No one likes to see a good show go under, especially just as it's approaching new heights. I hated to see Firefly die (twice, even), and the recent cancellation of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles (2008-2009) proved almost equally disheartening. At least the latter had a fighting chance, though: the mid-season replacement pulled down great numbers at first, but its popularity rapidly declined during the initial nine-episode run. Higher production costs didn't help matters, either...yet Chronicles was renewed for a full-sized second season, where it expanded the series' mythology and tossed in a few stand-alone episodes. Featuring plenty of terrific characters, tense action and special effects on par with Hollywood blockbusters, there was plenty to like...but roughly a month after the season finale aired, it was confirmed that the series wouldn't return.
Nonetheless, this second and final season stands as one of the better stretches of television in recent memory. In an accompanying behind-the-scenes featurette, creator Josh Friedman admits that the cast and crew had no idea that Season 1 would end where it did---but you'd never know from watching, since the series stops and re-starts so seamlessly. Opening adventure "Samson and Delilah" kicks things off in a major way, punctuated by a gripping slow-motion sequence set to a musical cover by Shirley Manson of Garbage fame. Speaking of Manson, she's front and center this season as Catherine Weaver, the mysterious leader of ZeiraCorp, a growing corporation with an interest in advanced technology. She's eventually joined by former FBI agent James Ellison (Richard T. Jones); Ellison acts as her head of security and a mentor to ZeiraCorp's experimental computer, who's known as "John Henry". Though more intelligent and efficient than the world's greatest minds put together, this powerful entity is still a child learning about the the world and the humans in it.
Naturally, such a vague company---especially one with its hands in high-tech gadgetry---soon ends up on the radar of Sarah Connor (Lena Headey), who continues to forge onward with her son John (Thomas Dekkar), John's uncle Derek Reese (Brian Austin Green) and Cameron, a Terminator sent from the future to aid them. New to the crowd are Jesse Flores (Stephanie Jacobsen) and Riley Dawson (Leven Rambin); both serve as love interests to Derek and John respectively...but like Catherine Weaver, they seem to have somewhat questionable pasts. Far more than the typical good-versus-evil formula that typically dominates modern sci-fi, The Sarah Connor Chronicles takes a decidedly different approach: it focuses on human existence and emotion as much as firefights and chase sequences. The formula often works amazingly well during this season of 22 episodes, even with a few bumps along the way.
(22 episodes on 6 single-sided discs)
Disc One *
"Samson and Delilah" ^
"Automtic for the People"
"Allison from Palmdale" ^
Disc Two *
"Goodbye to All That"
"The Tower is Tall, But the Fall is Short"
"Brothers of Nablus"
"Mr. Ferguson is Ill Today"
Disc Three *
"Strange Things Happen at the One-Two Point"
"Self Made Man"
Disc Four *
"Earthlings Welcome Here"
"The Good Wound"
"Some Must Watch While Some Must Sleep"
Disc Five *
"Today is the Day, Part I"
"Today is the Day, Part II"
"To the Lighthouse"
Disc Six *
"Adam Raised a Cain" ^
"Born to Run" ^
* - Disc includes additional Bonus Features
^ - Episode includes optional Audio Commentary
After the blistering "Samson and Delilah", things don't let up for a while. "Automatic for the People" introduces Riley and takes our heroes inside a nuclear power plant---but a major clue is unearthed, as Sarah discovers a list of events, places and other clues about Skynet, the company that Sarah believes will bring about Judgment Day. "Mousetrap" is a standout episode for a number of reasons: not only does it push the story further onward, but it's one of the more suspenseful and exciting episodes in the bunch. "Allison from Palmdale" stands tall as a solid origin story for Cameron, while the extended "Goodbye to All That" sends John and Derek on a field trip with a Terminator model 888 in hot pursuit. These episodes---and several others, of course---show how much Season 2 has expanded the story's scope. Well over half the episodes are shot on location in various parts of California and beyond---and with the vague threat of ZeiraCorp looming overhead, tension remains high throughout the first half of the season.
As the season's second half approaches, things start to get a little cloudy...both for the narrative itself and the show's ratings, which gradually slid as the season progressed. "Self-Made Man" and "Alpine Fields" are two stand-alone episodes designed to draw in new fans, as the creative team felt that a continuous thrust forward would hurt the series' chances of survival. Unfortunately, these two episodes are some of the least impressive: while decent enough on their own terms, they feel completely out of context and arrive at the wrong time. These may have added a few viewers, but I imagine they probably confused and frustrated those expecting the series to continue its steady pace forward. Nonetheless, "Earthlings Welcome Here" gets things back on track...but within the context of the series' original broadcast dates, it may have come too late. This would be the last episode before the holiday break, with Chronicles returning two months later in the dreaded Friday night timeslot...which television fans refer to as "the kiss of death".
It's sad, really, because The Sarah Connor Chronicles really got back on its feet from that point onward. "The Good Wound" was much better suited to draw in new fans than a stand-alone episode: taking several cues from Terminator 2, this Sarah-centered adventure re-acquaints us with an important figure from her past. The next several episodes flesh out story elements introduced earlier in the season, as Sarah, John, Derek and Cameron set out to solve a mysterious factory explosion in the desert. After "Some Must Watch While Some Must Sleep", Chronicles sprints to the finish line: Jesse and Riley's pasts begin to unravel, John Henry and ZeiraCorp's true intentions are revealed, Sarah and company head off into unfamiliar territory and several major characters meet their doom. It all culminates with "Born to Run", which ends the series on a high note, tying up several loose ends but leaving others to the imagination. Poignant, clever and almost hopeful, it's a fitting farewell to a series that was killed off too early.
Regardless, Warner Bros. has given The Sarah Connor Chronicles a strong send-off on DVD, as this second season arrives in a fully-loaded six-disc collection. The series' crisp cinematography and ambitious sound mix---both of which feel more like big-screen efforts than typical TV fare---are supported by a solid technical presentation, while fans can also look forward to a collection of entertaining and informative bonus features. Though Friedman's excellent series now joins the gone-too-early ranks of Firefly, Millennium, Space: Above and Beyond and many others, it certainly won't be forgotten---and with plenty of fans still fighting for it, perhaps Chronicles will return in some form. For now, at least we've got 22 more episodes to enjoy.
As a sidenote: those who follow ratings, rivalries and cancellations will recall that Joss Whedon's Dollhouse shared more than a few similarities to The Sarah Connor Chronicles. Both were futuristic, character-driven dramas, both suffered from declining ratings and both ended up in the Friday night timeslot by season's end...yet the lower-rated Dollhouse continues on this season. While I'm glad that Whedon's series will get the chance to blossom, one can't help but think that Fox made the wrong choice.
Video & Audio Quality
Presented in their original 1.78:1 aspect ratios and enhanced for 16x9 displays, these 43-minute episodes look very good from start to finish. The series' stylized color palette seems accurate, black levels are consistent and image detail is generally solid. Digital problems (such as combing and edge enhancement) don't seem to be an issue, while any slight imperfections are undoubtedly due to the source format. The Blu-Ray release undoubtedly offers a tighter visual presentation...but for those limited to standard-def, there's little to complain about overall.
Presented in a robust Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround mix, The Sarah Connor Chronicles is impressive in the audio department as well. Though many dialogue-driven scenes are anchored squarely in the front, we're also treated to flurries of surround activity once the action heats up. Bear McCreary's percussive score rarely fights for attention, creating a dynamic atmosphere that fans should enjoy. Optional English, Spanish, French, Portuguese and Thai subtitles are included during each episode, while English subs are also present during most of the bonus features. Kudos to Warner for their efforts, since they haven't always been as diligent in this area.
Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging
Seen above, the static menu designs are simple and easy to navigate (but did we really need a non-anamorphic Terminator: Salvation trailer on every disc?). Each 43-minute episode has been divided into roughly half a dozen chapters, while no obvious layer changes were detected during playback. This six-disc set is housed in a double-hinged, clear plastic case and fits inside an embossed metallic slipcover. It's an attractive and practical package, and takes up less space than two standard-width cases. A booklet is also included, though it favors production photos to detailed episode descriptions.
Several episode-specific and general bonus features have been spread across this six-disc set, and most of what's here is terrific stuff. Leading things off is a collection of four Audio Commentaries during "Samson and Delilah", "Alison from Palmdale", "Adam Raised a Cain" and "Born To Run", featuring key members of the cast and crew including Lena Headey, Thomas Dekker, Summer Glau, Josh Friedman, Shirley Manson and several others (unfortunately, Brian Austin Green is AWOL). These are gradually more satisfying as the season progresses; the first commentary, in particular, is rather chummy and doesn't really go anywhere terribly interesting. Things get a little more focused during the latter two commentaries: as the season comes to a close, more attention is paid to the series' mythology and production. Sadly, these sessions seem to have been recorded before the show was officially cancelled; it would've been interesting to hear some of the cast and crew's retrospective thoughts.
Also spread across the discs is a collection of Terminated Scenes. Disc 2 leads off with one scene for "The Tower is Tall, But the Fall is Short" (1:05); Disc 3 has two scenes for "Complications" and "Strange Things Happen at the One-Two Point" (1:18 total); Disc 4 has one scene for "Earthlings Welcome Here" (1:05); Disc 5 has five scenes for "Today is the Day, Parts I & II" and "To the Lighthouse" (6:26 total); and finally, Disc 6 has one scene for "Born to Run" (0:28). These scenes are basically minor character moments and nearly all of them are better served on the cutting-room floor...but they're still worth a look, in any case. Oddly enough, some are presented in 16x9 widescreen (those on Discs 5 and 6, specifically) and the others are non-anamorphic.
Two more episode-specific bonus features are also here, in the form of short production featurettes. Disc 1 offers "The Storyboard Process: Cameron Goes Bad" (2:56), a quick look at a scene during "Samson and Delilah" which is broken down into several dozen storyboards. It's pretty familiar DVD territory, from the crew comments to the obligatory split-screen comparison---but for anyone with an interest in art and design, this one's worth a look. Disc 2 includes "Cameron vs. Rosie's Fight Rehearsal" (5:25), which focuses on the fight between these two female Terminators. This is pretty entertaining stuff, especially since it looked brutal enough without the added CGI and audio effects.
Disc 6 includes two general extras that summarize the season in different ways. Our main event is "The Continuing Chronicles" (75:46, seen above), an eight-part documentary that takes us behind-the-scenes in a number of departments. Obviously, plenty of attention is paid to the series' award-winning visual effects, from early sketches and designs to post-production CG work and practical effects. Not to be outdone, of course, are several other aspects of the general production, including music and sound design, writing, editing and much more. Key participants include Josh Friedman, several producers and selected members of the cast and crew (including Brian Austin Green this time around). Also, a note about the format: these eight bite-sized featurettes are obviously divided for financial reasons...but there's no "Play All" option, unfortunately. Also tucked away is an amusing Gag Reel (6:04), which is filled with plenty of line flubs, general tomfoolery and a ridiculous amount of plane flyovers.
All bonus features are presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, except for some of the deleted scenes mentioned above. Also, it's worth repeating that all applicable extras (save for the audio commentaries) include optional English captions; this is an especially nice touch, since Warner hasn't always been very attentive in this department. Here's hoping that more studios follow suit.
It's impossible to tell if this second season of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles is truly the series' last hurrah, but let's appreciate it for what it is: a fine collection of episodes that manages to expand on a decent first season. The growing mythology and strong cast of characters makes the show's downfall all the more bittersweet, especially since the season finale leaves us with a few loose ends. All things considered, it's still one of the better sci-fi shows in recent memory---and genre trappings aside, Chronicles even functions well as a character based-drama. Luckily, Warner's six-disc set doesn't abandon this terrific series, serving up a rock-solid technical presentation and a host of entertaining and appropriate bonus features. Those new to the series are obviously encouraged to start from the beginning, but don't let its cancellation keep you away: The Sarah Connor Chronicles: Season 2 is a fantastic collection that stands up to repeat viewings. Very, very Highly Recommended.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey based in Harrisburg, PA. He also does freelance graphic design projects and works in a local gallery. When he's not doing that, he enjoys slacking off, second-guessing himself and writing things in third person.