For the past several months, I’ve been watching Terminator: the Sarah Connor Chronicles via http://www.hulu.com/. I hate watching a series and getting involved and then missing a key episode and/or seeing the show cancelled abruptly. I was curious about this show when it started a year ago, but waited to see if it was mildly successful before I began actually watching it. I did something similar with House and Bones.
A little background info, for those unfamiliar with the franchise. Terminator (1984), written and directed by James Cameron, is the story of Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton), who is being stalked by a “Terminator” (Arnold Schwarzeneggar), a cyborg assassin from the future. At some point in the future, there will be “Judgement Day,” the day that a US military satellite called Skynet, designed to be a central control computer for a remote-controlled fleet of tanks and jets, decides that the best way to “eliminate all threats” is to eliminate all people.
Skynet will take over the world with an army of robots. Eventually, John Connor, the son of Sarah Connor from LA, will be the leader of the human resistance. Skynet has developed a time travel device, and has sent a Terminator back in time to kill “Sarah Connor” before John Connor can be born. In the future, the resistance steals the time travel technology, and John Connor sends trusted lieutenant Kyle Reese back to protect his mother. In the course of the film, Reese not only tells Sarah Connor about the future, but he becomes the father of John Connor before he dies.
In Terminator 2, Sarah Connor has been institutionalized, and her son John has been living in foster care. This time, Schwarzeneggar is the good guy robot. At some point in the future, John Connor figures out how to capture and reprogram Terminators. So he sends one back to the past to protect his family from another attempted assassination. The film ends with them destroying the company Cyberdyne, which will eventually develop Skynet, thinking they’ve successfully ended the war.
The TV series follows Terminator 2 and ignores Terminator 3, which is kind of easy to justify in a series about people and robots who travel through time in order to prevent a future war. The franchise, particularly the original film and the TV series, deals extensively with the problem of “Time’s Arrow.” It also gave the name to the “Terminator argument,” an ethical question of at what point technology becomes dehumanizing or even threatens humanity.
OK, so on the series, there’s a character, FBI Agent James Ellison (Jamse Cameron says the original film was inspired by ideas from science fiction writer Harlan Ellison), who’s kind of the Javert/Samuel Gerard echetype of the series. In the first couple episodes, he was pursuing Sarah Connor, a wanted fugitive for several “murders” (the deaths in the movies) and for escaping the mental hospital. He knows of her story about robots from the future and thinks she’s nuts.
This time, a new reprogrammed Terminator, a “female” who appears to be about John’s current age, is sent back to protect the Connors. To fit the present-day setting of the series with the fact that the movie came out in 1984, the Connors and their new cyborg helper, Cameron (another namesake character), travel ten years into the *future*. Finding the Connors pop up, 10 years after they disappeared, but the same ages, and finding evidence of robots, leads Agent Ellison to realize there’s truth to Sarah’s story. In the season 1 finale, he witnesses a Terminator kill a whole FBI raiding party (except himself), and in season 2, he’s been hired by a company to be its “security man”. He doesn’t realize the woman he’s working for is a Terminator, and while he knows Sarah Connor’s right, he still thinks she’s going about things the wrong way.
Carrying on the movie’s use of the term “Judgement Day,” the TV series makes frequent religious references, either in Sarah’s narration or in Agent Ellison’s comments. I often criticize television and movie writers for not doing the most basic research when it comes to religious references. They’ll make up something vaguely apocalyptic and say it comes from the book of Revelation. They’ll cite “prophets” that don’t exist or cite biblical “verses” that don’t exist (like John 54:100), often in cases where a person with moderate knowledge of the Bible could easily offer an *accurate* example that would fit the bill.
Well, early on, this series impressed me for its accurate treatment of Scriptural references.
A couple episodes ago, Agent Ellison (now charged by the company with teaching its Artificial Intelligence ethics) said that “You taught your computer to obey commands. Maybe you should teach it the first Ten.”
In the most recent episode (online), “Earthlings Welcome Here”, we learn that Ellison came from a large family and always wanted a lot of kids, but his wife only wanted a few. After 9/11, she didn’t want any kids, and she “terminated” the child she was pregnant with: that’s why he divorced her.
Talking with the AI, he explains that all human life is sacred. “Do you know what sacred means?” The AI lists a bunch of synonyms. As he asks it, the AI suggests that human life matters because more humans are dead than alive. Ellison replies, “No. Human life is sacred because we’re all made in the image and likeness of God.”
Watch the embedded video here:
Whatever its creators’ backgrounds are, this show deserves a lot of credit for having such a positive Christian character.