REVIEW: TERMINATOR: THE SARAH CONNOR CHRONICLES – SEASON 1

Starring

Lena Headey (Game of Thrones)
Thomas Dekker (The Secret Circle)
Summer Glau (Firefly)
Richard T. Jones (Santa Clarita Diet)

Thomas Dekker and Lena Headey in Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles (2008)

RECURRING / NOTABLE GUEST CAST

Owain Yeoman (Supergirl)
Sonya Walger (Lost)
Nick Wechsler (Roswell)
Charlayne Woodard (Glass)
Dean Winters (Rough Night)
Tony Amendola (Annabelle: Creation)
Sasha Roiz (Caprica)
Jonathan Sadowski (Cherbnoyble Diaries)
Sabrina Perez (Rebel)
Brendan Hines (Lie To Me)
Jesse Garcia (The Green Ghost)
Adam Godley (Breaking Bad)
Catherine Dent (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.)
Alessandra Torresani (The Big Bang Theory)
Floriana Lima (Supergirl)
Brian Bloom (The A-Team)
Andy Umberger (Deja Vu)
Lee Thompson Young (Smallville)
Garret Dillahunt (12 Years a Slave)
Kristina Apgar (90210)
Neil Hopkins (The Net 2.0)
Brian Austin Green (Anger Management)
Jonathan Jackson (Nashville)
Peter Mensah (Spartacus)
Bruce Davison (X-Men)
Karina Logue (Scream: The Series)
Craig Fairbrass (Cliffhanger)
Skyler Gisondo (The Amazing Spider-Man)
Ryan Kelley (Teen Wolf)
James Urbaniak (Suicide Squad: Hell To Pay)

Summer Glau in Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles (2008)When I heard that a TV series based on the Terminator franchise was in the works, I didn’t holding out much hope that it would be very good. Don’t get me wrong, I like the franchise. I was blown away by Terminator when I saw it during the original theatrical release and was astounded that the second film was as good, if not better, than the original. The third film was wretched however, and I just couldn’t see how they could work a TV series around the premise without it getting silly. After a bumpy first episode however, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles surprised me. It turned out to be an intelligent yet fun look at the Terminator universe that works quite well.Summer Glau in Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles (2008)Starting a while after the events that took place in Terminator 2, Sarah (Lena Headey) and her son John Connor (Thomas Dekker), the boy who will end up being mankind’s only hope in the future have still not settled down. After running for years and years Sarah doesn’t know how to stop. When her current boyfriend proposes she takes John and runs away, one more time.Lena Headey in Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles (2008)John ends up in yet another new school where he meets Cameron (Summer Glau) a cute girl who seems to genuinely like him. It turns out that she doesn’t have the hots for him so much as that she’s been programmed to protect him. Yes, she’s a Terminator sent from the future, and where there’s a good Terminator, there’s a bad version too, sent to kill John. With Cameron’s help John escapes from a substitute teacher/Terminator but he’s one the run once more.Luis Chávez and Summer Glau in Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles (2008)Cameron has a unique idea to get away from the Terminator that’s been assigned to John once and for all: They rob a bank. Inside a series of safety deposit boxes are the ingredients for a time machine. In Cameron’s time, a group of resistance scientists were sent in the past to fabricate a time travel device and hide it in the bank for just such an escape. The small group of Sarah, John, and Cameron lock themselves inside the vault while the robot from the future creates the device and a T-800 Terminator tries to break in. They manage to leap to the year 2007 just at the last moment, but unbeknownst to them the head of the Terminator travels with them.Thomas Dekker, Lena Headey, and Summer Glau in Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles (2008)Neatly bypassing the events of T-3, the series jumps to the present time where Sarah is still alive and John isn’t a drug addict but the war with the robots still impending. Of course there are still dangers. The head that came into the present with them goes about trying to refashion a body for itself. There’s also a group of fighters sent into the past to aide John and Cameron, but when they are located, it’s too late; all but one of their number has been slaughtered by a Terminator.Summer Glau in Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles (2008)With several interesting subplots that carry through the season, included finding the maker of a chess computer that may have started the great war and staying one step ahead of an FBI agent who has been chasing the Connors for years, this show packs a lot of excitement into the nine episodes (the season was cut short by the writer’s strike.) It definitely gets better as it goes along too. The writers become more familiar with the characters and the writing gets tighter and the show more enjoyable.The acting is very good across the board. Lena Headey isn’t a Linda Hamilton look-alike but she manages to capture the strengths of the character as Hamilton did and still make it her own. Over the course of the series she manages to show Sarah’s vulnerable side, something that surely exists but rarely peaked out in the movies. Though Sarah’s name is in the title, the show would have crumbled without a good actor playing John, and Thomas Dekker manages to pull off the difficult role. He has to be strong and independent, but not fool-hardy. Dekker gives John those traits, while still making him act like a teenager with an over protective mother. Some of the best scenes are where John is trying to deal with his mother, something that every teenager has problems with.Thomas Dekker in Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles (2008)Summer Glau will be instantly recognized from Firefly. I loved her in that show, but was a bit disappointed that she basically plays the same role in this series. She has the same “not sure what’s going on” look as River did, and I was hoping to see her play a different role here. Even if it is the same character essentially, Summer pulls it off well. Though not at all Summer’s fault, the writers did put the “small waif-like girl kicks the big burly man’s ass” scene in the series a bit too often. Yeah, it’s funny, but after a while it becomes trite.Lena Headey in Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles (2008)I wasn’t expecting much from this show. After all, how could you make a weekly series that could compete with the first two movies? The creators managed to pull it off and made a show with some intelligent plots and interesting stories. There are a few surprises along the way that add a lot to the show, and make this a must-buy for fans of the Terminator franchise.

REVIEW: THE PUNISHER – SEASON 2

Jon Bernthal in The Punisher (2017)

Starring

Jon Bernthal (The Accountant)
Ben Barnes (Westworld)
Amber Rose Revah (The Devil’s Double)
Jason R. Moore (The Sorcerer’s Apprentice)
Josh Stewart (No Ordinary Family)
Floriana Lima (Supergirl)
Giorgia Whigham (13 Reasons Why)
Deborah Ann Woll (Mother’s Day)

Ben Barnes in The Punisher (2017)

RECURRING / NOTABLE GUEST CAST

Royce Johnson (Demolition)
Tony Plana (Ugly Betty)
Alexa Davalos (Clash of The Titans)
Corbin Bernsen (Kiss Kiss Bang Bang)
Annette O’Toole (Smallville)
Ilia Volok (Power Rangers Wild Force)

Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio (Limitless TV)

Rob Morgan (Stranger Things)

Frank Castle doesn’t seem like the kind of guy who gets out to the movies very often, so we’ll probably never know what he thought about Star Wars: The Last Jedi. But you have to assume he’d identify with Kylo Ren’s infamous monologue, “Let the past die. Kill it, if you have to. It’s the only way to become who you were meant to be.” That pretty much sums up Frank’s struggle since losing his family in a hail of bullets and transforming himself into a remorseless vigilante.Amber Rose Revah in The Punisher (2017)That same struggle takes on a new form in The Punisher Season 2. Having finally tracked down and punished every single person responsible for the deaths of his family, Frank is finally a free man. But can someone who spent so long being defined by hate and a thirst for revenge actually find peace? Can Frank let his past die and rebuild his life, or is he doomed to forever be defined as the Punisher? It’s a compelling dilemma. But ironically, it’s only when Season 2 clings to the past that it becomes the show it was meant to be.Jon Bernthal in The Punisher (2017)Initially, Season 2 comes across as a major departure from its predecessor. The premiere touches base with Frank (Jon Bernthal) as he aimlessly wanders the Midwest and finds his true calling as a Shooter Jennings groupie. It’s a slow start to the new season, but one that sets the mood nicely. We see Frank coming so close to remembering how to live as a normal human being again, to the point where he even develops a romance with a local bartender. But the fact that Frank so quickly and recklessly throws himself into the first fracas he can find shows that he was only ever waiting for a new mission to come along. If the driving question of Season 2 is whether Frank Castle can find peace, the first episode alone makes it pretty clear that it’ll only be with a gun in his hand.Josh Stewart in The Punisher (2017)The first few episodes of the season attempt to make a fairly clean break from the events, characters, and setting of Season 1. Sure, the show touches base with old favorites like Dinah Madani (Amber Rose Revah) and Billy Russo (Ben Barnes), but the focus in this early part of the season is fixed more on newcomers like wayward teen grifter Amy Bendix (Giorgia Whigham) and former Neo-Nazi-turned-God-fearing assassin, John Pilgrim (Josh Stewart).Jon Bernthal and Jason R. Moore in The Punisher (2017)Unfortunately, it’s here where one of the fundamental flaws of Season 2 becomes apparent. These newcomers struggle to measure up to the strong supporting cast seen in Season 1. Amy initially comes across as an obnoxious, conniving brat, as well as a crude attempt to replace both Karen Page and Micro in one new character. It’s a good four or five episodes into the season before she finally begins to gain some semblance of depth and forges a more believable bond with Frank.Jon Bernthal in The Punisher (2017)Pilgrim (who’s loosely based on a character from the comics called The Mennonite) often shows potential as a man whose struggle to leave his dark past behind him mirrors Frank’s own journey. But both Pilgrim and his handlers, the nefarious right-wing billionaires Anderson (Corbin Bernsen) and Eliza Schultz (Annette O’Toole) are badly underdeveloped. This season creates the impression that showrunner Steve Lightfoot wanted to create a conflict that could rip from as many headlines as possible. You’ve got your right-wing extremists, your shady Russians blackmailing politicians, and your rampant gun violence plaguing Middle America. But none of this material seems especially well thought-out or ever comes together as a satisfying whole. By the time the focus shifts back to New York and the renewed feud between Frank and Billy, the Schultzes and their dirty dealings become a light afterthought.Ben Barnes and Charles Brice in The Punisher (2017)Fortunately, at least Season 2 capitalizes on the foundation established in Season 1 where Billy is concerned. We see Billy Russo, handsome businessman, transform into Jigsaw, psychologically tormented killer. The series only loosely adapts the Jigsaw from the comics, however. Rather than depicting him as a hideously scarred supervillain out for blood the moment he escapes police custody, Season 2 takes a more understated approach to Billy. His scarring is less dramatic. Early on, he wants only to understand his sad lot in life and the skull-clad demon that haunts his dreams.Jon Bernthal and Jason R. Moore in The Punisher (2017)The result of all of this is that Billy remains a sympathetic figure throughout the season. Even when his dark, depraved side begins to burst forth again, we understand the pain and trauma fueling his actions and the profound sense of loss that plagues him. Barnes’ performance improves leaps and bounds over that of Season 1. At times it’s bigger and flashier, but often Barnes is able to bring a wounded subtlety to the character. In some cases, Barnes is even required to act from behind a mask for prolonged periods, showing a gift for using body language and voice to make up for his concealed features. Jigsaw may not quite rival the likes of Wilson Fisk and Kilgrave as the best of Netflix’s Marvel villains, but he’s close enough.The new season also further cements Bernthal’s Frank Castle as the best live-action incarnation of the character to date. To be fair, Bernthal has had far more time to make the character his own than actors like Thomas Jane and Ray Stevenson. Regardless, the show really benefits from that crucial combination of nuanced characterization and Bernthal’s captivating performance. This season is careful never to paint Frank as either hero or villain. If anything, it’s preoccupied with the narrow line separating a soldier like Frank from a craven mercenary like Billy. Bernthal brings a wide range to the role, playing Frank as a roaring powerhouse of rage, a grieving survivor, and various degrees in between those two extremes. Season 2 is also kind to both Revah’s Dinah Madani and Jason R. Moore’s Curtis Holt. Both characters are able to take a more active role in the conflict, including directly joining Frank in his war against Billy. Dinah’s emotional gauntlet is one of the highlights of the season, as she continuously grapples with her profound betrayal from Season 1. As for Curtis, we see his loyalties tested and his life begin to buckle under the weight of being Frank’s friend, culminating in his decision to forge his own path and choose for himself what he believes to be the greatest good.Ben Barnes in The Punisher (2017)Season 2’s fundamental flaw is that it forces viewers to accept the good with the bad. It makes some significant improvements to Season 1’s formula in terms of pacing and action. Following the methodical “Roadhouse Blues,” the season’s narrative quickly builds momentum. Whereas it seemed like Season 1 was content to go multiple episodes without giving Frank a chance to do some punishing, pretty much every chapter of Season 2 includes at least one significant action sequence. There’s also a greater variety to the action this time around, with some fights unfolding as raw, gritty, hand-to-hand brawls and others ending with hundreds of bullets littering the streets of New York. Honestly, the best thing that can be said for Season 2 is that, unlike its predecessor, it didn’t seem overly drawn out at 13 episodes.Jon Bernthal and Giorgia Whigham in The Punisher (2017)But the flip side to this is that Season 2 leaves me wanting so much more in some areas. Again, so much involving the Schultzes, John Pilgrim, and that whole halfhearted conspiracy feels poorly developed. These characters disappear for multiple episodes at a stretch and even when they return, they connect to Frank’s struggle only in the most tenuous ways. More often than not, Pilgrim comes across as a refugee from a completely different show. This season may be more eventful than its predecessor, but it’s also far less focused. Krista Dumont (Floriana Lima) may be the biggest offender of all. This is a character who is obviously a villain lurking in plain sight from her very first appearance. Yet never do the writers make more than the most rudimentary effort to flesh out her background or justify her erratic behavior. She functions in her capacity as someone to shine a brief, fleeting light into Billy Russo’s demented life, and that’s it.Ben Barnes in The Punisher (2017)Looking back at Season 2 as a whole, it was like watching two completely different story pitches being crudely grafted together. And that’s to say nothing of some of the other questionable storytelling choices made over the course of the season. However little this season succeeded in tying together these loose narrative threads, it did at least manage to give characters like Frank, Dinah, Amy, and Billy’s story the closure they needed. “The Whirlwind” is both the most action-packed and most emotionally charged installment of the season. It’s here we see Frank take those final steps toward becoming the Punisher through and through. With little prospect of a Season 3, it’s heartening to see the series end on such a definitive note. The Punisher Season 2 improves on the first in some key ways, establishing a stronger sense of narrative momentum and giving fans much more action. At the same time, the series also falters in other areas. Its narrative is more unfocused, and its new characters struggle to measure up to the old guard. This season does capitalize on the foundation established by Season 1 in terms of the Punisher/Jigsaw rivalry, however, and it leaves Frank Castle in a good place in the finale.