[Spoiler alert – I will talk freely about events that happened in The Connor Wars up to episode 13 as well as anything that was in the movies or television series. If you haven’t read/seen everything and you don’t want to be spoiled…well, you’ve been warned.]
Stressing About John and Cameron
Episode 13, Sharper Than a Terminator’s Truth, was a very scary episode–for me. I have been thinking about it, and increasingly stressing over it, for months. I knew that how I handled the event of John and the reanimation of Cameron would largely define this season’s worth of scripts. Of all the scripts, this was the one I couldn’t screw up. Not for you, and not for me.
So I stressed.
By the beginning of September, thoughts of what John and Cameron would say to each other were so infiltrating my thoughts that I spent 3 hours one evening and wrote 11-pages of some of the worst dialog I’ve ever written–including my very first screenplay (and that’s saying something). It wasn’t meant to ever be in a script (about 2 lines of Cameron’s made it in). This was a personal technique I use sometimes when I’m in the middle of a project and I’m being distracted. I write down the distraction–after all, I might need it later for reference. At least it was out of my head and allowed me to write eps 11 & 12 without too much loss of focus.
A lot of writers, and the notes a lot of writers would get from the network, would say that episode 13, the final episode before the holiday break, should end with John inserting the chip into Cameron’s head. We’d leave the aftermath for the first episode after the hiatus. That is, if there was a next episode after the hiatus. The cliffhanger, while a useful tool that I employ at times, has become an over-used cliche that often (I find) is an insult to the audience. I mean, I could have left you with that ending and it would have guaranteed you’d show up for episode 14.
I could treat you very patient readers, who’ve endured twelve episodes wondering when Cameron was going to reappear, with respect. I could treat the characters with respect. Which, in my opinion, was really the only choice to make. Sure, I teased you a little. With the Cameron initial animation at the start of the episode, as well as the delays of John getting to Zeira. But see, I knew that John and Cameron were going to get the last half of the episode. Now, that was scary.
One of the things that gets hammered into you as you learn the craft of screenwriting is that you do not want to just have two characters sitting in a room talking…for half the episode. As you get more experience you learn that there is a tag line to that: “Unless you have a good and compelling reason to do so.”
I knew I was taking a big risk by having this big block of exposition. Yeah, I diffused it a bit with them playing Go and with the visits by Allison and Bedell, but mostly it was just a lot of talk. I was very worried that, by doing this, it would earn the same sort of enmity that TSCC season 2 episode 13 garnered.
I say this as a cautionary tale to budding screenwriters: writing this sort of episode is something that’s not recommended in general. The only reasons I think I got away with it are: 1) I built up my credit via the previous episodes; 2) I had enough experience with how not to make it boring.
Some will say that I’ve crossed over to the Jameron side. Honestly, I think I’m very cautiously still straddling the line. See…I think of Jameron being pretty chaste. Do I think John loves Cameron? Yeah, I think he does…he traveled through time for her. Does Cameron love John? Yeah, in her cyborgy way I believe she does. Then (some would conclude) you are a Jameron!
I would argue that it’s not exactly true. I think most Jamerons think of the pair as having eros, or a romantic love. Me, I think of them as having agape, or a higher, purer love. I think this takes me out of orthodox Jamerony. I’m not going to say there is no eros, just that it’s not a featured component. John’s statement as to how he perceives Allison seems more like philia and/or storge.
In presenting how this pair “dances” around each other, I was heartened when I heard Summer mention, on the season 2 DVD commentary for “Samson and Delilah”, that she never told anyone whether Cameron was lying to John when she was trapped between the two trucks for she knew that no matter what her answer was, she’d disappoint half the fans. Honestly, that’s the same way I feel. It’s probably best to not know. (That said, I would have loved to have had Summer’s insights into Cameron before writing “Sharper….”) As stated in the script, John and Cameron are what they are…they aren’t going to define it, they’re just going to live it.
Going With the Three Dots
I’ll confess that I didn’t flash on what the three dots meant until I had a couple of episodes posted. The original plan was to ignore it. But one night I was thinking that would be a cop-out on my part. The three dots were such a big thing in season 2 that they simply had to be given a good explanation (the three LEDs on the Turk–which weren’t there until the end of the season–just didn’t do it).
I thought about all of the clues we had been given. I looked at all the symbols. The only one that made any sense was atari from the game of Go. It tied in Dakara. It tied-in game strategy. It tied-in the wall (a recognizable symbol that would be indecipherable to Skynet if it saw it). It was elegant. Fortunately for me, I’ve dabbled in Go since I was in college so I had some idea of what it was about. (For those who are curious, I play so rarely that I’m a horrendous player.)
Obviously, I’ve been dropping clues throughout the season. Cameron (as Camenry) playing Go during her hiding. Xander being hired and teaching Go to an eager John Henry. It also might help explain why John has been defeating Skynet when no one else has: he’s subconsciously employing Go (or as he learned it, “The Rock Grid”) in his battle strategy. No one sees the subtle changes of tactics and objectives. The question is: is it good enough or timely enough to allow him to win, or is Skynet so far ahead or clever that John’s only delaying the inevitable?
I was so thankful that the season 2 DVDs were released…and not just so I could clear off the space from my DVR. Sure, I ate up the commentaries, but the key for me was the special feature of the writer’s room. Specifically: the white board.
The timing and plot of the show on the white board was so different from what we saw. Many of the plot elements looked more like what I would have done than what we got. Things like this for episode 13: “Reveal 3 dots are Turk’s eyes”. Or this gem from episode 11: “Cameron sells out Jesse to S.C. ; S.C. confronts D & J in hotel room; D confession of loyalty to J.C.; then reveal J & R connection.”
Where the heck was that season?
But, seasons change. Plans change. Mostly it’s for story, sometimes it’s for other factors — like the audience. I’ve revamped season 3 twice. The first changes were in response to people’s desire to have Cameron in the show sooner than I’d planned for. So I moved up the reanimation as far up as I could while not forcing me to re-plot the season’s storylines. The second time was when I looked at my timeline and realized that if I was going to finish this story, I had to speed up the future timeline something fierce. That caused a lot of tightening up of what I had in the works.
Is my current plan sheet recognizable from the first? Yeah, in the broad strokes for the season. Most of the story arcs that were there at the beginning are still there now. Some characters that were only going to be one-shots (e.g. Brandi and Mikkola) have had continuing arcs I hadn’t planned on. That’s part of the fun of writing: the creative surprises.
So, when I see changes to the official writer’s room white board, I’m not terribly shocked. I am surprised that they watered down what was there. The proposed second season looked pretty entertaining to me — although, I must admit, some of the reveals looked ill-timed (but only a couple).
Interesting doings from here-on-out. The back-9. I think it’s fair to say, with mostly just me as the perpetrator of all of this, you’ll be seeing a lot more of what you’ve been seeing: questions, answers, twists, reveals, action, life, death, faith, family…and other stuff as well. All crammed into nine episodes.
It’s not enough. Someone please tell TPTB that it’s not enough. I could write so many seasons of this show if I could afford to. There is so much story to tell and so many twists that can be implemented to keep it fresh.
Sadly, at some point I have to start making money again. I figure I’ll probably finish this season, that I started writing in April 2009, by the end of January 2010 (give or take). Nine months of writing for 22 episodes. After that, barring any official incentives, I’ll finish it. Could be four eps, Could be a couple of eps and a movie. Could be a multi-part mini-series. I don’t know yet. I’ve only plotted out to the end of this season. In any case, I expect to be finished by sometime in March.
In a less long-term aspect, I’ll be back to doing some multi-media writer room’s in the near future. I may shift back over to podcasts. I like doing the videos, but they are time-consuming and bandwidth-hogging. Audio is much easier…and takes less time per word than typing. It’s not that I won’t do the vlogs from time-to-time…just not as long.
If you have any questions (not too spoilery, please) that I can answer, send me a line via the Contact TIB link, including “TCW Question” as part of your subject. I’ll try to answer those in the podcast (let me know if you want to be anonymous otherwise I’ll assume you don’t care either way). As always, feel free to discuss the episode in the episode comment area or in the forum.