John Connor radiates brooding loner, and that makes him a magnet for the crazy chick who talks about apples and carrots. It's so rare that you get to see a relationship turn dysfunctional in its first five seconds, but somehow last night's Sarah Connor Chronicles pulled it off. Everything that rules about the Terminator show still ruled last night, including Cameron, Derek and Sarah going ballistic in a nuclear plant. But the all-new John Connor, and his crazy new girlfriend? Not quite clicking for me, sadly. Last night's episode felt, in many ways, like a season opener, because last week's episode mostly spent time wrapping up all the loose ends from season one. So this week, we introduced Riley, the new love interest for John, and Busy Philips as the pregnant landlord next door. Busy seemed fine, for what little we saw of her, but Riley? Eep. To be fair, I didn't like Brian Austin Green as Derek Reese when he first popped up, and he's since become my favorite character on the show. So it's entirely possible Riley will go the same way. I don't actually think there's anything wrong with the actor, just the weird way she was being written.
I may actually be the only person who liked last year's high school subplot, especially the weird Heathers riff with the girl who killed herself and the gothy boy who asked Summer Glau to the prom. I even kind of liked the weird girl who insisted she wasn't from Nebraska. I've made peace with the idea that we'll never get any closure on any of those storylines - I'm okay with it, really - but so far, Riley the freak girl is not a good substitute. On reflection, I think the biggest problem with Riley's introduction last night was that it felt a bit sledge-hammery and sudden. John goes to school, and instantly meets this cute girl who's all over him. And then after blowing her off (and buying her lunch) he randomly invites her home. And then the next thing you know, she's sleeping on his floor and making him a scary robot guy as a present. It felt like the writers were going for "cute and quirky," but overshot and hit "cry for help." Actually, these developments would have been fine over the course of a few episodes, but it felt like they were in a hurry to get a new supporting cast into place, so they zoomed forward at top speed. Or maybe we're supposed to think John is such a magnetic proto-leader, he attracts people like Riley to his side effortlessly? Or maybe the point of Riley is that maybe being a bit of a froot loop is the best preparation for operating within John's crazy world - maybe it's like Doris Lessing claimed in her Martha Quest novels, and the crazy people are the only ones who can see what's really going on. Maybe she'll turn out to be a Sylvia Plath-esque visionary whose madness can cast a searing lens onto the dysfunction in the Connor-verse. But I think I may be reaching here.
But while the John storyline continued to do the opposite of ruling (it vassaled?), the episode helpfully segregated all of the coolest characters off into their own plot. Including Summer Glau's Cameron being a pool shark in a leopard print top, Sarah Connor seducing yet another nerd-boy with her rough-hewn charms, and Derek just plain kicking some ass. The whole nuclear plant storyline was just full-on awesome, and it was a nice touch to tie it in with Sarah's cancer fears. And I loved the funny nuclear power plant instructional video. All in all, an amazing "A" plot, as usual. Too bad the show's ratings are continuing to soften a bit, falling off from last week's already-low premiere.