Fifth-episode verdict: Terminator – The Sarah Connor Chronicles

It's judgement day

The CarusometerA Carusometer rating of 3

Well, after holding off for a couple of episodes, it’s time for The Carusometer to pass a verdict on the clumsily titled Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles.

It’s definitely had ups and downs so far. An appalling start, with most of the episodes crushed under the weight of pretentious narration, dramatic clichés, run of the mill action plots, by the numbers direction and some appalling acting, has yielded up a few good moments, most of them the sorts of revelations that fanboys will love, but everyone else won’t care about.

It’s also a bit slackly written: even the voiceover makes a major boo-boo (or is a major plot point?) when it says that Skynet sent Terminators back in time to attack Sarah and her family and that it also sent one back to protect her. Really? That seems a little unlikely.

Probably the worst thing about it is that it reduces the threat of the Terminators from being unstoppable killing machines that "absolutely will not stop ever, until you’re dead" – basically, things you need to keep running away from at all costs – into things that can be stopped inside 40 minutes after a bit of slapping around.

Still, that’s not to say the producers haven’t been fixing some of the worst problems. While nothing can be done about Lena Headey’s inability to act, she is at least being beefed up – maybe they’re feeding her cheese nibbles at lunchtime – and the character is no longer a whiny misery guts instead of female action icon.

Summer Glau is an interesting dilemma. She can clearly act. We’ve seen her able to act in many other things. It’s just here, she’s chosen to go for vacant instead of neutral. The result is that she acts like someone being told to act like a robot. I could write whole essays on Arnie Schwarzenegger’s and Robert Patrick’s portrayals of Terminators in the movies but I summarise my thoughts thus: you could believe that people might think they were human – cold, but human – which is what you’d need in something that’s supposed to be able to infiltrate human society. 

It’s odd, because Glau, when she’s doing impressions of other characters, is very good. So I think she could be nudged in the right direction over time. I just wish they’d stop trying to make her into an über-Terminator, able to kick the arse of even the T-888s they’ve introduced that tower over her, all with minimal damage. She’s a tiny little thing – I’ve heard the phrase "pixibot" bandied around – and when it comes to robots with the same programming and speed, a good couple of feet extra height and weight go a long way (I suspect).

They’ve also wisely replaced, through one of the most elaborate re-casting regimes imaginable, the original bad Terminator that was going to chase after the Connors. It’s now being played by Garret Dillahunt, whose has more acting talent in his little finger than the rest of the cast have between them. Cool. Unlike the other Terminators, he doesn’t look like he’s lived his life down the gym, either, which is a nice touch.

All in all though, while it’s a zillion times better than Terminator 3, it doesn’t hit you with the imagination or skill of the first two movies, from which it derives considerably. If you’re not a Terminator fanboy or girl, don’t bother giving this a shot because there’s nothing here that you won’t be able to see done better elsewhere. But if you’re a lover of the Terminator millieu, you might fancy watching what is essentially some televised fan fic with the occasional glimmer of originality and thought.