Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles keeps getting stranger and stranger. We got a copy of Monday's mid-season finale — possibly the most demented yet. No spoilers, except stuff that happens in the first few minutes.
(To clarify slightly: I'll keep this preview super vague, except to mention stuff that happens before the episode's opening credits, or things you could have gleaned from the episode's promo. I'll also talk in generalities about other stuff in the episode. So unless you're the Howard Hughes of spoiler-phobes, you're relatively safe.)
The longer the Sarah Connor Chronicles goes on, the less it's about robots coming back in time to kill John Connor, and the more it's about a nebulous world of faith and paranoia. All technology, everywhere, is a possible precursor to Skynet at this point, now that Cyberdyne Systems is no more. Every situation turns out to be a test of your beliefs, with built in religious significance. The longer this goes on, the more surreal and Cronenbergian it's getting. You have elements as far flung as the 1920s Speakeasy Terminator and the future torturer/collaborator, all knocking around this increasingly capacious universe.
Monday's episode takes us to the world of UFO sightings and people who believe they were abducted by aliens. Sarah's still on the trail of those mysterious three dots that she found on her garage wall, even after that ginormous red herring a while back. She thinks she's spotted those three dots on a UFO leaflet, and so she's sniffing around the alien freakshow.
It's not as ridiculous as it sounds at first, since future technology could easily be indistinguishable from alien visitation. But it means that she ventures into a world of conspiracy theories that are even nuttier than what she knows to be true, hypnotists, and even crazy bloggers. (In one of the episode's laugh-out-loud lines, John Connor says you should never take a blogger seriously, something he's already figured out despite having only recently traveled forward in time from the 1990s.) It's a world that's even fringier than the one Sarah normally inhabits, and the show seems to be using it as a way to question Sarah's sanity from a new angle — by surrounding her with kooks, outcasts and weirdos. In particular, one person she meets turns out to have a secret which I won't reveal (although we covered it in morning spoilers ages ago) and which honestly feels sort of tacked on and random, in the context of the episode.
Of course, the rabbit hole turns out to go a lot deeper than we realize at first. That's not a spoiler, because this is a television show, and that always happens on TV. By the end, you're really not sure exactly what's going on here, or whether Sarah's still reliable narrator. Her ventures into crazy-land seem to have left her with bonus crazy.
The episode also has a B-story, in which we get to know John Connor's new girlfriend Riley (Leven Rambin) a lot better. I've been one of the more vocal detractors of this character, whose chemistry with John Connor has failed to materialize for some reason. Monday's episode finally gives a few more answers about Riley, and we start to understand why she's such a freakazoid. I wouldn't say we start to like her, exactly, but at least she gets some genuinely great moments in the episode. And I did start to feel sorry for her, somewhat.
And then there's a C-story, in which former FBI agent Ellison talks to the artificial intelligence formerly known as the Turk and currently known as John Henry. The A.I., which may or may not be the nascent Skynet, is using the body of Beastwizard to communicate, and the promo I linked to above pretty much conveys the flavor of their interactions about the nature of humanity and morality. Ellison gets some terrific scenes in this episode, including one random moment where he actually has a conversation that's not about killer robots, and we get a bit more insight into him.
The bad news is, there's no Brian Austin Green in Monday's episode — I think this is the second episode in three weeks to be BAG-less. I thought he was supposed to be a series regular this season? His absences, plus the comments he made recently about wanting to create a memorable character and then "move on," make me wonder if something's going on here.
Bottom line: This isn't by any means my favorite episode of T:SCC. (I think just by virtue of featuring Riley a lot, and Derek not at all, it's starting from severe disadvantage.) But it's still a super-compelling hour of television, which takes the Terminator universe in yet another direction you'd never have expected. It's the kind of episode that raises enough philosophical questions, and introduces enough demented new plot elements, that it fills you with savage desperation to see what happens next.
Too bad, then, that we have to wait until February for our next helping.