Even after time-traveling to 2007, Sarah, John, and Cameron still aren't safe, as now at least two Terminators are after them, and their fellow freedom fighters aren't much use at all

”Terminator” recap: Back to the present

Welcome back, freedom fighters, to episode 2 of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, or T:SCC, or ”Instant Gratification on Your TeeVee Set.” Yes, those of us reserving judgment on the show until we saw more of it didn’t have long to wait, as Fox plopped another episode down a mere 24 hours later to sate our thirsty minds. It was a good call — and it was a better show tonight, too.

A little housekeeping off the bat: Thanks to those who corrected me on some dates in my TV Watch on the premiere episode. Cameron was in fact sent back from 2027, not 2011 — 2011 is the new year Skynet goes online and everything goes boom. I got confused. But I’m pretty sure I’m still right on the T2 year and John’s age. And I think the fact that in the world of T3, Sarah Connor dies of leukemia in 1997 lends credence to the whole ”Let’s forget T3 never happened” theory the producers are running with, which I guess I don’t mind — especially given the medical events of tonight, which I’ll get to. As for my biggest quibble — with where these damn Terminators came from and what, exactly, you have to do to stop the apocalypse from happening at this point — I think I’m going to just take a deep breath and release that one into the universe. Many of you were right to point out that the Governator’s arm is stuck between the gears of a machine at the end of T2, and someone could have picked it up and used it to invent Skynet; also, as we saw tonight, it appears that Terminators — even dismembered ones — are awfully stubborn. So I’ve jumped past the sort of irritating inherent tautology of the show’s concept (”There are Terminators because there are Terminators”) and decided to just focus on the show itself…

…which tonight opened in gangbuster fashion, with a Terminator skull flying at us! I think we are meant to see this as Cromartie’s skull, flung into the time-travel orb thingy by the same force that sent Sarah, John, and Cameron to the future. There also appears to be an arm in a scrap-metal heap — Arnie? Is that you? — and the rest of a somewhat decapitated and very flayed Terminator walking around L.A., dressed like a homeless dude. This is rather chilling. No one is safe! Especially not if you are a public-works employee!

Meanwhile, our savior, John Connor, is bored. The boy is cooped up at home, waiting for mom to procure him a new ID so he can go to school, and fixing what I think is his ATM-card-reader thing, or something. Except he has blue pliers instead of red pliers. Oh, the angst! Dear Thomas Dekker: Your eyelashes are very pretty, but I still don’t buy you in this role. Even wee little Eddie Furlong seemed like he might have a shot at his military destiny. You I see more as the kind of guy who will have a life-changing experience on Outward Bound his junior year and wind up selling backpacks at an REI in Boulder or something. I dunno. The montage of you trying to set your cell-phone message was funny — ”You’ve reached the future leader of mankind…” — but overall, I am still getting a strong sense of meh here.

But maybe Dekker’s performance stands out in cold relief after this ep because Lena Headey and Summer Glau picked it up so much. Sure, I still don’t buy Headey as ”the best fighter” any of us could know — so far, she seems very street smart but not all that ass-kicky — and I don’t like that Glau’s basic Terminator body language signifier is to cock her head to the side and peer very closely at the thing in front of her. This gesture reminds me a lot of Damian Lewis on Life, a much better program in general. But I thought the rapport the ladies developed while on their various errands tonight was pretty solidly entertaining.

And oh, were there errands. Mom and Cam first set out to go find a coven of dudes sent back from the future, although this ongoing abuse of the time-travel device is now causing crankiness, even among characters on the show. (”Are they manning some kind of apocalyptic paramilitary convenience store, with fake IDs, and guns, and money?” asked Sarah.) (PS: Answer to that question was basically yes.) When the gals got to the apartment, it turned out one of the four dudes — who were now lying dead on the floor, unfortunately — was a Bad Terminator, lying in wait for the missing fourth dude. This Bad Terminator and Cameron got into a fight. I don’t like these sorts of fights. They have no real element of risk. Sure, Bad Terminator could rip Cameron’s head off, but based on her status as a show lead with probably at least six years on her contract, I’d say the chances of that are slim. So instead there’s some slamming of indestructible bodies into walls, and blah-blah, and someone runs off. Snore.

At least the fight led to one of the night’s biggest revelations: After the Bad Terminator evaded Cameron (and Cam was hit by a car — ”Please remain calm,” she said to the mortified couple whose windshield her head was currently embedded in, a sign that the show will indeed play with more of the dark humor I was so lusting after last night), Mom screamed at her, ”You told me we’d be safe! Why jump at all? I had seven more years to get him ready!” ”No, you wouldn’t have,” Cam replied. ”Because you died, two years ago.” Which is an effective way both to end a conversation and to bring in a smidge of the T3 mythology we’re supposed to be ignoring. So in this universe, Sarah is still very, very mortal, and now she knows it.

The next errand was to get fake IDs from Sarah’s old buddy Enrique, who told the gals he was ”El Finito,” done with a life of crime. He sent them to his nephew, Carlos, who, for the teensy sum of $20K — procured from a safe behind a kitty poster back in the Future Fighter Dudes’ apartment — got fake identities for the trio. Carlos also tipped Sarah and Cam off to the fact that Enrique was totally gonna turn G on them. So Cam shot Enrique. This didn’t make Sarah too happy. Cam’s argument for shooting Enrique was mostly that it’s what Sarah was going to do eventually, and this pissed Mom off even more — especially since Cam appears to constantly be delivering info from the future on what Mom/John do/don’t do. I see Sarah’s frustration with this. It would probably bother me having someone constantly staring at me and going, ”If you don’t eat that turkey sandwich now, you’re going to be hungry by 6 p.m. and you will then gorge yourself on Taco Bell.” Ya know?

I’m glossing over a lot of the fun stuff that happened in and around Carlos’ house. First, Cam learned how to look cool while leaning up against a car, thanks to a cool girl whose main function appeared to be looking cool while leaning up against cars. We also got to see Sarah use her street smarts to get away from a cop, as well as learn about September 11th, an event that one would indeed miss out on had one jumped from 1999 to 2007 in a time-travel orb thingy. I wish I could have heard her explaining to Carlos and his goons how, exactly, she missed out on that event, but no matter. It was a nice, grounding touch.

NEXT: John blows their cover

It wasn’t just the girls going on errands, by the way: John snuck out of the house for a little jaunt of his own, first going to a computer store, where he immediately Googled himself, because, along with cell-phone cameras, egosurfing is apparently another inevitability of modern life. Then he Googled Charley Dixon, a.k.a. Cute Cute Dean Winters and went to his house. And broke in. And then when Charley came home, John knocked him down and ran. I had some problems here, not least of which being that I guess I just didn’t peg John as that much of a sentimental fool, nor that much of a fool in general. So now Charley knows for sure that John and Sarah are back. Hmm. I wonder how he’s going to explain this whole debacle to his wife, who happens to be Penny from Lost.

We ended with a barrage of information: the Not-Quite-Assembled Terminator hanging out on Skid Row; the Fourth Future Fighter Dude, identifiable by the bar code tattooed on his arm, lurking in the alley behind the apartment; Cameron exploring the challenging world of micro-minis; John going back to school; the late Enrique having indeed left a voice-mail for Agent Ellison, intending to sell out Sarah for money; and Sarah using her new ID (and presumably her welfare health care?) to go to the doctor and get blood drawn and see what’s up with this whole dying-of-cancer-in-six-years thing, which one assumes is still on track. Meanwhile, there was some sort of dour voice-over. I have decided there are too many voice-overs on TV at the moment for this one to have the same weight as Linda Hamilton’s did in T2, and it just sort of blended into the background. Also because it was made up of not-really-deep lines like ”Know thyself, because what else is there to know?” (Apparently, Sarah Connor lived down the hall from me freshman year, and smoked a lot of pot, ’cause I’ve heard that one before.)

But hey, freedom fighters, are you with me on liking this ep a little bit better? I hope so. It was enough to spur me on for a third and fourth go-round. You’ll have a sub next week while I’m at Sundance, but I’ll be back on the 28th. Meanwhile, here’s what I want us all thinking about:

Are you sure you want people making out with robots? Doesn’t that just seem like a slippery slope? What’s next: making out with dogs? And did you think that Ms. Glau found a lot more colors in Cam tonight? (My personal fave: Her ”diamonds are a girl’s best friend” business.) Speaking of colors, where are the ladies getting all their cute combat-boot-appropriate outfits? Is anyone going to get John the right pliers? Does every girl that comes into contact with John have to flirt with him, even if it’s just to run a quick check on his vitals? And is that disassembled Terminator walking around the remains of Cromartie or someone new we’ll soon have the wall-smashing pleasure of meeting?

Episode Recaps

Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles
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