Down for a lot of words about killer robots, ladies, and feelings? Then please join me for bi-weekly recaps of The Sarah Connor Chronicles.
Next on The Sarah Connor Chronicles, Sarah has feelings at Cameron, Charlie has feelings at John, and John has so many feelings he throws a grown man to the ground.
Let's just take a moment to appreciate that The Sarah Connor Chronicles begins every episode by allowing space for its lead female character's voice. Sarah's opening monologues provides a clear introduction which sets out the major theme of the episode. That theme is re-referred to in Sarah's closing statement, or conclusion, at the end of the episode. It's a neat narrative device which helps to guide the viewer's eyes and thoughts. The monologues are also a strong way to re-emphasise that Sarah is the focus of this show, and that her words are important; pushing viewers to acknowledge the importance of a female voice in a genre that sometimes has trouble paying attention to women.
Also, she sounds badass when she monologues.
In the show's second episode, Gnothi Seauton, Sarah's opening speech is about identity and the difficulty of knowing yourself:
A wise man once said "know thyself." Easier said than done. I've had 9 aliases, 23 jobs, spoken 4 languages and spent 3 years in a mental hospital for speaking the truth. At least when I was there, I could use my real name. Through it all, I've always known who I am and why I'm here. Protect my son. Prepare for the future.
Meanwhile, a garbage collector finds a weird metal head by the side of the road, and stashes it in his bag. It's Cromartie's head, and let's just say he's not quite done with the Connors yet. In this episode, his story of gruesome reconstruction thematically mirrors Sarah's need to reinvent herself. It's quite clever, and at the same time adds some more killer robot action to this episode for viewers who aren't into this program for Lena Headey's facial expressions.
After time-travelling to 2007, Sarah, John and Cameron need new identities. While John and Cameron are eager to start their new lives (and leave the house) Sarah is less keen to pick up yet another new name. Her opening speech finishes like this:
But lately it's gotten harder to control. Even as I try to help john find firm ground in this new world, the battlefield shifts beneath our feet. Maybe it's all catching up to me. Maybe if you spend your life hiding who you are, you might finally end up fooling yourself.
The importance of names is a huge recurring idea in SFF, and the Connor name is central to this franchise. When you think of Terminator, the name on your lips is John Connor. Sarah seems to knowingly reference the importance of the Connor brand when she talks to John about getting a new identity - 'It's not just a name. It's a legend. A life. A whole new you.' If she also thinking about how the story she creates now will feed into the Connor legend which helps power the resistance in the future? And if she is contemplating the need to motivate them is she already doubting whether she can change the future?
There's a sense that everything is beginning to catch up with Sarah in this episode. In the pilot, John admits that he's reached breaking point. Sarah can't afford to break in front of him but she confides in the audience through her opening monologue. She also admits to John that she's suffering from 'time-lag', in one of those charmingly normal domestic scenes this show is so good at, but as he's feeling it too it plays off as a normal effect of time-travel. However, this episode is full of signs that the pressure is piling on Sarah until she finally confides once again, this time to a robot, that she's losing her sense of self. This episode contains a subtle sense of doubt and fear creeping in behind the powerful front Sarah presents to the rest of the world.
The team split up. John stays at the house while Sarah and Cameron go to track down a bunch of resistance fighters, sent back from the future by John, who have a stash of papers, money and guns at a local safehouse. The safe house proves a bust: one killer robot, three dead resistance fighters, and one missing. The viewers are blessed with the vision of SARAH CONNOR ON A MOTORBIKE.
However, Sarah and Cameron return home empty handed. When they reach their front porch, Sarah accosts Cameron saying, 'You told me we'd be safe! Safe! Was that safe? Three days and we're at war. Why jump at all? Why not stay in the past? I had seven more years to get ready. To get him ready.'
This is the first of a series of emotionally charged encounters that take place between Sarah and Cameron in this episode. In the pilot, Sarah's motto was 'No one is ever safe' but it seems that she has allowed herself to believe they might be at least a little bit more secure in the future. The fact that she has banked a little on Cameron, allowed herself to be directed and taken care of for once, and feels she has been a fool, riles her.
Cameron responds, as Cameron does, with the practical, clinical answer of a robot. There on the steps of their new house, as she goes in to see her son, Cameron tells Sarah she died. It's a pretty big, heartbreaking moment. Sarah stands in the open doorway full of the shock of that pronouncement while looking at her uncomprehending son. The whole weight of what she feels for him is thrown on to screen in those few seconds.
This moment is one of the times viewers can see what an A+ job Summer Glau does playing Cameron. Even though the viewer knows that realistically it's her machine-built practicality and naivety about human emotions that cause her to punch home so hard, so often, it's impossible not to wonder whether Cameron is deliberately hurting Sarah at times. And that is down to Glau's performance, where she mixes hints of surprising humanity with robotic body language and vice a versa. The screenwriting decisions about the emotional beats she creates in the story are also well done, and maintain the viewer's suspicious tension.
Unaware of the bombshell that has just hit his mother, John pushes Sarah to try and get I. D. again. Sarah responds by saying 'It's not so bad being a Connor.' Full of teenage angst and emotions about predestination, John disagrees. Sarah's words signal the kind of pride in a family name, and complicated relationship with a son, a father might typically have in a male led TV show. I think it signals that The Sarah Connor Chronicles was in someway an attempt to put a woman front and centre in a the same kind of meaningful, thematic, emotional narrative so many older male characters get in SFF (and in the media in general).
There's no doubt that Sarah's character gets a lot more freedom to just be herself than some other female action heroes of the time. I find it hard to think of another leading lady in an SFF show who is as messy as Sarah, as abrupt, as in charge. I can't think of any SFF female character who got to be all those things, and got styled with so little care for a traditional feminine 'sexiness'. This is not to claim Sarah as 'the one true action heroine' rather to say that she is an interesting character because of the treatment she gets from the creative team. She's treated as a person rather than an object to be posed. The male gaze is still present in this show but it intrusion is less constant, and its interest less culturally monotonous, than I'm used to. It is a huge relief to find a show that doesn't shove its action heroine into a tiny little box. And it's a huge sorrow that I am surprised to see a female character treated so well by her show's creative team.
Sarah and Cameron, head out again to see her old paper guy Enrique. On the way to the meeting, Cameron gets right to gut-punching by telling Sarah that she's the best fighter John (Cameron's John) knows, and that Sarah died of cancer. We know that Cameron only answers what she's asked but still… Sarah's big problem with Cameron, it will emerge, is her knowledge of the future, and her casual certainty that she knows John (and Sarah) because she's seen them, or heard stories of them, in her own time. After so many years fighting to change the future and save the world, it's no surprise that Sarah is anti-destiny. However, her philosophy that you can control the future if you just fight hard enough has been significantly shaken by the return of the robots, learning she died of cancer in Cameron's timeline, and having to listen to a robot from the future tell her what her own son is like.
Sarah and Cameron will later have a charged conversation about The Wizard of OZ which underlines the problem between them. Sarah tentatively tries to form a bond by sharing a treasured memory. Cameron's robot knowledge shoots any chance of a warm, fuzzy exchange down by telling Sarah she knows the story, and then telling Sarah something she doesn't know (could never have known in her timeline) about the way John remembers that time:
Cameron: I know what the Tin Man is. He needed a heart. The Wonderful Wizard of OZ, written by L. Frank Baum in 1900. First published in...
Sarah: I know all about The Wizard of OZ. When John was little, I...
Cameron: You read it to him over and over again in spanish. He never told you, but it was one of his favorite things that you did. He used to talk about it a lot.
Cue small, multitudinous and complex facial expressions from Sarah as she processes this information.
Before all that, Enrique, who is 'done with the life' directs them (after much adorable expressiveness about seeing an old friend has crossed Lena Headey's face) to his nephew Carlos. Here Cameron meets, befriends and leans with Chola, a watch-out girl.
Slash-goggles firmly on.
Meanwhile, Sarah is inside learning about 09/11 from Carlos and his gang (not the most sensitive of lesson). She leaves just in time to rescue Cameron from a police officer by pretending to be a mean-ass step-mother who has come to drag her girl away from gang territory. This is one of my favorite sections of Gnothi Seauton, and I just recommend that you watch it over and over again. It's all super well done, including the synchronised march Cameron and Sarah do as they leave Carlos' place.
Meanwhile, John does something stupid that is mostly for plot development, and designed to bring Charley back into the show, but results in emotions so I'm alright with it. John sneaks out and goes to Charley's house. Charley tries to hug him. John freaks about having too many emotions, and throws Charley to the ground then flees. Like, I said in my first recap - so many emotions in this killer robot show.
Following a Team Connor heist, Sarah and Cameron return to Carlos' place for their expensive papers, and an inexplicable makeover moment between Chola and Cameron. Here, Sarah learns that Enrique may be a rat, and heads to confront him. This scene is also a gem - from the pleading confrontation between Sarah and Enrique to the equally emotional reaction Sarah has to Cameron after she kills Enrique. It's diamond, baby.
Sarah: Why would you do this? Did you hear what he said? We don't know. We don't know.
Cameron: He was possibly lying.
Sarah: Possibly? You just executed him on possibly? He had a family! Why would you do this?
Cameron: Cause you wouldn't.
Sarah: How do you know what I would and would not do? You don't know me. You don't know me! And you don't know my son. Not John. Not my John. You don't know what I would and wouldn't do. I don't even know what I would and wouldn't do. I wake up this morning and you tell me... I don't know anything anymore. I don't even remember what my name is.
Cameron: Sarah Connor.
All of the pressure Sarah has been under during this episode, and all of the episode's continuing themes, are packed into this one short piece of dialogue. Gawd, this was an impressive TV moment!
Gnothi Seauton culminates with John and Cameron running lines as they prepare to start at their new school. This is followed by the only really bum note in this episode; a recording of a final call from Enrique to Agent James Ellis. It might have been more dramatic if the viewer never knew whether Enrique was or wasn't a rat. However, the phone call is a smart way to get Ellis back on the track of the Connors. The world really needs more James Ellis.
Finally, Sarah heads to the emergency room with her new identity - Ms. Baum. Boom. Legend - wait for it - dary. While the background John has to memorise for school is ordinary as pie, Sarah can't resist creating a new name that will tell a story in the future. The choice of this name sums up her warring relationship with wanting to shape the future, save the world before John ever has to, and being aware that the future already exists. Her struggle with the complexities of destiny, time-travel, and knowledge come to a head as she sits in a hospital gown anxious to get herself checked out for cancer.
And there's that delicious closing monologue overlaid over all of that footage:
Know thyself. John once told me it's inscribed on the front of the Temple of Apollo. Then entire quote is, "know thyself and thou shall know all the mysteries of the gods and of the universe." That's quite a mouthful. My version is this. Know thyself because what else is there to know? People hide secrets. Time is a lie. The material world can disappear in an instant. It has and it will again.
Our identities change. Our names, the way we look, how we act and speak. We're shape shifters. There is no control. No constant. No shelter but the love of family and the body god gave us. And we can only hope that that will always be enough.
I promise I'm not going to close out every recap with her monologue. But, damn, is it going to be hard.
All other recaps for The Sarah Connor Chronicles can be found under this project's dedicated tag.