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Reviewed by Will Harris
fter the semi-disappointing (at least by comparison to its predecessor) “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines,” the number of people who were interested in the idea of a television series which continued the mythos of the film franchise was limited predominantly to the diehard fans. Nonetheless, executive producer Josh Friedman found a way to approach the situation rather creatively, utilizing the time-travel aspect of the films to avoid the events of the third film altogether.
When “The Sarah Connor Chronicles” begins, things commence not so terribly long after the end of “Terminator 2: Judgment Day.” Sarah Connor (Lena Headey) hasn’t yet succumbed to cancer, which is what her fate had been when the third flick kicked off, and if Cameron Phillips (Summer Glau) has anything to say about it, she never will. When John Connor (Thomas Dekker, late of “Heroes”) is attacked by a Terminator posing as his substitute teacher, Cameron – one of his fellow students – reveals herself to be a Terminator and saves John’s life. Suddenly, the Connor family are on the run again – which is hardly anything new for Sarah and John, given that they’ve tried desperately to avoid both the authorities and the Terminators for years now while still trying to stop the creation of the all-knowing Skynet system from coming to pass and preventing Judgment Day from occurring. This time, however, Cameron decides to jump them forward from 1999 to 2007, putting them closer to the event horizon, as it were.
Although the first few episodes are in no way bad, following a Terminator’s (Garret Dillahunt) attempts to put himself back together as well as plots points like FBI Agent Ellison’s (Richard T. Jones) quest to catch the Connors and Sarah’s ex-boyfriend, Charley (Dean Winters) – discovering that she and John are alive and well in 2007 – “The Sarah Connor Chronicles” doesn’t really hit its creative heights until the fifth episode, “Queen’s Gambit,” when a new character is introduced: Derek Reese (Brian Austin Green), brother to the late Kyle Reese. That’s right, he’s John Connor’s uncle, except that Derek doesn’t know that when he first arrives in 2007. Once Derek enters the mix, the show roars full throttle for the remainder of the season.
In “Dungeons & Dragons,” a series of flash-forwards provide background (or is it foreground, since the events technically haven’t happened yet?) on Derek’s experiences as a resistance fighter and what led him to make the jump into the past. Next up is “The Demon’s Hand,” where the great Bruce Davison guest-stars as Dr. Silberman, the therapist who treated Sarah in “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” (where he was played by Earl Boen); Silberman has since become a believer in Sarah’s cause, but, unfortunately, now he’s the one who’s acting like a nutcase, kidnapping Ellison and trying to kill him. As to the remainder of the episodes, rather than spoil anything further, let’s just say that Cameron has a mind-expanding experience, John has a family reunion of sorts, and Johnny Cash’s “The Man Comes Around” is used to exemplary effect in the season finale.
In closing, there’s one unresolved mystery that has bothered just about everyone who’s watched “The Sarah Connor Chronicles” since its premiere: why does Cameron act like a normal everyday teenager in the pilot but seem to be mostly oblivious to the ways of humanity in every subsequent episode? Well, during the TCA Press Tour panel for the show, executive producer Josh Friedman tackles this question:
“I think that (Cameron) had been prepped for that particular situation and that particular person,” Friedman explained, “so I think she had sort of almost like a script that was more naturalistic. I think once they jumped forward in time, she was as adrift as anyone else would be in a new situation. I also think… I never found her to be that normal in the scenes. We always talked about it. She's got this crazy wide-eyed thing, she's bouncing from topic to topic, and we kind of played it like she had a script. She doesn't really listen to him; she just says what she's going to say. You know, I think it's a different kind of weird and one that was more practiced and polished than what we saw in the future.”
Hmmm. Okay, we’ll let it slide… this time. But, dammit, Friedman, Season 2 better be good!
Special Features: If there’s anything that shows Fox’s dedication to this series, it’s the way they’ve tricked out this set. There are commentaries on three episodes, a three-section featurette on the show and its production, deleted scenes, a gag reel, cast auditions, animatics, and an extended cut of the season’s best episode, “The Demon Hand.”