Terminator: Automatic For the People

After an intense and exciting start to the season, we’ve hit our first transitional episode. Transitional episodes can be hard to pull off, because they tend to be less about advancing the story and more about getting characters in the right place (physically and psychologically) for the events to come. I thought season one’s second episode did a pretty good job of transitioning the characters into their new status quo, while still giving us interesting character dynamics and conflicts. This episode, sadly, did not work quite so well. While it dealt with some of the repercussions from the season premiere's events, it did so in a largely boring manner. Much of the episode felt forced and awkward, and at times the main plot action stretched my willingness to suspend disbelief to the breaking point.

I thought the lingering issues with Cameron's status were adequately addressed. She still seems not quite right, and everyone is appropriately edgy around her. Even Cameron seems a bit unsettled by what's happened to her, and worried that it could happen again. I liked the "ticking time bomb" parallel they drew between Cameron's state and Sarah's potential cancer. The reminder of that possible death sentence and its continuing effect on Sarah was a nice element of the story.

However, the fallout of the premiere events for John was not handled as well. John's behavior made sense—the kid just endured a series of highly stressful events and, it seems, took a human life. How is he supposed to sit through English class and be a normal teenager after that? Sarah wants to make it all better by trying to re-establish some normalcy for John, but I doubt that is even possible at this point. Especially considering that his world is anything but normal. So John ditching class and bringing home a strange girl seemed a perfectly logically progression. But watching it all play out was boring as hell.

I get that John is tired of being fate's bitch and wants to control his own destiny, but the writers need to come up with a more compelling way to tell his story. The school interludes and his fascination with oddball blonds are not making for engrossing television. I know Sarah said “We could all use boring today,” but I don’t think that should include the audience.

The nuclear power plant story was even more tedious than the John subplot. The initial arrival of another resistance fighter had promise, but he was quickly dispatched after uttering a few cryptic words. Apparently he also had time to leave some cryptic messages in blood, but it still felt like a wasted opportunity. It basically boiled down to an overly convenient plot device to give Sarah and crew an immediate mission. Unfortunately, the subsequent happenings at the power plant were not terribly engaging. I understood why the facility was important to the future resistance, but the mission itself was way too “disconnected” from our characters and had little meaning for the audience. Quite frankly, I didn’t care whether they stopped Greenway or not. And in the end, no matter what they did, Skynet won. (I hope the writers aren’t trying to send a subtle hint about where the series is headed.)

What’s more, aspects of the power plant story were completely ridiculous. I find it extremely hard to believe that Sarah and Cameron could just walk up to a nuclear facility, quickly get hired as temps, then be given such free reign. It was all too easy. How the hell did they get security clearance to work at a nuclear facility in the post 9-11 world? Especially in a mere matter of hours. And doesn't Cameron's i.d. say she is a teenager? Did she have time to pull off some computer magic that we weren’t privy to?

Other thoughts:

Derek had very little to do again this week. Hopefully they'll give him some more meaningful story soon, because he's such a great character. Last season got so much better once they introduced him. I'm bummed that he's been pretty much sidelined so far.

I liked that the parting exchange between Charlie and Agent Ellison echoed Cromartie’s eerie “We’ll see” to Ellison in the premiere.

I'm surprised Sarah has the resources to rent such a nice house. Did she fence some of those diamonds? Did they take care of that when they were planning to buy the Turk? Such a shame that the place will end up totally trashed.

Given how Greenway was replaced, it now seems clear that Skynet is sending back some of the endoskeleton variety terminators already looking like specific people. That must be what they did with "Vick" from last season. I'm starting to wonder if others are right about Cameron possibly being made in the image of a real person. Maybe someone John loved.

Final rating: 2 out of 5. Some of the story progression was logical, but it just wasn't very entertaining to watch.

Jess Lynde is a highly engaged television viewer. Probably a bit too engaged.

6 comments:

Billie Doux said...

I think I liked it a little more than you did, but I absolutely agree that this one had some major flaws. Infiltrating the nuclear power plant was definitely the big one. And I agree that Brian Austin Green is being wasted. I thought the series jumped up several notches when he was brought in back in season one. And now, nothing.

Jess Lynde said...

Yes, I seem to have a stronger dislike for the episode than most in the fandom. Some other reviews and comments I read didn't think it was as great as the premiere, but liked it just fine. Chalk it up to the introspective, teenage rebellion stuff with John (which I never really enjoy) and some hard to swallow things with the main plot. It just never clicked for me. Maybe if they had done something cool with Derek, I could have gotten past it. :)

Anonymous said...

I pretty much agree with Jess' assesment. As far as the power plant access, I was even more bothered with how easy Derek entered the plant - not even the lame janitor alibi. Also, Catherine Weaver's phase change in the car made no sense - how about at least waiting till you exit the facility. I also have no use for Ellison's bible thumping. Somehow fundamental christianity and scince fiction (especially cyborgs as proto-humans) just does not mix.

Anonymous said...

The only thing I had real difficulty swallowing was the replacement Terminator. It just rbings up so many, many problems. Couldn;t they have just gone up against Weaver pretending to be someone else, instead?

I can accept the change though, on a budgetary level. I'm guessing it's cheaper to use less shots -- especially on a show that has to continually prove itself or die.

New girl has quite a story to tell. I like her, provisionally, since she doesn't seem to have come out of the ame cookie-cutter mould as most other teenage love interests -- in character or in choice of actress. Dunno why they couldn't have just used old girl though. Or pretended she was the same person.

Patryk said...

I completely agree with the review, but want to add one thing from a 2012 perspective: Hank from Breaking Bad, yay!

celticmarc said...

Quoting you : "boring as hell"; LOL I was mesmerized by Riley's beauty (!). So it was less boring for me.

I can't help to notice particularly the religious overtones : guy from the future shot in the chess; cut to the Christ on the cross, also with a wound on the chest...ah huh. I'm Catholic, so these moments jump at my eyes quite easily LOL

John' mini moment in the school corridor when he fully realizes that he'll never have a "normal" life was nicely done.

Nonetheless, agreeing with your review : this one was a bit of a downer after the 2 previous episodes. But you cannot always be on top of the ride in a roller coaster...so here, it was time to "breathe".

Patryk has a good point : always a pleasure to see Dean Norris !