No one could have guessed. Twenty-five years ago, a throwaway, low-budget sci-fi flick about an unstoppable robot from the future wasn't even on anyone's radar. It starred an ex-body-builder-turned-actor with a heavy accent and a terribly long name no one could pronounce and was made by an equally unproven director whose previous movie was Piranha Part Two: The Spawning.
Fast-forward to today. The Terminator has spawned three additional movies, a couple of mega careers (James Cameron and Arnold Schwarzenegger), a marriage and divorce (Cameron and kick-ass leading lady Linda Hamilton) and a television series called Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, which had more than 18 million viewers for its first episode in mid-January 2008.
Whether or not The Sarah Connor Chronicles is worthy of the Terminator title has been a subject of vast discussion since its inception. It's a discussion that has heated up lately, now that the series just aired its second-season finale, "Born to Run," on Friday, ending the show with a cliffhanger and the likelihood that it won't get a season three, considering the recent horrible ratings (3.56 million viewers).
[Beware: Spoilers ahead!]
"Born to Run" opened with Sarah Connor in jail and her son, John, stewing about the possibility that his mother has cancer. In the episode:
- Sarah is interrogated by Agent Aldridge (Joshua Malina of West Wing), who eventually tells her he believes in her story about robots from the future and that Miles Dyson's son is missing.
- Ellison tracks down John and Cameron with a request to meet with Catherine Weaver and relays the question to Cameron ... "Will you join us?" Cameron tells John she doesn't know what that means.
- Sarah is busted out of prison by John and Cameron, and they go to meet Catherine at her office while Cameron heads down to the basement to take out John Henry. When Sarah and John finally get face to face with Catherine, a small plane crashes into the office and Catherine turns into a shield to protect them, revealing not only that she's a T-1000 liquid Terminator, but that she's on their side.
- Catherine, Sarah, John and Ellison get to the basement to find Cameron's chipless body. John Henry has escaped into the future via a time machine, and he's taken Cameron's chip with him. Catherine and John head into the future to find John Henry and Cameron's chip while Sarah and Ellison stay behind.
- In the future, Catherine skulks away just before John runs into future Derek, Kyle Reese, and Allison (the human whom Cameron was based on). And the big shocker ... none of them have ever heard of John Connor. Is this the way the future was always supposed to be and John has yet to become the savior of humanity—or has John skipped over his part in saving mankind and we never needed him to save us in the first place?
Online reviewers were buzzing with mixed thoughts about the big finale. Mike Moody of the TV Squad called the finale "the most gripping episode of the entire series." Mania's Rob Vaux wrote, "Director Jeffrey Hunter and writer Josh Friedman leaned a tad too heavily on Cameron's films for inspiration, as an enemy T-800 came up against Weaver and John busted his mother out of prison in a manner we've seen more than once before. But they also found a unique rhythm all their own, and the long-delayed confrontation between Weaver and Sarah didn't disappoint."
But there are cliffhanging questions that will lead to disappointment if they never get answered. What do the Terminators want the other Terminators to "join" them in doing? Why is everyone so depressed? Why do all the Terminators have secrets? Why'd John Henry go into the future, and what the heck does Cameron's chip have to do with anything? Did Derek kill Jesse? Who kidnapped Sarah and popped a tracking device in her breast? Were they the same guys that were on the beach when Charley got blown up? How did those guys know to attack at the very moment Sarah discovered the tracking device in her breast? Could they read minds or hear through that thing? Why was Derek's death so useless? Is Skynet really John Henry's brother? Does Skynet even exist yet?
And ... exactly what "chronicles" are there in The Sarah Connor Chronicles? Why does just about every human the Connors meet get killed? What's up with Sarah getting arrested, and John's biggest worry is about her maybe having cancer? Who called the police on her, anyway? Why was Miles Dyson's son kidnapped? For that matter, why was Savannah almost kidnapped? Will Ellison become Savannah's new mommy now that she's an orphan and creepy Catherine Weaver went off to the future? Is Catherine really on John's side? Why did Derek really come into the past? And if John in the future knows what he knows, why wouldn't he tell Derek when he sends Derek into the past not to go into the house where he gets killed by the Terminator? Beyond that, why did so little of it add up in the end?
Did the season finale of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles in fact serve the story creator Josh Friedman was trying to tell? According to him, it did.
"I wrote the finale the way that I was planning on writing the finale for a long time," he recently said. "I think there were things that we've been building to all season, and you owe the audience that's been watching the show kind of a logical conclusion to the things that you've been building towards. Everyone says, 'Well, fans get really upset if a show gets canceled and things are left hanging.' But fans get upset if a show gets canceled. I think fans also get upset when you write a crappy finale. So I think that you have to try to write the best finale you can, providing closure to the stories that you're telling, but if I tried to kind of sum up every single thing in 43 minutes, it would be a disaster. I think you'd end up with, like, a clip show."
Travis Fickett of ign.com believes it did all add up, at least to the point that it brings together "many of the elements that have been building for a long time and manages to do a few things that surprise us along the way ... This show has taken this world and these characters and deepened it—making it far more complex and engaging as a human drama."
However, Zack Handlen of the A.V. Club had this to say: "If we'd had better building blocks up to this point, or if the relationship between John and Cameron had been better developed, or, hell, if I liked any of the characters who weren't 'metal,' this could've been impressive."
In the end, if this the end, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles offered a terrific finale for a series that had the potential to be a true missing link between Terminator 2: Judgment Day and whatever came after in the audience's mind, either Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines or the upcoming, highly anticipated Terminator Salvation, with Christian Bale playing John Connor. Whether it will achieve missing link status will largely depend on Fox's willingness to bring back a show with falling ratings for a third season.
If this is what we're left with, this season-two cliffhanger, The Sarah Connor Chronicles will have given us the best and worst sci-fi television has to offer, an inconsistent mess with stunning moments and unforgivable missteps. This television show with such great potential, in the end may well become just a footnote for a film series that truly helped reinvent the sci-fi movie genre.