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Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles: "Desert Cantos"

Illustration for article titled iTerminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles/i: Desert Cantos
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Illustration for article titled iTerminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles/i: Desert Cantos

There's nothing wrong with a little gravitas. Considering that T:SCC is about the end of the world, you'd expect it to take itself seriously; much as I'd love to see them go full-on Strangelove, I'd be willing to accept sincerity, so long as the show provided a reasonable amount of robot carnage. But that acceptance only goes so far. Tonight's episode, "Desert Cantos," opened with a mass vigil/funeral for the people who died in the warehouse slaughter last week. Instead of that serving as a kick-off to the main event, that funeral—with all its tedious mourning, speeches, and bland new faces grieving over people we've never met (wow, there's a wife-who-never-really-knew-her-husband and a teenager who uses sarcasm to combat her grief!)—turned out to be the spine of the episode. This wasn't earned, and it wasn't interesting; we've got our heroes trying to solve mysteries that nobody actually cares about. The only way it could be duller is if the whole thing had been filmed underwater.

Again, we've got an attempt to be arty that gets the language right without having any grasp of the meaning behind it. "Cantos" has sections with title headings, like BURIAL and PROCESSIONAL. These title headings are largely irrelevant—it's possible to connect them to the plot (BURIAL isn't that hard to match up, at least), but they don't add anything to the episode beyond a vague sense of pretension. This kind of literary conceit is only effective when it's got the something solid behind it, but here, all we've got is the conceit. The writers would be a lot better off if they focused their efforts more on telling decent stories and less on gussying up crap ones.

So our heroes gate crash a funeral to try and find answers about Sarah's warehouse. Sarah gets fixated on the photograph of the man who shot her, which leads to her meeting up with that man's wife, Diana. Diana is more than willing to talk, and fills us in on her love of her husband, her confusion as to what was going on at the warehouse, and her anger with the company that employed dead Ed and their refusal to answer questions about what happened. John, meanwhile, is charming a girl named Zoe, who, in typical-TV-teen style, is responding to the grief around her with cynicism and indifference. Derek catches sight of Mr. Walsh, an employee of Weaver's she sent to track a certain someone down; the two of them have an unproductive conversation in the Connors' truck before Walsh catches on that Derek's not on the level and bails. Through all of this Cameron wanders around, occasionally saying something charmingly bizarre and/or helpful.

You could, if you wanted, fast-forward through the first half-hour of "Cantos, comfortable in the knowledge that you missed nothing worth seeing. There is a decent subplot with Weaver and Ellison; it's the anniversary of Weaver's husband's death, so Ellison passes along his condolences and asks how Savannah is handling things. Weaver, in her way, doesn't immediately grasp the question, but once she realizes that something is required of her, she sends Ellison away and has her "daughter" drop by for a visit. We don't get anything here as terrific as the last time Weaver and the little girl chatted, but watching something without emotion trying to puzzle its way through grief is entertaining, as is hearing Weaver repeat Ellison's story about the death of his father. (I gotta ask, do the people who work on this show not realize that the robot stuff is far and away the best thing they've got going? If you were to just do an hour each week of Weaver smirking and Cameron trying to figure things out, it would be so much better than the dullness we've been wading through lately.)

Thankfully, the main plot picks up considerably in the final quarter, once Cameron figures out that Zoe's dad isn't actually dead. After following Mr. Walsh into an empty house, Sarah finds a secret passage that leads to a security bunker, complete with monitors showing camera feeds all over town, and a passageway leading to Zoe's garage. John confronts Zoe about her missing father, and she tells him she can't talk, and points to a security camera hidden in a ceiling vent. There's a good idea here, buried under all the drudgery; having a whole town constantly monitored, with everyone in the dark but always suspecting something's off, could've made a decent ep, if we'd learned about it earlier on. As is, the revelations sort of clump together in the last ten minutes. Zoe and her mother see footage of Dad murdering a family that asked too many questions, and John figures out where the guy might have run off to: a field full of dead cows and, when John et al arrive, a dead Mr. Walsh. While they stand over the body, water ripples in a nearby pond, and out pops one of the drones that Sarah had seen right after getting shot. It shines a light on them for a moment, then flies off, only to land inside an eighteen wheeler parked somewhere down the road ahead; an eighteen-wheeler driven by none other than the disappearing Papa.

What does this mean, exactly? Weaver seemed to be looking for Pops earlier, and seeing as how he most likely killed Walsh, I don't think they're on great terms. Is there another faction working to build Skynet? Has Weaver gone rogue, or have they? Or is it something else; did Dad, after escaping the purge, just decide to steal himself a flying machine. I'll admit, I am a little curious. It would be nice if this whole plotline suddenly grew a point.

Grade: C+

Stray Observations:

  • It seems like we wasted half the episode flashing back to Sarah and Ed's fight. We get it, she's troubled. Move the hell on.
  • John: “Every single logical step we take leads to the most bizarre place.” Well, okay, why couldn't we have gone there?
  • Weaver: “Would you excuse me, Mr. Ellison? I’m feeling emotional.” Heh.

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