The new series reimagines the mythology post-''T2,'' with a new pair of good and bad machines, but we have a few questions about space-time continuity
Summer Glau, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles

”Terminator” premiere recap: They’re back

Hello there, my little freedom fighters, and welcome to your TV Watch on Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles. My name is Whitney. I’ll be walking you through all of your apocalypse-preventing action this spring, except for episode 3, when I’ll be at Sundance. Sorry.

Some of you may be wondering why I’ve chosen to take on this TV Watch instead of my customary Apprentice duties. I should think the answer to that question would be self-evident: Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles has a shot at not sucking. As for Trump, I’ve decided that pretending his latest debacle doesn’t exist is the most effective way to maintain my personal sanity. (Thanks to the incomparable Kate Ward for picking up that beaten horse’s corpse in my stead.) Furthermore, I’ve recently completed a move to Los Angeles, and I’m making an effort to start fresh in all things — and what better way to start fresh than to recap a new show that just happens to be a retread of a very old franchise? Yes. That is what I thought.

Now, I’ve recapped shows with complex mythology before, and it’s gone, well, let’s say ”not so good.” I do not worry about my ability to take this series on, however, based on one simple fact: As a 16-year-old, I was so invested in Terminator 2: Judgment Day that I snuck out of my house to see it against the express wishes of my parents and was subsequently grounded. This would turn out to be the defining event of my childhood. Okay, not really — but I did like that movie lots and would say I know it as well as I know any multi-million-dollar action flick, with the possible exception of Die Hard, which I have memorized. And seeing as how Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles — which I will henceforward abbreviate as T:SCC, pronounced ”tsk,” which may turn out to be more appropriate than you know — follows chronologically on the heels of T2, I feel I can do a decent job of sorting through the time-traveling fun and get to the root of what’s important. (If only I could help Edward Furlong do the same.)

I’m going to proceed here as if you’d all recently watched T2 and I don’t have to do a lot of explaining. We’re all pretty familiar with the Terminator mythology in general, right? In the movie franchise, a company called Cyberdyne invents a learning computer called Skynet; the apocalypse happens in 1997 after the Skynet defense system becomes sentient (and really condescending) and launches the world’s nuclear arsenals; a variety of Terminators are sent back from the future to either protect or kill Sarah Connor and her son, John, who will be the leader of the future human resistance; Sarah and John eventually destroy all traces of Terminators, Cyberdyne, and Skynet, thus ostensibly stopping the rise of the machines in the future. Pretty clear cut: No more Terminators, no more apocalypse.

(T3: Rise of the Machines, by the way, does not exist on the temporal plane in which T:SCC takes place. Put it out of your minds.)

So now we begin anew in 1999, which the TV program would have you believe is but two years after Sarah blew up Cyberdyne — but which we know is actually five years in the future, as T2 very clearly takes place in 1994, what with John Connor being 10 years old and all. We will choose not to be real sticklers about this detail, freedom fighters, as it’s kind of irrelevant once T:SCC plays its fancy trump card and jumps its action to 2007. Still, one wonders what the point is in having Ellison, the FBI agent pursuing Sarah and John, make such a pointed reference to the time frame if he’s just going to get it wrong. This is the sort of thing that keeps me up nights, wondering if I’m the crazy one. (I’m certain if that turns out to be the case, one of you will inform me of it in a gentle way come comment time.) I’m also trying not to think too much about what jumping John eight years into the future does to his career as leader of the resistance, since he’s now eight years younger than he originally was when he led the resistance in 2029…but oh, my head hurts.

So it’s 1999, Sarah and John are living in Nebraska, where John — now 15, further support for my ”it’s been five years” theory — feels safe because of the aforementioned ”no more Terminators” situation, though Sarah is still having nightmares. Big, nuclear, Linda Hamilton-style nightmares. And hey, nice job finding a leading lady in Lena Headey, who shares the same initials. I don’t know why I enjoy that so much, but it almost makes up for the fact that Headey is not only British but so twiggy that she looks incapable of opening a jar of pickles, let alone going all vigilante on poor Miles Dyson. PS: The late Miles Dyson is apparently no longer played by Joe Morton, not even by a picture of Joe Morton. I will also try not to let this fact bother me too much, because I think what happens once these little details pile up and start bothering me is I become the crazy lady ranting in front of the supermarket.

Right. We’re in Nebraska. John is as happy as an emo teenager who spends his days drawing CPUs on his notebook can be. Sarah is having nightmares despite being engaged to a man named Charley Dixon, a.k.a. Cute Cute Dean Winters (as I will insist upon him being called). So Sarah decides they’ve got to leave town, stat, against her son’s protestations. John thinks she’s just scared of commitment, which, let’s face it, she probably is. And fear of commitment is the terminator of happiness, freedom fighters, which we learn as soon as the Connors pick up and move to New Mexico. (The Connors are going by the last-name alias Reese, incidentally, which might as well be Connor, as anyone who’s looking for these two is going to rightly assume it’s a reference to Kyle Reese, Sarah’s true love and John’s father, who was killed waaaaay back in 1984.) It is once the Connor/Reeses move to New Mexico that all hell breaks loose: Cute Cute Dean Winters goes to the police about Sarah’s disappearance, which alerts Agent Ellison to her whereabouts, which alerts a Terminator to her whereabouts, which starts all the running and gunning.

This point is also where my first massive problem with the series happens, and where we have to make our first choice: Do we let it bother us that, after the cast of T2 destroyed everything Terminator-related — Robert Patrick, the Governator (easier than spelling Schwarzenegger), the CPU from the original Terminator, the arm from the original Terminator, Miles Dyson’s house, Cyberdyne, and about half the LAPD’s vehicles — there are still Terminators and, apparently, still an apocalypse?

If you say yes, stop reading now, and find something else to do with your Monday nights.

Sadly, despite the fact that this bugs the ever-living crap out of me, I must press on, because it is my job. But really, don’t be alarmed if my skepticism in this regard colors my whole series of TV Watches. There’s a big part of me that just can’t quite see any reason for this series to exist (outside of ”sometimes TV networks don’t try very hard”), nor can I let the producers off the hook for not giving me a better explanation here in the pilot of why this Terminator nonsense is still going on. Sigh. Anyway.

We’re in New Mexico. Here, now, there are two Terminators: the Bad Terminator, Cromartie, who poses as a substitute teacher, pulls a gun out of his leg, and shoots up John’s chemistry class after taking attendance (in a sequence which Fox said it was going to reshoot after the Virginia Tech tragedy but which I didn’t notice as being all that different from the version in the pilot, at least not on the DVDs Fox sent me to watch), and the Good Terminator, Cameron — nice touch on that name — a whippet of a thing enrolled in John’s class who takes an interest in him, then shows up in the school parking lot after Cromartie has cornered John, hits Cromartie with her truck, and delivers that oh-so-famous line, ”Come with me if you want to live.”

NEXT: Should John make out with a robot?

Sarah-John-Cameron go on the run from Cromartie, which means a bunch of scenes stitching each other up in abandoned desert gas stations and eventually a trip to a bank vault in L.A. where Future John has sent a dude back to 1963 to build a secret time-travel orb machine thingy in case this very situation arises, and with which Sarah-John-Cameron transport themselves to 2007 just in the nick of time before Cromartie beats down the vault door with his fists. In 2007, they land nekkid in the middle of a freeway and get caught on film by some dude with a cell-phone camera, footage that gets picked up by the news media, thus alerting Agent Ellison, Cute Cute Dean Winters, and, most likely, the Bad Terminator(s?) to the existence of Sarah-John-Cameron in this present time frame. Where they will have to go on the run more. And that, freedom fighters, is your series. Basically, it all comes down to what I already knew: cell-phone cameras are evil.

Did you get all that?

As I’ve long since run out of room, I’m just going to hit on a couple last points here (come back tomorrow for my take on episode 2, which I hope will clarify some of the ”And why are we doing this exactly?” questions I think we’re all having):

1. There is nowhere near enough guh-guh guh guh-GUH in this series. You’re gonna take the time to rejigger this whole franchise, but you’re not gonna shell out for Brad Fiedel’s soundtrack? Weak.

2. There is nowhere near enough dark humor in this series. Possibly the best part of T2 was the interaction between the Governator and little Edward Furlong, who taught the big robot how to be a cool dude. It was nice and wry and broke up the constant machine-gun fire. About the only instance of that coloring here so far came when Cromartie went into the bank, first scanning the SWAT team assembled outside and calculating ”Threat: None.” More of that, please.

3. There are, however, a nice number of crossovers to the past, from the opening frames of dark highway with voice-over to the ending shot around the swing set, an iconic image from T2. Those were cool. But I am not sure how I feel about the fact that Sarah, John, and a Terminator once again set out to escape across the border into Mexico but turn around at the last minute in hopes of destroying Skynet. I am not sure how I feel about the series using the Terminator voice-replication trick already. I hope they do not abuse these callbacks to the original franchise, as it can too easily seem like laziness.

4. I am trying not to worry too much about the fact that Cameron is supposed to be an advanced Terminator that understands human emotion and apparently has some sort of spidey sense for danger, yet she comes from 2011 (not 2029) and is made of the usual living tissue over endoskeleton (instead of liquid metal). Oy, my brain. [Note: Our mistake: Cameron is from 2027. I’ll discuss this point tomorrow in the TV Watch for tonight’s episode.]

5. Please do not have John and Cameron make out. Their stilted conversation over a bag of chips — ”In the future, you have many friends.” ”What model are you? You seem…different” — made me never want to eat chips again. Also, no one should make out with a robot.

6. My jury is still out on the acting. Everyone on the show, with the possible exception of Richard T. Jones as Agent ”Snappy” Ellison, seems really, really bummed out. Thomas Dekker and Summer Glau appear to have wandered in from the set of a CW show. And while I didn’t ever mind Linda Hamilton’s depression because it came with a nice side of crazy, Headey just seems like the poster child for one of those seasonal-affective-disorder medications.

7. The message of James Cameron and the first two Terminator films was actually a pretty decent one: Skynet’s decision to eliminate humankind was based on our cruelty to one another, and if we could learn from our mistakes and go forward with compassion (”I swe-ah, I will not kill anyone”), maybe we’d survive after all. ”The future’s not set. There’s no fate but what we make ourselves” is nice to think about. ”No one is safe,” which appears to be the motto of T:SCC, is not.

8. I am sure some of you are thinking, ”Jeez, Whitney, quit with all the T2 comparisons! This is its own show!” Sorry. It’s not. You want to continue this beloved mythology? You have to answer my questions and meet the standards your own franchise has already set. I’ll let T3 not exist, but the comparisons to T2 will remain.

Okay. Whew. I’m done. Your turn: What did you think? An exciting relaunch of an excellent movie franchise, or blatant audience pandering? Worth watching, or only worth watching ’cause there’s a strike on? Do we like the actors? Do we like the pacing and general Fox-y feeling of it all? Does anyone else think a Kevlar recliner would be awfully hard to obtain on a week’s notice, and certainly wouldn’t fit in a Jeep Wagoneer? And am I the only one who is annoyed to distraction by the insufficient explanation of how on earth there can be a Terminator in 1999 if all traces of the Terminator, the computer that created the Terminator, and the man who created the computer that created the Terminator were eliminated in 1994? Or am I totally missing something here?

Want more? See EW’s behind-the-scenes look at the making of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles

Episode Recaps

Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles
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