A little while ago, I wrote a post: Building Terminator – A Plan For Future Life. In it I offered up some broad ideas for shepherding the series Terminator – The Sarah Connor Chronicles. This time, I’m taking a more backseat-driver approach. Based on the number of comments being made in the various fora during the two-month break between the mid-season finale and the start of the back-9 episodes, I thought it would be a fun little exercise.
Come along with me as I outline the story-dev had I been the show runner.
Breaking Out the Season
Coming out of the WGA strike, I’d gather my staff together and do a quick brainstorm. We were fortunate that we had nine episodes in the can and had a starved audience. We were also fortunate that our cliffhanger was very useful as a season-finale. Now would be the time to take this good-will and take off running.
First, of course, we’d need to resolve Cameron being blown up. As the viewers have clearly told us that Cameron is the franchise, she can’t die…but we can make her go all terminatory for an episode or two. Probably just for one episode since we don’t want our very special terminator to be as consistently ineffectual as the trip-8s she defeats. OK, we have our season opener, and it will almost write itself. Time to open the floor for pitches.
The first idea is a Cameron-centric episode—probably a stand-alone—centering on Cameron’s origins. Since we don’t want to blow our wad with focusing too quickly on her relationship with future-John, that means it will mostly be Cameron-based. Great.
Next idea is for a fighter from the future to come back to the past. She’s not only on a mission that has something to do outside of John’s plans, but she’s also a past love of Derek’s. Honestly, I’m not really sold on this. First: we’ve talked about how we don’t want to make time travel a revolving door for plots. Second: a love interest for Derek? Aren’t there any interesting women in SoCal (member of the TTSCC family excepted)? I wouldn’t say no, but I’d want to see what else we have that might be better.
A cute idea gets tossed out that maybe the Turk is acquired by this tech company that’s run by a Terminatrix. Talk about screwing up any simple plans the Connors might have about getting that computer into their hands. That’s certainly a story we need to develop.
The Dreaded Whiteboard
Now that those and a few other ideas have been pitched, we sit down and get serious. We need to have at least a rough idea of how we’d like the season to evolve in terms of plot and character. So, let’s start with a skeleton whiteboard:
Our structure is such that we can have a whiz-bang mid-season climax that will also lead us into our back-9. If it turns out to be the series climax, it will still have enough resolution that it feels like we’ve told a story, even if there is more to tell. The A-story of our first episode is already a requirement, so we’ll not worry about that.
So, my first question is: what is our full-season climax? Where do we want to be at the end of a full-season order? Almost immediately I’m hearing words like “cliffhanger” and “Kyle Reese” and I put a stop to that right away. That’s not what I’m asking. I’m asking this: have they found the Turk? Has Skynet been thwarted? Is Skynet still the mission? Are any of our leads already dead (prior to the climax)? What about Sarkissian?
Immediately another question comes from the staff: What about the Chola? It seems like since they are in L.A. that trying to utilize the vast network of gangs might garner them more information…and make their lives riskier without having to have a Terminator of the Week (ToW). And what about Charlie? He’s a paramedic and already in on the secret. And then there’s Ellison, who just saw his men massacred.
OK. OK. OK. We have a lot of things to deal with. Unanswered questions. Characters. We need to keep those in mind. But where are we going? What’s the climax?
As we sit around and talk, we come to the conclusion that Skynet isn’t just about the AI program, but the weapons it’s attached to: the primitive Terminators and HKs, the aircraft it controls, the missiles it can launch. Turns out that the Connors have to do more than concentrate on preventing the brain from getting built…which they still won’t have done. They need to start sabotaging the military industrial complex at key points of development.
After more talk, we decide that the season climax will be acquiring the location of key technology needed for aerial HKs. Sarah, John, and Derek are nabbed by homeland security forces while Cameron is left free (can’t blow her up two seasons in a row…that would be cruel).
We’ve got a very good start. The distance we need to travel to get from Ep1 to Ep22 is sufficiently vast that we have a lot of possibilities, and yet not so uncomfortably broad that we can’t take some creative detours. Best of all, if the show doesn’t get renewed, the Connors can all be safe in prison. No one knows how free John et al. were for JD. Behind lots of concrete might be as safe as any. Lots of possibilities for next season, too as long as we don’t try to make it Prison Break redux.
The hard part is done. We know where we are going. So..what about the mid-season finale? What do we do with that? Based on what our climax is, a consensus quickly grows that Ellison is a problem. If he’s still with the FBI, a homeland security arm, it’s just too convenient for freeing our heroes later. Ellison has to be taken out of the picture before the end of the season.
After much round-table discussing, we decide that at mid-season, the Connors discover that he’s been working at cross-purposes. We’ll do a surprise killing sometime in the back-9. During the buildup, we find that he’s actually an unwitting (at first) minion of the T1000. When he’s given the opportunity to join up with the Connors, he actually starts working against them. This betrayal causes the Turk to become harder to reach.
Thing is, Ellison is a supporting character. Our Mid-season needs to focus on one of the leads. We’ve already killed Sarah’s boytoy, and Derek’s been shot, so that leaves John. John makes his first kill. Better…he goes off on his own, make his first kill (of Sarkissian, say), and then disappears. Cameron is set to find him, but even she loses the trail. Since he’s her primary mission, this can’t set well with her. Losing John won’t sit well with Sarah. And what if Derek is out of the picture? That lover that was mentioned previously? What if she’s been “distracting” him? A bit of a cliffhanger, true, but we establish John being capable of setting out and executing a mission. If the series ends here, then at least the future has a setup.
And with that, we break for lunch. When we come back we’ll start thinking about character arcs and some plot events before sending the writers off to break some stories.
What about you? Do you have any ideas of how things in Season 2 should develop (or should have developed)? Chime in in the comments section. Maybe some of your ideas will make it onto our white board.
And you can now go see the second and concluding part of this exercise:
Building Terminator – My Plan For Season 2 (Part 2 of 2)