The Sarah Connor Chronicles (2008-2009)

While I actually liked the fourth movie of the Terminator franchise, there was something lacking. Sure, it managed to move beyond the then tired plot of sending a machine back in time to kill someone named Connor, but it still was only a good but pretty predictable action movie that did nothing new. Before I saw the movie, the only piece I got from it was the teaser, which left me with the impression that the story would be more ambitious, that the actions in Terminator 2 had changed the timeline to such a degree that the entire nature of the war with Skynet had changed. Nothing like that really appeared in the movie, which was a minor disappointment. Nothing new under the sun.

When I first heard about the Terminator TV-series it sounded even more boring. Just a rehash of the old plot. That might have been the reason that not enough people watched it, which got it killed after two seasons. Shame, as it’s one of the smartest science fiction series I’ve seen in years. Using the end of the second movie as a starting point, but still referencing events from the third (the death of Sarah due to cancer), it goes along expected paths (Terminators from the future try to help Skynet by killing people in the past), but manages to break entirely new ground. A mjor plotline is about the creation of a friendly AI that might one day help against Skynet.

This is not a friendly AI like Data, a machine pining to be human. Even the not antagonistic machines in the Sarah Connor Chronicles can be ruthless killing machines, not inhibited by the framework of the human mind. They want to understand us, but that doesn’t mean they want to be us. You want post-humans on TV, watch this series. Most overly optimistic science fiction about the post-human condition forgets what it actually means, to go beyond human. It’s an entirely different frame of mind, one most humans can’t cope with or even accept. Most of the characters on the show, despite knowing for example what Cameron is, still act as if she were human, anthropomorphizing her every step of the way, framing her actions in a human narrative.

When James Allison tried to teach the friendly AI human values, he forgot that there was a third option beyond Skynet’s genocidal tendencies and his own values. John Henry could change the rules and make up his own mind about which rules he wanted to follow. If the series had been allowed to go on, it might have been interesting to see how Henry’s morality developed (if you wonder why that might be interesting, consider embodied cognition, sure, humans have different morality codes already, but they are all based on the same source). Now we’ll never know. But those two season were pure gold.