So I finally struggled through season 2. One of the indicators of how much i like a series is the number of episodes i have to watch back to back in a night. For 16 episodes of season 2, I could only struggle through 1 episode a night and maybe watching 2 or 3 episodes a week. I didnt even make it through the terrible episode where Sarah Connor got kidnapped.
And then there was the one before that pretty much spent 40 minutes on a funeral. It even had chapter titles thudding out every ten minutes or so – Wake, Procession, Recession – in case you didnt know. Nails in the coffin they were. Yeap, I understand that human life is sacred, people die, action genres tend to devalue collateral damage and celebrate violence. Good concept, terrible execution. Viewers value characters if they can get invested in them. An entire episode with zero action, weak X-files like UFO spookiness and lots and lots of extremely sour faces for people you really dont care about just doesnt cut it.
Anyway to the positives.
I watched the last 3 episodes back-to-back last night. Couldnt tear myself away. In those 3 episodes set up by the excellent Das Boot meets Aliens two-parter, the series became what it should have been from the start of season 2. The simple moral universe of the Terminator franchise – good vr evil, resistance vr skynet, human vs AI is finally put to rest. And John Connor begins to show the strength, intelligence and determination he had started so promisingly to show when he cut his hair at the start of season 2, that episode itself indicating a successful passage to manhood through the morally ambiguous but time-honoured Oedipal method of killing an adversary (male) to protect his mother.
But 5 great episodes in a season of 22 is not enough. The problem with season 2 and in fact with the whole series is that the writers forgot their core audience – males 14-45. To a degree, the title of the series doomed it from the start – Sarah Connor chronicles.
The level of emotional dissection, the amount of focus on ‘feminine’ issues – pregnancy, birth, breast cancer concerns, the difficulty of a mother to let go, the mixed emotions Sarah has about John’s two other women in his life, the sacrifices she makes for him – all of these things can certainly add depth to a sci-fi series but too much can kill it – especially when it is heavy handed and so poorly paced as to come across as self-indulgent. The acting was brilliant but it can only mitigate against poor writing. Then there was the whole Jesse / Riley relationship. What a waste of time.
In contrast, the emotional development of the main male characters, Derek and John, and their relationship was woefully neglected. Instead, there’s a shrink family counselling session that reeks of authenticity but lacks in every other way especially appeal. Males can become interested in male relationships that extend beyond cliche. If your writers cannot write men well – reducing them instead to emo stereotypes (John), one-dimensioned emotionally constrained warriors (Derek), useless snags (whats-his-name) – then you got to let them go and get new ones.
And then there was the utter lack of genre plot expansion. Sci-fi requires plot devices and twists. It needs novelty to thrive. An average episode of Star Trek : The Next Generation contained as much plot substance as the entire series of Sarah Connor and the only reason why Sarah Connor got up there was on the strength of the last five episodes.
Anyway, season 1 rocked and the writers recovered at the end of season 2. But the only thing the series will leave is a sense of wasted opportunities with the faintest hope that what the writers started exploring in season 2 especially around the second AI entity and the multi-verse future will be picked up in the rest of the franchise, if it continues.