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April 2008

Apocalypse Tomorrow

Admit it—Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles is a lot better than you thought it would be

“A Terminator TV show? But...why?”

This was a common refrain in late 2005 when Fox announced they were developing a series based on the franchise that turned a certain musclebound Austrian into an international superstar. The movies (the first two, anyway) are inarguable classics, among the best action/sci-fi films ever made. Why would the network that brought us Who Wants To Marry a Multi-Millionaire? want to trash such a sterling reputation?

Yet, after a middling first two episodes, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles has become appointment viewing. 300’s Lena Headey impeccably balances Sarah’s vulnerability and ass-kickery. Heroes’ Thomas Dekker defies teenage stereotypes in his convincing portrayal of John Connor as a young man coming to grips with the whole “fate of humanity resting on his shoulders” thing. On the robot side, Firefly fanboy favorite Summer Glau shines as the cyborg bodyguard Cameron, and Garret Dillahunt, fresh off a scene-stealing role in No Country For Old Men, exudes dead-eyed menace as the villainous Cromartie.

Creator Josh Friedman (who wrote Spielberg’s War of the Worlds) adeptly uses the medium of television to go places movies can’t. We saw Terminators in a far different light with the multi-episode transformation of Cromartie from a disembodied head to a fully-fleshed human—in appearance, at least. More importantly, we get to see John becoming a hero not just because it’s integral to the plot, but because he doesn’t want to stand idly by while bad things happen, whether it’s letting shadowy mercenary types get away with the metal that makes Terminators or failing to act when a classmate commits suicide.

It all adds up to a surprisingly compelling show that more than answers the introductory question with a resounding, “Why not?”

Keeping up with the Connors

With the Terminator series now spanning across three decades, everyone’s probably familiar with the sequence of events. But if you haven’t been following, here’s a breakdown of what’s happened so far. You’d think the creators behind the Terminator franchise would at least be able to keep track of how old Sarah and John Connor are, but those of you with a keen eye and a knack for details are sure to notice that some things may not quite add up.

Terminator (1984)
In the year 1984, Sarah Connor is presented to us as a 19-year-old woman, young, innocent and oblivious to the oncoming war of man versus machine. She leads an uncomplicated life until that fateful day in May when Kyle Reese shows up from the year 2029 and explains just what that Terminator killing-machine thing is. Frankly, Linda Hamilton, then at age 28, always seemed a bit of stretch to play the role of a 19-year-old student waitress who can’t even balance her checkbook. But given the endearing personality and inner strength she gave Sarah Connor, we can see why she was the choice for a character who becomes the ultimate warrior mom.

Terminator 2 (1995)
Ten years later, while a 29-year-old Sarah Connor is institutionalized in a mental hospital, ten-year-old John Connor has his own run-in with a duo of Terminators, one sent to kill him and another sent to protect him. With the assistance of a still-badass Arnie T-800, John is forced to free his mother and go on the lam from the newer and seemingly unstoppable T-1000. While it seems plausible that John Connor (born February 28, 1985) would now be age 10, the attitude and precociousness Edward Furlong brought to the role couldn’t have been a day under 13. Lo and behold, nine years later, those three extra years were actually added to John’s age.

Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2004)
In 2004, a 21-year-old John Connor finds himself on the run again from a new threat, the T-X. Fortunately, he was thoughtful enough to send a T-850 back to protect his younger self and ensure the survival of the human resistance against the machines. Sarah Connor, on the other hand, is never seen again—John tells us she died of leukemia in 1997. Here we see the biggest shift in things, as John (played by a 24-year-old Nick Stahl) should actually be 19, not 21—and while Sarah Connor is shown to have died in 1997, the date of birth on her tomb indicates that she was born in 1959. This would make her age 38 at the time of her death—and, working backwards, 36 in T2 and 25 in The Terminator.

Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles (1999-2007)
The show begins in 1999, with 33-year-old Sarah Connor and 15-year-old John Connor living on the run, moving from town to town in hopes of staying below the radar of the authorities after destroying Cyberdyne Systems. When a new Terminator attempts to kill John, they join forces with a young woman who reveals she is also a Terminator (slyly named “Cameron”) to once again escape the threat and destroy Skynet. Here’s where we are now, and where things get back on track...sort of. Sarah, though previously declared dead in 1997, now appears to be getting better—even though she should be age 35 instead of 33, making her 17 or 18 years old in The Terminator. Confused yet? And then, at the end of the pilot episode, Sarah, John and Cameron make a jump through time to the year 2007, thereby shattering any previously established timelines in the Terminator universe. Natch.

Maybe the show’s reliance on time travel is a way to link all the threads together. That’s presumably one of the advantages to bringing the Terminator franchise to a TV series—the ability to take the story to new places and have more freedom to explore the space-time continuum that has already been established. Then again, as the show’s producers have already stated, perhaps we’ll just have to live with the idea that the series takes place in an alternate timeline.


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