Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Terminator: TSCC Episode 6 ‘Dungeons and Dragons' Review

While Charley Dixon works tirelessly to bring Derek Reese back from the brink of death, Derek is battling himself in flashbacks back to his life post judgment day.

It really is amazing how far visual effects have come. ‘The Terminator’s visual depiction of the war torn future was ground breaking for 1984 and now the same effects can be easily created for a weekly TV show. It’s lucky that they are able to sell this world as the majority of this episode takes place in it.

Derek Reese was always going to be a bit of a stretch for the audience. Kyle Reese was always set up as a loner who lived only to protect Sarah. To introduce that he had a brother that was never mentioned is a bit of a leap. ‘Terminator: TSCC’ does pretty much the best job it can of introducing this new piece of lore to the universe and it fits in surprisingly well. An effort is made to establish that Kyle thought his brother was dead when he travelled back in time, this was a good idea as it helps to preserve the character as established in the original film.

It’s nice to see the more humorous aspects of Kyle’s personality Derek brings out in their brief moments together. In a very short amount of time the two actors sell the idea that they are brothers who care about each other. Unfortunately their time is cut short when Derek is sent out by John to do some reconnaissance and is captured by Terminators. Derek, along with his squad, are dragged off to an abandoned building with a mysterious room in the basement for torturing.

The exact nature of what happens in the basement is not told to us. This is a mystery that will be revealed later I assume. However what is revealed is that one of Derek’s team in none other than the future Andy Goode, who tearfully confesses his role in creating Skynet to Derek. The group are eventually abandoned by the Terminators and they return to the, now destroyed base. It is heavily implied that one of the group succumbed to the torture and informed on where the base was.

With Derek being the only survivor this could set up an interesting story point in the future. Derek and his team are found by survivors of the attack and taken to see John, who has already sent Kyle back in time. Derek is not told what happened to his brother but is happy to go back and prevent Judgement Day. Before he leaves Derek looks over at Andy, who understands the mission and nods at what Derek has to do. I like the idea that Andy accepts that he has to be killed in the past, giving Derek permission to do something that the younger Andy would never agree to.

The reveal at the end, that Derek actually did kill Andy is very well handled and was genuinely surprising. All in all, a lot of drama is being attached to Derek for future storylines and I’m interested to see how he will fit into the established group.

While all this is going on, Charley is fighting to keep Derek alive. He is also fighting to understand everything he is being told about the reality of the Terminators from Sarah. His main point of confusion is merely that Sarah didn’t trust him with the truth. Whether Sarah and Charley will resume their relationship is unknown but it is certainly an interesting direction they could take.

The trouble that Charley is having seems nothing when compared to the issues John is having. His only link to his father is fighting for life and he can’t tell him the truth about being related to him. At one point, rather brilliantly, Derek feverishly demands that the teenage John tell him the truth about his brother. John having to deal with the fact that he is going to ruin people’s lives in the future is a good direction to take the character in, an interesting embodiment of teenage angst and guilt.

A lot of effort is made to establish Cameron as being more than meets the eye. She is increasingly being established as someone with her own motivations at work. She destroys the remains of the Terminator deactivated in the previous episode but she is revealed as having kept its CPU. To keep an air of doubt and mystery about the character is a good thing but I wish it was a bit more consistent.

In some episodes she is goofy and in others threatening. It’s not too jarring as It’s hard to say if it is consistency issues or just that we are seeing different part of the character. It would be good if her changes in temperament would happen a bit more frequently in episode. At the moment we get a different Cameron in different complete episodes so it feels more like a script editing issue than anything else.

‘Dungeons and Dragons’ is pretty strong but it highlights the huge amount of time ‘Terminator: TSCC’ puts into setting up future plotlines. The show constantly feels like it is doubling down all the time and this puts the show at risk of losing it all. It is always a concern when a show seems to be taking the direction that ‘Lost’ did in setting up mystery boxes. That being said, so far every payoff has been established long before it was resolved, suggesting a level of planning going on. Only time will tell how these story threads will work out but ‘Terminator: TSCC’ has so far not managed to mess things up in any serious ways, so I have no reason to believe it will start now.

Monday, 27 July 2015

Terminator: TSCC Episode 5 ‘Queen's Gambit' Review

With Andy Goode having rebuilt the Turk, Sarah is left once again with the difficult decision of whether to kill him or not for the sake of humanity. Meanwhile the resistance fighter who had travelled back in time reappears and manages to get himself arrested. Will Sarah save him before the Terminator tracking him down finally completes his mission?

So the episode opens with a flashback. The flashback shows John as a child, being trained in the South American jungle. The back story of John’s childhood in training has been alluded to before but never shown. Hopefully any future glimpses will be similarly brief as viewing this part of John’s life could undermine somewhat the strong mental pictures built up in ‘Terminator 2’.

Andy Goode invites Sarah to a chess competition; his rebuilt Turk is competing against other chess robots for a chance of winning a military contract. Having lost the competition it seems safe for Andy to be left alive, unfortunately someone else had other plans and Andy is killed. Andy was a good (pun intended) character and it’s a shame to see him killed off, particularly as Sarah was about to tell him the truth about Skynet. It would have been interesting to have had Andy join the team but it is a credit to the show for making me think that about a character with so little screen time.

The top suspect for Andy’s death is the last surviving resistance fighter from the future, Derek Reese, brother of Kyle Reese, but he was not the one who killed him. In addition to murdering Andy, the assailant also stole the Turk. Setting up this mystery is interesting and should lead to a good confrontation between Sarah and the Killer.

Sarah decides to bust Derek out of his prison transport but they are being hotly pursued by The T-888 sent back to kill him. The resulting fight between Cameron and this Terminator is really well directed, particularly with the majority of it taking place in the back of the prison van. The resulting deactivation surgery of the T-888 is interesting and does a lot to sell the mechanical nature of the Terminators, and distances us from the true human actor nature of the enemy.

In other evil Terminator news, Cromartie is doing his best James Ellison impression to pose as an FBI officer looking for Sarah Connor. In doing this he goes to visit Charley Dixon, stirring up a lot of buried feelings about Sarah as he does so. I still feel he went through an awful lot of trouble to rebuild himself  for not much apparent benefit but at least he is a good villain, even if his reason for still existing is a little stretched.

The stage is beginning to be set up for troubles at school for Cameron and John.  This episode introduces a school counsellor who seems to have had a much closer relationship with the recently dead student Jordon Cowan than he is letting on. Numerous plot elements are set up for future episodes. Derek seems to really hate Cameron, for reasons that I’m sure will surface in future episodes. Seeds are also planted for further involvement from Both James Ellison and Charley Dixon. The Terminator hand that Ellison found in particular may lead him to believe some of Sarah’s claims about judgement day.

So ‘Queen’s Gambit’ is a pretty strong episode. It does a lot of prep work for future episodes but manages to have an engaging story by itself also. It will be interesting to see what will be made of these new plot points in future episodes. I’m enjoying the direction this show seems to be taking, so far we're 5 for 5!   

Sunday, 26 July 2015

Terminator: TSCC Episode 4 ‘Heavy Metal' Review

Cromartie’s continuing attempts to rebuild himself have got the attention of FBI Agent, James Ellison. Meanwhile in his attempts to thwart a Terminator stockpiling materials for the future, John finds himself in over his head and trapped behind enemy lines.

So the Terminator franchise is built around chases. The Terminator is pursuing the heroes as they desperately try to survive against the odds. ‘Heavy Metal’ takes an interesting angle on this cat and mouse dynamic by having our heroes pursue a Terminator. Even more interestingly, the Terminator is completely unaware that he is being pursued. John has attempted to place a tracking locator on the truck the Terminator is using to transport Coltan, the material used to create their endoskeletons. Unfortunately John becomes trapped inside the truck and finds himself being transported to a bunker to be unwittingly stockpiled for judgement day.

John’s attempts to escape really push him to the brink. At the end of the episode we see him shaking, something that he managed to hide from Sarah, it will be interesting to see how this building pressure on John is eventually released on the show.

A lot of the episode seems to follow Cromartie and not our heroes however. The episode opens with a plastic surgeon working late in his office, using a Dictaphone to record his case notes. I wonder if this casual use of technology is meant to highlight humans passing responsibility to machines or if it is just a really easy way to deliver exposition? Anyway the surgeon is forced to build Cromartie a new face. The surgeon’s subsequent murder brings in James Ellison, who is still very much determined to work out what is going on.

The Terminator has chosen the face of a struggling actor, one who he kills to steal his identity. I really like the juxtaposition of an actor being mimicked by a machine. This is brilliantly highlighted when the Terminator breaks into his house and tortures him to mimic his pain filled facial expressions.

Ellison’s investigation is interesting by itself. He is having to fight against his colleagues to stay on the case and is being constantly undermined by a younger man, Agent Stewart. It’s a little heavily handled that he is talking about being replaced by someone younger, just as Agent Stewart walks into the room. It’s also incredibly on the nose that the younger replacement for him just happens to be male and African American also, as if the audience wouldn’t make the connection otherwise.

‘Heavy Metal’ is a bit of a filler episode in some ways; the main storyline of the episode is completely irrelevant to the overall plot of the season. Having said that it is the best kind of filler episode, the kind that may add more to the show then even a regular episode would. The main plot takes a back seat to character development, that of John and James. The lack of a serious villain and complicated plot allows the episode room to breathe and to let it deal with more subtle character profiles.

It wasn’t a perfect episode however; some moments seemed to directly contradict the previous episodes' continuity. For example, John has a laptop in his room, despite Sarah’s complete refusal for him to be anywhere near one. Also Sarah is shocked to learn that another Terminator, not Cromartie, is around…Despite meeting another one a few episodes ago.  In a show about time travel and prophecies these kind of consistency issues are going to stand out like a sore thumb. Hopefully future episodes will work to more of a ‘show bible’ and flow a bit better.

These issues are relatively small however, ‘Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles’ remains engaging and surprisingly thrilling. ‘Heavy Metal’ may have some rocky moments but overall this show seems to be on a roll!

You think an Akira reference will make me like you more?.....You win this round 'Terminator: TSCC'

Saturday, 25 July 2015

Terminator: TSCC Episode 3 ‘The Turk’ Review

With John and Cameron attending school, Sarah is free to investigate potential leads for Skynet. Andy Goode is who Sarah finds, a former Cyberdyne intern now working in a phone shop. Meanwhile Cameron is having trouble fitting in at school, can John stop her from blowing their cover?

So this show is settling in surprisingly quickly. Now I appreciate that the last show I watched was ‘Gotham’ which still didn’t feel settled by the end of its first season, but ‘Terminator: TSCC’ is remarkably comfortable for its third episode. Elements from previous episodes are talked about, characters from those episodes make cameos. The feeling of a living, breathing, ongoing world has been established. Even in just these three episodes the characters have begun to slowly change and in ways that makes sense with the narrative we have been presented with.

With the relative safety the time jump has given them, Sarah is becoming more the mother and less the soldier. She has softened up somewhat and seems to have more hope in the future. Her mothering has even extended out to Cameron, who is posing as her daughter.

Cameron seems to have taken up more human qualities, seems to be making less mistakes in her interactions. A lot of jokes are still made at her inability to understand human behaviour but the human behaviours are more subtle, so her character can grow without ruining the fish out of water joke.

John is also growing, beginning to show his heroic tendencies. The subplot of this episode involves a suicidal girl at the school, John wants to try and save her but Cameron stops him as it would make him stand out too much. This angle that John is being caged until his usefulness in the future and the effect this has on him is a good narrative idea. Hopefully this frustration he is feeling will be used in future episodes.

One issue that seems a bit stupid to me is that John is going to great lengths to teach Cameron how to act more human, so that people don’t spot that she is a robot; this entire idea is pretty stupid. All they would need to do is tell people that she is mentally a bit different and I suspect people wouldn’t ask questions. Even if they didn’t bother to explain if people meet someone who says “You are upset?” in a monotone voice when they are crying in front of them, they will probably assume that is the case.

Of course they don’t go down this route because it would be likely to cause offence to parts of the audience, but this is meant to be a believable world. They created a world where 9/11 happened but where autism doesn’t exist we assume? They wouldn’t have even had to name the condition, John could have just said “Yeah she’s…you know…since she was a child” and pointed to his head if people asked. Anyway they side step this question by John explaining that she has a metal plate in her skull when she can’t pass through a metal detector.

Obviously this is meant to suggest that she has brain damage in some abstract way. I just wish the episode hadn’t gone to such lengths to show John attempting to persuade her to not act like a Terminator at the start it seems to be the more complicated way of solving this issue. Why would anyone ever assume that her odd behaviour meant she was a Terminator? What world is it where you meet someone who is having trouble with human behaviour and assume they must be a killing machine sent from the future?

Sarah’s search for the creators of Skynet is interesting but starts in a fundamentally silly way. She has a dream that she is meeting and killing the creators of the atomic bomb. To compare these scientists to the ones that made Skynet is smart but the dream sequence is really badly handled. As with the previous dream sequence, everything is much cheaper than a dream would ever be. The scientists are hanging around in a room that looks like a storage cupboard, the Terminators they transform into look like they were rendered using the computers that made the original Tron.

Sarah’s search for Skynet leads her to a phone shop salesman, Andy Goode, who asks her out on a date. Sarah making friends with a man who may go on to create Skynet is an interesting idea and hopefully it will be built upon in the future. That being said why doesn’t she just tell him the truth? She discovers that he has created a machine with emotions and doesn’t show him Cameron? They trusted Miles Dyson with the truth and this guy is nice enough that Sarah decides to spare him, burning down his house instead.

"DUDE...learn to knock!"
One element of this episode is really cool, visually in particular, but makes absolutely no sense. The Terminator from the Pilot is going on a mission to make himself a new organic skin. He breaks into a hospital to collect blood, finds a scientist to help him make it. I don’t really see the need for him to look human however. The gang are aware that Terminators are alive in their timeline so are looking out for them. Cameron can scan anyone she meets to detect if they are human or not. Why doesn’t he just wait outside their house and jump John on a suicide mission? I assume that future episode may explain this but if it was literally just to make him look human again, in order to hunt John, this is ridiculous.

So ‘The Turk’ has some dumb moments but is generally strong. The characters are being nicely built up and future plot lines are being laid down carefully. The major issue the show has at the moment is that is feels like it exists in a TV version of reality. Everything that takes place happens on a cheap budget and in a network approved version of the world. I doubt this will change and I appreciate these are issues that a low-ish budget TV show aimed at teens is going to encounter. It mainly causes problems because the show makes a real effort to embrace the real world but is unable to do so completely. If the show can’t be as realistic as it wants to be, maybe it should be less serious overall? This existence in-between tonal tables is problematic.

Sunday, 19 July 2015

Gotham Episode 18 'Everyone has a Cobblepot' Review

With the release of crooked detective Arnold Flass from custody, despite overwhelming evidence against him, Jim Gordon’s resolve to clean up the GCPD is intensified yet again. Can Jim, with the help of Harvey Dent bring down Commissioner Loeb once and for all? Meanwhile Fish Mooney journeys further into the strange world of the Dollmaker.

So this is yet another episode of ‘Gotham’ which seems to spend the majority of its running time setting up narrative threads for future episodes. A lot of shows have this kind of continues format, choosing to ignore the singular villain of the week angle to instead build a running narrative. ‘Heroes’ for example took the style of an ongoing serialised comic book, with each episode added more to the overall plot. This method of storytelling works fine but it requires consistency. ‘Gotham’ seems to dedicate entire episodes to setting up future episodes, yet also decides to have singular episodes which are self-contained. This not only makes the universe of the show feel unevenly paced but also makes some episodes entirely expositional.

‘Everybody has a Cobblepot’ suffers from these problems more than most. For example, the scenes with Fish Mooney take up half the episode and exist purely to establish Dollmaker’s facility. Mooney is walked from room to room, shown various things and has them explained to her/us. These scenes really aren’t very interesting because early on we become aware that Fish Mooney is at no risk and that she doesn’t care about the people in the basement, therefore sealing their fate. With no threat or tension left in the narrative we are given a showman-like, relaxed tour around a psychopathic doctor’s house. If this facility were to feature in numerous future episodes this extensive coverage could be explained but it won’t be. ‘Gotham’ will become bored, as it always does and move on to a new villain, making this build up a giant waste of time.

Jim’s confrontations with Loeb and the corruption of the GCPD are more interesting but nothing we haven’t seen earlier in the series with more teeth. Yet again we go through the motions of ‘Can Bullock be trusted?’, ‘Is Dent all he seems to be?’ and the always popular ‘How bad will Jim be willing to make himself to get the job done?’. The fact that Flass has to be released at the beginning of the episode, in order to be rearrested at the end shows how pointless this episode really is. Nothing really changes much. Jim does manage to score a small victory again Loeb but it feels too easy. 
When Commissioner Loeb was introduced in ‘Gotham’ he seemed genuinely threatening. For him to be bested so easily and, more importantly, briefly is a big disappointment.

We get some interesting glimpses into where the storyline with Bruce and Alfred will go, with Bruce having used his deductive skills to work out why Alfred was attacked. However these scenes, yet again, exist purely to set up the upcoming finale episodes.

I made a joke in an earlier review, about how the ‘Previously on Gotham’ segments would eventually take up most of the episode, it seems I predicted the future. I really don’t understand why, in the binge watching ‘Netflix’ generation, these kind of constant recaps are necessary? It’s not even like ‘Gotham’ is that complicated to follow. So is this episode really as pointless as I suggest? Not entirely, we get some really nice scenes with Harvey Bullock and Oswald Cobblepot. These scenes, particularly in the case of Bullock, add to the characters and are almost worth watching the episode for alone. 

It isn’t that this episode is bad; the improvements in the overall production from the previous episodes are still evident. It’s just weird to see a TV show attempting to stall for time, as if it was waiting for new material. Quick tip, go to a comic shop and look up a guy named ‘Batman’, you’ll have plenty of new scripts!  

Gotham Episode 19 'Beasts of Prey' Review

A serial killer is stalking the streets of Gotham. Can Gordon stop a criminal so terrible that he has the rest of the police force too scared to even mention his name? Following on from last week, Bruce and Selina go on the trail of Reggie to discover who he is working for, why he stabbed Alfred? Away from Gotham, Fish has problems of her own. Will Mooney’s attempts to escape from the island be successful, or is the sinister Dr Dollmaker a foe that even her fearsome resolve can’t overcome?

Continuity has always been ‘Gotham’s’ biggest weakness. From week to week things will change, including the personalities of the main characters. Part of the popularity of a police procedural is the consistency of the characters. It doesn’t mean they can’t change, in fact they need to, it just means that we grow to empathise with the grim life of a policeman by following them and sharing in the experience. This is hard to do when the characters we follow have no fixed attitudes or goals.

For example Harvey Bullock started the season as a ‘bullish’, difficult man. He was never willing to make an effort when he didn’t have to and viewed women as objects to entertain him. Over time we learnt about his past and several of his demons were laid to rest. His womanising was even tackled when he was shown to have feelings for the girl in the phobia group. All of that however is gone again this week; he is back to his lazy, girl hunting ways with no apparent reason given.
This episode particularly suffers from these continuity problems as attempts are made to push the characters into new places, with no memory of who those characters were, where their boundaries should currently be as a character. It’s a shame because these issues undermine a generally very well written script.

Fish Mooney’s adventures on the island are reasonably interesting this week for example. Fish keeps playing with various factions on the island, taking ever larger chances. This eventually leads to a brilliant and malice filled confrontation with Dollmaker in his office.

The character of Fish Mooney seems to have been watered down and made more caring. This would be an issue for any character but it is terrible for the character of Fish Mooney. She had been established previously as somebody who was willing to do anything she had to do to achieve her goals. Mooney’s willingness to sacrifice anything and anybody made her very engaging, it made us wonder what had made her this way.

Now we have a Fish who looks after the needy and puts herself second. It’s possible that we are meant to believe that her experience on the island has changed her for the better but this seems very out of character for somebody that has an implied, horribly dark past. A past that was horrible enough to make her devote the majority of it to her own preservation. Hopefully this is just a temporary blip but I suspect that ‘Gotham’ has still not realised that a character doesn’t have to be friendly to be sympathetic.

Weirdly the opposite issue turns up in Bruce’s segments of the episode. Last week Reggie was established to be a man who was desperate but not without some of his old honour, he even attempted to talk the Wayne board out of hurting Bruce. This week he is cartoonishly evil for no apparent reason. Well, spoiler warning, it is for a reason. The reason is to make his murder at the hands of Selina Kyle more acceptable. This is particularly bad as we have already seen Selina kill somebody, at the start of the season she left a corpse with its eyes gouged out in order to escape from Dollmaker’s suppliers. This moment where she killed Reggie was meant to be character defining but she was already established as somebody who would kill to defend herself so this seems pointless. It is interesting to show that Bruce was close to killing him and Selina saved his soul, as it were, but making the man she kills irredeemable first is lazy.

Thankfully Gordon’s storyline is very strong this week, making up for many of the issues in the other segments. The serial killer, known as ‘The Ogre’ is genuinely threatening. The reason for this is entirely in how he is introduced. We have seen most of the villains as cutaways during Jim’s investigations. They may be a few steps ahead but they are constantly being pursued. Rather interestingly, everything we see of the Ogre is seen via flashback. 

We follow him as he chooses his victim and lures her into his lair to be kept imprisoned until he becomes bored of her. We see events that cannot be avoided, giving them a considerable weight. The fact that Gordon is months, not moments behind the Ogre makes him seem considerably more dangerous, particularly as he preys on the loved ones of those who try to investigate him.

The Ogre is played brilliantly by Milo Ventimiglia, who previously played Peter Petrelli in ‘Heroes’. He manages to bring the wholesome and kind parts of that character and subvert them to make a genuinely chilling character. The moment where he establishes that he is going to kill his most recent captive, simply by saying “This isn’t working out, it’s not you, it’s me” is horrific.

So despite some glaringly bad character continuity issues, this episode still has a lot to praise about it. The voyeuristic moments where we watch the Ogre would not have been out of place in a show like ‘True Detective’ and it is nice to see Gotham showing a darker side in in its storytelling. The production on this episode is also noticeably strong with interesting direction and editing throughout.

We are into the home stretch of this season of ‘Gotham’ now. It’s distressing to see that issues I complained about months ago continue to be as bad as ever, it lowers my hopes that these issues will be fixed at any point. That being said it is nice to see that the series is still willing to take some creative chances. ‘Gotham’ may not yet be a killer serial, but neither have I grown bored of it yet. Yet again I remain interested to see what the next episode will bring.

Terminator: TSCC Episode 2 ‘Gnothi Seuton’ Review

Following on from the pilot, Sarah, John and Cameron are trying to get used to living in the near future. While Sarah and Cameron attempt to get new identities for the group, John goes to visit an old friend…

Ok, I let this go in the pilot but why does Cameron have glowing blue eyes? I can only assume she has blue eyes because she is not an evil Terminator, those have red eyes. This colour coding for good/evil is pretty stupid, at least she doesn’t have pink eyes I suppose.

I raise this point because we now have a pretty cool opening sequence, including a shot of her blue eyes. The opening mixes footage of our group with the construction of a Terminator. This is a pretty swish opening but I wish that the sound team hadn’t decided to mix in a proton pack sound effect for the construction of the Terminator, it’s way too well known a sound to not stand out.

So John’s moaning is really starting to get on my nerves. If he were the last hope for humanity I would be helping the Terminators. In this episode he keeps moaning to Sarah about how he wants to leave the house, he wants Turkey or some other nonsense. It’s really hard to understand why she has so much faith in him to save humanity. He decides to sneak out and visits Dean Winters, Sarah’s old Fiancé. I don’t know why he does this really; it doesn’t seem a great plan to go and check on him.

Cameron informs John and Sarah that some resistance fighters are also waiting around, gathering supplies. They go to visit them and discover that they are all dead, dead aside from the Terminator that is waiting for any stragglers that he missed.

This triggers a Terminator on Terminator fight sequence. The action set pieces are notably better handled in this episode than in the pilot. The strength and weight of the Terminators feels much more tangible. As they fight they also have much more of an effect on their surroundings. Debris flies from objects that are hit, glass shatters from force. A real effort has been made to make these frantic moments feel more real and the effort pays off handsomely.

The emotional through line of this episode focuses on Sarah’s discovery that she has cancer. Her realisation of this is well handled and it influences her character from the moment she learns of it. A few subtle moments are worked in to show that it is on her mind, such as casually asking Cameron if her Terminator powers let her do blood tests. This use of subtlety is really good.

Unfortunately the episode decides ruin this subtle approach by having an incredibly poorly thought out comparison between the real 9/11 and fictional Judgement Day. This moment is triggered when Sarah asks what 9/11 is, having skipped that moment in history. The explanation includes the confused gang members she asked miming out the attacks, complete with explosion hand gestures, to Sarah. I think that the fact that ‘Terminator: TSCC’ managed to make a puppet version of 9/11 the funniest thing I’ve seen in ages would suggest that this dramatic idea didn’t work out very well.

The episode actually had some intended comedy also. Cameron’s attempts to mimic human behaviour bring some much needed light relief to the generally quite dark script. The moment where Sarah throws the unconscious Cameron out of a window was really funny also as it is very true to the character that has been established.

So ‘Gnothi Seuton’ is a much stronger episode than the Pilot. It has some flaws but generally nearly all of my complaints from the Pilot have been resolved. Hopefully John’s character will become less whiny as time goes on and the show will avoid comparing fictional atrocities to real ones again… We can only hope!

Friday, 17 July 2015

Terminator: TSCC Episode 1 'Pilot' Review

So with Terminator being the franchise of the moment once again with the release of ‘Terminator: Genisys’, I decided to go back and visit a part of the lore I had yet to experience. ‘Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles’ came to the screen in 2008 and tells the story of the titular Sarah and her ongoing attempts to protect her son John, the future saviour of the human race, from the Terminators sent back to destroy him.

I’m aware that the show had received mixed feedback and had been cancelled during its second season. I am also aware that despite being cancelled it had a loyal fan base who were desperate for it to return to TV. Now the real question is, does it deserve that loyalty or is it yet another show that survived purely on the goodwill of a loyal franchise fandom? We shall see!


So this pilot has a lot of ground to cover in establishing things. In less than an hour we have to be introduced to the main characters and the time travelling, cyborg battling universe they inhabit.
From the opening shot we begin this daunting task of expositing the universe to the viewer. Within the first 5 minutes we are introduced to Sarah, John, the concept of the Terminators and why they want to kill John. These sequences are surprisingly well handled but suffer from an issue that plagues the episode and I suspect the series as a whole, why are things so different?

Obviously from a TV audience point of view we understand that a weekly series will not be able to keep up in terms of budget with its movie counterparts, but this is meant to be a continuation of those films, so any changes for budget create issues. Within that opening scene Sarah dreams that a Terminator is attacking her but the Terminator just looks like a random cheap actor with sunglasses. Why does she not dream of liquid metal? Why not of Arnie attacking her? Why have Sarah’s dreams got so cheap from the big budget affairs they were in ‘Terminator 2: Judgement Day’. It makes sense from a technical point of view but not a creative one, if you can’t afford to do something well, think of something else.

The dream spooks Sarah so she decides that it’s time for her and John to move on once again, leaving her new fiancé behind to figure out what is happening. He goes to the police and discovers Sarah Reese is not who he thought she was from an FBI officer, James Ellison, who is hunting her down for her involvement with the attack on Cyberdyne. The fiancé is not built up much in this episode, although he is hinted at appearing later in the series. James however is established quite well as the dogged FBI man who is hunting Sarah but also curious about her case. Pilots have the issue that characters have to be established in broad strokes and Ellison suffers from this quite badly however. He is the thorough FBI guy, that is his entire character. Hopefully he will be fleshed out more in future episodes.

The more central characters of John, Sarah and Cameron (Summer Glau’s nice Terminator) fair better but still suffer from the desperate need to cram in a lot of story. John is the moody teenager, Sarah the over protective mum and Cameron the good terminator, that’s about it. A pilot episode for a TV show based on the Terminator universe was always going to have issues. I think that a slower paced double length opening episode would have given the show and characters some breathing room however. The speed of the storytelling forces the characters into explaining emotions and narrating thoughts, these kind of issues are common for many types of Pilot however and I am aware that they are nearly always ironed out for the main run of the show.

Despite the script having some issues the cast do their best with the material. Lena Headey has the hardest time of it, with the show resting primarily on her shoulders and with her filling the shoes of a much loved character. She does a good job but seems unsure at times, unsure in ways that Sarah Connor should not be.

Thomas Dekker does his best with John but the script doesn’t give him a lot of wiggle room. John Connor is not yet the saviour of the human race so he has to be a useless teenager. He is also undermined in any future cool behaviour by the fact that he is being guarded by his mom and a tiny teenage girl robot. In one scene he even begs his mum to save him and the world so that he doesn’t have to bother. I appreciate that you have to start John on the ground floor, to allow his character to grow but this John seems less capable then he was nn 'T2'. The future general who will save humanity is a step up for anyone, it seems odd to start his character so far in the minus points for this future role, it’s not needed.

Glau does a pretty good job as the protective Terminator but her small stature does raise questions as to her usefulness. She seems to be a regular, non liquid, Terminator so her small size would seem to put her at a disadvantage when facing full size Terminators in combat. I assume that future episodes may explain her physical appearance in full but for the time being she seems like the runt of the good Terminator litter.

In terms of the evil Terminators the episode focusses on Cromartie, who is relentless in his pursuit of John. Owain Yeoman does a good job of making the Terminator a credible villain but he is unable to fill the shoes left by the previous big budget movie assassins. An issue with the Terminators in this pilot, both good and bad is how emotional they are. At one point Cromartie pauses his pursuit of John in a school to say “Class dismissed” to the terrified students. The vision of a unstoppable killing machine is a bit ruined when he stops to make jokes. Glau is also written to make strange, almost human remarks but she is hinted at being more that meets the eye…

Aside from some pacing issues the opening episode is pretty strong script wise. The scenes with Sarah, John and Cameron are nicely scripted and we are treated to several really cool set pieces. The previously mentioned school sequence is cool and the bank vault sequence at the end of the episode works really well to re-establish the frantic action tone of the films.

As the pilot ends we transfer the characters through time from 1999 to the far off futuristic land of 2007, where they vow to defeat Skynet once and for all. Overall this is a pretty strong opening episode but not necessarily very representative of the final series. The rest of the show has been set up during this pilot episode so the pacing should have the opportunity to calm down somewhat. In addition, several characters, such as the FBI officer and the Fiancé were established but not fleshed out. This episode did enough to keep my attention and I intend to keep watching, that being said I am not entirely sure what it is that I shall be watching. Only one thing is for certain, it’s hard to predict the future for ‘Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles’.