Turns out last week wasn't a fluke; things continue to improve by inches on Sarah Connor Chronicles. "Today Is The Day" still has some dead spots—the show has a bizarre way of taking what should be solid plot developments and rendering them boring as hell—but it also had more of the kind of thing this series needs if it ever wants to last. Good character dynamics, building drama, and a solid twist near the end all made the hour go down easier than it has in the past. It's just too bad there's still so much junk to get through to get to the good stuff.
But before I rant, let's get the story out of the way, hm? "Today" deals mostly with the fall-out from Riley's death last week. Jesse (after a nice control freak moment with the lamps in her hotel room) dumps the body off screen; the police find it in a river, and Sarah and John's formerly-pregnant landlady (remember her?) finds out about it from her on-again-off-again cop boyfriend. She tells Sarah in passing, in one of the clumsiest expositing bits we've had on the show. (Seriously, it's horrible. "God, what a day. I want to keep my pregnant boobs! My ex has the kid. Hey, did I tell you there was a corpse?") Bad-writing aside, it makes you wonder if Jesse had just given up on her plans for Riley after the murder; I'd assumed Jesse would try and frame Cameron for the shooting, and she certainly takes advantage of the doubts that crop up when the corpse is found. But if that was her plan, why dump it in a river with no ID? Just because Sarah and John knew about her star tattoo doesn't mean the police would.
Jesse's always been a hard read, but this time around we start getting some of her backstory. One of the big questions of the season is why she hates Cameron (or "the metal") as much as she does. Obviously anyone who's suffered through J-Day is going to have some serious issues with robots, but Jesse's issues always seemed more intense than that. Plus there's the fact that she came back in time without Future-John's approval specifically to get rid of The Show's Only Good Character. There's got to be some motivation behind that. In "Today," we don't get the full picture, but we do get a glimpse of it, with past-Jesse on a mission in the Jimmy Carter sub. The sub is piloted by ex-evil cyborg thing Queeg, and while he manages to save the ship from an attack by a Skynet kraken (sweet lord, I wish this series had the budget to show that attack; instead, we got a "submarine" that was just a series of rooms with different kinds of tables), he's still behaving oddly. We find out that he's on secret orders from Future-John to make a rendevous into Skynet territory for a pick up. Even better, when the crew follows the orders, they find some terminators waiting—terminators who stand politely by while one of their number hands over a glowing metal box.
Stuff like this makes up for a lot of bad dialogue; I know we'd talked about the possibility of different factions in the machines, and that future-John could be working with one or more of those factions, but is this the first time we've had confirmation? It's been a while since this show bothered to be interesting, so I can't remember.
Thankfully the robot-reveal wasn't the only clever thing here. We get some Weaver and John Henry stuff, when Weaver's daughter Savannah wants to play Hide and Seek and Weaver tells her, in essence, to go screw. John Henry is watching, though, and he entices Savannah down to the basement; Savannah disappears, and when Weaver and Ellison ask John Henry for her wherabouts, he tells them they have to play a game first. I appreciated this segment more in concept than in practice; the set-up was terrific (watching as various electronic systems gently guided Savannah on her way was both kind of sweet and sort of creepy), but once Ellison and Weaver got involved, the whole thing lost momentum. Thinking back on it now, I can't quite pinpoint why—a pacing issue? The fact that the story was broken up over the course of the whole episode? (Speaking of, the timing was bizarre; every time we saw the Connors it was the middle of the night, and every time it switched to Weaver, broad daylight.) Ellison was, as always, useless, even if he did figure out Savannah's hiding place in the end. I do like Weaver's continued fascinationg with John; Savannah's disappearance wasn't nearly as important to her as figuring out just what he was trying to do.
Of the remaining threads, Derek and Jesse spent some time together; Jesse gets into a barfight with some naval-airmen as cover for her bruises, and Derek has to bail her out of jail. Once Derek finds out about Riley's death, Jesse starts pushing him on dealing with Cameron. Or rather, pushing him on making John deal with Cameron. I wondered if she tipped her hand a little when she already had her reasoning planned out so thoroughly? Derek seemed suspicious, but he dropped it quick enough. (He did have a nice moment when Jesse suggested something good could come out of Riley's death.)
But the real Riley fallout came from the increasingly weird triangle of John, Sarah, and Cam. Sarah is instantly and entirely convinced that Cam killed Riley. It's an understandable reaction, especially given the events of the beginning of the season; the problem is, since we've been so mired in other crap the past few months, Cameron's chip-problems don't seem as immediate as they once did. It makes Sarah look even more humorless and grim than ever, reducing her character to that lone, tedious note she's been playing off and one since the show began. John doesn't think Cameron did the killing—at least, he doesn't want to believe she did. (And does he get confirmation when he goes to look at Riley's body? I hadn't thought so, but a friend who watches the show argued otherwise.) But he's all mopey and emo too. He should be grieving and upset over the death of someone he cared about, but since he doesn't seem that much different than he normally does, who's to care?
This leaves Cameron once again doing the heavy lifting. She gets the best lines, and she's one of the few people on the series whose ambiguity makes her more interesting rather than less. Cam doesn't get nearly enough to do here, but at least she isn't reduced to a cameo; and the scene where she uses Riley's voice to convince Riley's step-dad that Riley's still alive was cool, as was her final conversation with Sarah. There are bad times ahead, I think.
My biggest current problem with this series is that despite all of the above, despite all the intrigue and drama, I still spent at least half of "Today" more than a little bored. It was passable entertainment, and it keeps threatening to become stronger, but there's a lethargy to even the best moments in each episode that drags the whole thing down. Which is funny, because of the many things one could say about the three big-screen Terminator films, "lethargic" isn't one of them. (Hell, even the third entry, the one most people seem to loathe, is at least well-paced.) It's possible to be serious without being dull, and it's possible to tell dark stories without putting the viewer to sleep; somebody needs to remind the writers that a little more humor and energy could make all the difference.
- "Goodbye, bird. There's a %51 chance I wouldn't have killed you." Why can't the rest of the dialogue can't be this good?
- I actually liked Terminator 3: Rise Of The Machines. At least nobody teaches the robot a catch-phrase.
- Wire-watch: Chad Coleman (aka, "Cutty") plays the unflappable Queeg.