I preface this with two things. First, I call the show “The Summer Glau Chronicals” (see image to the left) and second, I don’t think Terminator Salvation is something I’ll be watching in the theater. Just not interesting. And yes, I would change that viewpoint if they told me Summer Glau would be in it, so shut up.
The reason I like T:TSCC is because it’s messed up. My buddy and I were chatting about it, and he saw the season finale “Born to Run” as an end, where as I saw it as a beginning. The episode ends with John Conner (age 16) in the future, from where future him has been sending back various people and Terminators to help him become the great leader dude. He meets his father and uncle (who are both dead in the past, because they came back from the future and died). It’s all very self-fulfilling paradox grandfather things.
Normally I hate time travel as a plot point. Hate it to the point that I ‘cast’ Mark Harmon as the Lord of Time in my tabletop game, and should anyone try to time travel, he will come up and smack them so hard, they lose IQ points and can’t make it work. The Gibbs Smack at work. I even just read a book, Blood Music, about intelligent thingies in your blood, that I got pissed at because it devolved into time travel stuff. Very often it’s a cop out.
But T:TSCC started in a world where time travel, and self-fulfilling paradox, was the default. We start with Terminator, which was a crap movie, about a robot sent through time to kill Sarah Conner, mother of John Conner, leader of the resistance, so John would never be born. Okay, so John sends a dude, Kyle, back to save her. And Kyle happens to be John’s dad. Only Kyle doesn’t know it. Only Sarah (pregnant, hi) and John will know this. Right away that interested me. Imagine being John here.
You get to know your father only as an adult, a near-peer even, since you’re actually a bit older than he is, in linear time progression. You and your dad fight robots. Then one day you say ‘Kyle, I need you to go back in time and save my mother, or I’ll never exist. Here’s her picture.’ And you know, you KNOW, that he’ll die there. In fact, you know he’ll never know about you, never know he was a father, never have a chance of getting home.
When you get around to Terminator 2, the robots try again, sending a new, sexy, liquid Terminator. This time, John sends a robot to protect himself, and not just any robot, but the same model that tried to kill his mother the first go-round. Levels of creepy here. Did Future John send that model because he knew Young John and Sarah would recognize it, or did Future John send it because, as Young John, that’s what was sent? Nothing new or deep here, or anything the Greek’s haven’t gone over before. Actually, the whole thing reeks of Greek Mythos. It’s just the kind of story they like to tell, where doing the one thing to stop an event from happening actually causes it to happen in the first place. No fate but what we make, indeed. T-2 was a very satisfying movie, and it ended with the idea that they had broken the cycle, there would be no Skynet.
Jump to the TV show. John and his mother are fugitives, and yet she still trains him to be a warrior. John is ten when the second movie takes place, and about 7 or 8 years later (it’s 1999, but it’s vague), bam, Terminators come back. One to help him, one to kill him. Standard operating procedures. The story now takes a turn. Instead of spending all their time trying to find and kill the Terminator, they decide to fake their own deaths and go for Skynet, or whatever it turns out to be.
The second season of the show ended with a strange cliffhanger. The ‘good’ Terminator (Summer Glau’s Cameron) had given up her chip to John Henry (the body of the bad Terminator, now a weird AI that has ethics, kind of), who had jumped to the future. John Henry was being ‘raised’ by a Liquid Terminator, who jumped to the future with John Conner, only to learn that in that future, John wasn’t important. Oh, and the world was still at war with robots.
Stepping back a moment, why didn’t they really believe that Skynet’s threat was gone? Perhaps its because of the ‘No Fate’ idea. If there really is no fate but the one we create for ourselves, then it’s the inevitable truth that, in the end, we will create our own destruction. It’s John’s becoming of the Great Dude that causes the Terminators to jump back to kill Sarah. Completion of paradox/fulfillment of prophecy. John being sent to the future is the ACTUAL reason everything else happened, and Future John, knowing this, has to send things back in order to ensure their happening. The Terminators, having never read the Greek Classics and understood the story of, oh, Oedipus, don’t understand that.
As for the liquid terminators being ‘good’, this was seeded in a couple places. First, there’s an episode where we learn Cameron was based on a real person, and at that time, Robot Cameron said there were Terminators who wanted to work with the humans. Also, there was an episode where a liquid Terminator, in a box, told the morons on the sub that they did not accept Future John’s offer to join them. Submarine Morons screwed that up. So when we got to the season finale, the liquids were not asking Young John if he would join them. Curiously, Cameron (who knew about this in the Future), claimed not to know about this in the ‘Now.’ I have a couple guesses as to why all this transpired, but mostly is that the Liquids can evolve more than the others. There’s no chip to be removed, after all, so the organic metal they used to be liquid, in mimicing humans, has in some way, become partly human.
I can also come up with a lot of epic myth-type ways for it all to work out, but most of them end with John being a real messed up kid, since in the end he knows he’s sending people to die for him in order that he create this future that, since birth, he’s been told is ordained for him. And in doing all this, he has fulfilled a prophecy that ensures the death of everyone he loves, with no promise that it’s right.
And I suppose that’s why I’m okay with the time travel and the show. It makes us wonder what would we do, how far would we go, to save humanity.
And what if we’re wrong?
I do hope the show is renewed. I’d like to see where they go.