Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Terminator: TSCC Season 2 Episode 11 ‘Self-Made Man’ Review

Cameron spots a Terminator in a photograph from the 1920’s and becomes fixated with discovering what he was doing back in the past. Meanwhile Riley continues to get her claws into John, will he discover her secret?

So within minutes I realised I was going to enjoy this episode. The Terminator franchise has always involved time travel but usually in the most straightforward way possible. Humans and machines travel back to the modern day, at least the modern day from our perspective, and that’s about it. The pilot began to shake up this increasingly stale formula by transferring our heroes into the near future.

The reason ‘Self-Made Man’ immediately impressed me was it trod the painfully obvious yet never touched ground of sending a Terminator back into the past, as in the past from our point of view. As an audience you can’t help but wonder what would happen had a Terminator been knocking about in a different era? ‘Self-Made Man’ lets us see what would happen if a Terminator was hanging out in the roaring twenties; the answer? It would be pretty cool!

We discover that Cameron has been sneaking out at nights, sneaking out to spend time at the library with her friend Eric. Now while hanging out with Eric she spots a photograph from the 1920’s and recognises a T-888 standing in it. Using the archival resources of the library, Cameron and Eric manage to uncover the Terminator’s entire scheme. It turns out that the Terminator arrived 90 years too early. His mission was to kill a senator giving a speech in a specific building. Unfortunately for the Terminator, he accidentally killed the architect who would have built this building and his mission becomes to build the building himself so that his plan can continue when the present day catches up with him.

What I really like about this episode is the use of research to track down the Terminator. Cameron and Eric watch old news recordings and look through old newspapers to follow his actions back in the past. It would have been tempting to either have Cameron travel to the past or have had the Terminator arrive in our time and explain itself. Instead we get this information delivered to us, for example, via an audio recording about a seemingly indestructible bank robber.

Cameron eventually tracks the Terminator to the building he made. He has been hiding in the wall since its completion, waiting for his moment to break out and strike against the Senator he was originally meant to kill. She defeats him with the help of his own Tommy gun and saves the day and yes, adding a Tommy gun to a Terminator fight does make it 1000% better.

As I said earlier Cameron now has a friend in the form of Eric, a man in a wheelchair who works the night shift at the library. Since the car explosion Cameron has been acting weird. The damage to her chip has been making her act unusually, making her act more human. It is nice to see Cameron seem to genuinely have a friend, even if she doesn’t treat him very well.

Cameron cares about Eric but lacks the skills to be able to make the friendship successful. She discovers that the cancer that put Eric in his wheelchair has returned and tells him this to help him, lacking any kind of bedside manner as she does so. Eric points out in no uncertain terms that this is the kind of behaviour that has led to her having no other friends than him. Cameron’s attempts to help her friend blowing up in her face are genuinely sad. Cameron trying to make friends is an interesting direction for the character to go in and I hope it is expanded in future episodes.

While Cameron is hanging out with Eric, John is hanging around with Riley. Riley tearfully rings up John to ask him to rescue her from a party. This is just a trap to bring him to the party however and once there she creates a situation that will make him emotionally vulnerable. They leave the party and John finally begins to open up about his past to Riley.

This segment is considerably shorter than the library moments but does what it needs to do to continue Riley and John’s storyline. It is still unclear if Riley really cares about John or not and this is good, it keeps her interesting as a character. The tension is being built up week by week for the inevitable moment where John discovers who she really is. How well this reveal is handled will depend primarily on how the build-up is paced, so far I would say that reveal is being prepared well.

‘Self-Made Man’ takes an interesting concept and deals with it in a really interesting way. A Terminator pursuing another Terminator is nothing new but to see this pursuit take place via archival research is new. Seeing an evil Terminator forced to undue the damage he did to the time stream is also really interesting. We also get some nice character development with both Cameron and John that will hopefully feed into future episodes. 

‘Self-Made Man’ is a filler episode but manages to be more engaging than a lot of the more central plot driving episodes. Seeing how much life this episode manages to give some tired concepts really shows how much potential ‘Terminator:TSCC’ had as a series. ‘Self-Made Man’ had helped me understand why people were so upset to see the show cancelled, that’s how good it is.

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