Bride of Frankenstein

Copyright © 2008 by Sarah Stegall

Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles
Mondays on Fox, 9 PM
"Samson and Delilah"
Written by Josh Friedman
Directed by David Nutter

With car crashes, fires, explosions, gunfights, and fisticuffs, the second season of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles debuts with all the flash and bang one would expect from an action movie spinoff. The pace, set by director David Nutter, would have challenged a Michael Phelps, and the story, by creator Josh Friedman, is serviceable enough for a show dominated by pyrotechnics. What stood out in this episode, however, was Friedman's attempt to redirect the emotional emphasis of the series. Whereas much of Season One was dominated by Sarah Connor's (Lena Headey) desperate attempt to protect her son by staying one step ahead of bad robots like Cromartie (Garret Dillahunt, No Country for Old Men), it appears that Season Two is going to be all about John Connor (Thomas Dekker) and his evolving relationship with his girl toy.

I say toy deliberately, because in this case, the girl in question (Summer Glau) is quite literally his creation. Supposedly a Terminator reprogrammed by Future John and sent back in time, everyone but John eyes her with suspicion from the start. At the beginning of the episode, she emerges from a wrecked Jeep with her programming a little skewed—in fact, she stalks John throughout the episode with the traditional drag-step-drag pacing of Boris Karloff's Frankenstein monster. The analogy is apt, as John is pursued by his creation through fires, car wrecks, and a mother-son monster truck rally. More than once, we see her prey through her own targeting display, with the instruction "Terminate" displayed under John's face. We are given clearly to understand that her programming has been screwed up by the explosion, rendering her as unstable and dangerous as John's uncle Derek (Brian Austin Green) has been warning. When she corners John in a garage and throws a huge monkey wrench at his head, it's pretty clear she's trying to kill him. So when John and his mother trap her between two trucks so that John can pull her control chip out of her head, her plea that she loves John rings just a tad hollow.

Yet he believes it. Over the objections of every single person he trusts, he revives Cameron and restores her chip. Her targeting display, still showing the "Terminate" order, now displays an "override" order. Supposedly, Cameron is keeping her lethal programming at bay for the sake of love.

Seriously? Is this really the road this show wants to go down? That John Connor, like Pygmalion, is going to fall in love with his own creation? That he will build a better bride, a la Victor Frankenstein? Or that he will play out the famously new plot line endorsed by Isaac Asimov: boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy builds girl? There are broad hints that this is exactly what the producers are heading for: Cameron (the girlbot) claims to love John, asks questions about faith and resurrection of Sarah Connor, and begs for her "life" as if she were a sentient being rather than a cleverly programmed machine.

John's mom does not fare well in this episode. Apart from her son's defiance, she comes off like an idiot more than once. For example, while driving away from a crime scene at a conspicuously high speed, Sarah takes her eyes off the road for minutes at a time to question her sullen son. Naturally, she wrecks the car. I suspect this coming season will find her more and more marginalized. None of this is a reflection on Headey's excellent acting; she displayed plenty of anguish and fear even in non-speaking moments.

Brian Austin Green continues as a stalwart, almost silent masculine presence in the story. His role in this episode was mostly expository, with little in the way of action, but he brought to the fore all the supportive tenderness that made his character so appealing last season. Derek Reese is a great father figure for young John, and I hope to see more made of this relationship in this season. Shirley Manson (former lead singer of the group Garbage) plays Catherine Weaver, a vaguely Celtic-accented CEO determined to acquire the technology (the chess playing computer named Turk) that will someday be Skynet. When she was revealed to be a T-1000, I was so not surprised. Do all Terminators have to have foreign accents?

In fact, of the three female characters on this show, two are robots and one is a prickly warrior mom with all the maternal softness of an Uzi. I'm no fan of girly-girls, but there's something disturbing about the fact that this series, focused on a single woman raising a son, just can't seem to get a handle on how to portray a loving mother who is also flirty enough to have gone clubbing back in the day. Headey is certainly capable of pulling this off—you don't get more feminine, lovely, nurturing, and kick-ass than her turn as Queen Gorgo in 300. Since what we see is nothing like that character, I have to assume that this two-dimensional characterization lies at the feet of the writers. And as for the fembots—is there any iron clad rule that says they have to behave like barely animate washing machines? Beautiful on the outside, treacherous on the inside—is this the only image of femininity we're allowed on this show?

We'll see where the show goes this season. I am already afraid that the storyline is getting more confused than it needs to be, with people chasing chess playing computers, FBI men finding their souls, Terminators claiming to be in love. The appeal of the Terminator franchise was always its simplicity and its spectacular explosions; so far, Friedman and company have the explosions down pat. Let's see some simple human emotion?

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