Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Terminator: TSCC Season 2 Episode 8 ‘Mr Ferguson is Ill Today’ Review

John ignores the numerous warnings from Sarah and Cameron about the risks of dating and escapes the house to visit Mexico with Riley. Unfortunately for him the trip does not go as planned and Cromartie tracks the couple down. Is this the end for John Connor?

So this episode decides to take the structure of movies such as ‘Go’ or ‘Run Lola Run’ of showing the episodes’ events multiple times, each time from the perspective of a different character. So we see part of the plot as Sarah sees it before jumping to Cameron’s version and so on. Now I usually hate it when stories try to do this. As interesting as it is to see alternate takes of an event I feel that one character is bound to have the most interesting version of the story and everything else is usually distracting away from them. ‘Mr Ferguson is Ill Today’ managed to avoid frustrating me for the following reasons.

Firstly, the characters go through vastly different locations and events, making the crossovers elements quite subtle. Secondly, the episode completely ditches the idea about half way through. As the episode goes on the repeated sequences get rarer and rarer until we are eventually just cutting from character perspectives in a linear sequence. Now you may ask what the difference is between say a regular episode that cuts from character to character and this episode that does it as a gimmick? Well this episode keeps putting up text that says which character they are cutting to next, that’s it.

Now a few sequences are improved from this style of storytelling. Cromartie has a shootout from three different viewpoints for example, each one highlighting a different aspect of it. Most of the episode doesn’t really take advantage of this however, as if the episode was shot both experimentally and regularly and two different editors kept taking turns to make it one of those versions. I wouldn’t say this structure harmed the episode but overall it didn’t really add anything either I don’t feel.

As for the story itself, it is pretty simple aside from the way it is presented. John and Riley go to Mexico and the rest of the Connor gang, Ellison and Cromartie follow them there. What would have been a pretty standard framework is improved by brilliant scripting and excellent direction.

‘Mr Ferguson is Ill Today’ is stuffed full of really nice character moments. It seems every character gets lines that only they would say. One exchange that sticks out to me is between James Ellison and Sarah. Ellison is talking about the last time she faked her death, “I lost a lot the last time you died, my marriage, my career.” To which she perfectly responds “That’s a lot to you?”. It takes both a good script and comfortable actors to create such appropriate dialogue.

We also have a nice moment between Cameron and John, one which suggests the two of them were far closer in the future. This feeds the theory Allison from Palmdale was somebody very important to John.

The direction is also really strong with the frequent action sequences feeling low budget but never cheap. A lot of this is due to cinematography, with shots frequently blocked out in such a way to give the action maximum impact. We see the action from low angles and from extreme close ups, which does a lot to hide the lower cost production values. It is fairly clear that the director, Michael Nankin, is a big fan of both Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriquez. We get shots in the episode aping both directors' signature filming styles.

This episode shows the end of Cromartie, at least for now. He is lured, rather appropriately by James Ellison, to a trap set by the Connors and gunned down. I have to say It is a shame to see the end of him, at least in this form. Garret Dillahunt brought both a genuine menace and sense of humour to the character, making him one of the villains you really love to hate. This episode kept laying hints that Riley would die, including her dancing with a man dressed as death! However our audience expectations were brilliant subverted. I guess that the show runners know that the only deaths that carry real weight in the Terminator franchise are those of the Terminators' themselves.

‘Mr Ferguson is Ill Today’ is structured in a needlessly dramatic way but doesn’t suffer from it. This episode both delivers in terms of action and character moments, which is no easy thing to do. It also manages to set up a lot of storylines for future episodes. Will Riley hang around now she knows about the risks in John’s life? Is Cameron’s chip damage about to bring Allison out once again? And Is Ellison about to give what is left of Cromartie to Weaver? ‘Terminator: TSCC’ continues to build on previous episodes the more the show continues. I’m looking forward to where the show can go next from here, at the moment it seems only ever up.

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