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‘Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles’ is the Best Continuation of the First Two Movies

The short-lived series brought a fresh vision to the franchise that also complemented its better movies. Let’s revisit Josh Friedman’s excellent show.
Terminator The Sarah Connor Chronicles
By  · Published on August 4th, 2020

Welcome to Petition Worthy, a biweekly column that revisits canceled TV shows that we wish had a longer lifespan. In some cases, we’ll also make a plea for them to be given another chance. This time, we consider Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles.

The Terminator franchise is a mess in the grand scheme of things. The first two movies will stand the test of time as sci-fi classics. Everything that came afterward will undoubtedly divide opinions for decades to come. However, while the film series has arguably outstayed its welcome, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles deserved more time to shine.

Created by Josh Friedman, The Sarah Connor Chronicles premiered on Fox in 2008 and aired for two seasons. The series stars Lena Headey in the titular role and revolves around the battle to stop Judgment Day, which is set to arrive in 2011. She is joined by her son, John Connor (Thomas Dekker), plus Cameron (Summer Glau), a T-900 who was sent from the future to protect them.

Sarah and John are also fugitives in the show. But instead of hiding from the terminators and other threats that are out to get them, they set out to prevent the birth of Skynet. That’s the only guaranteed way to save the human race from extinction. Things get pretty bleak from there, and their hero’s journey isn’t always noble and inspirational.

The Sarah Connor Chronicles is a very gloomy and haunting show. When the series originally aired, the Western world was amid the Great Recession and the War on Terror. According to The New York Times’ Ginia Bellafante, the show captured the social anxieties of the period and depicted a future that mirrored contemporary reality to an extent.

Themes pertaining to larger societal fears do play a part in the show, but it’s also concerned with the basic idea that death is inevitable. If Fox executives didn’t require some hopeful elements at times, The Sarah Connor Chronicles would likely be darker. Take, for example, this nixed line of dialogue that Friedman wanted to open the series with:

“I will die. I will die, and so will you. Death gives no man a pass.”

After he accepted the job, the showrunner was diagnosed with kidney cancer and had to receive an operation. Thankfully, he made a full recovery. He then took that experience and used it to his creative advantage. The core concept of The Sarah Connor Chronicles is that death follows all of us around at all times. It’s the one thing every single person can’t escape.

Friedman’s experience undoubtedly adds some weight to Sarah’s story as well. She spends the series experiencing an existential nightmare, trying to cope with her own expected death from cancer. But her resiliency and refusal to give up also brings an empowering element to the proceedings that alleviates the moments of doom and gloom. Then again, she’s also fighting a losing battle as doomsday seems inevitable, so even the show’s more positive parts aren’t exactly happy-go-lucky. But that makes the drama more compelling.

Another fascinating element of the show is its raw humanity, even though it takes place in a world of machines. There are countless shows about flawed heroes, but this one isn’t afraid to make them unlikeable at times. John isn’t ready to accept his fate and often dwells in his own self-pity as a result. But it’s okay to feel that way, especially considering that he’s been dealt a shit hand. In one episode, he breaks down because he knows everyone he’ll ever care about will die for him. It’s brutal, but these character moments are the emotional anchor that makes the series so special.

The show ignores “Terminator of the week” scenarios in favor of more thoughtful, meditative, and long-form storytelling. This is the series’ greatest strength, but it’s probably the reason why it wasn’t a huge success with general viewers who went in with preconceived notions and expectations about what a Terminator show should be.

While the series received solid ratings early on, they weren’t high enough for the network to greenlight a long-term project. The Sarah Connor Chronicles might be tied into a blockbuster franchise, but it isn’t that type of show, even though there are plenty of thrills. That said, the existential darkness and more complex examination of the lore didn’t fit Fox’s populist brand of entertainment at the time.

This is unfortunate as The Sarah Connor Chronicles is the product of a strong singular vision that had a beginning, middle, and end in mind from the outset. Unfortunately, it didn’t get to fully realize that vision. This franchise has lacked a solid plan on the big screen for a very long time. With this series, however, they had an admirable successor to the first two films.

Attempts have been made to resurrect the show since. There have been crowdfunding campaigns, petitions, and reports of a movie spinoff potentially happening. At the same time, it’s been ten years since the last episode aired, and people have only soured on the overall franchise since then. I guess you could say it experienced a… Dark Fate.

The Sarah Connor Chronicles fan base would love to see a satisfying conclusion, but it seems unlikely at this point. If this franchise continues, though, it should be in the form of another television series that takes cues from this show. Something that’s daring and different but still makes sense in the context of the Terminator universe. But this column is all about dreaming, and the third season of this show coming to fruition would be ace. That’s why it’s Petition Worthy.

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Kieran is a Contributor to the website you're currently reading. He also loves the movie Varsity Blues.