Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles (2008) / Action-Sci Fi
Season 1: Episode 1: Pilot

Cast: Lena Headey, Thomas Dekker, Summer Glau, Richard T. Jones
Director: David Nutter

Screenplay: Josh Friedman

1.1 - "Pilot"

The pilot show of the series "Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles" gives us a Sarah Connor (Headey, 300) on the verge of marriage, accepting a proposal from a man she has met and moving on with life as best she can.  She now lives under the name Sarah Reese (adopting the name of John's biological father and future soldier), but must give up any pretense of living a normal life when she is dogged by two competing factors -- the return of a Terminator machine and a tenacious FBI agent (Jones, Twisted)  seeking to take her into custody for her past misdeeds.  Their escape lands them in New Mexico, where John goes to school and meets Cameron (an homage to Terminator creator James Cameron, perhaps?).  His substitute teacher ends up being the Terminator, and Cameron (Glau, Serenity) is revealed to be his protector sent back from the future. 

The pilot episode is directed by TV vet David Nutter, who has directed several notable pilots in the past, most notably for the genre shows like "Dark Angel", "Roswell", "Supernatural", "Smallville" and "Millennium".  While one probably shouldn't expect Nutter to come close to touching the excitement and intrigue of Terminator creator James Cameron, his job here is adequate enough for television, delivering action and bits of drama to tie into a debut story that is neither all that good nor all that bad.  Josh Friedman, who penned the scripts for a couple of theatrical releases, Spielberg's War of the Worlds and De Palma's The Black Dahlia, doesn't really offer any new insights into the characters, but does keep them relatively consistent with what we saw in T2, with the exception of their appearance, despite the different actors involved.

The production is glossy and flashy, without a great deal of depth, and one suspects that a grasp on continuity is going to be as maddening as its explanations on time travel.  Why is it that no matter what Sarah and John do in the present affect the future, which seems to always be that dystopic, post-apocalyptic one where cyborgs and computers reign supreme?  Factual details boggle the mind: a computer screen flashes Sarah's age as 33.  If John is 15, that means that Linda Hamilton's portrayal of Sarah in The Terminator would have to have been a 17 or 18-year-old, which just isn't possible (for instance, she is shown as getting into a nightclub that would have required someone who was at least 21 years of age). 

Headey delivers the grit of Hamilton, but not much of the emotion, and I suppose one could make the case that at this point in her life, Connor was pretty much inured to just about anything.  Dekker is fine as John, though a tad flavorless.  Glau provides a good balance of eye candy and physical abilities that lend well to her role as Terminator, not much different than how she played River Tam on "Firefly" and Serenity, but she does show much more personality than any other type of Terminator we've seen thus far.  The "bad" Terminator is never given much personality, and given what happens in the episode, and that the show is more about Sarah and John, I doubt we should expect to be shown Arnold Schwarzenegger-caliber depth.

As this is an introductory episode, it's hard to be kind or harsh since most of it is just set-up.  Nevertheless, it feels poised to be little more than a standard fugitive series with a time travel gimmick.  It intrigues just enough to warrant another episode to see where it leads, but anyone looking for the thrills and chills of the blockbuster theatrical releases should greatly temper all expectations. 

-- Followed by "Gnothi Seauton"

Qwipster's episode rating:

2008 Vince Leo