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The other day my buddy Pat couldn’t stop complaining about the last few episodes of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles. Most notably, his problems focused on the series leading up until the winter break and the two episodes since. He said, "The first part of the season was really gearing up for something good. John Henry is hooked up, Catherine Weaver was still somewhat of a mystery, and John was becoming more and more of a badass. But the last couple of episodes have been garbage."
My initial reaction was disagreement. I cited Weaver's rampage through the factory and the show's many, many movie references. (I love the tie- ins to the first two films and think it is a smart play to honor from whence you came.) That being said, it was hard for me to totally support my own argument. I thought about it and came up with five major problems for the show right now.
1. No new storylines, no old storylines, no good storylines, no – you get the point
The last four episodes have done very little for the major story arcs. To digress, one of my big problems with Lost Season 2 was that it kept opening doors it couldn’t conceivably close and kept introducing characters with little relevance to the overall plot. The show ran the danger of diverging to oblivion. Since then, Lost righted the ship and is barreling full steam ahead. Terminator has stagnated for a little different reason. While the writers for Lost had almost too much going on, the Terminator writers don’t seem to even know what to do. Very, very little has happened. Sarah seemingly found the meaning behind the three dots, the Turk/John Henry/ Cromartie is creepily creeping along toward full self- awareness, but beyond that what has happened? Not much of anything. .
2. The inevitable idea of the inevitable
Some of this is to be expected as a big theme of the Terminator franchise is the question about whether the future can be altered. Can the characters slow down the rise of the machines much less stop it? Do their actions even have a purpose? Are they really just preparing themselves to better fight the machines when the time comes? Is Sarah doomed to die from cancer? The characters are working toward stopping something without knowing if their efforts are even worth it. That leads to my biggest fear with the show: Do the writers even know their own end game? As I see it, there are two conceivable endings to the show.
A. They stop Skynet/ Weaver/ etc. and are able to halt or alter Judgment Day; or
B. They aren’t able to stop Skynet; the machines strike, leaving John Connor and Cameron to begin the resistance.
Neither option works from a television standpoint for a number of different reasons, most notably: .
3. No Salvation from the movie
In May, Warner Brothers will release Terminator: Salvation. From a marketing standpoint, the movie is a good thing (Christian Bale rants aside) as it draws attention to the Terminator brand. Working with the "just get my name right”- publicity scheme, this can only benefit the TV show. The movie focuses on John Connor and Kyle Reese's story of starting the resistance. Do you see the issue? According to the movie John, Sarah, and company have already failed. The machines won the first battle, Judgment Day happened. Not only that, but we even know what comes next after the show. What is the point then in watching? .
4. To be honest, we’re just happy to be here
I don’t think the writers want to or ever expected to get to this point. Terminator may suffer from the writers having a “let’s try to keep this gravy train rolling for as long as possible” mentality that has cursed other promising shows in the past. .
Terminator is very close to the edge of the problem Alias ran into in later seasons. Woven into the general theme of Alias was the mission of many characters to uncover the secrets behind the Nostradamus-like Milo Rambaldi. As the show progressed, and its success continued, the writers began considering Sydney Bristow and company would eventually have to "figure it all out.” Once that happened the show was over. In trying to delay the inevitable, the show suffered mightily. Sydney was sent on wild goose chases, new and unlikeable characters were introduced to stem the tide and viewers were subjected to constant backstabbing and espionage as the show walked the long road to nowhere. X-Files suffered from this same problem but that is an issue for a whole other article. .
Like I said, Lost seemed to be heading in this direction, but turned around to the point that we still sit on the edge of our seats wondering about the future of the island. Comparing Lost and Terminator:SCC, to some extent, is folly because of the quality; like complaining about the Windsor Diner steak knowing Ruth Chris does one that is infinitely better. That being said, given a crappy steak a short-order cook can still take some of the tips from those that have done it right. .
We can say, with fair certainty that the writers for Lost, at this point, have an endgame in mind and are working towards the show's culmination. The quality of story has improved dramatically, and while they won’t tie up all of the loose ends, we can be fairly certain many of our questions will have answers. With Terminator, I wonder what exactly, if anything, I want answered or if the writers have the ability to even get there. .
5. An Entertaining look at ROI – Return on investment
A reason we love to watch shows like Alias, Lost, X-Files, and the like is the quest for the unknown. We feel like we are learning new things along with the characters. When a new nugget of information is presented we can talk ourselves silly about the implications. It is that indefinable quality that certain shows possess. It is that piece of the show we invest in and that carries us through their down turns. I suffered through Season 5 of Alias mostly because I just wanted to see how it all ended. The investment was there; I wasn’t ready to sell off just yet and was in until the last word. .
Terminator is losing this investment and dooming itself to failure. Already relegated to Friday night (a television death sentence) there really isn’t anywhere else to go. The show is probably on its last legs. (I wrote this article before Friday night’s episode but was not encouraged when I read the preview describing Sarah checking into a sleep clinic? Snooze joke anyone?) .
I wish I had the answer. I wish there was some magic formula for making this show viable over the long term. At this point, I just don’t think there is enough to work with. Short of killing Sarah off or just bringing on Judgment Day, I don’t see a way to keep this show around. It is a shame because no one loves the Terminator franchise more than me. I just wrote 1,100 words on the subject for Pete’s sake. But this may be the slow decline for this show. At least I will get my Friday nights back.