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Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles - The Complete Second Season

(2008) *** Unrated
975 min. FOX. Cast: Lena Headey.

/content/films/3589/2.jpgLinda Hamilton—originator of the role of Sarah Connor—recently said of the Terminator franchise, "I thought it was perfect with two films. It was a complete circle, and it was enough in itself. But there will always be those who will try and milk the cow." That said, Hamilton lent her voice to Terminator Salvation and has been gracious in speaking of Lena Headey, Hamilton's successor in TV's Terminator: The Sarah Connnor Chronicles. Undoubtedly, there's a case to be made for leaving well enough alone in the case of Terminator. But in its brief run of thirty-one episodes, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles has repeatedly proved a viable, intelligent take on James Cameron's concept. Every week, the series served up an action-packed chase story, a Fugitive-styled slice-of-life-on-the-run, a thoughtful short story ruminating on a science-fiction concept (AI, time travel paradoxes, etc.), a tragedy-tinged psychodrama about one's pre-written role in humanity's bleak fate, or some combination of these.

Headey's tightly wound take on Sarah Connor is every bit anti-warmth and anti-charisma, but credible and in line with Hamilton's work in Terminator 2: Judgment Day. Thomas Dekker plays her son John Connor, destined to lead, in 2027, a human Resistance against the machines (computers and cyborgs) determined to claim Earth as their own. These iconic Terminator characters share real estate with a handful of new ones invented by the series' developer and executive producer Josh Friedman. A petite "infiltrator" Terminator named Cameron (Summer Glau of Firefly) has been sent by the future John Connor to protect Sarah and the teenage John; John's uncle Derek Reese (Brian Austin Green) has returned for the same purpose. FBI Agent James Ellison (Richard T. Jones) has long been on the trail of the fugitive Sarah; faced with evidence of futuristic cyborgs, Ellison isn't sure where to throw his allegiance, especially when he is wooed by high-tech corporate CEO Catherine Weaver (Shirley Manson), an undercover shape-shifting Terminator.

A Terminator story wouldn't be complete without a Terminator model designed to find and, well, terminate John Connor. In this case, the task falls to Cromartie (Garret Dillahunt), a model T-888. Cromartie's evolving story dovetails with plot threads involving a program called "The Turk" that's destined to evolve into an apocalyptic artificial intelligence, as well as Catherine Weaver's pet project, an artificial intelligence dubbed John Henry. Meanwhile, Connor continues to explore his conflicted and possibly romantic feelings for the somewhat erratic Cameron, even as he strikes up a new romance with schoolmate Riley Dawson (Leven Rambin). Derek carries on a secret fling with a fellow transplant from 2027—Jesse Flores (Stephanie Jacobsen); she proves to have a surprising connection to Riley. And Charley Dixon (Dean Winters) is still kicking around; a now-married former boyfriend to Sarah, he still has complicated ties to the Connors as a love interest to Sarah and a fatherly figure to John. Sonya Walger of Lost pops up as Charley's new wife, and the great Busy Philipps adds local color as the Connors' pregnant neighbor.

/content/films/3589/1.jpgThe Sarah Connor Chronicles may not be equally compelling from week to week, with some standalone episodes more formulaic than others, but one has to hand it to Friedman and his writing team in exploring quite a few interesting variations on the basic motifs of the franchise. Some of the best Season Two episodes include "Allison from Palmdale," which gives Glau a double role as Cameron and Allison, the future girl who provided the model for the cyborg "girl"; "The Tower Is Tall But the Fall Is Short," the beginning of a story arc involving Dorian Harewood as a family therapist who wants to help the dysfunctional Connors; a Western-styled showdown south of the border in "Mr. Ferguson Is Ill Today" and "Self Made Man," a terrific look at what Cameron gets up to by night that incorporates flashback scenes of a Terminator lost in the 1920s. The series also reguarly intersperses flash-forward "flashbacks" to 2027, as in the two-parter "Today Is the Day."

Pilot director David Nutter (The X-Files) continues to set the tone by helming the season opener, and the guest casts include such familiar faces as Jonathan Jackson (as John's father Kyle Reese), James Urbaniak (The Office), Roger Guenveur Smith (Do the Right Thing), Max Perlich (Homicide: Life on the Street), Larry Cedar (Deadwood), Connor Trinneer (Star Trek: Enterprise), Paul Schulze (24), Dean Norris (Breaking Bad), Zack Ward (Dollhouse), and Richard Schiff and Joshua Malina of The West Wing. Bear McCreary (Battlestar Galactica) contributes the compelling scores, and the production values continue to impress, wisely parceled out (on a maximized TV budget) to have the greatest impact over the course of the season's twenty-two episodes. As he did in the knockout Season One closer (actually a spontaneous climax triggered by the Writer's Strike), Friedman gives the show a jaw-dropping send-off with "Born to Run." Sadly, we'll probably never see where that story would have taken the now-cancelled series.

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Aspect ratios: 1.78:1

Number of discs: 5

Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1

Street date: 9/22/2009

Distributor: Warner Home Video

Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles once more looks its best on Blu-ray in a sweet five-disc set bursting with HD extras. On disc, the series hasn't lost any of its luster from its HD TV broadcasts, which showcased the glossy, colorful, sharp, and well-lit look of most FOX dramas. Color and contrast are impeccably rendered, and the series' frequent location work has an especially dimensional feel. Detail is excellent, though it's part of the show's processing to smooth out textures just a tad. Those with mortal ears will be pleased enough by the Dolby Digital 5.1 mixes here, which offer nice use of directional effects, though home-theater purists will be understandably saddened that WB is sticking to its tradition of lossy audio on TV titles.

Disc One kicks off the bonus content with a commentary on "Samson and Delilah" with executive producer Josh Friedman, Lena Headey, Thomas Dekker, Summer Glau and Shirley Manson. You'll also find commentary on "Allison from Palmdale" with Friedman, executive producers James Middleton and John Wirth, Dekker and Glau. The T: TSCC cast and crew are always good for an interesting and charming commentary track, especially in the large numbers represented in the four commentaries in this set.

The featurette "The Storyboard Process: Cameron Goes Bad" (2:55, HD) finds visual effects supervisor Jim Lima, special effects supervisor Steve Galich, and stunt coordinator/2nd unit director Joel Kramer explaining and displaying how a storyboard makes its way to completed footage for a key scene.

Disc Two includes "Cameron vs. Rosie : Fight Rehearsal" (5:27, HD), with storyboards, raw rehearsal footage, and a comparison of the rehearsal to the final fight; we also get comments from Middleton and Kramer. Also on hand are two "Terminated Scenes" (1:31, HD).

Disc Three includes two "Terminated Scenes" (1:55, HD) and Disc Four five "Terminated Scenes" (4:09, HD).

Disc Five includes three "Terminated Scenes" (2:43, HD); commentary on "Adam Raised a Cain" with Dekker, Glau, Friedman, Middleton and Wirth; and commentary on "Born to Run" with Dekker, Glau, Friedman, Middleton and Wirth.

In the interactive, Blu-ray exclusive Collision with the Future: Deconstructing the Hunter-Killer Attack (HD), Friedman talks us through the sequence as we take a look at any or all of four featurette "angles" on it: production, direction, special effects, and visual effects. Each featurette moves through planning, pre-production work, shoot prep, shoot day, and post mortem; pre-production art, production B-roll, and cast and crew interviews tell the tale.

The Continuing Chronicles: Terminator - 8-Part Featurette Gallery comprises "Write the Future: The Sarah Connor Chronicles" (12:38, HD); "Conceptualization: The Sarah Connor Chronicles" (8:17, HD); "Blood and Metal: The Sarah Connor Chronicles" (7:39, HD); "Designing Destruction: The Sarah Connor Chronicles" (7:32, HD); "Choreographing Chaos: The Sarah Connor Chronicles" (7:21, HD); "War Stories: The Sarah Connor Chronicles" (9:15, HD); "Setting the Tempo: The Sarah Connor Chronicles" (13:15, HD); and "Motivations: The Sarah Connor Chronicles" (9:51, HD). These nicely produced featurettes include behind-the-scenes footage and interviews with Friedman, Wirth, Middleton, co-executive producer/writer Natalie Chaidez, supervising producer/writer John Enbom, staff writer Ian Goldberg, co-executive producer/writer Toni Graphia & co-producer/writer Zack Stentz, staff writer Daniel T. Thomsen, staff writer Denise The, special makeup effects artist Rob Hall, production designer Marek Dobrowolski, Kramer, Galich, Glau, Garret Dillahunt, Lena Headey, Brian Austin Green, Leven Rambin, Stephanie Jacobsen, Thomas Dekker, Shirley Manson, and composer Bear McCreary.

Last up is a humorous "Gag Reel" (6:04, HD).

Devoted Terminator fans can't go wrong with this BD set; along with the upcoming Terminator: Salvation BD, they will be able to enjoy the entire saga in high-definition.

Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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