Overthink It (Dot Com) With Me If You Want To Live!

[This post begins Terminator Week on Overthinking It. –Ed.] (Photoshopping courtesy of the lovely and talented Mr. Lee) To be honest, I didn’t start watching “Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles” with high hopes. Terminator 3 had its moments, but it … Continued

[This post begins Terminator Week on Overthinking It. –Ed.]


(Photoshopping courtesy of the lovely and talented Mr. Lee)

To be honest, I didn’t start watching “Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles” with high hopes. Terminator 3 had its moments, but it also had all the hallmarks of a franchise-killer, and TV spinoffs generally don’t inspire a lot of confidence. (With “Happy Days,” “Mash,” and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” the track record is actually better than you might think… still, I was expecting something closer to “Highlander: The Series”). Anyway, I’m glad that my girlfriend talked me into giving it a shot, because the show is really very good. Today I’m here to overthink the reasons why.

When I think of Terminator, I tend to associate it with Alien and Predator*: sci-fi/horror franchises with one-word titles, associated with Arnold Schwarzenegger and/or James Cameron. But actually, although Alien probably delivered the best movies, and Predator the worst, those franchises have a lot more in common with each other than with Terminator. This is probably why the idea of an Alien/Predator crossover still seems cool even though it totally failed in practice, but the idea of a crossover between Terminator and either of them – or indeed, anything at all – is idiotic. (Now that I look into it, there are comic book versions of Robocop vs. Terminator, Superman vs. Terminator, and Alien vs. Predator vs. Terminator. Which just goes to show, there’s no fictional world so compelling that copyright holders looking to cash-in won’t take a giant shit on it.)

At the end of the day, Predator and Alien are all about the destructive force of their monsters, and not at all about the world that the monsters are put in. In Terminator, on the other hand, the freakiness of the monsters isn’t so much that they’re destructive – although they are – but that they are unstoppable. (Consider how much time the terminators spend getting shot and shrugging it off, as opposed to actually, say, terminating.) This might seem like a trivial distinction, but it turns the T-808 into an expression of the film’s time travel premise: the future is out there, it’s coming, and nothing can stop it. Because of this organicism (ha ha), the Terminator universe is more central to the series than any particular robot. And this makes the franchise ripe for serialization. (Another way of looking at it: the motive of the Predators is trivial, the motive of the Xenomorphs nonexistant. The motive of the Terminators is rather complex, and absolutely central to our experience of the films.)

In a sense, the relative crapulence of Terminator 3 might have helped the show. Much as I like the Connor Chronicles, I don’t think any TV show would be able to stand up to the thrill ride provided by Terminator 2. Special effects have come a long way, this level of kickass is still hard to pull off. (By the way, how ridiculous is that music video? If you answered “very ridiculous, but in a good way,” you are correct.) The tone of the show is a lot more like the third movie, too: elegiac, thoughtful, and served with a dollop of self-knowing irony. (The show’s friendly terminator is named “Cameron,” and in the most recent episode rocked a motorcycle-cop helmet Robert Patrick style). The tone works, but I think if I hadn’t seen Rise of the Machines first, I’d have the same problems with Connor Chronicles that I do with T3.

Oh, the show still brings the action where appropriate, largely in the form of hot, hot, robot-on-robot fistfights. And it brings the horror. One of the more entertaining plot threads has involved a damaged terminator that is forcing plastic surgeons to build it a new flesh covering, kind of like a sci-fi version of The Mummy… it’s been suitably gory and creepy. But for the most part, the show focuses on the very confused and damaged people struggling blindly to prevent the apocalypse. And of course on sloooowly developing story arcs.

And that’s what worries me. Right now, The Sarah Connor Chronicles can afford to coast on novelty, eye candy, and tantalizing plot hooks, but eventually it will live or die by those story arcs. What they’ve offered so far is, like I said, tantalizing, especially the glimpses into the post-Judgement-Day future offered by guest star Brian Austin Green. (That future, such a key aspect of the franchise but so barely-touched-on by the films, provides the most exciting territory for the show to explore… and the the most dangerous opportunities for it to screw up and piss off the fanboys.) Unfortunately, they’re going to have to eventually follow up on it all, and while unpacking a complicated mythology. That’s always hard to do, as former Lost viewers know all too well. Still, what they’ve given us so far is great. The show doesn’t seem to be a monster hit, but it’s doing okay… and it richly deserves to be picked up for another season. I guess we’ll have to see what happens. After all, there is no fate.

p.s. My girlfriend now tells me that the Connor Chronicles is going to somehow tie in to the fourth Terminator movie, currently scheduled for 2009. Hopefully they’ll keep the show around for at least that long.

7 Comments on “Overthink It (Dot Com) With Me If You Want To Live!”

  1. Mark #

    While I agree that SC has some similarities in tone with T3, I would say that the differences outweigh the similarities:


    T3: “Judgment Day is inevitable” – The Terminator
    “Our destiny was never to stop Judgment Day. It was merely to survive it.” – John Connor, as the nuclear bombs fall around him at the end of T3

    SC: A constant struggle to fight Skynet and change the future. T3 essentially rejects the central tenant of the first 2 movies (“the future is not set; there is no fate but what we make”) and replaces it with this kind of sad fatalism.


    T2: JC is a punk kid, full of spunk and ingenuity, fully involved in the fight.
    T3: JC is sad, whiny, and generally pathetic.
    SC: JC is again a punk kid, full of spunk and fight. A welcome correction.


    T1: Alive, kicking, badass, and central to the story.
    T2: ditto.
    T3: Dead, virtually forgotten from the story.
    SC: Again, alive, kicking, badass, and the driving force in the story. Also a welcome correction.

    I would speculate that the writers of TTSCC took this series as an opportunity to correct the above deviations from the Terminator canon, and I would argue that they’ve done one helluva job.

    Enough commenting, time to watch the season finale!!!!


  2. Stokes #

    Those are good points, especially about the character of John Connor. Also, I’d like to be the first to point out that the “T-808” mentioned in my post does not exist. I had confused the T-101 (the Arnold robot) with the Roland TR808 (the synthesizer that provides the thunderous basslines to “Baby Got Back,” “Me So Horny,” and countless other classics of the booty-bass genre). Producers of Terminator 4, if you’re reading this, take note: the T-808 would fucking own.


  3. Drimmer #

    What a mighty beast could be created with the combination of the thunky TR808 and the deadly T-101. A bot that could make you dance your ass off, before dislocating your ass from your body.

    The producers of the show have indeed stated that the Chronicles are meant to be between T2 and T3 in the T-timeline. The hope remains that they will be an excuse to erase T3 from all existence and manage to restart/rewrite the series. Y’know, like Rocky Balboa negated Rocky V.


  4. Chops #

    Hopefully the beginning of the series was set between T2 and T3, and the jump from the bank vault re-arranged the timeline and has re-ordered the universe.

    The show has already stated that they jumped into 2007. Originally, Judgement Day was in 1997 (I think, correct me if I’m wrong) and supposedly the actions of Miles Dyson in T2 pushed it back to T3’s Judgement Day. So, after the bank vault in the show, they’re already somewhere AFTER T3’s Judgement Day, with no explaination for how it was avoided that time.

    Hopefully there will be some kick-ass Brian Austin Green flashbacks of him blowing stuff up and pushing Judgement Day into the show’s timeline.


  5. Mark #

    The season finale just dated the new Judgment Day as April 2011…and it also showed a young Kyle Reese on Judgment Day, which already distorts the events described in T1, in which Kyle says he has no recollection of the pre-Apocalyptic world.

    And speaking of the season finale, all I have to say is…

    DAMN THE STRIKE!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    The season was clearly not supposed to end that way. TOO MANY QUESTIONS, NOT ENOUGH ANSWERS!!!!

    Also, Drimmer, I agree: they should use this series as a way to erase T3 from the timeline.

    But the proposed T4 movie also raises an important question: have the keepers of the Terminator Franchise already agreed with weenie T3 John Conner in that they have accepted the inevitability of Judgment Day?


  6. Stokes #

    The nice thing about a time travel plot is that it’s really, really hard to make anything inevitable.
    Having a whole movie set in the future doesn’t guarantee that Judgement Day will “really” happen any more than the post-apocalyptic sequences in T1 and T2 do.


  7. Mark #

    See this thread on a message board as an example of why, in the case of time travel, it might be wise not to overthink it:


    Basically, posters try to pin down the dates of Judgment Day in the movies, then point out all the sequencing/timeline issues posed by the different dates.

    It becomes quickly obvious that such debates quickly devolve into pointless exercises that miss the larger points of the movies, i.e. the points that ARE worth overthinking, like man vs machine, destiny vs fate, the value of human life, etc.


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