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Note: I've seen the season opener for the second season, but this contains no spoilers for it, and as much as I am able to, I try to ignore the perspective from that episode.



It's really tempting, for "Dungeons and Dragons" to say something really clever like, "Well, this is the fifth episode of nine, so it's exactly at the center of the first season, which is why we spendit looking both forward and backward. Except, they had initially planned for more than nine episodes in the first season, which kinda blows that structural symmetry right to Hell. Alas. But we're at least left with a story that provides future background, through Derek Reese's flashbacks, and past background through the reconnection with Charlie Dixon.

Derek first: As he's passed out and basically dying in the Connor safehouse, we're treated to a fair substantial bit of future history-- a little bit of Kyle's, and a lot more of Derek's. There's a lot of good stuff in those scenes that's either mentioned obliquely but not explained, or not even mentioned at all, just sitting there silently. The image of the courageous lion's head chomping down on the tin man's head was slapped all over a wall, and it's similar to the kitten poster that was covering the wall safe in "Gnothi Seauton." Another was that Kyle Reese was, even then, carrying a picture of Sarah Connor around with him. The obvious explanation to us is that John Connor was prepping him for years to fall in love with his mother. But from Kyle's perspective, he could not possibly have been expecting that and it must have seemed like an almost religious devotion to everyone else.

Anyway, Kyle and Derek and a few others are sent on a mission to get a secret weapon, Reese gets captured along with Andy Goode, who at that time is calling himself Billy (William) Wisher. At any rate, as they're captured, Goode/Wisher is trying to confess his sins and get forgiveness from Reese, who is dragged away by the machines and... something happens that we're not privy to. For more reasons we don't understand, they escape and make it back home, at least to what's left of it. (The lion pictured is burned out, now, leaving just the tin man.)

After hooking up with his comrades, again, that's where he sees future Cameron, nearly freaks out and tries to kill her. A minute later she proves herself by taking down another Terminator, one that's been turned but went bad again. Eventually, he gets taken to John Connor and sent back in time. We're never shown that meeting, but the distinct impression I had is that John gave him one mission, and Derek decided to "do what was necessary" (kill Goode) on his own. And then we're shown that, yes, Derek did kill him in the present.

Well, I hadn't really intended to do a full summary of that plot-line, but just about everything in there seemed important and symbolic. I do love dense, tight writing. I'll spare everyone the summary of Charlie's plot, because it was important and kinda balancing in the past-ward direction, but not as important as Derek's. (We're also shown Cameron al but ritualistically chopping up her fellow Terminator, before giving it a Viking burial on a sea of cinder blocks, and pocketing its memory core. Scary robot. Very scary robot.)

There was a fair amount of religious imagery in this episode-- the creepy little superstitious/devotional attention that Kyle was paying to his Sarah picture, was one. But the main one was Goode begging for confession and forgiveness, and not receiving it. If I'd been sharper, I would have taken that as a foreshadowed solution to the who-killed-Andy mystery, and it makes me think that this is going to be Derek's essential problem for the show-- forgiveness. I was surprised by the religious symbols, but I suppose I shouldn't be. The Apocalypse is called Judgement Day, after all. It doesn't just imply that sins have been committed, it jumps all up in your face and announces it, and the TV series is a lot more careful about words and symbols than the movies were.

And while we're on the subject of symbols, how about that Andy character? In the past, he's Andy Goode, presumably because he hasn't done the bad thing of helping to create SkyNet... yet. In the future, he's Billy (William) Wisher, which I thought at first was a repentance vibe-- he wishes he hadn't done it. Then I thought it might be a corruption of Wizard, since this is an episode title "Dungeons and Dragons." Then I realized that there's a Wizard playing an important role in a book that has a Lion and a Tin Man in it, even though I'm not sure what to make of that from there. No reason it can't be all three, I suppose.

"The Demon Hand" has a lot more focus on Ellison than the last few, and even though he isn't really part of Team Connor, I find myself liking his episodes quite a bit. At least half this episode is his, because this is the episode where he puts it all together. He's got the Terminator hand, and he's got a box of evidence from his old Sarah Connor files, and through a mix of sheer perseverance and inspiration, he puts it together. But he doesn't believe, so he tracks down Dr. Silberman, Connor's old psychiatrist, who has retreated, hermit-like, into the wilderness. Silberman, it turns out, also believes, with a capital Believe. Silberman Believes, but his mind is so burned by the experience that all he can do is turn it into raw religious impulses. I had cut him a lot of slack initially, because it was easy to compare him to Sarah Connor, whose sane response to an insane situation seemed insane. It turns out the Silberman's insane reaction to the insane situation only seemed sane, and all it took was Ellison's evidence to send him completely around the bend.

Sarah ends up rescuing him, even though she probably shouldn't, since she knows Ellison might choose to turn on her in the future, which is damned important. I can just about hear her saying, "Come with me, if you want to live." (She didn't. I didn't see the words on her lips, and believe me, I looked.) But still, since this is the episode where Ellison lets himself in on the big secret of the series, I think of this as an Ellison episode. Notice who gets forgiven and saved here-- Ellison-- and who gets condemned and imprisoned.

The other main thread here is the comparison between the Turk and John. In this episode, Goode is already dead, and now Dmitri, the other parent figure, is killed as well. The Turk is described more than once as being child-like and having moods. Now it's an orphan. A kidnapped orphan, to boot. This is also the episode where John feels like an orphan, too, as a result of the tape he sees where Sarah relinquishing legal custody of him after three-odd years of misguided anti-psychotic drug therapies. But John only feels orphaned for a little bit-- he still has a family, and he still has Sarah. The Turk doesn't, and while the Turk might not precisely be SkyNet, it seems destined to be a component of it.

I think now is the time for me to say that, you know, I don't really like Derek.

I feel like I may be going out on a limb, here, but I'm going to go out on it anyway. I think I'm right, above, that forgiveness is Derek's problem, not just as a general good thing to do, but because it's part of the theme, here. Derek is a moral agent, but he shows a lot of signs of being an immoral moral agent, in contrast to Sarah Connor's moral moral agent. In T2, Sarah can't bring herself to just kill Miles Dyson, although she does accidentally get him killed. She doesn't kill Andy Goode herself, and she doesn't kill Agent Ellison, and by her lights she could make a perfectly good case for killing each one, or at least allowing them to die. Derek, by contrast, gets to go back into the past to set things right, and his first impulse-- which he follows through on-- is to terminate Andy Goode.

And because this course of events leads to the Turk being orphaned, I am convinced that he's made things worse, but that he just doesn't know it yet. It's entirely plausible that in killing Andy Goode when he did, he actually reduced the number of other necessary collaborators. Yeah, he's been through several kinds of hell, maybe even more kinds of hell than Sarah Connor. But his words to John, about how few people keep fighting forever, ring really false when you know the whole story to date. Derek may be fighting, but he's fighting the wrong way. He asked for forgiveness, and Derek fucking Terminates him.

Not to mention, it wasn't done on purpose, but it's Derek's fault that John feels orphaned, too-- if he hadn't been invading Sarah's personal space, John would never have seen that tape. Way to go, Derek. No, I don't think I like him very much.

And finally, I really have to wonder just what was going through his mind when he came on Cameron dancing at the end of the episode, because that was the same music playing when he was led into the basement in the previous episode. We never learn what happened to him there, or what he saw, but almost directly after that (in the future) he recognized Cameron as metal. I think it's a fair inference that he may have seen not just a Cameron, but the Cameron.

And as for Cameron, the very first time I watched this episode is when I realized that Sarah-- or someone-- was going to have to effectively teach Cameron to be a human. Sarah lays it out pretty plainly in her closing monologue: she lists a number of things, like art, faith, and feeling, that set us apart from machines, and notes that if machines could do that, they wouldn't need to kill us, they'd be us.

Well, they need family, too. Just like John has, just like the Turk doesn't.

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November 2011

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