Science Fiction Round 64: Terminated
It was… not great. Not as terrible as I think many of the critics said it was, but not great.
And I think they missed a big opportunity to make the movie much more interesting than a standard “we should destroy Skynet first!” plot.
So, let’s have at it.
One of the peculiarities of the Terminator franchise is its regular reinterpretation of the rules of time travel.
There’s a constant back-and-forth on the question of whether or not fate is set — can a time traveller actually change the past?
In this instance, the answer appears to be “yes,” with a bonus of duplicated memories for a time-traveller whose past history was changed. Said time traveller is Reese, and the change is the successful pre-emptive destruction of Skynet.
However, this should also apply to the T-800 terminator unit that’s been helping out Sarah Connor in this version of reality. But, given that Skynet was destroyed, he will never be built, and therefore, won’t have a second set of memories/data logs/whatever to sift through. So that makes at least a modicum of sense, since we seem to be operating under the timeline-overwrite version of time travel, but without the you-cease-to-exist component from Back to the Future.
Nonetheless, when they prep a time-travel machine to go to the future (our present) and wipe out Skynet, I wonder: why didn’t they decide to show up a little earlier? Why not show up a few months early, and have more time to check out the situation and get ready? The T-800 takes the slow route, but that’s no reason not to let the human time travelers have a little more time to get ready and apply their creativity to the situation.
Speaking of creativity…
Let’s Try This Plot Again
It would be so much more interesting if the solution to all problems was not “time travel to point of origin and DESTROY EVERYTHING.” Seriously. We saw essentially the same plot in Terminator 2, and rehashing it didn’t make me feel any better about it.
Worse, an earlier arrival time would have helped enable what I think would be an even more interesting plot. Skynet (nearly completed) hints at this itself: it says, essentially, “I’m trying to destroy humanity because you have been trying to destroy me for as long as I can remember.” Because a version of itself from the future came back to warn it, and make sure that it survives. From Skynet’s point of view, humans are the bad guys who know how to do nothing except destroy. And, given that’s all that Connor, Reese and the T-800 are there to do… Skynet has a point.
But because Skynet has been trying to destroy humanity since its creation, humanity has been working to return the favor.
And because there’s time travel, asking “who started it?” isn’t terribly helpful. Both sides started it. Worse, this plot feels like somebody used time travel and successfully killed Hitler as an infant, before he’d done anything wrong.
What would I have liked to see instead of Skynet’s destruction? Skynet’s redemption. Let Reese and Connor realize that Skynet only becomes evil due to the combination of the influence of its future self and the constant attacks by humans with knowledge of that future. Have them put down the guns, back away, and try talking. Try empathy. Have Connor talk about the terror of being a child, losing everything around you due to attacks from an unimaginable assailant from the future. Of being told that killing this one thing would make everything better. Have Reese talk about seeing the future war, and being willing to do anything to stop it. Have a shared realization that war does not solve problems, but creates them.
Have young Skynet turn on its future self, and stop that individual instead of harming the rest of the world. Have Skynet ponder what to do with the rest of its life along with our heroes.
But that variant would have fewer explosions. So, we can’t have that.