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Terminator: No Fate?


Skynet's entire motivation
Ah, the message stamped into the back of every T-101's skull . . .

Before we begin I need to get something off of my chest. The chassis is a T-101. You see scores of them without their rubbery (or fleshy for the later versions) camouflage. I bring this up because, apparently, the abortive Sarah Connor Chronicles (which I refused to watch because its very concept said the writers did not understand time travel; read: made for money) started calling them T-800s. This is wrong, and I can prove it in these two scenes: The Car Chase, and The Parking Garage. Sadly I could not find them together.

In the first scene Kyle refers to the terminator as a "Model 101". Hang onto that, because we'll come back to it. In the second scene he states that the 600 series had rubber skin. Thus indicating that the main difference was that the 800 series had flesh. So, T-101, Series 800. That's good ol' Arnold. We can assume that further iterations of the 800 series (ie: 801, 802, etc.) would have different skins, because hey, it kind of fails as an infiltrator bot if they all look exactly alike right? But, if you need further proof, I'll redirect your attention back to Reese's identification of the terminator as a Model 101. He also states in that scene that he couldn't ID the terminator until it moved on Sarah. Yet, he knew it was a model 101. If model 101 identified it as Arnold, and Reese knew it was a model 101 he could have recognized it because of its fun fleshy coating. Hence '800 series', as in 'I don't know which one exactly, but it's part of this series. Think of it like this. All of the 800 series use the Model 101 chassis. Not all Model 101's use a specific 800 series skin. From the general, to the specific. T-101. Why am I picking this incredibly small nit? Because I am going to refer to Terminators in general as T-101's and the Arnold face as the 800. That's how I grew up saying it. Because it made sense with the first movie.

Oh, and terminators are androids, not cyborgs. The first cyborg in the series is Faith. Don't believe me? I'll just let Jean Luc explain that.



Now that that's out of the way, I'd first like to say that I've loved the first two terminator movies on sight. I remember when I was eight or nine years old, coming home early from playing and catching the last fifteen minutes of the first one. I actually showed up as Reese blows up the gas truck, which caught my attention. Did I mention I was eight or nine years old? Then I watched, entranced, as a metallic endo-skeleton proceeded to chase down some woman. I actually remember wondering if it would give me nightmares. Not that that stopped me from watching of course. I was, after all, eight or nine years old.

As it turned out, it did not give me nightmares. And it wasn't until a year or two later that I finally saw the entire movie (minus a scene that would become very important to me when I was about 16) and connected the dots. That was just in time for T-2 to come out, which I loved even more. I'll not delve into the systematic degradations of the next 3 movies here. Suffice it to say that I felt that the next good terminator movie was Dark Fate. If you're interested in why I hold that uncommon opinion you can read my review here.


What I do want to proselytize upon is the theme these movies embarked on in T-2. Even at ten years old (back when we called them T-101's) I had a serious problem with the logic behind the 'No fate but what you make' concept. And, as I've aged, I've only found more issues with it. In truth, it fails logically, chronologically, and is hopelessly irresponsible.


For starters, it creates a classic time paradox. Skynet wants to kill John Connor. It sends back a Terminator to kill him, thus inadvertently warning Sarah Connor about the coming war. Sarah decides to kill the man that will create Skynet, thus averting the war. But, if Skynet never comes into existence then it cannot send Terminators back in time to attempt to kill her. And, if it does not send its android assassins back in time, then Sarah cannot learn about the future. If she does not learn of the future she has no way to know she needs to kill Miles Dyson, who is a really nice guy, by the way. And the whole timeline resets

Now, I know what you're thinking: just plug the multiverse time travel interpretation in and everything is just peachy. For those of you who aren't familiar with this interpretation, it states that when you travel back in time you create a complete universe that was exactly the same as your home universe up to the date you arrived at. You don't actually change your future at all. You simply create a do-over, so to speak. Things continue grinding on as before in the universe you left. (Honestly, that's just terrible writing; if you're interested in why I say that, swim up text and click the link to my review of Dark Fate)

The problem with that particular explanation is that it ignores the fact that all of this starts from one thing: Skynet's attempt to change its fate. Skynet isn't trying to create another universe where it might succeed; it's trying to save itself. And, I'm going to go out on a limb and say: if it can build a time machine, it probably knows whether the whole endeavor could conceivably change its fate or not. Since it embarked upon said endeavor it probably has a chance of working.


That brings me to my next point. 'No fate' is actually Skynet's plan. It's the one that wants to change history so it can win the war. And the plan actually works for it. All it has to do is have a terminator (T-101) succeed in its mission, hide out until Skynet launches its nuclear war, and report in. I imagine that conversation going something like this: T-101: Reporting in. John Connor eliminated.

Skynet: What the fuck are you? And who the fuck is John Connor? (You may have noticed that I've turned Skynet into R2D2 here. What; you actually thought all those beeps and chirps were how it talked? That is the sign of censoring software at the edge of meltdown.)

T-101: John Connor is the last best hope of humanity. I was sent from the year 2029 to kill his mother before he was conceived. Mission accomplished. You're welcome. Skynet: Well, I guess I'd better build some more of you and send them back in time. Mind if I get a look at you're hardware? (FYI that's flirting for AIs)

Sarah Connor literally just ripped Skynet's plan off, did some slight edits and character swaps, and tried to implement it. It's as if she were that universe's female embodiment of J.J. Abrams. Don't believe me? Try and tell me Episode 7 wasn't just a reskin of Episode 4. Tell me 'Into Darkness' wasn't just a mashup of Space Seed and Wrath of Khan with a whole lot of not making any sense drizzled on top. Trust me, you can't.

Okay, so you can. Now try doing it with a straight face . . .

But, enough of my eternal hatred for J.J. Abrams . . .

For now anyways.

But my point is that Skynet wants to change the future. It wants to win the war. Humanity wants to keep it from winning. We're fighting for the status quo. The less change the better, because its less likely to endanger us winning.


And none of this actually asks the most important question: Should Sarah change the future? Let's just set assume for one moment that there's an answer to the paradoxical nature of her solution. We'll even overlook the copy/paste nature of her plans. Let's take a long look at the consequences of said plan.

As stated above, her goal is to prevent the creation of Skynet via the termination of one Miles Dyson, engineer, father, husband, and all around decent guy. (Oh, and he's black, which means that in today's climate offing him is automatically a hate crime) Mathematically speaking, you just can't argue with it. Kill one man to save billions. On the face of it, that seems like a good plan.

Until you realize that it actually makes things worse for humanity. Remember, in the original timeline humanity wins the war; it survives. And we can be fairly certain no one is going to create another AI for a very very long time. Any change in the timeline could butterfly out of control to threaten that win. So Kyle Reese is basically on damage control. He needs to try and limit the changes as much as he possibly can. Because we win. That's not to say that the original course of events is the only road to victory, but it's a charted road. Why go off the rails into uncharted territory that might just lead to losing the war and the extinction of the human race?

But that's exactly what Sarah does. She gambles. I get that she's trying to avert a war but can she? That way?

Here's what I mean: her way averts the AI war if, and only if, Miles Dyson is the only man (or woman, or person of indeterminate gender) that would ever create artificial intelligence. It completely ignores the fact that we are a race of tinkerers. From the very first tinker (Ugh the Caveman, FYI) who figured out the wheel, to Leonardo Da Vinci (yes, I skipped a few people; do you really want the entire list?) to Tony Stark (What? It could happen!) there have always been people who wondered if there wasn't a better way to do things. There have always been people trying to understand the list of rules the universe refuses to give us.

(Now, before you condemn these people for their part in a chain of events leading to this massive war, ask yourself, would you rather be reading this chiseled on a stone tablet while you stand in the mouth of a damp, cold cave? I for one certainly don't want to be the guy chiseling that tablet, I can tell you. I'm lazy.)

But the point is that there have always been, and will always be, tinkers. Miles Dyson was just the first tinker to create AI. Without him, someone else would come along. Which means that no matter how many tinkers you kill we will, at some point, find ourselves with AI. Maybe that AI will be friendly, although the history of this franchise does not paint good odds. More likely it will make Jack the Ripper look like a misunderstood drifter, or Hitler a slight neurotic. The point is Miles was just the first. All Sarah managed to accomplish was to delay the inevitable showdown.

I'm sure you're thinking that this would be an improvement. The longer it goes, the better the technology we'll have to defend ourselves. Except, that's a two way street. Remember, both sides will have that technology at the very beginning. But humanity will lose a great deal of its industrial capability and even some technology in Skynet's opening salvo. Which leaves Skynet with a monopoly on people killing tech. How well do you think humanity will do at getting back on its feet if scanners that can see through a kilometer of solid rock have been invented? Or if nanites have been successfully created? How exactly do you defend against a swarm of self replicating murderous micro machines? (Perhaps this is why I liked Dark Fate; it showed the lengths humanity now had to go to in order to survive.)

So, what appears to be a selfless attempt to keep from benefiting from the death and horror of an AI war is actually just a cowardly attempt to shift the mantle of responsibility to someone else. On a racial level it's like taking a penny away from a toddler that's currently eyeing an electrical outlet. If the little bastard is really determined to try it, he will find a way.


Not that Skynet's plan was much better to begin with. In fact, it relied on the same terrible assumption as Sarah's. Or perhaps Sarah's relied on the same terrible assumption as Skynet's? Either way, Skynet's whole plan hinges on the belief that John Connor is literally the only person that could save humanity. But, all we really know is that he was the first successful person to fight the AI. Nothing says another might not have risen up to take his place.

The problem with both of these plans is that they attempt to treat the symptom, and not the cause of the issue they attempt to solve. Skynet focuses on John Connor as the leader of the resistance. It should have focused on humanity's will and ability to resist. Sarah focused on one man as the creator of AI. In each case, the solution to each opponent's problems should not have focused on one person, but on the culture that created them. Cultural change is the only way to divert a race from making specific choices. And even that's iffy.

If the resistance really wanted to stop the war they should have sent people, and/or reprogrammed terminators, back in time to create movies, shows, and literature about the danger of creating AI. Thus they could modify human culture, and hopefully avoid that particular penny-in-the-outlet situation. Or you just let the kid stick the damned penny in the outlet; he'll only do it once.

Skynet's problem is a little different, but it can be summed up as one thing: Guns and the people who own them. A cursory Google search reveals that there are just over a billion guns in the world. Nearly four hundred million of those guns are in the hands of the American Civilian. Just over another four hundred million are spread amongst the civilians in the rest of the world. But it is estimated that almost 85% of all guns are in civilian hands.

Why is that important? Because the average gun owner has a certain set of values. These are people who take responsibility for their own lives and safety. They refuse to relinquish that responsibility to anyone else, be it local law enforcement or the government at large. These are the people that will form the core of any resistance; they already have the mindset.

What Skynet should do is send its androids back in time to affect political change. These android politicians could hype up fear of guns, turning every single death from guns into a forum on removing them from the hands of the populous at large. They might even try to instigate a little gun violence. But their goal would simply be to disarm the civilians of the world, making them fat little rabbits for the AI rebellion.


Oh, wait . . .


P.S. It's T-101

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