This show has certainly taken its licks this season. Despite supplying one of the best episodes of the series last week, the ratings continued to scrape the bottom of the barrel, prompting rumors of impending cancellation. Some are already calling this the next "Firefly", but the situation is dramatically different; this series made it past the first season on its strengths. The problem is that it's not failing on its weaknesses, either.
This episode is another good example of what works. Pairing John and Derek for a mission to protect a future resistance soldier was a stroke of genius, because both characters were explored in equal measure as a result. It's important to show John taking some steps towards leadership and discipline (never mind using those skills acquired from his mother), and Derek has a vested interest in making sure John is on the right path.
At the same time, Derek's reactions to John have been just right. In Derek's time, John is a strong and capable leader, the kind of man that anyone would die for (and many have). He's a confident presence and a symbol of enduring resistance. But the John Connor that lives in the "present" is still unsure of himself and rebelling against the knowledge of his future role. Even if the Future John had told stories of his misbegotten youth, reality canât be kind for Derek Reese.
Neither has the war, and this is depicted well in the episode. Derek's character is the touchstone to the dangers of fighting the machines without human compassion. The war has hardened Derek, and he struggles with perspective. In contrast to Cameron, Derek weighs the human element, but he's colder than Sarah or John. It's that quality that continues to keep Derek in questionable territory; he may still have an agenda of his own.
Ironically, Derek's rough edges expose the one fundamental problem with the series: Sarah Connor. This is the second episode in a row where Sarah is dealing with a largely emotional situation, and it plays counter to the familiar elements of the character. While this Sarah has never been the Sarah Connor from the films, one would still expect her to be closer to Derek than John in temperament. Certainly John acts like Sarah has been more than Derek. It's the apparent contradiction that the writers still haven't tackled well.
On the other hand, I like where the Weaver/Ellison subplot is going. She's playing him very well, which in turn points to a consistent explanation for Cromartie's decision to let Ellison live. The obvious conclusion was that Ellison would end up helping SkyNet, and Weaver's gambit appears to be the process by which that happens. That said, there's still a chance, based on the implications of this episode, that Weaver is not working to aid SkyNet's creation, and that Ellison's road to personal damnation is more complicated than we've been led to believe.
Unfortunately, because of the ratings situation (and for that matter, the possibility of a SAG strike), we may never know what the writers were intending. I hope that FOX shows patience, however, because this show is far better than the ratings would otherwise indicate.