Not done dumping on SCC by a long shot

by Paul William Tenny

sarah-connor-chronicles.jpgBob Degon had a post on the TV Squad off-shoot listing the reasons why he thinks Terminator: SCC, has "quietly become one of the best shows on TV". For the reasons I'll explain below, I disagree with every one of them.

Lena Heady and Summer Glau
To be fair I've got to start by pointing out that an actors performance is based largely on the material written for them. Good material is going to make a mediocre actor look good, and even the best thespian in the world can't make a crappy script shine.

That said, Summer Glau stood out from the rest of the cast because of her talent, which I agree was greatly evidenced in Firefly, but even so we're not really talking about an award-winning performance here. I don't know if it was just a better written character or a performance better suited to her inherent abilities, or if Joss Whedon simply knows better than anyone how to milk people for what he wants on screen, but Summer in Firefly was head and shoulders above Summer in SCC.
Throughout the first season I was struck by how stiff and confused this new version of Sarah Connor played by Lena Heady was, and, having never seen Heady act before, I wasn't terribly impressed with how she handled the material she was given.

I've got dueling complaints when it comes to Heady and Connor that stem from the reinvented character that is neither interesting nor compelling on any level. The contrast drawn between Connor in the first two films was stark, where a weak and mostly frightened woman was forged into a cold and strong killer -- ironically she came to embody many of the traits of the machines she was set on wiping out.

Heady and her character are far more mundane than that, where if I had to take a wild guess, I'd say she was plucked out of time between the two feature films. It was clear in Terminator 2 that Sarah didn't care about John getting an education or going through the motions until Judgment Day and almost ruined his life by training him from childhood to be what he needed to be to get the job done. Heady's character -- and this I lay at the feet of the producers -- seems constantly preoccupied by her actions with wasting John's time with school and other pointless niceties

Anytime we're talking about exposition and not action, she's always talking about how he has to grow up, take everything more seriously, prepare himself for the fight and all the stuff we expect to see.

But none of that has ever come

And I'll just wrap that up by pointing out how through two seasons of this show, we've never actually seen John Connor being trained for much of anything. He goes on missions, gets in trouble, acts like a supreme retard, is often over protected in a way that harms rather than helps -- he ran off to have a fun getaway with his new girlfriend in Mexico recently, almost getting himself and everyone around him slaughtered by a terminator -- but when will he gain the experience that he needs to lead the revolt and defeat the machines after Judgment Day?

When is this series going to stop warming up to what it wants to be, and actually start being an extension of the Terminator mythos?

It knows how to deal with time travel
I wouldn't consider myself a fanboy for any show or film franchise, but it does piss me off when people take liberty with canon. Even going back to the first Terminator, James Cameron clearly established that the time travel lab was experimental and that it was destroyed after Kyle Reese came through. During his interrogation, he told the police that "Skynet was smashed, we'd won."

From that point forward it didn't make sense for anyone else to come back from that era, so in that respect even the sequel had canon problems of its own.

The show however has taken that problem to an entirely new level, actually introducing time travel equipment into the current time frame, and now we've got new terminators being sent back in time practically at will. Amongst the problems with the series premise is that without a confined time frame and story to tell, it doesn't make sense that Skynet (which was supposedly destroyed) keeps sending terminators back to the present day to preform (and fail) the same mission repeatedly without trying the first tactic again -- going back and killing Sarah before she even gives birth.

Why would it keep sending one back to when John was an adolescent? Why not send them back to a couple of days before Skynet was destroyed, since it ought to know how it was destroyed, and prevent *that*? Why can't see see that, why can't see see some of this alternate attempts in ways that can be tied into the "present"?

Nor does it make much sense that with apparently continual access to a time travel lab, that the machines would only send back one terminator at a time. Why not send back a dozen, or an entire army?

For that matter, why not send back something else like one of the flying machines? T2 already broke the "nothing inorganic will go" rule when the T-1000 was sent back, and, to be honest, it never really made sense anyway since the terminator endoskeleton wouldn't be sent back and all you'd get on this end would be an empty skin suit if you really followed that logic to its natural conclusion.

I was immediately put off by the time travel equipment existing in the present and the instant that yet another terminator was sent back (what are we talking about now, 2-3 so far?) it became obvious that SCC was going to suffer from the "shuttle" problem. We're all familiar with it: no matter how many shuttlecraft are destroyed on a Star Trek show, the ship always  more. No matter how many terminators are dealt with, more will be sent back, but never more than one at a time.

SCC has played it fast and loose with time travel and I can't say that I agree at all that this show knows how to do it right.

If you want that kind of credibility, you absolutely have to be a canon nazi or eventually it's going to start to smell.

It takes itself way too seriously
I've only taken this show seriously once, and it was near the end of the first season when a terminator slaughtered a SWAT team at a hotel, leaving a dozen bodies floating in the nearby pool, but the FBI agent who hasn't really played any significant role thus far in the series is left standing.

It's literally the only thing that has reminded me of the movies, the only moment that moved me emotionally, and the only scene of the entire first season that gave me hope that these guys had finally found their footing and were on the verge of doing some truly great things with this franchise.

Nothing happened after that.

John getting a girlfriend was inane and distracting from the very obvious path they could have taken with Cameron. That, at least, provided some potential drama and true-to-the-core conflict. She's a terminator, a killing machine and one that unlike Arnold's second incarnation, doesn't always do what she's told to. It could have been worth exploring this terminator going on to do what she wanted to do. Or beyond that, given her knowledge of the future, Cameron could have an agenda of her own by quietly manipulating John to be something different than what he otherwise would have become, perhaps a directive from his future self to avoid certain mistakes that then turn out disastrous for the future.

Or, at the very least, hey... Summer Glau is hot as hell and what could be more intrigueing that a super hot, cold, ruthless terminator as "more" than just a side kick? Bare minimum it presents about half a dozen points of conflict between the existing characters and opens all sorts of doors no matter which way you eventually decide to go.

Most importantly, it's a continuation of the end of T2 when a cold killing machine can be something much more, something that can evoke serious emotional responses not just in the characters, but in the audience.

It may seem obvious, but obvious in the right hands can also be genius.

Instead, all we get is an episode full of typical teen angst and boring rebellion from which I seriously doubt our supposed main character will have learned a single lesson. The lack of consequences in this series is startling given the themes involved -- everything happening now is about ensuring a very specific version of the future comes true.

But that here is very much lacking.

That leads into a point I tried to make a couple of weeks ago that perhaps the most serious problem SCC has -- and it has quite a few -- is that it isn't even moving forward. It plays more like Law & Order does where nothing has a consequence that carries forward and there is no sense of progress towards the ultimate ending we all know is coming. Where as in the movies the goal was to make sure this kid survives Judgment Day and is prepared to lead humanity against the machines afterward, a television series presents the opportunity to explore far more territory than your typical movie setup. Why not try to stop Judgment Day so that the war against the machines never even happens?

T2 did try that but the series has clearly rejected that film entirely if terminators are still being sent back in time. That doesn't mean they didn't have the right idea and that there isn't a lot more than can be done. And yes, while they did play up that angle in an episode or two, it's not a serious-moving-arc.

If anything it's more like paying homage to something you never wanted to be in the first place.

Sarah Connor kicks ass
Compared to how the character changed in T2, this Sarah Connor is a petty and weaker imitation of the hard ass that was bordering on psychotic in purpose and execution. It didn't take long for Sarah of the movies to realize what an incredible asset a terminator could be, to a point where she questioned her own ability to care for, raise, and train John over that of what a terminator could provide, as she said in narration, (paraphrasing) "he never sleeps, never gets tired, would never get angry with him, and would never give up protecting him."

These deeper themes have been completely rejected or ignored in this series where I, as a viewer, sit in constant frustration at *this* Sarah Connor's inability to see and use the terminator they already have for the asset that it represents. Brian Austin Greene's feelings (or lack thereof) towards Cameron makes sense -- he survived Judgment Day and the war against the machines and you don't have a quick and easy change of heart after going through a machine-induced nuclear holocaust and war.

But Sarah's actions are almost jarring in her stupidity.

And for what ever this is worth, she hasn't kicked anyone's ass this year anymore than she did last year. Cameron has done most of the damage thus far and I don't see that changing anytime in the near future.

There are interesting supporting characters

Which ones?

Ellison, the FBI guy, hasn't done much of anything other than bounce from scene to scene getting in the way of everybody else. Sarah's paramedic hubby pops up every once in a while but after the writers killed off his wife, it was pretty clear that he was done. John's girlfriend is about as interesting as a parking meter. Brian Austin Greene isn't a supporting character so he doesn't count on this list -- ironic since I think he owns the most interesting character of the show -- which really only leaves Shirley Manson's character which is intriguing for sure, and playing far, far better than I thought it would when I heard she would be joining the cast in a recurring role.

Greene's girl from the future may shape up down the road but for the time being she's not what I'd call interesting by a long shot.

Is that really enough?

One intriguing supporting character and one generic rebel?

People are certainly entitled to their opinions but in this case I've got to strongly disagree with just about every item on Bob's list. This show while getting better has consistently been the biggest disappointment of its class and is still to this very day is stuck in the 5 million range for audience.

It's long past time to bring in a new showrunner with some new vision because this crew simply isn't cutting it.

Update: I want to make two more points that I kind of glazed over earlier this morning. First being that my criticism of SCC is by no means meant as criticism of Bob or his story -- I want to make that expressly clear -- I thought his post was reasonable, just that I disagree with most of it. Had he not written up his thoughts on the series, I wouldn't have been inspired to write my own, so I owe him thanks for that. Second, I don't think SCC is that bad of a show in the grand scheme of things, where criticism such as mine tends to exist in a vaccume for the purposes of focusing on the problem. I still watch it semi-regularly and compared to a lot of other shows, it's still very watchable.

There are some interesting comments on his story so I suggest after you've read this, that you head on over and say hello.
in Feature, Television


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