Saturday, June 27, 2015

The Terminator Timeline Explained

Who doesn’t love Terminator?

For years, T1 and T2 were all there was. But even so, we were left with “did they stop Judgment Day”? I certainly hoped so due the alternate ending that showed a future not overrun by machines. The normal ending I believe left it open to interpretation.

But in the end, the viewer was left to decide.

And I had always hoped that the events of T2 had wiped out Skynet before it was created.

Then I read the book T2:  Infiltrator. That was an excellent story, but for some reason I never read the other two, though I would like to. I had also read one paperback novel that was under the T2 banner and found it to be just OK. I bought one of the others in that second series, but probably never read it.

At any rate, T3 came out not long after this. I went to see it in the theater and I felt it was mostly a rehash of T2. It also flattened my hopes that Judgment Day had been averted. I did like, though, that the Terminatrix sort of maybe seemed inspired by the villain in the T2:  Infiltrator. I was disappointed though that Skynet was basically an internet worm and not like some actual thing or AI that was developed.

Terminator 4 came out. I did like it, overall. It was a good action movie and I had always been curious to see the war in the future. I was disappointed that we didn’t get to see Skynet…which I guess is software, but the software needs hardware somewhere, right? I was also disappointed that we didn’t get to see the time machine. It’s a shame that it never became the trilogy it should have, and it’s even more shameful that Christian Bale was not returning for Terminator:  Genisys. But I felt that way about Edward Furlong for T3. I mean, really, what else was he doing?

Genisys held zero interest for me. A T-800 Schwarzenegger model goes back to protect Sarah Connor as a girl. No thanks. Thanks for destroying what passed for continuity in this series. But then I saw the second trailer, which basically spoiled the biggest twist the movie had to offer. And now I’m actually excited to see it. Go figure. Even Avengers 2 didn’t get me excited to see it. No, I haven’t seen it yet.

Anyways. Why am I writing all this? Besides to draw some hits to my blog and hopefully get you to buy and/or review my book?(Free on Kindle 7/2 and 7/3 of 2015 in this timeline only!)

Because I love time travel. It’s such a fun literary device to use. And one that always only confuses things.

I’m here to try to puzzle out the time travel in Terminator.

OK, first, you have Terminator 1. This one’s easy, thanks to the time I spent playing Soul Reaver, which I don’t recommend anybody do.

There is no “Timeline Zero”. No timeline when Skynet developed naturally. No timeline where John had a different father than Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn, you da bomb yo!). Terminator one is the result of an infinity loop. Skynet is made and John is made because things from the future ended up in 1984. They always did. Skynet could not go back to change the past, though it tried. All it did was ensure its own birth. Same too for John Connor. He sent Kyle Reese back to save his mom from Skynet. He had no choice.

In so doing we see that in Terminator, there was no free will by two different sentient beings. Skynet mistakenly thought it could prevent its future defeat at John’s hands by going back and killing him before birth. But at the point it sent the terminator back, it had already lost. It was immutable.

John too had no choice. He probably made an impulse decision or one made by years of being fed the line that he was mankind’s savior and sent his dad/friend back in time to save his mom. He had no choice but to do so.

So terminator 1, the travelers from the future changed nothing, despite their best efforts. The couldn’t. They had always gone back. Every action that they undertook was what had happened in 1984. All both parties did was to ensure their own survival.

Lucky for Skynet.

Pausing for a moment. If we take T1 at face value, Skynet and the humans only sent back the one party on each side. However. As Skynet was being defeated and sending one terminator back in time, it perhaps had the option to send back several. So, it could have sent 1 to 1984, another to 1994ish and so one. Where that gets tricky though is would they all be in the same timeline? I would say yes, given the rules of T1. Anything sent back had always been sent back. So Skynet could send back 100 terminators and it would have made no difference. Because John Connor could just send back another 100 human/terminators to offset that. In an offscreen moment, probably in the movie novelization, that’s what he did with the T800 that he sent back for T2.

But T2 is where it also starts to get murky.

The problem we have with T2 is that we have at least 2 possibilities of what happened. 1) If we continue with the rules of time travel from T1, namely “History abhors a paradox” then everything they do in T2 to prevent judgment day is for naught. Sure, John and Sarah live, but judgment day isn’t far off, and none of their actions have stopped it. That would make everything cut and dry, and if you only like those 2 movies, you can forget the rest. And really if you just take those 2 movies, it can be a closed infinity loop. Or if you prefer, you can take the “good future” ending and say they did change judgment day.

That is the simplest way to take it.

Option 2) though, and unfortunately this seems to be what happened, mainly because of T3. Option 2 is that the rules of time travel were changed. Really, this boils down to making unnecessary sequels to make more money.

In universe though, for some unexplained reason, the rules of time travel work differently going into T3 than they did in the previous 2 movies. Really, T3 should have just been a movie about the future war, but instead it was another failed attempt to change the future. Had it been about the future war, you could have kept your infinite loop.

T3 shows us that Judgment Day in 1997 never happened and we are led to believe that this is because of the events in T2. But if T1 is an infinite loop, every incursion into the past ought to be as well. But what was it that changed the rules? In the Soul Reaver games, the past could only be changed at critical points, with the Soul Reaver and even then it was not guaranteed. And even when it was changed, the “river of time” pushed back to try to resume its original course. In the Terminator series, there is no such “rule breaker.”

So basically T3 really should not exist.

Except for the fact that the T2:  Infiltrator novel (and 2 subsequent books I guess) do offer an attempt to explain the paradoxes. Skynet (if it was this novel) remembers conflicting histories simultaneously. So those novels perhaps offer us an out of sorts.

While I only read book 1 of 3, it explains that time is like a river analogy. More or less. That no matter what changes are made, time prefers to stay its course. That’s why T1 was fairly cut and dry. Perhaps what Infiltrator is suggesting is that T1 everything was fine, though time became somewhat malleable due to the temporal distortion. But the second incursion of T2 gave the already “vibrating” or unstable timeline another jolt, and thus the river of time flowed a little further off course which resulted in T3 and the delayed Judgment Day. Even so, Judgment Day still occurred. So some events are changed, but the overall course is not. Whether or not Infiltrator’s 2 sequels corroborate my theory and tie into T3 remains for me to see, but I suppose it’s possible.

I don’t know how or if the other T2 tie-in books contribute to this or if the T3 and 4 tie-in books add anything, but Infiltrator’s storyline does connect some dots and actually deals with the deeper issues of the implications of time travel. I shall have to go read them. I also don’t know how the Sarah Connor Chronicles tie in either, but I would like to know.

This unstable timeline continues silently through T4 (Salvation), which in reality is a victim of studio politics and money, but in universe you can say there’s no time travel to occur and hasn’t occurred in years, so the reverberating timeline settles down. But the timeline has changed enough to give us Terminator:  Genisys.

Which looks like a mess. But I am excited to see how it all plays out, because, each instance of time travel seems to create a more extreme reaction in the timeline.
I may have to do a revised blog after reading the novels and seeing Genisys.


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