There are three words to describe the eleventh episode of The Sarah Connor Chronicles ‘Self Made Man’, and they’re the same word, ‘brilliant’, repeated thrice.
This one story shows exactly where Heroes goes wrong in trying to follow too many characters and plots at once, when it pitches a story that is really entirely about Cameron and ignores almost everyone else.
Sarah appears briefly, and John has a minor storyline with the devious Riley, but this is all about what Cameron does when she doesn’t sleep at night. There is no Ellison, Derek or Catherine Weaver at all, but then to tell this self-contained story they’re not actually needed.
We discover that Cameron goes to a local library where she’s developed an association with a young wheelchair-bound bone cancer victim, Eric, who lets her research outside normal hours. That ties to an opening sequence set in a 1920s speakeasy where people die in a fire on New Year’s Eve. Examining a picture of the aftermath, Cameron recognises a T-888 Terminator amongst the survivors and starts to work out what he was doing there with the help of her ‘friend’. What makes this really work is the strange friendship between the two, something they both seem to get something out of. But the true nature of Cameron is always just under the surface, causing ripples her friend can’t understand.
They find another image from the period where the same Terminator, now under the name of Myron Stark, is seen with Rudolph Valentino at the premiere of The Son Of The Sheik (1926). There’s a superbly funny cut sequence where we get a glimpse of two men meeting where Myron Stark says that he enjoyed the movie, but he thought giving the heroine in one scene a gun represented “a security threat”.
They track Myron Stark and discover that he became a big land owner and builder in the region, competing with a competitor called Chandler.
Ultimately, Chandler is ruined, and his son died in the fire in the speakeasy. The irony of this is that the purpose of the Terminator being there was to kill someone, but he’s actually 90 years too early. Clearly, on occasion, the temporal technology doesn’t work reliably. And it was his materialisation in the bar that caused the fire and the death of a man he needed to complete his mission. Because Chandler’s son built the building where the assassination ultimately takes place! The Pico Tower is therefore built, not by Chandler, but by Myron Stark, who needs to kill Governor Mark Wyman at the 2010 New Year party there.
Cameron goes to the Pico Tower and finds Myron Stark walled up, waiting with a Tommy gun to plug the Governor and complete his mission. It’s a fight he wasn’t ready for, and doesn’t win.
Cameron returns to the library, and thinking she’s doing good, tells Eric he isn’t in remission, and that his cancer is back. You can imagine how this goes down, and she makes no real attempt to explain how she can tell where the tumours are, only making things worse.
Billy Lush, who plays Eric, really sells this scene, and Summer Glau is wonderful throughout the entire story. There’s the hint of a real connection, because Cameron sees the damage she sustained as being like a ticking bomb inside her, notionally a metaphor for Eric’s cancer.
But whatever that connection was, the next evening Cameron is back, but Eric’s been replaced by another student. It doesn’t faze Cameron who offers the new friend a donut in the same fashion that she’d done with Eric. She’s a Terminator, and signs that suggest more can be dismissed as merely shadows and whispers.
This was a great story, and it allowed the plot shockwaves from last week to continue resonating before moving the bigger story on.
Next week is the last of the Chronicles that’s been shot. Please don’t let it be the last for this remarkably intelligent series!
Read a review of the episode 10 here.