In the thirteenth episode of the second season of The Sarah Connor Chronicles, Sarah seeks out the meaning behind the three dots in an unlikely place, while Cameron begins to suspect Riley. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch The Sarah Connor Chronicles.
Trigger Warning: For discussion of abuse, cissexism, suicide, and abortion.
I seriously thought this was going to end with a confirmation that Alan was lying and bullshit and it was all unconnected to the larger story but I FUCKED UP I FUCKED UP.
I know that I discounted the importance of this episode because the premise seemed so absurd. A UFO convention? Really? Except then the writers draw deliberate parallels between these believers and Sarah’s life, and I was done. Done. AND YET I WAS COMPLETELY UNPREPARED FOR WHERE THIS STORY WOULD GO.
It was compelling, though, to think about how this network of UFO believers could comfort Sarah. In a strange way, they had been through something similar as her, namely in experiencing doubt from their loved ones. But that wasn’t enough to sustain a full episode. It was an interesting story, but what connection did this have to Sarah’s quest? I saw potential in the drone storyline because it was possible that technology created for drone use could have morphed into something that eventually became part of Skynet. But how can you tell? That’s what drives a great deal of the suspense and tension here. While Alan seems trustworthy once we learn exactly what his past is, we never know if this is a true path to the answer of the three dots.
Which is awkward in a way that’s clearly unintended. I was briefly (literally for like a few seconds) excited about the possibility of a transgender character, but no. As far as I can tell, Alan wants to be called Alan and is a cisgender man who merely disguised himself as a woman. (Though Alan is played by a cis woman?) There’s nothing here to make this a canon trans character, though that wouldn’t exactly be the best representation either, since “Earthlings Welcome Here” dabbles in the same sort of tropes of deception that are often associated with trans or gender non-conforming characters. (Stop doing this, y’all.) So it’s often weird to talk about, and it’s weird to have a character like this at the center of an episode about legitimacy. Nothing is illegitimate about people who choose to wear clothing that differs from expected norms, and all the talk about what’s “real” or not is massively uncomfortable when applied to gender.
So what does this mean for Sarah’s doubt? Like I said, one of the main themes of this episode is about the legitimacy of perception. Has Sarah’s obsession with the three dots been a foolhardy journey the whole time? Is she imagining connections to Alan’s life because it’s easier for her to do so? I thought that at the worst, Alan was working on a type of metal that had no connection to Skynet whatsoever. It’s not entirely unbelievable that Alan worked on a top-secret government project, but was that Sarah’s project as well?
I suppose once that black-clad motorcyclist shot at Alan and Sarah, that really didn’t matter. BECAUSE SOMETHING WAS CLEARLY GOING ON HERE. Why try to execute Alan? Was what he knew really that bad??? What was the piece of metal that he stole and locked away in storage? Y’all, it had to be something terrible because they were willing to assassinate both Alan and the UFO group leader. WHY? WHAT HAD SARAH STUMBLED ON?
I simply loved the scene where Alan’s voiceover led Sarah to that warehouse, though I wonder how much of that Sarah imagined. Did Alan really say he was once a waitress? I think there’s a dichotomous view of Sarah’s identity within this episode, particularly since this episode makes her think about her time before she ever became wrapped up in this nightmare. In that sense, I think Alan’s story isn’t necessarily offensive, since he had learned to live a life split entirely in two. (That’s why I said it was unintentional; that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t talk about it, though, since I think lots of us cis folk overlook the implications of our thoughts on gender.) There was life before he ran, and life after. It’s just like Sarah’s. So will hers end like Alan’s? Will she get used to running?
Also: What was in that warehouse???? CLEARLY THIS IS ACTUALLY THE MOST IMPORTANT QUESTION I NEED TO BE ASKING. It’s possible she hallucinated that machine, but… seriously, that could be the prototype for the flying machines we see in the future. It could be real. It could explain her obsession with the three dots. And it sure as hell could explain why that warehouse is so important and why Sarah was shot in the leg over it. BUT???? MAYBE NOT??? I DON’T KNOW, THIS CLIFFHANGER IS SO UNFAIR.
John / Riley
Well, this hurts even more. Just… christ, this is so upsetting. Through flashbacks, we find out just how long Jesse has been preparing Riley for her mission and abusing her. Make no mistake, that’s precisely what’s happening here, and it’s horrifying to watch. Jesse takes a vulnerable girl, introduces her to a world where she has some semblance of calm and care, and then she exploits her. When Riley is at her absolute worst, Jesse physically and emotionally abuses her further, demonstrating to Riley that she doesn’t actually care about her. All that matters is the mission. (Which feels like a reference to the uncaring nature of the machines, y’all.) And it’s frightening that this appears to be working! John isn’t trusting Cameron at all, despite that she believes that Riley is lying.
But I’m mostly worried about Riley. Look, I don’t think it’s absurd to suggest that this episode heavily implies that Riley’s feelings towards Jesse are not simply out of comfort. I think that there’s something romantic here, given that she’s looking to live with Jesse more permanently. Yes, Jesse is someone who provides Riley with a sense of stability, so I understand that interpretation here. But the way she looks at Jesse… goddamn, y’all, I can’t ignore this. Which is why it’s so heartbreaking to see her without any real support system. She can’t turn to Jesse; she’s no longer with her foster parents; and John suspects that there’s something amiss. Who does she have to go to? It makes me terribly sad, and I hope this isn’t the end for her. But she’s all along in this world, and her suicide attempt here is one of the most upsetting things I’ve seen on this show. Christ, this is awful.
AND THIS IS THE MOST UNSETTLING ASPECT OF THIS EPISODE. It’s absolutely surreal to see John Henry alive in Cromartie’s “body,” given that it’s so hard to separate the two of them. Plus, I still don’t understand a bit of Catherine Weaver’s plan. It doesn’t help that she spends a great deal of this episode with a smirk on her face, as if she’s telling the audience that she knows that we know she’s up to something. Shirley Manson is a treat to watch, but it’s also horrifying. Is Ellison creating the Skynet of the future? Is Catherine here to ensure that?
Then there’s another huge question raised by “Earthlings Welcome Here”: can you teach a machine ethics? Morality? I think we’ve seen aspects of that in Cameron, but unfortunately, she’s never gotten to a point where she can express these values in non-pragmatic terms. It still comes across as rigid logic or calculations. She can memorize the morals that John teaches her, but does that actually develop into something independent? Because Ellison is a religious character, he relies on his Christianity to begin his talks with John Henry. It doesn’t bother me that he starts with this, and it makes sense for his character to have that sort of basis for his lessons. I was less impressed with the weird parallels to pro-life logic, though I think that’s less the writers trying to preach and more of a clumsy handling of the subject matter. It’s sad that Ellison and his wife tried to have a child, and she had an abortion after 9/11. It gives us the context for their relationship ending: Ellison wanted lots of kids, she wanted none. But then Ellison starts talking about how all life is sacred, and it’s a little uncomfortable. Is Ellison pro-life? Is it more than just resentment towards his wife for having an abortion, or is it entirely a personal thing? Admittedly, it’s complicated! I don’t know whether the show is going to explore this further, either. But I think Ellison’s faith is integral to his characterization, and I do appreciate that we’re seeing him work through it, no matter how challenging that is.
The video for “Earthlings Welcome Here” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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