Music in Television: The Sarah Connor Chronicles Does Johnny Cash

I remember watching this scene for the first time. It was the moment I fell in love…with this show, and this song. Too often music is tacked onto a scene. This is more forgivable if the music is diegetic (part of the world of the show, i.e. the song playing in the cafe our characters are sitting in), but like every aspect of a well-crafted episode, the music should be something more than background. It should say something about the story, its characters, and the overall themes of the show. The Sarah Connor Chronicles did this with “The Man Comes Around” in the ninth and final episode of the first season, “What He Beheld.” Everything about the bizarre match-up between the melodically light song and the bloody slaying of a team of FBI agents worked perfectly.

First of all, I have to give immense credit to whoever edited this scene. It plays like a music video in the respect that the action often seems to get its cues from the music. Agent Ellison exits his car –  “and, behold, the white horse” – his troops filing out behind him as the guitar comes in. The music and suspense build as Charley turns his ambulance towards the scene, and the agents take position. Then comes the masterful direction: the slain agents falling into the swimming pool, graceful in their descent as the camera shoots from below. Everything about this “action” scene is uncharacteristic, with the upbeat melody of “Man Comes Around” setting the bizarre tone. Visually unusual, the viewer does not get to see the fight. We can barely hear it through the distortions of the water. And through it all, all we have to hold onto is Cash’s deep baritone and steady strums.

Thematically, the song works well within the show’s overall framework. Ultimately, the Terminator mythology surrounds the protection of humanity’s savior, John Connor, who is destined to lead the post-apocalyptic fight against the machines. “Man Comes Around,” drawing heavily from Revelations, makes references to the four horseman of the apocalypse and the second coming of the savior, Jesus Christ. The show does something interesting, however, in that John Connor is not even in this scene. In fact, the song seems to speak more to Ellison’s character than to anyone else’s.

Much of this episode is about Ellison’s belief. Earlier in the episode, he quotes from Revelation and Johnny Cash: ““and I heard, as it were the noise of thunder, one of the four beasts saying, Come and see…And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him.” Like John and John’s uncle and father before him, Ellison must push past an innocence that believes the world’s evils can be tightly categorized and – at the end of the day – always conquered by good. As Ellison eventually admits to himself  in this episode, the struggle between good and evil is much messier, much darker, and more confusing than he could have ever imagined. Still, at the end of this scene, when evil – a victorious Cromartie as the man in black – is staring Ellison in the face, he still has his belief.

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