We were lucky enough to get a review copy of tomorrow night's new episode of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles. It's the best episode of the season, and probably the best episode period. The characters are all clicking, even John Connor, whom we've had some issues with recently. It's an easy jumping-on point for new viewers. And most importantly, it's way more closely connected to Terminator mythos, and feels like a real sequel to the first two movies. Here are eight reasons why you should say "fuck Chuck" and watch Sarah Connor tomorrow night — with no real spoilers, unless you've missed some recent episodes. 1. It's a wartime drama about the homefront. Watching tomorrow's episode, I felt way more clearly that Sarah Connor Chronicles is all about being on the homefront during a brutal and horrendous war. It's like our worst fantasy of our current wars gone wrong, because terrorists (Terminators) are striking on our soil all the time. The war against Skynet is in the future, instead of overseas, but it's still sort of the same thing. Sometimes you can kid yourself that the war isn't real because it's not right in front of you — until, suddenly, it is.
We have Derek (Brian Austin Green) who's a veteran of the war in the future, to remind us that the war never really stops. I can't believe I ever mocked BAG, who's now the show's most valuable player. Tomorrow night's episode focuses really heavily on him, and he gives an amazing performance. The post-traumatic stress, the combat flashbacks, the inability to stop thinking like a soldier for a minute, the graveyard humor, and the single-minded willingness to die for John Connor... it's all there, and BAG sells it amazingly. He gets some fantastic moments, and almost steals the episode. He says the last jarring line of the episode, and it stuck in my head afterwards. 2. It's very connected to the Terminator mythos.
Without giving away the whole plot of tomorrow night's episode, it feels very much like a classic Terminator storyline. There's a cyborg from the future, who comes back in time to kill someone. It's not complicated or fancy, but it works. I can understand why the show doesn't do too many episodes in that mold, because it would turn into a robot-of-the-week show. But it's good to do it every now and then, and it really works this time around. And there are little nods to the movies that will warm the heart of anyone who views James Cameron's work as the real Terminator saga. This episode would have been a good season opener, and it's definitely newbie friendly, except for a few links to past episodes.
3. Sarah Connor gets to kick ass AND open up. The big theme with Sarah Connor's character this season seems to be her getting in touch with her charred, barbed-wire-covered heart. Last week, she spent pretty much the whole episode looking after the very pregnant Busy Phillips in the hospital. And this week, she gets to play nursemaid again — but luckily it's a role that lets her do a bit more of the shooty-punchy stuff that we need from her. She also thinks more about what it means to be a mother, and gets some great scenes from one of the episode's main guest stars, who tells her she's a crappy mom. Her emotional journey in this episode is the sort of thing that could easily have annoyed me or turned me off, but it works this time around.
4. They found a better use for John Connor. Without giving too much away, John Connor gets a real mission, other than staying alive, in this episode. And he's a lot more fun to watch when he's got something to do. He turns out to have actual skillz — he's even memorized a handy acronym to help him take care of his weapon — and he's got people skillz too. You almost start to believe this guy will be the Leader of the Free World. And Thomas Dekker acts his heart out towards the end of the episode, getting this haunted look on his face while he listens to Brian Austin Green's final speech. He doesn't say anything, but he doesn't have to.
And on a related note... 5. No Riley the "cat fancy" girl. Okay, that's a slight spoiler. But unless I blinked and missed it, there was no sign of Leven Ramblin's unfortunate new character of John's quirky girlfriend. Hopefully she's taking a bit of a break, or else by the next time we see her they'll have given her a bit of a rethink? I actually think part of the problem is the wacky "Riley doesn't know about Terminators" plotline, which means John has to keep ditching her and making lame excuses whenever a robot shows up to kill him. It's not even played for laughs, and it's barely a good sitcom plot. The sooner Riley learns the truth, the better her character will be. 6. Summer Glau is Seven Of Nine. Here's my new theory about Terminators: they're either Cylons or they're Borg. Obviously, neither label exactly fits, but that's the way they're portrayed most of the time. In tomorrow night's episode, Summer Glau is playing a Borg, and it's great. She seems just a little bit autistic, picking up on weird human stuff but not quite understanding the significance of it. She gets, by far, the funniest line of the show, and one of the creepiest moments too, plus some neat robot-fighting.
7. The Shirley Manson stuff is improving a lot. It's not a spoiler to say that Shirley "Garbage" Manson's character, Catherine Weaver, has teamed up with FBI Agent Ellison (Richard Jones). (At least, not unless you've missed all the recent episodes.) I think Jones is raising Manson's acting game quite a bit, because he does "calm and steady, but with a million emotions roiling beneath the surface" really well. And it gives her slightly sing-song delivery something to bounce off of. When I talked to her in a conference call, she mentioned he was giving her a lot of good feedback.
In any case, it becomes even clearer in tomorrow night's episode that Ellison doesn't entirely trust Weaver, even as he's doing her work for her. And she's clearly playing him, using his thirst for anti-Terminator vengeance to further her Terminatory agenda. (This isn't a spoiler, since it's something that's been shown in previous episodes too.) You get to see Ellison being good at his job, and Weaver gets to be naughty and deadly, using her powers of seduction and liquid-metal Terminatoriness to the fullest. And last, but maybe not least... 8. It doesn't have so many commercials. Sort of a minor point, but it's nice. This is the episode that is airing with limited commercial interruptions thanks to a sponsorship deal with Dodge. (And you will notice that everybody in the episode drives nice shiny new Dodge vehicles, despite being ragtag resistance fighters on the run from killer robots. Luckily, it's not as blatant as the Degree thing in Eureka was. Nobody actually says, "We can still stop Skynet, if only we can be Ram Tough!") Meanwhile, I can tell you exactly what's going to happen on Chuck tomorrow night. Are you ready? Here it is: Chuck will see a guy and realize he's actually a spy. And that guy is also somehow connected to a member of Chuck's supporting cast, so Chuck will feel conflicted. Also, Chuck will have romantic tension with Sarah, and possibly one other woman as well. Finally, the nerds at the Buy-More will be wacky losers. In the end, everything will work out all right.