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Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles: "Ourselves Alone"

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After the snooze-fests of the past couple of weeks, it's nice to get back to basics. "Ourselves Alone" has the return of Riley, Jesse, and Cameron's post-explosion twitchiness, and while it's not exactly a thrill ride, at least we're not wasting our weekly forty with characters we've never seen and conspiracies that continually fail to resolve. Anything that gives Cameron more screen is an improvement, and for once Sarah gets to do something beside be angst-filled and mopey. Best of all, we actually get some forward motion on a plot that's been dragging at our heels since last fall. We have to wait most of the episode for this to happen, but at least it's something.

One of weird side effects of spending two episodes in what can charitably be described as a cul-de-sac o' plot is the way Riley's suicide attempt went off the radar for a while. It was addressed some way back in "The Good Wound," but there wasn't any serious discussion; for a show that likes to swim in misery like Scrooge McDuck in his money bin, this was something of an oversight. But then,  Terminator has always had a habit of raising plot points and then tossing them to the side for no clear reason. "Alone" tries to fill the hole by dealing more directly with the nearly-broken-beyond-repair Riley. The attention she receives isn't exactly what you'd call therapeutic, but it's nice that Sarah, John, and Cameron are putting time into the problem. (Of course, the only real reason Sarah's putting in the time is that Riley's apparently developed a nasty habit of spreading around privileged, potentially dangerous information.)

Riley isn't the only one breaking down. In one of the best cold opens we've had in ages, Cameron has a chat with the pigeon that lives in the Connor house chimney. As with a lot of the best Cam scenes, this one starts off funny ("That's a window, bird.") but gets spooky fast, as River the Robot accidentally squeezes the bird to death while attempting to release it outside. Again we're reminded of Cameron's chip issues; it's a thread that, once raised, hasn't cropped up nearly often enough. The series has been suffering from a distinct lack of dramatic tension for a while now, as the writers seem to be operating under the impression that grim facial expressions, sluggish pacing, and endlessly silly psuedo-poetic narration all adds up to Hitchcockian suspense. Despite the fact that our heroes are struggling to save the world, nothing much ever seems to be at stake. Cameron's potential unreliability is exactly the kind of thing that needs more attention, as it's easy to understand, and easy to get nervous about; unlike, say, the mystery company that Sarah and Derek are still working to track down.

Yeah, hey, Derek's back this week. He and Jesse get in some friendly target practice, and Derek starts pushing her involvement in the current mission. (I understand the need for our heroes to be active, but I can't remember a single point this entire season when I've given a rat's ass about their goals. A clear statement of purpose would be nice—at the very least, it would indicate that the writers actually have a plan for all this.) Jesse shows her usual reluctance to commit to anything, but Derek won't have it, essentially ordering her to step up. There's a nice bit here when Derek reveals the date of his Judgment Day (April 21, 2011), and tries to get Jesse to do the same; this isn't the first time the two have discussed that they may be from different futures, and it's still a very cool idea.

But Jesse won't even give up that little piece of information, possibly because she's got so many secrets running at this point she can't risk exposing herself, lest they all fall out at once. In addition to her planting Riley at John's side, Jesse's started nosing around Riley's foster family, pretending to be a guidance counselor from her and John's school and asking all sorts of difficult questions about the Connors and their potential influence over a certain troubled young blond. She and Sarah meet up, and Sarah's completely taken in by the counselor identity; it's a decent scene, provided you can get past Jesse's not entirely successful attempts to mask her accent, and the fact that Sarah, who should know better, gets led by the nose throughout.

One thing I liked about this episode is that, for once, when a character does a seemingly inexplicable thing (why is Jesse nosing around Riley's home life? Why is she trying to push Riley away from John?), we actually get a motivation behind it—and a decently plausible motivation at that. Turns out Jesse isn't too happy with the way Operation Kick The Cam is proceeding, and has decided to force the issue by making Riley appear like a threat; given Riley's obvious instability, this doesn't take all that much effort. Jesse assumes that once Riley's presence becomes too dangerous to tolerate, Cameron will remove the problem by taking Riley out herself. This, in Jesse's eyes, would drive John away from his pet cyborg for good. Only problem is, Riley figures out what Jesse's trying to do, goes to Jesse's hotel room, and in the knock-down fight that ensues, forces Jesse to do her own dirty work.

Not bad, huh? I know she has fans here, but I'm not sad to see Riley go, mainly because it means stuff is finally actually happening for a change. While "Alone" suffered from long chunks of tedium, it did turn out to be a little better structured than I'd anticipated going in. John finding out that Cameron was having some mechanical issues re-established how much he trusts her, while at the same time sowing potential seeds of doubt in his mind for when Riley's body is inevitably discovered. The fact that Cameron actually gives him a remote detonator for a bomb in her head just sweetens the pot. Although the problem is, Cameron's not the same kind of disposable Riley was. If John does end up pushing that button… Well, we've had "jumping the shark" and "nuking the fridge." "Detonating the Cameron" doesn't have quite the same ring, but it'd be just as devastating.

Grade: B-

Stray Observations:

  • Didn't really get into Derek's lawyer-quest, mostly because nothing much happened. But he didn't get the lawyer, if you're wondering.
  • Sarah is really terrible at the fine art of conversation. Her attempts to find out if Riley's foster dad was an abuser were hilariously inept. "So, um, yeah, it's stressful having kids, and hey, if somebody were to just knock their foster daughter upside the head 'cause she was being all uppity? I'd totes sympathize."
  • I love how we've gone from "leave at the first sign of trouble" to "debate about possibly killing a teenage girl, just so we don't have to move."
  • Big props to Chris for covering for me last week. Note to Chris: you'll see your loved ones soon.

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