TV REVIEW: Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles: "Desert Cantos" (Season 2, Episode 15)

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Welcome to part one of the Friday Night SF Triple Feature!

Last week, as you'll recall, the lead singer for Garbage blew up a mysterious factory out in the desert while a whole bunch of other stuff went on involving Sarah, John, John's girlfriend Riley, and The Terminator Previously Known As Cromarti (And currently known as "John Henry.") Much of that stuff I didn't understand as I hadn't watched the show for 10 episodes or so, but fortunately most of it was completely irrelevant to this week's episode.

It turns out the factory was the hub of a kind of factory town - all the workers and employees lived in the same place. When the factory went blooey, it meant that nearly everyone in town lost somebody. Team Connor is evidently not entirely sure what was going on in the factory, so they've decided to skulk around the ongoing memorials and funeral services and grieving to see what info they can pump out of it.

Sarah ends up befriending the widow of the security guard who shot her in the mid-season cliffhanger. Though I didn't see that episode, and they don't expressly say it here, I presume she killed him. She seems just tortured enough to have some serious guilt over befriending the wife of yet another guy she's killed, and pumping her for info atop of it. The widow says she barely saw her husband anymore, he was always gone with the job and had a lot of secrets, including a key to a storage facility that she discovered among his things, and which she's been too afraid to check out. Sarah offers to do so, and discovers it full of Lacrosse equipment, furniture, and bloody rags. "The guy was either a serial killer or a True Believer," Sarah later tells Uncle Reese.

Uncle Reese, meanwhile, shares a ride with a guy who claims to be an OSHA investigator looking at the explosion, but is actually an agent working for the Lead Singer from Garbage. Reese' creepy manner quickly spooks the guy, and he bails without revealing anything useful. From a conversation 'twixt the guy and Shirley, however, we know that one person is thought to have survived the explosion, and she's trying to find him.

John befriends a girl named Zoe who's actually just as annoyingly deliberately quirky as Riley is. She acts odd and inconsistent regarding the death of her father, and mentions she had an ex-boyfriend who dumped her and moved away with his family in the middle of the night, once her dad broke some kind of "nondisclosure agreement." She mentions that he used to like lacrosse.

Oh, there's a lake outside of town where cattle are frequently found dead.

Sarah tails Shirley Manson's investigator in to a labrynthine network of tunnels under the town, ending up in a security facility beneath Zoe's house. There, Cameron finds archival footage of the dead dude who shot Sarah a few weeks back, and Zoe's dad killing the lacrosse-dude's family.

Team Connor leave, and find the dead body of the investigator at Dead Cattle Lake. While pondering this, a Skynet aircraft launches from the lake and flies off in to the night, eventually landing (Knight Rider-like) in the back of an 18-wheeler being driven by Zoe's dad.

Mostly unrelated to all this, and interspersed with it, we've got scenes of Agent Ellison talking to Shirley Manson about the 'death of her husband' a year ago this episode, and some later scenes of Shirley trying to be emotionally supporting of 'her' daughter.

OBSERVATIONS

So lemme get this straight: Shirley Manson *and* Team Connor *both* want to shut Skynet down? If not, why would she have blown up the factory?

There was no real fighting in this episode. What little violence transpires is either in flashback, or a video archive.

I've seen Soviet cinema that moved faster than this episode, but given that the whole thing was about facing up to the results of your actions, I think it worked pretty well. Moving at anything faster than a funerial pace wouldn't have given Sarah the emotional heft that her scenes with the widow needed. The laid-back exchanges between Zoe and John worked well, and I think were deliberately similar to the Riley/John exchanges elsewhere to suggest some chemistry or at least familiarity. The scenes where they gradually realize she's lying about her dad being still alive flow organically, and while not particularly shocking, tie up nicely with everything else that goes on in the episode. And everyone - excepting Cameron of course - is just so damn uncomfortable. It gives things a nice offbeat progression that playing it faster wouldn't have done.

All that said, the ending felt a bit abrupt - particularly annoying is that they just dropped Zoe and her mom once the two of them were faced with incontrovertable proof that Daddy was a bad man who killed her former boyfriend, and his entire family. I felt like we should have gotten some emotional payoff for that, since the entire episode led up to it, but no. Boom: Yer' gone, and we're outta' there.

Cameron hasn't really done diddly in this episode or the last one. While there really wasn't room for her to stomp around kicking people's asses in this epiosde, I really *like* it when she does that kind of thing, and hope they get back to it soon.

Riley and the Australian Lady were completely absent from this episode, as was Sarah's EMT ex-boyfriend. I'm assuming he's left the cast of the show by this point.

The depiction of a town with a secret was well done. I like that everyone knew something illicit was up, but no one was willing to rock the boat, and even now that their families are dead, they're still playing along.

Ellison is usually my favorite part of the show, but his two breif scenes here didn't do much for me. A shame, since he's generally a calmly commanding presence in the show. Evidently he's working *For* Shirley Manson now, and is no longer an FBI agent.

As for Shirley Manson herself, I presume that she killed a real person and took over her identity, then killed the real person's husband and is raising their daugher as her/its own in order to avoid undue suspicion. The scenes with the kid were awkward, both intentionally and because the kid was a pretty weak actress, but it was also the most interesting part of the episode: a thing with no emotions attempting to simulate emotions for a needy child. Useful as a character bit or as a setup for something more. Probably just as a character bit, as there's only 7 episodes left, and this show pretty clearly isn't coming back for a third season. More's the pity: it's interesting.

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