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Sarah Connor Producer Tells io9 The Terminators' Deepest Secrets

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Click to viewJosh Friedman is the creator of Terminator: Sarah Connor Chronicles, one of last season's most interesting scifi shows, complete with time traveling, kickass Terminator fights, and Heathers riffs. Plus, next season, the cast will be joined by Shirley "Garbage" Manson and Busy "Freaks And Geeks" Phillips. We had a chance to sit down with Friedman for a one-on-one talk at Comic-Con, to talk about where the show is going. And he told us the one word you'll never hear on his show.


io9: You've said that season two will feature John Connor stepping up and becoming more of the hero we know he's going to be. How do we build up John Connor without tearing down Sarah Connor?

Friedman: I don't know that you don't. I think, dramatically, when you're looking for conflict, to keep characters always with the same problems and the same attitudes gets boring. Everyone knows what Sarah Connor is, and that the thing that's most important to her is her son. And it's not about making her a good hero or tough or alpha, it's really about how you can be the toughest person around, and [it's still a problem] if your primary relationship, in her case with John, is suffering in some way. She still kicks ass, we have a lot of that, but how important is that if you have a problem in your primary relationship? So it's less about john becoming a hero, and more about John moving away from home and becoming an adult. It's just more problematic when he does that.


io9: We've been wondering. What is this thing with Terminators having names? Like Cromartie? He uses that name in the first episode when he's masquerading as a school teacher, and it becomes his name for the rest of the series.

Friedman: It becomes his name for the rest of the series, for those who need to call him something. Obviously, they don't have real names - it just helps us identify them.

I have something which I've never told anybody, which I will tell you: I am determined to never use the word "Terminator" in the show. I don't like it in the dialogue - it sounds weird to me. I think it was when I was watching The Sopranos, and I realized after five years, that I had never heard the word "Mafia." And finally it was said once, and the guy who says it gets killed. And it was really interesting that they'd never said that word. After our first episode [of Sarah Connor] I realized I never used it in that episode, and I said I'm going to see if I can go without it.

io9: So we know nobody named Connor will die on this show, and they'll never avert Judgment Day. Is the show's suspense mostly around the other characters? Does Brian Austin Green have a target painted on his forehead? Or is more about the relationships?

Friedman: [Laughs] I think partially, it's the relationships. I think when someone says the apocalypse is not going to be averted, well, yes. They're going to try as hard as they can to avert it. [But that's not what the show is really about.] In the first movie... the Terminator's not coming back to stop John Connor because John Connor is going to stop the Apoclaypse. [Connor] is going to save mankind. Skynet is, in a way, a rapid dog chase around the dog park. [The real issue is] will this boy in our show become what he needs to be to save the future? Skynet is probably inevitable.

By sending back a Terminator [Summer Glau] to be with John Connor, you're changing his character inherently, and what does that change him into? And what dos that mean? Is he becoming a different leader in the future? And i think this year we will see more ramifications from his relationship with [Glau's] Cameron. He has sent her back to help and protect, but the intensity of that relationship can't but affect him in the future, and I think that is something that is problematic.


io9: So how does that affect him? Does it make him more emotionless, because he's spending his formative years hanging out with a robot? More cautious, because he's living with a bodyguard?

Friedman: I don't know that those are the only two choices. It may make him more dependent on machines, than the original iteration of John Connor. John and Sarah have completely different attitudes towards Terminators: Sarah hates them, she's like a racist. They come back and try to kill her. [But for John] the function of Terminators in the movies was always as a father figure. Terminator 3 sort of abandoned that family dynamic, and who is this Terminator to John. So I think John has always had a more open idea about what they can do, he's repogrammed some and sent them back because he thinks of them as a little more mutable, which I think is potentially problematic or complicating his attitude to them in the future.

io9: So the show really isn't about stopping Skynet?

Friedman: [It's more about the fact that] we're going to die, what are we going to do from now until then? How are we going to live our lives? that's what the show's about: what are you going to do with your day knowing you're going to die? They think they can stop [Skynet], but we as fans think they're not going to stop it. But hopefully we're interested in watching them try to stop it. And are they going to be in any shape to deal with what happens next?


io9: So one of the most exciting things for me about the early SCC episodes was the Heathers riff, with the hazing and the girl who kills herself. And then it vanished. What happened to it?

Friedman: I was diasppointed. It was mostly cut for length. I was on strike from episode 2 to episode 9 in terms of editing. There were a couple of rough cuts of episodes 2, 3 and 4 when I left. We had shot most of the season, and I did not edit most of them. We had [high school] storylines that extended through most of those episodes. It always ended up being the things that got cut when it went long. I made all the writers watch Brick before we started. I was such a fan of it. High school is dangerous. It's dangerous on that Heathers level, interpersonally, and also it's a scary place. There was no safe place for John. You couldn't say, send him to high school, and have him say: "Mom's off saving the world, and I'm off with my wacky robot sister." The suicide and the blackmailing - I wanted it to be life and death, and I had a plan for it.

io9: So is that stuff gone in season two?

Friedman: This year, it's pretty much gone. For a while anyway. [It's a tough question] Do you cut away from Sarah being chased by a cyborg, to John in English class? We tried to make them kiss each other. We had a Heroes writer on our staff. I said to her, "We're taking the cheerleader, we're putting her on the roof, and we're having her jump. And she's dying." I wanted people to realize it's not going to be a fun place.


io9: Some people ask why is John in high school in the first place? Why isn't he hiding in a bunker?

Friedman: That would be a show where they're not going to learn anything. John Connor is a leader of people, he's not just a guy in a tank. He has to convince people to do stuff. How does that boy learn how to lead? And yet not be so above the radar where it's a problem? He's not a hothouse flower. How does that guy know how to lead people if he's just under his mother's wing all the time? That was how I rationalized it. [At first, I didn't want to have John in school at all.] I just wrestled with it. And then I had a really good plan.

io9: So there's a new love interest for John, and Cameron gets jealous?

Friedman: I'm always going to look at John and who's on one shoulder, and who's on the other shoulder, and what are they whispering to him? There are various triangles. This is a kid that everyone wants a piece of in some way, and everyone wants to influence in some way, and [there's kind of a battle for his ear. And who's going to influence him?


io9: One thing i liked in season one was the focus on the female characters in episodes like the Heathers episode and the "I married a Terminator episode." Is that going to continue?

Friedman: I think it is a feminist show, in a very matter of fact way. Sarah is who she is. Cameron is not technically female, but she's a representation of a female. Shirley Manson is in the show now. She's in a lot of episodes. [At this point, he gestured at Manson, doing another interview, and I realized that I'd been sitting two feet away from her for half an hour without noticing.]

We actually have another character, played by Busy Phillips [from Freaks And Geeks], a character who lives next Sarah who is 8 months pregnant. The actor actually is 8 months pregnant, she is only in 3 or 4 episodes before she gives birth. We really show her body and show her pregnancy, which for me is a really interesting thing. I've taken a lot of flack from people who think she's too pregnant on the show. We have an episode where she's wearing a skirt and a bikini top. And you realize, you never see that on television. You never see pregnant women on television. You see fake pregnant women on television. It's throwing some people off. You see some of the dailies, and people are like, "She's huge." In these scenes with Sarah and John Connor, who are these little dark lean pieces of beef jerky. It's important for people to see that, if you're going to put on the sexy robots, you need to put on other representations of women and the female form. Not for political reasons - I do it because it works on the show, and there's a reason thematically. She's like the alternate version of Sarah Connor, if Sarah wasn't Sarah Connor. She's a single mother, pregnant with a son. She's Sarah, if everything was okay. That's kind of what I wanted to do, and really show how full she is of life and how the other characters are death-oriented. I think this show does work for women, I think it should work more than it does, and I'm pretty sure it will.


io9: Will Busy Phillips be in more episodes after she gives birth?

Friedman: I hope so.

Photo of Josh Friedman by Josie SF.