R.I.P. Sarah Connor
May 18th, 2009
She could escape annihilation from bloodthirsty cyborgs, but apparently not the broadcaster’s axe.
Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles has been cancelled.
Of course, I’m disappointed, even though the writing has been on the wall for quite some time. The ratings slipped throughout Season 2, and we didn’t pass the “Friday Night Death Slot” test.
It’s both easy and misguided to blame the network, or assume that it would have survived if better promoted. I believe that Fox did everything they could. I think that we simply fell in the snare of network television expectation. At the end of the day, these are financial decisions being made by financial institutions. Remember, that if Battlestar Galactica aired on Fox, it would’ve been cancelled in two weeks (BG was technically an underperforming series even by Sci Fi Channel standards!).
Everyone working on a series must walk the line between doing what they believe and are passionate about and doing something safe that will generate predictable ratings. The creators of this series (and I include myself and everyone else involved in this series in that group) went into unfamiliar dramatic territory here, delivering a dynamic series about multiple characters with complex arcs.
If Josh Friedman and the other writers delivered weekly scripts in which Sarah and John are chased by a different Terminator through various locales and escape narrowly before a big explosion… we might have lasted longer, it’s true. But, that kind of mindless action show would be a series that has an audience, but not one that has fans. And of course, that kind of series would be constantly compared unfavorably to the Terminator feature films week in and week out, since we’d be retreading familiar ground on a much smaller budget.
No, we had to do something more interesting. We instead made the show that we wanted to make, and that the fans wanted to see. And we ultimately fell into an old trap, because mainstream audiences would rather watch “So You Think You Can Dance” then try to keep track of Future Derek, Present Derek, Alternate Future Derek and which one Present Jesse fell in love with. Hell, when I put it that way… I think I understand why. :)
However, as a fan of the show, I’d much rather take our season and a half of interesting, quality drama than five seasons of shit blowing up or reality shows.
I don’t mean to imply that ours was a flawless series. If anything, our show suffered from having TOO MANY fascinating characters, each of whom had a different relationship with every other character. From a musical perspective, I had to adapt each character’s theme for each person they were interacting with, because their motivations were different in each case. This approach had incredible dramatic potential, but I admit it was hard for me to keep it all straight and I’m watching each episode 100 times! We were undeniably still finding our tone, as most series are during their second season. But, the creative highs far outnumber the lows, and the last third of season 2 certainly indicated that we were ready to come back on a strong note.
Looking back at those creative highs, I wanted to pick out my top ten moments. This proved impossible, so here are my FIFTEEN FAVORITE MOMENTS OF T:TSCC, both as a fan and as composer (spoilers ahead):
1. Gnothi Seauton – The Safehouse
The pilot was essentially a jump-start to get us back into Terminator mythology. But, it didn’t offer anything that we hadn’t seen before: good and bad terminators protecting / chasing John respectively. The first season introduced a whole new layer to the story. We learn that humans and terminators have been sending back many individuals to prepare for the coming war. The first time we go into the safehouse in Gnothi Seauton, I was amazed at the idea that there are humans sent back through time not to protect John, but to do any number of other tasks. Suddenly, this series that had always been about John Connor was opening up to a whole new world of dramatic possibility. This really was a war, and John Connor was one of many high-profile targets.
2. Queen’s Gambit – Derek Reese / Truck Chase
When I first realized Derek was Kyle’s brother, I thought it was a bit of a soap-opera coincidence. Boy, was I wrong. Derek quickly evolved into a complex and endearing character, and even the reasons behind him showing up were explained beautifully. The truck chase in this episode, where Sarah, Cameron and John rescue him from the FBI, was a total bitch to score, but worth every second of it.
3. Dungeons & Dragons – The Future!
As a Terminator fan, I’ve been wanting to see an extended story take place in the future for… basically my entire life. Yes, it’s true that the effects budget of the forthcoming Terminator Salvation will outshine this little story, but I’ll never forget being able to write music for the dark vistas of fallen Los Angeles, and Derek’s time spent incarcerated. My favorite moment is when he’s taken into the basement to be interrogated… and ultimately gives up the location of his friends.
4. The Demon Hand – Dr. Silberman’s Story
Dr. Silberman recalls the events of Terminator 2 from his perspective, and the effect is spine-tinglingly marvelous. This cue was one of my favorites from the entire run, because it gave me the chance to vicariously re-score one of my favorites scenes from T2.
5. The Demon Hand - Ballet Dancing
The first of many fascinating Cameron moments. Why was she dancing? What could she possibly learn from this art form? Derek’s expression perfectly mirrors our own thoughts as he watches. This scene was a formal declaration that T:TSCC was going places that the films never would.
6. What He Beheld – Young Kyle and Derek
The Johnny-Cash-laden death sequence in this episode won’t make my list, not because it wasn’t outstanding, but simply because this scene, where Derek takes John to see his father playing in the park as a young child was so perfect and elegant that it blows away everything else in the episode, or perhaps the series as a whole. The idea was so simple: of course Derek would remember where he and Kyle were as children. And to use this scene for Derek to admit to John he knows they are related was brilliant!
7. Samson & Delilah – The Opening Montage
Sarah and John are being attacked by Sarkissian and his men, while Cameron emerges from the exploded Jeep. The use of Reverend Gary Davis’ “Samson and Delilah” was so unexpected and interesting that it took the sequence into strange new territory. And besides, I got to work with Shirley Manson on the song! :)
8. Samson & Delilah – I Love You
Cameron has been trying to kill John the entire episode and he finally has her pinned down, about to remove her chip. Then she lets this bomb drop. I love the ambiguity of this scene, because it’s never obvious whether she’s telling the truth or not. But one thing is clear: cyborg women know how to manipulate a teenage boy’s emotions just as effectively as human ones. :)
9. Allison from Palmdale – Cameron Remembers Allison
Toni Graphia wrote this episode and wrote the ballet scene in The Demon Hand. She clearly has a gift for Cameron-centric story lines. This sequence was perhaps the best scene in the entire series for Cameron. She conjures within us fear, empathy, revulsion and heartbreak as she simultaneously projects the young and innocent Allison and the confused killer cyborg Cameron. Scoring the undertones of this scene was a delight rarely matched in my career.
10. The Tower is Tall But the Fall is Short – Weaver’s Kid
Weaver’s daughter is afraid to be seated next to her mother. The adults in the room fail to see what Savannah’s young instinct picked up on: Weaver is not herself. Several other moments in this episode revolving around Savannah and Dr. Sherman are equally chilling.
11. Mr. Fergsuon is Ill Today – Shoot Out
Director Michael Nankin’s direction brings this shoot out a classic look, and I was allowed to do a Terminator arrangement of “La Llorona,” a spooky Mexican folk-tune. This is the kind of unexpected creative direction that made T:TSCC so special.
12. Ourselves Alone – Riley and Cameron in the Shed
This sequence was a marvelous performance from both women. Riley knows that Cameron is a terminator. Cameron knows that she knows. But, they’re both still pretending that all is normal. Cameron’s threats and Riley’s pleading are all in the subtext. I was on the fence about Riley as a character, but I must admit that this episode made me care intensely about her and truly pity her. (Just in time for her to eat it.)
13. Today is the Day: Part 1 – Dietze’s Age
As Dietze leaves the submarine, Jesse warns him to be careful. He assures her that he’ll keep his cool, and says “You don’t get to be my age without thinkin’ first.” The line goes by quickly, but when you stop and think about it… Dietze is perhaps 35 years old. This line gives incredible insight to the world in which they live, where a man in his 30′s is considered a seasoned veteran, perhaps even a senior citizen. It did more to paint a bleak picture of the future than any CG-laced vista of destroyed cities.
14. Adam Raised a Cain – Derek’s Death
Controversial amongst fans, to say the least. Derek takes a bullet to the head and dies the death that would make a Star Trek Red Shirt Guy look dignified. When I first saw this in the spotting session with the producers, I got really angry. In hindsight, Josh must’ve been chuckling like a schoolgirl on the inside, since he knew that Derek would be coming back in the next episode. And my reaction was his first glimpse at how much the fans would explode when they saw it. But, I couldn’t help it! I was furious at the way he died, but also recognized the dramatic potential. This is the way it would happen in real life, and for that I respected the writers for choosing to do it this way. And I’ll give Josh this: I didn’t see it coming.
15. Born to Run – The End
What an ending! “What happened to Danny Dyson? What happened to Sarah and Ellison in the present? Where did Cromartie run off to now that he has Cameron’s chip? What will happen to John in future? Does this mean that Weaver has been on their side all along? Now I’m re-watching all of Season 2 in my mind with a new perspective on her character!” At the last spotting session, I begged Josh Friedman for the answers to these questions, and he told me enough that I know season 3 would have been our best.
RUNNERS-UP: Goofy Source Music Cues!
Automatic for the People – Atomic Al
Ok, these two are only on the list because of my experiences as composer, since as a fan, these moments come and go before you know it. First up, I got to compose cartoon music in the style of Carl Stalling (Looney Tunes) and Scott Bradley (Tom & Jerry) for this little animated training video. Check out my blog entry all about Atomic Al if you haven’t seen it.
The Mousetrap – Beast Wizard
Another runner-up would be my composition “The Theme from Beast Wizard,” in which I got to score the clip of George Lazlo acting in the terrible sword and sorcery epic. This piece was particularly fun, because I intentionally failed to reach my usual high standards of musical production values, in order to capture the low-budget feeling of a Sci Fi channel Saturday night movie.
Those are the moments that spring to mind. Did I leave anything out?
In addition to working on this great series, I also got an outstanding soundtrack album out of it, which has all the important character themes on it as well as the song I did with Shirley. While I’m certain that my “Sarah Connor Theme” will be overshadowed by Danny Elfman’s ginormous Terminator Salvation score in a few weeks, I’m nevertheless very proud of my music here and hope that it will remain a part of the Terminator mythology in the hearts of fans for years to come.
So, farewell Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles. I will be forever grateful to Josh Friedman, John Wirth and James Middleton for my chance to contribute to the Terminator universe.