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"Gnothi Seauton" is, as the beginning and ending monologue will explain, the original Greek for the Delphic proverb, "Know Thyself." Now, there was very little wrong with this episode, but it didn't really grab me. Probably, that's because it was a workhorse of an episode. It's main job wasn't to reach out and grab me, it's job was to not lose my attention while it did a little bit more sedate character-building and background-filling.

And it did that very well.

The less secondary job, in my opinion, was filling in a little more detail on the background, again with the Temporal Underwar, because apparently it's quite the running concern. Not only do we have enough people going back and forth to build a fully functioning time machine in a bank vault, but we've got actual soldiers, from both sides, fighting each other back in time. From that standpoint, I think, it makes sense that no one knows who built SkyNet-- if there's a temporal war so active that time can be written and rewritten several times (as Connor's closing monologue implies) then a hidden emergence is a hell of a lot more stable and secure than an open emergence. That may not have been intentional on SkyNet's part, but it makes sense that time would "stabilize" on a configuration like that.

In this vein, we're also shown the re-emergence of Cromartie. When I first watched it, I didn't quite appreciate what happened, but as far as I can tell, the key point is that Cromartie's head flew forward when he got blown up-- forward into the time travel zone, and presumably unnoticed by everyone. The pilot clearly shows the head flying toward them. It raises the question of how the head traveled if it had lost its flesh cover, but it explains why the body reactivated almost exactly on the day they arrived: it makes sense that the head would send a signal out, if the head contain the brain.

The primary job, though, was to fill in the main characters a bit more. Specifically, that means Sarah Connor, as she was the one knowing herself. After the pilot, she's in a completely new situation, where she has to be the hero instead of guarding the future hero. As such, she's also got to figure out what she'll do and how far she'll go. It's not a question that can or should be definitively answered in episode, but we certainly have a template-- she may be a killer, but she's not, or doesn't want to be, a murderer. This we know, because she hesitates before killing the traitorous Enrique, and she prevents Cameron from killing the police officer outside Carlos' place. The second one might be written off as pragmatism (although I didn't get that sense) but the first one is real human concern.

And ultimately, her real answer is that she doesn't know what she'd do in all situations, which is critically important-- in this regard, she's a real moral agent, not someone or something following a program. Cameron, as yet, isn't. She does what she does. Ellison, although he gets almost no screen time, also isn't. He does his job, at this point. And John... both is and isn't. He's fifteen years old, after all. There are hard limits to his agency, imposed by being that young, by the limits put on him by his mother, and even by his refusal to be destined self. On the other hand, like every teen-aged boy everywhere, he also disobeys, as he does in this show. But Sarah Connor is unambiguously a moral agent, here, because she can choose. Which is in turn important because Sarah, through the notion of choice, stands for a mutable future.

As some other disjointed notes, this is definitely an episode where the notion of teaching Cameron to be human begins. It jumped off the screen at me this time, as Connor calls Cameron the Tin Man, and Cameron displays a spooky knowledge of pop-culture when she tells Connor that, yes, she gets the reference-- Connor is telling her she is a soulless machine. (And did anyone notice that that alias Connor sets up is Sarah Baum in homage?)

Actually, this is a more solid episode than I thought before I started putting my thoughts down, but there is one thing that bothered the hell out of me: When John went completely off the rails and tracked down Charlie Dixon... Maybe Charlie was completely stunned by John's reappearance, but did he not notice that the fifteen year old boy from eight years ago was still fifteen years old?

"The Turk," on the other hand, was an 18th century mechanical chess-playing machine in the form of a man. It was also a hoax. (This, too, the episode made quite clear, but I happened to already have known that.)

I liked this episode a lot more than "Gnothi Seauton," not because I don't like the character exposition, but because I was more interested in the other ideas of the show, tonight. And with this episode, we're back into those ideas, including the relationship of humanity to technology, and the inevitability of advancing technology. Right in the opening monologue, Connor is voicing over another dream sequence, where she has managed to track down the scientists of the Manhattan Project, trying to kill them before they can unleash the nuclear bomb. This she does, except that they won't stay shot. They revive, barely notice her, and go back to work, before becoming Terminator chassis. And even though she doesn't understand it, her opening monologue explains why her plan won't work: The Germans were working on a bomb, too. Killing a man doesn't kill his idea, it just prevents its expression for a time, before someone else has the same idea.

This episode hammers that idea home several times. The monologue is one place. This episode also introduces Andy Goode, one of Dyson's young proteges. Sarah tracks him down because she got his picture from the terminated Future Team, by means of Dyson's widow. (Dyson's widow, by the way, is an amazingly forgiving woman. I guess the events of the pilot plus the intervening eight years mellowed her out, but wow. Way to go, widow Dyson-- give the guy's name to the woman you strongly suspect is going to kill him!) And Goode, although his day job is selling cell phones, is also a high power, albeit hobbyist, AI researcher. And that's the message, although Sarah doesn't really get it. The message is, "This is where we are. Hobbyists are doing work that may lead to SkyNet. Good luck, sucker."

And the third major point is when John is going on about the Singularity.

All of which added up to something more than a message, but more of a full-out theme for the episode, or even the show itself: inevitability. If Sarah Connor is moral agency, choice, and an indeterminate future, then SkyNet and the Terminators are exactly the opposite. They are inevitable. And it works so well, so powerfully, because with the Terminators it's a very visual symbol, too. Look at the first two movies. Watch any scene where either Terminator is on scene and not running because the target is running away. They don't run, or hurry, or hasten in any way. They walk, calmly, and with a sort of palpable unstoppability and inevitability. It will find you. It will kill you. Cromartie has that walk, too. And in the same vein, the technology to make them will exist. Someday.

And there is the heart of the show, as I see it: The Terminators are inevitable, but Sarah Connor is a moral agent. And there is the heart of Sarah Connor's dilemma: Sarah Connor is a moral agent, but can she be a moral moral agent? How far is she willing to go? How far does she have to go?

In this episode, she goes as far as burning down Andy Goode's house in an attempt to destroy the physical expression of his work. It's morally better than killing him. It's less effective than killing him. And frankly, even killing him won't be enough.




You know, it occurs to me that if I were a fanfic kind of a guy, this is probably the setting where I'd indulge that urge.
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November 2011

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