One of my big worries for Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles has been the tendency to dip too far into religious allegory. But last night's episode, "Brothers of Nablus?" Totally converted me. I'm now a zealot for the Bible stories in the Terminator universe, thanks to Cameron's Old-Testament bloodthirstiness and the show's little twist about New-Testament forgiveness not always being the best policy. Click through for spoilers and rehashing. Don't get me wrong — I love a good religious yarn. Piers Plowman? One of my favorite medieval books. Ostrander and Mandrake's Spectre series? Ruled. But when science fiction tries to do religious stuff, it often falls flat. You end up with cheesy space gods, or primitive people worshipping high technology. Ron Moore and friends have dabbled in religion, most notably in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Battlestar Galactica, and it's been a real mixed bag. Sometimes you get great examinations of the conflict between faith and doubt, sometimes cheesy prophecies that make no sense and wacky Gemenon fundamentalists. I just didn't trust Sarah Connor to do it in a non-sledgehammery way.
But I shouldn't have doubted. For one thing, as a million people have pointed out, it's not exactly a coincidence that John Connor's initials are J.C., and Sarah Connor practically has an immaculate conception. (I mean, Kyle Reese technically doesn't exist in 1984 when he fathers John.) For another, religious intrigue is just the sort of crazy twisty metaphysical shit Josh Friedman and the other writers of T:SCC seem to enjoy dipping into.
So in case you missed it, last night Garret Dillahunt's Terminator (aka Beastwizard) got way closer to finding the Connors, which is good because he's reaching his limits of credibility here. First he hooked up with the crazy girl who befriended Summer Glau in the halfway house during her last malfunction. Then he actually tracked down Busy Phillips (yay!) and even got inside the Connors' house. And he finally found a kid who had actually broken into the Connors' house, and started interrogating him. Meanwhile, Sarah Connor and Summer spent the entire episode chasing down those break-in kids, John Connor's new girlfriend proved her mettle in staring down Beastwizard, and James Ellison met his Terminator double, and then got accused of a murder his doppelganger committed. Whew.
So... more about the awesome religious themes. As I mentioned above, it was really nice to see the clash between Summer Glau's Old-Testament kill-them-while-they're-suffering-circumcision-pain attitude, and Sarah's New Testament forgiveness. And then of course Summer turns out to be totally right, because the guy that Sarah allows to live then rats them out to the bad Terminator. Meanwhile James Ellison is being tested... just like Job. (Although maybe he should worry when his evil boss starts to encourage him to think of himself as a BIblical figure. Is she trying to get him to worship Skynet? It sure sounds like it, when she asks who spared him.)
Pretty much every character was clicking this time around, despite — or maybe because of — an overload of conflicts and storylines. Even Riley, John Connor's new girlfriend (Leven Rambin) totally redeemed herself in her confrontation with the Beastwizard. Brian Austin Green didn't get much screen time, but he shone like those stolen diamonds in every scene, including when he finally loses it and yells at Sarah. Awesome. Random thought: Was anybody else thrown for a loop when Beastwizard referred to himself as having a disagreement with Skynet? We've seen Terminators having their own missions, and therefore agendas, before. But second-guessing Skynet? That's new. The one sour note was the argument between John and Sarah at the end, which felt like the same argument I'd heard ten times before. And for some reason, with everything else that's happened, I just don't buy that John still feels so freaked out by killing that Russian gangsta dude. I think maybe because the show didn't mention Russian gangsta for like five episodes, and then suddenly his death was a big deal again. Plus how exactly was Sarah supposed to protect John from that? Protecting him from killer robots is really enough of a chore without adding "protecting him from every other life trauma" to the list. Not to mention that John begged her, in the show's pilot to stop Skynet. So any Russian gangsta-related trauma that he endures as a result of that decision is on him, not on her. Luckily, it was a super-brief scene, and maybe that was meant to move that storyline forward, so we won't hear that exact same argument again.
Another thing I liked about last night's episode: it was pretty fast-paced. A lesser show would have said "Hey, this pairing of Garret Dillahunt's Terminator with the crazy girl from the halfway house is pretty cool. Let's keep them together as a sort of wacky good-cop-bad-cop duo for the rest of the episode! Or even a couple of episodes!" Instead, we got just enough of the two of them interacting to be entertaining — and then boom, she's out of the car. Perfect. So to sum up... one of the show's best episodes ever, and another sign that this is growing to be that rare show that actually transcends the franchise it comes from. (The aforementioned Deep Space Nine is another example.) Too bad it once again showed some ratings attrition. All the nerds who normally watch Chuck decided to watch Big Bang Theory. Proving, in the end, that there really is no God.