It seems to be semi-official that The Cape has been dry-cleaned and folded for the last time. And we've heard people talking about a "Summer Glau Curse," in which no power in the 'verse can keep her on the air.
Okay, seriously? First of all, does anybody really believe that The Cape would have been a runaway hit if Kristin Kreuk had played Orwell instead? Or some other cult genre actor? But even leaving aside the specifics of The Cape, it's totally ridiculous to talk about a "Glau Curse." It shouldn't even need to be said, but here goes anyway.
Here are the facts: Summer Glau is a good actor, who has been in a number of television shows that got canceled.
Smart people can disagree about whether Glau is a great actor, or just an okay actor. I doubt most people who've followed her work would call her a bad actor. It's certainly true that she's tended to get cast as, for lack of a better term, non-neurotypical women — robot women, mentally damaged basket case women, slightly aspy nerd women. But she's been able to play other types of characters on occasion.
And some of her performances have really stuck with me. Especially the final episode of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, with the famous "cutting Cameron open" scene. Also, she has to cover a lot of ground in the movie Serenity and some Firefly episodes, from playful and silly, to melting down, to resolute and bad-ass. There's a reason why a lot of Firefly/Serenity's most quotable lines come from River Tam. Anyway, I've always liked her acting, and felt as though she came by her "cult icon" status honestly — by giving performances that excited people.
But in any case, the question of whether Summer Glau is merely an adequate actor or a great actor has almost nothing to do with whether she's the source of an eponymous Curse. Unless you want to argue that there's some correlation between acting ability and success on television? And every actor on a successful television show is ipso facto a great thespian, whereas every actor on a failed television show is a terrible actor? I didn't think so.
So what's Glau's actual track record on television? Here goes:
1) She was in Firefly, whose fate we're all quite familiar with. Unless the Glau Curse was incredibly devious, I'm not sure how the Curse could have caused Fox to air the wrong pilot, put the show on Fridays, and generate tons of "damaged show" buzz before its launch. (Here's a first-hand account by a media person who helped to bury Firefly back in the day.)
2) She was on The 4400, the USA Network show about people with mysterious superpowers. But she was a fairly minor character — and only had a major story arc in the final episodes of the show, when its fate was probably already sealed.
3) She had a recurring role on The Unit, a super-spy show that I know almost nothing about, which continued for a couple seasons after she was gone.
4) Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles. This spinoff of the Terminator movies actually got fantastic ratings for its first episode, and then slowly lost its audience, not unlike Fringe and many other shows. Like many other shows, T:SCC was mortally wounded by the writer's strike, with its first season cut short and aired in a compromised fashion. And you could also argue that this show delved into some smart thematic territory that was maybe a bit too challenging for some viewers.
5) Dollhouse. Okay, really? She was only in a few episodes, all of them after this show was already a dead show walking.
6) Which brings us back to The Cape. A show that we grew to love in spite of (or maybe because of) its total idiocy. Given that movies have learned the hard way that people prefer superheroes to be at least semi-serious, a television show which took the Joel Schumacher approach to superheroes was probably doomed to implode. As, indeed, it did.
There's no good explanation for why television science fiction has such a tough time. Why has a show like Fringe struggled to find its audience since early in season two, and been banished to the Friday night "death slot"? Why do shows like Bionic Woman or FlashForward, which weren't good but were no worse than the average CSI or NCIS show, sink like a stone after a few episodes? We've spent a lot of time trying to unravel the reasons for this tendency. But it's doubtless true that science fiction shows which do not star Summer Glau do just as badly as ones which do.
But still the talk about a "Summer Glau Curse." Why is this? Because she's become a science fiction icon, and thus ripe for takedown. She's one of the few actors of the past decade to have a string of really memorable science fiction roles — even if she'd only played Cameron in T:SCC she'd have a huge cult following. And thus she's ripe for a backlash. Because nerds love to hate anybody that nerds love.
In any case, let's hope that Glau keeps getting awesome roles, and maybe has a chance to play a wider range of characters. We only get so many science fiction MVPs in any given generation of actors, and she's clearly one of ours. So rather than talking about a "Curse," we should be hoping she finally gets a vehicle for her talent that stays afloat for longer than a year or two.