Any spin off has an problem to resolve when it starts, it has to establish its own identity while at the same time being faithful enough to the original not to alienate existing fans who are likely to be the core audience and open enough to attract a new audience not familiar with the ideas. The pilot episode for Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles solves all these problems very neatly as well as establishing the storytelling engine, to borrow a phrase, for the on-going series.
The opening sequence is a nicely choreographed action piece that introduces the threat and announces the ambitions of the series. It cannot hope to compete with the enormous budgets that the films used, the action is going to be much more personal, which nicely reflects the theme of the series, a mother protecting her son. The action sequences are excellent, small in scale they are well staged and paced and do not overwhelm the narrative.
The exposition of the set up for the series is naturally and effectively integrated into the narrative, it was succinctly delivered early enough to be out of the way and to frame the remaining action. The story nicely picks up the human problems created by the situation that Sarah Connor and John find themselves in, the way that their lives are fracturing under the pressure of running all the time. When an opportunity comes to turn and fight instead they take it and the set up is complete for the ongoing series. The cast are excellent, Lena Headly as Sarah Connor is a nice mixture of fear, resilient toughness and protectiveness and makes an impressive and credible action hero. Thomas Dekker as John Conner has a slightly underdeveloped role, I assume it will develop over the series, he has to be a target without being whiny and carries it off well. Summer Glau as a protective terminator is excellent, she has a slight blankness which adds to the role. An excellent start.