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.
Welcome to The Sarah Connor Chronicles; an action-heavy show about killer robots. Yep it's all guns, car chases, and serious discussions about time travel around here. Absolutely no pesky feelings at all.
Much like the human characters in Zoo and Jurassic Park, Sarah and John Connor face an enemy that can't be bargained with or diverted. Terminators, with their single-minded purpose, and their complete lack of personal enmity towards their victims, are kind of like dinosaurs in human suits. Perhaps to compensate for the lack of emotion these robot's bring to their destructive quest, or because the creators of this show just really like causing viewers pain, Lena Headey and Thomas Dekker fill the screen with feelings every time they're in a room together. The Sarah Connor Chronicles is essentially a giant bag of feelings. Fair warning - there's some serious emoting in this first episode.
So, a quick catch-up on where we are in the Terminator universe. Sarah and John Connor are no longer being actively pursued by robots. It's been two years since Sarah changed the future; preventing Skynet from taking over the world, and enslaving humanity. Their lives look rosy but a dream is about to change everything.
The Pilot opens with a voice-over from Sarah Connor:
There are those who believe that a child in her womb shares his mother's dreams. Her love for him. Her hopes for his future. Is it told to him in pictures while he sleeps inside her? Is that why he reaches for her in that first moment and cries for her touch? But what if you'd known since he was inside you what his life held for him? That he would be hunted. That his fate was tied to the fate of millions. That every moment of your life will be spent keeping him alive. Would he understand why you were so hard? Why you held on so tight?
At the end of this monologue, the tense switches from the impersonal 'you' to the personal 'me' just as Sarah finds her son John in his school's library:
'Will he still reach for you if the only dream you ever shared with him was a nightmare? Would he know my love runs through him like blood?'
This voice over lays out the main struggle at the heart of the Connor's relationship; a recurring theme and concern of the Pilot episode. Can Sarah keep John safe, and hold onto his love? Or, will she lose him by trying to protect him?
So, that's all thrown out there in, like, the first two minutes of the episode. And, well, things only escalate from there. Y'know, emotionally. Heady and Dekker will spend the next 40 minutes examining this central question with miniscule, and perfect, facial expressions all while being chased by murderous robots.
At the end of this episode's opening scene, John is shot dead. Luckily it's just a dream. A dream which feels so prophetic to Sarah that she moves her boy to another part of the country despite the fact that she just got engaged. The scene where she tells John they have to go sets up Sarah's conflicted character perfectly. She is a woman who loves intensely (so intensely she regularly gets caught staring at her son while he sleeps) but whose love constantly forces her to wield her parental authority with a heavy hand.
Sarah's urge to protect her son is steadily forcing a wedge between her and John. In the last two years, he has begun to believe he is safe. Sarah appears paranoid, watchful, and harsh as she grabs John by the scruff of his neck and says, 'Look at me! No one is ever safe.' Her opening monologue sees her asking, 'Would he understand why you were so hard? Why you held on so tight?' And while it's clear that John understands, and is grateful for the way his mother changed the future, he doesn't necessarily like the way she continues to push them to run.
Still, the Connors have their rules. So, with the killer line 'One bag. Plus the guns. I'll make pancakes,' Sarah drags her son off into the sunset. John packs up to leave, all the while rocking a serious case of conflicted facial expression.
After watching this scene, it would be easy to brand Sarah as a woman who struggles to express, or avoids expressing, softer emotions because she has to teach her son to be tough, alert and afraid in order to keep him alive. Later in the episode, we see John choose a course of action because he knows his mother would never end a phone call with, 'I love you.' And when John saves Sarah from Cromartie, the robot sent from the future to kill him, Sarah berates him for not running. Viewers might have expected her to pull him into her arms after learning that he is still alive. Nope. Both of these incidents seem to show that Sarah can be a hard woman.
Actually, Sarah's feelings are often on display. When the viewer sees her waking from her nightmare, she tells her fiance, Charley, that she loves him. And she clearly tries to cultivate a normal relationship with John even in the midst of the science fiction hell they're living. 'Did you meet any pretty girls?' she asks with a wicked smile on her face after John's first day of school. FYI, this conversation wakes up the slasher in me every time because Sarah is so into hearing about whether there are any pretty girls in town.
The fact that this desire to be taken into John's confidence comes just after she's epically freaked out about him being near computers underscores the complexity of their relationship.
Sarah is not so much a stoic, or hard, character as she is a practical one. She's determined to keep her boy alive because she loves him, and because he needs to save the world. One of the things I love so much about Sarah in this episode is that she's constantly shown as practically domestic. She makes breakfast, paints the walls of their new house, shops for John's clothes so he can blend in, and holds down a waitressing job. Her survival skills don't just include typical 'badass' knowledge like how to use a gun or how to escape from the law; her brand of survival is about sustaining everyday life even while continually preparing to up and leave. At the same time, the life she creates grows ever more limited in order to lessen the blow of losing everything. When John says to his new friend Cameron (soon to be revealed as a robot) that 'I'm all she's got' the look on his face shows his sudden realisation of the truth. He has woven a sad reality into the lie of a life he constructs for public consumption.
Unfortunately, Sarah's drive for survival has steered her wrong. By leaving Charley, she sets off a chain reaction leading the FBI and Cromartie to their new town. Long story short - Charley is bereft when he hears the full story of Sarah's past from Agent James Ellison. Ellison's investigation into Sarah leads him to unwittingly tip off Cromartie to her whereabouts. Cromartie's arrival leads to a shoot out at John's new school, the introduction of Cameron as an ally, and (of course) an emotionally charged exchange. John insists that Sarah change the future again so he doesn't have to be some kind of 'messiah' leading an army. Much hugging ensues. It kind of makes my day that John has no problem asking his mother for help; once danger arrives he actively expects her to take charge and direct his life. He also has no problem being repeatedly saved by his mother, and Cameron, because they are clearly more suited for battle than him.
Sarah, keen to keep John from leaving her, agrees to try and work her magic again. With the help of Cameron (who Sarah has a lot of feelings about in this episode ranging from hatred to quiet admiration when Cameron knocks three guys out and steals their clothes) she launches them on their time travel quest to find Skynet and kill it before it's born thus saving the world. Arriving in 2007, Cameron claims they are safe. Cue a chorus of Connors replying 'No one is ever safe.' and complicated, subtle facial expressions all round. Sarah - proud of John's practicality but sad to hear her words have made such an impression. John - concerned about how easily her words come to his lips and sad at the truth of her words. And if that scene doesn't break your heart then you're probably going to make it through the rest of the series. Oh, and did I mention that Charlie found out from the news that his missing ex-fiance is back in town?
So, yeah The Sarah Connor Chronicles provides unexpectedly killer emotions in amongst the killer robots. Actors deploy small facial expressions like weapons. And Lena Headey swaggers around in an array of sports gear, practical tanks tops and over-large jackets.
Buckle up - 'It's gonna be one hell of a dogfight.'