Terminator and Terminator 2 were so admired that every movie in the rest of the franchise was created to be a sequel of Terminator 2: Judgement Day, ignoring all the others after it. The same is true of the TV series, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles. The first episode begins in 1999. Sarah Connor (Lena Headey) and her son John (Thomas Dekker), on the run from their bombing of Cyberdyne, are captured outside a public library. A Terminator attacks the police convoy and kills the cops, John runs and is shot dead by the machine. Sarah begs the Terminator to kill her. It strangles her as the nuclear explosions happen, destroying the library and burning the Terminator to its endoskeleton, but Sarah lives, hugging her dead son. She wakes up with her fiancé Charley Dixon (Dean Winters). She and John are living with Charlie in West Fork, Nebraska. She tells John they have to leave.
After they are gone, Charley reports them to the police as missing. FBI agent James Ellison (Richard T. Jones) tells him Sarah is an escaped mental patient wanted as a terrorist. Astonished, Charlie says her name is Sarah Reese. A Terminator is monitoring as her name is entered into the police database.
Sarah and John move to Red Valley, New Mexico, where John meets a pretty girl named Cameron Phillips (Summer Glau). An 800 series Terminator named Cromartie (Owain Yeoman) comes to the school as a substitute teacher, and when John answers the rollcall, it tries to shoot him. But Cameron shields him with her body. John runs and hides out in the parking lot, but Cromartie finds him. Cameron drives over him and says to John, “Come with me if you want to live.” She is a reprogrammed Terminator from 2027, sent back to protect him. She tells him that Skynet was activated in 2011 and the apocalypse came two days later.
John, Sarah, and Cameron go to the Dyson home in LA to find out who might have continued Miles Dyson’s work. Cromartie attacks and they flee in Dyson’s car. Cameron helps out by robbing a bank, forcing an employee to lock them in a vault. Inside is a time displacement transporter built by a Time Agent. As the police storm the bank, they destroy Cromartie with an isotope weapon and use the time machine to travel to 2007. The resulting explosion destroys the bank. They appear naked in traffic and steal clothes and a car from three drunken frat-boys. The incident, reported as a prank, alerts Charlie Dixon to Sarah’s new location.
The critics waxed poetic. The series (which appeared during a writers’ strike) was called taut, haunting, and relevant, and there was praise for Headey’s anxious muscle and Dekker’s quiet anguish, and for the combination of exhilarating stunts and humanity. Summer Glau, they said, stood out with the passive deadpan and physical grace of her River Tam in Firefly. Sarah has learned four languages, worked at 23 jobs, assumed nine aliases and spent years in a mental hospital to keep her son alive and the future intact. She is glad of Cameron’s protection, but wishes she was not so damned cute. Lena Headey may not make anyone forget Linda Hamilton, but she is tough as nails and determined as Indiana Jones, despite having a galloping case of PTSD.
Sarah’s shotgun is the same one Schwarzenegger used against the T-1000 at the end of Terminator 2. It was the first time Lena Headey had held a weapon. Later, of course, she was in Game of Thrones as Cersei Lannister, along with Emilia Clarke as Daenerys Targaryen, who also played Sarah Connor in Terminator Genisys. The principal actors were actually naked when they came out of the time-storm, artfully filmed. Cameron is of course named after James Cameron and James Ellison after Harlan Ellison. 300 actresses auditioned for Sarah Connor. Summer Glau didn’t want to try out for Cameron because she thought she was not the type, but her mother convinced her. As a dancer, she made the highly physical role her own. The music by Bear McCreary used metallic drums, chains, and anvils.