Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles: "To The Lighthouse"
B+

Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles: "To The Lighthouse"

"To The Lighthouse," the title of this week's episode, is also the title of a novel by Virginia Woolf. While the lighthouse in Terminator is literal enough to justify the name, it's probable that the writers of the ep knew the Woolf connection when they made it. After all, her novel is, among other things, about the passage of time and the complexities of human experience; at its best, Terminator strives to deal with some of the same issues, albeit in a more literal, less elegant and esoteric way. The comparison doesn't do the show any favors, but I found myself thinking tonight that, for all it's many, many, many faults, this is still a series that strives to be about something. It's too grim and sluggish by half, but it still desperately wants to find some kind of truth about how people deal with impossible lives.

Maybe I'm just in a better mood this week, but I enjoyed "Lighthouse" quite a bit. We get some forward movement on the John Henry plot, some squabbling between Derek and Cameron, and, of course, the return of Charley, aka The Beeper King, aka The Man Whose Life Sarah Pretty Much Destroyed. Not a lot of action to speak of, but the developments were dealt out gracefully, and seeing Charley again was a nice reminder of his storyline earlier in the series; for once, Sarah has something concrete to mope about, and her character is more sympathetic and compelling than usual because of it.

But before we get into that, how cool was the John Henry stuff? Already one of the best parts of the this season, in "Lighthouse," John's appeal went beyond quirkiness into something that, I'll admit, actually surprised me. While talking about a game with Savannah (I really never get sick of watching him play with his toys), John wigs out long enough to show he's not really well at all, before Mr. Murch, the main tech-head, literally slides in and shuts him down. Weaver, Murch, and Ellison spend some time trying to figure out what went wrong; the best Murch can determine is that some kind of bug infiltrated the system, but it's not until Weaver has John powered up and hooked back into the network that the truth comes to light. It seems there's another AI out there that's looking for a buddy, an AI with connections to Cyberdyne and Miles Dyson (a familiar name (though an unfamiliar face) to Terminator fans).

There's a lot of potential in this. It's terrific after all the teasing and hinting about an outside force to finally get something even remotely concrete, and since, as far as we knew, the Cyderdyne explorations into Skynet-style tech died when Sarah and John blew up the lab so many years ago, the reveal here could lead to something unexpected and cool. I dug the smaller details, like Murch's explanation as to why John's system behaves a bit twitchy after being shut off; AI's perceive time a lot slower than humans do, so a shut-down that lasts only seconds to us is like dying by inches for them. Once John's back online, he seems okay, but who knows--given the amount of contradictory Bible stuff for him to be obsessed with, anything could happen. (And is anybody else curious at the implications of John saying, "Yes. We can change the rules." to Savannah?)

But cool as it was, the JH subplot wasn't the episodes main focus; that was the Connors finally going back on the run, as promised. Sarah sends Derek and Cameron off on an errand, partly because it's something that needs doing, and partly as a way to try and reconnect with her son. I've laid into the series for some of its more inept attempts at drama between John and Sarah, but there were some nice touches tonight, like a game of Slug Bug in the car that's as awkward as it is charming. Sarah brings John to the ep's literal lighthouse, and that's where we hook up with ole Charley. Charley gives John a chance to do some grieving over Riley, but the biggest reason for the visit is what Sarah reveals to Charley after John goes to bed; in a scene that looks like its leading to something else, she lets him feel a lump she's found on her breast. The cancer she hoped she'd escaped by jumping time may have caught up with her.

Actually, no, it hasn't, but there's a believable implication here that Sarah is looking for Charley to replace her in John's life, should anything happen. (This is never explicitly stated; she could just be looking for someone to connect with. Still, Sarah does say that she doesn't trust Cameron or Derek anymore, and Charley appears to have taken to the whole survivalist thing well.) The breast lump danger is resolved almost immediately, but fortunately, the resolution actually creates more problems; when Sarah goes to the doctor to get herself checked out, the doc does an ultrasound of the area and determines that it's just a cystic mass formed around some metal. Metal which represents a tracking device that the bad guys have used to find our heroes in the three-pronged attack that serves as this episode's climax.

I said there wasn't much action, didn't I. Well, I lied--the finale isn't as prolonged as some of the sequences we've had before, but it has its moments, from Sarah's awesome use of a defibrillator to John to Derek getting nabbed to John and Charley's last stand. Cameron rescues Derek, despite the bad guys' disturbingly advanced knowledge of terminator anatomy, but when Sarah makes it back to the lighthouse, she finds that John's left in a boat, and Charley's floating dead in the water. It's a moment that's probably been inevitable since he was first introduced; the moral being, everybody who comes into the Connors' lives, well-intentioned or no, has a target on their chest. And sooner or later, somebody's gonna start shooting.

Grade: B+

Stray Observations:

  • Derek has Cameron stay behind to fix a flat tire while he investigates the suspicious van. Definitely want to use the highly trained killer robot as a grease monkey. (Oh, it's perfectly in character for Derek to do so, just sort of hilarious.)
  • I really hope we get a glimpse of John's "brother" before the end of the season (which will also, most likely, be the end of the show).
  • I need to re-read Lighthouse. Also, Mrs. Dalloway.

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