Thursday, 8 February 2018

Heroine Fix: Sarah Connor - From Damsel to Deadly

Heroine Fix is a monthly feature looking at characters that I admire and who influence my own writing.  (Warning: this article will contain spoilers.)

I started my Terminator experience with Terminator 2: Judgment Day and was instantly impressed by the character of Sarah Connor.  She was a mom but also a badass.  I hadn't ever seen a story before where the mom was able to do more than hide and shriek, or just stay oblivious while everyone else had adventures.

I'm sorry, Ms. Connor, but we're not looking for PTA volunteers today.
I rented a copy of the original Terminator and was immediately disappointed.  This fluffy-haired mewler was my brilliant Sarah?  I don't think so.  Then Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines came out and I was even more disappointed (for many reasons but mainly because there was no Sarah).  Thus I was super excited when they announced they were making a television series: Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles.  Finally someone understood that this story was about Sarah, not John or the robot.  Then I cried and lost all faith in Fox when they decided to cancel the show after two seasons, despite the fact that it had both viewing numbers and critical acclaim.


No, really, Ms. Connor, the PTA is doing just fine here.
Sarah's story has always resonated with me and as I've gotten older, I see more of the brilliance of her character's journey.  She goes through a transformation even more radical than Ebenezer Scrooge's famous 180 but rather than going from evil to kind, she goes from good and afraid to good and kicking butt.

When her story begins, Sarah is an ordinary young woman in the nineteen-eighties (yes, the feathery hair used to be uber-cool).  She works as a waitress, she's laughing with her roommate about cute boys, her biggest concerns are paying the rent and maybe having a chance to have a little fun.  Then all of sudden, this guy drops out of nowhere and utters the iconic line: Come with me if you want to live.  She gets plunged into a nightmare of an unstoppable cyborg who is coming to kill her because of something she will do in the future.  She falls in love with her protector and then tragically loses him after their one night together.  (As a romance author/reader, I like to pretend the movie ends about fifteen minutes before it actually does and that they escape and have a life together up in the remote, machine-free wilderness.)



I've had a lot of fan-fic inspiration in thinking about Sarah's life between Terminator and Terminator 2.  She had a baby and had to learn how to survive off the grid, learn to fight and to become a weapons expert.  There are hints of weeks in the jungle, surviving in the Mexican desert.  John comments that she would hook up with anyone who could teach him, but I wonder if she ever ended up falling for someone.  Did she have to leave to protect them?  She had to have longed for her old normal life, but she committed wholeheartedly to what needed to be done.

And then she ends up in a mental hospital.  In Terminator 2, there's a scene where she is looking at a video of herself trying to warn everyone about the imminent rise of Skynet.  It's the image of a woman who has been driven mad by her foreknowledge, one who can't sleep knowing that everyone around her is doomed.  It's a masterful performance by Linda Hamilton.  When you think about everything her character has been through, it's amazing that Sarah isn't curled up on a floor somewhere, checked out from reality.


Just because someone is crazy, doesn't mean they're wrong about robots from the future being out to get them.
She demonstrates an impressive level of resilience, getting herself out of the hospital rather than waiting to be rescued.  She's free and at the elevators when the Terminator arrives.  She accepts the Terminator is now an ally rather than an enemy.  She also demonstrates a strong sense of morality and tactics.  Her plan to kill Miles Dyson is sound tactically, but she calls it off because she won't harm his children either directly or by shooting their father in front of him.  On a coldly logical front, two or even three lives should be worth saving billions, but Sarah won't pull the trigger.  In spite of all the horrors she's seen, she still has her humanity.  It's a powerful moment.

It's a different combination than the traditional action hero.  Sarah is absolutely driven to protect her son and save the world.  She is adaptive and intelligent, but still has moments of vulnerability and uncertainty.  She's dealing with an enemy who doesn't underestimate her because of her background or gender, one that is absolutely ruthless and can only be stopped by destroying it.  And she wins.  Twice.



The idea of a mother going through a transformation of being overwhelmed and uncertain to taking charge, while still keeping her central morality intact, is one that inspired my latest heroine, Martha, and her novel, Judgment.  Too often, I find that fictional parents are more often defined by their absence than stars of their own stories, so when I introduced Martha in Revelations, I knew I'd eventually want to write her happy ending, too.

Sarah Connor is an ordinary woman who becomes an extraordinarily strong heroine.  I find it interesting how a large number of people can put themselves in her shoes and believe they would be able to do just as much.  (My future-robot-assassin contingency plan is well thought out and quite ingenious, if I dare say so myself.)  But when faced with something a little more plausible, like raising a special needs child, they are quick to say they could never handle it with the grace and patience that so many special needs parents do.  I believe that we are all capable of more than we could imagine when the circumstances arise.

Are you addicted to strong heroines like I am?  You can sign up for my Heroine Fix newsletter and then you'll never miss your next Heroine Fix.

Last month's Heroine Fix: Echo from Dollhouse: Who Do You Want Me To Be?

Previous post: Let's Talk Consent: a look at how pop culture can influence how we see consent.

Next month, I'll be looking at the real-life heroics of the ladies of Hidden FiguresJoin me on March 8th for your next Heroine Fix.





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