Do kids today fantasize about an upbringing that involves military training in the jungles of Central America? This teen-centric Terminator 2 spinoff, its popular first season well under way, suggests that, yes, the plight of John Connor — the young man, played by Thomas Dekker, destined to battle out-of-control robots in the distant future — resonates with the youth. And it probably doesn't hurt that Cameron (Summer Glau), the robot sent to protect him, is a cute young lady who also happens not to be saddled with any messy emotions. (And who is acting as his sister. Awkward.) But about that military training: Our maternal heroine Sarah Connor (the lovely Lena Headey) tells us in the voice-over to a verdant flashback that she took her little son John to the jungle to teach him of war and, of course, chess. The game, Sarah tells us, teaches patience, boldness, and the importance of sacrifice. War, meanwhile, offers hope. Really, Mom?
Here in the present, your favorite MILF is taking vitamin supplements, presumably to ward off the cancer she would have died of in 2005 had she and her son not been transported from the eighties to the present to protect him from the terminators. A fortified Sarah fields a call from a prospective suitor, Andy Goode. The Connors believe that Andy and his work will soon have something to do with Skynet, the company that one day will manufacture the robots that could be humanity's downfall. Someone's already burned down his house and destroyed his moody chess-playing computer, the Turk.
Cameron thinks they should just kill Andy and be done with this subplot. But Andy reconstructed the Turk's code and built a newer model — one that's less predictable, and, uh-oh, “more human.” He's entering this new bit of artificial intelligence in a computer chess tournament, and the prize is a government contract which the Connors suspect will be the root of Skynet. Mom hopes the other team will win, thus absolving Andy. And indeed the other team sacrifices its queen, the New Turk chokes, and Andy loses.
Sadly, after bumping into a flustered Brian Austin Green, Sarah finds Andy dead. Since 90210's David Silver is the obvious suspect in any crime, Sarah beats the crap out of Green's character, and he's taken away by police. But it turns out this shady-looking visitor from the future is in fact Derek Reese, John's father's brother, and not Andy's murderer. Mother does not always know best.
Ah, Cameron: The girlish terminator that rebel leader John Connor sent from the future to protect his adolescent self is Spock, Rain Man, the Tin Man, and Vicki from the eighties Saturday-morning kidcom Small Wonder all rolled into one. If the memorial notes in response to the death of one of her and her ostensible brother John's fellow students perplex her in one scene, by the next scene she's caught up on her research and can helpfully suggest that Sarah write a note to deal with her grief surrounding Andy's death. Is it any wonder that Morris, the punk-rock Latino outsider, calls himself John's “new best friend” after meeting her icy stare? Is it any wonder that John tells Morris to watch out?
Beyond parodying teenage development and kindling young punks' latent submissive fantasies, Cameron scraps like an alley cat sent from the future to protect humanity. As the family frees Derek from police custody, she subdues a terminator enemy in a spark-filled fight on wheels, eventually pinning him on his face and … taking out his battery or Sim card or something. (Kids are good with that kind of thing.) Closed-minded robot-hater that he is, Derek, now seriously wounded, refuses her medical aid. Typical saucy teen, she retorts evenly that he's going to die anyhow. John, soft, squishy human that he is, runs to get a doctor — and brings back Sarah's ex, paramedic Charley Dixon (Dean Winters).
Can Charley save Derek? Will FBI agent Ellison put all the pieces together and realize who the good guys are now that he's found a disembodied robot hand? Most important, will John hook up with mysterious classmate, “damaged goods” Cheri, and if so will she be as bossy as the other women in his life? Only those living one week in the future know. —Kristal Hawkins