Friday, June 23, 2017

Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles S1 E5: Queen's Gambit

"God I love robots."
-Andy Good-

But is Good really good enough to be one of the builders of the future Sarah and John Connor are fighting tooth and nail to prevent.

Put another way, will Good be good enough that he must die? That's the question for Sarah Connor.

In Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, Season One, Episode 5, Queen's Gambit, Sarah's moves are played in comparison to the game of chess, as one can infer from the title of the episode.

We also discover John Connor learned all about combat at a very young age by playing chess against other guerilla fighters in Central America. Chess? Well, okay sure, and the entry takes its time to notate the elements of chess that are required by a smart fighter/ tactician. Patience for one is important.

The latest in the series introduces us to a John Connor freedom fighter sent from the future in the form of 90210's Brian Austin Green. Unfortunately for Green, for me, he will be forever a teenager from the future sent from the past by way of 90120. It's not fair, but it just is for me. Having said that Green is actually excellent in his part as Derek Reese, brother of the fabled and legendary Kyle Reese within The Terminator mythology.

A fairly intense sequence ensues involving the rescue of Derek Reese by Cameron and the Connors from a prison truck. The caustic irony being Sarah and John Connor, while free, are prisoners of their own private war. Their lives are locked in a constant battle and struggle that rules and dictates their every move and decision.

As Sarah notes, "If there is a flaw in the game of chess as a game of war it is this... The goal of a chess game is total annihilation, but in war ... there is the hope ...rules can be changed, truces can be called, the greatest of enemies can become the best of friends. In war there is hope." In Sarah's world, there is the hope that the Connors can alter the future and ultimately be free, but until that day they are locked away and imprisoned by the fate of the world they must fight to save.

I'm not entirely sure what it is about Lena Headey in the lead role of Sarah Connor, but, truth be told, she doesn't entirely work for me. This is in no way a condemnation of this wonderful actress. I love her. I love Headey. She's an intelligent operator in any role. She positively owns the role of Cersei Lannister in Game Of Thrones (2011-present). She is one of the major character highlights in that series and she shines among an impressive cast of actors throughout the show.

Yet, Summer Glau just shines as Cameron in T:TSCC series seemingly free of expectations and other baggage, while the Sarah Connor character comes with a good degree of formed opinion.

Linda Hamilton was so mighty, so iconic in the role of Sarah Connor for me she's hard to shake. Headey is superb in this role, but sometimes I just can't help get myself by Hamilton as Connor. Those were clearly unexpectedly and surprisingly big shoes to fill and I'm not sure, as good as Headey is, she does it for me, at least so far.

Meanwhile Glau seems to nail the role of these quiet, physical savant-like characters. Firefly (2002) and now T:TSCC.

Nevertheless, T:TSCC continues to be a solid enterprise as sci-fi genre series go alternating between a bit of action, but more importantly strong characters (a triad) and suspenseful drama.

The series may not have the pacing entirely right or the compelling scripts of other science fiction greats, but T:TSCC is another strong entry in The Terminator franchise and deserves a worthy place in its legacy along with some recognition as one of the science fiction series worthy of consideration.

Would another actress have been stronger in the Sarah Connor role? Ironically Headey's fellow Game Of Thrones' star Emilia Clarke played the part of Sarah Connor in Terminator: Genisys (2015). She didn't have a prayer. It was a weak casting choice and yet, again, Clarke excels as Daenerys Targaryen. She's perfect in that series too.

Honestly I'm not sure it's possible to replace the memory of Linda Hamilton. For those who see me as knocking Headey, I suppose the greatest compliment I can offer here is that Headey doesn't try to replace Hamilton who left a sizable imprint. She doesn't pretend to be her. Headey simply takes the Connor role and makes it her own, adding her own strengths and weaknesses to the legend of the character. Headey is entirely successful in making the part her own on that front and perhaps that's all anyone should expect, because I'm not sure an actress could do better. Any reservations I may have may be entirely of my own subjective making.

But if you're a fan of the original two films you may suffer the same dilemma. Discovering T:TSCC may be a gambit of your own.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

The Expanse S1 E4: CQB

"Close Quarter Battle"

Into The Expanse (2015-present) we go and a series offering some of the greatest science fiction world-building seen in quite some time.

The Expanse, Season One, Episode 4, CQB delivers significant punch just as its title dictates and is pulled directly from the pages of James S.A. Corey's Leviathan Wakes Chapters 11-15. The science fiction jargon noted in this episode's very title is pure candy for the science fiction aficionado. They will not be disappointed.

Despite the most exhilarating and tension-filled space battle since Ronald D. Moore's Battlestar Galactica (2003-2009), The Expanse is uniquely its own creation, unabashedly alternating between its dramatic Earth governance components to the political and economic developments out on Tycho Station.

Tycho Station is the orbital space station working on the building of a Mormon lifeboat or generation ship called the Nauvoo. The project is overseen by none other than Chad Coleman (The Wire, The Walking Dead), who portrays Fred Johnson, also known as the Butcher Of Anderson Station.

There is an accompanying short story titled just that, The Butcher Of Anderson Station (2011), detailing the occurring events that labeled Fred Johnson with that very name. This fascinating chapter within the expansive universe is covered in greater detail within The Expanse, S1, E5, Back To The Butcher.

For those hungry for a taste of outer space, CQB delivers the space intrigue and here, true close quarter battle between MARS or MCRN ship Donnager and a heretofore unseen and unidentified group of highly aggressive well-armed battle ships. The warship Donnager is clearly the odds on favorite to take on any enemy. It is well-equipped and well-directed by the mightily well-trained Martians against any known enemy except in this instance they are firing in the dark with a disadvantage of not knowing or understanding their enemy aggressor. The Donnager is unexpectedly put on its heels along with the overconfident and surprised Martian crew left to play defense and in major trouble.

Aboard The Donnager is Holden and his crew of freedom fighters (Naomi Nagata, Amos Burton, Alex Kamal and Shed Garvey), all held hostage following the events of Episode 3, Remember The Cant.

Holden realizes The Donnager is under attack by the same kind of ships that destroyed The Cant, The Canterbury, the very spark that ignited tensions in The Expanse down a trail of mystery and began pitting Earth and Mars against each other with their backs against it and on the brink of a war.

Whoever is behind the attacks is attempting to frame Mars and ignite the war.

Breaching pods attach to The Donnager and one of Holden's crew is now dead as a result of the battle in one of the most expertly executed space deaths ever seen on TV.

It's hard to pick a highlight in CQB, but the desperation of Holden's crew following a loud metallic clank, silence, a gruesome death and then efforts to seal the hull are as impressive and suspenseful as science fiction sequences get.

All of this is followed by a simple moment between Amos and Naomi. That scene speaks volumes about their love and friendship in the face of potential death as The Donnager spirals and is breached by unknown soldiers.

The other absolutely crucial, key moment in CQB is the introduction of The Rocinante, an MCRN fighter ship, housed within The Donnager, and utilized as the escape vessel for Holden and crew, a ship they would abscond with, make their own and call home. Equipped with all sorts of rail gun-like machinery and firepower this thing is a slick, sleek beast. CQB displays one of the most rousing escape sequences ever made for science fiction television right here. Going into the series, Holden and crew would inhabit her for some time to come not unlike Mal Reynolds and friends' life aboard the Serenity (Firefly). The Rocinante (the name of Don Quixote's horse), or Roci as its called for short, is quickly becoming a spaceship favorite and its official debut is here in CQB.

And of course it wouldn't be The Expanse without the requisite amount of gumshoe sleuthing from Miller as portrayed by Thomas Jane. This approach is indeed a significant part of Leviathan Wakes and especially Season One of The Expanse series.

With CQB, it begins to dawn on this writer why The Expanse is dense and sometimes a bit impenetrable or hard to follow. Quite frankly, the series is very complex and weaves a lot of information and threads. The mystery unfolds slowly essentially because it is ripped straight from the pages of the equally complex books written by James S.A. Corey, the pen name of Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck.

The good news of the matter is The Expanse is extremely faithful to the book Leviathan Wakes and has an awful lot of information to share in a very small amount of time.

In the end The Expanse TV series lends itself to multiple viewings that genuinely require your patience and focus. If you're a fan of science fiction and/or literature this should be a welcome challenge. If you're a fan of piss poor science fiction in name only than you will likely find yourself disinterested in the investment of your time in a series of this magnitude and quality.

The Expanse is entertaining, but it also works the mind and challenges the viewer to keep up and pull the pieces of the mystery together. That's a tall order in today's world of short attention span cinema or television, but many science fiction fans will thank The Expanse if given the opportunity to explore the rewarding world established and brought to life by those immense novels and that compliment this equally imaginative and additionally expansive TV adaptation.

Writer: Naren Shankar (Farscape The Way We Weren't, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine)
Director: Jeff Woolnough (Battlestar Galactica)