Watching “The Sarah Connor Chronicles” Season 1 (2008) after reading the post-“T2” comics and novels, it seems certain that producer Josh Friedman is doing a loose adaptation of those materials. However, listening to his episode commentaries, it seems that’s not the case after all, as he cites only the films as influences. It goes to show that when continuing from “T2,” the story, character and thematic points are obvious. This is perhaps why James Cameron had nothing more to say after two movies and a theme-park ride.
Nonetheless, “Sarah Connor Chronicles” is my favorite incarnation of “Terminator” outside of the first two films. True, a lot of the material is the same as in the comics and novels, from broad ideas like Sarah and John being on the run and trying to stop the rise of technology that will become Skynet, to specifics like Terminators growing skin in pools of artificial blood. But there is also a fair amount of new stuff, which comes primarily from the details such as John’s life at school.
Most notably, though, this TV series allows us to see beloved characters in live action again. And in the case of the title character, whether Friedman realized it or not, she was indeed underexplored in the comics and novels along with being absent from “T3.” And – outside of taking a time machine to the mid-1990s and casting Linda Hamilton and Edward Furlong — the casting couldn’t have been better, with Lena Headey as Sarah, Thomas Dekker as John and Summer Glau as the good Terminator Cameron (see more about their performances below).
The most intriguing new element is John’s school life, particularly the mystery of who is spray-painting strange murals that cause one student to kill herself and another – John’s potential love interest, Jordan – to be uneasy. This is this biggest cliffhanger heading into Season 2; if memory serves, it doesn’t get resolved, unfortunately.
“Sarah Connor Chronicles” draws from the look and feel of the first two movies. In the pilot, our heroes face their main Terminator nemesis, Cromartie, in a New Mexico town rife with beiges reminiscent of the “T2” desert scenes. Cameron sometimes dresses like past Terminators, particularly when she dons shades reminiscent of the T-1000 in episode 7, “Demon Hand.” The camera often frames scenes in the style of the films, and Bear McCreary’s music draws from the established scores.
In the last of the season’s nine episodes, “What He Beheld,” the show finds its own sense of style when Cromartie kills an entire SWAT team. One by one, their bodies fly into a swimming pool as Johnny Cash’s “Six White Horses” plays.
The nine episodes are of a consistently high quality as they chronicle our heroes’ attempt to stop proto-Skynet technologies while dodging Terminators. A couple of intriguing diversions are “The Turk” (episode 3), about a suicidal student, and “Dungeons & Dragons” (6), which is set during the Future War, making it the first live-action story heavily set post-Judgment Day. Surprisingly, I liked the former much more than the latter, as Skynet’s motivations for holding Resistance fighters captive are vague. The glimpses of the war-torn landscape are great, but most of the episode is set in one building due to budget restrictions.
CHARACTERS AND ACTORS
John Connor: Dekker nicely shows 16-year-old John’s development from frustration with their constant moves to a desire to strike at technology and organizations that will become Skynet. Another actor plays young John in the flashback scene in “Queen’s Gambit” (5).
Sarah Connor: Headey shares Hamilton’s mix of hardness and softness, but the softer side gets played up more in the series, from her loving relationship with her son to her literal soft tones when she does the voiceovers. In the timeline Cameron comes back from, Sarah dies of cancer in 2005. In the “T3” timeline, she dies in 1997. She is cancer-free for now, but it looms as a threat.
Kyle Reese: Following in the shoes of Michael Biehn, Jonathan Jackson plays Kyle in the Future War scenes of “Dungeons & Dragons” (6) and Skyler Gisondo plays young Kyle in the 2007 and 2011 scenes of “What He Beheld” (9). Cameron says in “Dungeons & Dragons” that John and Kyle (age 12) met in 2015. This is earlier than on most timelines (for example, they don’t meet until 2029 in the Blackford books), although in the Stirling books, John meets 10-year-old Kyle in 2016. Kyle was born before J-Day here (in about 2003); in many other timelines (most notably, the original “T1” timeline), he’s born after J-Day.
Derek Reese: Played by “Beverly Hills, 90210” veteran Brian Austin Green in an eye-opening turn, he’s the classic hardened Resistance soldier. Derek, age 31, is seven years older than his brother Kyle. He time-travels from 2027 to 2007 along with three colleagues who are soon killed by a Terminator. Sarah opts not to tell Derek about Kyle being John’s dad, but he figures it out on his own in “What He Beheld” (9). Derek sees his younger self from a distance, playing baseball with Kyle in “What He Beheld,” but he doesn’t go up and talk to “himself,” a contrast from John in the Blackford trilogy. Kyle also has a younger brother, named Tim, in the Now Comics.
Agent James Ellison: Richard T. Jones, the smooth actor from “Judging Amy,” plays the FBI agent who – despite warnings from his superiors – pursues the Connor case and all the things that don’t add up about it. Ellison’s obsession with the case calls to mind Jordan Dyson in the Stirling novels. The character’s name is a nod to Harlan Ellison, whose works influenced the first “Terminator” movie.
Charley Dixon: Dean Winters plays Sarah’s fiancé, an EMT worker in Nebraska in 1999. She loves him, but she places the mission first and leaves him (both in place and later, in time). But he has moved to L.A. in the time our heroes’ jumped over, so they meet again in 2007.
Tarissa Dyson: Initially, she thinks Sarah killed Miles, as per the official police narrative. But upon seeing Cameron and being reminded of the stakes, she trusts Sarah again. This Tarissa is world-weary and brave, a contrast to the petrified Tarissa of the Malibu Comics and, to a lesser extent, the Stirling novels.
Dr. Silberman: The doc who was the primary thorn in Sarah’s side during her incarceration is played by Bruce Davison. In “Demon Hand” (7), we discover that Silberman has privately re-examined the case in the wake of seeing the T-1000 in “T2,” and now he believes Sarah. But he has also gone insane, suspecting everyone of being a Terminator, and then murdering them. This contrasts with “T3,” where Silberman has blocked out what he saw (until he sees another Terminator), and the Stirling trilogy, where he becomes Sarah’s ally. His state of mind fits most closely with the Malibu Comics, but there Silberman was caught by the authorities and placed in a straightjacket.
Jordan: Shy and/or shifty, she’s a potential girlfriend of fellow loner John.
Enrique Salceda: Usually a staunch ally of Sarah, he’s decidedly shiftier here. He sends Sarah to his questionable nephew, Carlos, to get fake IDs, then calls the authorities on the Connors. Cameron kills him.
Andy Goode: He creates the Turk, the chess computer that grows to become Skynet, as we learn in “Dungeons & Dragons” (6). He briefly dates Sarah in 2007, then is a guilt-ridden Resistance soldier in the Future War. Andy is the latest in a long line of accidental Skynet inventors who follow Miles Dyson, although he’s a bit different in that he does everything on his own rather than building on Miles’ work or reverse engineering a piece of future tech. In the new timeline, Derek kills Goode; Vick the Terminator – the original murder suspect — was presumably trying to protect Goode.
Billy Wisher: This is the name of one of Derek’s fellow soldiers in “Dungeons & Dragons” (6). This is a nod to William Wisher, the co-writer of “T2.”
Sarah’s parents: In “Demon Hand” (7), we learn that Sarah’s dad was laid off from a mattress factory and he left the family (inspiring Sarah to distrust technology even before she sees a Terminator), and her mom was a waitress. This marks the first “Terminator” story where Sarah’s folks are mentioned.
T-888s: Most of the Terminators in “SCC” are T-Triple-Eights. T-888s can mimic human eating habits (pilot episode) and can analyze skin temperature and pulse rates by touching a human (2, “Gnothi Seauton”). They can’t do CAT scans. Their chips can be removed and plugged into other computers. For instance, Cameron’s essence plants the virus into a proto-Skynet traffic-camera system in “Vick’s Chip” (8).
Cameron Phillips: Glau gives us a chance to spend more time getting to know what makes a Terminator tick. Next to River in “Firefly,” this is her most well-known role. The character’s name is, of course, a nod to “Terminator” creator James Cameron. In contrast to the T-800 (“T2”) and T-850 (“T3”), which did not question orders from John (or Kate), Cameron says she “takes orders from (the future) John, but not this John,” since “they’re not the same yet.” In order to be in position to protect John, Cameron poses as John’s sister.
Cromartie: Mostly played by Garrett Dillahunt, he’s the primary antagonist. He first pursues our heroes in 1999 (played by Owain Yeoman), then he gets blown up in the bank explosion that accompanies our heroes’ time travel. Cromartie’s body tracks down his head and he puts his endoskeleton back together in 2007. He recruits a scientist to make the artificial blood bath that allows him to grow skin, and he recruits a plastic surgeon to make him look like an actual living man, whose identity he steals. Then, no doubt using his computer skills, makes himself an FBI agent. Whew.
Vick Chamberlain: Another enemy of our heroes, his endoskeleton is burned into oblivion by Cameron, but his hand is still out there, creating consternation in “Demon Hand” (7). His chip then causes problems in “Vick’s Chip” (8). An arm and chip of a Terminator also were central to “T2,” of course. Showing that T-888s can infiltrate society better than previous models, Vick marries the L.A. city manager, Barbara, in order to influence her to push for traffic cameras and other technology that Skynet can use.
Carter: This Terminator has a position of power within the U.S. Army. He oversees the warehouse stockpiling coltan alloy – a key element in endoskeletons — in “Heavy Metal” (4). With his mission completed, he goes into sleep mode, awaiting J-Day.
T-600s: Cameron mentions in “Heavy Metal” (4) that the coltan alloy of the T-888s have a higher melting point than the titanium alloy of the T-600s. In the Future War scenes of “Dungeons & Dragons (6), the Terminator holding Derek and Andy captive looks somewhat rubbery, calling to mind the T-600s (Skynet’s first series of Infiltrator unites) as described by Kyle in the first movie.
CONTINUITY AND CONTRADICTIONS
“The Sarah Connor Chronicles” is more or less a sequel to “T2,” with one major element of “T3” (Sarah’s illness) peppered in. It’s not precisely on either of those timelines, though (see the Timelines and Time Travel section). The action starts in 1999, then Sarah, John and Cameron time-jump forward to 2007.
John and Sarah are in West Fork, Neb., at the start of the pilot episode. Nebraska is the site of a Skynet base in the Dynamite Comics.
Sarah and John quickly move to Red Valley, N.M. They also live in New Mexico in the Tiedemann book, “Hour of the Wolf.”
Sarah has a “no hacking” rule for John, as she wants to minimize their online presence. In the Stirling books, by contrast, John’s computer skills are crucial to finding allies.
Cromartie smuggles a gun inside his leg in order to get around the rule that only living tissue can go through the time field. In the Dark Horse 1984 saga, Terminators implant weapons inside an unwitting human.
Sarah is a waitress in Nebraska, a throwback to her job in “T1” and Dark Horse’s “Death Valley.”
In “Gnothi Seauton” (2), we learn that Sarah and John have gone through “nine aliases, 24 jobs and four languages.” Indeed, they are proficient in Spanish in most post-“T2” stories. Here, Sarah read “The Wizard of Oz” to young John in Spanish, which is why they use “Baum” (the author’s name) as an alias.
Sarah notes that she spent three years in the mental institution before the events of “T2.”
Cameron’s head going through a windshield is an homage to “T3.”
In “The Turk” (3), Sarah begins to earnestly pursue the idea of killing the scientists behind the Skynet technology, continuing her “T2” mission. This was also the mission of the Resistance fighters in the Dark Horse 1984 saga and of Sarah and John in most of their post-“T2” novel and comics adventures. She’s beginning to suspect it won’t work, as she dreams of planning to assassinate the scientists behind the atomic bomb only to have them turn into endoskeletons and kill her.
Cromartie gets a scientist to grow skin for him using an artificial blood bath. This process was also shown in the future scenes of the Dark Horse 1984 saga.
“Queen’s Gambit” (5) shows a flashback of Sarah and John training in the jungles of Central America, something they also did in the Stirling books.
Andy’s chess computer, the Turk, is the first link in what will become Skynet. John enjoys playing chess in Stirling’s “The Future War,” and Cameron notes that this John likes playing chess too.
The link between the U.S. military and the folks who unwittingly create Skynet is present in most “Terminator” stories, sometimes strongly, sometimes tenuously. Here, the winner of the computer chess contest will be awarded with a military contract.
In “Dungeons & Dragons” (6), Kyle is looking at Sarah’s Polaroid as per the traditional lore. It’s a Polaroid of Headey rather than Hamilton. The Polaroid will later feature Emilia Clarke in “Genisys.”
In the Future War scenes, Kyle is in the thick of the battle. This contrasts with the Malibu Comics, where John shelters Kyle, not sending him out on the most dangerous missions.
“Demon Hand” (7) shows us more of the Silberman-Sarah interviews from the “T2” era, with Davison and Headey now in the roles.
We learn that foster parents Todd and Janel from “T2” wanted to adopt John. This is surprising considering what we see of their relationship with John in that movie, although we might have just caught them on a bad day.
Cameron stands like a sentinel in “Vick’s Chip” (8), an homage to Arnold in the overnight gas station sequence of “T2.”
The Turk will become Skynet’s brain. Keeping with the metaphor, the L.A. traffic camera software will become its nervous system. As such, our heroes aim to implant a computer virus into the software to destroy this proto-Skynet. This is the same as John’s strategy in Stirling’s “Rising Storm.”
Emphasizing the “inevitability” theme that’s found in all “Terminator” lore, John mentions two scientific theories about computer intelligence. He calls the singularity the point at which machines can build themselves (3, “The Turk”). And he cites Moore’s Law as the observation that computing power doubles every year (9, “What He Beheld”).
TIMELINES AND TIME TRAVEL
As with “Terminator 3,” “The Sarah Connor Chronicles” takes place on a different timeline from the first two movies, although this one is more closely linked in that 1984 is the year of John’s birth (“T3” reimagined John’s birth year as 1980 or ’81). The first definitive proof that it’s a different timeline is that 2027 (6, “Dungeons & Dragons”) is the year when the various time travel happens, rather than the traditional 2029. And in the timeline those 2027 time travelers came back from, J-Day happens on April 11, 2011 (9, “What He Beheld”), rather than more traditional 1997 (“T1”) and 2004 (“T3”) dates — and, of course, there are many other J-Day dates in the novels and comics, ranging all the way up to 2021 in the Blackford books. In another surprise diversion from previous timelines, we learn in “Demon Hand” (7) that Sarah broke out of the mental institution on June 8, 1997, on this timeline, different from the 1995 date of “T2.” The “SCC” timeline has a stronger elastic relationship to the traditional timeline than “T3” does, but just the same, it is clearly not a straight continuation from the original timeline.
Because of all the alterations to film lore, it seems “SCC” is set later in meta-time than the previously released “T2” continuations in novels and comics. But since “T3” alters things in even more extreme fashion, with John getting a new birth year, it seems “T3” is set later in meta-time than “SCC,” despite being released first. However, since the “Salvation” saga, which started in 2009, will more or less continue from “T3,” it makes sense that it should be set later in meta-time than “SCC,” which ended its run just before “Salvation’s” release.
In order to set the show in present day, the trio time-jumps from 1999 to 2007 in the pilot episode. The impetus is that Sarah and John decide to stop running and do something about the impending Judgement Day, which happened in 2011 on the timeline Cameron came from. The time-travel device in a Los Angeles bank vault that Cameron pieces together allows them to get into the thick of the action in 2007 rather than just waiting around. In a nod to a plot point of “T3,” it also allows them to jump over Sarah’s death so she can contribute to the cause.
A bevy of Terminators and a bevy of Resistance operatives have been sent back, all with distinct missions. The world is absolutely peppered with time travelers, making “SCC” the closest incarnation of the “Terminator Genisys” parody trailer where Sarah’s voiceover tells us John has lost his mind and keeps sending back Terminators.
A Resistance operative known as “the engineer” went all the way back to 1963 to plant a weapon and the pieces of a TDE in an L.A. bank vault as it was being constructed. Cameron takes advantage of this in the pilot episode.
The clothing of the three time-travelers burns off in their travel from 1999 to 2007, but they aren’t harmed and the time bubble operates smoothly. This kinda-sorta contradicts the rule that only living tissue can go through the time field. Superman’s clothes likewise burned off in the “Superman vs. The Terminator” comic, but as he is a man of steel, we can’t infer much.
Cameron notes that they have emerged in the “same where, different when.” So perhaps this TDE can be set for a time, but not a location. Between 1999 and 2007, the blown-up bank was replaced with a major road. Sarah and Kyle similarly emerge in a traffic jam in “Genisys.” This also happened to a Resistance soldier in Dark Horse’s “One Shot.” He was unfortunately run over and killed.
In “The Turk” (3), we see that Cromartie’s endoskeleton head went through the time portal with our heroes (although they didn’t notice it). This blatantly contradicts the rule that only living tissue can go through the time field. It’s also an unnecessary point, because the writers could’ve simply had Cromartie’s head exist in real time – as his body does — rather than jumping ahead in time.
Topanga Canyon is the location of the pivotal 2027 TDE (6, “Dungeons & Dragons”). The Resistance destroys it after they use it. In some continuities, they destroy it, in others they don’t. Most “Terminator” lore centers on an L.A.-area TDE, but this is the first time it’s in Topanga Canyon specifically. We don’t learn if Skynet is using this same facility to send back Terminators, or if it uses a different one.