Any fan of the Terminator movies who didn’t suspend their disbelief realised that them pesky future robots could just keep sending Terminators back to kill John Connor’s ancestors. I personally always fancied a Terminator set in Henry James’s C19th New York high society with an Arniebot kicking in drawing room doors to hunt down John Connor’s great-grandfather whilst learning excruciatingly convoluted sentence structure: The Portrait of a Terminator.
After the movie franchise ended with the lacklustre Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, it looked like we’d seen the last of the Connor family. But they’re back in Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, and it’s surprisingly good.
The series deals with on-the-run mum Sarah still protecting her son John from the tin men sent back to kill him, whilst training him for his destiny as future saviour of humanity.
Sarah’s character is written much more subtly than the venting borderline psycho of the second film, and is beautifully played by Brit actress Lena Headey. Her vulnerability is central to drawing us into the drama while we wait for teenager John to develop a subtext (hopefully before the end of season one).
Summer Glau is also in on the action, not a million light years removed from the character she played in Firefly/Serenity: an autistic girlchild with a hidden talent for brutality. Here she starts out as an over-friendly college girl on John’s first day at his new school, until she’s revealed as the Terminator sent back to protect him when a substitute teacher goes gun crazy. It’s a stressful job, even for a cyborg.
In the first episode she gets Sarah and John to jump forward in time from 1999 to 2007 to delete all that development hell between Terminator 2: Judgement Day and this series, so that John can still be a naive teenager without expensive period shooting.
This leap forward in time, of course, necessitates her being naked and having to beat up a car full of jocks for their clothes. We can only hope that the show runners have pencilled in more totally spurious time travel, because naked Summer Glau karate is an element that could, ahem, terminate any future ratings trouble.
There’s a great moment in the second episode when she strokes John’s neck as she leaves the room. Next door she tells Sarah she’s worried at John’s stress levels and we start to wonder if she’s about to propose servicing him. John’s surprised smile tells us he’s thinking the same thing. Maybe his future self came up with the great idea of sending back a sexy working girl robot to give himself the kind of education every teenage boy dreams of. But no. She tells Sarah she’s just run an analysis of his surface skin temperature.
Damn. There goes another storyline I’d have fought for if I was in the writers’ room.
The show has launched on Virgin1 in the UK with a great deal of fanfare and it looks like it has legs to last the distance. There’s plenty of action and the kind of SFX work the franchise demands, but this isn’t at the expense of well drawn characters, reflective poignant moments and the odd bit of humour; all important elements of the movie template, but here given a bit more space with which to work.
On the basis of the first three episodes, it’s up there with the first two films. And that’s high praise.