Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles: "Automatic For The People"
B-

Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles: "Automatic For The People"

I'm willing to make a fair number of logic leaps for The Sarah Connor Chronicles, but one thing has bugged me since the first season: why the hell is John Connor in school? It's the sort of TV-device that makes no sense in the actual context of the series. John's old enough now to know everything he needs to know from public education; most places don't have classes on plastique and cyber-hacks, and I can't imagine writing eight pages on the feminist implications of The Awakening would be of much use to the future savior of the human race.

Maybe Sarah keeps forcing her son back to class to try and give his life some illusion of normalcy; given her immediate suspicion of John's "date" in "Automatic For The People," though, I'm doubting normalcy is something she knows or understands anymore. Besides, if everybody's so paranoid about keeping the kid alive, why send him into the arms of strangers for eight hours every weekday?

It comes down to plot, ultimately–writers need ways of introducing new characters and tensions, and school provides opportunities by the truckload. Like the "date"; while John is cutting class, a girl named Riley approaches him for one of those standard meet cutes that seem to happen all the damn time in movies. Seriously, is that all it takes? Look off into the distance with a frown on your face and eventually somebody's gonna make their move? Maybe I should stop taking my lithium and just wait around for a rainy day.

Still, of the two running plots in "Automatic," the mild teenage romance is probably the best. Riley is a manic pixie dream girl to be sure, but she does have some original elements; for one, she's not waif thin, and for another, while her goofiness charms John, there's never a sense that she's the one running the scene. Again we see a more confident Connor trying to figure his way through something–taking Riley to his new home, even standing down his mother's objections–and it's sort of sweet. And while the toy robot exchange was a little much, Riley's "Do you ever think about the future?" made for a nicely melancholic moment. Of course John thinks about the future. When is there ever time to think about anything else?

But young love isn't really the main focus of "Automatic." T:TSCC must have a script rule that every episode needs a big action climax, but while I appreciate the 'splosions and gunplay, I'm hoping that the power-plant arc from tonight isn't a taste of what's to come. The series has never been one for airtight plotting, but the set-up here is particularly egregious. Future-John sends a meat telegram back in time to let Sarah and Derek know that something's going down at the Serrano Point Power Plant, and that they need to get in touch with a "Greenway." Which they do; turns out it's Carl Greenway (Paul Schulze, aka Chapel from 24 and the Missionary Who Learned the Glory of Gun in Rambo), safety inspector and all around decent guy, and after some intel work, our heroes decide that there's trouble brewing for when the plant reactor goes back online. The cooling system isn't up to spec, and if the reactor turns on, it could meltdown and kill a heck of a lot of people; but if it stays offline, it will strip the future Resistance of a crucial energy source.

The reasoning here seems specious to me, even with a last minute reveal that shows that Sarah and Derek came to all the wrong conclusions. Why the hell would Skynet want the plant to melt down? So far, the A.I. has been somewhat subtle about it's fiddling with the past. If it really wanted to kill as many people as possible, it could send back a few waves of attack-bots and hope for the best; a meltdown just seems like asking for paradox problems.

The real silliness comes near the end, though, when we learn Greenway–the nice guy who made Sarah do her "I'm sad and lonely" face and reminded her of all her cancer fears–got killed in the night by a robot designed to take his place. Look, I'm willing to go the distance for this show, okay? I'm willing to overlook the obvious holes. But the idea that Skynet is now capable of creating Terminators that look exactly like people in the past is pretty weak. I initially assumed we were dealing with a T-1000, possibly even the T-1000 from last week, but nope, this is just a standard issue T that didn't bother to do its homework enough to catch Greenway's arm scar. Cameron takes him out with an assist from Sarah and her machine gun, and the plant is saved; only to be scooped up by Ms. Weaver, this time wearing her middle-aged black man suit.

Given Cromartie's resurrection as that dude from No Country For Old Men, I guess there is some precedence for personality theft. But the Greenway twist goes from pulp-lunacy, which I very much dig, to plain old who gives a damn sloppiness. If the robots can pretend to be anyone, if they can infiltrate anywhere, the game is over. To be honest, once a super-sophisticated computer intelligence has access to time travel, humanity is pretty much a done deal regardless. I can let that slide–it's fun to point out plot-holes, but that doesn't keep me from enjoying all those afore mentioned 'splosions–but there needs to be at least a sense of rules and structure in the background. Nothing too expansive; just the feeling that, all right, we'll go this far, but no further.

Grade: B-

Stray Observations

--Sarah's radiation phobia was forced, even with the cancer justification. And having her faux-"crapped up" seemed like an excuse to get Lena Headey naked and wet again.

--Cameron's evolution continues, and it's one of the show's strongest elements; her two brief exchanges with John were great.

--The animated short about nuclear energy gave me Jurassic Park and Simpsons flashbacks. Simultaneously. I may need to lie down.

--So is the implication that the Connors are moving into the home of the late, unlamented Mr. Tuck from last ep? Man, I really hope not.

--I may be wrong, but I don't think it's quite that easy to avert a meltdown.

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