Monday, 3 August 2015

Terminator: TSCC Episode 9 ‘What He Beheld' Review

Sarah attempts to buy The Turk computer from a man calling himself Sarkissian but the transaction quickly falls apart. Meanwhile Cromartie is cornered by Agent Ellison and a squad of FBI troops; are this Terminator’s days of tracking John Connor over?

So ‘What He Beheld’ opens with the young Derek Reese and his brother Kyle playing baseball. Unfortunately they are playing on Judgement Day and they are interrupted by the launch of numerous nuclear missiles.

Now flashbacks are always welcome in shows like this but this particular flashback was not a brilliant idea as it completely undermines the key emotional moment of this episode. John’s birthday is approaching and he thinks everyone has forgotten it. Derek remembers it, as he has already spent John’s 30th birthday with him.

"No officer, I can explain why we're staring at these kids....honest!
Derek takes John to a park and shows him the young Derek and Kyle playing baseball, pre judgement day and reveals that he knows that he is John’s uncle. This scene is brilliant in concept and pretty good in execution but the earlier flashback completely neuters it. John is just watching some kids play baseball when one of them turns around to reveal that he has ‘Reese’ written on his shirt. The moment that John realises that he has seen his father for the first time is fantastic but it would have been far better if we hadn’t already seen the kids earlier in the episode. His realisation should have been at the same time as ours.

As it is, the second that Derek and John arrive at the park we see some kids playing baseball and realise what is coming. A moment that should have stunned the audience is allowed to just drift lazily by. As it is the scene is still pretty strong really but this could have been a stand out moment for the show and it is just pretty good due to being spoiled earlier in the episode, that’s a huge shame.

Elsewhere, Agent Ellison has finally managed to track Cromartie down, realising that he has been posing as an FBI agent. He leads a group of troops to storm Cromartie’s house and it goes about as well as could be expected. ‘Terminator: TSCC’ has had a pretty constant issue with low budgets. This problem has always been quite obvious as the show doesn’t let a lack of budget stop it from doing ideas that would require a high budget to do well.

We have had Hollywood budget special effects sequences recreated in After Effects and they have never been good enough to sell the world. Don’t get me wrong, I like the fact that the show doesn’t do small scale ideas but I wish that it had decided to approach them in a more experimental, and budget conscious way. 

For the first time the show seems to have taken this approach. Almost the entirety of the shootout between Cromartie and the FBI takes place via a swimming pool. We get slow motions shots of FBI bodies hitting the water above us and hear frantic gunfire in the dry world outside the pool.

Shooting the sequence in this way is really effective and feels far more interestingly shot then a big budget movie would have ever considered making it. Hopefully ‘Terminator: TSCC’ has realised that small budgets are an excuse to get creative and will stop trying to reproduce expensive effects on the cheap.

Now I’ve dealt with the B and C plots so far and not covered the main storyline of the episode. That is primarily because the main storyline isn’t massively interesting. The writers’ strike cut short the first season of ‘Terminator: TSCC’, this was never meant to be the conclusion. Therefore this episode focusses on a villain, Sarkissian, who I doubt was ever meant to be more than a throwaway mid-season threat.

Having been elevated to finale villain, Sarkissian and his gang are pretty disappointing. Now obviously if I hadn’t watched this as a season finale I wouldn’t have been expecting so much, so in some ways it isn’t entirely fair to criticise them for not being a serious threat. On the other hand, if an antagonist isn’t a serious threat, regardless of where they appear in the show, they are still pretty weak. It doesn’t help that the main face of Sarkissian is a low rent Vinnie Jones copy. He spends the entire episode doing his best Snatch impressions while trying to rip off the Connors.

I have a system for recognising rubbish villains and it generally focusses on the following rule. If they are effective due to who they kill or how they are killed, they are not really a very good villain. The coolest thing about this man is how he dies.

Sarah and the gang manage to track Finny Johns down to a cyber café, this leads to a Mexican standoff. John is taken captive and held at gunpoint so Derek grabs a little girl at the criminal hideout and holds her hostage at gunpoint also. Realising that Finny is not going to crack, Derek covers the littles girl’s eyes and shoots Finny in the head, missing John by inches. This is a cool, and really brutal sequence but all it does is highlight how bad ass Derek is and how useless the villain is. When one of the heroes is taking an innocent child hostage to save the day, your villain is bound to be a bit weak in comparison.

One of our heroes Ladies and Gentlemen!
At the end of the episode, the true Sarkissian gets his revenge on the Connors by planting a car bomb in their truck, leading to Cameron getting blown up. This scene does establish that the stakes have been raised but it doesn’t work as an end of season cliffhanger due to the fact that we know that the explosion will not hurt Cameron much at all. Again this wasn’t meant to be the season finale but as the season finale all this Sarkissian stuff feels very anti-climactic.

So at the end of the first season of ‘Terminator: TSCC’, what are my thoughts? Now I generally enjoyed this season a lot. It’s had strong writing, great performances and has been consistently enjoyable. That being said it has suffered from low budgets, character inconsistencies and various plot lines that didn’t seem to go anywhere. Now these plot lines would have gone somewhere had the strike not happened I'm sure, and I expect they went to the second season. Therefore I can’t entirely rate this season until that second season has been watched.

What I will say is that ‘Terminator: TSCC’ got consistently better as it went on and even when it made mistakes they felt like good intentions that went wrong. I fully intend to watch and rate season 2 as I did season 1, and based on season 1 I have a feeling I’m going to like what I see next.

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