Thursday, January 17, 2008

Terminator on TV

Did any of you watch the 2-part pilot of the new TV series TERMINATOR: THE SARAH CONNOR CHRONICLES? The plot premise appeals to me: Sarah and her son, John (future liberator of the human race), living on the run while John tries in vain to be a normal teenage boy and undergoes the usual conflicts with an overprotective parent, but in this case with additional layers of urgency. I also like the character of Cameron, the "good" Terminator sent back through time by John Connor to keep his teenage self alive. In comprehension of social customs and the ability to use colloquial speech and mimic human responses, she's much more advanced than Arnold in the second movie (which this series follows in the chronology of the Terminator universe). Almost too much so, because I'd hoped to see more "fish out of water" behavior from her. I expected her to embody the character type of the artificial intelligence caught between a desire to be human, or at least to appear human and interact with us, and her inability ever to quite shed her robot nature (like Data and the holographic Doctor in the Star Trek universe). Well, after only two hours of the series, it's impossible to say whether Cameron will or won't develop in that direction. The most inhuman thing she's done so far is to shoot Sarah's old Hispanic friend because he might "possibly" have lied. (Which brings up one of my pet nitpicks about action programs: Shouldn't our heroes be a bit more cautious about attracting the attention of the authorities by leaving bodies around? And wouldn't an advanced artificial intelligence have been programmed to exercise ordinary caution in that respect?)

The main SF issue this show brings up, however, is time travel. Cameron transports Sarah and John from 1997 to 2007 because Sarah was destined to die of cancer in 2005. In effect, they skipped over her death. Since there's no suggestion that they jumped sideways into another timeline, does this mean there's a record of Sarah's death (two years previously) in this future to which they've traveled? That could raise interesting complications if they run into any old acquaintances who know she's supposed to be dead. More important, what about the primary purpose of Sarah's crusade, to keep Skynet from ever being built? If this mission succeeds, John will never be in a position to send Terminators back to protect his younger self, and anyway there won't be any robots available to send. So far as I can tell at this point, the TV writers haven't given any thought to the time paradox problems. Which isn't too surprising, I guess; after all, this is TV. :) Wasn't there a series not long ago about a man who mysteriously received copies of the next day's newspaper and used the information to right wrongs? I never watched a single episode of that show, because Anthony Boucher dealt with that premise in a short story several decades ago. Boucher's protagonist summons a demon and asks only for a copy of the next day's newspaper. He tries many different methods of using his knowledge of the near future for his own benefit or to help others (e.g., saving the mayor from getting shot). Each time, his attempt to change the future creates a paradox, and he's caught in a loop that lands him back where he started. The obvious fact that the paradox issue didn't occur to whoever thought up the TV series premise kept me from having any interest in watching it.


  1. I watched it and totally loved it. I really like the fact that this John Connor really resembles his father, played by Michael Biehn. The time travel thing is always a conundrum. If they change the past then what future does John Connor have? It always chases round upon itself.

    I like the Cameron character. I look at it from the take that John programed her to be his companion. Which makes me wonder will there be an attraction in the same vein that Arnold had fatherly feelings towards the younger John, if such a thing is possible.

    Sarah also walks a fine line between being a normal mom and a survivalist. She knows what John becomes but how much of what he becomes is because of what she does or doesn't do.

    It can really make you think

  2. I've only watched one of the movies, the last one, and never the t.v. show. Let's just say my time for such things is extremely limited. However, I looove Time Travel stories. I think 'Time's Arrow' and 'City on the Edge of Forever' are my favorite Star Trek TT episodes. In fact, the novel I'm Slashing & Burning into a comprehensible draft is a Time Travel. It is vital to keep the paradoxes straight. Otherwise, the story comes off as rather stupid, I think.