah’s purse, and watching it, and getting all misty-eyed. Turns out it was a tape of Sarah signing away parental rights to him as a boy, and it pissed him off so badly he refused to eat breakfast the next morning. Can’t blame him. Kid’s had a hard life: dead dad, jungle chess, dead foster families. The only thing he thought he could count on was his mom, and she gave him up. Hell, I’d have bangs too.
At the breakfast table, Bag and Cam were awkwardly attempting to eat pancakes. ”You might have fooled them,” Bag said to Cam, ”but not me. I know you.” ”I know you, too,” Cam replied. I’m still not sure what happened between the last time we saw these two together — when she saved him from a Term gone mad — and the present to make him hate her so very, very much, but it was right around here that I decided I like both of these actors in both of these roles a great deal. Summer Glau’s not as much of a surprise, because we knew she had pep, but come on, for real? David ”Crystal Meth” Silver? Showing depth and range and maturity? By God, I never thought I’d see the day. What would they think back at the Peach Pit? Surely Luke Perry never would have stood for all the competition. Bag would have been off the show faster than Shannen Doherty!
Speaking of Shannen Doherty, Ellison arrived at Dr. Silberman’s house only to discover the good doctor is now quite cuckoo himself, in this post-T2 world. He drugged Ellison, tied him to a chair, and sliced his leg open to be sure he wasn’t a Term; he then proceeded to tell the story of that fateful day when the men came and Sarah broke out of Pescadero. He wove the tale in poetic terms — Robert Patrick was ”a changeling, with a face of mercury” — and went so far as to say that the moment when the Governator reached out his hand to Sarah and said, ”Come with me if you want to live,” was no less than a modern interpretation of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Ellison seized this opportunity. ”The Hand of God!” he said. ”I has it! In an ice chest in the trunk of my car!” (Okay, he wasn’t quite so lolcat about it, but you understand.) This, too, was an excellent scene, mainly thanks to the chops of Bruce Davison, who I have loved ever since he played every character on every show ever. But in the end, even the Hand of God wasn’t enough to save our dear Javert: ”I can’t let you stop her,” Silberman said. ”She’s dead,” said Ellison. ”So was Jesus once,” retorted the S-Man, and stabbed Ellison in the neck with a hypodermic needle. Whoa.
Ellison awoke to find Silberman dousing the house in gasoline and lighting it on fire. Thank goodness this was the very moment that Sarah Connor stopped by. (Why? I’m not sure — she’d asked John to look up Silberman’s address earlier, but the impetus for this I cannot say, nor recall, nor find on the ol’ legal pad.) She walked up to Silberman, who gasped, ”I’m sorry I ever doubted you.” She punched him in the face. ”Apology accepted,” she said. It was all very kick-ass. Then she rescued Ellison, who we later saw standing over Silberman with a gun in the pouring rain (why is it raining? looks good!) and saying, ”Where is it?” — meaning the Hand of God. ”She took it,” Silberman said, beginning to do the crazy-man laugh. ”She took it!” S-Man was promptly locked up in Pescadero, presumably for seeing dead people. ”They’re here!” he screamed, as the door closed and Ellison walked away. ”They’re everywhere!” Let’s hope, for his sake, Ellison listened.
NEXT: Cameron practices having a soul
The only stuff I’ve skipped here is two slightly uncharacteristic bonding sessions, one between Bag and Mom and one between Bag and John. This would be my only concern: that Bag’s crabby character is a bit inconsistent — although I don’t think that’s the actor’s fault, and I also think if I’d been zapped back 20 years and then shot, I might have some mood swings. But one minute he’s waving guns around and the next he’s savoring the grass that contains his dead brother between his toes. One minute he’s accusing John of being rash and not knowing how to load a pistol properly, and the next he’s serving as the kid’s life coach. It’s all a bit epic and hard to swallow, no matter how good a job David Silver is doing.
The final bonding session of the night was the best: Mom explaining to John that the day she signed her rights away, June 8, 1997, was the same day she tried to bust out of Pescadero — just as he and the Governator were busting in. Three seconds after she signed the paper, she said, she knew she couldn’t live with it. ”I was coming for you, and I was gonna die trying,” Mom said. The nice moment ended with mother and son vowing to always find each other. It was touching. I do not want to be the girl who tries to date John Connor in five years, but it was touching.
Also touching: Cam, alone in her room, practicing ballet. Tonight’s last voice-over featured Mom explaining that machines do not have faith or feelings, they cannot create art, but ”if they ever learn these things, they won’t have to destroy us — they’ll be us.” One can only wonder what Bag thought, as he stood in her doorway watching, and why Cam’s spidey senses didn’t tell her he was there. Was she just so into being a cat, finding her soul? I hope so. I hope Cam is a good robot/person. I need a little non-Obama hope in my world. Sadly, I fear the chances of this are slim, and she’ll always be a little bit of a Lena Olin-on-Alias type here. I do think, however, that the chances Bag would sleep with a robot just went up.
Okay! That’s that! What do you think, freedom fighters? Where did Ellison leave off on the belief/no-belief scale this evening? Who paid Dmitri to steal the Turk? How kick-ass were those hightop sneaker boots Cam was unlacing? And how long until Fox starts promoing the dude who plays Cromartie as ”Best-Picture-Oscar-Winning-Movie-Involved Actor Garret Dillahunt”?