Television Series DVD
Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles: Season 1
Distributed By: Universal Studios Home Entertainment
Reviewed by Melissa Minners
I am a huge fan of the Terminator series of films, have read the books and even checked out the comic books. So, in 2008, when FOX announced a new series set in the Terminator storyline, it should have come as no surprise to anyone that I would be seated front and center at the television set for the premiere episode of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles. Enjoying the fresh concept being brought to the Terminator story, I watched every single episode until the last show of the second season. Unfortunately, the show was cancelled due to lack of ratings. Happily, my family knows just how much I love all things Terminator and bought Season 1 for me on DVD.
In Season 1, we are reintroduced to the characters of Sarah Connor (Lena Headey) and her son John (Thomas Dekker), two people on the run from robots from the future out to stop John Connor from achieving his destiny. You see, in the future, John Connor is a leader among men. In this future, machines have taken over the Earth and humans are not only expendable, they are slotted for mass termination. John leads his ragtag troops of human rebels against the machines, eventually overcoming them and wrenching back control over the world from the machines.
In the first episode of the series, John Connor is a teenager in high school. Sarah Connor is in a relationship with a paramedic (Dean Winters), struggling to live a normal life despite the nightmares of the hellish future described to her by John’s deceased father and future soldier, Kyle Reese (Jonathan Jackson). When she realizes that John is being hunted by yet another Terminator, she rushes to his school to rescue him only to discover that he has been rescued by another, more advanced model - a female Terminator (Summer Glau) designed to look like a teenager.
John is frustrated at this continuous running and moving from place to place, creating new identities. He wants to take a stand and fight. The Terminator has a way to solve the problem of the need to get away from Cromartie (the Terminator currently assigned to kill him) and taking a stand against the machines. She takes Sarah and John to a bank where future soldiers, sent back to our time, have hidden key elements in the fight against the machines. One such item - a way to travel to the future. Thus, Sarah, John and the teenage Terminator, now called Cameron, travel eight years into the future. It is 2007 and the Connors are back in Los Angeles, California. They now have four years before the apocalypse happens in which to track down the individuals responsible for the creation of Skynet and its technology.
But the Connors are not without enemies in this future. FBI Agent James Ellison (Richard T. Jones) has become obsessed with finding Sarah Connor, especially after catching a news spot featuring a rather naked Sarah Connor on the freeway (just after their jump to the future). Believed dead after the explosion in the bank, Sarah is a known terrorist and Ellison is determined to bring her to justice. Meanwhile, pieces of Cromartie, disassembled in the Connor’s explosive escape from the past, have been found and have somehow reactivated themselves. Cromartie is resourceful and finds a way to restore his skin, but is forced to take on a new identity. He undergoes plastic surgery to become sub-par actor George Laszio (Garrett Dillahunt). Of course, this means that the surgeon and the real Laszio must be disposed of and this also draws the attention of FBI Agent Ellison.
In fact, as the season goes on, Agent Ellison discovers more and more about the Connors and Sarah’s ravings in the mental hospital years before regarding machines taking over the world. He believes he has actually seen evidence of this. Once a skeptic, little by little, Ellison is becoming a believer, but he still wants to recapture Sarah Connor and bring her to justice for her other crimes.
So, while trying to keep a low profile, the Connors and their Terminator, Cameron, attempt to track down the important pieces of the Skynet puzzle, starting off with Andy Goode (Brendan Hines), creator of the “intelligent” chess-playing computer known as The Turk. As it turns out, the technology that created The Turk will eventually be used in the creation of Skynet. Andy Goode’s name is one among a list that was found in a safe house in which soldiers from the future were murdered by a Terminator. The information is vital to the Connors fight to save the future and elimination of the targets on the list is key. Unfortunately, Sarah Connor is struggling to find a reason to kill Andy, who seems like such a nice, unsuspecting individual with good intentions.
Enter Derek Reese (Brian Austin Green), a soldier sent back from the future and the soul survivor of the raid on the safe house where the Connors gathered their intel. Derek has no problems killing Andy, as we learn from flashbacks to the future (sounds confusing, eh?) Derek has after being shot by a Terminator (prompting a return of Sarah‘s old paramedic boyfriend and an explanation to him as to why she disappeared for eight years). Derek’s appearance in the lives of the Connors makes for a tense situation, as Derek is Kyle Reese’s brother and therefore John Connor’s uncle. Sarah doesn’t quite trust Kyle and decides that the Connors should not reveal his familial bond with John until she can figure out why Derek is here and what his angle is.
Through it all, the Connors hunt down the Turk, stolen just prior to Andy Goode’s murder. Their hunt puts them in the path of a mysterious businessman named Sarkissian and a possible end to Cameron at his hands. Meanwhile, Agent Ellison is busy tracking down George Laszio, who has been passing himself off as an FBI Agent named Robert Kester. Having cornered Kester in his hotel room, Ellison and his team prepare to capture their prey, but Kester aka Cromartie, has plans of his own. His mission objective will not be stopped…not by a bunch of puny humans with guns.
The first season of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles definitely packs a punch in the action category, but there is a very emotionally gripping side to this series as well. The series focuses on relationships - the relationship between Sarah and John, the relationship between John and Cameron, the relationship between the Connors and Derek Reese, the relationship between Derek and Cameron and more. There are some pretty intense and sometimes volatile moments in these relationships that shape the warrior and leader that John Connor will eventually become.
We see it all through the eyes of Sarah Connor, a woman who must protect her son to save humanity. We see two sides of Sarah Connor - the warrior and the mother. Although she may be tough as nails and seemingly insensitive to the needs of he son as the need for protection overrules her ability to let him act like a normal teenager, we realize that Sarah Connor truly loves her son and would do anything to protect him, even lay down her own life for him, not just because he will save mankind, but simply because he is her son. This is an important lesson in the Terminator series that becomes somewhat muddled in Terminator 2, but finds rebirth in this television series.
British actress Lena Headey faced the daunting task of filling the shoes of Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor for this series and did remarkably well. In fact, I think she played the role perfectly. You almost believe she had been portraying Sarah Connor since the Terminator project’s inception, especially when she is forced to reenact scenes from Terminator 2. There is a great chemistry between her and Thomas Dekker who also does an excellent job in the role of John Connor, who, in his teenage years, is struggling to find his identity. Sure, he knows he is supposed to be the savior of mankind, but right now he’s just a scared teenager trying to stop the creation of Skynet and hopefully change the daunting task of becoming a leader upon whom all hope is fixed.
Summer Glau is scary as Cameron - she plays the role so perfectly that you actually believe she is a robot. There is a lot of work that goes into forcing yourself to remain emotionless and not react to explosions, gunfire and the like to effect the likeness of a machine. It would seem that Glau has done her homework in this category. Her character also offers up some comic relief as Cameron struggles to understand humans and emulate them in the best way she can to fit in to society so she can better protect John Connor without drawing unwanted attention.
I also liked the introduction of Kyle Reese’s brother, Derek, to the storyline. It was nice to see Brian Austin Green in a total departure from the role that made him famous in Beverly Hills 90210. His character is gritty and complex and there is an extreme distrust for Cameron. This season alludes to some of the reasons for that distrust, but we are led to believe that more will be revealed in future episodes.
As for Agent Ellison, I believe that Richard T. Jones did an excellent job as the religiously devout FBI agent who struggles with his faith and his need to capture Sarah Connor. Once he finally believes in her vision of the future, I find it rather interesting that his character does so by finding parallels in Revelations and the tale of the apocalypse. An interesting angle to be sure.
The creators of The Sarah Connor Chronicles are not only artists, but faithful fans of the Terminator series of films. This went along way in the creation of this series as they strove to be true to the original Terminator movies while still finding a way to make this tale work in the Terminator cannon. Their faithfulness to detail and the original storyline, their creativity and a credible storyline of their own is what helped to make this series so addictive.
The Season 1 DVD of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles is chock full of extras including Deleted (or “Terminated“) Scenes, an extended cut version of Episode 7 (The Demon Hand featuring scenes from Sarah Connor’s incarceration at the mental hospital), Cast Audition Tapes, Summer Glau’s Dance Rehearsal, commentaries, a storyboard animatic, a Gag Reel and Creating the Chronicles, a three-part documentary of the production of the series. The audition tapes are boring and I would recommend skipping that as well as the storyboard stuff, unless you are really into that sort of thing. The dance rehearsal of Summer Glau is integral to The Demon Hand as Cameron goes undercover as a ballet student to gain more information as to The Turk’s whereabouts. It helps to have a prima ballerina in your cast, huh? The Gag Reel is hilarious, especially when you realize how hard it must be for Summer Glau to never show emotion. Most of the bloopers contain her and Thomas Dekker laughing in serious moments and you could see that folks on the set of The Sarah Connor Chronicles had a great deal of fun working together. My favorite extra was the documentary as I was able to learn just how much care went into the creation of this series. It is in this documentary you learn that from the selection of actors to the script to the music (created by Bear McCreary) to the action sequences and stunts, a great deal of love for the original movies and faithfulness to its elements went into the creation of this series.
The Season 1 DVD of The Sarah Connor Chronicles was a great deal of fun to watch as I hadn’t seen any of the episodes since they terminated the series in 2009. The series had a believable timeline with great flexibility. You could go almost anywhere with this story and I was infuriated when they decided to cancel this show. Sometimes, you watch DVDs of older series and wonder what it is you ever saw in the show, but watching Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles: Season 1 reaffirmed by belief that the show should never have been cancelled. I can’t wait to watch the DVD of Season 2!