The One vs. the Many
I am so drawn to the central moral dilemma of this episode (and one of the recurring themes of the show)that I don't think I can be objective about it. I really love the exploration of the importance of preserving an individual's life v. the need to sacrifice someone's life for the common good. John, Sarah and Derek are all at different points of a spectrum as to how they would answer this question; Cameron, of course, is only interested in preserving John's life and is not particularly interested in saving anyone else's.
Derek at first seems interested in saving Martin for Martin's sake, perhaps because of his memories of friendship or the aid Martin gave to the resistance; only later do we find out that saving Martin is essential to the resistance, because Martin must live long enough to die saving Kyle and John. Although Derek clearly regrets his death, he doesn't regret it enough to stop it from happening; it's an essential sacrifice so that the resistance continues (and perhaps so his brother and leader live). Similarly, Derek is willing to endanger all the students at the military academy to achieve his mission. It's true that he warns them not to fire on the Terminator, but he doesn't really prepare them for the kind of threat they are facing.
Yet despite his military pragmatism, I was moved by his outburst to the kid who asked him how many kills he had, because the warning that war is not a game may actually save some of those kids' lives someday. And god, the story about Kyle being heartbroken about killing the deer, and Derek burying it rather than eating it, hurt my heart. Clearly he sees that same innocence in John, and yet he knows it's his task to prepare John for the decisions he's going to have to make in the future--even if that means preparing him to sacrifice other people's lives.
Watching John bond with Martin was another heartbreaking part of the episode, since they were so similar in many ways: both constrained by familial expectations and the need for them to achieve greatness, both of them wanting nothing more than to run and keep on running from those expectations. (Oh God. The fact that Martin's swiftness is what saves John in the future but ends in his own death was painfully ironic.) And John really wants Martin to be able to escape, even though John himself can't--and yet he must ask him to stay. Well, at least they tell Martin the truth so he can make a (semi-)informed choice. Lots of people will die in the future whether or not they are fighting the machines; at least Martin gets some agency.
And even though John helps persuade Martin to stay, he is not, unlike Derek, ready in the present to sacrifice other people to save his life. Despite the fact that I realized it was tactically stupid for John to distract the Terminator with himself, I still cheered at that moment, because I don't *want* John to be sacrificing innocents for military victories. That seems outside of our conventional definition of heroism, doesn't it? Plus I loved how smart he was in trapping the Terminator in the tar pit. (Maybe the voiceover should have been Brer Rabbit instead of the Wizard of Oz?)
Speaking of the Wizard of Oz....I think I am missing some big symbolism, here. Help me out, someone? John calls himself John Baum; Cameron says the Wizard of Oz is John's favorite book; the voiceover of Sarah reading the story occurs at a pivotal point in the plot, so clearly it is significant, but how? "We're not in Kansas anymore"? The original story, as I recall, is supposed to be some extended metaphor about the gold standard or some such thing. If there's a connection there, I'm missing it. Um, is it maybe a parallel to SCC itself? I suppose John could be Dorothy, and Cameron could be the Tin Man, and Derek the Cowardly Lion, and Agent Ellison the Scarecrow, and Sarah the Good Witch and Catherine Weaver the bad witch (she's even kind of melty!) and the various terminators all, um, Winkie soldiers? But I don't really see the point. Was that whole plotline just because the Terminator, like the Wicked Witch, melted? *Is clearly missing the metaphor*
Like John, Sarah doesn't want more innocents dying--though she is initially quite reluctant to endanger John to protect them. I really loved her bonding with Marty, though, especially coupled with all of Cameron's hilarious (and occasionally dangerous) attempts to do the same. It's funny, at the end Marty tells her she's not very good at the mom stuff, but I completely disagreed. She not only kept him safe, she really did take care of him--down to helping him with his book report. If we're supposed to see this episode as a sign that she wasn't a very good mom (for not knowing to cut the crusts off his sandwiches, or some such thing), I think I didn't find that persuasive. Perhaps it's just because I'm always comparing Sarah to John Winchester in my head, and she's always coming off better as a parent? Plus I really do admire the fact that while she's always trying to remain detached from people for the sake of John and the mission, against her own will she can't help bonding with them. Her better nature is constantly interfering with her military pragmatism.
And I think the viewer is supposed to appreciate that. We know that Sarah must protect John at all costs, but even for the sake of the future, we don't want innocent kids to become collateral damage. In this Sarah's decisions sharply contrast with those of Catherine Weaver, who kills anyone who might interfere with her future plans. (I felt so bad for crusading plant manager!)
I wish I could figure out what his agenda is! I'm glad to see he's not sharing all his info with Weaver, at least--but does he actually know he's being used as a pawn? What does he suspect about her agenda? I'm sure he doesn't think she's actually a Terminator, but I'm getting more worried about him every week.
In conclusion, a poll, because I am always always always mentally comparing the Connors to the Winchesters in my head
And a poll, since I am always mentally comparing Connors and Winchesters in my head