Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles: Complete Series (2008-2010), the TV spin-off of the Terminator films, turned out to be both smart science fiction and gritty, spectacular action for the small screen. That already makes it more compelling and rewarding than the last few films in the series.
Set in the aftermath of Terminator 2: Judgment Day, it stars Lena Headey (the ruthless Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones) as Sarah Connor (the role created by Linda Hamilton). She is both preparing her now-teenage son John (Thomas Dekker) to be the once and future savior of humanity and protecting him from robot assassins sent back from the future, with the help of Cameron, the next generation of Terminator bodyguard (played by petite hellcat Summer Glau, previously of Firefly). They do a little time traveling themselves in the opening episode, leaving 1999 and their old identities behind and landing in the 21st century, where the world assumes they are long dead. But of course the heavy metal assassins keep coming, and the most dangerous is Cromartie (Garret Dillahunt), which rebuilds itself from the rubble to continue the hunt for John Connor.
Richard T. Jones costars the FBI agent dogging their trail (even after the world thinks they died in the giant explosion of their time travel jaunt) and Brian Austin Green joins the show as a brooding, suspicious resistance fighter from the future suspicious of all cyborgs. In fact, it turns out that he’s Derek Reese, John’s uncle.
Dekker is fine as John but Heady carries the show as the kick-ass single mom whose maternal instincts have been colonized by survival instincts and Glau uses her dancer’s training to give a little grace and a lot of strength to her action moves.
The first season debuted as a midseason replacement and ran a mere nine episodes. In the show’s second (and ultimately final) season, the fractured family unit – tough, battle-hardened mom Sarah, robot bodyguard Cameron, bad-ass Derek, and John, the teenage boy destined to be the savior of the human race – begins to unravel in divisive secrets and splintering suspicions. This life takes a toll and the shadows of PTSD hang over so many of the characters.
John’s troubled girlfriend (Leven Rambin) and Derek’s enigmatic lover from the future (Stephanie Jacobsen), who has inexplicably followed him back in time, complicate their lives with their own hidden agendas and the shadowy corporate conspiracy behind the machine apocalypse just gets more intriguing and ambiguous. But most riveting is the evolution of the growing cast of robots, making them both more “human” and less predictable.
Dillahunt is back as the Terminator that hunted John through the first season, now playing the body inhabited by a supercomputer that creepy corporate schemer Catherine Weaver (pop star Shirley Manson, who brings a weird, unemotional disconnection to the role that is both unnerving and distracting) seems to be trying to turn into Skynet. And why not? She turns out to be a Terminator herself, the cool T-1000 liquid metal version from the second movie, and she hires former FBI agent Jones to teach this new being what it is to be human (she picks up a few tips herself along the way).
They are brawny episodes in a visceral action series, one of the most expensive on TV in its time, and it shows in each dynamic scene. The gritty writing, vivid characters and dynamic visual style did not, however, attract a big enough audience to justify the show’s high budget and it was cancelled after the superb second season and a grand total of 31 episodes.
Series developer and showrunner Josh Friedman went on to develop another dystopian TV series based on a movie: Snowpiercer.
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Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles: Season 1 [Blu-ray]
Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles: Season 1 [DVD]
Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles: Season 2 [Blu-ray]
Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles: Season 2 [DVD]
The Season One set features commentary on three episodes, the three-part “Creating the Chronicles” featurette, an extended director’s cut of the episode “The Demon Hand” (about eight minutes longer, with some unfinished effects and footage), audition tapes for Lena Headey, Thomas Dekker and Richard T. Jones, Summer Glau dance rehearsal footage, and deleted scenes.
Season Two includes commentary on four episodes, a collection of eight substantial featurettes on the development and production of the season, and storyboards and other behind-the-scenes supplements. Exclusive to Blu-ray is Collision with the Future: Deconstructing the Hunter-Killer Attack, an excellent deconstruction of a single effects-heavy moment from the finale from four different perspectives.