Some five years after Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines was a box office hit, the Terminator franchise seemed DOA. However, rather than keeping the franchise alive in movie theaters, C2 Pictures would revive it as a new television series on Fox. Production dated back as early as 2005, clearly showing that C2 had given up on theatrical releases and wanted to move to the smaller screen, albeit with a smaller budget to match.
Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles would debut with a shortened nine episode first season in January 2008. It would ignore the events of Terminator 3 (2003) and pick up where Terminator 2 (1991) left off. In the pilot episode, it’s 1999 and we find Sarah (Lena Headey, Game of Thrones) and John (Thomas Dekker, Laid to Rest) on the run from the FBI. While hiding out in New Mexico, a new Terminator arrives to kill John, only to be stopped by a reprogrammed Terminator named Cameron (Summer Glau, Firefly). Cameron has been sent back in time by John to protect his younger self. Cameron creates a temporal shift and takes Sarah and John to 2007 to escape the Terminator. However, FBI Agent James Ellison (Richard T. Jones) remains a man in pursuit of the mysterious Sarah, even after she disappears for years and resurfaces some eight years later.
It’s debatable whether this TV series is set in a different timeline or Terminator 3 is. Either way, both are clearly different continuations of the convoluted Terminator timeline. This TV series would quickly establish that our main characters would not be fighting a new Terminator every week. Nor are the characters the same as we had seen before. Lena Headey plays Sarah with less of a disturbed kickass persona that Linda Hamilton had in Terminator 2. She is still tough as nails but her human side is allowed to be shown more in a weekly series where it couldn’t as easily in a two hour movie. John is allowed to be shown as growing young man with a rebellious streak with hints of the leader he would someday be. It’s easy to see how both characters were expanded on from the 1991 movie and, for the most part, believable.
Summer Glau’s performance as Cameron (in a clear nod to director James Cameron) is a bit mixed. She is clearly there for the sex appeal, which is a little disappointing in how it is handled at times. However, the actress does a wonderful job of mixing emotions with robotic mannerisms and gestures. As the series developed, we would be introduced to a new character named Derek Reese (Brian Austin Green). Derek is the older brother of Kyle Reese, John’s father. He does not trust Cameron and the conflict between the two eventually becomes one of the shining aspects of the series.
The villains of the series are Catherine Weaver (Shirley Manson), a T-1001 Terminator, and a T-888 Terminator who uses the names of Cromartie and John Henry (Garret Dillahunt). It’s interesting to see these characters, especially Catherine Weaver, develop and move beyond the simplistic killing machines that we’ve seen in the movies.
The biggest problem with Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles is that it expected the fans to ignore Terminator 3. Some critics took issue with how the series seemed to dumb down the characters for the small screen and make the oncoming war with the machines seem less epic. Ratings were good enough in the first season for a full second season to be ordered by Fox. Unfortunately, despite a huge cliffhanger that would have changed the course of a third season, Fox would cancel the series. Fans were left to wonder what would happen to John, having gone ahead to the future only to discover than nobody has ever heard of John Connor.
I remember watching all of season one but losing interest about mid-way through season two, picking up the storyline in the last few episodes. My biggest problem with the series was the overt sexiness Cameron seemed to display each episode, reminding me of how Star Trek fell into the same trap with the Seven of Nine and T’Pol characters. It might be worth going back to revisit the series but it’s been virtually forgotten since leaving the small screen after it ended in April 2009.
Tomorrow, we stay behind in 2009 for the fourth theatrical film in the series, Terminator Salvation. The war with Skynet is finally the main focus of a movie but will it be everything we hoped for?