After the deflating conclusion to last week's showdown with Cromartie, this week's episode, "Complications," was short on set-pieces and long on, well, complications. It starts off with Sarah having the first in what will turn out to be a plague of peculiar dreams; in this one, she's at the spot where Cromartie was buried, and Cameron is watering cacti. Then the cacti turn metal, and John shows up, and it all gets a little weird. When Sarah comes to, she's in the back seat of the Jeep, and she feels like she's going to puke. John pulls over like a dutiful son, and Cameron inquires if Sarah is pregnant; John gets upset with her, but really, you can't question the logic.
Or maybe you can. Cam is showing more signs of those personality quirks that've been surfacing since the start of the season. She still asks the same inappropriate questions, but she no longer has any problem arguing her case–she's developing an initiative, and in a formerly human-killing cyborg from the future, initiative isn't exactly comforting. Her oddness continues to be one of the show's biggest assets; for one, it raises interesting questions about the nature of intelligence and the potential in Skynet's machines to develop some approximation of a soul.
For another, it gives us an audience identification figure; and if that sounds improbable, bear with me for a second. When John and Cameron go back to Cromartie's grave, they find the body's been snatched. As Ellison was the only other person who knew the dead machine's location, he's naturally the first suspect for its theft. John and Cam stake out Ellison's home, and they talk a bit about the nature of man and robot; Cameron is curious as to why Sarah saved a tortoise earlier, and John explains that "that's what we do." For Cam, the question isn't an emotional one–her actions are defined by logic and goals, and anything that doesn't fall into her goals is open to interpretation. It means there's room for change in her; as she says, "We're not built to be cruel."
Of course then she and John bust in on Ellison and Cameron proceeds to beat the snot out of Ellison in attempt to get answers. Again, it's an emotionless action; the important bit happens at the end, after John decides that Ellison doesn't know anything about Cromartie's disappearance. Before Cameron lets Ellison go, she turns him over on his stomach–just like Sarah did with the turtle. She's making choices based on observation and deduction, which makes her, in a way, easier to relate to than the Connors or Derek. While most of us are probably not emotionless conglomerations of steel and tissue, we've all had those moments when it seems like everybody else is working off a rule book that we were never given. Cam is working with the same deficit; just in her case, she doesn't have the luxury of instinct to fall back on.
"Complications" was strong all the way through; the weakest bits were probably Sarah's dream problems, and even that was solid. Best bit, I'd have to say, involved guest star Richard Schiff and a whole lotta duck tape. Schiff played Toby Ziegler on The West Wing, and he's always a welcome sight; before Wing, he was largely relegated to bland bureaucrat roles (or boring villains), but his part here gives him something to work with. Given how the ep ends, I doubt we'll be seeing much of him again, but man, was it cool while it lasted.
New future-slang this week: "Greys," traitors to the human race who work for Skynet post-Judgement Day. It's an inevitable concept, and, to the best of my knowledge, it's not one we've ever heard mentioned before, either on the show or in the movies. When Derek gets an urgent call from Jesse, he arrives to find she's taken a hostage; she says his name is Charles Fischer, and that he's the worst of the all the Greys. Only problem is, Derek doesn't recognize him, and "Charles" (Schiff) claims he's a lowly watchmaker, that his real name is Paul Stewart, and that he has no clue what's going on.
So it's Death and the Maiden and the Delorean, then. I suppose you could say there's some initial ambiguity as to whether or not Jesse's making the right call; she's behaving even more wound-up than usual, and since her sanity has never been a completely sure thing (can't really think of a character on this show who isn't at least a little mental), it's theoretically possible that Paul really is who he claims to be.
But c'mon, that's not how this game is played. As nice as it would've been having "Complications" not end with Schiff getting shot, dramatically speaking, that's a little too easy. Instead, Jesse makes use of the whole "time travel" thing to prove that she's right, by kidnapping the present day version of Fischer (Adam Busch, who should be familiar to Buffy fans), and showing that him and the older man have the exact same birthmark on their shoulder. (I wonder what she would've done if Fischer was mark-less?)
So there's some light torture, Derek has a very cool speech about how some people can withstand pain, and the older Fischer exits the picture. Derek and Jesse let the younger one go; they don't realize it, but in one of those circular-logic conundrums the series revels in, it turns out the older Fischer had traveled to the past to frame the younger Fischer as a terrorist, thus getting him locked up and ensuring his survival through Judgment Day.
Which is clever, but I'm more interested in the idea of alternate timelines that gets thrown out here; according to Jesse (and Fischer himself), Derek suffered directly at the hands of the older Fischer, but he doesn't remember it. She thinks he's blocking out trauma, but he has an idea that maybe, in his future, the event never happened. Maybe the things he (and by extension the rest of the Connors) does really has been changing things.
It was an excellent capper to a surprisingly un-disappointing episode. Throw in the reveal that Ellison really was lying, he really did dig up Cromartie, and, as had been speculated in the comments last week, he ultimately delivered the body to Robo-Manson, and you've got a whole lot of balls in the air. Here's hoping one or more turn out to be chainsaws.
—Yay, Dr. Sherman is back!
—A tortoise. On its back. In (roughly) the desert. Good thing John didn't ask after Cameron's mother, or somebody'd get his ass shot. (Okay, we've got Blade Runner nods, maybe we can get some Metropolis before the end of the season?)