In The Gospel According tyo Science Fiction, I criticized the Terminator franchise for the shallowness of its religious imagery:
Films such as James Cameron’s Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) and Michael Bay’s Armageddon (1998) use the language of Revelation, but they are not describing the catastrophes that must precede the Golden Age. The “end of the world” as depicted in these films is a crisis that the heroes must rush to stop. In secularizing their conceptions of the end of the world, such stories (perhaps unknowingly) invert the morality of apocalyptic literature, proposing that the established order must be upheld in the face of destruction.
One wonders if the producers of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles read that bit and took it to heart: they've been doing their best to build an infrastructure of real apocalypticism underneath the films' surface-only use of Biblical eschatology. In the first season we met Dr. Silberman, Sarah Connor's doctor in the psychiatric hospital in T2, who now sees her apocalyptic visions through a Biblical lens. In the season finale's greatest moment, we saw the Terminator known as Cromartie go on a truly inspired rampage set to the tune of Johnny Cash's end-times masterpiece "When the Man Comes Around."
The season two finale continues in that trend, putting meat on the series' spiritual bones. There's the scene where Sarah and John burst into a storefront Catholic Church, seeking asylum from a killer robot. (The priest interrupts the baptism he's conducting to help them. A bit rude to the parents, I thought, but when bruised-and-bloodied fugitives need help, what's a minister to do?) But the real interesting bit comes at the end, when newly-introduced villain Catherine Weaver (about whom there's a great reveal in the last scene, by the way) starts talking about the computer that we-the-audience know will eventually destroy the world. She names it Babylon—a name with a whole range of possible interpretations. Is it a reference to the Tower of Babel? The Babylonian Captivity? The episode's title—"Samson and Delilah"—certainly points us to the Old Testament (on which more later). But given the series' past eschatological interests, I think we're meant to look to Revelation for our clues. There Babylon is the materialistic city whose destruction allows the construction of the New Jerusalem, the eternal capitol of God's kingdom. This clearly complicates the picture of the end of the world presented in Terminator 2. There, the Connors fight to protect the current, established order from nuclear destruction. In this series, where nuclear destruction is looking increasingly inevitable, they're fighting to overthrow the coming robotic tyranny. "Babylon" isn't the world we live in, but the world that's right around the corner, a world in which reliance on technology has made humans the slaves of our machines. That's the world that Catherine Weaver is trying to create in the form of Babylon—no mystery, then, which character in Revelation she is supposed to be. (15 Killer Robot points to anyone who got the scriptural pun there.)
Also of note is the title's Biblical allusion. In Judges 16, Delilah, a spy for the Philistines, seduces the great Hebrew hero Samson, and while he sleeps she cuts of his hair, which is the source of his power. In this episode, Cameron, the Terminator sent back in time to protect John, goes bad and tries to kill him, but at the end of the episode seems to have gone back to good again. We see a robot's-eye-view in which she overrides her mission to terminate him—but is that a permanent override, or is she trying to trick him so she can kill him later? In any event, he cuts his hair at the end of the episode, suggesting that whatever weakening was going to happen is done. (But would anyone argue that his hair was the source of his power? I always thought it looked a bit goofily mid-90's.) In any event, this show is good and getting better. In a year without a writers' strike The Sarah Connor Chronicles probably wouldn't have made it to season 2, and it looks like it's going to make the most of its amnesty.
Watch "Samson and Delilah" on Fox's website.
Watch it right here, courtesy of Hulu.