By Sarah Stegall
Copyright © 2008 by Sarah Stegall
Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles
Mondays on Fox, 9 PM
Written by Tonia Graphia
Directed by Charles Beeson
Derek Reese is fast becoming one of the most complex and interesting characters onTerminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles. I’m hoping he doesn’t get killed off any time soon. He provides a much needed alpha-male presence in the Connor family, yet does not threaten Sarah Connor’s position of leadership. He is an excellent surrogate father for John, able to connect to the young man emerging from childhood and at the same time provide realistic, personal accounts of the future that John has been warned about all his life. Now that he’s healing, and beginning to get about, he gives us a glimpse now and then of the emotional toll the FutureWar has taken on an ordinary man. He’s a man in search of a family and a cause, who is beginning to realize that he may have found both.
“Demon Hand” is about soul, about the things that separate humans from the machines that resemble them. We see flashbacks to the horrific era when Sarah Connor was confined to a mental institution, in a soul-destroying environment that broke her down so far that, at her lowest point, she signed away her parental rights. We see John falling into a deep, angry depression after he learns of this incident, unable to comprehend that the one anchor he has always counted on, his mother, voluntarily gave him away—if only for three seconds. Even FBI agent Ellison finds a low point, as a fellow professional betrays him and leaves him to a fiery death, leaving him to question—if only briefly—his faith.
And then there’s Cameron, or Cambot. We open with a scene of her dressed to the nines in motorcycle police gear complete with mirrored sunglasses (can you hear the fanboys squeeing?), breaking into a power plant. She searches for a control panel, and then, instead of using her undoubtedly superior computer abilities to take control of the plant and override its programming, she simply smashes it. This is an annoying habit of the T-series robots—although the show keeps presenting them as being an advanced form of robot, they behave like Frankenstein’s monster, with all the finesse of a sledgehammer. The T-888 we saw in the last episode routinely smashed through doors he could easily have opened. My iPod has more sophisticated programming. Having a robot as advanced as Cambot, one which is somehow able to pass for human, smash a control panel is rather like using a crystal chandelier to crush an ant. Why?
In any case, Cambot’s action takes out the entire power grid for Los Angeles. Who knew the City of Angels’ power supply rested on one little turbine? Of course, chaos ensues, with hospitals in panic and God knows what havoc wrought in the traffic lanes. Not that Cameron cares: her mission is to retrieve the missing hand of the T-888 she destroyed, and in her cybernetic mind, shutting down the entire city in order to circumvent the alarms in the police evidence locker makes perfect sense. Yeah, turning off LA’s juice isn’t going to draw attention at all. Who’s programming these things?
And it’s all for nothing—the hand isn’t even there. It’s in the, er, hands of Agent Ellison, who has gradually come to realize that Sarah Connor may not be the delusional homicidal maniac he thought she was. His background investigation unearths the tapes of her mental health incarceration, which leads him to her former tormentor, the now-retired Dr. Silverman (Bruce Davison, Close to Home). Davison turns out to be a raving lunatic who ties up, tortures, and tries to kill Agent Ellison, and is thwarted at the last moment only by Sarah herself. Sarah’s ability in this episode to stumble across the right scene at the right moment makes her as omnipresent as air. And as benevolent as God, apparently: although it would be in her interest to let Silverman kill her nemesis, she rescues Ellison and allows Silverman to live. Ellison is next seen in Bible study group, apparently searching his soul for new answers to the questions he thought he had solved.
Meanwhile, Sarah has assigned Cameron the task of finding the Turk (the artificial intelligence that will be the soul of SkyNet), via the Russian partner of the late Andy Goode. Cameron infiltrates the Russian’s sister’s dance class—gee, how lucky is it that Summer Glau just happens to be a dancer? We get a few choice lines about how dance is the hidden language of the soul (I thought that was music? Or maybe poetry.), and Cameron being told that she dances “mechanically”. Hah hah. Cameron finds the Russian desperately hiding from a bunch of murderous Russian thugs. She promises to “help” him, he tells her what she came to find out, and as the thugs break in Cameron walks calmly away. Shots and screams in the background tell us of the fate of the Russian and his sister, as we learn once again that Cameron is a machine with no soul. The obvious contrast between Sarah, who risks her life and her cover to save an enemy, and Cameron, who won’t lift a finger to save an ally, is illustrated about as dramatically as possible. While it’s a little obvious, I don’t think it’s out of place; it’s an especially good balance to the earlier scene of Cameron eating pancakes, as if she was a real girl. Instead, we’re reminded that she’s Pinocchio with a stiletto.
And the one who knows this better than anyone else is Derek Reese. As his body heals, he is growing into the family more intimately, sometimes to the discomfort of Sarah Connor. She is disturbed on several levels to find that he’s been in her room. John’s not too keen on the idea, either, even though he understands Derek’s need to check the firearms. I loved the bonding moment over ammo that John and Derek shared. And I loved the moments where Derek stands barefooted in the grass, awestruck at being able to see so much green again. The FutureWar has pretty much wiped out all life, including plain old grass, so his delight in what we take for granted is as illuminating as any “flash forward” to the future could be.
Most of all, his final glimpse of Cameron, dancing with fluid grace and serene detachment, is almost heartbreaking. Coming from a future where machines have crushed all beauty and poetry from the world, he now finds it again—embodied in one of the very creatures that destroyed it. The mixed emotions of grief and astonishment on Green’s face were very telling, very moving. Between this scene and his moments with both Sarah and John, Derek is becoming one of the most human and attractive figures in this story. If and when his buddies from the future, who arrived last week, hook up with the Connors, this will be an army with soul.
Meanwhile, the show continues to lose viewers in the national ratings. Last week the show came in at 8.1 million viewers; this week’s episode captured 7.21 million and landed it in the number four spot among the overly precious 18-49 age group. Conversely, the online viewership (viewers who streamed or downloaded the episode) put the show in the top 50, which is pretty good for a freshman show. Overall, the ratings have kept Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles in the top 20 TV shows, but that doesn’t mean much in a season where its competitors are mostly non-scripted. Fox is notoriously trigger-happy with freshman shows that don’t immediately rack up huge numbers, and this show is, according to some sources, on the bubble.
Thus next week’s double shot of Terminator may be the make-or-break for this series. Airing at 8PM instead of 9, it’s being billed as the “season finale”; despite the end of the writers’ strike, the network did not order more episodes of Terminator, but has not yet decided whether to cancel or renew the show. Thus the ratings for the “finale” may determine whether this is the end of the series for this season, or forever. As they say in Hollywood, stay tuned. It may make all the difference.