Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles

Season 2 Episode 11

Self Made Man

Aired Monday 9:00 PM Dec 01, 2008 on FOX

Episode Fan Reviews (15)

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out of 10
440 votes
  • What? Hold on a second. Eh? Rewind that back to the start for me would ya… I'm not sure I quite believe what I've just sat through.

    What? Hold on a second. Eh? Rewind that back to the start for me would ya… I'm not sure I quite believe what I've just sat through. Thirty minutes of Cameron talking to a bone cancer victim about suspected terminators, suicide and donuts? Fifteen minutes of John and Riley being teenagers and, like, making out and stuff? Really? Is that ALL 'Self-Made Man' gave us? Are you sure? I just don't want to believe it. After all the interesting developments in the over-arching plot that occurred in last week's episode, you'd at least expect some form of pay off somewhere. Guess again. Nada. Zero. Zilch. Toni Graphia's episode actually manages to have absolutely no relevance to anything that's happened in the past few weeks AT ALL, and also does nothing to advance any other existing plot in any way, shape or form (oh come on… we all knew John and Riley were doing the naughty). That's no mean feat, guys. Complete and utter irrelevance is difficult to achieve. Oh sure, this is all nicely executed; the cinematography and attention to detail in the construction of the mock-newsreel footage, radio broadcasts and all the other mediums that Cameron and her disabled friend use to piece together Stark's life is impeccable and looks fantastic… but did it not just bore the **** pants off you? The viewer solves the 'mystery' that the pair work through in about ten seconds flat at the start of the episode, so we spend the remainder twiddling our thumbs, waiting for, like, the relevance to kick in. Which it never does. Ever. And no, I don't care about Cameron's emotional development. She's a freaking robot. And I care even less about John and Riley. As the oh-so-wise Bis once said, 'give me action and drama and less of this inane, pointless drivel'. Okay, so they only said the first bit but I bet that's what they would say if they were sat down with this episode. Honest.
  • Feels like it was written by an amateur...

    This episode just felt lazily put together. It's clearly designed to develop Cameron, but is hamfisted in the execution - particularly the wheelchair bound librarian. The actor valiantly gnaws at the scenery, but is hamstrung by the fact his character exists only as a tool for the writer - one to examine Cameron's issues and anxieties. Especially painful is the 'frozen in time' monologue, which emerges from the flimsiest of pretexts as a romantically ironic reflection on Cameron's existance. I am all for exploring theme and character motivation, but with Terminator it increasingly feels as if the world around John, Sarah and Co exists only for them. And we need to believe in the world and the people in it, or the world John is striving to save may as well be the matrix.
  • Felt a little bit too familiar to the episode "Alison from Palmdale" and a little out of place with the revelations that took place last week.

    Pros: The terminator story was told very well and I liked the concept of a Terminator being sent back in the wrong time. Great acting from Summer Glau, and I liked the librarian for the most part. Cons: I didn't understand why this episode needed to be in here, especially with "Alison from Palmdale" already being told. I would have thought that we would be getting a big revelation from her Also I didn't really understand why the terminator needed to assassinate that mayor. And John's plot was fairly laughable, especially the part where he lost at Gears of War. Riley seemed wasted in this episode, especially considering what happened to her last episode.
  • While this episode is primarily just filler, as it adds nearly no meat to the overall storyline, it's still a very well-written and character-driven episode.

    The dialog between Cameron and Eric was great. When he told her, "You have no idea what it is like to have something inside you that is broken." -- I laughed out loud. Cameron's chip is broken and yet she continues to go on. From other Terminator references, we know that Terminators with damaged chips are often erratic and completely malfunction, yet Cameron seems to have found a way to compensate for the damage to her chip. Just as Eric has found ways to compensate for the Cancer in his body.

    Probably the strongest and best part of this episode were the performances by the two major guest stars: Billy Lush (Eric) and Todd Stashwick (T-888/Myron Stark). Most people will probably recognize Billy Lush from his recurring roles as Kevin Donnelly on "The Black Donnellys" and/or as Trombley from "Generation Kill". Todd Stashwick is probably recognized by most from his role as Dale from "The Riches". Both of them are talented actors who shined in this episode, though Stashwick's talent as a comedic actor were not put to use, he still was able to use the experience of playing the inbred and dull-faced Dale Malloy from "The Riches" to good use when playing the T-888 in this episode.

    On the other hand, Billy Lush was wonderful opposite Cameron, bringing out the "cyborg" emotional side we've all seen growing, whether it's her programming and imitation of human emotion, or whether she is truly becoming a sentient being capable of emotion ... only time will tell.
  • Riley tries to reach out to the armored John yet again, while the truly armored T-babe shows us what her sleepless nights are really like as she battles a Terminator 90 years in the past.

    This focused on the triangle between Riley interrupting the John and T-babe that will be more prominent in the future and delving into the failing attempts of Riley to get closer to John, of John to let anyone close, or of T-babe to feel emotion.

    This was a well written and wonderfully constructed episode. Here we have 3 or actually 4 attempts that further elaborate more aspects of these characters and how this is timeless. Riley seems more disparate than in previous episodes -- a character which was once strong and vibrant and that faced off against a terminator is actually so shattered and completely broken that future caught up to her and beat her down. Meanwhile, T-babe is facing her past and her programming in dealing with another terminator. Her humanity that viewers may think be growing is shown yet again to be stagnant as the librarian ultimately gives her a failing report card. And far beyond that, the past T-888 is so set in his ways and his programming, that he seems to act beyond reason to fixate on a unique place and unique target... the specific definition that he maintains probably says a whole lot more than anything else... there were countless other ways attack the same situation... a different place? an earlier ancestor? another time? It is not unreasonable for SKYNET to kill a parent but Terminators don't seem to revise their programming and so that may say something about the creative and mechanics and logic of ALL terminators.

    So while T-babe and her past T-888 incarnation march on relentlessly so does John. Ultimately it all seemed to focus on a major tread in the episodes John and T-babe in the future and why Riley was sent back... her mission has not ever succeeded or will it ever? how likely is it that T-babe can alter her programming when T-888 was so fixated? so as any Terminator can it ever. Riley attempts to penetrate John's armor and both it and T-babe emotions remains undented.

    No episode is a 10 (there can always do better -- unless you've seen next weeks or next years episodes -- please) so my top score for an episode 9.5. It is the mechanics of how the episode furthers how far Riley desperation progresses, or how sad I am that T-babe has always been more machine than babe, and more ultimately how future, past and present can possibly distort each other if they can.

    Finally, if I want to guess and be a SPOILER: as far as past and future proceed, I think T-babe was talking about suicide herself and later she was honest in explaining it was like a ticking bomb was inside her... I also remember the last time she had access to a Terminator CPU... she tried to keep it. If she is broken she may want to survive? This episode may have little impact or much more than we yet know.
  • Another odd episode

    This was another strange episode of terminator. The whole style was different than the previous episodes, however, I still really liked the episode (despite no Derek). So, Cameron's story was really captivating. It seemed like maybe she was trying to make a friend, but no in the end she just wanted information. I thought she was a bit more interesting with a friend, so may be we will see more of him. If he hasn't killed himself. I liked the idea of the Terminators messing and sending a man to the wrong time. It was quite fascinating. The idea that the machines make mistakes is quite intriguing. How did they get it so wrong? This was a really good episode, I can't want to see where this is going!
  • Shows how Cameron works when not in combat or dealing with the Connors.

    Cameron is able to show that she is very different from Sarah and John. She shows apresiation for Eric (he is a happy person) something she does not see very often. She takes time to worry about him even though he is not her mission. Shows that Cameron can care...but for the moment. She is a machine. Eric was valuable and she propably did care but once he was removed someone else was easily able to take his place. How very human...to forget about the people who are no longer valuable.

    Not sure why Cameron has not killed Riley yet. Cameron "liked" Eric but replaces him without a second thought. Riley is an obsticle to be moved.

    Any ideas?
  • Well, this episode had an interesting factor going for it, but that's about it

    Well, this episode had an interesting factor going for it, but that's about it. We are finally shown what Cameron does at night and it leads to a pretty cool, but mostly slow plot. The episode was all about what happened when a T-888 is sent to the wrong time. I like how he still figured out how to accomplish his mission, which was to assassinate the Governor of California. I wonder if that is going to factor into future plots of the show, like if they will try to figure out why the Gov. was important enough to be eliminated.

    I guess some other important stuff happened. Riley succeeds in getting closer to John, making me wonder what her real objective is now. This show sure does prolong some of it's story lines. It took like 8 episodes to finally reveal that Riley is not who she says she is. Whether or not that is a smart move is yet to be seen.

    For the most part this episode was slightly boring, but it built to a cool climax once Cameron figured everything out. I guess episodes like this must exist so it can set the stage for much bigger episodes.
  • An unusual tale scores another win

    After the revelation regarding Riley and her true colors, this episode is a nice bit of subtle plot progression. Sarah is still nutty over those three dots, and while the characters themselves seem to be wondering about her objectivity, the viewers have yet another reason to think she's more sane than she feels. Meanwhile, Cameron's nighttime activities are revealed, and they are more interesting than suspected.

    It's one of those stray questions that might usually be left to imagination: what does Cameron do when everyone else is asleep? The easy answer would have been "guarding the Connors". But that's exactly the point; that would have been the easy answer. Instead, the writers show us what she's really doing: using her infiltration skills to open up doors for research and intelligence gathering. It's not at all the obvious answer, but upon reflection, it makes a great deal of sense.

    It's even more interesting to consider that Cameron's research might have found an explanation for those three dots. While she resolves a potential threat and stops a plot by SkyNet (to what purpose, we don't yet know), she reveals how the terminators identify the time period in which they arrive following time travel. They essentially use three marker stars in a triangular pattern as a basis for calculating position relative to time.

    One can only assume that this is intentional on the part of the writers, though it's hard to imagine how it could be applicable to the blood marks on a wall. The positions of the stars would be relatively stable from a human's point of view, and any changes within a short period of time would be subtle at best. So it's more likely that this is a play on the notion that Sarah is mistaking pattern recognition for significance. The viewer is left to wonder: was that why the pattern was meaningful, or am I falling into the same psychological trap?

    Along the way, Cameron displays her usual unusual version of human interaction. On the whole, Cameron was actually trying to be nice to her new "friend", and wanted to see to his well-being. Unfortunately, she has the social skills of a toaster, so she does the right thing in the wrong way. And, of course, she misinterprets appropriate social cues. For an infiltration model, she must be more damaged than anyone imagined. Because unless people assume she's suffering from mild autism or something, she doesn't exactly blend. (And that's not even taking her unusual beauty into account.)

    The subplot in this episode has Riley twisting John around her little finger, as per Jesse's orders, and she does a pretty nice job of it. Now that we know she's playing John, her sob stories take on a sinister edge. The writers will need to continue on this subtle path, and avoid the temptation to have John make too obvious a mistake. It should never look like John is overlooking some obvious detail, since he's already making some boneheaded moves as it is. Kudos to the writers for making Riley's deception believable!

    At the mid-point of the season, the characters continue to undermine their mission with their personal hangups and lack of confidence. There's the sense that something truly horrific will need to happen to force them to get their act together, and with the holiday hiatus coming soon, it may not be far off.
  • A stunning display of acting by Summer Glau, who takes up a task of tracking down another terminator who arrived decades earlier. An Emmy-worthy performance.

    "Self Made Man" is all Summer Glau. She is the lead in a rather cerebral episode, as she works at the Library at night with an unsuspecting research assistant named Eric, who is wheelchair-bound. Ms. Glau's acting is riveting, in spite of the perception that showing no emotion and dispensing with all human characteristics would be easy - you just act like a robot, right? Only when I began looking more closely at how she pulls this off did I begin to appreciate her acting ability.

    While Sara has John continuing to research the three dots she has seen in a dream and on a bloody wall, Cameron is doing night work, unknown to them. Eric has plenty of opportunity to notice that she's, well, different, but she adds just enough mechanical smiles to keep him convinced of her...humanity. And a couple flashback answers to his questions about the thieves who hit the Connor house are humorously macabre, when she smiles and replies, "Everything worked out fine." (She shot the thieves.) Then she quotes Othello.

    We get a hint about what she is looking for when she identifies a T-888 terminator in a 1920-vintage photograph in the library archives. He tells her it's from a speakeasy fire, apparently arson, which caused numerous deaths. Then we get an amazing flashback of the fire, a street scene loaded with extras, period vehicles, authentic costuming, a slight b&w tint to the photography - this production staff has gone to great lengths (and considerable expense) to create an arresting scene. Amidst the wounded and the grieving, the T-888 looks skyward.

    The side plot has Riley calling for John's help in the middle of the night; she's at a house party where the mom is supplying the beer for the boors. Riley needs no help at all - the call was just a ruse to get him there. He's steamed but stays.

    "I'm interested in the past," Cameron says to Eric. "It affects everything in the future." And that's always a good tagline for the Chronicles. Watching her expression-which-is-not-an-expression and listening to her double meanings for everything makes one feel like a clever puzzle-solver. She identifies another photo of the T-888 on a fiche, but without using a reader. The terminator is identified as Myron Stark, a contemporary of Rudolph Valentino. The producers have come up with an intriguing paen to the silent film era, and it works just right in these scenes, which include several more flashbacks to Stark/888 as we begin to learn what it was doing in that era.

    She heads to the basement records for more research on Stark, annoying Eric when she breaks the lock and just ignores his protests. She found nothing on Stark prior to the fire. He suggests Stark may have been an immigrant...or a bank robber - cue the quick flashback of a stereotypical machine-gunning thief mowing down the police, again as amusing and authentic as any early-30s gangster flick. And they find an early recording of radio news of a bank robbery then - eight citizens cut down, 30 rounds into the uninjured perp is unexplained - but Cameron knows.

    More records shows Stark began buying up properties after the robbery, building a real estate development machine to rival another San Fernando Valley land tycoon named Chandler. Remind anyone of John Huston in "Chinatown?" Cameron drops something; Eric picks it up and asks, "What is this?" She answers in a completely honest and mechanical way, "A 17-round Glock 9-millimeter semi-automatic." Hey, it's dangerous out there. She offers to let him fire the weapon - now he's intrigued. Blam! Into the phone book.

    Riley's friends are L.A. lowlifes; the only downer in this episode is the appearance that the producers are pandering to the tattooed-gamer-boozer crowd of degenerates. But we feel better when John pounds one to the floor after he accuses Riley of stealing his lighter - she did.

    Cameron and Eric dig up more news about the recent discovery of the body of Chandler's assistant, who disappeared in 1925. This flashback to the murder includes a good old Model A (or maybe a Chevy) motoring along and stopped by Stark - using his superstrength, he just pitches the car and driver into the woods somewhere. Chandler had also lost his son in the 1920 fire, so why is Stark/888 out to destroy Chandler?

    Back to Riley and moody John - she's unapologetic but admits she's a wierdo and approached him for the same reason - he might "get" her. He reveals his mother was in a mental hospital. He's still struggling for some kind of "normal" relationship; it may be his undoing. This sounds a bit like Smallville's Clark and Lana.

    Cameron finds Chandler's obit - believing that Stark killed him. But first, she asks Eric about suicide. "Why?" "Because there's something wrong with you," she answers. Next is the film vault - no handicapped access but Cameron cooly lifts him out of the wheelchair. "I work out," she explains simply. He speaks favorably of the old silver nitrate film days, as they find a filmed interview of a fire victim - who did not see a bomb, but a flash of light, sparks, and a naked man. Sound familiar? It does to Cameron. And the next flashback in the speakeasy shows us the classic transition of a terminator into that time, and the cause of the fatal fire. And newly-arrived Stark/888 even says, "Give me your clothes," to a clubgoer, similar to Arnold's "Your clothes - give them to me." Close enough that we get the reference.

    Now Cameron realizes why Stark/888 was looking at the sky - "measuring the stars' radial velocity, the distance in parsecs, and the cartesian coordinates." A bit of astronomical mumbo-jumbo here, but it means Stark was calculating the year to which it had transported. Stark/888 made a "temporal error."

    Chandler's eulogy about his son talked of his dream of building a new tower - on Pico Blvd. in Los Angeles - it was his son's dream, and Chandler would never part with the land, even though Stark/888 offered twice it's value. Stark's appearance in 1920 had resulted in the son's death, thwarting Stark's mission to do something in the Pico tower, so he destroyed Chandler, bought the property, built it himself, then disappeared.

    Cameron now guesses the reason, and goes to the recently-restored tower, finding a convenient poster about Governor Wyman's upcoming speech there on New Year's Eve. She enters the hall - the stage - calculating the angle of an assassin's shot - finding a hollow wall - she punches it in - it's Stark! Hiding there, waiting for it's mission to unfold, waiting for over 80 years. A brief but intense battle ensues, until Cameron drops the elevator on him, (like the hydraulic press in "Terminator?") and unseen to us, maybe unscrews his brain chip. How the building damage is undone or how she disposes of Stark - no time for that in the script.

    Back to the library she goes - "I'm fine," she tells Eric - and she knows he is ill - his cancer is back. She does understand his anger and frustration at her lack of social skills - "It's like a bomb. Ready to go off." She should know. Next visit - Eric is gone, but her donuts get her admission from the next attendant.

    Anyone else think Ms. Glau should be up for an Emmy or something similar for her performance in this and other episodes? The Chronicles continues to be one of the best-produced shows of this decade. Name it - acting, photography, special effects, colorful and authentic flashbacks, compelling plot twists, intelligent dialog, and the overarching threat of the annihilation of the entire human race. That should keep us all coming back for more - every episode. Almost always a 9 or better.
  • Enthralling and Sexy !

    This was an incredible episode. The fabulously good looking cyborg embarks on an edge of the seat detective odyssey resulting in the discovery of a Terminator from the future hiding in a wall !! Which Cameron subsequently defeats. This Terminator had been sent back in time to shoot a governor but overshot the timeline and ended up in the 20's . So he waited for about 90 years to shoot the governor.
    There is a great part near the end. She Returns to the library after defeating the Terminator and puts makeup on her face to hide the battle scars. The curator in the wheelchair Says "Fighting with your brother again ay" and Summer Glau plays it completely dead pan as if nothing has happened . It is very funny and poignant. Showing great insight into the whole ethos of this great show. Season 2 started slow but is building to a great enthralling series of shows. They should have made a movie from this story. It could have been written by the great Harlan Ellison himself. Wonderful stuff and very very well played by Summer Glau.
  • Different but still the same

    This seemed to have two storylines and none of them developing anything major. I did liked Cameron's storyline. She is out acting alone and searching for information when she realizes that there is a terminator send into wrong time and she starts to figure out what was he after all and in the end, she does - and finds the terminator too. That one was exciting, the way she and that man in wheelchair communicated.. there was something different, something new and watchable.

    And then there was Riley and John.. and it was quite clear why she called him - to be sure if he comes when she needs it.. it is a trap being set..
  • In the main story, Cameron's poignant "friendship" with a young man crippled by bone cancer, but useful to Cameron, is revealed. In the second, less interesting, story, Riley lures John to a party by pretending to be a damsel in distress.

    I loved the main story, in which Cameron starts by looking into ancient siege weaponry, but accidentally discovers a photo of a terminator she knows, who was around in 1020. Of all the episodes so far, this one has the most incidental humor. Also, being set mostly in the past, it has the least contemporary mayhem and tragedy. The mystery story line is a fun and fanciful reimagining of the real estate boom of the 20's in Southern Californa, with a terminator in the mix.

    Within the Cameron story line there are two subplots; one about her search for that other terminator and his mission, but another one about her "friendship" with librarian Eric, who is a cancer survivor in a wheelchair, and is clearly flattered by the attentions of this beautiful, strong and intelligent young woman. Cameron isn't, of course, very good at being a friend in one sense, and ultimately Eric tells her so. Yet in another sense, she is the best friend Eric could hope for, warning him that his cancer has returned, and that he should seek treatment immediately. This is great storytelling, playing to the strengths of the sci-fi genre.

    On the other hand, we have the Riley-John subplot, which is fairly pedestrian. Since we already know Riley is manipulating John on Jesse's orders, it adds little to the story other than to suggest she's getting through to him. Overall, yet another great effort on the part of the creators of the series.
  • The Bottom Line:

    I am so tired of the John and Riley thing that's not going anywhere. But did somewhat like the hunt for the lost terminator. It was just supposed to revile Camran's "secret" All I could come up with is that maybe she has a bomb inside of her and at some point it is supposed to go, !boom! Just still more questiong for me rather than answering any good ones already going...and going...and going......
    I still have very high hopes for this show being great. Loved the 1st season even if it was short (thank you writers strike) I want to, and look forward to finding out whats really going on between, Camron and John?
  • Cameron meets a wheel chair bound library clerk who helps her investigate a 1920's mystery. Meanwhile, John gets a call from Riley who needs rescuing from a high school keg party.

    This was one of the worst Terminator: The Sarah Conner Chronicles episodes I've seen in a long time. The writing was adequate at best with the 1920's speakeasy fire investigation thoroughly boring. Although it was startlingly to find a terminator in a wall the plot resolution seemed pretty pointless. Additionally, the John and Riley subplot did not further their characters, and barely amounted to much. This episode you received about two seconds worth of Sarah, no Derek, no Ellison and no Weaver. Overall, I was not impressed. I would be surprised if this episode was written by Gale Ann, Jim or Josh (I sure hope not).