Monday, March 02, 2009

Terminator, "Some Must Watch, While Some Must Sleep": Wake me when it's over

Spoilers for Friday night's "Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles" coming up just as soon as I emerge from the coma it put me into...

I want to be fair here. "Terminator" showrunner Josh Friedman, no doubt recognizing the fan discontent over the previous two episodes, and knowing that they'd likely be just as irritated with this one, promised on his blog last week that the rest of the season would be significantly more action-packed, and went so far as to venture into some spoiler territory to list all the things that would be coming up in the remaining six episodes. And people who saw the sizzle reel at today's panel at WonderCon (loads of spoilers in that link) said it looks like that isn't just talk.

But this whole "things get better X number of episodes" routine from skiffy showrunners is starting to get annoying. And even if Friedman's right, good lord were these episodes a slog. I think I must've actually dozed off for part of it, because when a friend mentioned Cameron walking around in her underwear, I had absolutely no memory of it.

Look, I don't think Friedman's wrong when he says the psychology of these characters is important. As I've said, I think the best episode of the series to date was "The Tower Is Tall But The Fall Is Short," which literally put several characters into therapy. The emotional toll of knowing the apocalypse is coming and only you have the power to stop it? That's potent material in the hands of the right writer, applied to the right character.

The problem is that they spent three episodes in a row -- four, if you want to count December's "Earthlings Welcome Here" -- on the wrong character. Some combination of actress, writing and network notes have made Sarah Connor -- a character so iconic she got her name in the title over future messiah John -- into this opaque nothing. I'm not saying she needs to be as hardcore or muscle-bound as Linda Hamilton in "T2," but they haven't given her any kind of personality to replace those traits. She's just there, and three (or four) episodes later, I still have no better understanding of her -- or interest in her -- than I did a few months ago.

I could go on for a while about specific things I disliked about this episode, but what's the point? Either Friedman's telling the truth and the show is about to take an abrupt turn for the better, or he's not and it'll be canceled soon (and I'll be gone before that happens). This was a bad, bad stretch for the show. End of story.

What did everybody else think?

31 comments:

Anonymous said...

Agreed. This episode was not even a good cure for insomnia given it's likely to leave you with nightmares. - anonymoose

Anonymous said...

why cant we have a clear vision of who the connors are fighting? who is shirley manson? whats the deal?

tabernacle said...

It's almost self-sabotage. Or that they made this ep on a dare. All the cure-for-insomnia jokes have been said already, but they are apt. Snoozer, this one. Is the show *trying* to get cancelled?

It's just crazy. Everyone knows dream sequences (etc.) are boring. Why? Because they don't matter. So, okay, EITHER story A OR story B was a dream sequence (or otherwise not-real), and the uncertainty as to which DOES add something, but why, by design, make half of the story-telling time you have be (mostly; see Alan's underwear-comment; hyphen is important) worthless?

I dunno. I'm just scratching my head here. Possible excuse? "It's character development." But you don't halt plot to develop character, and as Alan mentions, the actress/writing combination isn't leaving us with much anyway in terms of the titular heroine.

amadis said...

I guess I'm one of the few that has really enjoyed these past episodes. While I love the action I've really liked these slower paced episodes. To be honest I love these characters so much they could do a episode where they all sit in a room for an hour and pick their noses and I'd watch. Don't really get what everyone's complaining about.

Anonymous said...

100% agree, Alan.
I'm a huge Terminator fan. I even found something to enjoy in that dreck that was T3 (um. I forget what right now, but I did.). But these past 3 episodes have been an absolute chore to get through. I'm happy to hear that things are turning around next week, but I truly fear that it's much too late to do any good. I've heard from several people that they're done with the show because "nothing ever happens" or "it's too boring", and the ratings have been absolutely dismal.
I really do hope that next week improves both the storyline/pacing AND the ratings.

DonBoy said...

Sarah Connor -- a character so iconic she got her name in the title over future messiah John

Actually, I've been wondering about that, and why the show has SC's name in it. Possibly as a condition of getting a name actress -- but is Lena Headey really enough of a "name" for that theory to make sense?

Anyway, I've seen enough of these shows to know which story was real. (Also to know the twist in Starbuck's story later that night; it was like a theme night.) Note that it's Sarah who dreamed of (John dreaming of) Cameron in her underwear. I'm just sayin'.

tabernacle said...

That's exactly right. Which makes it a nice character-revealing moment (Sarah's fears about her son's potential/future involvement with Evol Metal) in addition to the silly fan service level of it.

dez said...

I even found something to enjoy in that dreck that was T3 (um. I forget what right now, but I did.).

The truck chase/crane sequence comes to mind :-)

Between this ep and the following "Dollhouse," I thought *I* was the one having a bad dream. But if they're going back to action and BAG and such next week, I'll be back (ha ha), too.

bralsi = a ballsy broad

Steve Ely said...

This episode pretty much drove away a regular viewer altogether. I enjoyed enough from the first season and the first part of the second that I've watched every episode, despite some being disappointing.

But this.... Man, I was willing to bear with them through the funeral episode. The teenage girl guest-star had more personality than John's girlfriend from the future (Riley?), and there was a bit of plot advancement. But the show needed to get better after that. It needed to rebound.

Instead, I turn it on and learn she's in a sleep clinic?? John and Cameron are visiting her during visiting hours, and they're eating in the cafeteria? Forget this. Forget this crap.

I don't need for this to be BSG or Lost or Chuck, but come on. Friedman's essentially telling me, "You'll watch anything we put in front of you, as long as the series in general involves some time travel and some killer robots." Well, no, Josh. No, I won't. I'm done. I wanted to be a fan of this show, but now I'm going to try to forget all about it and just hope the Bale movie doesn't disappoint.

P@ said...

I'm not saying she needs to be as hardcore or muscle-bound as Linda Hamilton in "T2," but they haven't given her any kind of personality to replace those traits. She's just there, and three (or four) episodes later, I still have no better understanding of her -- or interest in her -- than I did a few months ago.
Nailed it right there. Focusing on Sarah is fine - she is the show's namesake, afterall - but it's been so badly bungled with this crop of episodes that I have to wonder *why* it's the Sarah Connor chronicles, and not the "Derek Reese Chronicles" or the "Cameron Files". Either one of those characters are infinitely more interesting.

Roger the Talking Duck said...

This was, in my opinion, the worst episode of the series.

It did not move the plot along in any way whatsoever, and it was easily the most boring episode of all time.

Also, they're really trying to hard with all of these "clever" alternate episode structures. The only time it worked was in that episode where they took out that Cromartie whats-his-name Terminator, but even then it wasn't a necessity.

I'll keep watching, but damn this show got disappointing. So much potential down the drain.

Number Five said...

Yeah, they really ran themselves into the ground. The fall finale and the funeral episode were promising but inconsistent, and the spring premiere and this episode were just flat out awful. Too bad, since they had a very good run before that.

Just because the next batch of episodes are more action-packed doesn't necessarily mean they'll be more compelling...but yeah, there's nowhere to go but up. Hopefully we'll get something good before the series ends.

Pamela Jaye said...

I don't watch it, but I've been given a reason to follow the news from the Cons and it's *really* hard trying to avoid spoilers while doing that. (not that you are making it worse, or anything. i'm just talking about my google alert this morning)

Anonymous said...

Yup. Dull episode. Mostly pointless.

Was I the only one who knew right from the start that the scenes of her having been kidnapped by the man she shot was the reality and the hospital stuff was the dream?

tabernacle said...

Someone mentioned the coyote tattoo as a dead giveaway. The mere fact of Sarah being in a sleep clinic, though...! And the second Cam and John were seen to have progressed in their relationship (the Pancake-Maker Substitution)--in a show that moves glacially sometimes, forward movement isn't going to happen OFFSCREEN, you know.

Anonymous said...

I've tried to like this show but it's just so uneven. This episode was difficult to watch. Lena Heady seems to have wandered in from the set of a daytime soap and it doesn't help when there's a dull and implausible plot and weak writing. "Character development" is compelling only if there is a character the audience cares about. (For an example see the great ep of BSG the same night). It just feels third-rate. It actually makes Dollhouse look good - at least the overall premise of the show and basic characterizations on Dollhouse are obvious to the viewer. Terminator has been frustrating on many levels, not least because it has a good basic premise and some great characters (Cameron, Cromartie, etc) but I won't make an effort anymore to watch it.

tabernacle said...

I'm not even sure about the premise now (beyond "Evil robots and time travel are cool"). I have to think that it's hard to write for an open-ended television show (_pace_ impending likely cancellation) where, because of the premise, there can really be no concrete end. (What would have to happen for the apocalypse to be considered irrevocably prevented?)

DNR said...

I watched agape and sort of impressed at the show's continuing desire to retard any narrative momentum whatsoever. If there's a big action climax coming, it's not because they've been carefully laying the groundwork for it over the last few months. The focus of the show has been that mysterious factory for what feels like a dozen episodes now, and we've learned that they have deadly security and were involved with the robots in someway. In the mean time we've had dull character sketches of abused girlfriends, transvestites with repressed memories, surly teenagers in mourning, and a British insomniac who turns out to be imaginary. The main revelation this week was that a security guard who we thought was dead a while ago turns out not to be, but now he is. With the pretentious act titles, dream sequences, and name-dropping of A.E. Houseman and the like, it's hard to escape the feeling that the producers feel a bit embarrassed to be making a show about killer robots from the future, but don't want to turn down the paycheck.

Anonymous said...

Thank God for hulu.com.... I love this show and it feels like we have been in suspended animation since December. No excuses this show needs to get more action asap...

Where was Derek, Jesse and the ever annoying Riley??

Talkias Jakabrien said...

Agree with Alan for the most part. More specifically, thought the writing was 2% better this week than last week. And the twist of what's reality vs what's dreaming was unexpected. If nothing else, I'm glad to see them leaning on their leads like Lena and leaving extraneous characters out. Well ok, except for that British lady. And that creepy doctor lady. And that Latino handyman. And the torturing guy... oh forget it.

Also, exactly what kind of sleep clinic is as decked out as that place? Seemed like some alternate world with sunshine and bunnies and GREAT ATTENTIVE MEDICAL CARE!

And ok, what's the deal with the way Sarah + John communicate? They never say hello or goodbye, on the phone or in person. They just hang up or walk away from each other. It's bizarre to watch, feels completely incorrect.

I mean, I know they're tough and all, but is rudeness a prerequisite for toughness?

Lastly, for an episode that was mostly Sarah's dream, there were a number of vivid moments where she wasn't even on-screen. Ahem, Summer Glau in her underwear. And Summer Glau hitting the vending machine. I dunno, it's a nitpicky point but again just leaves me kinda huh?

Simon said...

"They never say hello or goodbye, on the phone or in person. They just hang up or walk away from each other."

I wish I could think of some examples, but I've noticed this in a lot of American media - films in particular. (Brit here, btw) I was starting to believe that maybe that's just how you lot have phone calls...

shara says said...

I'm gonna totally disagree - I really enjoyed this one, and have enjoyed the slower paced episodes of late. A Lot. Because they're interesting. I don't get why people don't "get" Sarah's character, she's the mother of the savior of humanity, she's trying to raise a son to save the world, deal with her own mortality, be constantly on guard for all manner of murderous robots and other assorted meanies, and try to find a way to prevent the apocalypse from happening, with little evidence to go on. She's a badass who has held everything together for so long, and now the pressure is finally threatening to overwhelm her. I've LOVED watching her slowly unravel over the past week - John is only going to step up when he has to, and with her heading downhill it sets up an interesting twist on their family dynamic.

I really enjoyed trying to figure out what was real and what wasn't, which made me feel more connected to what Sarah was going through in the episode. Mr. Shara Says was abotu sick me me piping up with regular comments like "they're not real! I just know it!" and "oh no, wait, THATs not real". Plus, I thought that the show NAILED the appropriate tone for the story - this episode totally brought the creepy in a major way. This show is really good at setting the right tone for scenes.

I just don't get what folks are complaining about, this is one of our favorite shows. I don't need action just for the sake of action, I'd rather them save their action budget and do it right in small doses.

David Thiel said...

I'm coming at this series from a different viewpoint from some. I *hated* T2, in large part because of angry, crazy Sarah. And I thoroughly enjoyed T3. It paid off the premise of the original film by remembering that Sarah's mission wasn't to prevent the apocalypse, but to keep John alive so that he could win the future conflict that we'll *finally* get to see in the upcoming sequels.

So I'm fine with softer Sarah, even if the show itself seems hell-bent on erasing T3 from continuity. I agree that she's not the most interesting character on the show, but that's okay with me, as she provides the center around which the likes of Cameron and Reese revolve.

All that said, the last couple of episodes have indeed been a slog, and this last one I "watched" while playing on my laptop. Which means that I missed the Cameron underwear scene. Hello, Hulu!

What I'm finding frustrating about this second season is that we've got this compelling antagonist--Shirley Manson may not be an actress, but she is a presence--and she's never met any of our heroes. Six episodes from what's likely to be the series finale, and we still have no true idea of her agenda.

Also, while I know that the budget won't allow full-on action every week, hello, killer robots? The Manson Massacre a few weeks back was welcome if only because it reminded the viewer that hey, this is still a show about killer robots.

Anonymous said...

Shirley Manson . . .'s never met any of our heroes. Six episodes from what's likely to be the series finale, and we still have no true idea of her agenda.

I view this as a high point of the series -- building suspense over the season -- as long as the payoff is strong enough to support the wait (pun intended).

I too am not bothered by this Sarah's more stoic manner except that she seems to go out on risky missions without backup, which seems reckless. If I had a terminator around to help, I'd use it regularly. Heck, T-bot could even pre-taste my peanut butter sandwiches as my only little FDA approver.
--anonymoose

crankygrrl said...

I couldn't disagree with Alan more here.

I suppose I might be troubled if I didn't conside the Sarah Connor character as important to me as the terminators and future war and I didn't feel entirely confident that the writing staff are explicitly saving the explosions and killer robot action for the seaon finale - to paraphrase what Alan wrote about last week's episode of BSG.

If you don't like Sarah Connor or understand why exploring her character (with frankly more reason than the 40th iteration of "Starbuck's childhood trauma") is important then there's not much point discussing the episode.

But from my point of view, as somone who tunes into a program called (at least in part) The Sarah Connor Chronicles with the expectation that this is the character I will be following, I thought it was a fascinating and nuanced exploration of Sarah Connor's fears and insecurities. Since the second episode, the show has explicitly asked how far Sarah Connor could or would go to protect John and fight the apocalypse, even while suggesting that there are lines you should not cross, even in the face of Armaggedon. Friday night's episode answered that question but not without acknowledging the cost to Sarah.

The Sarah Connor Chronicles isn't 24. You may find this dramatically unsatisfying but I prefer dramas that take the time to consider the effects and the implications of violence rather than simply revelling in consequence-free fictions.

Anonymous said...

I don't understand all the disappointment. Is this last ep "worse" than Tony Soprano's Costa Mesa fever dreams?

I want to see things other than what I'd expect in a Terminator film. I *don't* want every SCC episode to be a "whacking" episode, just as I didn't want the Sopranos to become a one-note act.

It's really too bad that the SCC writers aren't going to be able to stretch out and explore the quieter and more reflective side of The End Of All Things.

I'd love to see SCC have as many seasons as The Sopranos. I think that the writers would take us on some surprising journeys...

Alan Sepinwall said...

It's really too bad that the SCC writers aren't going to be able to stretch out and explore the quieter and more reflective side of The End Of All Things.

Like I said up top, I've got no problem with the quieter and more reflective side: I just think the last four episodes did a very poor job of it.

Anonymous said...

Hope this isn't a violation of the blog rules and if it is I'm happy to have it deleted. The above mentioned "sizzle reel at today's panel at WonderCon" has been posted at io9.com (linked from Entertainment Weekley's site). It does provide some hope for a faster paced exit.

Anonymous said...

"I think I must've actually dozed off for part of it, because when a friend mentioned Cameron walking around in her underwear, I had absolutely no memory of it."

Alan, you are too funny, I had the exact same reaction..I'm all for character development but WOW..
everything about these Sara centered episodes have been daunting at best.

Here hoping Mr. Friedman is able to deliver on said promise...

Adam said...

I agree that 4 episodes in a row of emotional analysis is a bit much, but I actually really liked this episode, I like the delving into the psychology of characters and I think Sarah has alot to offer and is far from a nothing, altohugh a bit difficult to understand.

Can't wait for the next episodes though, hoping they're gonna be some kinda awesome.

Adam said...

Also, did anyone notice the little reference to Terminator 2 when the female doctor in Sarah's dream told Sarah "call to him" which is what the T-1000 said to Sarah in the factory in T2