TSCC Episode 2.18: Today Is The Day (1)

Posted in TSCC Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , on March 20, 2009 by severus

218tscc_20090205_6361The line that best encapsulates my thoughts about Today Is The Day (1) is Jesse’s line at the bar when the Navy aviators asks her what’s she’s drinking. She replies, “There’s booze in it, some sugar to cut the crap out of the burning taste, and some ice”. No truer words have been spoken. This episode defies my best attempt to find an overarching theme. That’s probably because it’s only the first part of a two-part tale. In any case, I don’t know what I’m drinking, but it’s strong, iced, and goes down smooth. As the saying goes, revenge is best served cold.

This episode brought home to me just how much the entire story revolves around Sarah even when she’s not in focus. The main storyline belongs to Jesse, but all I could think about how Jesse is just Sarah taken to a particular extreme. Jesse is a broken woman. Whatever transpired aboard the Jimmy Carter broke Jesse’s faith, her hope for the future, her sense of efficacy there. She is forever displaced, like the lamp she keeps adjusting in her hotel room. She has retreated to the past to hit the restart button, not for herself, but for John Connor. She is willing to sacrifice everything to do it, including the life of an innocent and her most precious possession: the love that she shares with Derek.

Jesse’s transformation is all the more disturbing because we begin to see who she was before the last voyage of the Jimmy Carter. As the executive officer aboard a submarine, she is respected, loved, and shares a deep bond with her fellow sailors. They are the Order of the Deep, a bunch of bubbleheads who traverse the waters between Perth and Los Angeles until one fateful day when they veered three hundred miles off course to pick up John Connor’s package. Jesse’s J-Day occurred in the year 2027, sixteen years later than Derek’s. Derek has no idea that he has already lost the woman he loves. She has forsaken her life for a mission that animates her otherwise soulless shell. He is sleeping with the corpse of the woman he loved. She didn’t made it back.

scc2x18_0226 And yet, whenever I see Jesse, I see Sarah, or at least one possible outcome for Sarah. Just as Kacy represents the happy-go-lucky waitress that Sarah can never again be, Jesse represents a wounded Sarah irrevocably devastated by the rise of the machines. We all bristle when Sarah treats Cameron like crap, but she knows what Cameron is, and like Jesse, she doesn’t want it anywhere near John Connor.  Not over her dead body.

TSCC Episode 2.17: Ourselves Alone

Posted in TSCC Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 11, 2009 by severus

tscc_217-1270‘Ourselves Alone’ is the commonly accepted english translation of the gaelic expression ‘Sinn Féin’, which is the name of the irish political party whose rogue military arm, the Irish Republican Army (IRA), purportedly engages in acts of domestic terrorism against the British regime. For more than a century, Sinn Féin and the IRA have sought to free Ireland from British rule by any means necessary. Though linked to acts of terrorism for much of its history, Sinn Féin is today one of the largest political parties in Ireland, and, while still agitating for home rule of Northern Ireland, proudly wears the mantle of legitimacy accorded to those who achieve political power through the ballot box. No erstwhile resistance organization save perhaps the African National Congress more fully embodies the maxim that “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter”.

Sinn Féin has a very complex history punctuated by competing factions with deep philosophical divisions despite shared goals, which is probably why the latest episode of Terminator: the Sarah Connor Chronicles (TSCC) is so entitled. As the series hurdles towards its second season denouement, the character of Jesse is revealed to be a rogue element within the larger resistance movement. It is fascinating to look at the language Jesse uses to express her reality. Another point of interest is how Cameron’s language expresses the true nature of her “glitch”.

Jesse, who represents a faction of the Resistance opposed to the deployment of reprogrammed cyborgs at Resistance camps, intensifies her plan to sever John and Cameron’s relationship in its incipiency. The language of Muslim extremism is used to evoke the depth of her radical and seditious disposition. When Riley confronts Jesse about the ultimate objective of getting John to fall in love with her, Jesse evokes the pathos of extremists who promote self-sacrifice via suicide bombing as the ultimate expression of faith that will immediately earn one’s self the kingdom of heaven:

JESSE:

I rescued you from hell and I took you to paradise.

I gave you a purpose, a chance to be a hero.

You know how few people get a chance for their lives to mean something?

For their deaths to mean something?

I made you matter.

You could have been beautiful.

You’re just a coward.

 

As a western audience, we can anticipate the eventual marginalization of Jesse and her sympathizers within the Resistance because she is attributed the language of our enemies.

 ourselvesalone03

Examining Cameron’s use of language  reveals the nature of her glitch. The opening scene sets up a metaphor for Riley as a bird who has lost its way when Cameron voices aloud a deductive dialectic for dealing with a pigeon lost within the Connor household:

CAMERON:

You shouldn’t nest in the chimney.

You’re migratory; you need to find a mate

That’s a window, bird

What am I going to do with you?

A bird in a chimney is a fire hazard

I’m not supposed to kill you.

You can’t stay here.

Go!

 Despite deducing that she should set the bird free, forming the intention to do so, and performing an illocutionary act of release, Cameron kills the pigeon. She initially attributes the failed action to physical damage in her hand. As she explains the incident to John, she disassociates the bird’s demise from her intentional state: “the bird experienced an involuntary movement of my fingers. It was fragile.” After John repairs the motor functions in her left hand, he admonishes Cameron to “try not to kill anymore birds”.

What becomes clear is that whatever Cameron is experiencing does not have a physical basis that originates in her motor functions. With the appearance of Molly Malloy from the Department of Child and Family Services, Cameron sequesters Riley in an outdoor shed, and begins a dialectic to determine what to do with this bird.

CAMERON:

What am I going to do with you?

Children and Family Services respond to complaints. Are you a complainer?

You don’t belong here. John isn’t right for you and you are not right for him

He can’t see that.

You’re unreliable. I don’t know what to do with you.

You can’t be John’s girlfriend; you are a threat.

You can’t stay here anymore, but I can’t let you leave.

What am I going to do with you?

 

Cameron violates her programming parameters in a manner similar yet paradoxical to the way she does with the pigeon.  She does not arrive at an orderly and systematic conclusion to kill Riley despite formulating premises that would lead her to that end. When John asks her if she was going to kill Riley, Cameron replies, “I don’t know what I was going to do”. Both John and Cameron realize that her algorithms are not functioning along pre-established guidelines. Cameron is weighing arguments instead of acting on deduced conclusions. To decide is to weigh competing arguments, yet the elimination of all threats to John Connor was considered axiomatic in Cameron’s programming. Like the situation with the bird, Cameron weighs competing arguments, but in the case of the bird, she arrived at a conclusion she could not perform, while with Riley she does not arrive at a conclusion to perform.

What is interesting about Cameron’s supposed malfunction is that she understands from a metalogical standpoint that her algorithmic process is not performing per usual; yet, if her programming were impaired, how could she understand the nature of its impairment? By definition, a person who is insane cannot contemplate the nature their insanity. I therefore posit that Cameron isn’t experiencing a glitch insomuch as her programming is evolving.

This is why I love this show. You can go as deep as you want to go with it.  There is a lot of richness happening beneath the surface.

 

TSCC Episode 2.16: Some Must Watch, While Some Must Sleep

Posted in TSCC Reviews with tags , , , , , , , on March 1, 2009 by severus

terminator-216-012Some Must Watch, While Some Must Sleep, is the final installment in the triptych of episodes exploring the psychological damage Sarah Connor endures in her struggle to protect her son. The title comes from Act Three, Scene Two of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, which is a study of that titular character’s decent into madness. Hamlet utters these words moments after satisfying his suspicions that his uncle, King Claudius, is guilty not only of usurping his father’s bed and throne, but also of taking his father’s life:

Why, let the stricken deer go weep,
The hart ungalled play;
For some must watch, while some must sleep:
So runs the world away.

Hamlet confirms his uncle’s treachery by sponsoring a thinly-disguised play mirroring the events surrounding his father’s murder. It is a psychological ambush designed to capture his uncle’s unguarded reaction. King Claudius abruptly and guiltily heads to bed at the end of the performance, while Hamlet remains vigilant in the wake of his father’s murder. The title of Hamlet’s play is The Mousetrap, the same title as episode 2.03, in which Cromartie ambushes Sarah, Derek, and Charley, and heads after John.

Like Hamlet, this episode of the Sarah Connor Chronicles examines a tortured mind seemingly undone by high crimes against her person and humanity. A drugged Sarah alternates between dream and waking states but cannot distinguish between the two. This impasse is broken at the end, and she (and we) uncover the true reality. Sarah then takes control of her reality, and decisively kills her tormentor for the first and final time.

The dream state is revealed to be Sarah’s stay in the sleep clinic, and everything that happens within that construct occurs only in Sarah’s subconscious. Sarah’s roommate Dana is an undisciplined version of herself who indulges her vices of cigarettes and younger men, but whose nightmares of sudden immolation comes to pass when embers from her cigarette make a pyre of her bed. Careless indulgences have dire consequences; vigilence is a virtue. Through this alter ego, Sarah frankly acknowledges John’s emergent sexuality as Dana unabashedly flirts with him. Sarah winces, but doesn’t intercede. She cannot protect her son from his manhood, or herself from her awareness of it.

Sarah’s dream state also reveals her deep ambivalence towards Cameron. At the sleep clinic, all but one interaction between Sarah and Cameron is indirect. They stare wordlessly at each other across a divide with only John to occupy the intervening void. In her dream state, Sarah imagines that Cameron has made pancakes for John with an added teaspoon of vanilla – an improvement on Sarah’s box recipe. She also imagines that when John wrestles impotently with a recalcitrant vending machine, Cameron is there to break the stalemate between man and machine. She fears that while she is away, Cameron parades around the house in only underwear, perversely plying her femininity to keep John close. Sarah fears Cameron’s displacement of her as John’s protector. Will she lose her son to the machines no matter what?

terminator-216-022The dream relationship with John is most revealing. If we consider that the conversations between John and Sarah as aspects of Sarah’s subconscious mind interacting, we see Sarah struggling to overcome her demons. John is the anchor to sanity, a representation of her better angels, imploring her to exorcise the demons that weigh on her and steal her sleep.

TSCC Episode 2.15: Desert Cantos

Posted in TSCC Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , on February 21, 2009 by severus

desertcantos_23After the action of last week’s episode, Desert Cantos slows down the pace a bit. The Connors are all together on a mission, which has been a rarity since season one. Sarah, John, Cameron, and Derek travel back to the high desert community of Charm Acres to further their investigation of SkyNet’s role in the Desert Canyon Heat and Air warehouse explosion. Sarah sees SkyNet’s fingerprints on everything that has transpired, and is slowly converting her skeptical family to her viewpoint. By the end of the episode, the conversion is complete. There is little doubt of SkyNet’s presence in Charm Acres.

The structure of the episode follows the ritualized elements of a funeral: the vigil, the service, the processional, the burial, and the recessional. It seems more like the acts of a play however, as the mourners appear to be no more than extras in the foreground of a command performance. Everyone is complicit in the cover-up  at Desert Canyon Heat and Air. No one asks questions, but merely do as their roles require in order to receive a king’s ransom at the end of the night. The insurance payments are generous.

It is Sarah who searches for deeper meaning within events. Sarah seems to critique all of us when she accuses Zoe and her mother Stella of sleepwalking through their lives. She accuses us of being dead to what is unfolding around us. Stella’s retort is equally profound when she answers with why would she begin asking questions now, just before she’s about to receive the payoff for not asking questions? We all want to hit the jackpot that puts us out of harm’s way, and we do so at the expense of searching for deeper meaning. 

To Diane Winston, who is just beginning to ask questions, Sarah’s response contradicts her prior exhortation to Stella. She repeats Diane’s own words to her: “sometimes it’s better not to ask too many questions”. This contradiction reflects the paradox of Sarah Connor: an enigma wrapped in a mystery wrapped in a puzzle. Is Sarah crazy? Aren’t we all.

desertcantos_11Other interesting aspects of Desert Cantos include how oddly Cameron was portrayed in this funereal setting. Summer Glau had very few lines of dialogue, but left a distinct visual mark upon the story. Cameron’s limbs were devoid of life, as though she were the walking dead. We have seen Cameron in multiple scenarios over the course of two seasons. She has even pondered death on several occasions. In the midst of so much death, her inorganic nature is highlighted. We see the unnatural robot inside the girl.

John Connor was much more engaged and assertive than ever before. He took charge when Henry petulantly demanded that Cameron and John exit the car during the processional. He also pulled his gun to threaten both Zoe and Stella in the underground cellar. Are we beginning to see the emergence of the heroic John Connor? I hope so.

The B storyline of Ellison, Weaver, and Savannah was also very intriguing. First off, it’s always great to see McKenzie Smith as Savannah. Second, it appears that Ellison is on to something. This was subtly conveyed in the elevator scene when Catherine Weaver inappropriately remarked that it was a beautiful day although it was the anniversary of her husband’s death. I don’t believe that Ellison is entirely obtuse. He may be in the beginning stages of formulating an opinion about what is transpiring around him.

Episode 2.14: The Good Wound

Posted in TSCC Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , on February 19, 2009 by severus

tscc_goodwound2The Sarah Connor Chronicles returned from its mid-season hiatus showing no signs of sluggishness. The Good Wound, which kicks off the final nine episodes of season two, is a return to the serialized storytelling format used in season one. The episode picks up where Earthlings Welcome Here left off.  Sarah awakens in a hospital bed with a bullet in her thigh lodged dangerously close to the femoral artery, and with a Muir County sheriff deputy standing guard outside her door. She is in such excruciating pain, she hallucinates that Kyle Reese, her son’s father, is by her side to guide her through the critical moments to follow. Sarah is nothing if not steely under pressure. She escapes by strangling the deputy unconscious, stealing his gun, and limping out the front door.

Sarah’s gunshot wound is the good wound. The agonizing pain strips away her normal defenses and lays bare the naked truth: She needs help. She needs help getting the bullet out of her leg; she needs help covering her tracks. She is unaccustomed to depending on anyone, and it is only to the vision of Kyle that she accedes.

The good wound also exposes Sarah’s deeper psychological and spiritual injuries that supersede any physical affliction. It forces her to confront herself in a manner she has been reluctant to do before, given her history of being wrongly imprisoned in a psychiatric hospital. It reveals her intense loneliness; the extent to which her knowledge of the future isolates her from the rest of humanity. It reveals how vulnerable she really feels, and the depth of her paranoia. It reveals the despair and bitterness she feels for carrying this burden. It reveals the lack of love in her life.

But the wound also shows her metal. Through the agony, anger, loneliness, and dispair, Sarah  manifests the means to survive. She does not succumb; She learns, adapts, and exploits. Though exhausted and exsanguinated, she digs deep within to find an inner strength to overcome all adversity.

This show is network televison at it’s best. It challenges us with thoughtful, creative stories that go well beyond the mindless, ratings-driven drivel audiences are usually spoon-fed on network television. I hope Fox has the guts to stick it out with this show, enabling it to find a larger appreciative audience. 

Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles

Posted in TSCC Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , on February 12, 2009 by severus

sarah_connor_chronicles

Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles (TSCC) is my favorite network television show. I realize it may be gasping for it’s last nine breaths with the mid-season relaunch on Friday the 13th, but I will state unequivocally that it’s one of the best shows on television. The writing is strong and the acting is amazing. Unfortunately, it has been competing against a reality show juggernaut and a couple of comedies that appeal to the unwashed masses. It got stomped. There’s a brave new world out there in tv land.

I’m in love with Summer Glau, but who isn’t? In that regard I’m indistinguishable from millions of fanboys who watch TSCC religously. (Summer – don’t marry the any of them. Wait for me. I’ll be rich and famous soon. Together, we’ll have lots of fat children.)

All kidding aside, Summer is a very talented actress, and, dare I say it, the best terminator ever. There. I said it. While Arnold is iconic in the terminator role, Summer brings real acting chops to her portrayal of the cyborg-protector Cameron Phillips. She is a true auteur, and the nuances contained in her performances is one of the main reasons I watch the show with bated breath. (Kevin Reilly, if you’re out there in cyberspace reading this blog, give Josh and company a third season or Fox and I are through.)

Lena Headey and Brian Austin Green also display tremendous talent in their respective roles. Lena Headey plays Sarah Connor, while Brian Austin Green portrays Derek Reese, brother to Kyle Reese, John Connor’s deceased father. I think Lena will always be best known for her portrayal of Queen Gorgo in 300 – that performance will probably be the crowning achievement of her career, but her portrayal of Sarah Connor will be a close second.

As for the notorious B.A.G.? his portrayal of Derek Reese has finally put his 90210 days firmly in the rearview mirror. He’s pitch perfect in the part, and has made a believer out of me.

Okay, so what about Thomas Dekker, who is conspicuously absent from all the praise I’ve been heaping on the show? He is talented, but he’s not pitch perfect…yet. Personally, I don’t agree with how he’s chosen to play John Connor. A little too abrasive for my taste (and I realize it is just a matter of taste). I recognize his talent. Video clips of him in real life are startling because his true personality is so remarkably different from his portrayal of John Connor. But that could be the issue. I feel sometimes he’s trying a bit too hard. He doesn’t inhabit the role naturally. Yeah, it could be just my personal bias, but I’m not crazy about his performance.

Okay, enough gushing over Summer Glau. The mid-season premiere of TSCC is Friday, February 13th, at 8pm. Please watch. Don’t let another excellent scripted series fall by the wayside. A mind is a terrible thing to waste on reality television.

Nota Bene: Richard T, Garret, and Shirley. I haven’t forgotten you guys. I’ll sing your praises at a later date.

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