[This “open letter” contains spoilers for Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, and some minor spoilers for Terminator Genisys. You have been warned.]
Genisys has come and gone, and despite a “monstrous” performance in China, is entrenched as an underwhelming entry in the expanding Terminator canon. It’s reason for existence seems to be hinged entirely on callbacks to previous entries in the franchise, some overt, and some a little less obvious regarding their intentionality. We have our “I’ll be backs,” and our “Get outs,” and our helicopter chases and Dark Knight bus flips. We have our old Arnold vs. our 80s Arnold, and our future filled with purple lasers, that, if one believes internet forums, fans were clamoring for.
Genisys sought to launch the franchise anew, with plans of two more entries in a new trilogy of Terminator films. But there was a far better reboot that came a few years back, before the Terminator got old, not obsolete, and before John Connor repeatedly shouted his name in his best Batman voice to anyone within earshot.
In 2007 a pilot was leaked to the internet for a new television series - Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles. The pilot itself was a passable reshuffling of the patio chairs of T2, designed to provide a springboard for an ongoing series about a mother on the run from the authorities, a boy destined to be the future leader of mankind, and a cyborg sent back from the future to guard them. It had in spades what Genisys attempted: Reverent nods to the strongest entries in the franchise, and huge questions regarding the nature of time travel and it’s consequences.
In Genisys, we see several tributes to the first set of films. We have the shot-by-shot remake of the Terminator and Kyle Reese arriving in 1984; we have the T-1000 in the guise of a police officer; we have the lines and catch phrases that the public expects. We have John Connor’s monologues, lifted straight from the original film.
Mr. Friedman – your scenes directly referencing the original films have a gravitas the new movie missed entirely.
In Genisys, we get Connor delivering the “Thank you Sarah” speech from the original film. It feels more like this is a requirement, a bullet point on a script that has to be delivered, rather than a character communicating an idea or a feeling to another character. In the above scene with Dr. Silberman and James Ellison, conversely, we have a psychologist who has seen the impossible, the unbelievable, with his own eyes, following the testimony of a lunatic who was trying to warn him of unbelievable, impossible things. It’s a direct reference to the Pescadero escape scene from T2, but manages to avoid chintzy nostalgia because the characters are delivering it in an honest, authentic manner. Silberman recalls both the “Hand of God” and the “Face of Mercury.” The presentation is different, admittedly, as the Genisys characters aren’t recalling anything from their pasts, but the effective execution is leaps and bounds beyond what the new film accomplishes.
The dynamic nature of alternate timelines is also handled much more expertly in your series, Mr. Friedman. In Genisys, we get the awkward, forced, “new memories coexisting with original memories” Kyle Reese receives as he departs his 2027 and arrives in a new instance of 1984. It’s compacted and rushed for an abbreviated runtime, but it’s also ham-handed. We follow the Genisys characters through their alternate 1984 as they leap forward into 2017 (Wonder where we’ve seen that idea before?) and hear John Connor explain they are exiles in time. Yet, in your series, we’re treated to the slow reveal that characters are changing things in their own timelines, changes that ripple forward and affect the future. The novel idea in this alternate-timeline future is that these changed futures can still send soldiers back to tip the balance in the favor of whoever is doing the sending. It’s not just a war in the future with purple lasers; it’s a no-holds-barred war across time.
These scenes demonstrate the impact that a slow-burn, thoughtful reveal can have, especially in comparison to the rush job that the newest film delivered. Such an emotionally traumatic event may have been blocked by Derek, but we as an audience are privy to his skepticism; He should remember at least some elements of it. Jessie’s suspicious behavior regarding the date of Judgment Day keeps him at arms length, until the reveal that she has no idea who Billy Wisher is, nor should she, as he died while she was presumably young, before Judgment Day.
Because of the breathing room afforded to the production team, we are treated to many character-building moments. From Derek reminiscing about the great soldiers lost in the war to Charlie Dixon sacrificing himself for John, we truly do see that everyone dies for John Connor.
These are the most impactful scenes, to me, from your series, Mr. Friedman. The delicate touch delivered on nods to the first two films far outweighs the drunken elbowing of Genisys – From Cameron wearing Robert Patrick’s sunglasses to the T-888 that carried Schwarzenegger’s laser-sighted pistol, to the expertly delivered lines of dialogue with real emotion behind them, your series stands head and shoulders over the three entries that have followed T2. The alternate-timelines so much better executed than Salvation or Genisys accomplished, to the end where Derek never died because there was no John Connor.
I leave you with a question, Mr. Friedman: If we can have event series for X-Files, and Heroes, and 24, and Prison Break . . .