Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Terminator, "Earthlings Welcome Here": Gender bender

Brief spoilers for the last episode of "Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles" until February coming up just as soon as I take a shower...

I watched "Earthlings Welcome Here" last night, and for the better part of a day I grappled with what to write about it. Every time I got done with some other job at work, I'd load up the blog software, stare at the blinking cursor, and... nothing. I still have nothing, but it's already primetime on Tuesday and I want to let the handful of "Terminator" fans around here start talking already.

Now, there are times when I judge these kind of mid-season finale episodes differently from a regular show because it has to tide me over for several months and make me want to come back after the hiatus. But I think I would have found this one frustrating even if I knew there was another episode to follow in a week. Despite having her name in the title, Sarah remains the weakest character of the main ensemble, so an entire hour of her exploring her shifting identities with a transgendered robotics expert wasn't my idea of a riveting outing. Yes, the character could use some fleshing out the way John has gotten in recent weeks, but this didn't really work; it felt like the writers recently had a viewing of the original "Terminator" film and were so taken with the image of Sarah the meek diner waitress that they tried to build a whole episode about the transformation from her to the current version of the character.

The flashbacks to Riley's arrival in the present day were more effective. She's the first of our time travelers to have never known a world before Judgment Day; in many ways, the culture shock would be even worse than bringing ahead someone from, say, the 19th century (where at least they knew about running water). But they're taking a very long time to get to the point of her mission, and what side Shirley Manson's on, and all the other factions that have materialized in LA 2008. And because there are so many time travelers in our midst, the cliffhanger of a wounded Sarah staring up at what looked like a SkyNet hovercraft wasn't as mind-blowing as it could have been.

By all means, I'm going to be ready for the show when it comes back on February 13, but after being really strong for much of the fall, I wasn't in love with either of the last two episodes.

What did everybody else think?


Anonymous said...

I found the episode really challenging. The writers seemed to be creating more loose ends and adding character quirks and confusions than building the characters or moving the story along. Some of the characters are moving backwards IMO. Ellison is now a lost character even though I found him the best character only 4-5 episodes ago. BAG seems to come and go and disappears for episodes at a time. He was awesome in Complications and avoided creating an infinity loop by killing the young Fischer. Jesse's still very unclear of a character, yet she keeps getting more screen time. Fill in those gaps already. Sarah's now goes from totally nuts to worse and back. They've taken James Cameron's strong woman character and destroyed it.

And, if it is a Skynet craft that isn't built in 2008 by some time travelers it violates the tenets of the Terminator universe- only live tissue can go through.

Mrglass said...

Sarah remains the weakest character of the main ensemble

What about John!? The least charismatic or likable world savior ever.

Anonymous said...

I think I wanted to like the episode more than I actually did, considering it was going to be the last one for a while. It was a treat to see Dinah Lenney, who was acerbic OR nurse Shirley on ER, as the guest star here. I enjoyed the Riley/John/Cameron scenes, as well as the Riley/Jesse backstory. However, with all the buildup leading to Sarah eventually finding the warehouse, the ending left me more puzzled than making me want to catch the show when it gets back. I guess that's because of not knowing the greater significance to the Terminator drone besides that it bears a resemblance to the three dots that Sarah has been seeing in her dreams. Or was there something I missed? I love the show, though, and am definitely going to tune in again come February.

I was wondering whether BAG's intermittent appearances lately is down to budgetary concerns. I can't imagine the show to be inexpensive to produce, and with the ratings as they are, it's probably likely the producers aren't given too much leeway in terms of how much to spend.

Unknown said...

I liked the transgendered character, and...that was about it. Jessie still bothers me. No idea what the hell was going on with Sarah. I feel sorry for Riley, but watching Jessie kick the puppy isn't fun.

Anonymous said...

hated it...especially as a cliff hanger, because there was really no meaningful aha moment or even the potential of one. Oh well.

Anonymous said...

Blank is a good way to describe the recent episodes.

I thought for sure they were leading to some cliffhangar involving Jesse and/or Riley. It seems they have been leading to that. . . then nothing.

Sarah seeing the hovercraft didn't resonate at all. We know she sees things, so she "sees" the machines from the picures, big deal. It would have really funny if she had ordered mash potatoes and formed them into something from her visions and said "this means something" and later get picked up by the hovercraft.

I will still watch, because I do enjoy the world they have created, but I need some progression soon. Please.

Alan Sepinwall said...

What about John!? The least charismatic or likable world savior ever.

I think they've done some good stuff with him this year in terms of showing how much the burden of being the future savior weighs on him.

K J Gillenwater said...

I really like John. Sarah is a tad weak, but I think they just mis-named the show, to tell you the truth. They put too much focus on her, when I think John and his struggles are more intriguing to pursue. I also am all about the BAG! Was sorry to see him not in this ep.

I'm not quite sure I understand the transgendered part of this...who exactly was that person? Why was there the line at the end about people not knowing transgendered person was 'just a waitress'? When s/he told Sarah that he was an MIT student. Was that all a lie? Was she just confusing her background with transgendered person's? Anyone who can enlighten me there, that would be nice.

I want to say something about the preview for upcoming eps, but I know we don't do that here. Looking forward to January, because it looks like some interesting stuff is going to be thrown into the mix.

Oh, and do you think Riley will make it or bite the dust?

guinness said...

I was confused about a lot of this episode as well. Now that Sarah has gone more than a little crazy, are we sure the transgendered character even existed? Especially when she kept saying on the tape that the employers have no idea who she really is, that she's a waitress (which doesn't really make sense otherwise because wasn't the transgendered character a man when she worked there?). Wasn't that was Sarah was? Could Sarah have had an alter ego ala Fight Club that worked at this warehouse? Maybe that's how she found it so easily based on the vague descriptions on the tape. Maybe the motorcycle gunmen never existed either and Sarah killed the therapist. What do you guys think?

Anonymous said...

Looking forward to January, because it looks like some interesting stuff is going to be thrown into the mix.

You mean you are looking forward to mid-February? The show isn't back till Feb 13th.

@James - I was thinking the same kind of stuff. Briefly, I wondered if the man/woman is a future Sarah or an alter ego of Sarah's. We will see. . .

Anonymous said...

I wasn't crazy about this episode as a whole, it wasn't nearly on par with the rest of this season, but there were definitely parts that I really liked - the interactions between Riley and Cameron were the best part for me, followed by the interactions with Riley and Jessie.

Something Jessie said struck me funny, I'm going to have to rewatch some past episodes to get some clarification. When she told Riley near the end "your job is to keep John Conner away from HER", it just surprised me and got me to thinking. The way Jessie views metal, I would think she would have said "your job is to keep John Conner away from IT", not "from HER". To what extent have we actually heard Jessie and Riley talking about their real mission to each other before this? We know that Jessie told Derek that they were there to keep John away from Cameron, but we also know that Jessie is a big liar head, and is acting ten kinds of sketchy. Is it possible that the writers threw in "HER" to indicate that she's trying to come in between John and Sarah, instead of John and Cameron? I had been thinking that it was a pretty lame idea to send back a random girlfriend to distract John from the robot - just didn't quite click as something that would really help the resistance, and I had chalked it up to lazy plot development and moved on. However, the thought that Jessie and Riley (well, Jessie anyway) might have more sinister motivations and be trying to drive a wedge between John and Sarah (for some nefarious yet-to-be-revealed purpose) somehow seems a lot more plausible. But maybe JEssie and Riley have had discussions that I'm just not remembering that would indicate otherwise?

Stacey said...

I thought, just for a second, that Cameron was going to confront Riley and that would have been awesome. I do not like Riley, though I will say I sympathize with her a great deal more after seeing the scenes of her life in the future.

And while I don't mean to seem unfeeling, it occurs to me that her suicide attempt could be a ploy to pull John closer (ala Glenn Close's character in FATAL ATTRACTION). John has always been the one who's being taken care of, the one who is needy. Therefore, it might be appealing to be the one taking care of someone else for a change.

Also, does anyone else think it's weird how they (Jesse, specifically) keep referring to Riley's mission as to keep John away from "her." I understand that she's supposed to be talking about Cameron. But why not say "it?" Or use her model number? Or, heck, even her name? It just seems odd to me that they're using the generic "her." Also, why wouldn't she tell Derek about the mission, if that's the goal? He's no friend of Cameron's. Am I missing something?

The Sarah stuff was not as interesting as the Riley/John/Cameron scenes. And I do miss Derek. I hope he has a bigger role in the eps next year.

Also, best line from Cameron. "Peachy Keen is my favorite."

Anonymous said...

@Stacy - Ha! I"m glad someone was thinking the same thing (at the exact same time apaprantly!)

The Peachy Keen line was priceless.

Stacey said...

@Shara Says: Exactly! The "her" part just seems weird. I think the idea of Riley coming between John and Sarah seems more plausible somehow.

And why, if Riley is really there to distract John from Cameron, wouldn't Jesse let Derek in on the plan? He couldn't possibly have an objection to that, right?

Unknown said...

I thought, just for a second, that Cameron was going to confront Riley and that would have been awesome.

I thought so too, and then when Cameron instead played the passive lie detector I had the fleeting thought that Fox may have requested some tinkering with the writing here in order to promote the concept of its new show, Pants Afire, or whatever they're calling it, which they were promoting more directly during breaks. Probably just a ridiculous suspicion on my part.

Bruce Reid said...

Eugene: "And, if it is a Skynet craft that isn't built in 2008 by some time travelers it violates the tenets of the Terminator universe- only live tissue can go through."

Since Abraham was involved in manufacturing a new metal, I assume any Skynet technology that pops up will indeed have been built in the show's present timeline.

Kristin: "Why was there the line at the end about people not knowing transgendered person was 'just a waitress'? When s/he told Sarah that he was an MIT student. Was that all a lie? Was she just confusing her background with transgendered person's?"

James: "Could Sarah have had an alter ego ala Fight Club that worked at this warehouse?"

For what it's worth, I took that bit about the waitress as the TG scientist having a private joke at the hypnotherapist's expense. "They don't know who I really am" was likely in reference to her gender confusion (see also her not minding the windowless warehouse because she likes not being seen); it was the murderous reaction to her questions that finally gave her the courage to own up to that part of her identity. Questioned in therapy Abraham thought of Sarah's own transformation and latched on to her previous life as a waitress. I think there was even a humorous lilt to the sentence, though I couldn't say for sure.

Sarah Connor has grown as a compelling character this season--not nearly as much as John--but the visions she's having of late feel a bit tacked-on.

Stacy & shara says: I had the same thought you did about Jessie's pronoun trouble.

Derric said...

This is one of those shows that I come back to every week more because I really want to like it rather than actually really getting into the show. Every now and again there's a glimmer of what the show could be, but then it seems as if the writers lose their focus. An example is the Agent Ellison / Cromartie storyline. Cromartie resurrected as Babylon's John Henry was a great moment that left me eager to see more. But then the next several episodes take us down these other rabbit trails so that by the time they finally get back to the BAG arc they've basically completely lost me. The appeal of the Terminator franchise has really been built on a simple premise: thrill-a-minute action coupled with some intriguing future/sci-fi "what-if" scenarios and characters that were fairly simple but well-constructed. This show has become anything but simple and the thrills are too few and far between (Sarah's obsession over the three dots? The John/Cameron/Riley relationship triangle? Cameron's nights at the library? Sarah tracking down a cross-dressing Trekkie living in the desert? Boring, boring boring, boring...). Time to get back to basics--and fast--or Sarah will soon meet a different kind of Judgement Day--death by a whimper of the ratings as opposed to the bang of a nuclear holocaust.

Anonymous said...

The second disposable episode.

Instead of a storyline about Ellison wrestling with whether to "impart morality" to CromHenry, or what on earth Catherine's really up to, we get... an quickly assassinated gender-bending scientist? UFO HKs which may not really be there? Riley attempting suicide?


I really, really want this series to succeed, although the odds are slim. When it's good, it's very very good. But a few more episodes like this, and I'll miss it a lot less next fall.


Anonymous said...

I think there is a major flaw in Agent Ellison's character. Observe these facts:

Ellison is aware that Terminators are real. He knows what they are. He knows Sarah Connor's story is true.

Ellison knows what Skynet is.

Ellison knows that in a few years, a powerful Artificial Intelligence is going to destroy the world.

Ellison is working with a powerful Artificial Intelligence. The company he is working for is after Terminator parts. The AI he is working for is hooked up to a Terminator.


Are we really meant to believe that, at no point, Ellison says to himself "Oh...this is going to be Skynet."

I mean...come on. The character is not a moron, and only a moron would not make that connection.

Anonymous said...

@Sean R

I don't think Ellison is unaware of the issue,he is potentially dealing with it differently. He is contemplating trying to give a conscience to the AI. This is why we so desperately need an Ellison-centric episode, especially one that ties Sarah & John in. How would they react to teaching an AI?

Mrglass said...

Maybe Ellison teaching the Bible to the Terminator will result in a renegade robot faction years later trying to help humans (just guessing).

Or maybe the Cylons.

In any case, an evil robot chasing a mother and her son was a great story for two movies, but it is very thin for a series. The writers had to build a bigger world, but so far it is not yet clear what all those other characters are trying to do.

Anonymous said...

I noticed this will resume on Fridays. Is Whedon's show going to follow it?

Anonymous said...

Frustrating episode. Also - it's good to see that Brianna Barksdale finally got out of the game.......................as a strange hypnotherapist lady who got murdered.

Oh well. What comes around goes around!

LifeonQueen said...

Funny, I always find Sarah the most compelling character - although Summer Glau's machine confusion is coming a very close second these days. John Connor - yeah, whatever. I thought the episode was interesting at the very least because TSCC seems to be pursuing the idea that Sarah Connor is, in fact, psychotic, which is a very interesting road to take your lead character down.

Anonymous said...

What about John!? The least charismatic or likable world savior ever.

I know it was never the intention of the writers but one wonders if maybe the original John Conner was someone like Christian Bale but when he sent his right hand lieutenant (British pronunciation for effect please) back in time to protect his mother that cad ended up interfering with the original time line, producing an "unter-offspring" who was given the name John. This counter-theory better explains the disappointment we have all felt over the years: it seems it wouldn't matter how much Kharis the gods poured over these imps they can never inspire us to believe this "John Conner" will save humanity. I have some hope for the upcoming movie, however.