Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Terminator, "Mr. Ferguson Is Ill Today": Pause, rewind, push play

Spoilers for last night's "Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles" coming up just as soon as I build a safe...

I enjoyed large swaths of "Mr. Ferguson Is Ill Today." The increasing despair of John, Sarah and Ellison were all very well-played -- with John in particular, the writers and Thomas Dekker have done a great course correction this year by showing how heavily his future crown weighs on him -- and I really dug the Spaghetti Western vibe of the final showdown with Cromarite (most notable in Cromartie's choice of shirt and Cameron's choice of boots, but also in the atmosphere and the photography and music choices). And watching Cameron strip off her jacket because she knows how John responds to her faux-body was the creepiest thing the show's done since Shirley Manson made Weaver's daughter wet herself.

But here's the thing: if you're going to employ a storytelling gimmick that calls as much attention to itself as this episode's fragmented, POV-driven chronology, you need to actually get something interesting out of it. And other than the surprise of Ellison opening the car trunk to offer Sarah his hand (and his own version of "Come with me if you want to live"), there wasn't a single thing in this episode that couldn't have been accomplished if they had told the story traditionally.

"Boomtown" made this gimmick into its regular narrative style (at least in the first season, before NBC ordered Graham Yost to stop), and it always drove me nuts how little it added to the proceedings. Only on occasion would the out-of-sequence plotting change how we perceived events earlier in the hour, and there was nothing along those lines here. I kept expecting to see something in "Cameron's Story" that altered my view of events that had just been shown in "Sarah's Story," or "John's Story," but all the episode did was tell the story out of order because somebody thought it would be cooler to do it that way.

Also, I'm going to miss Garret Dillahunt as Cromartie, if we assume he's really dead for sure. And the manner of his dispatching was a disappointment. So all of a sudden a shotgun exists that can damage the metal that makes up a T-888's skull? One of the points the "Terminator" movies and the show until now have tried to stress is that a Terminator, of any model, is really hard to kill. If you can take down the non-morphing models just by shooting at them a lot, it really damages their mystique.

What did everybody else think?


Bruce Reid said...

Not only was there no satisfying revelation once all the disparate pieces fell into place, the jumbled chronology couldn't conceal what a string of outrageous coincidences and lucky breaks it took to get everyone together down in Mexico.

So rather disappointing, though in many ways the show continues to improve: the weight of their troubles finally seems real to both Connors, and Cameron remains a fascinating character. (You're right about her sexual manipulation of John being so disturbing.)

It was also a good choice to have Cromartie inform Sarah that it was her mercy towards a stranger that led him to John. This is becoming one of the rare shows where, however outrageously the characters behave, they always at least have to own up to it.

Here's hoping the episode was a bit of a fakeout, as I'll miss Dillahunt's humorous, imposing take on emotionless killing machine as well.

Anonymous said...

I completely missed how Cromartie knew they were in Mexico. Any explanation?

Antid Oto said...

I'm pretty sure they've previously shown that you can make a Terminator shut down temporarily and reboot just by shooting it in the head a lot. Then you have to rush and get the chip out.

Anonymous said...

I'll slightly disagree - I enjoyed the out-of-sequence storytelling quite a bit, even though it didn't add a whole lot to the plot. I generally like it when shows make an effort to break from a formula (Supernatural does those kinds of episodes better than any other show around) or tell the story in an unusual way. There was definitely some unrealized potential in how the gimmick was used, but I thought this was an intense episode that brought together the emotional climax of what the characters are dealing with with the awesome (and well-directed) shootout scenes.

The scene with Cameron and John in bed was all sorts of creepy and sexy. The two definitely have chemistry - not traditional romantic chemistry, but their strange bond is definitely interesting. I'm glad, however, that the show hasn't focused to heavily on that aspect of the story - its probably the angle that I find most interesting, but I think its the right approach to just have hints and subtle interplay rather than it being a major issue all the time. The way they've built John's psuedo-feelings for Cameron, and the way they've gradually shown her ability to both manipulate and connect with him, has been really well-done. This was a big focus in the season premiere, but has stayed more on the back burner since then. By laying the groundwork gradually, they've made scenes like the one with them in bed last nite pretty powerful.

pgillan said...

I completely missed how Cromartie knew they were in Mexico. Any explanation?

I think when John called his mother from jail, he was actually talking to Cromartie. Based on the timeline, she thought John was in his bedroom right up until Cromartie busted into the house and choked her out. I presume she had her wrists bound and wasn't answering any phones until Ellison pulled her out of the trunk.

tabernacle said...

And they kind of gave up on the Rashomon thing by the very end, didn't they? With no pay-off and for no good (strucutural or plot) reason.

I'm still loving Cameron/SG. John is still too emo and whiny for my taste (even post-haircut), though his coup-de-gracing of Cromartie helped. I don't really care for watered-down-for-TV Sarah Connor, with her "I'm not a murderer!" conflict. Blech. If it works at all, it's because it provides a good contrast for Cameron's coldness (awesomeness), but, again, _name of the show_! Ellison still puts me to sleep, but at least he was tied into the main (interesting) action. I agree that Cromartie died _way_ too easily; this ease undermines everything that has happened to date. All the same, I enjoyed the episode a lot. I try not to think about it, but I suspect that the show has no logical endpoint toward which to build: the only likely options are (1) apocalypse or (2) a never-ending holding-off of said apocalypse, as hinted at by Sarah Connor in tonight's episode. Still, I'll stick around and watch.

Anonymous said...

I was also waiting for the other shoe to drop during the POV storylines. It never did. Total busto.

And, when Cromartie was so easily killed, total busto #2. Derek and Cameron were talking about explosives earlier in the episode. When she walked out with the shotgun, I thought she was going to force feed him some plastique and then blow him up or something. Sure his flesh would be blown off, but his endoskeleton shouldn't have been blown open.

Two interesting developments in the episode that move the plot along:
1) Without Cromartie John Connor is not at immediate risk any longer, except for the constant time traveling that drives everyone nuts
2) What will Ellison do with the information he's gained with regard to his employment?

I think Ellison is now the most compelling character on the show.

Anonymous said...

^I'm with you about Ellison. With Cromartie gone, Ellison's who will keep me coming back until the show's canceled.

JMC said...

The producer and writer were in a FOX sponsored chat session as soon as the east coast showing of this ep finished and among other things they revealed that the shotgun was loaded with uranium depleted shells - they exist in real-life.


:: clears throat ::

As a personal aside, I find myself in a weird place. Bear with me! It was only 2 years ago or so that I discovered blogs that centered around tv/film criticism. I was in heaven. I latched unto a few sites (Alan's of course being one of them) that shared my sensibilities and tastes. Now it's weird to come to these same pages and discover the folks you treasured for their smart analysis and commentary on the shows you both loved have moved in different directions. T:TSCC is such a fine show that I'm flabbergasted to read that Alan is so diametrically disappointed with it!

Don't get me wrong, it's not that I think Alan doesn't *still* offer smart analysis and commentary, it's just that he obviously doesn't like all the same shows I like anymore. 30 Rock and Office are funny as hell to both of us, but his displeasure of T:TSCC and My Own Worst Enemy, which I see as vehicles for good acting and writing - with attention to moving a story along from episode to episode - something I feel is lacking in most shows... among many other things I enjoy about those shows... like I said it's all so flabbergasting!

I guess in a way it feels like making new friends, things are going swimmingly, and then suddenly we drift apart. LOL!

I feel completely awkward and a total nerd for even bringing this up here. I have no special relationship with Mr. Sepinwall, I'm not a 'regular' contributor to the comments pages, and most importantly I hold no special command of the English language that I could even *pretend* to match anyone here in some kind of 'Well why do you disagree?' dialogue - or the even better trump-card: "If you're so unhappy about it, start your own damn blog!" I could never do it. I stink!

Well, I guess at 5AM I can cop to doing weird and awkward things like post a "My world is changing" comment. I just gotta grow up and deal with this! ;-)

Alan Sepinwall said...

The producer and writer were in a FOX sponsored chat session as soon as the east coast showing of this ep finished and among other things they revealed that the shotgun was loaded with uranium depleted shells - they exist in real-life.

Boy, they really dropped the ball on that denouement, then. In general this season, it seems like they're favoring character moments over exposition. And while that's an approach I admire (Ron Moore says that's the same way he edits "Battlestar Galactica"), there are times when you need to stop and explain the plot. This was one of those times.

T:TSCC is such a fine show that I'm flabbergasted to read that Alan is so diametrically disappointed with it!

This was my first somewhat negative review of "Terminator" in a very long time, going all the way back to early in season one. You can go back and check if you like.

As to the larger point, I can remember plenty of times in the past where a critic I really admired had a completely opposite reaction to a movie or show than I did. See, for instance, Roger Ebert giving the original "Die Hard" two stars.

But rather than alienating me from Ebert, that review made me go back and look at what it was he disliked about it -- in this case, he felt the movie was ruined by the arrival of the obnoxious deputy police chief who refuses to believe in John McClain -- and wonder if he he maybe had a point. And while I could see that Ebert had a point about the deputy chief being a cheap source of humor (the "Die Hard" sequels did fine without such a character), I still felt that the rest of the movie was so strong that he didn't matter to my enjoyment.

My point being, this blog isn't meant to be some kind of cult of personality where the readers are supposed to fall into lockstep with my every opinion. Some of my favorite threads are the ones where someone strongly disagrees with me and we go back and forth on the merits of a particular episode.

In other words, if you feel I was too harsh on this episode, feel free to tell me why if you want.

Nicole said...

I thought this episode started off interesting but then fizzled by the end, mostly because the POV stuff didn't have a point. That said, I don't think the episode was bad, but it just didn't live up to its initial potential.

As for opposite viewpoints on blogs, I welcome them. Far too many places become groupthink where different viewpoints are not allowed or get 'shouted' down. (TWOP is a notable example) I don't think Alan has ever permitted that to happen here, and I hope it continues. Disagreement is often better, because it provokes you to think a bit deeper as to why you like or dislike something.

Anonymous said...

So, what ever happened to the "today's date" password?

K J Gillenwater said...

I think there was some editing that messed with the storytelling. I really wanted to see the part where Cameron and Derrick find out that John is in Mexico and that Cromartie has Sarah.

However, I really did like the different POVs. That was a nice change-up. They may not have used it in the best way, but it was fresh.

Anyone else wonder how a 16-year-old girl took a bus through Mexico alone and got home? And is Riley now going to be mysteriously missing from any future episodes? Or will she inform someone of what happened while she was in Mexico? That was a hanging bit of plot that bothered me.

Anonymous said...

Derek and Cameron found out John was in Mexico while they were at the supply drop -- Derek received a call (from John, which went to Derek's voicemail), Cameron saw the incoming number and dialed it, and found out it was the Mexican town's police station. And off they went.

John's call to Sarah obviously went to Cromartie imitating Sarah's voice, as she/it didn't respond to John's code of hitting digits on the keypad. That would also let Cromartie know where John was, by dialing the incoming number like Cameron did.

Too bad we didn't get any Jesse in this episode, or Cameron almost seeing/meeting Jesse. It's gotta happen sometime, I hope -- River Tam vs. Kendra Shaw -- woot!

The POV stuff felt incidental/distracting rather than interesting. But the character stuff -- exploring the John/Cameron dynamic; that she "emotes" about him though she manipulates him (or tries to), how uncomfortable Sarah feels about that, how Ellison responds to Sarah and how much she feels she's given up versus he has, was great.

Anonymous said...

And while I could see that Ebert had a point about the deputy chief being a cheap source of humor (the "Die Hard" sequels did fine without such a character)

I thought the Dennis Franz character was the equivalent character in Die Hard II and in Die Hard III, well, the less said about that movie the better.

Anonymous said...

I definitely agree with you that Cromartie's death was anticlimactic and unrealistic. Other than that, though, I thought the episode was pretty solid -- I enjoyed Cameron using her feminine wiles in her attempt to manipulate John, and I also didn't mind the overlapping "Sarah's Story" "Cameron's story" etc. simply because the stories didn't overlap too much, and we therefore didn't lose as much plot time as we do in other shows that attempt this kind of strategy.

Looking forward to tonight's episode!!!! Hopefully it doesn't spiral into lameness now that Cromartie's been dispatched.