I don’t really have enough of any one thing for a Writer’s Room, but I do have a lot of little bits. So, here are the bits.
Cutting Room Floor
As you can imagine, when engaged in a project like TCW, things change along the way. I had expectations; plans; notions, even; but as TCW evolved from concept outlines and wikis to a big ol’ stack of scripts, stuff changed from what I was expecting.
Originally, Camenry was going to be in for almost all of the third season. There wasn’t going to be any Cameron until episode 22. Camenry was going to be John’s ally. One that he couldn’t quite trust, because of the John Henry element, but one that he couldn’t help but trust because Cameron’s was the dominant personality.
It didn’t take long for me to know that this wasn’t going to satisfy anyone, least of all me. But, I’d already started writing the scripts, so changing what was going to be a major plotline took a bit of finagling. The result was that Cameron was reanimated in episode 13. Not only was it the earliest I could get her in without forcing me to re-outline everything, but it was also situated at the mid-season climax. I couldn’t have asked for a better place.
There was definitely going to be more obvious “heat” than what ended up on the page. So why didn’t it make it in? Mostly because it always felt like a gratuitous plot device. The characters were never in synch for it, and it would totally derail the story–which was completely unfair to the rest of the characters. I thought about it. A lot. But I did what writers are supposed to do: I let the story dictate what it wanted, not what I wanted.
That said, it’s not in my writing nature to go overboard with that stuff unless I’m actually writing an unambiguous romance story.
Action, Action, Action
More action made it into seasons 3 and 4 than I expected. Sure, I’m an action writer, but even I was getting my fill. What happened?
Sometime around the first Pallisades battle (episodes 4-6-ish) I tossed out thoughts about a budget. Since I didn’t have that real-world constraint, I figured I’d just have fun and not worry about the cost of scenes. With a real budget, you keep your character counts down, utilize your above-the-line actors (i.e. the regulars) as much as possible, you limit yourself to the sets and locations you use, and you keep a very close eye on SFX (endos, plasma shots, stunts, etc.). Since I complain that too often networks under-budget SF/F shows, I decided to present the possibilities at the other end of the scale.
As a result, instead of having a lot of lengthy scenes in a more-or-less static set with just our regulars talking, I had them out and about fighting a war. That meant a lot of action; more than I’d initially planned on.
John Henry’s scenes got cut down. While he still got to develop into the philosopher cyborg, it wasn’t with quite as fine a granularity as I’d expected going in.
Kyle was going to more openly side with John against Derek. After Allison and Bedell, he was going to be John’s biggest champion. What happened?
I decided to bring back Jesse.
See…the Jimmy Carter was always going to come back, but I had to make a decision about Jesse. I didn’t want to have a rehash of what happened in season 2. So, since I wanted to preserve the original I-think-my-cyborg-captain-is-a-good-bloke Jesse, that meant that all-metal-is-evil Derek had to die. With Derek dying, the need for Kyle to face-off against his brother went away.
Of course, while some things were getting short-changed, other things got more attention. Savannah became a more central character than I’d originally imagined. The plan was always that Savannah was going to be the one to broker peace between the robots and the humans, but it was almost a sort of afterthought…Savannah was going to pretty much stay in the background.
Once Derek was gone, I lost an important leg in the Zeira power struggle. Moss would do for a while, but this black-market-based mobster was never going to stand the test of time. Given Savannah’s history, it was only logical that she would travel down the road of becoming the leader in a post-Skynet world.
Toshiro, too, got more time than planned. Part of that may be due to some unintentional Topher (from Dollhouse) influence.
The T0Ks, in general, also were brought more to the fore. Even more than the humans, they became John’s army. They were always Cameron and John Henry’s “children”, but I think John felt paternal about them as well.
The poll I put up has just enough entries to give interesting trends. I’d be more comfortable with a lot more votes getting put in by more people, but that’s more on you than me.
Throughout the polling, “Fate”, the series finale, has been in the lead. While some of that is doubtless due to its length and freshness, I’ll admit that I, too, often select that as a favored episode while doing the poll.
I was somewhat surprised that the fourth season opener, “Chronicle”, was in second place…and had been all through polling. I can see a number of reasons why, though, so I probably shouldn’t have been that surprised.
It’s fascinating looking down the list, both the comprehensive one and the ones for the seasons. Some choices I agree with, some leave me shaking my head. But that’s why I did this infrequently-seen kind of poll of paired comparisons. As has been commented, the differences between episodes isn’t really very much, so it’s very hard to rank them. So, having you choose between only two at a time allows for true preferences to shake out…preferences that you might not have expected yourself.
As for me, my favorite episode is F0313 “Sharper Than a Terminator’s Truth”. It’s for a variety of reasons, although the main one is that it was the episode I most wanted to see from the start of the project: John and Cameron reunited. It was also the most stressful episode to write, so not having it blow chunks was a great relief. Even if other eps are actually better, this always gets my top vote simply because it personally meant the most.
I like F0314 “That Stands For Pool” because it gave us background on Allison and Brandi, and had Cameron and Allison meeting and talking. That episode was one I wrote for me. I figured that after F0313, you’d grant me the indulgence.
F0310 “Tumbling From the Ski Jump” was one that I really liked John in. He was being “John Connor” without yet having the burden of responsibilities that were soon to come his way. Also, concussed John thinking that Allison was Cameron just tickles me.
Then there’s F0311 “A Green and Yellow Basket”. That one works for me on so many levels: the Catherine reveal, Allison’s growth, burying the dead, Young Savannah’s first kill…
You know, I could probably say something about every episode. Maybe I’ll save that for a future Writer’s Room. The fact is, I like them all.
A Writer’s Conceit
I’ll confess that TCW exceeded my expectations. Is it great? That’s not for me to say. Probably not “great”, but certainly better than many. Still, when Thomas Dekker starts teasing about a TSCC movie (and TD has been a great spoiler spiller in the past), I can’t help having mixed emotions. Part of me, the worked-on-scripts-for-a-year part of me, hopes that, after watching said movie, fans will say that TCW was better.
On the other hand, fan me wants nothing of the sort. I want any TSCC movie to blow TCW out of the water. I want to see a movie so definitive that I want to say, “Yeah. That’s the only way you could do it and do it right.” (As I’d not be writing it [hey, I’m allowed to have an ego], I want Toni Graphia to write it. She was, without a doubt, the best Cameron writer on the staff.)
So, yeah. Mixed feelings.
My head is still in screenwriter mode as well as TCW mode. This entire project has been the most fun I’ve ever had writing (and I love to write). Screenplay. Action. Strong female characters. Science fiction. All the things I’ve loved to write since I typed my first script in the late 80s. Add in a franchise I enjoy, a series I embraced, and a lot of really cool fans… what was not to love?
If it was financially possible, I’d keep on writing it — or I’d happily do a retcon and write a tscc movie <hint><hint>. ;-) Or comics. Or animation. Or a web series. Or novels. Sadly, I can’t. There is too much else in life that I must take care of, and writing full-time for free doesn’t cover the practicalities of reality. More’s the pity.
Still, that doesn’t mean I don’t have notions. I am currently developing non-terminatory screenplays and pilots. While enjoyable, they aren’t the same. I wouldn’t be surprised if a TCW fanfic pops up from time-to-time (yes, a fanfic of my own fanfic…how weird is that?). Whether canonical or non-canon, I can’t say, but I’m not yet ready to leave this ‘verse behind. Not just yet.