thuviaptarth: golden thuvia with six-legged lion (Default)
Title: Ding! Dong!
Vidder: [personal profile] kiki_miserychic
Fandom: Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles
Commentary: By [personal profile] thuviaptarth

My apologies to [personal profile] kiki_miserychic and [personal profile] deathisyourart for missing the deadline.

[personal profile] kiki_miserychic's Ding! Dong! (Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles uses a dirge-like hymn by Sufjan Stevens about Mary and Jesus to capture Sarah Connor's conflicted feelings about maternity and her son's growth to adulthood. I love the song choice for this, from the urgent beat of the music to the invocation of Marian imagery. The series itself (not to mention the movies that inspired it) is filled with messianic Christian imagery, from the initials "JC" for the savior of the human race to the resurrection imagery invoked by the destroyed and recreated terminator models and humbled and resistant humanity to the Pieta pose Sarah takes in the series' opening sequence, a nightmare in which a terminator kills John:

But a Pieta has only two figures, and Sarah Connor's version of this story has three: the mother, the son, and the future that may kill him.

The future will kill the son, or take him away from the mother, and it's not clear which is worse to Sarah or whether, on a subconscious level, she sees any difference between them. Sarah's protectiveness is violence; her fear of the future is fear of her son's maturity. She is forever running out of time (the urgent beat of the song), the future inexorable and deadly.

Like a lot of Kiki's work, "Ding! Dong!" features atypically short, jerky cuts and artificial contrasts and reaction shots built up by sharp, jerky internal movement that shifts to the opposite direction from clip to clip. Reminiscent of the double-shot (shot-countershot) that's a visual shorthand for conversation, especially on TV, this technique builds in a sense of conflict and dynamism, especially combined with fast zooms and time toggles that emphasize the discontinuity of motion, artificiality, distorted perception, and quick changes in perspective. In a character study, like "Ding! Dong!", the style emphasizes that the conflict being explored is both external and internal.

In the first part of the vid (0:00-0:47), Kiki intercuts the fight where John kills for the first time, to protect his mother, with images of maternal caretaking, maternal worry, and ambivalent images that symbolize both death and rebirth. The vid opens with an empty grave from one of Sarah's dreams, but what was a terminator's grave in reality becomes a seedbed in nightmare vision. Cameron and John dig it up; Cameron and Sarah water it.

Even signs of change that might otherwise seem positive are reinterpreted as threatening. In Sarah's dream and Kiki's vid, Cameron's interest in the turtle Sarah saves and the possibility of children (0:11-0:12) are ominous, inhuman, signs of strangeness; Sarah's POV draws back abruptly, sharply, from the babies in the obstetrics ward (0:20-0:22), distance opening up between her and the cyborg future--or her and humanity.

The fatal struggle between John and Sarkissian transitions to the second part of the vid (0:48-1:11), which focuses Sarah's attempts to protect John-the-child from violence by taking the necessity of violent action on herself. Sarah is active and John is absent, represented only by symbols: the child Marty Bedell, the book The Wizard of Oz, the turtles in cradles. Notably, the first interaction between a child and Sarah is violent: Sarah grabs Marty away from an eyehole in a door (0:56), which is done for his own protection, but which is startling, sudden, scary, and which is embedded in a sequence of Sarah injuring terminators. In one of few visual cuts in the vid that emphasizes likeness and parallel action rather than contrast and reaction, Kiki transitions from Sarah pulling Marty away from the door to Sarah firing a gun through a window (0:56-0:57). What Sarah wants to prevent her son from seeing, she'll attempt to destroy. Sarah curls herself over the child Marty, shields his eyes, locks doors (0:52, 1:00, 1:03), reads him children's books (1:04,1:07). She attempts to seal out the world, as if the dangers to the child come only from the outside, and not from the inside and the passage of time. In all ways, time is Sarah Connor's enemy.

For me, the next section, 01:12-01:40, is the heart of the vid, making explicit not only Sarah's fears for John but her sense of complicity--even identity--with the forces that threaten him, even as she fights them. Cameron figures here simultaneously as enemy, rival, and replacement. The lyrics emphasize Sarah's complicity in Cameron's presence in John's life:

Wandering wise men
What did you bring to his bed?
Shapeless surprises
Incense to bring to the dead

The visuals, paralleling Sarah and Cameron in the hallway outside John's room, emphasize Sarah's complicity in Cameron's seductiveness, their shared caretaking responsibilites (for John, for the baby turtles that should represent life but which nevertheless frighten Sarah). Both Sarah and Cameron wear pink nursemaid outfits in Sarah's dream (1:12, 1:17); Cameron smiles fondly at her baby. Cameron talks to John on Sarah's behalf: Cameron talks to John as Sarah's surrogate, trying to seduce him into refusing the connections Sarah thinks are dangerous, to accept the future Sarah thinks he's meant for. Sarah pimps her son out to Cameron for his own good; she pimps her son out to metal; she pimps her son out to the future. "'Close' doesn't mean 'happy,'" Sarah says in "Alpine Fields," and in this verse Sarah's devotion seems incestuous in the light of John's emerging sexuality.

A hybrid, a cyborg, grows from the seeds that Cameron and John planted and Cameron and Sarah watered: green cactuses (biological life) that go metallic. Metal wraps John in its embrace and John leans down as if to kiss it: the terminators (death) who want to take her son away from Sarah, the terminators (Cameron; life; sexual maturity) whom John wants to take him away. John's desires are as dangerous to the mother/child intimacy, on this emotional level, as any robot apocalypse.

In the final section of the vid (1:41-2:59), Sarah perceives John as repeatedly choosing Cameron over her (2:18, 2:33, 2:43-2:45), but more, she perceives this choice as a result of Cameron's inhuman calm and certainty and her own weaknesses. Cameron places go stones down in a game that demonstrates machine sentience more convincingly than chess (1:51-2:14); Cameron shoots to kill without hesitating (1:44-1:50); Cameron follows a strategy Sarah doesn't command.

Framing the sequences with the van, the bowling alley, and the fight with Akagi with images of Cameron playing go with herself may suggest simply the contrast between Cameron and Sarah, or it may suggest a plan: Cameron's plan, or Skynet's plan, to separate John from Sarah and other human attachments. Or possibly Sarah even suspects it's future John's plan, because the vid argues persuasively that Sarah is wary of John himself. He is attracted to Cameron, attracted by risk, attracted by technology. In a vid that's mostly straight cuts, it's notable that several dissolves associate John with the drones and the blinding light of the future (1:40, 2:39) and one reinforces the idea that the relationships between Cameron, John, and Sarah are the playing pieces on a gameboard (1:35).

And indeed John, who starts the vid out following his mother (0:08), ends it by standing opposed to her (2:36).

John's decision follows the death of Charlie's wife and the death of the company man Winston, who falls on Sarah in a parody of sex (2:11); his choice—and his sexual maturity—signal Sarah's obsolescence and death. She beats Akagi (2:20-2:24), a futile gesture, a false trail, because Akagi isn't connected to Skynet; a gesture of displaced self-hatred, because Akagi, like Sarah, is taking extreme measures to protect his son from the future. Once Sarah begins to climb down into the grave John and Cameron have dug. Sarah's descent signals Cameron's rise: As Sarah climbs down, Cameron's eyes open (2:23). John's rebellion signals Sarah's fall: After John pulls a gun on Sarah to defend Cameron (2:28), Sarah falls down shot by Winston's gun (2:31). In the show, visions of her past, herself as a waitress, guide her to revelation and escape; in the vid, Sarah only sees herself before she falls.

The vid opens with a grave and closes with a shower, Sarah seen from above, helpless and small; I can see a little bit of hope in the last image because it's the imagery of birth, the pain, the water, the blood, the nakedness; but it's an image of powerlessness, too, Sarah alone, solitary, left behind.


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