TV REVIEWS: Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles: "Today is the Day, Part 1" (Season 2, Episode 18)

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Sorry for the delay in getting this review up. Real life intruded last night, and by the time I got done typing up my less-than-inspired review for the less-than-inspired dollhouse, I was just too tired to do anything else. Anyway, just watched the episode on Hulu (http://www.hulu.com/watch/62359/terminator-the-sarah-connor-chronicles-t... if you ain't seen it yet) and here we go:

Jessie, Uncle Reese's aussie girlfriend from the future, is grousing about what to do now that she's killed John Connor's girlfriend Riley. She ditches the body in the river where it's sure to be found, then goes and picks a fight with some Naval Aviators in a bar in order to cover up her obvious bruising from the scuffle with Riley. Reese bails her out of prison.

Meanwhile Sarah decides it's time to move shortly before she hears that a "Jane doe" was found dead, and recognizes it from the description as Riley. There's no doubt in anyone's mind that Cameron did it. She tells John, who takes it badly. Then she calls Reese, who also takes it badly. Jessie tries to set up the idea in Reese's mind that John needs to destroy Cameron, no one else can do it. The two of them fall madly - or really, more like somewhat-exhaustedly - in to bed.

Sarah tries to get John to kill Cameron, but John has some kind of unspoken connection with the Killbot, despite the fact that she freaks him out really bad, and gets mad at her, refusing to do it. Cam and John concoct a plan to convince Riley's foster-father that she's still alive. This goes a bit off the rails, but works. Then John breaks in to the morge to say goodby to Riley's body.

in an unrelated, but interesting subplot a bored Savannah gets John Henry (The reformed Killbot) to play hid and go seek with her. Ex-Agent Ellison - oh, hey, I just got that! "Ellison" is an in joke/nod to the fact that Harlan Ellison wrote "Demon with a Glass Hand" which the original Terminator movie ripped off in 1984! Ha! I'm slow!) is quite unhappy with John Henry for not simply telling them where the girl is, but Shirley Manson of Garbage seems intrigued by the whole thing.

Meanwhile in the Future (Which is, paradoxically, the past for Jessie and Reese), Reese is sent on a mission (Presumably to the past) and Jessie - XO of the USS Jimmy Carter nuclear submarine - is sent on a secret mission by John Connor of the Future. Ostensibly the mission is taking relief supplies to Australia, but in reality it's to meet up with a faction of Terminators in an underwater oil drilling platform near indonesia. The Terminators are not exactly receptive, but they stand down when the boarding team announces John Connor sent them to pick up a package, so the terminators assist them in loading the box in to the Carter.

To Be Continued...

OBSERVATIONS

I'm really growing to like Stephanie Chaves-Jacobsen. She was great in Battlestar Galactica: Razor a couple years ago, and she's really good here. She's really pretty and exotic, but she's got a really good balance of world-wearyness and self-loathing going on. She's kind of like a female Robert Vaughn, playing dead-eyed heavies who's souls may not be entirely so dead as they pretend them to be. Particularly, I like the way she's sitting around *thinking* about how to play the whole "I killed Riley" snag in her plans from last week: 1- ditch the body; 2- pick a fight to cover her pre-existing injuries; 3- make damn sure that Reese is around her when he finds out about Riley so she can influence him.

What makes this better than most manipulative scheming she-beasts from hell is that she clearly really loves Reese, and she clearly really hates herself for what she's doing. Ostensibly getting in a bar fight was for pragmatic reasons, but you can see it in her expression that she wants to be punished for what she's done, she needs to feel some pain. It's a clever way to play it.

Though I've missed a whole lot of episodes of this show, I have caught that she and Reese may come from slightly alternate futures, though she seems to be rather closed-lipped about that. I think she's lying, I think that's a total put-on to mislead Reese. The flashbacks indicate pretty clearly they're from the same future, shes' just lying to him to get a bit more lattitude to do her mission, whatever it is. And whatever it is somehow hinges on the sub scenes we've seen in this episode.

BTW, let me say that the sub scenes really ratchet up the cool factor for this show considerably. All this skulking around in the present/past is fine, but really I wanna' see more of the future. I mean, John Connor's resistance has a navy? Wow! There's people living in reasonable security in Perth? Wow! These are huge and super-cool revelations! I love this, and want to know more about it! Alas 4 more episodes and this pocket universe ends, I fear, leaving us all to endlessly argue about what the hell was going on.

The most interesting thing about this show is that everyone from the future seems to have mixed agendas working at somewhat crossed purposes. Kyle is obviously here to be a father figure to John and help protect him; Jessie is one of several other teams of John Connor's Time Travelin' Commandos that we've met thus far working on other missions, many of which refuse to get involved in John's life. Her mission is to drive home a schism between Young John and Cameron, so that future John won't trust the tamed Terminators. The question is: is she alone in this, or is there a faction in the future backing her? Is she a rogue, or an agent?

Furthermore, the Terminators themselves seem a bit like a house divided: Now that Cromarti has been reborn as John Henry, he's clearly interested in learning ethics and moral behavior, which is inconsistent with his basic programing. Shirley Manson of Garbage was initially introduced as a new heavy bad guy, but we've seen her take out a Skynet facility a few weeks back. So is she a good guy? Or is she from a rival faction of Terminators who's trying to rub out a rival iteration of Skynet or a schismatic group that's emerged at some point in the future? Any or all of these are possible, though I think there's more than one group of Terminators in the future.

This is borne out somewhat by the clearly-non-tamed Terminators in the undersea drilling rig who are clearly willing to parlez and even colaborate with Connor and his associates. The lines are fuzzy, and that's what intrigues me about the show.

Once again, I have to single out Richard T. Jones (Who was born in Japan - how cool is that?) as James Ellison. He's got a quiet but strong and dignified presence and an interesting Ricardo Montelbanesque kind of intensity: His emotions seem to be played as degrees of restraint, not as screaming our shouting or pouting. The angrier or presumably happier he gets, the tighter his delivery becomes. He doesn't get loud (Or like Montelban, quieter), he gets more clipped and intense. It's an interesting way to play the characters - and this show is largely a showcase of interesting ways for actors to bring something different to their characters - and he maintains a very significant presence in the show. He's sorely missed when he isn't in it. I've praised him before as being one of the few conventionally and devoutly religious characters in Science Fiction on TV, and I have to repeatedly praise the show for portraying him in a positive light with respect, rather than making him out to be a fanatic or a whack job. I seriously hope we'll get to see him team up with Team Connor before the end of the season, since my only regret is they haven't had any screen time together since I started watching the show again.

I've also got to praise Garret Dillahunt in his portrayal of John Henry/Cromarti. It's a difficult pinnocio kind of role to play, made worse by a lack of physical motion (He's always seated at a desk and literally chained to a wall), but his delivery, flat affect, and minimal facial expressions are nevertheless kind of mesmerizing, and I kind of live for the scenes where he and the similarly understated Ellison are discussing things. In today's episode, he's shocked to realize that his choices could have resulted in Savannah's death, and despite the circumspect nature of his part, he *Still* manages to get across a sense of shock and moral outrage at himself at the realization. That's impressive.

Cameron's malfunctioning status continues to be a real presence in the show, but it's in a charmingly unpredictable sense that makes it all the more dangerous, as when she tells John she loves him in Riley's voice. Is she telling him that in a ham-fisted attempt to make him feel better, or does she love him? Or does she think she loves him, since she's clearly incapable of it. She herself seems to think she's a threat to him, or potentially so, and I like the way she keeps lumbering in and out of control without raising too many flags about it. We're never sure if she's lying or not, and neither is John, but John seems to believe that their experiences together have resulted in some sort of qualitative difference in their relationship that - while inhuman - holds some hope for the future, and which the others can't seem to believe in.

My favorite line in the episode sums all this up, "Goodbye Bird, there was a 51% chance I wouldn't have killed you."

Even she doesn't know what's happening next, and neither do I, which is why I like the show.

So what's in the box? Much as I like seeing Summer Glau naked and curled up inside boxes, I'm kind of hoping it isn't her. Been there, done that. I'd like it to be something more shocking.

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