The season premiere was a "nuts and bolts" episode (no pun intended), reminding the audience what the show was about and setting the stage for the second season. There was nothing particularly wrong with that, but it did highlight some of the constraints that plague the series in comparison to the films.
This episode, on the other hand, shifts back to the premise that works best: chronicling the chess game between the emerging resistance and the SkyNet assets. The title of the series is centered on Sarah Connor, and this episode was mostly focused on her attempt to position the resistance for future success. The shifting sands of time travel made each decision far more complicated, and while Greenway's replacement was hardly a shock, there were enough twists to keep things interesting.
It's nice to see the cancer question come back into play, because it was mentioned here and there in the first season and then dropped. But it's a key part of who this Sarah is. She's resigned to the future, but she doesn't want to leave John to his own devices just yet. And that, in turn, is driving John towards a certain rebellious nature (as is the case for most mother/son relationships).
The cancer issue made the nuclear power plant setting particularly meaningful, and tied the action into the potential long-term plot threads. Is it entirely clear whether or not Cameron knows the truth about Sarah's cancer? She's lied before, and she's demonstrated an agenda of her own. It could be that Cameron's true mission is to see John through the transition after Sarah's cancer takes hold.
Ironically, John's independent streak is probably the very foundation of self-reliance that Sarah needs to instill in him. Derek will help with that to some extent, but he has his own issues and agenda. John is still too trusting as well. He's not nearly as wary of Cameron as Sarah and Derek are, and even Cameron makes that point. It's also not the smartest move, when being hunted by replicant cyborgs, to have the girl you just met sleep overâ¦especially when you know that the terminators already have one hottie in the arsenal!
I also liked the subplot with Ellison, Charlie, and his wife Penny Widmore. On the surface, it felt like a way to resolve Charlie's part of the story while demonstrating how Ellison's tactics have changed. But this is not the kind of story where happy endings prevail, and there's almost no chance that this move will work out in the end. Sadly, I see this becoming a situation where the wife is killed, thus driving Charlie into actively seeking revenge at Sarah's side.
Still, this is an early-season episode that is more about establishing and refining the status quo and laying the groundwork for the plot threads to come. It does the job capably, emphasizing story and character over effects-laden material that would suffer badly in comparison to the films.