Watching last night's episode of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, I couldn't help wondering why this show hasn't become the new Lost, with a cult following and 12 million viewers. The Terminator show deserves it: last night's episode wasn't the best of the season, by a long chalk, but it was thrilling and disturbing, and it raised questions I was thinking about all day today. Oh, and there are spoilers. In last night's episode, there were three main plot strands. The two minor ones: the body of the dead Terminator has gone missing and John Connor and his pet Terminator are searching for it, and Sarah Connor is having crazy dreams. And then the major one: Jesse (BSG's Stephanie Jacobsen) has found Charlie Fisher, the guy who collaborated with the machines and tortured people in the future. The two minor plotlines were so-so — the best part about them was the business with the turtles. Sarah faces the Blade Runner test — she sees a turtle on its back — and she passes with flying colors. Summer doesn't quite understand why you'd bother, and thus she beats the crap out of former FBI Agent Ellison. Meanwhile, Sarah is having weird surreal dreams about turtles and motherhood and wearing a weird prairie dress, and she has an unhelpful session with Skynet's therapist.
But the major plotline was pure win, as you can see from that clip above. Jesse needs to prove to Derek that she's really captured a Skynet collaborator from the future, and hasn't just kidnapped some random innocent guy. So she finds the present-day Charlie Fisher, a young, callow guy who used to be Warren on Buffy. The scene where the old Charlie tells the young Charlie he has no clue who he is utterly rules.
And then the final twist opens a whole can of worms that adds whole layers to every part of the show: In Jesse's version of the future, Derek was tortured and broken down mercilessly by Charlie. But Derek doesn't remember these events, because he comes from a different version of the future. The only possible explanation: Derek has changed the future since he came back in time, but not necessarily for the better. Between the time Derek traveled back and the time Jesse came back to join him, he's changed things enough that Skynet's empire of torture has gotten big and powerful enough to ensnare Derek. Both Charlie and Jesse "remember" this same future, because they both came back more recently than Derek.
What's the change that Derek made, that led to him later being captured and tortured? Was it the nuclear power plant he inadvertantly handed over to Skynet? Or something else? This kind of multi-layered playing with the timeline reminds me of Lost at its best, especially episodes like "The Constant." The characters are becoming rich enough, the mythology dense enough, to justify the kind of mass devotion that Lost inspires too. So why is the Terminator show still struggling with around 5.3 million viewers, below even Chuck? Off the top of my head, a few ideas, with particular reference to last night's episode. 1) People think they know what it's about, because it's based on a movie franchise. There are plenty of mysteries, but we know how it ends: Judgment Day.
2) Not enough alpha males. Look at last night's episode: three storylines, each featuring a strong woman waving a gun. (Even the feverish Sarah brandished a gun a few times.) In all three storylines, a male character is trying to restrain or understand the woman. By contrast, Lost is chock full 'o' alpha males, who come into conflict with each other. 3) No shippers. There's nobody to ship on this show. Last night's episode didn't even include John's love interest Riley (yay), and Jesse and Derek are an established couple. (With trouble on the horizon, I'm betting.) There are no love triangles, no frustrated lovers. I would like to see a Sarah-Charley Dixon-Agent Ellison triangle, but it's apparently not happening.
4) It's too science fictional. Lost producers Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof said in a recent interview that their show had been disguised as a regular drama, and then sneaked in scifi ideas over time. Terminator couldn't do that. And last night's episode used time travel in a very different way than "The Constant." Both episodes were great, but "The Constant" was more emotional and relatable, less bleak and tied up with the theory of time travel. 5) It doesn't have as many compelling minor characters. Last night's episode basically featured our leads, plus the two Charlie Fishers and the shrink who doesn't want to be called a shrink. I doubt we'll be seeing Charlie Fisher again, but I do hope we get more insight into the shrink, who's a promising character. Weirdly, for such an epic show, it's much smaller and more intimate than Lost, which has a huge cast. That's what I can think of off the top of my head. I might do a larger post on that topic at some point, although I'm sure it's a bit of an apples/oranges comparison. In any case, the main thing Lost and T:SCC have in common is that they've both grown on me a lot lately. I liked Sarah Connor's first season, and it had a few really strong episodes, but it's taken off in its second season. Too bad the ratings haven't followed. Minor observations: Did Joss Whedon direct this episode? There was a big moment revolving around Summer Glau's feet.
Also, Cameron likes crappy pop music. This episode made me crave bad food court Chinese food. And cheeseburgers. Brian Austin Green, still most valuable player. Who photoshopped that weird picture of Sarah and a dog?
Did older Charles Fisher cause younger Charles Fisher to get sent to prison? I don't really like that kind of circular time-travel logic, but I'll give it a pass. What did you guys think?