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film criticism by maryann johanson | since 1997

‘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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