Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles: “Goodbye to All That”


Copyright © 2008 by Sarah Stegall

Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles
Mondays on Fox, 9 PM
“Goodbye to All That”
Written by Ashley Edward Miller & Zack Stentz
Directed by Bryan Spicer

Sarah: Do I just wait? Like a time bomb? Am I going to go off someday?
Cameron: I don’t know. Am I?

This is more like it. Having asked last week for more action and a faster pace to the narrative in Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, writers Miller and Stentz deliver with a vengeance. Killer robots, gunfights, explosions! Cars hitting robots! Robot snark! And a few moments of Sarah Connor’s elusive softer, maternal side! Uncle/son bonding! And even a little self-sacrificing behavior from John Connor! Yes, this is looking much better.

A T888 Terminator kills a man who just happens to have the same name as one of John’s friends in the future. Derek sees the news item in the newspaper and remembers, as do those of us who saw the first Terminator movie, that this is a typical search and destroy pattern for Terminators: when assigned to kill a Sarah Connor or a Martin Bedell, they just go and kill all the Sarah Connors and Martin Bedells they can find. (If Google can filter out Sarah Connors who don’t fit a profile, why can’t these super-sophisticated robots from the Future?) Derek, Sarah, and John feel obliged to protect the non-targeted Martin Bedell as well as the true target. Sarah and Cameron arrive at young Marty Bedell’s (Billy Unger, Medium) house just in time to save him from a hulking T888 (veteran character actor Patrick Kilpatrick, Shark). Derek and John discover that the other Martin Bedell (Will Rothhaar, K-ville) is in a military school. John decides to go undercover at the school to protect him. And this is a significant moment, because he does not ask, he commands. He takes charge of the op. Sarah is uncertain that he is ready for this, but in this, at least, he shows some backbone. Whereas recently he came off as a whiny and defiant adolescent, he comes across as decisive and resolved in this encounter. It makes all the difference in the world to John, apparently, that someone else is in danger because of him. Things go even better than John plans; the school not only admits him on a temporary basis, but hires Derek as a fill-in tactical instructor.

I loved the teamwork shown in this episode between John and his uncle Derek. Brian Austin Green continues to play Derek as a tough, war-weary cynic whose softer side only occasionally tiptoes out. When Derek, scouting out approaches that the T888 might take to the school, comes across a deer, his face freezes in disbelief, wonder, and a little fear. The natural world, destroyed in the Future!War, is almost as strange to him as the surface of Mars, yet we can see the longing in him, the gentle and protective man he might have been had life allowed him that choice. It’s a tender moment we share only with him, an excellent characterization moment. Later, we get to see Derek teaching John the actual, real military tactics that will work in the future. I can’t imagine any military resource more valuable than a veteran who already knows what tactics are going to work against the enemy; at this point in this twisted, inside out “history”, Derek is more useful than John Connor. He knows what ammo will have what effect on a Terminator, knows how to lure it into a trap, shows John how to set up and deploy explosives in an ambush. When that ambush later goes awry, we get to see John leap into action, demonstrating quick thinking and leadership as he improvises a solution. Without even communicating with Derek, he knows to lure the lurching, shambling Terminator into a tar pit that Derek then ignites, melting the T888, a callback to the Terminator flambé that ended Terminator 2. Martin Bedell, rescued by John and witness to the T888’s demise, is now recruited into Connor’s proto army of the future; like John, his future is remade, although not to his liking.

Sarah Connor and Cameron, meanwhile, have kidnapped the other Martin “Marty” Bedell, who threatens at times to re-create The Ransom of Red Chief (by O. Henry; read it at http://www.online-literature.com/o_henry/1041/). In short, Marty doesn’t seem to realize that he’s supposed to be terrified. He’s more worried about his upcoming book report. Sarah, distracted and distant, gradually warms up to him as Cameron consistently demonstrates that she actually pays more attention to him than Sarah does. Still, there isn’t a lot of this story line that makes sense. Kidnapping a kid out of his own home would draw a manhunt for Sarah and Cameron they can ill afford. Sarah makes a great show of locking and unlocking doors and windows which are 80% glass—about as useful in stopping a T888 as fog. It was fun, however, to see Cameron taking a little more initiative these days; she no longer speaks only when spoken to.

I won’t even bother with the Weaver/Elliott storyline. Boring, repetitive, goes nowhere. It’s there only to afford an opportunity for Weaver to kill someone in a nasty way. Yawn.

I was interested to see that the writers did not shy away from the elephant that is always in the room, so to speak: the foreknowledge/free will paradox. It’s a puzzle that has been debated since forever: how can you really know what happens in the future if there really is such a thing as free will? It looks like an easy-to-solve question, but it really isn’t, not when you really nail down the meaning of such concepts as “foreknowledge” and “free will”. Here, the question becomes acute for Martin Bedell. Having already decided on a course for his life that would take him away from that which Derek “knows” as “history”, he allows himself to be persuaded to follow the course Derek sets for him. We are left with the delicious question: what would happen if Derek shut up and let the kid make some other decision? Bedell’s life would have been different, the future would have been different—and is that not, after all the sole point of all this shooting and running and hiding? To make the future different? Yet every move on the part of the characters in this show is designed to make the future happen exactly the way Derek (and other future citizens) remembers it! I don’t know if the writers are consciously aware of this paradox and are ignoring it, or if they have some long range plan to address this issue. Probably the former—I don’t look to this show for deep philosophical insight.

Terminator garnered 5.6 million viewers Monday night, keeping pace more or less with the previous week. Those are not good numbers, almost half of what the show was scoring this time last year, but at least the hemorrhage has stopped. There is still no word on the possible fate of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles. It may be too late to save the show from cancellation due to dismal ratings. While this episode was possibly the best so far this season, it may have come too late—fifth episode in the season—to have captured the new viewers this show desperately needed. This is a drawback of storylines that are really more suited to miniseries than serialized television—if you need those four mediocre episodes to build up to a stellar fifth, you’re going to miss the window of opportunity for your audience. I hope it’s not too late to save this show.