It's funny how easily robot-apocalypse trauma can look like runaway street girl trauma to a trained social worker. Last night's Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles was back to making the funny juxtapositions between the fucked up stuff in our everyday lives and the supreme fuckage of the robo-slaughter to come. Along the way, it yielded some pretty bizarre/awesome moments, and managed to be the best episode of the season so far. Details below. Obviously, any time you get a double dose of Summer Glau, it's going to be a standout episode. This time around, Summer's chip malfunctioned (again!) and she forgot who she was. She started having recovered memories from Alison, the girl whose body/mind she was based on (I guess) and also wound up in a halfway house getting therapy from a well-meaning social worker. The shadow of violence and trauma hung over everyone in last night's episode, "Alison From Palmdale," and it made for good viewing. It was the sort of episode the Terminator show excels at, where the future is hanging over the present like a horrendous historical atrocity that nobody can forget. Agent Ellison is still totally wrecked thanks to the deaths of all his colleagues in the ill-fated stop-Cromartie operation, and Catherine Weaver wins Ellison's trust by pretending she has similar trauma in her past. (I wonder where she got her "kid"?) Meanwhile, the Connors' landlady, played by Busy Philips, has driven away her policeman boyfriend because she doesn't want so much violence coming close to her kid. (Little does she know.) I have to admit, I felt this episode rocked mostly because it felt like a throwback to the show's first season, where there were lots of scenes of Cameron in the girls' room at high school, or dealing with human teenagers, or getting asked to the prom. You either like the concept of a Terminator having to try and fit in among humans, or you just don't — it works for me, and I was happy to see it back. Cameron's new friendship with the wiggy art-school dropout chick was pretty awesome, and I liked the parallels between the Terminator interrogation in the future and Cameron's social-work interview in the past — and how it turned into a parallel with Cameron's interrogation of the art-school skank. You could sort of see Cameron getting more Terminator-ish the more she lived through those memories again, so she stopped identifying with the person being interrogated, and instead started identifying with the interrogator. Great stuff. My current least favorite character, John Connor, was actually pretty great in this episode, from his whole cute thing of getting Cameron to buy him cheesy poofs to the way he tracked her down. It was a more secure, can-do version of John, one I'm happy to watch any time. I really don't think it's Thomas Dekker's fault that John has been so hard to watch in some episodes. I think it's more the way the character's been written, and I hope we'll get to see more of the competent, assured version of John in the future. Sadly, it was another low-rated episode, according to the overnight ratings. Sarah Connor isn't alone: fellow Fox show Prison Break got almost identical ratings, and Chuck's season premiere also did really badly compared to last year's episodes. Heroes continued to sink as well. I don't think it's necessarily just that there's something wrong with any of those shows, Sarah Connor included — I think the strike last spring did more damage than anyone realized at the time, and people have just lost interest in a lot of the shows that were on hiatus for so long. Some execs may soon be wishing they'd just settled that strike a lot earlier.
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