TV Recap

''Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles'': Robot Reboot

The new series reimagines the mythology post-''T2,'' with a new pair of good and bad machines, but we have a few questions about space-time continuity

Summer Glau, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles | ROBOCUTE Cameron (Summer Glau) is a little too CW
ROBOCUTE Cameron (Summer Glau) is a little too CW

''Terminator'' premiere recap: They're back

Hello there, my little freedom fighters, and welcome to your TV Watch on Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles. My name is Whitney. I'll be walking you through all of your apocalypse-preventing action this spring, except for episode 3, when I'll be at Sundance. Sorry.

Some of you may be wondering why I've chosen to take on this TV Watch instead of my customary Apprentice duties. I should think the answer to that question would be self-evident: Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles has a shot at not sucking. As for Trump, I've decided that pretending his latest debacle doesn't exist is the most effective way to maintain my personal sanity. (Thanks to the incomparable Kate Ward for picking up that beaten horse's corpse in my stead.) Furthermore, I've recently completed a move to Los Angeles, and I'm making an effort to start fresh in all things — and what better way to start fresh than to recap a new show that just happens to be a retread of a very old franchise? Yes. That is what I thought.

Now, I've recapped shows with complex mythology before, and it's gone, well, let's say ''not so good.'' I do not worry about my ability to take this series on, however, based on one simple fact: As a 16-year-old, I was so invested in Terminator 2: Judgment Day that I snuck out of my house to see it against the express wishes of my parents and was subsequently grounded. This would turn out to be the defining event of my childhood. Okay, not really — but I did like that movie lots and would say I know it as well as I know any multi-million-dollar action flick, with the possible exception of Die Hard, which I have memorized. And seeing as how Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles — which I will henceforward abbreviate as T:SCC, pronounced ''tsk,'' which may turn out to be more appropriate than you know — follows chronologically on the heels of T2, I feel I can do a decent job of sorting through the time-traveling fun and get to the root of what's important. (If only I could help Edward Furlong do the same.)

I'm going to proceed here as if you'd all recently watched T2 and I don't have to do a lot of explaining. We're all pretty familiar with the Terminator mythology in general, right? In the movie franchise, a company called Cyberdyne invents a learning computer called Skynet; the apocalypse happens in 1997 after the Skynet defense system becomes sentient (and really condescending) and launches the world's nuclear arsenals; a variety of Terminators are sent back from the future to either protect or kill Sarah Connor and her son, John, who will be the leader of the future human resistance; Sarah and John eventually destroy all traces of Terminators, Cyberdyne, and Skynet, thus ostensibly stopping the rise of the machines in the future. Pretty clear cut: No more Terminators, no more apocalypse.

(T3: Rise of the Machines, by the way, does not exist on the temporal plane in which T:SCC takes place. Put it out of your minds.)

So now we begin anew in 1999, which the TV program would have you believe is but two years after Sarah blew up Cyberdyne — but which we know is actually five years in the future, as T2 very clearly takes place in 1994, what with John Connor being 10 years old and all. We will choose not to be real sticklers about this detail, freedom fighters, as it's kind of irrelevant once T:SCC plays its fancy trump card and jumps its action to 2007. Still, one wonders what the point is in having Ellison, the FBI agent pursuing Sarah and John, make such a pointed reference to the time frame if he's just going to get it wrong. This is the sort of thing that keeps me up nights, wondering if I'm the crazy one. (I'm certain if that turns out to be the case, one of you will inform me of it in a gentle way come comment time.) I'm also trying not to think too much about what jumping John eight years into the future does to his career as leader of the resistance, since he's now eight years younger than he originally was when he led the resistance in 2029...but oh, my head hurts.

So it's 1999, Sarah and John are living in Nebraska, where John — now 15, further support for my ''it's been five years'' theory — feels safe because of the aforementioned ''no more Terminators'' situation, though Sarah is still having nightmares. Big, nuclear, Linda Hamilton-style nightmares. And hey, nice job finding a leading lady in Lena Headey, who shares the same initials. I don't know why I enjoy that so much, but it almost makes up for the fact that Headey is not only British but so twiggy that she looks incapable of opening a jar of pickles, let alone going all vigilante on poor Miles Dyson. PS: The late Miles Dyson is apparently no longer played by Joe Morton, not even by a picture of Joe Morton. I will also try not to let this fact bother me too much, because I think what happens once these little details pile up and start bothering me is I become the crazy lady ranting in front of the supermarket.

Right. We're in Nebraska. John is as happy as an emo teenager who spends his days drawing CPUs on his notebook can be. Sarah is having nightmares despite being engaged to a man named Charley Dixon, a.k.a. Cute Cute Dean Winters (as I will insist upon him being called). So Sarah decides they've got to leave town, stat, against her son's protestations. John thinks she's just scared of commitment, which, let's face it, she probably is. And fear of commitment is the terminator of happiness, freedom fighters, which we learn as soon as the Connors pick up and move to New Mexico. (The Connors are going by the last-name alias Reese, incidentally, which might as well be Connor, as anyone who's looking for these two is going to rightly assume it's a reference to Kyle Reese, Sarah's true love and John's father, who was killed waaaaay back in 1984.) It is once the Connor/Reeses move to New Mexico that all hell breaks loose: Cute Cute Dean Winters goes to the police about Sarah's disappearance, which alerts Agent Ellison to her whereabouts, which alerts a Terminator to her whereabouts, which starts all the running and gunning.

This point is also where my first massive problem with the series happens, and where we have to make our first choice: Do we let it bother us that, after the cast of T2 destroyed everything Terminator-related — Robert Patrick, the Governator (easier than spelling Schwarzenegger), the CPU from the original Terminator, the arm from the original Terminator, Miles Dyson's house, Cyberdyne, and about half the LAPD's vehicles — there are still Terminators and, apparently, still an apocalypse?

If you say yes, stop reading now, and find something else to do with your Monday nights.

Sadly, despite the fact that this bugs the ever-living crap out of me, I must press on, because it is my job. But really, don't be alarmed if my skepticism in this regard colors my whole series of TV Watches. There's a big part of me that just can't quite see any reason for this series to exist (outside of ''sometimes TV networks don't try very hard''), nor can I let the producers off the hook for not giving me a better explanation here in the pilot of why this Terminator nonsense is still going on. Sigh. Anyway.

We're in New Mexico. Here, now, there are two Terminators: the Bad Terminator, Cromartie, who poses as a substitute teacher, pulls a gun out of his leg, and shoots up John's chemistry class after taking attendance (in a sequence which Fox said it was going to reshoot after the Virginia Tech tragedy but which I didn't notice as being all that different from the version in the pilot, at least not on the DVDs Fox sent me to watch), and the Good Terminator, Cameron — nice touch on that name — a whippet of a thing enrolled in John's class who takes an interest in him, then shows up in the school parking lot after Cromartie has cornered John, hits Cromartie with her truck, and delivers that oh-so-famous line, ''Come with me if you want to live.''

NEXT: Should John make out with a robot?

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