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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.
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