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part of a small rebellion | by maryann johanson

‘Sarah Connor Chronicles’ blogging: “The Turk”

(previous: “Pilot”/“Gnothi Seauton”)

I think I officially fell in love with Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles with this episode, “The Turk.” First, a quick plot recap (a more complete one is available at Fox’s official site for the show), and then I’ll tell you why I’m loving this.

Sarah, John, and their nice-Terminator bodyguard Cameron are settling into their new home. John and Cameron set off for their first day at school, where John and Cameron remind each other not to be a freak and to fit in without anyone noticing them. Sarah visits the widow of Cyberdyne nerd Miles Dyson, and gets a lead on a potential former Cyberdyne intern who may be working — unknowingly or not — on something that could lead to Skynet and murderous AIs. The FBI agent is slowly catching up to Sarah and Co., though he doesn’t realize it yet. And Cromartie, the bad Terminator who had been reduced to his metal skeleton, gets a new fleshy overcoat. Oh, and it appears that a group of humans from the future, which definitely consists of prisoners from a Skynet work camp, may actually be working for the machines and hunting John, and not as a support team out to assist him.
This is such a well-written episode in lots of ways, with flashbacks and dreams and half-overheard conversations filling in details and amplifying themes: no one is hitting us over the head with some deep stuff, matters of literal life and death. I think maybe the writers are teasing us a little, dangling opportunities for obviousness and cheap sentimentality in front of us and then sneakily taking things in another direction — the show isn’t merely avoiding clichés, it’s daring us to think it won’t, and then scolding us, in a friendly kind of way, when it defies our expectations. The subplot with the blond girl in the new school who commits suicide is unexplained and unresolved — we get the gist of it, but not all the details. We don’t need them anyway, but a poorly written version of this episode might have had Cameron turning into Star Trek’s Data, the robot who wants to be human, or at least wants to understand human motivations, and saving the girl from herself. I suspect now, after this episode, that that kind of character arc for Cameron — which I was afraid we’d be in for — is not going to happen.

And then there’s this: Sarah’s very calculated decision to kill Andy, the guy who’s built the chess-playing AI with mood swings, contrasts with the casual cruelty of the kid taunting the blond girl to jump, and also with John’s frustration over not being able to stop the girl from committing suicide. The whole series, if it continues to be so well written, is going to be about, in its subtext, the morality of killing, but here’s an encapsulation of one aspect of it in a nutshell: Is it okay to kill one person in cold blood for the sake of the entire human race? Is it okay to let someone die by their own hand for the sake of the entire human race? And is the human race even worth saving when so many of us are so casually cruel to our fellows anyway? Maybe we need the machines and their unemotional “hatred” of us to make us appreciate one another?

Random thoughts on “The Turk”:

• I’m seeing little hints of River — Summer Glau’s brain-scrambled character from Firefly — in Cameron: in her unexpected, deadpan humor, in her having to pretend not to be a freak

• Is this the first mention in a mainstream television show or movie of the decades-old idea of the Singularity? Of course, the Terminator movies are all about what might happen after the Singularity, but the movies never actually used that term (I don’t think).

• Geeks are dangerous? Geeks are dangerous.

Lesson for the week: Don’t complain about not being recognized for being on the cutting edge, or else a killer cyborg from the future will be the one to recognize you.

(next: “Heavy Metal”)

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  • Yes, but then the whole cell phone thing happened and I kinda lost my rag. I mean, seriously, she buys a phone and it rings a minute later cuz she’s got a call??


  • Brian

    I want to like this show, but I hate, hate, hate that right at the beginning of the second episode, they break one of the major tenets of the first, second, and third movies, and it’s even mentioned in the pilot. You can’t send machines through time. So the good guys clothes and weapons disappear, but a robot head comes flying through just fine?!?! It’s one thing to fudge a little when you get written into a corner, but to start off the series like that because you can’t think of any other way to add in a good suspense element is just lame.

  • Ryan H

    Well, to be fair, the whole “No clothes/items” was always more of a plot device than a logical part of the world. After all, the Terminators are all technically just things. And that particular Terminator had already been though one time portal in order to get to the past. Why should being in two pieces make the difference? It’s one of those things where it works great in a 2 hour movie, but causes a little hiccup in a TV series where it is harder not to explore the implications.

  • MaryAnn

    I’m willing to fudge a little on the tech stuff if the overall story benefits — there are major differences between the needs of a two-hour movie and those of a (potentially) endless series.

    And why couldn’t her cell phone ring just after she gets it? Presumably the salesman guy set up her activation and knew the numbers of the phones, right?

  • Donna

    I don’t think the head comes through the time machine. It is “found” in the rubble and turned into a coffee table tchochke in some junk guy’s trailer. I saw that segment as being a very poorly plotted “coincidence” that the parts are all able to fire up independently and then find their way back “home”. A little too much. Heavens! There are enough of these Terminators wandering around that we don’t NEED that one growing skin or anything. Just download his info into another model! :-) I think it would have been better to show the parts being found at different times in the decade between the explosion and the guys all popping into the “present”.

  • Cromartie’s (the Terminator who attacks John in the pilot) head definitely came through the time portal into 2007. A road cleanup guy found it and took it home. Obviously, the head was broadcasting some sort of signal which woke up Cromartie’s body, which was in some sort of junk heap, and the body came to get it.

    THAT right there, the idea that a Terminator’s body is capable of getting around on its own (how does it see? is there a backup CPU in the chest or something?), is what bugs me the most. The “not encased in flesh” restriction seems to have been randomly ignored, and that also bugs me.

    I’m going to keep watching this show, because it’s entertaining and I like Summer Glau and Lena Headey. But we have reached the point where the writers are obviously willing to disregard any previously-established rules (or timelines) if it helps them create the story they want to create.

    Hey, if it turns out messily, we can always just ignore this show as not canon.

  • Ryan H

    That’s right. We are science fiction fans. We are perfectly capable of ignoring anything and everything as non canon.

  • MaryAnn

    *Stargate SG-1* ignored a lot of ground that had been laid by the movie that preceded it, and it turned out to be one of the best SF series ever made.

    Ditto *Alien Nation.*

    And *Starman.*

    Just sayin’.

  • I don’t know that SG-1 ignored too much of what the movie had established.

    Yes, it’s true that Ra (from the movie) was portrayed as a distinctly non-Goa’uld alien, more of a LGM than a parasitic organism that controlled human hosts. Beyond that, the only major thing I can think of is that as the TV series progressed, they learned more and more that Earth was nowhere near as primordial as they thought: All sorts of alien races (Ancients, Goa’uld, Asgard, etc.) had been here in the past and influenced us in ways that mostly showed up in legend, before we started finding actual artifacts.

    One of the biggest issues I had with the original Stargate movie was the coordinate system used by the Stargate: 6 points to establish a destination and only one to establish an origin. There are far too many potential Stargate locations in the galaxy, and too few constellations listed on the gate, to allow a description of all possible destinations; a Stargate on the other side of the galaxy would not have stars beyond it sufficient to use the 6-point system described. (Not to mention, right after they establish the 6-point system, they then show the MALP’s signal going to another galaxy as it passes through the ‘Gate. That’s not supposed to be possible until Stargate: Atlantis.)

  • MaryAnn

    Well, the movie pretty much established the gate as a one-off thing, and humans being removed to another planet as a one-off event. The show negated that. And it also got rid of the whole “it’s freezing when you go through the gate” thing.

    But it doesn’t matter. Because the show made up some new rules. As long as *Sarah Connor* sticks to its own rules, I’ll be okay.

    On the other hand, *Star Trek* was constantly pulling deus ex machina bullshit out of its ass, too, and it still rocked.

  • lanchid

    But Sarah didn’t kill Andy, she just burned down his house (presumably with Moody AI inside).

    I am amused (and I don’t think the writers intended me to be amused) that after the crap that Sarah has gone through trying to kill Terminators she thinks a little house fire is going to stop, much less slow down, an AI that spawned Skynet.

  • Brian

    It’s the “own rules” thing that’s gets me about TSCC. In the pilot, in the bank vault, Cameron repeated that no machines can come through the time machine. Then the next episode, flying terminator head with no flesh surrounding it. That kind of thing makes me distrust the writers.

  • boz

    my favourite moment was when john questioned his mother about the turk. also it was a disturbing one.
    they time travelled from 1999 to 2007. in episode 2 we saw a john connor, a guy incapable of cleaning internet explorer history. 8 years behind of computer evolution. and yet he interrogated his mother about a supercomputer’s specifics.

  • MaryAnn

    Sarah setting the house fire wasn’t about stopping the AI, but about stopping Andy. (The AI wasn’t yet a danger, only potentially so.) I find it ironic, too, particularly after her voiceover about the order to shoot the A-bomb scientist in the head, that she didn’t kill Andy, because of course all the stuff necessary to remake that AI is still in his head.

    I suspect the show may end up being rather fatalistic, as the entire franchise has been so far: There may be no way to stop Skynet for good. It may be humanity’s unavoidable destiny, in the show’s philosophy, to be subjugated by its own creations.

  • MaryAnn

    in episode 2 we saw a john connor, a guy incapable of cleaning internet explorer history. 8 years behind of computer evolution. and yet he interrogated his mother about a supercomputer’s specifics.

    It’s not that John was incapable of cleaning a browser’s history, it’s that he didn’t know he should be doing it: the idea of being under surveillance by *everyone* is, even for John, one far more 2007 than 1999.

    And I bet supercomputers have changed relatively little in the same time that home computers have changed a lot.

    Then the next episode, flying terminator head with no flesh surrounding it.

    If the head did indeed come through the time vortex or whatever, that would indeed be a problem. I thought, as Donna did above, that the bits of it were merely separated (while remaining in the same time) and that the finding of the head was the impetus for its reactivation, which then reactivated the body.

  • The beginning of the second episode clearly shows Cromartie’s head fly through the time vortex and land at the side of the road in 2007.

    In case anyone is wondering, the reason for the whole “is it alive?” question is that Kyle Reese tells Sarah Connor in the original movie that only living things can come through a time vortex:

    Reese: You go naked. Something about the field generated by a living organism. Nothing dead will go.

    This, of course, begs the question of how the T-1000 and T-X Terminators managed to come through in the second and third movies, since clearly they were not covered in skin like the Arnolds and the Cameron are. In retrospect, perhaps that rule should not have been created in the first place… but then Arnold would have been able to bring back a weapon from the future in the first movie, and Sarah would likely have ended up dead.

  • MaryAnn

    There’s the reason, the storytelling reason, right there: to prevent weapons and other tools from the future from coming back.

    This could be a problem, though…

  • Well, a simple solution to that is to make the field requirement not one of organic life, but of sentience. Suppose Reese had said:

    You can’t bring anything back except yourself. Something about the field generated by intelligence. Nothing stupid will go.

    Then we wouldn’t have anything to discuss, though, yeah? ;-)

  • boz

    First terminator came in 1984, judgement day occurs at 1997. this means John Connor was more or less ready to lead humanity against machines when he is 13 years old. This John Connor is 15 years old and either he completely lacks leadership skills or he’s a master of disguise hiding as an angst ridden high school kid with parental issues.

    I want this show to succeed but writing level is awful.

  • MaryAnn

    It doesn’t mean John is ready to lead humanity at 13! How do you figure that? He becomes the leader of the resistance later, when he’s an adult.

  • matty j

    Did they have like, good writers lined up for this show who went on strike and they just hired some inexperienced people to finish writing episodes to get them out on time? I like the show, I’ll watch the show, I don’t like seeing people loose their jobs but come on, they could do better, Terminator is sacred territory as far as I’m concerned.

  • boz

    when t2 was happening (1993), he knew location of weapon stashes, he can use several weapons (in t2 special edition he tells that) we can see him hacking an atm with a magnetic card and laptop. he knew about cyborgs, he knew about skynet. god knows what else sarah connor taught him. when he was 9 or 10!! i was playing hide and seek when i was 10. is it too much to expect him be a little more mature?

  • Terminator 2 actually came out in 1991, although the year in that movie was presumably 1997 (John Connor having been born in 1984 and appearing about 13 in the movie).

    IMDb is your friend. :-)

  • MaryAnn

    SCC is not a scab show. It is not using non union writers.

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