Saturday, 21 February 2009

TV Analysis - TERMINATOR: THE SARAH CONNOR CHRONICLES

'The Turk'
(1.03)
Written by: John Wirth
Directed by: Paul Edwards

'He's just a geek with a hobby. But the computer chess program he developed may be the start of something ominous.'

This shiny episode of T:TSCC opens with three very big taboos - voice over, dream and flashback. The opening is kind of a mix of all three. In TV, this is allowed (more so than in film) but it's still best avoided. And to do something like this on episode 3 of your series, you're taking a big risk. There are a lot of people out there who hate these taboos. It has to be justified. And is it?

The opening flashback/dream addresses the theme of the episode and sets the tone. So we can tick the box headed 'the teaser should let us know what is in store'. It's a textbook device.

In this case, the theme is - 'is it justified to kill people in order to save others?' We are reminded of the creation of the A Bomb and how that has messed up our way of life - the threats it poses etc. But were the people who created it 'innocent'? Did they really know what they were doing? Sarah's thoughts foreshadow the direction this episode will take. In the dream, she shoots the creators of the A Bomb, showing she is prepared to do 'what's right'. But those men promptly turn into terminators. This shows how she's feeling. No matter what she does, she can't stop the terminators. Even if she kills the innocent people, the end will still come.

So the theme is set. And it's a very dark, 'make you think' kind of theme. As is the case in a lot of TV, this dark main plot is balanced with a lighter comedic subplot.

We see Cameron trying to adapt to her new life as a 'teenager'. As a terminator, this isn't easy, so there are various witty conflicts that add comedic value. On a more serious note, she is trying to fit in with everyone else. She doesn't understand her place and the situation isn't helped by John calling her a "freak" at every turn. This takes us to the realms of a machine's feelings - something that T:TSCC likes to discuss. Can we really feel for a character that we know has no feelings? It's a hard topic, but this episode does it well. On a similar note, there's hinting at a possible intimate relationship between John and Cameron. This is something that season 2 of the show (now airing on Virgin 1 every Thursday at 9pm) seems to have forgotten. I miss it.

Back to the main plot and we see Sarah with Miles Dyson's wife (from TERMINATOR 2: JUDGEMENT DAY). Anyone who knows the story will know that Miles died in the film trying to destroy the machines. But here they are again. This reinforces the theme of the episode - can you stop the machines at all. Despite Sarah's words "no one dies in vain", we can see she's feeling otherwise.

On another point, the season arc is developed through this episode. We see James Ellison pursuing a case that he believes is linked to Sarah. Despite the weirdness, he carries on, when other cops would dismiss it out of hand. This shows good character development - we realise that no matter what, Ellison is going to get to the bottom of things. Not unlike...

...Cromartie who is walking round in a terrifying get up that is a cross between a chav and a hockey player. Just like Ellison, he is fixed on his mission. He marches into a hospital in order to gather the supplies he needs to fit in (so he can pursue the Connor's). It's worth noting the theme of machines fitting in with the human world here. In an epic moment, Cromartie hurls some poor suspecting porter through a door and flattens a security guards face. He doesn't care about being subtle - he has a mission and he'll do it. Just like Ellison. It's a good character comparison.

Meanwhile, Sarah learns of a man who is a threat to the world. She should kill him, but wants to make sure. Cameron continues to learn about teenage life in the more lighthearted subplot that regularly cheers us up and takes us away from our own moral dilemma - should Sarah kill an innocent guy because there's a chance his action will be dangerous?

T:TSCC is primarily aimed at a teenage audience which is what makes Cameron's subplot so compelling. She is experiencing natural teen problems like how to fit in with everyone else at a new school. While the constant battle of robots - sorry; cybernetic organisms - may not be an issue teens deal with, fitting in is.

As Cromartie continues to get himself ready for the hunt, Sarah kids herself that she is in control of who lives and dies. All the time, we can see her realising that killing Andy would be the safest and most logical solution to the problem. But she is refusing to let herself see that.

In the final act, the comedic subplot takes a serious turn as a girl tries to commit suicide at school. John wants to do the hero thing and help her, but Cameron stops him. She talks about "not being a freak" and "fitting in". She has now learnt how to fit in - you don't draw attention to yourself. As a result, the girl commits suicide. So the question is posed - is fitting in the right thing to do? This is where the subplot ties in with the Sarah's story. The two become linked with a common theme - death for the greater good.

At the same time, Ellison's story becomes linked with Cromartie's. Both are pursuing their missions relentlessly and focused.

As the ending draws in, Sarah is left with the ultimate moral question - should she kill Andy? She knows he's a threat. She knows she should, but will she. No. Instead, she burns the house down, thus destroying the computer. But we all know - Sarah included - that she is merely attacking the symptom and not the disease.

We end on a voice over (as we started) as Cromartie is revealed to be fully repaired. He is now ready to continue his mission - kill John Connor. The scientist who helped him with this is killed and Sarah's words haunt the episode - "now we are all sons of bitches!"

Shew knows she should have killed Andy but didn't. She has her morals and (at the moment) will not cross them.

This is a fine example of TV writing. It uses a few taboo techniques but they are done well and therefore pay off. That's the key - only use taboo devices when you have to and only when they are done correctly. Don't abuse them and they won't abuse you.


2 comments:

Michelle Goode said...

Great analysis :) I haven't seen that show but you've certainly made me want to!

Kudos for a very professional-sounding analysis, by the way...

Neil said...

Glad to hear it. It's not amazing but has some great episodes. Also has Summer Glau (River, FIREFLY). She's good but isn't given much acting range given she's a Terminator. Funny though.

The show is a great example of how to throw twists in there. Like showing that a character is actually nothing like you thought. You like them one epo and hate them the next. But the best show for that is DEXTER! Loathed one character one week, loved her the next, felt sad for her in the next, now i HATE her!!!