Robot love

Terminator ’s wonder years
By JON GARELICK  |  October 1, 2008

MILF FROM HELL: What’s a mother to do when her boy really is the savior of mankind?

Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles (Fox, Mondays at 8 pm) is ostensibly sci-fi action adventure. In fact, it plays as maybe the best teen drama for adults on TV.

As you’ll recall from the end of the second Terminator movie, Sarah (in a role created by Linda Hamilton) was on the run with her son John, the future leader of the resistance movement fighting the totalitarian Skynet computer and its army of cyborgs. She worked in the present to save the future through the agency of her son, with the help of a reformed Arnold Schwarzenegger, who sacrificed himself at the end of that chapter of the story — the “last” Terminator.

On The Sarah Connor Chronicles (the first season has come out on a Warner DVD), a new generation of Terminators is again in pursuit of the now-teenage John Connor, and there’s conflict over a new computer known as the Turk that contains the digital DNA that will make possible the eventual creation of Skynet. Sarah is in the middle of two struggles: to preserve the life of her son, and to prevent Skynet from being born.

All well and good — and who cares. Skynet, the Turk — a premise is a premise. What matters here is the story of a single mother trying to protect her son while the son tries to be a normal teenager. The beauty of The Sarah Connor Chronicles is that it gives this primal set-up a cosmic significance — and a cosmic irony. Every mother thinks her son is the savior of the world (God’s gift to mankind) — but for Sarah Connor, this fiction happens to be true.

Lena Headey as Sarah is dark, beautiful, drawn, tough, and scary, in a low-maintenance shag of black hair, eyes wary, unsmiling, as good with a 12-gauge as Hamilton was. Thomas Dekker as John could be an emo-boy-in-waiting — if mom and he didn’t have to keep fleeing every time their house explodes. The complication comes with the entrance of Cameron (Summer Glau), a “good” Terminator in the guise of a teenage girl sent from the future to protect John.

Headey and Glau are perfect foils — hot-blooded real woman versus . . . a robot. As for Glau and Dekker, well, what sexually inexperienced teenage boy doesn’t want his own beautiful robot-doll woman? If John Connor were 14 rather than 16, his character would be impossible — as all 14-year-old boys are.

Glau is a marvel at blending flat-affect robotic reactions with mimed teen “human” behavior. She had a wonderful episode last season when she joined a ballet class in order to extract information regarding the whereabouts of the Turk from a Russian ballet mistress. “The height is nice, beautiful feet, but your upper body is a little . . . mechanical,” the teacher apprises her. (Glau, a trained ballerina, acquitted herself well.) Cameron hit a rough patch this season, turning “bad,” as good Terminators sometimes do, and it was a kick to see Sarah try to kill her with a truck, urging John to destroy her chip — a mother knows when a girl is plain no good for her boy.

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