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April 10, 2009

Terminator odds and ends.

The final episode of the second season of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles aired tonight, but I won't be seeing it just yet, since I only started catching up on this year's episodes about a week ago. It's been fun blitzing through the season so far, though; while there's a certain hit-and-miss quality to the series as a whole, it does explore some fascinating ideas, and I am particularly intrigued by the way it has introduced explicitly religious elements in places where I always thought the original films were somewhat lacking.

For example, when former FBI agent James Ellison tries to teach the artificial intelligence known as John Henry that it is wrong to let someone die, he bases this assertion on his belief that human life is made in the image of God and is therefore sacred. The viewer may or may not share Ellison's belief in this regard, but to my ears, this is at least a more potentially engaging argument than the one John Connor made in Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991), when he tried to persuade the reprogrammed Terminator that you can't go around killing people "because you just can't, okay?"

I still have several episodes to watch, so I can't say much more about the series just yet. But for now, let me say that I am one of the many people who hopes Fox renews this show for at least another season, despite its low ratings.

Meanwhile, in other news, io9 (via Carmen Andres) has posted a chart that attempts to show the entire history of the Terminator franchise, including all the timelines that have been revealed in the movies and TV episodes to date. It looks fun, but if I were to take it at all seriously, I think the chart makes three errors:

First, it assumes that the various shows agree on the elements that ought to be common to all of the timelines, including the birth of John Connor. But this is not so; while the first two movies established that John Connor was conceived in May 1984 and born in February 1985, the TV series has pushed his date of birth back to November 1983, and the third movie seemed to push it even further back, to the late 1970s.

Second, it assumes that the various shows are all part of the same continuity, even if that continuity is constantly being rewritten by the multiple jumps back in time. But everything I have heard indicates that the franchise hits a fork in the road after the second movie, and that all the subsequent movies are completely separate from the TV show. There simply does not seem to be any cross-pollination between the timeline of the later movies and the timelines of the TV series.

Third, it seems to assume that the franchise has followed a consistent approach to temporal mechanics, such that every leap back in time creates a new and slightly different timeline; the chart even goes so far as to refer to a "first John Connor" who existed before Kyle was sent back in time to become the father of all the other John Connors. But one of my own longstanding complaints about the second movie is that it radically disagreed with the first movie on this point. The first movie -- like other time-travel films of its era, such as The Final Countdown (1980) and The Philadelphia Experiment (1984) -- followed an old-fashioned closed-loop approach to temporal mechanics, wherein the future fulfills the past and vice versa; but the second movie posited that one could break free of that loop and act in ways that rewrite the future. To keep the franchise going, the subsequent movies and TV show have had to find some sort of middle ground between the two approaches, and they haven't always been successful.

Let's put it this way: If the John Connor who existed before Kyle came back in time was not the John Connor who existed after Kyle came back in time, then what do we do with that photo of Sarah Connor that Kyle fell in love with before he came back in time? You know, the photo that was created after Kyle had come back in time and impregnated Sarah with John?

If we follow the io9 chart, then we would have to posit that the photo was created on the second timeline but somehow ended up in Kyle's possession on the first timeline -- but that doesn't seem very likely.

Turning to other news -- and speaking of the photo! -- SlashFilm reports that that famous snapshot of Sarah Connor will make an appearance in the fourth movie, Terminator Salvation, which opens May 21. CHUD.com also reports that Linda Hamilton, the actress who played Sarah Connor in the first two movies, has recorded a brief voice-over for the "very beginning" of the new movie.

As for Arnold Schwarzenegger, the original Terminator, whose possible involvement in this film has been the subject of much speculation over the past few years, former football star Terry Crews recently told the MTV Movies Blog that both he and Arnold will have cameos in the film -- but the shoot was so secretive, Crews says he has no idea what sort of cameo Arnold will have.

Meanwhile, Moviehole reports that the ending to Terminator Salvation has been completely changed because a major spoiler got leaked last year. And if there was ever any truth to that spoiler, then I have to say, I'm kind of glad it's been written out of the movie.

Finally, you can see a new poster for the upcoming movie here, the first five pages of the comic-book adaptation here, and one of three brand new TV spots here:

Click here if the video file above doesn't play properly.

Related Tags: sarah connor chronicles, terminator


First off, the last half of T:TSCC has been stellar. Character dynamics and intrigue made for riveting story telling. I had almost given up on the series, but it pulled me back in.

However, trying to follow and reconcile the Terminator-verse without a singular vision is pretty much impossible and frustrating (especially for a fan of the original). As you said, the timeline and consistency has become far to polluted.

But, the one thing that has remained consistent through all the muck is John Connor. It is he that is responsible for the saving of humanity. It is he that rallied the remaining humans into the resistance, gave it leadership and the ability to defeat the machines. Right? That's the whole point of the Terminator-verse even existing, correct? Without him humanity was extinct. Thus, the whole reason for trying to erase him from the timeline.

So, while I enjoyed the T:TSCC season finale, my big question is this:


If John Connor is singularly responsible for the resistance, how could he jump to a point in the future where there is resistance without him? Since he skipped over judgment day, forming the resistance and all that, there should be no resistance and probably no more humanity as well (or very little).

Am I wrong? I really don't see how a future with a resistance could exist without John. Otherwise that would mean that someone else is just an important as John (and potentially others) in forming a resistance, so there should be Terminators running around all over the past trying to kill hundreds of other people and not just John.

I wonder how they are going to explain that - if they bother at all. For me, it's a huge knot that needs to be untied and could determine my continued viewership for next season.


You are wrong on a specific point. It is never said in any of the films that John is the one who forms the Resistance. He is merely the one who leads it to victory.

"He turned us around... he brought us back from the brink," quoth Kyle Reese in T1.

This only makes sense. Humans will always group together and fight back; that's our nature. We don't need one person to tell us to do this. But in order to win? You need a leader. And that's the purpose John serves.

So jumping forward to a point in the future where the Resistance has no leader yet (or perhaps has many factions with many leaders, but no cohesion) is not only plausible, it's to be expected.

The film, Terminator Salvation, is taking this same approach. John starts out as just a soldier among the masses - and actually, all his knowledge about the machines and the war leads his fellow humans to be suspicious of him.

I think Kyle does give John quite a bit of credit in the original film. According to an online copy of the screenplay (which comes pretty close to my own memory of the dialogue in the movie itself), what Kyle tells Sarah is:

"Most of us were rounded up. Put in camps for orderly disposal. This was burned in by laser scanner. Some of us were kept alive. To work. Loading bodies. The disposal units ran night and day. We were that close to going out for ever. But there was one man who taught us to fight. To storm the wire of the camps. To smash those metal [expletive deleted] into junk. He turned it around. He brought us back from the brink. His name was Connor. John Connor. Your son, Sarah. Your unborn son."

So it sounds like John did not merely provide leadership to an existing movement, but that he actively turned the surviving humans from passive victims into active agents of their own salvation.

Can this be reconciled with the season finale of The Sarah Connor Chronicles, in which the human Resistance is apparently formed without John Connor's leadership? Yes, I think it can, for two main reasons.

First, if we accept any of the sequels or spin-offs as canonical, then we have to accept that not everything Kyle said was accurate.

For example, Kyle claimed that he was the only man who had come back in time, and that the Terminator he was pursuing was the only machine that had come back in time. His exact words were: "The Terminator had already gone through. Connor sent me to intercept and they blew the whole place [i.e., the lab with the time machine]. . . . Nobody goes home. Nobody else comes through. It's just him and me." But T2 reveals that two more Terminators were sent back through time, one on each side; and T3 adds two more Terminators to the list; and TSCC has added more human beings and more Terminators to the list ever since.

If we accept any of these sequels or spin-offs as canonical, then we have to surmise that John kept Kyle in the dark about the full extent of his plans for the time machine -- and it may be that Kyle was similarly mistaken about other things, too, and exaggerated the role that John Connor played in forming and leading the Resistance.

Second, the timeline has radically changed since the events of T2, in such a way that the war between the humans and the machines has been shortened considerably.

I don't believe T1 ever establishes precisely when the machines launched their war against humanity on the original timeline; the closest we get, I think, is when Kyle tells Sarah: "There was a nuclear war. A few years from now."

T2, however, establishes that the nuclear war took place in 1997, when John was 12 years old -- and that it continued until 2029, when John was 44. That's a 32-year span, long enough that people like Kyle were not even born until after the war had begun. Indeed, in T1 itself, Kyle says he did not see how the war began, adding: "I grew up after. In the ruins." (For what it's worth, Michael Biehn, the actor who played Kyle, was 27 when T1 was made.)

But that original timeline is completely undone after Sarah, John and Miles Dyson destroy the Cyberdyne facility in T2. Judgment Day no longer takes place in 1997 -- but in order for there to be more sequels and spin-offs, it still has to take place sometime.

And so, in T3, the war now begins sometime around 2004 -- only 25 years before the time-travel started, at least on the original timeline. (It remains to be seen whether T4, which takes place in 2018, or its sequels will adhere to the original chronology in this respect.)

And in TSCC, the war now begins in 2011 -- and all the time-travel is now said to have begun in 2027, so the war is only 16 years long now, or half its original length.

All of these factors suggest that mankind has rallied itself against the machines much more quickly than it did on the original timeline, and it is quite possible that mankind could have done this without the help of John Connor. If, as the Terminator said in T3, Judgment Day is "inevitable", then perhaps the human Resistance is "inevitable" too.

As John Connor himself says in the trailers for T4, this is not the future his mother warned him about -- and that is as true of the current TV show as it is of the current movies. It thus follows that John's role in this future may be very different from what it was in the original future; it may even be that John is not needed to save humanity in this future the way he was in the original future.

And that opens up all sorts of dramatic possibilities.

Oh, you're going to like it even more when you finish watching the season. I'm hooked, and I agree that the spiritual themes emerging in this are naturally very fascinating. I think they become difficult to dismiss when you are contemplating the nature of consciousness and personhood with A.I.s since they must have a creator! Now, whether this will have anything worthwhile to say (or just the usual mumbo jumbo) when it's all said and done is up for debate...