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Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles: "Self Made Man"

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I always like to watch the "Previously on" montage that opens each new T:SCC episode. Not for the plot-refresher, although that can come in handy; it's more that the montage gives you a sense of what to expect from the rest of the ep. If we get a lot of clips of Jesse and Derek, we know they'll be doing some damage in the upcoming forty-three minutes; if we see Sarah freaking, we know there's gonna be some more of that in our future; and if we see John and Riley making googly eyes, we know that this would be a good time to play some FreeCell while the TV runs in the background.

"Self-Made Man"'s refresher gave us some quick references to Cameron's chip damage; which is good news, since that means we get another largely Cam-dominated story, with a background assist from John and His Girl Manic. "Man" lacks the emotional weight and uncertainty of "Allison From Palmdale," but it's a solid, un-insulting entry, riding on enough clever ideas to make its lack of big moments significantly less important.

In general, I'm not a huge fan of T:SCC's structural tendency towards multi-storied episodes; for the series where it works (as it did on The Wire—and yes, I've now managed to mention The Wire in all four blogs I write for the TV Club, which fulfills my contractual obligations for this year), it can create a rich, thriving world, a sense of perpetuated existence that continues even beyond the moments we spend with each character. At worst, well, anybody remember the second season of Heroes? Or, honestly, the first? The more plots you try and cover in a single chunk, the easier it is to short change one and over spend another, killing the flow and giving audiences the perpetual sense of moving far too quickly over nothing much at all.

But even at its clunkiest, plot-density provides the writers with a lot of empty spaces. In "Man," we learn that Cameron's been moonlighting over at a college library with a wheelchair bound student named Eric; apart from what it tells us about Cam and her increasingly flexible mission priorities, the info fits in just fine with everything else that's been going on this season. As both Sarah and John point out, Cam never sleeps. Given her growing interest in basically everything, her copious amounts of free time, and the fact that outside sarcasm and the occasional command, there's not much in the way of conversation at the Connor household, it seems inevitable that she'd start up some extra-curricular activities.


These activities comprise the bulk of the episode, as we see Cameron doing her level best to "make friends," a task aided by her physical attractiveness but defeated by her inability to read social cues. In between semi-flirting, she investigates a photograph of a 1920 speakeasy fire after she recognizes a man in the photograph as a T-888 model who she and Eric later identify as Myron Stark. One of the ep's niftiest conceits has Cam and Eric tracking Myron through a variety of media: filmstrip, microfiche, radio news, and a documentary with footage of one of the survivors of the speakeasy fire. Like a lot of things on T:SCC, it's more of an admirable idea than anything with lasting resonance, but it was still fun to watch the mystery unravel.

There is one sub-story going on during all this–John and Riley, together again. It's a bunch of standard teenage angst stuff; Riley gets John out to a party by pretending she wants a ride home, but when he gets there, she convinces him to stick around. (At first I thought we were just seeing one of Riley's lately revealed mood shifts, but while there's some room for argument, the fact that we don't see her getting all depressed again seems to indicate the whole thing was a con.) And wouldn't you know it, John runs afoul of the party host; first he gets tormented because he's a loner, then he has to defend Riley's honor when the host accuses her of stealing his lighter. (Unsurprisingly, Riley actually did swipe the damn thing.) It's a scenario that's been played out in teen soap opera countless times, and it ends about as you'd expect, with John and Riley parked on a hilltop, making out.


Fortunately,, this was a small part of "Man"; mostly, we just got to watch Cam and Eric hunt around for info, and listen to their awkward small talk. The small talk was probably the best part, although it got a little heavy-handed by the end. Cam determines that Eric's cancer has come back, and she tells him this (and her reasons for believing it) without realizing he could get upset–and when he does freak out, he starts going off on how she doesn't know what it's like to have "Something inside you. Something damaged." Given what happened to her processing chip at the start of the season, Cameron knows well-enough.

The Myron mystery has an unexpected twist. Turns out Skynet sent him back in time to assassinate someone, but missed the correct date by a good ninety years. His arrival inadvertently leads to the death of the son of a building magnate, who orders that the site of his son's latest project, Pico Tower, be transformed into a memorial garden. Unfortunately for him, Myron needs that tower around so he can (eventually) complete his mission, so he spends the next five or six years utterly ruining the rich guy's life. It's a cool illustration of the single-minded determination of the machines, and when Cameron puts the pieces together and tracks Myron down to his current hiding spot behind a wall in the Tower, we even get an all right robot fight.


But it's Cameron's emerging personality that has the most promise for future eps. Her continued attempts to connect with people–how much of it's an act, how much of it's real, and whether or not the whole concept of "real" is invalidated by Cameron just being what she is–offer us rare moments when the show isn't struggling under the weight of franchise continuity. "Man" was enjoyable but slight; no heavy-duty emotional component, and the adventures of Myron didn't really connect back to any main threads. But the pacing was good, and just that moment at the end, when Cameron offers donuts to her new "friend" was what the series does best; hopeful and kind of creepy, all at the same time.

Grade: B+

Stray Observations:

—Myron's target is Governor Mark Wyman. Wonder if we'll see more of him?

—Nice how when Myron ran his own company, everyone was well-paid and treated equally; the assumption from the beginning has been that Skynet, and essentially all A.I. free from human interference, is inherently evil. But since Skynet went to exterminate the human race after the humans tried to "pull the plug," I'm wondering if some sort of peaceful relationship between man and machine might not be possible?


—Why the hell are all the lights on in Pico Tower?

—It's a small touch, but I like that Cameron still manages to get the laundry done.


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