Depending on your age or maybe your preferences in science fiction, the name Summer Glau is likely to conjure up one of two sets of images. You might see a fragile, seemingly unbalanced young woman with graceful ballerina steps and an iconic image of her appearing surrounded by bodies, herself unscathed, head down with outstretched hands holding an axe and a sword. You might also have glimpses of a cold, always machine-like, and yet possibly the most bewitching human-like android that ever appeared on TV.
The first set of images is from Serenity, the movie made to complete Joss Whedon's vision of the world of the TV series Firefly, and the second is from Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles (TSCC). Both shows ran on Fox and were prematurely cancelled. For those not quick to pick up on the trend, the cancellation a year after TSCC of Dollhouse (another series from Whedon at Fox) was an eye-opener: Summer Glau, as a regular or recurring cast member, brought with her the impending doom of cancellation. When Ms. Glau appeared on Alphas last week, our wish here at Player Affinity TV to see her character again brought back memories of her reputation, so we decided to share our opinion of the fine lady and our take on the "Curse."
Curses are like self-fulfilling prophecies, once they are proclaimed, they are very likely to be confirmed. Summer Glau appeared as a regular in NBC's The Cape this year and the show's fate is now well known. Four out of four wouldn't you say? Actually no, it turns out between Firefly and TSCC, Ms. Glau got involved (as a recurring character) in other TV projects including The Unit (CBS) and The 4400 (USA). The first went on for a couple of seasons after she left and the second was, well, cancelled. So in fact the tally is five out of six, which is good enough to disprove the "Curse." We failed to reach the only acceptable score for any respectable curse (100%) even though, to be fair to its proponents, I didn't split hairs by going over the reasons why the shows were cancelled — given that the curse's formulation clearly doesn't care about such technicalities.
However, because as humans we prefer to get closure through means more tangible than a supernatural correlation, let's go over the cancelled shows to try and glean whether Summer Glau could have contributed — beyond her mere presence — to their demise, and also if the shows themselves (and possibly other factors) could have been to blame.
We live in a world where we always have to prove our points and defend our opinions (a bit like what I am doing now), but there are still a few things that are universally accepted. Mathematicians have postulates in geometry, lawmakers have the concept that all men are equal, and in the science fiction world we have the universal truism that Firefly was an amazing series. In case you disagree, I advise to just learn to deal with it. So the show wasn't to blame, and the critically acclaimed performance from Summer Glau in the series (and in Serenity) is what made her an icon of the genre in the first place, so it's a no there as well. Which of course leaves us with only one possible scapegoat, called network television programming, who meddled with the intended episodes order, among other things.
The 4400 was renewed after Summer Glau's initial single-appearance role became recurring for the first time, but the show's fate was sealed before she returned for a few more episodes. The series lasted for four seasons and failed to retain its viewers, notably during the last one. TSCC is a bit similar in the sense that there was a gradual erosion of the number of viewers, but there is again here a clear involvement of network television programming through unrealistic expectations for a Friday show and the decision to move to other things. It should be noted that while Firefly made fans notice Glau, TSCC cemented her place as a genre icon.
Dollhouse struggled in the ratings from the very beginning, and getting a second season was a miracle in itself. Its future was decided before Glau, who was nevertheless a welcome and effective addition to the series' swan song. For all complaints about network television programming, I believe the show itself (just like for The 4400) is not entirely free from blame in this instance. As for The Cape, whatever your personal opinion on the show, from the pilot it was obvious the series lacked some of the ingredients needed to attract enough viewers to survive, especially in this day and age.
It is clear from the above that I do not subscribe into the curse hypothesis. Not only is the correlation not always true, but the cancelled shows in some cases had it coming. I, for one, would welcome her again on Alphas, as her character with a particular power and her Alpha child have a lot of potential. I wouldn't even mind having her replace a regular (Cameron?) in an upcoming season. That is, of course, if the show survives its maiden season which is now showing some weaknesses unrelated to her (so far) single appearance.
I will add that although she's been mostly cast as a neurotic or mentally deranged character, she has proven to be a versatile actress who could, in my opinion, possibly carry a show. In Alphas ("Catch and Release"), she was a purposeful young woman who semmed appropriately worried and softened when required. In the movie Serenity, she emerged as the graceful, fragile and paradoxically strong character everyone would remember, and finally, in TSCC she had a commanding presence throughout the show, which is always more the stuff of an excellent performance than the result of good character development.