It's Always about the Terminator

by Kathryn Smith

(warning -- this post contains spoilers for The Sarah Connor Chronicles and Terminator Salvation)

Okay, so I have a confession to make.

I haven't seen the original Terminator movie in its entirety. I want to, and I've tried to see it on several occasions, but fate conspired against me. I have seen the sequels, however, including the brand new Terminator Salvation (but more on that later). I've even experienced T2:3D at Universal Studios. But I have to say that of the entire franchise, my favorite has been The Sarah Connor Chronicles, which has now been cancelled by Fox (as has been the fate of almost every Fox show I've ever enjoyed. Firefly, anyone?)

Now that TSCC is no more, I've been trying to figure out what it was about the show that I enjoyed so much. Maybe it was Lena Headley, who was fabulous as both a scared mom and kickass cyborg slayer. Maybe it was Thomas Dekker, who made John Connor a scared kid chafing at the bit to be the man everyone tells him he'll become. It could have been Shirley Manson or Brian Austin Greene, but my husband would say that it was Summer Glau and her ability to combine curiosity with a lack of human emotion, who made the show as enjoyable as it was. I think it was a combination of great casting and good writing that made TSCC one of my favorite shows. I'm really disappointed that it's gone.

So why didn't it work?

I have a theory, and please, feel free to argue it. The first Terminator movie had the cyborg as the villain and put very human opponents up against it. Of course, we all love a movie where humans triumph over seemingly insurmountable evil, right? Well, then they changed things. In T2, the original T-800 was sent back to protect John Connor, starting something that I think has become the cornerstone of the franchise.

It's all about the Terminator.

In T2 it was the Terminator who was the hero of the story, not John Connor. Part of the reason I believe T3 was such a disappointment as a film was because it dealt far too much with John Connor but failed to deliver. If you take away Sarah Connor, you had better give us a John Connor who has come into his own as a hero. T3 didn't do that. And to be honest, I didn't care if John Connor made it to the end or not. And what an ending! Total disappointment.

The Sarah Connor Chronicles gave us all the things we loved about the movies -- deadly cyborgs, Sarah Connor madly trying to protect her kid. It even gave us Kyle Reese. More importantly it gave us a fabulous Terminator as John's protector. What it never got a chance to do was fully deliver. It spent too much time making us wonder if Cameron (the Terminator) could be trusted. What the writers should have done was spend more time developing the relationship between Cameron and John, deepening his dependency and growing emotion for the machine. And the writers should have decided once and for all if they were going to make Cameron capable of emotion. Because, that would have made her noble sacrifice at the end of season 2 truly heroic. And it might have saved the show. Human connection. That was all it needed. It needed to be more about Cameron evolving. We needed to be invested in her survival, not just in John's.

Which brings me to the newest Terminator installment: Salvation. Not only did the movie give us a John Connor worthy of his upbringing (played by the rantingly delicious Christian Bale), but it also gave us a wonderful surprise. This guy:

Marcus Wright, played by Sam Worthington.

At first I was surprised how little screen time John Connor actually had. See, Salvation isn't about saving John Connor. It's about saving teen-age Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin) which I thought was a refreshing twist on the story. And like T2, the young man has an unlikely hero looking out for him. Marcus Wright is a convicted killer who was sentenced to lethal injection in 2003. What's he doing in 2018? Well, I can't give away THAT much of the plot. :-)

Anyway, Worthington steals every scene he's in, and the scenes where he shares screen time with Christian Bale are some of the best in the movie. And just in case you're interested, yes there is a noble sacrifice. It ties in nicely with the mythology and makes me think that when John Connor sends his Terminator (and just how did they make the one in Salvation look like The Govenator?) back to protect his teenage self that it will be with Marcus Wright in mind.

All in all, the movie was enjoyable, and a somewhat bittersweet experience given the recent cancellation of The Sarah Connor Chronicles. I keep hoping that maybe Salvation will breathe new life into the franchise and maybe, just maybe we'll get a new Terminator TV show with the cast of TSCC. A show that takes advantage of its fabulous Terminator and really explores the character. A show that gives John Connor a chance to grow up. Know what I'd call it?


Hmm, anyone know any network execs?


  1. I totally agree with you about The Sarah Connor Chronicles. I watched the first season and actually really enjoyed it, but the second season really dragged for me. The writers made some very intriguing overtures about John Connor falling in love with Cameron (which would have been totally awesome), but never developed that story line. I still can't understand why, since that would have made the show, I don't know... interesting. :P Anyway, it's too late now.

  2. OMG! I 100% agree with you. I absolutely love the Terminator franchise and The Sarah Connor Chronicles was awesome. I am bummed out big time that it got cancelled. I am dying to see the new Terminator film. Great post!

  3. Terrific article Kathryn! I also think that sometimes shows like Firefly and Terminator would probably do better in syndication like Battlestar Galactica or any of the Star Trek franchises or on a specialty network like Spike or FX where they could find a good home and a loyal following and wouldn't have the unbelievable pressure of coming up with American Idol-like ratings in order to exist on one of the big 4 networks. Such is the case with niche-oriented shows that are very appealing but just don't have the audience numbers like the hugely popular procedural dramas Law and Order and CSI.

  4. Yeah, I keep hoping that maybe SciFi or TNT or SOMEBODY will pick up TSCC. It just has so much potential as a show. And I so agree about the John/Cameron relationship.

  5. Wise words, Joanna. Now, if you could only get a meeting with the head honchos...

  6. Love the post, and having recently discovered Terminator through TSCC Season 1, I'm eager to watch the new Terminator (okay, it plays in that it's Christian Bale starring in there!)

    But I do agree - TSCC is one of the most interesting TV stuff I've seen lately, something that didn't hesitate to twist, spin and flip the plot everyone is sickeningly familiar with and make it into something new and compelling. The characters are nothing short of brilliant, and you simply do not know who to like and admire more. Special mention to FBI agent James Ellison. He too was a good character.

    Yup, head honchos, hear, hear!



  7. Great Post! Now I can't wait to see this film. Yay! I loved the second movie the best. "Come with me if you want to live!" *grin*

    Your analysis is spot on. Too bad the television execs aren't as savvy.

    Still... you've got me excited again about the movie. Thanks!


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