"Alpine Fields" S2 / E12
Let's see–we've got some nested structure, three convergent storylines, some character development re: Derek and Jesse, and, what, maybe a minute or so of robot-on-robot action? Something like that. "Alpine Fields" does its best to give us a sense of the Connors' ongoing missions in the present, while showing how those missions can affect (or maintain) future events; it even has a touch of tragedy, with one nominally innocent family having to pay the ultimate price twice over for something that won't happen for a good two decades.
Also, it was pretty freakin' boring. Like, I-would-be-fast-forwarding-through-this-if-I-wasn't-getting-paid-to-watch-it boring.
T:tSCC has its good points; Cameron, the occasional clever bit of sci-fi gimmickry, and every month or so, we get something resembling a kick-ass action setpiece. But with the good comes the bad–in this case, writers who can't really write "normal" people to save their lives, and the seemingly endless scenes where we all pause and take stock at just how miserable our heroes' lot has become. I'm not saying the Connors have it easy. In better hands, a lot of hay could be made out of the psychological toll of knowing that civilization has an expiration date; that every carefully constructed social structure can be undone in a handful of moments and bad wiring. Instead, we get lots of bitching, lots of grim looks, and lots of wasted time.
"Alpine Fields" has its share of emo-ments, as well as some regrettably tin-eared dialogue, but its biggest sin is in expecting us to care about storylines with results we already know. The worst of these is in the Sarah-Cam section; set six months before the "present" of the episode, it has Sarah tracking down another name off the blood wall, this time coming up with a mother, father, and daughter at their house in the woods. A Terminator is tracking the family, and Sarah and Cameron have to protect them, as well as convince them that the threat of robots from the future is both very real and very immediate.
Been there, done that; Lauren, the daughter, is irritatingly precocious (also looks like she just got back from the salon), and we get the standard chats between her and Sarah about how difficult it is to be a target, everything's a lie, etc, etc. But what's worse than the conversations is that, given what we've seen in the present, we already know that the family makes it out of the house alive. We also know, since they're the show leads, that Sara and Cam will be fine. The only mystery is who the T-888 is gunning for, and the answer doesn't justify fifteen minutes of squabbling, confusion, and a frustrating lack of robo-violence.
The present storyline doesn't play much better. A never-seen Sarah calls Derek in to take care of Lauren and her mother while Sarah and Cameron finally take out the T-888 that's been tracking the family in the six month interim after the flashback. Mom (Anne) is very pregnant, so of course Derek and Lauren end up delivering the baby in whatever filthy garage they happen to be hiding out in. We get more talk here about "normal" and how sad the family is, and how Dad's dead, and Lauren says it's her fault, but really, it turns out to be Anne's mistake.
Too much of this section felt padded, stretched out unnecessarily in order to give it the illusion of equal importance as the other two plots. Mom expels her future-important kid (during the commercial break, no less), and then promptly dies, so we can get yet another tedious exchange about how hard life is, everything hurts, you have to keep keeping on, and so on. We do get a brief scare when Derek invites Lauren to come stay with the Connors; but thankfully, she's gotten all intense and driven now, and has to keep her and her sister alive on her own terms. Or something.
But hey, there is a third plot, this one set in the future (2027), showing us just what all the fuss over lil baby Sydney is about. Skynet's developed a bio-weapon, and used it to kill nearly 200 people at a nearby outpost; there's a survivor, and future-Derek (who's in the past for present-Derek, if you follow) aggressively volunteers to rescue her. The survivor is the now adult Sydney, the one person with the magic blood macguffin to defeat the bio-weapon. Sydney's pale and intense, but what makes this storyline marginally more interesting than the other two is that we finally get to see Derek and Jesse's first meeting.
Well, "finally" is probably too strong a word; it's not like anyone's been aching for it. But in an episode largely bereft of tension, having some decent conversation between the show's most aggressive characters was a relief. I still can't decide Jesse's constant slang is silly or effective, but the actress sells it all right–even better was her monologue about rabbits in Australia, possibly "Alpine"'s sole clever moment. That aside, this one had no real progression, no real twists, and no real reason to give a damn.
--At least Cam had a handful of good moments; I enjoyed her brief critique of Dad's gun.
--Ah, the ole "That person is immune, so of course we can find a cure!" fallacy. I always liked how that played out in The Stand.