Fox's Friday night lineup of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles and Dollhouse was already pulling in low numbers on Friday nights, but doing well in DVR numbers over the course of the week. And that was before this Friday, when presumably a big chunk of the audience of our beloved show is out at the premiere night of "Watchmen." So if you're joining us on Friday, then hi, I'll be your guest host for the week. And if you don't get around to us until some point during the week, then that just means you have a shorter wait until Josh Lasser is back next Friday.
The other Josh, Terminator showrunner Josh Friedman, has been making the rounds to everyone who would listen over the course of this week, acknowledging that, yes, the first three episodes back from the hiatus were really slow, but things definitely pick up over the season's final six weeks. It's not that the series is going to ever drop the intensive character psychology stories that the writers love, but we will supposedly also get the action you would be expecting out of a show called Terminator. This week, we get psychology, we get action, and we get real plot payoff. It just so happens that all of that occurs with Jesse and Riley, two characters loathed by much of the fanbase. Well, I liked everything with those characters in this episode, at least. Your mileage may vary.
Some chosen people have to spend forty years trekking around the desert. The Connors only had to spend three and a half episodes there. Now that she's home for the first time since December, Sarah notes the massive bloodstain in the bathroom from Riley's meltdown, and tries to clean it up. You know, I'm sure that Cameron could have cleaned that up in the meantime if she wanted to – which means I can only assume that she wanted Sarah to see that and figure out what happened there. Cameron, after all, has always liked Riley about as much as most of the show's fans have liked Riley, which is to say not at all.
But everyone likes Cameron, so it's great to see her active from the opening scene after she's been disappointingly relegated to the background as of late. Even better, she offers up a classic Cameron-ism, something that has been in even shorter supply. "That's a window, bird," she helpfully points out as a pigeon inside the house tries and fails to get out. Funny, yes, but you don't need a Masters in English lit to know that birds are always, always a bad omen. It's an even worse omen when Cameron tells the bird that it doesn't belong in the Connor house, and then promptly crushes the pigeon to death.
The problem with Cameron accidentally crushing the pigeon is that Cameron isn't supposed to accidentally do anything. The fact that she had an involuntary movement leads her to assume the worst, which is that there's a glitch in her programming once again. She elects to perform some surgery on herself, tearing apart her forearm. Riley catches Cameron playing with her metalloid tendons and ligaments, and Cameron catches Riley catching her. Riley takes off running. To be fair, cutting open your arm in front of somebody who almost died cutting open her arm is kind of insensitive.
Riley runs to Jesse, who as always seems like she could care less about Riley's mental state. For somebody who claims that Riley is vital to her mission and to the fate of humanity itself, Jesse has never much seemed to care whether Riley lives or dies. That'll make a whole lot more sense at the end of the episode.
Cameron alerts Sarah that it's about time they did some deeper looking into Riley, and since Sarah loves a good mystery investigation, she takes the bait. Sarah visits Riley's foster father, and from their conversation it becomes clear that Riley knows way too much about apocalyptic futures. Sarah, of course, can only assume that anything Riley knows would be because John told her. Sarah is also suspicious when the foster father mentions being visited by a guidance counselor, so Sarah takes the name of the guidance counselor and sets up a meeting. "Miss Wilson," it turns out, is none other than Jesse.
The conversation between Jesse and Sarah is just like every other scene with Jesse, in that the more she talks, her motivations just become more muddled rather than less. But what Sarah takes out of the conversation is that Riley has been talking to this woman, "Miss Wilson," about things she shouldn't be. So now Sarah thinks that John has been talking out of turn to Riley, and Riley in turn is spreading her yap in public.
Sarah comes back to the house to confront John, though John denies that he has said anything to Riley. Riley shows back up at the house, and Sarah gives her the stinkeye. The convenient arrival of a Child & Family Services representative soon after forces Riley to go hide with Cameron while Sarah and John try to shoo the lady away. "What am I going to do with you?" Cameron asks aloud. "You can't stay here anymore, but I can't let you leave." Fortunately for Riley, John shows up before Cameron can crush her like she crushed the pigeon.
John pulls Riley aside and puts her on the spot, asking once and for all if Riley needs to share something with him. John presses her that Riley needs to say whatever she needs to say, right now, but Riley tearfully refuses. You could debate for a while what's going through her head at this pivotal moment. Is she really in love with John, and doesn't want to break his heart by admitting that she's been lying to him all along? Is she simply afraid that Cameron would kill her on the spot if she admitted the truth? Does she believe that if she tells John the truth, then maybe John will tell her everything too and it will be even more horrible than all the psychological torment she's already been through? Or is Riley just really naïve and stupid? In any case, as John steps aside to argue with Sarah, Riley takes off running.
Riley surprises Jesse at her apartment and attacks her. Apparently this weak, scared little girl from the future actually knows how to fight. Riley has figured out Jesse&#
39;s real endgame. Yes, getting John to pull away from Cameron was Jesse's plan, but not the way Jesse explained it. Jesse's plan was to have Cameron kill Riley, and have that be what caused John to turn away from Cameron. Jesse was always so dispassionate about Riley because she was mentally preparing herself for the fact that Riley had to die at some point in order to complete her destiny. "You know how few people get a chance for their lives to mean something? For their deaths to mean something?" Jesse shrieks. It all makes total, absolute sense. And I am now very upset with myself for not having figured out that that was Jesse's real plan.
The climactic fight scene between Jesse and Riley is a good one, at least for a human-on-human one. It's brilliant, actually, given that Josh Friedman was going around telling everyone this week that a whole lot of action would be forthcoming on the show. Anybody who knows the show would have assumed from those hints that we'd have Terminators wreaking havoc – and it's a brilliant fakeout because the climactic scene is actually two humans facing down. But the outcome is a given. Jesse has a lot of guns. Riley doesn't. In fact, the first time we see Jesse in this episode, she's shooting target practice, which in retrospect is an even bigger foreshadowing giveaway than a dead bird who had taken up residence in the Connor house. Riley takes a bullet in the chest, and that's that.
So Jesse ends up having killed Riley, instead of Cameron doing it. No matter; from the looks of next week's previews it just means Jesse will have to try to hint to Derek to hint to John that it really was Cameron, despite the fact that John was with Cameron most of the time. But John and Cameron have some secrets of their own. When Cameron fears she's on the fritz, she asks John to help her by using the technology from a box of old dead Terminator parts. It picks up on a subplot left dangling since the first season, when Cameron held on to the chip of a T-888 that she was supposed to torch. So John knows about that now, but presumably isn't telling Sarah. And there's something else they're not telling Sarah. Fearful of going haywire once again, Cameron plants a bomb inside her own skull, and provides John with the detonator, so that it'll be easy on him if he ever needs to kill her. The fact that Cameron gives the detonator to John and not to Sarah? Interesting, very interesting.
Are you satisfied with the twist in Jesse's plan for John and Cameron, dissatisfied, or do you just think there are even more twists to come for Jesse? Even if you didn't like Riley, did she have a good and honorable death scene? How do you think the dynamic between John and Cameron plays out now, after John learns of Riley's death? What's the ultimate significance of Cameron entrusting John and not Sarah with the detonator?