Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The Metallic Cherub That Covereth

Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles: Season 1: I’ve received a few emails asking why I haven’t reviewed any movies lately. Why should I? Should I go out to the dumpster and write about the brown banana peels, plastic bags of dirty cat litter and rust-colored tampons? Who reviews the neighbors’ garbage? It’s not worth the time. Likewise for the film industry’s trash.

The *movies* are dead. Back in cinema’s Golden Age, the late ‘60s and the ‘70s, movies commanded attention. They generated a discussion beyond their merits on the silver screen. They provoked an examination of the culture at large. From Bonnie And Clyde in 1967 to The Devil, Probably in 1977, the celebrated films of the era were known even to those who had not seen them. . .they entered the cultural consciousness. . .as it would be inelegantly stated today, they *created a buzz.*

The decline of the movies began in 1977 with Star Wars, and has continued unabated, with the result being the movies are now essentially anonymous. They have no life outside the multiplex or the dvd player. They are like the pornographic movies of a generation ago. . .people go to the movies today to gratify their pathetic manias and fetishes (the Saw series, for example), but do not talk about them to anyone except fellow maniacs and fetishists. I haven’t been in a movie theater in over a year. . .more telling, I cannot recall the last time I heard a friend or co-worker talk about a movie.

Oliver Stone was the last Amerikan who could make a film that leaked into the cultural consciousness. . .but judging from the lack of noise over his *9/11* and Bush films, it would seem even he has given up the ghost. Now, it is only the heavy-handed *documentarians* such as Michael Moore and Errol Morris who attempt to reflect the *signs of the times.* When the moribund studios try to capture the zeitgeist, they only produce shallow and tin-ear nonsense like Crash.

So the movies are dead. What we have now is zombie cinema, the living dead cinema. Human beings used to control the technology of the movies. They used the gadgetry of the cameras and the lights as tools to create motion picture stories about reasonable characters in reasonable facsimiles of life. Now human beings have lost control of the technology, and the stories and characters have been sacrificed at the altar of CGI.

But as the movies lay dying, the television series began a modest renaissance. Out of the ashes of the Seinfeld/Friends era (television’s nadir), the era of *New York* television, the era of sneering, condescending ethnic *New York* television [it is true these ethnic *comedies* were *hits*--but they were hits during the years the networks lost viewers by the tens of millions. . .the great unwashed Amerikan clodhoppers turned away from the networks force-feeding of ethnic New York narcissism] came what we could call *New Jersey* television, after The Sopranos, the first series in the exodus from New York cult programming.

Television, with its smaller budgets, has been less corrupted by the costly technological shortcuts of film, and therefore remains married to story and character. However, during the ‘90s, the television series degenerated into an alternate Amerikan reality of neurotic, passive-aggressive, effete New York decadence. The Sopranos was a much-needed baseball bat to the kneecaps of Seinfeld.

While The Sopranos was also ethnic, it was ethnic in an Amerikan way. . .segregationist and pro-family, whereas the ethnic *New York* television was interracial and anti-family, chock full of restless, nervous, neurotic apartment dwellers, forever single and self-centered, valuing, above all else, a soft life.

[Back in the days when Amerikan television was Amerikan, these dissolute, barren ethnic New Yorkers were ridiculed as the weakling specimens they were in the classic sitcom Green Acres. Of course, the ugly and raw ethnicity of New Yorkers, which would have rightly offended mainstream Amerika, was considerably softened in the Roccoco charms of the Hungarian Jewess Eva Gabor.]

While The Sopranos was the first series to rise from the ruins of the Seinfeld/Friends era, it was not the best. . .it has been eclipsed by the monumental Dexter, which is the only entertainment to truly capture the tragic internal defect of the contemporary Amerikan: the inability to repent, as well as the ever-raging internal conflicts, such as the simultaneous loathing and loving of family.

There have been other, lesser series which represent, to varying degrees, a repudiation of the degenerate ethnic *New York* television. . .Six Feet Under, Weeds, Jericho, for example. Make no mistake, these programs are not of particularly high quality. . .indeed, some of them are infected with a moral schizophrenia that could confuse our weaker-minded brethren. . .

[Well, it must be admitted Amerikans have traditionally found it difficult to produce any *art* of quality. Amerikans excel at a kind of popular, mass market art. . .in books, films and television, Amerikans really only produce *genre art:* pulp/noir/sci-fi. It is as Nobel literature secretary Horace Engdahl said it was: You can't get away from the fact that Europe still is the center of the literary world, not the United States. Amerikan artists are too sensitive to trends in their own mass culture, which drags down the quality of their work. The U.S. is too isolated, too insular. They don't translate enough and don't really participate in the big dialogue of literature. That ignorance is restraining. Thus, those Amerikans who have produced genuine art, an Edgar Allan Poe or a David Lynch, have done so only because their prodigious talent allows their work to transcend its humble roots in the detective/pulp/noir genres. . .]

But as flawed as these television series may be, they are superior to the current product of the motion picture industry, for they retain a degree of humanity in their adherence to story and character. . .they are not merely the anonymous random result of technological effects, which is what most of our theatrical releases have become.

I would guess that was the longest introduction you will ever read to a review of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles (TTSCC). . .

I wonder if others find TTSCC as interesting as I do? Many must enjoy it. The eye-candy cast offers flesh for every taste. And there is the sci-fi hocus-pocus for the pencil neck crowd. It’s well-written and slickly produced. The only negative is the acting is uneven, and, unfortunately, it is the two leads, playing Sarah and John Connor, who give the wobbliest performances. But this is just a minor annoyance. . .

Indeed, compared to the obscene (no redeeming social value) and worthless reconstituted cine-bits such as The Love Guru, or the reanimated big screen corpse of the small screen ethnic *New York* Sex And The City: The Movie (itself an example from the Sin Drum school: neurotic, narcotized sexually confused girls who refuse to grow up and acknowledge their biological destiny), TTSCC seems Shakespearean.

Based on the three Terminator movies, TTSCC could be titled Terminator 2.5, as the story picks up where T2 left off, with Sarah Connor trying to protect her son John, mankind’s savior-to-be, from a cyborg assassin sent from the future. While avoiding the robot hitmachine, the Connors also try to destroy the computer network that will, somehow, develop into the artificial intelligence system that decides to wipe out humanity in a nuclear apocalypse.

For here have we no continuing city, but we seek one to come. . .

One of the reasons I find TTSCC so interesting is the Connors live out this Biblical precept. The Connors dwell in the same world as you and I. The world of sheeple. The world of sheeple grazing on distractions. The Connors live among the oblivious sheeple, these reality-challenged terrestrials who cannot see past the lying vanities of this world. This is the world you and I live in (at least, in the West). Look around. Does anyone live as if there is anything else to come?

Where is the promise of His coming? For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation. . .

This is how the sheeple live. All things continue as they were from the beginning of creation. Even the Christians live this way. Who lives as if Jesus will return? Who stores treasure in Heaven, and not on earth? Who seeks those things which are above? Who sets their affection on things above, and not on things on earth?

The Connors are not Christian. They do not wait for Christ. John Connor waits for himself.

But seek ye first the Kingdom of God. . .

Christians don’t live this way, they don’t seek the Kingdom of God, first. But the Connors seek a kingdom to come, and they seek that kingdom, first. So it interests me to watch TTSCC and see these Connors who live in the world, but are not of the world. . .

Many commentators have tried to fit Christian symbology onto the Terminator franchise—but the resemblance is only skin deep. The salvation offered in Terminator is only a carnal salvation. . .the salvation of human meat. John Connor only offers temporal salvation. He saves mankind, but not man. He can only bring delay, and not victory, over death. He saves human meat from the destruction of metal’s Judgment Day, but the soul is still left hanging in the balance.

TTSCC tries to bridge the gap between Terminator’s sci-fi apocalypse and Christian apocalypse through the character of FBI Special Agent James Ellison, who is investigating Sarah Connor in connection with a supposed murder from eight years prior.

Through the nine episodes of TTSCC Season 1, we gradually discover Ellison is a *Christian,* a *man of the Book* as he is called in one of the episodes. We see Ellison in a Bible study group, and learn he has a deep interest in Revelation. As he digs deeper into the Connor case and discovers evidence that makes her claim of a robot Armageddon seem less and less incredible, we see Ellison struggling to reconcile the competing End Times narratives. It will be interesting to see how this progresses in Season 2. It would seem to risk requiring a suspension of Christian belief to have Ellison successfully incorporate the machine doomsday into his Christian eschatology. . .perhaps the series writers are using the Ellison character as a Christian straw man with which they can knock down the faith? This would be disappointing, but not surprising. But we will see, we will see.

In any event, Ellison is the most interesting character in TTSCC, and he is marvelously played by Richard T. Jones. Jones’ Ellison is a reluctant hero, investigating a case he doesn’t want to investigate, believing evidence he doesn’t want to believe, and then trying to accommodate his faith. Jones’ Ellison is from the *world-weary* school of TV detectives. . .he’s low-key to the point of being almost monotone, though he occasionally wakes up to deliver some well-timed sarcasm. And as the evidence for Sarah Connor’s *Judgment Day* claim grows, Jones’ Ellison seems a genuinely haunted figure—a man who must now live as the Connors, a man who now realizes *for here we have no continuing city.*

[Let us also note Jones’ Ellison is a welcome relief from the typical TV/movie negro cop: the violent hothead badass such as depicted in Dexter, Six Feet Under, Training Day, etc., etc.]

As for the actress and actor who play Sarah and John Connor, it would seem they were cast solely for their *hottie*-ness. In TTSCC, Sarah Connor looks far more MILF than the tough madonna survivalist Sarah of T2. . .indeed, the most far-fetched scenes in a series that features time travel and killer robots are those in which pretty little Sarah Connor smacks around muscle-bound male villains twice her size. Even on his deathbed, it would have taken all of thirty seconds for Andy Kaufman to pin the stick-figure limey actress who plays this Sarah Connor.

And it’s hard to believe Edward Furlong’s snotty mall rat T2 John Connor grew up to be the wimpy, weepy emo kid we see in TTSCC. I suppose sexually ambivalent tweeners and hardcore pedophiles love this boychild, but watching this John Connor pout because he thinks his mommy forgot his birthday can be a bit of a trial. Most of John Connor’s *action* scenes consist of him sitting in front of a laptop, bangs in his eyes, as he furiously conducts an internet search. . .

Sarah and John Connor are the main characters, and while they are not particularly interesting, the series is still compelling viewing, due to well-crafted scripts, the Ellison character and. . .


Summer Glau’s Cameron.

Let’s raise our glass to whoever dreamed up the Cameron character, the reprogrammed female robot sent back in time to protect John Connor from the machine assassin. Cameron is presented to the outside world as John Connor’s sister, and watching the emotionally flat robo-girl perplex the students and staff at her and her *brother’s* high school provides most of the few laughs in this otherwise brooding doomsday drama.

[Another element in the Cameron-as-high school-girl prank is Cameron is not too terribly different from the emotionally stunted *normal* teens around her. . .a not-so-subtle commentary on the increasingly sociopathic condition of our Amerikan youth.]

Glau’s Cameron, ever-ready to dispatch to the grave without so much as a wink or a nod anyone who is a threat to John Connor, could be viewed as a kindred cyber spirit to Dexter. . .Dexter’s hardcore simulated kid sister.

Summer Glau, who has acted in quirky little TV sci-fi shows for most of this century, must be pushing 30 years old. . .but with a manga make-up job and a suitably teen trashy Forever 21 wardrobe, she makes for stunning virtual jailbait. . . and she is entirely believable as a Lolita killing machine. Trained in classical ballet, Glau’s mastery of body mechanics allows her to play Cameron as a 99.9% convincing silicon human replica. . .she is able to add just that tiniest bit of the mechanical in her movements and mannerisms, even the gaze of her eyes. . .it’s an outstanding physical performance.

Summer Glau’s Cameron is the metallic cherub that covers TTSCC, the Gnostic knockout of End Times TV. And TTSCC is Amerikan genre art at its best.

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