Thursday, March 06, 2008

Better late than never reviews: Martha on Torchwood & Terminator finale

So I was cleaning out my DVR last night (when the hard drive gets above 70 or 75 percent capacity, it tends to slow down and maybe even pixellate new recordings) and realized that, while I had watched both the latest "Torchwood" and the "Sarah Connor Chronicles" finale, I never got around to blogging about either one. So brief, belated spoilers for the two skiffy shows in the current rotation coming up just as soon as I finish my homework...

I'd been looking forward to Martha Jones showing up on "Torchwood" for a while now, and her first episode didn't disappoint. I thought Freema Agyeman really grew into the role during her first season on "Doctor Who" -- especially from "Human Nature" on -- and it was nice to see her in a capacity where she got to be 100% awesome instead of her usual 70% awesome, 30% crushing on David Tennant. She was confident, funny, sexy (and her flirtiness brought out the vintage Captain Jack that hasn't been on display as much this season as I would like), and she fit in well with the crew, particularly the doomed Owen.

I wasn't spoiled on Owen's death -- and I have no idea if they're going to use some alien tech in an upcoming episode to bring him back, so please no spoilers for people following the slightly-advanced British schedule -- and was therefore shocked to see him take a bullet from the ubiquitous Alan Dale. A very creepy, scary episode and another sign that team "Torchwood" seriously got their act together for season two.

Speaking of improving as they go, I thought "Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles" got quite a bit better after the first few boring episodes. Specifically, the introduction of Brian Austin Green, of all people, signaled the moment when I began to think this show might have more legs than I initially thought. For whatever reason -- my guess is a network note about making the main character more relatable -- the producers decided to soften Sarah from the homicidal nutcase she was in "Terminator 2," and so they wound up giving all of movie Sarah's most extreme, memorable qualities to Derek Reese, and the former David Silver somehow pulled it off. I bought him as a hair-trigger commando from the future, and he gave the show an unpredictable quality that it didn't have with the original troika.

The finale also featured one of the great "do more with less" moments I've seen lately. With the weekly budget obviously much lower than for the pilot, there was no way to actually show Cromartie massacring the FBI tactical team, and so they shot virtually all of it from the point of view of the bodies falling, one by one, into the pool far away from Cromartie's hotel room. It helped that they scored the whole thing to Johnny Cash's "The Man Comes Around" -- any scene feels more epic when it's accompanied by a number from one of Johnny's America albums (see also the opening of the most recent season of "The Shield," where Johnny's "I Hung My Head" kicks an already powerful opening sequence into something magnificent), and the song itself is about Judgment Day.

Still, despite the improvements, I'm still not sure if there's a long creative life in this concept. (That's assuming Fox even renews it, considering how much the ratings slipped from that big debut audience, and the fact that the network has committed big money for next season to sci-fi shows from Joss Whedon and J.J. Abrams.) It's a Gilligan or Fugitive premise, where the characters can only come so close to accomplishing their goal before the end of the series. And unlike "Lost," where getting off the island was also the chief goal, there aren't enough interesting detours along the way to get in the way of that. Either they're going to get their hands on the Turk and then realize that it's not the start of SkyNet, or they're going to spend seasons chasing the Turk as it continually changes hands; either way, I expect it to get old.

But, like a few other shows this season ("Journeyman" and "Life," to name two), "Sarah Connor Chronicles" turned out to be more entertaining than I at first thought it was capable of being. I won't exactly miss it if Fox doesn't renew it, but I don't regret sticking with it to the end of this season.

What did everybody else think?


Pamela Jaye said...

I just wanted to say that "cleaning out my DVR" is a nifty new phrase. I try to do it every night and fail miserable. (mine's at 98% - thing are going to have to start going to DVD)

(I don't get the pixilation problem though)

PS - any new word on Scrubs? I just this morning read your last post and comments on that.

Pamela Jaye said...


Anonymous said...

I may be done with "Torchwood." Its writers seem to have no set of rules by which the characters should follow in the pursuit of their mission. Everything is ad hoc, and they have a different set of rules for the main characters than for any other citizen or non-Torchwood type. It's particularly hard to buy the disdain of Jack Harkness for Alan Dale's character when Jack has so often permitted his team to commit acts of gross negligence. Owen opening the rift and releasing that gigantic beast? Major Torchwood decisions made because of the romantic interests of its members? Jack permitting Tosh to make decisions about the WWI soldier based on her feelings? Harkness allowing Rhys, a civilian, to participate in a Torchwood reason for no reason other than he is Gwen's significant other? As someone remarked on this forum earlier, there is absolutely no professionalism, discipline, or consistency on the part of the Torchwood members. That would be fine, of course, were we not browbeaten with the importance of their mission in the 21st century, where "everything changes." At best, in tone, Torchwood is "Alias" at its worst, which is tiring. At worst, it is a tired supernatural procedural. (Plus, the fact that they stumble across devices and alien tech which are extremely helpful in that episode but never again mentioned or used is a weakness.). If Torchwood is an agency critical to the survival of humanity, they are failures; they blunder their way through every mention and only haphazardly succeed.

The appearance of Martha Jones, I though, belittled her character, as she, and Tennat as the Doctor, are simply in a different league. Sure, "Doctor Who" is just a silly as Torchwood, but it's fun, it's without the brooding, and would-be gravitas of Torchwood.

K J Gillenwater said...

I'm glad you've seen some improvement on Terminator, because I really like the show. But I was absolutely bummed that these were the last two episodes. I really need more to feel satisfied. I am hoping it is renewed.

Adding Derrick Reese was a great idea. There is a good amount of tension between whom they should trust more...Derrick or Cameron. And I like that we don't quite know what either 'person's' game is.

My favorite was the scene when Derrick took John to see his 5-year-old dad play catch. What a nice birthday gift. Very poignant.

I'm surprised you don't give more props to the writers, Alan. I think they have written some wonderful dialogue (Cameron's interactions especially) and added some good elements to the story in a smart way without making it seem tacked on (the young girl in the closet was used quite effectively and unexpectedly).

I also like it's unpredictable nature. It doesn't fit any particular tv mystery solved every week, no definite target, things are constantly changing and new threads being added all the time. Keeps it fresh and different.

pgillan said...

I thought that Terminator had been getting better, but the last episode was absolutely awful.

They played the last two episodes as a single episode, but they were obviously separate (there were credits at the end end of the first "half"), and the second episode, the finale, felt like it was a two hour episode with half the content cut out of it. What was with the sudden jumps from plot point to plot point? Cameron notices the bad guy in the museum, is told to rejoin the group, and then the next time we see her she's stuffing his body in the trunk of a car.

The woman shows up to (presumably) tell them that the bad guy killed the men who provided them with fake IDs, for no reason that I can see, drives them to the internet cafe, waits around during the gunfight, and then gives them all a lift home, all without a word of explanation.

I don't buy Brian Austin Green in the role at all, though the character itself does add something to the show. But in another jumpy cut, how did he find that little girl? Sure, I can surmise how he could have stumbled upon her while he was either looking for John, or second guessing John's searching abilities, but it's never explained, and adds to the feeling that this episode was supposed to be twice as long.

There are also little things about the show that bugged me more in this last episode than in others. Referring back to the scene where Cameron is stuffing the body in the trunk, is that "youth" dialogue as bad as I thought it was? And I know he's a time traveller and all, but why does John look like he's wearing close from the early eighties? And what's his friend's excuse for the Flock of Seagulls haircut?

Anyway, if the show comes back next season, I'll probably watch it, but if not I won't be too upset.

On a slightly different note, that blast at the end didn't seem anywhere near strong enough to kill a Terminator, so maybe they just wanted to blow her skin off so they could replace Cameron with a different actress, should the show come back. You did say that Joss Whedon had a show coming out next season. Is Summer Glau involved?

K J Gillenwater said...

Patrick, I find your complaints interesting. I think they way they edited/filmed that last episode helped it move along more quickly. Why do I need to see Cameron do the Terminator kill-of-the-week? I know what she can do. More ominous that she admits to the friend there is a dead body in the trunk. I like having to fill in the gaps myself.

Same with the kid. Did we really need a few extra seconds of Derrick discovering her in the closet? What kind of surprise factor would it be if he showed up out in the alley with the kid, if we already knew he had discovered her?

The gangbanger girl is interesting. She is quiet and doesn't say much...this is why she got along with Cameron...and why she helps her out when she knows the bad guys are on their trail. I don't need to know anything more than that. She's a criminal-type but loyal to those who she feels deserves her help.

dark tyler said...

I agree with everything anonymous said, except I kinda enjoyed the way the chemistry between Martha and Jack reminded me of some good Doctor Who moments.

Other than that, people really need to not get their hopes up.

J said...

Totally the opposite reaction: I had low expectations for Terminator, and the first eps made for fine background noise. These two were the first time I looked at it and said, "This is really bad." You're probably dead-on about making Sarah relatable, but she's barely there; whenever she asserts herself, it almost makes you remember that she's actually on the show. When your strongest performance is coming from David Silver, you've got a problem.

Maybe I just needed the show to get significantly better to justify its existence.

That throwing-the-SWAT-team-into-the-pool sequence was ridiculous. And seven minutes long! Just cut to the aftermath. Otherwise, it looks the cops look Keystone and disposable.

After the initial awful Torchwood eps from last season, I checked out the one that seemed to be a consensus winner (Jack makes out with the original, closteted Captain Jack), and tried again with the first 2nd series ep. And: The show's just Lousy. I was intrigued with Martha Jones' appearance, but I've had enough Lousy.

Anonymous said...

I really don't like Sarah and am shocked at how much I like Derek Reese. So, good call to add him.

So it goes said...

That throwing-the-SWAT-team-into-the-pool sequence was ridiculous. And seven minutes long! Just cut to the aftermath. Otherwise, it looks the cops look Keystone and disposable.

I loved the TTSTITP sequence (less than a minute long once they go in). I approve of any finely crafted Cash usage for that matter.

What word are you looking for when you say keystone? Growing up in the keystone state as I did I can assure you it means exactly the opposite of disposable.

Alan Sepinwall said...

What word are you looking for when you say keystone?

I think J was comparing them to The Keystone Cops.

So it goes said...

That makes sense in context then, apologies.

Personally I wouldn't expect a dozen unsuspecting cops to have a chance in a head on assault against our T-888. I think the scene effectively portrayed agent Ellison and Charlie Dixon's jarring realization that the death dealing efficiency of the terminators are beyond anything they could have imagined.

J said...

One minute is a ton of screentime, especially in slow-motion, especially when it's just the same thing happening over and over and over (xSwat Guys). I was mentally constructing fun visual things that could be done. The Nirvana Nevermind baby could swim through, chasing a buck! Hey, look, there's Nemo!

But the repetitiveness of the cops' undoing just make it feel like each one stupidly attacked the same way, one after another. Just show the aftermath, and leave the process up to the imagination.

Alan Sepinwall said...

But then you miss the Johnny Cash! The Johnny Cash, man!

So it goes said...

But the repetitiveness of the cops' undoing just make it feel like each one stupidly attacked the same way, one after another.

Its not the repetitiveness of the cops but of the T-888. He's the one being OCD and tossing all his vanquished foes into the same area. Whatever ineffective technique(s) got them tossed like rag dolls is left up to your imagination. But if the Cash wasn't enough to make you like the scene I should probably stop trying to convince you.

Nicole said...

I love me some Johnny Cash so I thoroughly enjoyed that sequence. I didn't even notice how long it was. I can bitch ad nauseum about the one expression Summer Glau has throughout the series, but I would never bitch about the use of Johnny Cash.

As for Torchwood, I have had lowered expectations from the beginning and this second season has exceeded them, especially when Martha was there. John Barrowman is the reason I still and will continue to watch this show, even with the lack of continuity throughout. He makes this crazy stuff work.

It was also nice to see Martha be confident from the beginning and not moon over someone who hasn't gotten over Rose. That was at least consistent to what she was like at the end of series 3.

-M said...

Cash was all over that episode! In the pool massacre scene. In the failed meet up for the Turk scene. With the biblical reference which also precedes Cash's Man Comes Around song on his album. Cash mania!

I have conflicting feelings about being newly attracted to Brian Austen Greene, but I'm dealing with them.

555jay said...

Thanks for catching up on this, Alan. I've been up-to-the-minute on your Wire recaps, but I'd thought you'd given up on Sarah and the gang.

That said, I jumped onto Terminator late and caught up online all at once, which I think has the effect of smoothing out the highs and lows of the week-to-week moments.

I just don't get the overall flow of the franchise. I don't know which was announced when, but it seems like an odd move making a TV series successor to a 3-movie franchise that ret-cons out the third movie, while at the same time putting a 2009 Terminator movie into production. I could see it if the show is supposed to set up a bunch of back-story for the next movie, but if so, they're sure taking the scenic route. But then again, I watch The Wire, so it's all relative.

Also, would my fellow commentors please confirm for my dumb friend that didn't watch the end of the episode that Sarkissian (per the passport photo) is not that guy that was working the front desk at the internet cafe? Thanks. That'll prove him.

555jay said...

Well, consarnit! The FOX site recap says that the cafe clerk is Sarkissian in the passport photo. I didn't make that connection; I remember the photo looking way older than the clerk. I guess I got proved...

J said...

Yeah, okay, the Cash. But one of the problems I've had with this show from the start was its constant need to pump pathos from its fictional apocalypse. Maybe that was in the Cameron flicks as well, but the two prevailing moods I recall most were (1) It's Coming to Get You and (2) It's Still Coming to Get You.

And the robot might have been responsible for putting them in the pool, but the cops were responsible for not getting out of the way of the robot. If I want to see slo-mo mechanical repitition, I'll pop in my Koyaanisqatsi DVD.

Karen said...

I have to say I mostly agree with Anonymous. The characters on Torchwood have few stable characteristics from week to week, and all seem to share the fluid sexuality that originally marked only Cap'n Jack. I get that Peter Pansexual there is supposed to be ready to jump anything that breathes--although the host of seemingly simultaneous devotions, from the dance hall captain to Spike to Ianto to Gwen seems excessive--but is EVERYONE like that? Ianto was hopelessly and tragically in love with Lisa, but is now puppy-ishly involved with the innovative and avant-garde Jack. Gwen is in love with Rhys, but had an intense office romance with Owen, and now appears to be drawn to Jack, which may explain why she remained so utterly devoid of expression as she looked down at the dying body of her former lover. Owen was obsessively drawn to Gwen, then immediately fell head over heels with the aviatrix (Diana?), and is now inexplicably ready to entertain a dalliance with Toshiko (clearly, why he had to be killed). Speaking of whom, poor Tosh appears to be subject to any kind of passion the writers feel like throwing at her, whether it's a female alien, an alien made out of memories, Owen, an annual attraction with the cryogenically-abled, etc. Who ARE these people?

I was glad to see Martha, not least because Jack is less of a pill when she's around, but Frema Agyeman just acts rings around John Barrowman, who I confess I don't think is particularly talented. Some of his line readings are so awkward, and he doesn't actually seem capable of much nuance--he's all happy or all angry or all sad but never manages to evoke the transitions.

I watch it, though, because I tend to stick with things once I've started them, and because I've grown quite enamored of the Welsh accent. And I for one was thrilled to see Alan Dale, whom I'd never even heard of before The O.C. but who seems to have become the casting director's shorthand pick for EEEE-vil. He's delicious.

As for Terminator--I, too, have been shocked at my pleasure in David Silver's addition to the cast, and I loved loved loved the slo-mo reddening of the motel pool with the falling cop bodies, especially with the Johnny Cash score. I thought it was brilliantly evocative. And I also actually found myself tearing up when the otherwise unremarkable John Connor was so clearly moved at the site of the 5-year-old Kyle Reese. That was a miraculous birthday present that Derek gave him.

I'm also amused by the folks who bitch about Summer Glau's "one-note" performance. She's a robot, people! Some have wondered why she was able to express natural emotions in the pilot: cause she was on a mission! She had to convince John Connor she was "normal"! Once that mission was accomplished--or rendered moot by her revealing herself as a Terminator--she had absolutely no logical reason to continue to present herself as a normal girl.

Here's what I didn't get in the finale, though. In the showdown with children, as not-Sarkissian held a gun to John's head as Derek held one to the sweert little girl, not-Sarkissian said, "Not my kid," to which Derek replied, "Not MY kid." But then we discover that not-Sarkissian was NOT her father, the fabulous James Urbaniak (Doc Venture!!) is. So why did not-Sarkissian say that?

K J Gillenwater said...

Karen, I'm not sure what you are asking. Not-Sarkissian said he wasn't the girl's father because he wasn't. He assumed Derrick was using the girl as a reason for him to let John go. But it turned out she wasn't Sarkissian's. But Derrick didn't care...either he had a back up plan, or it was his plan all along to use the kid as a distraction so that he could shoot not-Sarkissian in the head.

Does that help??

Karen said...

No, Kristin, not-Sarkissian didn't say he wasn't the girl's father. After Derek shot not-Sarkissian, he asked the girl if that was her father, and she said no--her father was Doc Venture, out front.

So, why did not-Sarkissian say, "Not my kid" when Derek came in with the girl?

Anonymous said...

Hi Karen - I thought as you did, but thought about what Kristin said and it makes sense now...

Not-Sarkissian said, "Not my kid" when Derek came in with the girl, as in "She's not my kid" rather than "Don't shoot her - Not my kid"

So, Not-Sarkissian was probably puzzled why Derek did what he did when it didn't matter to Not-Sarkissian since the girl was not his kid.

Depends on the line reading. Make sense now...? question though, why did the T-888 let the FBI agent live?