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[personal profile] prince_corwin
So, I have the whole first season TiVo'd, and since it's only nine episodes, it's fairly easy to watch them all as a refresher before the season starts in earnest. These are notes and thoughts after watching the episode fairly closely, but not with too much thought about episodes that are coming up-- it's not that I don't remember anything, but the memories are fairly dim.

As the Pilot, and coming after the debacle of the third Terminator movie, this episode had a pretty high bar to meet, and some pretty clear goals: First, they need to establish the characters, for Terminator fans and not-yet Terminator fans alike. Second, they need to establish the setting, for both of those sets. That's not a short order, in a pilot that's only sixty minutes long, about a complicated setting that includes time travel, the notion of self-creation, and a deviation from previous canon in retconning the date of Judgement Day. Basically, every scene has to advance the plot, and just about every exchange of dialog needs to serve a purpose.

As characters go, for the series, there's basically six:

Sarah Connor
John Connor
Agent Ellison
Charlie Dixon

Arguably, only the first four or five of those are really introduced properly in this episode, but I think they're introduced very well.

Sarah is introduced first, as is good and proper. As far as I'm concerned, it's her show. She's the central character, and not just because her name is in the title of the show. I thought her introduction was very well done, too-- she's defined by an obsessive (but not irrational) worry about and fear of the future, and she's effectively been living in a paranoid nightmare, so her introduction in the midst of her own nightmare is appropriate. It gets across that she's not only on the run from the future, but on the run from the present, too, in the form of the police.

John's introduction is good, too. John is just as defined by Connor's obsession as she is-- Connor's rules seem to cut right against John's basic nature. Rule: Keep your head down and don't be noticed, which butts up against a healthy heterosexual teenaged boy's desire to be noticed by the cute (albeit robot) girl at school. Rule: No computer, which cuts against John's obvious attachment to computers. Rule: Run from Terminators in order to be a hero later, which... well, the run from Terminators is okay, but John flat out does not want to be a hero, and he tells Sarah as much.

Which is one reason I say that Connor is the hero. John might or might not someday be, but right now, he ain't, so she has to be.

Cameron's introduction seemed weaker, at first, because it was a little split-personality. On the one hand, she was so completely human that she took in John, completely, convincing him effortlessly that she was human. For most of the rest of the episode, though, even when she wasn't in combat mode, she was flat in her affect, and I'm not sure I understand why. On the one hand, the plot requires her to be able to fake her way through human society, but on the other, the viewers need her to seem alien, I think. The acting isn't the problem, so much as the contradictions required. Her combat mode, abilities, and style, are introduced quite properly, though, and the skinny girl throwing around the big robot is just as effective here as the wiry litte dude throwing around Arnold in T2.

What's interesting is the plot conflicts that her character throws out for Connor, though. In one guise, Connor probably has the protective mother syndrome against the first thing that looks like a real girlfriend for John, even if it's just a pose. In another guise, Cameron is a threat to Connor's role as a protector figure, so there's another kind of potential jealousy there, too. I think Connor would be inhuman not to feel some conflict over these things, but how she deals with them is the test of character.

And Ellison's introduction was a lot more effective than I remember it being. He comes across as a total dick when he and Charlie are talking, and he admits he's doing it on purpose. It's his pattern, done on purpose to shock Charlie into a realization of who he's been involved with for the past several years. He might just as well have said it's his program that he's following, in part because it's his job. It does a very subtle job of conflating Agent Ellison (one half of Connor's fear, law enforcement) with the Terminators (the other half.)

It's very nice in that all three of the non-Sarah main characters relate directly back to core concerns of or about Sarah Connor.

To a degree, Cromartie and Dixon aren't really introduced in the pilot. Yeah, they have screen time and we know who they are, but that's about it. From the pilot, as far as we know, they might never appear again, with Dixon left in the past and Cromartie's head blown clear off. (You could say the same about Ellison, but he struck me as more of an introduced character than either Dixon or Cromartie.)

So the characters are well-introduced. The rest of the episode has to set down the rules of the setting, at least as seeds, and explain why T3 effectively didn't happen. I think it did that very well, too: We know that we no long know exactly who built Skynet, but we know roughly when and where. We know that Miles Dyson's death wasn't sufficient to prevent the thing being built. We know that there's a much bigger temporal underground than we had any evidence of in the first two movies, because they managed to send back skilled enough engineers to install time machines in banks in 1963, and stock them with fusion laser rifles or whatever. We know (or can at least strongly infer) that pretty much all bets are off regarding the events of T3, since Connor and company jumped the timeline. Whether it's some parallel universe thing to be explained or not, doesn't really matter, we jut know that the T3 movie is basically non-existent. We know that the Terminators have a weakness to strong electrical charges (and obviously someone mis-designed their ground chassis.)

And right in the first episode, there's a good strong hint about what one of the central concerns of the show is going to be, over three scenes. In one, we're told, back in 1999, that one of Connor's rules for John is that he not mess with any computers. That would have been difficult in 1999, but can most people even do that, today? Go days, weeks, months without operating a computer in some form? Yeah, but the number of people who can do that is shrinking. In another, we're shown that Ellison is getting near-real time footage of Connor's break-in at the bank-- which is shown (rightly, for 1999) as being goddam nifty cool and cutting edge. And then, on arrival in 2007, the first thing that happens is Cameron stands up naked and is video captured by a random cell phone that can broadcast the image anywhere. The tech shock of just an eight year jump is pretty severe, but more than that, the rest of the first season really hits the idea that technological change is inevitable, technology becomes more pervasive... and that as a result SkyNet might be inevitable as well.

All in all, I thought the pilot really did an excellent job of setting up the rest of the season. It's actually better the second time around, in my opinion.

I don't know if I'll write up notes for the rest of the first season episodes, there are only eight more after all, but I'll probably write up the second season ones as I watch.

Date: 2008-09-05 04:22 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Since you may or may not continue your refresher course:

technological change is inevitable, technology becomes more pervasive... and that as a result SkyNet might be inevitable as well.

Do you think they followed through with that sufficiently? I mean, it's a valid point--and recalling how many jokes I've heard, many here on LJ, about Google and Skynet or the like, not unheard of anyway--but I got the feeling the show was making Skynet a more distinct, avoidable thing.

Date: 2008-09-05 04:29 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I'll let you know when I'm done watching the rest of the first season. I remember thinking during the first season that, yes, they had at the very least raised this as a strong possibility.

By the end of the first season, I was convinced that:

1) SkyNet, or at least, the technologies that enable it, is inevitable in that world
2) Connor's first approach, killing Miles Dyson's former students and associates, was therefore fundamentally misguided (albeit with the potential of making her look like a weirdly obsessed cross between a serial killer and the Unabomber)
3) But Cameron had the potential to become, if not human, then humanized, and that therefore,
4) Connor's role as mother needed to shifted; instead of being mother of savior John Connor she needed to become savior by being mother of Cameron.

I haven't watched all the rest of the episodes, but in the second one, the seeds of that are sown in the Tin Man discourse. I hope to hell they keep something of that. The commercials for the second season do not encourage me in that regard.

Date: 2008-09-05 04:34 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
4) Connor's role as mother needed to shifted; instead of being mother of savior John Connor she needed to become savior by being mother of Cameron.

Oh, right! I do remember you saying that. And while you may have a point...thinking about the "hijack the pre-Skynet eyes-and-ears system" plot, I feel they're saying there are some necessary steps for Skynet. (Maybe it's just a question of whether they can delay Judgment Day enough that they can let the "humanizing the robots" part take effect?)

The commercials for the second season do not encourage me in that regard.

That sounds disappointing. How so? (I haven't been watching much Fox.)

Date: 2008-09-05 11:05 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I haven't seen an episode of the show, but 4) might just lead into a nice predestination paradox: I am a bit of a misanthrope, but Skynet's behavior towards humanity is all too human.

Date: 2008-09-05 02:19 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
My LT of the moment is that Cameron develops into a sort of second Skynet, with its own Terminator minions and plots, and that it's her faction that captures Derek and Andy in the future. The major problem with that is that it makes the obvious implication that Derek broke under torture leading to the eradication of his camp make much less sense, but it explains some other things (Like why the facility and the minion Terminator seemed so pathetically run-down and/or covert). The torture break could be a red herring, I suppose, but...

Date: 2008-09-05 04:37 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I really hope that's not the case. I have no doubt that that could be an interesting plot, but it just sounds too... complicated. And, I'm not sure how to say this, but it sounds more focussed on the plot for the sake of the plot, rather than using the plot as a vehicle to look at other issues like parenthood and the relationship of man to his technology and his creations.

Date: 2008-09-05 11:03 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Well, you've successfully sold me on the series.

Have you ever seen Colossus, the Forbin Project? If not, I have it on DVD and will loan it to you.

Date: 2008-09-05 12:59 pm (UTC)
ext_12920: (Default)
From: [identity profile]
Nice analysis!

1) I agree that SkyNet--or at least, machine intelligence of SkyNet level--is probably inevitable. This idea is reinforced in future episodes when attempts to stop SkyNet in the "traditional" manner (killing people, wrecking technology) has unintended consequences which seem to *further* SkyNet's development. (I'm being deliberately vague here to avoid spoilers.)

2) I also agree that the only chance humanity really has lies not in impeding the development of technology, but in modifying how it develops. I'm not sure that SC (or humanity in general) is capable of doing that, though.

3) I'm starting to wonder if Judgement Day won't end up being a direct result of the temporal warfare that's going on: SC's stated goal is to wipe out machine intelligence, "every last bolt." I can certainly imagine the machines deciding to wipe human society out in order to preserve their own existence.

4) Re: Cameron acting all human at first, then 100% robot-y; in one of the DVD extras (maybe a commentary), Summer Glau says that the idea was that Cameron has the programming to act like a normal human when it is directly relevant to her mission (protecting John), but has no need/instruction to do so overall. That's the in-story explanation, at any rate. The real explanation of course is 'cause it makes for better drama.

5) I noted that bit about the cell phone, too. It was a nice touch.

Date: 2008-09-05 03:08 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
3) I can certainly imagine the machines deciding to wipe human society out in order to preserve their own existence.

Yeah, but wasn't that pretty much the motivation from the beginning? In T2, Ah-nuld says that when the humans figured out that Skynet had become self-aware, they tried to pull the plug in a panic, and Skynet retaliated by starting WWIII. So it seems like self-preservation was the deal from the start.

Oh, and also:

6) I completely loved that the TV show went out of its way to negate everything that happened in the crapfest that was T3. However, having recently seen the teaser for T4, I'm very curious to see if/how that film and the show will play together. Will T4 keep to the film continuity (such as it is), or will it tie into the TV show storyline?

Date: 2008-09-05 03:32 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
6) I think I saw somewhere that the film is completely unconnected to the TV show, which is slightly sad but understandable.

Date: 2008-09-05 03:42 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Yeah, it would be sweet if they all matched up.

But, whatever. Still going to watch both.

Date: 2008-09-05 04:50 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I think I prefer it unconnected, although it's actually not *completely* unconnected. Connor died of cancer in the background of T3, and in the second episode, Cameron revealed Connor's previous future history as being death by cancer.

Date: 2008-09-05 06:07 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Well, right. The TV show didn't pretend the T3 storyline never existed, they just deliberately ret-conned it out of existence.

What I was saying was that it would be cool if the T4 continuity followed the show's ret-con, instead of keeping the T3 storyline.

But, like I said, whatever. I don't really know many specifics of T4's plot, but from the teaser it looks to be concerned mainly with the future war against the machines, so it's possible how John Connor actually got there will be more or less irrelevant.

Date: 2008-09-05 04:49 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Nice analysis!

Thanks! I'll probably end up doing the rest of the season as two or three posts, rather than one per episode.

1) I remember a lot of evidence for the inevitability of machine intelligence over the course of the first season, I just didn't remember it being shown this early, so I watched for it. I'm pretty sure they actually put the word 'Singularity' in John's mouth at one point.

2) Well, it'd suck for everyone, and be pretty fatalistic, if Connor couldn't do anything about it. I think knowing in advance that it's not only coming, but that something needs to be done, is a good head start, though.

3) Possibly. Self-creation, accidental or intentional, is always lurking in the background of the Terminator series. T1 made it clear that John Connor self-created by knowingly sending his own father back to protect his mother. T2 made it clear that SkyNet self-created by sending the original Terminator back in time as well, but whether that was intentional wasn't clear to me. T3, though best forgotten in my opinion, had some elements of that as well, so it wouldn't surprise me that Sarah Connor is playing a similar role.

Now that I think about this, it kinda dovetails with your first point, in that every attempt to destroy seems to have the result of creating something. Which implies to me even more strongly that the attempt to destroy SkyNet just won't work, by the karmic rules of the setting.

4) Yeah, it makes sense when you say it, but doesn't quite gel for me on screen. As complaints go, this is minor. Really minor.

Date: 2008-09-05 07:34 pm (UTC)
ext_12920: (Default)
From: [identity profile]
1) Yes, he does talk about the Singularity in one of the episodes, and not like it's a good thing.

4) It didn't quite work for me, either, to be honest. But, like you said, minor.

Date: 2008-09-05 03:39 pm (UTC)
ext_12920: (Default)
From: [identity profile]
P.S. Would you mind unlocking this so that I can link to it?

Date: 2008-09-05 04:51 pm (UTC)


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