- Lena Headey ... Sarah Connor
- Thomas Dekker ... John Connor
- Summer Glau ... Cameron Phillips
- Richard T. Jones ... James Ellison
- Owain Yeoman ... Cromartie
- Tim Guinee ... Burke
Written and executive produced by Josh Friedman (War of the Worlds). Pilot directed by David Nutter (episodes of The X-Files, Roswell, Entourage and many others).
Recrunching the Terminator Mythology
Sarah and John Connor know they are wanted by the law, having been blamed for the murder of Miles Dyson. But Dyson would otherwise have created Skynet, the artificial intelligence which in the future will turn on humanity and introduce the dominion of the machines. Dyson's death should have prevented this future. (This background is related to events shown in the film Terminator 2: Judgment Day.)
So Sarah and John are shocked to encounter another Terminator android, called Cromartie, sent back in time to kill John and prevent him from becoming the leader of the human resistance against the machines. As in T2, John is saved from Cromartie only by the intervention of a reprogrammed Terminator sent back by the future John Connor with orders to protect the teenage John.
The story begins in 1999, but Sarah and John's escape from Cromartie involves the use of preplanted time machine that transfers them forward to 2007. This also has the effect of bypassing Sarah's original death from cancer (stated in Terminator 3 to have occurred in 1997, but here pushed up to 2002). This jump into the future is supposed to conceal John and Sarah, but their arrival in 2007 is eventually noticed by Sarah's ex-fiance, Burke, as well as the FBI agent, Ellison, who had been tracking Sarah in 1999. Not only that, but there are both resistance fighters and Terminator machines from the future secreted away in 2007, leading to the possibility that the future Skynet intelligence will eventually discover their location in 2007 and seek to destroy them for good.
Immersed in the Lore
Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles is saturated with Terminator backstory, enough so that the casual viewer unfamiliar with the movies -- or perhaps only remembering Linda Hamilton's big hair and Arnold Schwarzenegger's naked entrance -- might be slightly adrift. In particular, the importance of the dead computer engineer, Miles Dyson, will be felt best by those who know T2 well; and yet these same fans are likely to feel some frustration, since Dyson's efforts and sacrifice are rendered moot by the revelation here that Skynet was built anyway, by someone else.
Several elements of the first two episodes will resonate deeply with Terminator fans, like the time travel sequence that dumps Sarah, John, and their protector in a crackling, burning hole in the middle of a freeway. Cromartie is apparently a model similar to Schwarzenegger's model 101: when the skin on his leg is ripped away you see the gears and levers, and he walks and fights a lot like the old school model so brilliantly depicted in the first film. There's an extent to which something was lost when the Terminators were upgraded to fancy biomechanicals in the second and third films; the gritty, mechanical relentlessness of the original Terminator was a lot more frightening.
The effects are handled very well; though obviously Sarah Connor Chronicles doesn't have the budget of a Terminator film, the visual effects are very effectively realized. A dream sequence that shows an explosion eviscerating the flesh from a Terminator firmly places the show in the look and feel of the Terminator films.
The Linda Hamilton Factor
The main problem facing Sarah Connor Chronicles is psychological. Next to Sigourney Weaver in the Alien films, Linda Hamilton ended up being the most kick-butt woman in sci-fi (if not in all of action films) by the end of Terminator 2 -- all the more striking for having started out as just another woman in a bar. Linda Hamilton made you believe that Sarah Connor was not only a survivor, but a warrior.
Lena Headey, however, does not, and this is a dire flaw in a series that revolves around Sarah's mission to protect her son at all costs. Headey comes across as the police captain who can chew out the insubordinate hero cop, but in the two episodes I have seen she does not have the grit or the implacable drive that has already been indelibly demonstrated in this very character. Like Michelle Ryan in Bionic Woman, Headey isn't bloody-minded enough to seem like anything other than a nice British actress somehow roped into the lead of a Hollywood action series.
Likewise, young John, as played by Edward Furlong in T2 already seemed tougher than he's depicted here by Thomas Dekker. Dekker's performance is at least nuanced and interesting to watch (I missed Dekker when he was written out of Heroes), which gives him an edge over the slightly flatter Headey or the infinitely flatter Summer Glau as their protector. I know robots are supposed to be emotionally muted, but Glau's character comes across as lobotomized.
The fight choreography is extremely strong -- In fact everything is strong apart from the casting. Unfortunately, that's kind of important.