Friday, 7 August 2015

Terminator: TSCC Season 2 Episode 4 ‘Allison from Palmdale' Review

While shopping with John, Cameron begins to seemingly have flashbacks to her life as a human. Soon she has fully reverted to this old human self. Did ‘Allison from Palmdale’ really exist? And if so, will she be willing to go back to being Cameron again?

So this is a pretty weird episode, both in theme and execution. We keep jumping from Cameron in the present to Allison in the past. Cameron has forgotten that she is a Terminator but remembers moments from her previous life as a resistance fighter. The episode is structured in terms of interrogation sequences. The amnesiac Cameron is talking to a counsellor, while in the past Allison is being interrogated by the machine that intends to take her place, Cameron.

Now firstly in terms of the theme being weird this episode raises a big question which challenges the entire established lore of the franchise. How can Cameron remember her life as a human? Is she a human/Terminator hybrid or does she have digitised memories? This question is not answered, at least not in this episode. I don’t entirely know how I feel about Cameron being partially human, if that is the case. 

The series has so far flirted with the idea that Cameron is gaining some understanding of emotions and to just give them to her would completely undermine her Pinocchio quality.
Clues have previously been given that Cameron was not entirely what she seemed however. In the pilot she seems to sadly mention that John has many friends in the future, was she referencing Allison? Also when she was begging to not be switched off she said that she loved John, was this also Allison talking about the future John?

As much as I have reservations about this concept I can also see a huge amount of potential in it. At one point in the episode John manages to track down Cameron/Allison and says he can fix her, make her a machine again. Allison sensibly points out that she doesn’t want to be a machine, that there is nothing to be fixed. This concept of a human ghost being trapped in the Terminator machine is really interesting and it would certainly lead to some interesting scenes with the Connor gang. We also have the suggestion that Cameron may represent a group of Terminators who want peace with humanity. This concept is even bigger and raises all manner of questions about the intentions of Terminators the gang may meet. Is Catherine Weaver really evil for example?

This episode is pretty strange in its ideas but the execution is far stranger. The direction of this episode is very abstract and dreamlike in nature. A lot of shots seem to have been framed in a deliberately strange way. I appreciate that this is to heighten the sense of unease caused by the Cameron revelation but it is just tiring after a while. The editing is also strange, constantly jumping around in time to replicate Cameron’s shattered grasp of reality. However this editing also takes away quite a lot from the grounded nature of the series.

There is only so far you can push dream imagery and timing before the audience begins to question what they are seeing too much. A good TV show or film should make you forget you are watching it because you are enthralled by the story. I don’t want to criticise the show for being experimental but I think the point they were trying to make could have been made just as easily if they had reined the weirdness of the production back a tad.

While Cameron is having her crises of identity, Sarah rushes their neighbour, Kacy Cotton, to the hospital as she fears she is about to give birth. This plot line mainly exists to introduce the baby’s father Trevor, an inquisitive cop who may end up living next to the Connors. The second that a pregnant lady showed up near Cameron I began to fear that the obvious might happen: the sequence where Cameron has to help her give birth and experiences the miracle of life. I’m still suspecting this might happen but hopefully ‘Terminator:TSCC’ will avoid this massive cliché.

In terms of the larger cast, Ellison accepts the job with Catherine Weaver. I have previously criticised the idea of Ellison being tricked into working for a Terminator but now there is a chance that some Terminators want peace this plot line potentially became a lot more interesting. Hopefully the question of good Terminators will be left open for a while as it makes the show a lot less predictable.

‘Allison from Palmdale’ was certainly very interesting but I feel it came on a bit strong. We have had 12 episodes drip feeding us information on Cameron and suddenly we have a huge amount of backstory all at once. It’s a lot to take in and the overtly artistic nature of the production made the huge dump of information far harder to consume.

 I have voiced my concerns that ‘Terminator: TSCC’ might become too formulaic and I certainly can’t make that complaint when the show produces episodes like this. If I had to choose formulaic but consumable or crazy but memorable I would certainly choose the latter. I just hope that a middle ground can be found for the next time ‘Allison from Palmdale’ shows her face.  

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