Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Terminator: TSCC Season 2 Episode 2 ‘Automatic for the People' Review

An injured resistance fighter from the future stumbles into the Connor’s new house and warns them, with his dying breath, about a problem at a local power plant. Skynet has plans for the plant and the gang have only a few days to prevent them. John however is far more interested in hanging out with Riley, a girl from school. Will she be able to fit in with the Connor’s hectic lifestyle however?

So the second series of ‘Terminator:TSCC’ seems to have brought with it ‘previously on’ segments at the start of the episodes. I enjoyed not having them for the first season but I appreciate that the show would be pretty abstract and confusing for someone not following it religiously. One of the major issues with these reminders is that they always highlight what will happen in the episode. For example we see Sarah being told that she died of cancer by Cameron, so we know the cancer storyline will resurface.

So the resistant fighter doesn’t give Sarah and Derek much to work on, only the name of a local power plant and the surname of a man, Greenway, that must be stopped in two days. Thus Sarah and Cameron get undercover jobs at the power plant as cleaners and attempt to work out who Greenway is and why he has to be stopped.

The power plant is important in the future; it was recaptured by the resistant and is a key base of operations for them. Skynet is attempting to cause a meltdown, removing the plant as a safe place for the resistance to use. Unfortunately Greenaway is attempting to shut down the plant due to safety concerns, which will also stop the resistance from using it. As time goes on Greenway is replaced by a Terminator and sets the plant down the path for a meltdown.

This entire undercover segment is primarily to set up this battle against the fake Greenway. Sarah stalks around the plant and keeps getting told how dangerous the radiation is, how anyone exposed to it might get cancer. Of course she is forced into a room full of possibly radioactive material during the frantic fight, without a radiation suit, and Sarah is left unclear on if she will develop cancer from the experience or not.

The second series of ‘Terminator:TSCC’ has a much darker feel to it. The idea that fate is already written is a key component of this episode for example. The resistance fighter from the future manages to find Sarah despite them having only just moved into their new house. Sarah surmises that John must have sent him, suggesting that they have not managed to prevent Judgement Day with their actions so far.

The idea that Sarah is destined to get cancer from her experience at the plant is also suggested. One of the darkest elements of the Terminator franchise is that Judgement day in inevitable, that it will always occur in some form. I hope that the show puts this idea on the back burner as it will be hard to root for characters fighting against something they can never stop, week after week.

The grind of Judgement Day seems to be having an effect on John, who so badly wants to live a normal life he invites a girl he just met at school, Riley, back to his house.

First off, what happened to Morris and the other people from the old school? Some mysteries had been set up and seem to have been abandoned, such as the creepy school counsellor plot line. I appreciate that these actors may have not been available after the writing strike chaos but to just ditch these plots is odd. Maybe it was done on purpose to help us empathise with the ever school swapping John? Hopefully some of these loose threads and characters will resurface in the future.

Introducing a possible love interest for John is interesting, particularly one who seems almost as weird as he is. I like the fact that they have a password system on the phone where the caller has to state the date before they talk, to check for Terminators. This is a nice detail that shows a close attention to world building.

I do hope that this new emo John is not going to hang around for ever. John’s optimism is one of his key character traits and to make him so dark and brooding makes him a lot harder to care for.  I get the feeling this is all leading up to a conclusion where he and Sarah have an argument where they both reveal dark truths, that he killed Sarkissian and that she has cancer. From that point they will hug and revert to their usual selves again.

So ‘Automatic for the People’ is pretty good but has some troubling vibes to it. I worry that the show will become a self-contained ‘monster of the week’ type situation, with each week focussed on the Connor clan trying to stop a particular threat to the resistance in the future. At the end of the episode we see that the dead resistance fighter left a ‘to do’ list of names and locations for the gang, this suggests my fears are grounded. The best quality of the first season was the ongoing narrative. If each week focuses on a standalone story the scale of the Skynet problem will seem far smaller and more manageable.

If this issue is compounded with this new fate being sealed angle than the show could become low stakes and what stakes do exist will feel meaningless. I don’t want to criticise the show for things it hasn’t done yet however, I have enough faith in the show to give it the benefit of the doubt for now.
One direction that the show seems to be taking that I 100% agree with is the new character traits of Cameron.

Since the explosion she seems to have become somewhat strange, somewhat more human. These changes have caused her to act in interesting ways, sometimes as if she is grumpy for example. Summer Glau is a good actress who tends to get stuck playing one note characters. It is nice to see her given a bit more to do with Cameron instead of always doing the same monotone robot acting.

So I have concerns for the show but also see encouraging signs for the future of it. A second season is tricky as you are forced to try and change things up to keep the audience engaged. I suspect that we will see more experimenting as the show moves on. I suspect that, much like the first season, the second may take a little while to find its feet and I’m happy to give it time. I just hope that with this being the final season, it has that time to be given.

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