Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles (2008)

13 06 2011

by NiceDino

When I first heard about this show I was very skeptical. The stuff of Terminator and the stuff American movies and shows are made of deemed me to be much to different and incompatible. Compared to Stargate, where you realize immediately that the underlying concept of the Franchise is much better suited to be a TV-show rather than a movie, I had my doubts if the concept of Terminator would be sufficient to fill an entire series with it. TV-shows have a much longer running time than movies, after all.

Thank heavens I was wrong. And not only that – the series surpassed even my boldest expectations. I can´t deny it. „Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles“ is my favorite show of all time. Now there are two representatives of the Terminator franchise on a first place within my personal favorites, the other being the original Terminator movie, as far as movies are concerned, and the now the series as far as series are concerned.

I will try to give away of the plot as little as possible. I don´t want to spoil the fun of anyone who hasn´t watched the series yet. Which is, by the way, a real shame.

So what makes this series so special?

Plot

The first thing that comes to my mind is the plot. The producers of the series did manage it to expand the subject matter of Terminator in a way that it provides more than enough material for a TV-show. And they did it quite excellent. If you fear that these 31 episodes are only about how John Connor is hunted by a Terminator, I can soothe you. This is not the case.

Of course this is in it too. But there is so much more. The conflict between Skynet and the Resistance has escalated so much it turned into an full-scale time war. Skynet is sending Terminators back in time all the time to accomplish a wider variety of tasks. Some are programmed to secure raw materials, others are ordered to accelerate the advance of computer development and many are just there to kill someone just like we are used to because otherwise that person will cause trouble for Skynet in the future.

The Resistance on the other hand, is trying to stop the agents of Skynet and also has it´s own agenda. So the Resistance is sending back men all the time too, to accomplish their goals.

This scenario is even more interesting, since the agents of both fractions are separated from their superiors by the temporal shift, and therefore have to act on their own accord. The result is an utter chaos, just like a real war, since humans and Terminators do not only fight each other but also among themselves. There are traitors and defectors on both sides, which is well-founded by the plot every time.

The general impression left by the show is that it´s producers are very capable indeed and did really know a lot about the material and the subject-matter involved. The AI´s seem as intelligent as they should, all actions undertaken by any of the characters involved are understandable and the most important questions are either answered or there is at least a clue which hints towards a possible explanation. Even though there are some minor inconsistencies you never feel like they made a big mistake at some point. For the most part the show is very consistent, which is quite an accomplishment, especially if you consider that there is a lot of time-travel involved. And the best of all: There is no Neon-Genesis-Evangelium-Syndrome ever.

Respect for the original

You recognize instantly that the producers of the show know Cameron´s work very well and that they also love it. These series is no remake of the Terminator movies, but a continuation. The show starts right after the first two movies ignoring the third one as much as the fourth, which did want to be disconnected from the prior movies anyway.

This is one of the rare cases that an existing franchise is not exploited just to make money, but hold in great esteem. Nothing that happened in the two movies before gets negated. The subject-matter of Terminator doesn´t get raped. It is expanded – and in a matter that makes sense at that.

As far as the soundtrack, the staging and the dialog is concerned this show is razor-sharp and even more like the first movie than the second. The style is quite the same which makes it go along well with it´s two predecessors and merges it into a harmonic whole.

Soundtrack

The music is very hard and electronic and as such exactly as it should be. It is also very intoxicating too, since it is used very well by the director to point out to the audience if danger is on it´s way or not.

There also are different degrees of threats indicated by fashioning the music the right way. By doing so the audience gets conditioned like one of the dogs of the Russian scientist Iwan Petrowitsch Pawlow. After a while you are reacting to the music alone, even if there is nothing threatening in sight. None the less you keep on looking for something dangerous, if the music changes, and while you are busy doing that the menace might suddenly appear at some point.

Despite that acoustic early warning system there are still many points of the series where it will surprise you. Sometimes something dangerous will sneak up on you and jump right into action at the same time like the soundtrack, what is pretty damned scary every time it happens. I have never seen a TV-show before that uses it´s background music that excellent like this one. It is pretty outstanding to say the least.

Actors

The casting is another thing which has been done incredibly well. All actors are very convincing. The main cast is even better, but the Terminators are very good too for the most part. Especially the ones that have an important role to play.

As far as the four main characters are concerned I will go into further detail at this point, since they show very well how sophisticated and multilayered this series really is. The Terminator-family (and I use the term „family“ in a positive way, for a change) consists of four members:

1. Derek Reese

Derek is the brother of Kyle Reese, the soldier which traveled back in time during the first Terminator-movie to protect Sarah Connor. Since Kyle turned out to be John´s father, this makes Derek John´s uncle. There you go. Just like his brother Derek is a soldier from the war-thorn post-apocalyptic future. Because of this he is tough and resilient. But, believe it or not, this just makes him the weakest member of the Terminator-family.

2. Cameron

Cameron is a Terminator that has been captured and reprogrammed by the resistance. Just like Derek it is from the future too. Alongside the usual Terminator-qualities, it is also camouflaged very well, since it comes in the disguise of a female teenager. But she is not the kind of teenager one should be messing with. But as tough as she is, it is just enough to make the third spot on this list.

3. John Connor

The future messiah of men is harder than crystallized carbon. Even in his teenager age. Besides his fighting abilities, which are quite impressive if you consider his age, he is the only one of the four who possesses sophisticated knowledge about computers, which makes him the brain of the group. This leaves you with a good impression of what he will be capable to do as a grown-up, without they have to address that with greater detail.

Astonishingly it is his greatest weakness, his young age, which makes John look incredibly tough. Despite the fact he is just a human being, and still a kid at that, he is confronted with human scum and Terminators alike. Sometimes armed with nothing more than his bare hands and his wits alone. Yet he always manages to survive somehow.

The fact alone, that he doesn´t break because of the enormous pressure he is constantly under, makes him look unbelievable resilient. He is the only one of the four who can´t be allowed to die, no matter what. He alone is carrying the fate of the world on his shoulders and no one can set him free from this burden. Despite the fact that he has the same urges and desires like every boy at his age he can not pursue them in any way. He has to be vigilant all the time, can not trust anyone ever, which really wears him out and eats him up from the inside. But the word „surrender“ does not exist in the vocabulary of John Connor.

3. John Connor (Future John)

Even though the series contains many scenes from the future, which link the future events to the current ones, you never get to see „Future John“. This is a very clever maneuver which makes „Future John“ almost look like a godlike being. His presence can be felt anywhere. His name is mentioned all the time. It is like he is present everywhere at once. This, almost religious presentation, does reflect to the young John as well, since he already possesses the potential to become his future self. In this way the young John Connor can be canonized in a way that would be ridiculously over the top otherwise. But this way it works, since he is praised indirectly which is much more discreet.

4. Sarah Connor

Sarah is the main protagonist of the show. It is not that hard to guess since it is called „The Sarah Connor chronicles“. Of all the protagonists she gets most of the screen time and is at the center of the attention for the most part. She also is the most robust member of the Terminator-family. What this woman has to absorb is without any comparison. Throughout the series she gets shoot, tasered, beat up, knocked down, abducted, drugged, tricked, abandoned and betrayed. Without end and to the limit. Her whole body is, as a matter of facts, just a collection of scars, wounds, cuts and bruises.

Yet she still manages to absorb all that. It doesn´t matter how often she is put down. She always gets back up again. Why she is doing this is obvious: She wants to protect her son. For her he is the most important thing in the whole world. Probably most mothers feel like that – but in her case it is actually true. John Connor is the most important person in the world. There is nothing she wouldn´t do for him. She states that all the time and also proves it as well.

She is not as clever as John and by far not as strong as Derek or even Cameron. The only thing which keeps her on her feet is her willpower. And this seems to be a sheer endless source of energy. There is not one single moment throughout the entire series where she is even considering to give up. Nothing of that sort. As far as she is concerned her task is more than just a job. It is a holy duty. One she pursues to the very edge of self-sacrifice. It is said that the most dangerous creature in existence is a mother who protects her offspring. Sarah Connor proves in an impressive way that this is true.

Animosities

Even though all members of the Terminator-family do have the fact in common that they want to protect John at all cost and also wish to stop Skynet, there is still much cause for conflict and mistrust among them. But there are some pretty good reasons for that, too. However I don´t want to talk about that right now, since I do not want to spoil anyone’s fun. Go see the series instead.

Conclusion

If you ignore minor mistakes this series is virtually flawless. Of course it isn´t as bombastic as the movies, but much more clever instead. It´s plot is a lot more complex and it´s characters are much more developed as well. Everyone who does like Science-Fiction should watch this series in any case. Everyone who does like Terminator should do so even more. Don´t let commercial breaks ruin this quite excellent show. Watch it on DVD. I recommend watching two till three episodes at a time. This way it does work best.

Previously in this series:

The Terminator (1984)

Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)

Terminator 3: Rise of the machines (2003)

Terminator Salvation (2009)

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