Sunday, 9 August 2015

Terminator: TSCC Season 2 Episode 6 ‘The Tower is Tall But the Fall is Short’

The Connor clan are investigating a name left by the dead resistance member, that of Dr Boyd Sherman. Sherman is a talented psychologist and the Connors’ have no idea why he is on the list: no idea if they should be protecting him or terminating him. To attempt to find out they go undercover with John attending private sessions with the Doctor. But is John’s reason for wanting to see the man strictly business? Also John is not Dr Sherman’s only client who has major secrets…

So John hasn’t been quite right since the season opener, or more precisely since his run in with Sarkissian. He seems to jump at the chance to talk to Sherman about what is troubling him, much to Sarah’s concern. John has few secrets he can afford to share, particularly to a man who may be their enemy. As much as Sarah would like John to not go to these sessions she is aware that John needs to talk to someone, particularly after he has a close call with a gun that goes off by “accident”.

The central theme of this episode is parental disconnect. Sarah and John’s relationship is terrible, as you might imagine it would be if your mother spent your childhood teaching you how to kill. However Sarah isn’t the only parent having trouble. Catherine Weaver is having terrible trouble connecting to her daughter; this is an easy to understand considering that she isn’t her real mother.

The person linking both of these problems is Dr Sherman and the question remains, is he there to help John through his problems or Catherine Weaver with hers?

I really like the idea of a Terminator attempting to re-establish the bond that the person it’s mimicking had with someone. Savannah tells Dr Sherman that she wants ‘her old mummy back”. Whether Catherine Weaver is trying to forge this connection to keep up appearances or due to genuinely trying to connect with Savannah is unclear, I really like that.

A lot of this episode focusses on the Terminator Catherine Weaver attempting to understand emotions, trying to mimic those of the dead Catherine Weaver. To Catherine’s ‘confusion’ her other child, symbolically in the basement, The Turk understands emotions to the point where it can make jokes. Shirley Manson is playing Catherine perfectly as we are never entirely sure if she wants to experience emotions or merely understand them. In completely failing to understand The Turk’s sense of humour she perfectly shows the fundamental difference between Skynet and the Terminators working for it. Weaver and Skynet are yet another damaged parent child relationship being explored.

John’s problems are far easier to understand, given his home life. We are left outside a lot of John’s meetings with Sherman, so we don’t know everything that John confesses to him. We do however finally establish what John wants to confess to him, that of his guilt for killing Sarkissian. I really like these sequences with Sherman and John, it is interesting to highlight just how messed up the Connors are when counselled. Dr Sherman even compares John to a Vietnam veteran.

If John confided in Sherman about killing Sarkissian or not is unclear for now, before John talks to Sherman he removes the bug Cameron planted in his office. Upon the bug being removed Cameron heads into the office to check on John, running directly into a Terminator heading up to Sherman’s office in the process. She manages to defeat the rival Terminator but is unable to retrieve the opponents chip; the newer models have built in self-destructs to prevent them from being reprogrammed. Unfortunately this burnt chip and the removal of the bug hide the fact that Weaver asks Dr Sherman to help her with developing The Turk’s childish AI, suggesting that the opponent Terminator was heading up to protect Sherman from the Connors.

Derek is not brought along to the counselling sting but has plenty to worry about regardless. He realises he is being followed while jogging and chases the stalking back to her hotel. Derek is shocked to realise that he knows the woman that was following him. Jessie is a resistance fighter who claims to have abandoned the war but to Derek she was more than that, an ex-lover. He owes her his life, he talks to her about the night she stopped him from killing himself.

She tries to persuade him to spend his time with her, to live out their last few days together but he doesn’t want to abandon saving the world. Exactly what Jessie’s intentions are is currently unclear but we do know that she lying to Derek about her reasons for being in the past. As much as they are trying to sit on the fence with Jessie’s intentions it is fairly clear from the off that she shouldn’t be trusted. She is clearly established using femme fatale tropes so we as the audience know that she will cause trouble for Derek. The implication being that she was sent back by the machines. It will be interesting to see how long Derek keeps her existence a secret from the rest of the Connors.

So ‘The Tower is Tall But the Fall is Short’ brings something more unusual to the Terminator franchise. This episode deals with the psychological battles being fought in this universe. It covers both the emotional cold war happening at the Connor household and Catherine Weaver’s numerous attempts to understand human emotion.

This episode could have easily been very thoughtless but much like an earlier episode, ‘Vick’s Chip’, it deals with the concept of mental illness with a very deft touch. The themes are explored with intelligence and care. It helps that unlike some previous episodes ‘The Tower is Tall But the Fall is Short’ seems to exist in a version of reality close to ours, Dr Sherman even diagnoses Cameron with Asperger’s Syndrome.

It takes real skill to deal with sensitive topics well, such as teen suicide, and for the most part this episode passes with flying colours. Despite a generally subtle approach, a few of the themes are somewhat heavy handed in execution. One example being when Cameron starts quoting from a suicide prevention flyer, but heavy handed execution is better than being flippant with these concepts. Any episode that manages to make you feel sympathy for a machine struggling to connect with the daughter of one of their first murder victims is a show doing something right. The tower may be tall but there is currently no suggestion that ‘Terminator: TSCC’ will be falling anytime soon.

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