Terminator: Earthlings Welcome Here

Well, this episode was a bit underwhelming for a mid-season finale. It did have some shocking moments and a few action sequences, but overall, it left me in more of a befuddled “What the hell?” state, rather than an eager, “Holy crap, I can’t wait for more!” state.

I’ve watched it twice now, and I still don’t quite know what to make of the ending. That was a Skynet ship at the end, yes? I’m pretty sure we’ve seen those in some of the future sequences. What is it doing there and how did it get there? Does it have the ability to travel between the future and the past? Is the ship definitely the source of the three dots? What is going to happen to Sarah? And why the heck did the closing image linger for so long? I kept waiting for something more to happen than just the light intensifying on an unconscious Sarah. Very odd.

Not to say there was nothing to like about the episode. I enjoyed the theme of hidden, other selves and transformation that ran through each character’s part of the story: Sarah and her previous incarnations as waitress and mental patient; Alan Park’s pseudonym, Abraham, and his secret, true self, Eileen; Riley as a post-apocalyptic child trying to live in the pre-Judgment Day world; and Ellison as a father that never was.

Sarah’s journey was pretty much front and center this week. The opening scenes perfectly summed up her current state of being. She’s like the explorer from her voiceover, the UFO abductees, and Alan/Eileen. Her life has essentially been stolen from her. What she's experienced is “beyond human understanding,” leaving her more or less fearful, isolated, and deeply lonely. Like Eileen, she’s reached the point where she doesn’t know what’s real and what’s not. She’s having nightmares about dots and visions of her other selves, and trying to figure out what it all means. By the end of the episode, she seems to have reached a major point of transformation. She’s taken a human life (albeit in self defense)—the one action that she’s resisted so fiercely all this time. And she’s got her proof that the dots mean something; that she’s not crazy. It will be interesting to see where this leads her going forward.

Riley’s back story was fascinating and kind of heartbreaking. The poor girl has never known anything except life after Judgment Day and doesn't quite know how to function in this strange, new world. Her initial reaction to the present was something to behold. I loved the way she was drawn to all the soft and colorful things like pillows, flowers, towels, and big, comfy beds. The images of her wonder and rapture said so much about the cold, hard place she came from without out any words at all. That short scene put her breakdown at her foster home into context for me. Like Sarah, she’s experiencing something that no one can truly understand, and even though she’s supposedly bonding with John, she’s completely isolated and deeply lonely.

Nevertheless, I can’t help but wonder if Riley’s attempted suicide is genuine or a desperate ploy to bond with John. She’s been thrown out of her foster home and rejected by her one connection to the world she knows. She was pretty close to breaking a few episodes ago, so I can believe that she really did just try to end it all. But then again, she has to know that Cameron is on to her. Maybe she is just trying to create a distraction and generate sympathy. I'm leaning toward the former.

The new revelations about Ellison’s past were very sad and kind of surprising. The series thus far has suggested that Ellison was somehow at fault for his failed marriage. That he wasn’t emotionally available to Lilah, and now regrets his past actions, wishing he could have another chance to do it right. Yet now we’ve learned that Lilah is the one who betrayed his trust, ending their marriage. I suppose his sadness and longing are for the life and the child that could have been, not necessarily regret over his own actions.

I found Ellison’s session with John Henry very intriguing. It was probably a bit off-putting for those that view Ellison as an arrogant, self-righteous, bible beater, but I don’t see him that way. I think, like all the other characters, he’s struggling to be a good man and trying to make sense of this crazy world he's caught up in. The only way he knows how to cope is to view things through the lens of his faith. That’s the tool that guides him and defines his moral center, so that’s the tool he uses to try to teach John Henry the value of human life. I think it is fascinating. Can he really teach an artificial intelligence morality? Why does Catherine want him to? Once again, I wonder if she’s up to something other than the creation of Skynet as we know it.

Other thoughts:

I thought the opening shot with Sarah driving in the desert was a great visual throwback to the end of the original movie. Especially given that the episode focused on her transformation from innocent waitress to hard, driven soldier.

This episode actually had lots of clever visuals. There were countless subtle repetitions of the dot and spoke pattern of the Skynet ship: Alan/Eileen’s images of the ship, the graphic patterns on John and Cameron’s shirts, the background on John Henry’s text screen, even numerous foreground images such as the lamp shade at the therapist's, the flower when Sarah was waiting at the bus stop, and the barbed wire near the barn in the desert. I’m sure there were a lot more that I missed.

I really liked Alan's confession that his hidden, true self was a waitress. Nice parallel to Sarah.

The actress portraying Dr. Morris, the hypnotherapist, also played Brianna Barksdale in The Wire. She was so great in that show that I was really excited to see her at the beginning of this episode. I’m very disappointed that she didn’t get more to do and ended up dead. This show is not kind to actors from The Wire. Andre Royo (Bubbles) was one of the freedom fighters sent back with Derek. He didn’t last too long either.

I think maybe Jessie was the person who killed Alan Park and Dr. Morris. I’m not sure if the timing works out right—since she was slapping Riley around earlier in the day—but the person on the motorcycle looked like a woman to me.

So who hired Alan and his carpool buddies? Are we to assume that it was Skynet and its minions sent from the future?

Final rating: 4 out of 5. When I started this review, I was leaning towards a 3, but after watching the episode a second time and getting all my thoughts on paper, I ended up liking it more than I originally thought. Even though the ending still left me totally perplexed.

***

On a closing note, I wanted to thank everyone for hanging in with me through the first half of the season and wish you all a happy holiday season! Looking forward to rejoining you in February. Hopefully, with the show now airing on Fridays, I can get the reviews posted a lot quicker!

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

12 comments:

Billie Doux said...

I thought this finale was interesting and watchable but bizarre. That "I'm a waitress" comment completely threw me. I couldn't put it into context at all. I probably should have watched it a second time; it might have clicked in for me.

Thanks so much for doing such quality reviews, Jess. It's a treat for me to read someone else's.

Anonymous said...

Hi Jess,

I enjoyed this episode a great deal, but it did feel out of place as a mid season finale. It just seemed like an episode outside of the main story line....although it did have a pretty cool ending.

Great review.......almost great episode...and a happy holidays to you too.

Jess Lynde said...

The "I'm a waitress" threw me at first, too. I was thinking about it later, and thought maybe it was Alan's subtle way of confessing he was really a woman on the inside. (Since he was in Alan's headspace during the hypnotherapy.) Plus it was a nice parallel to Sarah's hidden, other self. When I thought of it that way, it made me smile.

You are welcome for the reviews, Billie. Thank *you* for giving me the opportunity. I've really been enjoying it.

Anonymous said...

I would give this episode a 2. I was really disappointed, partly because I was expecting so much more for a half season finale.
First the parts that while I was not enthralled with I also did not find all that objectionable:
Riley's story - I am unsure of what to make of this, I thought showing th terrified tunnel rat provuded much needed context to Riley's character. I now have a better appreciation of Riley's condition and feel for her in a way that I had not previously felt. As far as the Riley/Jesse interaction - to paraphrase Faith from Dirty Girls: That made me feel better about Riley, worse about Jesse, kinda shakey about John. Jesse has become my most disliked character (well next to Ellison - more about him later).

Sarah - I did not really understand what was real, what was a dream/hallucination. I need to waych it again but I am sure of one thing: Tactically, Sarah is profoundly stupid. Good idea Sarah, go into a warehouse alone without the slighest clue as to what you are going to find. How about holding off and going for backup (say Cameron?). We know Sarah is not hard enough to take the decisive no holds bar preeemptive action that these situations require. I do not want Sarah to turn into a cold blooded killer - that is Cameron's job.
Ellison - I guess I fall firmly into the camp of "those that view Ellison as an arrogant, self-righteous, bible beater" which he is. But worse, the whole morality/ethics of human versus cyborg (or even human vesus great ape or marine mammal or even canine) is an extremely interesting topic. However, when our side (humans - I do not presume to speak for any of the cyborg bloggers) is represented by a humorless sunday school teacher with a messiah complex and consisting solely of christian superstitions it reduces what could be a subtle and worthwhile plot into mind numbing inanity. No alternate voice to even challenge his simplistic and sophomoric view of metaphysics. If Friedman has to get into religion, take a page from Battlestar Galactica and at least make it a clash of beliefs. Instead, we get the unchallenged supremacy of a fundamentalist. The very idea that a religious perspective is automatically the best context from which to teach morality is absurd, given the not insubstantial number of innocents killed in the name of various and sundry deities. What the AI needs to learn is empathy (more or less the golden rule), a quality generally lacking in those who talk to god. I am a firm believer in the separation of church and TV. They definitely killed the wrong teacher. Sherwood was so much more interesting. His naming the AI John Henry showed a sense of humor and an appreciation of irony, both qualities required for discussing human morality and both qualities almost universally missing in those who talk to god. Ellison, I am afraid this TV show isn't big enough for the two of us. You need to go - now!
I do want to express my appreciation for the reviews. I think thay are wonderfull (as are Billie's) and look forward to them. Hope the move to Fridays makes it more convenient for you. Thanks much Jess!

Jess Lynde said...

Peter, I really appeciate your explanation of why Ellison bugs the heck out of you. You raise some valid concerns about JH's moral teachings now only coming from one perspective. I wonder if the writers are thinking along those same lines. They have a number of characters struggling with morality from a completely non-religious/christian perspective, so I wonder if there is a reason for having their religious character being the one interacting with the A.I. Maybe they mean to contrast it with John and Sarah's attempts to teach Cameron morality or the value of human life.

I just want to add that I'm not religious at all, so my appreciation for the perspective that Ellison brings to the equation has nothing to do with my own philosophical leanings. I just feel that when larger issues of morality and life and death are in play that providing a religious perspective in the mix is important, especially given how much of the world's population are people of faith.

I don't agree that Ellison has a messiah complex. He is just a man of strongly held faith. He views himself as a child of God, a servant of God. Not the next coming. Now, Gaius from BSG -- he has a messiah complex.

As always, thanks all for the comments. I like a little friendly debate!

Anonymous said...

Jess,
You are probably correct that technically, Ellison doesn't have a messiah complex. It is just that his arrogance and certainty that he has all the answers only wears well on gods. When you think you are talking to and for god, it is only a short trip to thinking you are in fact god.
My problem with the Ellison storyline is not that I object to a religious aspect (although I am an atheist and think religion is the worst thing that has ever happened to this planet), it is that it is such a shallow theology that is being presented. I am okay with a religious perspective as a literary device but I would like something that actually causes me to think about morality as it applies to non-humans and presents a reasoned debate about these issues, not this moronic "created in god's image" bs. I think there are many theological arguments that are more substantial than Ellison's simplistic dogma but maybe this is the limit of Josh Friedman's intellect.
As far as John and Sarah teaching Cameron, I don't see that in terms of teaching morality any more than teching your dog not to poop in the house could be considered as teaching it about humanity. They are simply trying to make her a better and more controlable resource. I think Cameron herself is interested in learning about humans and what it is to be human (what after all is the use of a machine that dances?). But her education is not really along the lines of morality - she is a cold blooded killer when necessary but was not made to be needlessly cruel. I think she wants to understand humans, not be a human. I think she will use whatever ethical and moral precepts that she finds usefull but reject those that jepordize her mission. Kind of like a much, much prettier Dick Cheney.
Also liking the debate. Nothing I like better than trying to piece together these issues while at the same time enjoying a hottie cyborg and her deadpan delivery. I just hope I can tolerate Ellison. Also, more Catherine. She still creeps me out but I just love her (in a creeped out way).

Jess Lynde said...

OK, Peter, I will concede that, "It is wrong to kill humans because humans are children of God" is a bit simplistic. :) But perhaps it will still go in an interesting direction.

And your point about Sarah and John trying to make Cameron a controllable resource is well taken.

I agree 100% re: Catherine. Creepy as all get out, but really fascinating. I like her character quite a bit.

citten said...

Hi!

My first comment here, just wanted to say thanks for reviewing TSCC - really enjoy reading your thoughts :)

Merry Christmas!

Anonymous said...

It may be that Ellison is actually setting up the reason for Judgment Day. Logically there is little reason for Skynet to try to wipe out humanity, but religion may give it the motivations. Religion has been the basis for wars since biblical times. If you read the Old Testament, it is primarily a sequence of wars fought because god wanted them to. This is especially the case when taught by someone like Ellison who seems to have a more simplistic black and white interpretation of religion. Sherwood would have taught it morality, but in a better way. That is why the future had to kill him. Ellison will be the cause of everything.

Anonymous said...

I liked this a lot and my heart breaks over Riley. She is completely alone in this world and that scene where she experienced that room with all the pillows and the shower was touching.
And Sarah´story was very good and Lena Headey does a good job.

Jess Lynde said...

Anonymous, I just wanted to say thanks for continuing to post comments on these old T:SCC reviews. I've been reading all of them. It's very nice to know that someone who's revisiting the series or experiencing it for the first is enjoying following along with these reviews. Thanks again for sharing your thoughts as you work your way through!

celticmarc said...

Well, I was in a "“What the hell?” state" for most of the watching.

Agreeing with you, Riley in the hotel room was poignant; maybe we should show more gratitude to our running water and (well, most of it) our way of Life....

Quoting you : "I’m sure there were a lot more that I missed." Holy crap ! I'm taking notes, BUT I did not put any attention to those particular details. Shame on me.

As always Jess, a pleasure to read you.