As the character-driven television incarnation of an action-packed film franchise, "Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles" was always up against the wall of high expectations. Loads of film franchise fans bemoaned the lack of big-budget thrills and the "boring" subplots. The first season, however, made a compelling case. Not only did the action set pieces work, but the plot and character threads were surprisingly strong.
Even so, the series struggled to be renewed, and it felt like that renewal was as much a product of the writers' strike as the result of its storytelling success. It was no surprise that the second season started off struggling to regain traction in the ratings. A more ambitious set of plot and character arcs also demanded a lot more attention from the audience, and for some, it was more than they were willing to give.
That's too bad, because on the whole, the second season was just as good and worthy of praise as the first. If anything, having a full season instead of only nine episodes gave the writers more time to develop storylines and add detail to an already intriguing take on the "Terminator" mythos. Every character has a hidden agenda, and several of those agendas remain hidden until the very end of the season, when they clash in spectacular fashion.
That gives the series an inherent complexity, and with so many details in play at any given time, it's a given that many of those elements were meant to be paid off in future seasons. Add to that the many hints that the "Terminator" universe is rife with alternate timelines, with characters jumping into a common past from different alternate futures, and this is one dense series.
Yet it is also rewarding, and not just in terms of Summer Glau and her wardrobe. The characters are all well-constructed, and the casting is perfect. Even Shirley Manson, who initially seems out of her depth, is revealed to be an inspired choice for her character. Because most of the characters are working from hidden motivations, many performances (and plot choices) are often better understood in retrospect, long after the fact. In many ways, this is an example where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
It seems odd, given the recent release of "Terminator Salvation", that FOX would cancel this series and keep the struggling freshmen series "Dollhouse" on the air for a second season. The reasons are not particularly hard to fathom. This was always a much more expensive series, and "Dollhouse" is a FOX studio production. The ratings were never spectacular this season, and given FOX's track record, they actually displayed remarkable patience.
The second season of "Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles" earned a Critical Myth rating of 7.8, which is identical to the rating for the first season and well above average. That means that the series itself comes in with a 7.8 rating, which is outstanding. For that reason alone, "Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles" will always be seen as a series that ended before its time.