Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles: Season 2 Release Date: Available now Studio: Warner Brothers Packaging/Materials: Six-disc DVD case with slipcover; episode guide Year: 2008/2009 Rating: N/A Running Time: Approximately 16:15:00 MSRP: $59.98 THE EPISODES SPECIAL FEATURES Video 1.78:1 Anamorphic 1.78:1 Anamorphic Audio Dolby Digital: English 5.1 Stereo Subtitles English SDH, French, Danish, Dutch, and Finnish English SDH and Dutch (select bonus material) The Season: 4/5 With nuclear armageddon and humanity's extermination a persistent possibility, it's amazing Sarah (Lena Headey) and John Connor (Thomas Dekker) haven't gone mad - or simply given up. Mother and son are fighting to stop Judgment Day - a moment in the future when a military supercomputer named Skynet becomes self-aware and deems it logical to nuke the entire planet - but for all their efforts it seems they can only delay it. The one fallback is John's destiny to become the leader of the human resistance during the post-apocalypse. His leadership is significant enough that Skynet takes the battle into the past by sending Terminators (cyborgs that look and sound human) to stop John's rise to power before it's had a chance to begin. Though Skynet has been twice unsuccessful, it's not likely to ever give up. With the last attempt on John's life, the John Connor of the future re-programmed and sent back a Terminator as a protector. With the inevitable next attempt, he does so again, but this time sends a female Terminator who calls herself Cameron (Summer Glau). Though her immediate priority is to protect the Connors, she reveals that Skynet has broadened the scope of its plans, no longer satisfied to send a single Terminator to a specific time but now sending multiple ones to multiple times, each on a different mission. The overarching agenda is of course to ensure the creation of Skynet and the passage of Judgment Day. With seemingly unlimited resources at its disposal, it seems the machines' victory is all but assured; however, an undisputed future where humans pose a legitimate threat suggests that even if the Connors never stop Judgment Day, humanity could also have its day of justice. The second season of "Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles" dove into some compelling and increasingly complicated waters after an entertaining, if conventional, first season. With 13 more episodes to tell the story, the writers moved away from standard "Connors run and fight" stories to ones exploring John's complex relationship with his destiny, varying theories about how time travel actually affects the future, and other, more egalitarian, ideas about the machines. The latter felt particularly fresh after the black-and-white stand offs in the Terminator feature films. The season also saw increasing screen time for Brian Austin Green in the role of John's uncle, Derek Reese. Green was a surprisingly powerful addition to the show even in the first season, and his combat-hardened, but still compassionate, future warrior proved to be a stabilizing element for the characters and an intriguing conduit to a future still in the making. Headey as the Connor matriarch also gave consistently solid performances, capturing both the character's outward strength and deeply buried vulnerability. The writers also further developed John, Cameron, and their complicated relationship, giving Glau in particular a chance to show her role was more than just pretty window dressing. Unfortunately, as these things tend to go, the show didn't get renewed for another season, cutting short a storyline that would have seen John in a future where no one knows who he is or who he was supposed to become. Though fans of the show have accepted its fate, there's a good chance - given the popularity of the franchise - that it will return in some form. Though a feature film or TV movie is unlikely, a comic book series seems like a viable (and increasingly popular) method to continue a decades-old franchise that has turned out, thanks to this surprisingly compelling TV series, to hold more than a few surprises. "Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles: Season 2" includes all 22 episodes that aired on the Fox Network. The first season is also available on Blu-ray and DVD. Video Quality: 4/5 With the Blu-Ray release being viewed first, one would expect the DVD image quality to suffer from the comparison. True, there's not as much detail and definition - particularly in the wide shots - and overall sharpness and color depth aren't as great. But, all things considered, the episodes look very good on DVD. Each episode is framed at 1.78:1 and anamorphically enhanced for widescreen displays. Black levels are solid and deep, though contrast at the bottom end of the spectrum exhibits some compression, obscuring shadow detail. Color rendition is good, flesh tones tending to be warm but without oversaturation. Fine object detail, particularly with skin textures, is also very good, although there can be some visible noise in fine pattern areas. Fortunately there appear to be no attempts to fix it with noise reduction measures. The transfer won't match viewers' experience with the weekly high definition broadcasts, but they should be pleased with the image quality if opting for this standard definition release. Audio Quality: 3.5/5 The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track has a lower bitrate compared to the one on the Blu-ray release (384 kbps vs. 640 kbps). The downgrade doesn't seem to make a dramatic difference, especially without being able to dynamically A-B compare the tracks, but my (totally subjective) impression is the lower bitrate track has a less expansive soundfield. Regardless, the quality of the mix bears the same characteristics as its high higher bitrate sibling -- center channel dialogue dominates the presentation and surround and bass activity are mostly in service to the score. Viewers should be pleased, however, when action sequences do come along. Directional effects are seamless and bass activity is deep and clean. Dialogue is also consistently clear and intelligible, showing good range and detail. Special Features: 4/5 The special features package offers a good balance of commentary tracks and documentary pieces, offering viewers an in-depth look behind the production and writing process. Audio Commentaries: Dekker, Glau, and Producer Josh Friedman appear on each of the four commentary tracks, with Heady and Shirley Manson joining in for first and Executive Producers James Middleton and John Wirth joining in for the other three. The first of the tracks doesn't get interesting until the last 10 minutes of the episode and will likely test the patience of listeners looking for insights; however, the subsequent tracks are much more focused and informative. Dekker tends to be the most talkative of the group, which is a problem when he has nothing interesting to say (as in the first track), but when he's on-task his gregariousness is a good foil for the less talkative and reserved Glau. Together with the show producers, they expand on many of the show's themes and ideas, talk about acting processes and preparation, and share their thoughts on the characters and their motivations. As the tracks were done for some of the more pivotal episodes of the season, the set of commentaries, overall, proves to be a worthwhile way to delve deeper into the series. Terminated Scenes (approx. 10:15): Thirteen excised scenes from episodes 6, 9, 10, 13, 18, 19, 20, and 22. The Storyboard Process: Cameron Goes Bad (2:56): A picture-in-picture comparison of storyboards to actual footage, along with crew interviews on the value of the storyboarding process. Cameron Vs. Rosie Fight Rehearsal (5:27): Comparison of rehearsal video footage to the actual scene in which Cameron fights another female Terminator in an elevator. Collision with the Future: Deconstructing the Hunter-Killer Attack (approx. 40:00): Exclusive to Blu-ray, the interactive feature provides access to four video tracks, each running eight minutes in length, that focus on specific aspects of the season finale's key action sequence. In pieces covering "Production," "Direction," "Visual Effects," and "Special Effects" department heads discuss the sequence's planning, pre-production, shoot preparation, and actual shoot, with a "post mortem" of what they learned or got from the experience. A simultaneous view of all four tracks also includes additional commentary from writer-producer Friedman. I found the interactive component mostly unnecessary, a thin justification for the "Blu-ray exclusive" label. The content itself is interesting and thoroughly detailed, however - once you get past the superficiality of the presentation. The Continuing Chronicles: Terminator -- 8-Part Featurette Gallery (approx. 1:15:00): Behind-the-scenes pieces cover the writing process (12:39), visual effects (8:17), make up effects (7:38), set decoration and design (7:32), stunts (7:20), production challenges (9:15), music composition (13:15), and character development and analysis (9:51). The featurettes are well produced, thorough with their respective topics, and include a variety of cast and crew interviews with plentiful behind-the-scenes footage. My personal favorite was the piece about the music, which includes an interview with Composer Bear McCreary (Battlestar Galactica) and an unedited take of Shirley Manson singing "Samson and Delilah," the song used to open the season premiere. Gag Reel (6:04) Recap The Season: 4/5 Video Quality: 4/5 Audio Quality: 3.5/5 Special Features: 4/5 Overall Score (not an average): 4/5 A compelling television expansion of a familiar movie franchise gets a good audio and video presentation and an in-depth set of special features.