Welcome to TV Flashback Reviews, part of our TV Flashback series, where we do in-depth, episodic looks at shows from the past! With Terminator Genisys in theaters, we’ll be looking back at the 2007 Terminator TV show from beginning to end every Flashback Friday.
Episodes 3-4: “The Turk” & “Heavy Metal”
Originally aired: January 21 & February 4, 2008
“The Turk” is the first episode so far that truly benefits from rewatch. It’s very much a fragment of the larger story, and while there’s certainly a beginning, middle, and end for the episode itself, the stories told here are hardly the end. In its own bubble, both John’s and Sarah’s stories seem rather trite. John and Cameron go to high school while Sarah tries to figure out if a chess AI could turn into Skynet, neither of which sounds remotely riveting on paper. But both of these little plots function as ciphers for the inner-workings of John and Sarah respectively, and put their forthcoming character arcs vividly on display.
On Sarah’s end, context is what matters for her story, particularly the events of T2. Tarissa Dyson reappears here after the brief reminder of her existence in the pilot, and Miles Dyson’s grave is a big clear reminder of the assassination Sarah very nearly accomplished in T2. That she ultimately did not go through with killing Miles, and instead decided to work with him to stop Skynet, is the defining factor of Sarah’s character arc in “The Turk.” Tarissa’s malice towards Sarah, which is hardly unwarranted, spells out a lot of the guilt Sarah has but tries not to show; Tarissa pleads to Sarah that another man not die in vain like they feel Dyson did — even if his death did at least postpone Skynet for over a decade — but it’s exactly what Sarah grapples with.
It’s worse that the former Cyberdyne employee programming The Turk is such a sweet guy, to the point that his name is literally Andy Goode. The awkward nice-guy-geek charm borders on mildly annoying sometimes, but Brendan Hines manages to keep the character mostly down to Earth. That puts Sarah in precarious position — she didn’t kill Dyson even knowing absolutely that he created Skynet, so what justification does she have to kill a decent guy who maybe, possibly, but not necessarily invented Skynet? The complication is that Sarah may have failed by not killing Dyson, as Skynet was merely postponed and not stopped. But it’s also impossible to know if killing Dyson would have had the same result, or if killing Andy or not would have the same results. Every angle of Sarah’s dilemma is vague, and she’s pulled between her own impulses, her humanity, and Cameron and John’s pragmatic views of the situation. Sarah’s ultimate decision to burn down Andy’s house and spare his life is satisfying, then, because she makes a decision firmly based in her own humanity. Lena Headey plays the slightest bit of satisfaction with Sarah at the end of the episode, and it’s nice to feel like Sarah has “won” for once. (Not that this show ever lets her win for very long, of course.)
John and Cameron are literally “Terminator goes to high school,” complete with all the tropes of a teen soap: Cameron accidentally calls a girl fat and is called a “bitch-whore” in return, John has to keep Cameron from embarrassing him in front of his potential high school buds, John meets a couple of pretty girls, and there’s a torrid student/teacher scandal throughout. Anything involving Cameron is entertaining thanks to Summer Glau’s comedic timing, as she nails Cameron’s awkward pauses and monotone deliveries. But it’s off-putting to see a somewhat juvenile kind of comedy in a serious Terminator show, and the contrast of the soapy teen drama and comedy and the darker adult tone of the rest of the show is stark, at best. T2 had some weirdly kid-centric pieces to it, sure, but the were always fundamentally related to John; in this case, John himself seems thrust into a completely different world, and as such it’s a different world for a show we were only just beginning to get to know.
It doesn’t help that we’re thrown into a bizarre version of the “teacher/student” romance, which has ridiculously elaborate graffiti popping up around the school. It’s a plot that feels like the Terminator writers wanted to emulate primetime teen soap plots but were too out of their element — the graffiti stuff is just too weird and out-there to work. The notion is that we’re being plunged into the weird world of high school without any foreknowledge just like John is, but that doesn’t make for a terribly fascinating viewing experience. The payoff to all this, however, is much more intriguing; John wants to stop the girl at the center of the graffiti plot from committing suicide, but Cameron stops him because he’d attract too much attention, and John has to watch the girl kill herself as a result. The mental wallop this delivers to John ripples into the following episode, and mostly justifies the high school plot, even if it was too weird and self-serious for its own good.
In any case, thus begins an arc John will continue on throughout the show’s entirety — his desire to act and make changes, juxtaposed with Sarah’s fear of things changing and her desire to run or hide. Those themes play heavily into “Heavy Metal,” which sees the John attempt to catapult himself away from remaining in hiding, instead charging into battle. The irony is that John still ends up having to be quietly hiding and waiting to be rescued by the end, but that John is making those choices is what’s important. It’s clear that John has the bigger picture in mind — in this case, all the Coltan in the hands of Skynet means they will have tons more enemy soldiers, and leaving because it’s dangerous is silly because it’s always dangerous. These are hints of the type of leader John could grow to be, especially given his attempts technically succeed by the end.
Unlike the disparate plots of “The Turk,” “Heavy Metal” is very tightly-plotted suspense piece, much in-line with the edge-of-your-seat tension of the first Terminator. It’s not as much of an attention-grabber as its film predecessors — in fact, I ended up being pretty distracted on rewatch much of the time — but that works in its favor, ultimately. This is a light episode of what’s otherwise been an extremely heavy show, with the introspection replaced with lots of scenes of John hiding in a truck. The tension is there, but it still functions as a breather from the complicated moral queries and ambiguity of the previous episode. There really isn’t much to talk about in “Heavy Metal,” honestly, but it still carries the themes of the previous episode — John’s need to take action and Sarah’s fear of doing so — and continues them admirably.
Both these episodes tie nicely with Cromartie’s evolution, which functions as geeky fanservice in a way. We get to see a rough version of how an Infiltrator Terminator is born, and the mix of gore, horror, and genuine curiosity make this all-around interesting stuff, even when none of it involves a character we really care about. “Heavy Metal” marks the first appearance of Garrett Dillahunt — first as George Lazlo, in a nice fake-out in the interrogation room suggesting he’s already a Terminator, then as Cromartie’s new face. Between the skin growth and the concept of Terminators repairing with Coltan, T:TSCC excels at diving into the ins and outs of the universe and the makings of the machines. But its strength, still, is its focused characterization of Sarah and John. These aren’t the strongest of the series by a long shot, but where the first two episodes worked to nail down the plot, “The Turk” and “Heavy Metal” firmly establish the themes the show will be dealing with, even if it slips up with some awkward graffiti.
Odds & Ends
- Here’s Derek Russell’s original Terminatorsite reviews of “The Turk” and “Heavy Metal.” Yeah, no one ever liked the high school stuff.
- Much as I appreciate Sarah’s opening dream sequence in “The Turk”…hoo boy is that CGI kind of lame. The Cromartie CGI isn’t much better, but the closer shots help significantly.
- Some of Cameron’s synonyms for “freak” include “strange duck” and “queer potato.”
- Cameron’s explanation for having a metal plate in her head: “I fell. Hard.”
- Tarissa’s assessment of Sarah: “You never die, you always want something.”
- After Andy describes the notion of “true texting” and 3G and 10 GBs of data, Sarah chastises the phones of 2007 for being too complex. You have no idea, Sarah.
- John acknowledging the concept of the singularity is very good.
- Cameron does the CSI-style “zoom and enhance” with her Terminator eyes on a TV screen, no less, and it’s pretty ridiculous.
- I completely forgot that Lee Thompson Young had a recurring role as the up-and-coming detective foil to Ellison (who has continued to be on the sidelines, but I’ll definitely be talking more about later.)
- “You wanna be a hero, you’ve gotta learn how to drive stick.” – A really awful line that seems like it was pushed by the network specifically to put in the promos…but, you know what? I totally laughed at it.