Warning: There are massive spoilers for Terminator: Genisys beyond this point. Proceed with caution, and bookmark this page if you haven’t seen the film already. You don’t need time travel to come back to the beginning of this article. Terminator Genisys is the first in a proposed trilogy of films that undoes pretty much everything the franchise has built up since the first film in 1984. Much like J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek, or Robert Zemeckis’ Back To The Future: Part II, the idea of tangential timelines is introduced and monkeyed with in the events of Alan Taylor’s new entry into the franchise canon. As any good tangent will do, this has answered old questions and posed new questions in the plan to either defend or conquer humanity. Which means it’s time for a good old fashioned mind bender, as we’re about to ask 5 major questions that take into account the new events and information that Terminator: Genisys have thrown into the time stream.
Prepare for temporal displacement, as we’re about to go back to where it all began, and question everything that happened after.
1. How Is There A Liquid Metal T-1000 In Alternate 1984?
Background: In the alternate 1984 we saw in Terminator: Genisys, we saw an alternate T-1000 chasing Sarah Connor and Pops when Kyle Reese entered the equation. Not only does the T-1000 take a different appearance in this film, but he now appears a full 7 years before his first appearance in the Terminator Prime timeline – specifically during the events of Terminator 2: Judgment Day. Besides the possible consequences to the space-time continuum, we have to wonder: how are we seeing the T-1000, when we’ve only seen Skynet send it to 1991?
Possible Answer: To the casual observer, the T-1000 wasn’t sent into the mix until 1991, but to Skynet, the decision was probably instantaneous. Assume The Terminator and Terminator 2: Judgment Day are on the same timeline, the one that has Skynet fixated on killing John Connor. With that plan failing twice, Skynet probably decided to go down a third route: the route to kill Sarah Connor. To do this, it sends the T-1000 to kill her parents, and as we hear about (and sort of see) in Terminator: Genisys, it didn’t work. It’s also implied that throughout the period between 1973 and 1984, Sarah and Pops have been fighting the T-1000, as well as training up to stop Judgment Day. Clearly they’ve fought him enough to know that an acid bath is the only way to be sure it dies, though this opens a new can of worms: just who sent Pops back to 1973?
2. Who Sent Pops Back To 1973?
Background: With a T-1000 sent back to kill Sarah Connor in her childhood, a T-800 was sent back to protect her. Pops, also known as the "Guardian" unit, rescues young Sarah and takes her under his wing, thus skewing the Terminator timeline into yet another tangent of events. However, it is never truly divulged how Pops was sent back to 1973 in order to fulfill this directive. Of course, now the million dollar question of the moment, is who sent Pops back to 1973?
Possible Answer: As we saw with Kyle Reese’s memories, once the time stream has been altered, the ripples instantaneously start to form new memories in a person’s mind. If you’re a time traveler, then you not only retain your old memories but you also somehow manage to retain the new memories that were formed after the timeline was re-written. So we can assume that John Connor’s transformation into the T-3000 gave Skynet a new strategy: to kill Sarah Connor instead of John, thus changing the rules of the game. This means that Kyle Reese or Sarah Connor herself, at some point in the future, could possibly reprogram Pops and send him back to 1973 – thus creating another Ontological Paradox of a person knowing to send a protector back in time, because they met that protector in the past and future.
3. Why Did Skynet Still Send The T-800 Back To 1984?
Background: By time 1984 rolls around, there’s already a T-800 and a T-1000 running around, presumably fighting each other tooth and nail throughout Los Angeles and its surrounding areas. And yet somehow, after the alterations of the timeline we’ve seen occur, the original T-800 still shows up at Griffith Park Observatory, and threatens some smart-assed punks. But why? With all of the plans that now occupy the period between 1973 and 1984 in the new Terminator mythos, why would they choose to still send the original T-800 unit back?
Possible Answer: This is a rather interesting question to ponder, considering the events that have occurred or are implied to have occurred up until this point in this list. However, assuming that Skynet is smart enough to know when to send its machines back in time, it’s also assumed that it’s smart enough to have a backup plan. While its directive may have updated to terminate Sarah Connor, the original 1984 strategy could still be employed to keep things rolling. In fact, the 1984 event may have even been executed in order to lure Sarah and Pops into a false sense of security. Either way, should Skynet have been successful with killing Sarah in 1973, this event would have never happened. Since killing Sarah failed, 1984 would have been a great backup, had Kyle Reese not shown up… and had a certain young patrolman not been on duty that night.
4. How Does Detective O’Brien’s Knowledge/Acknowledgement Of Terminators Change The Course Of History?
Background: During the newly altered events of 1984, Patrolman O’Brien finds himself in the middle of a shooting match between Kyle Reese and the T-1000. Originally a skeptic, O’Brien becomes a believer in the battle to save the world when he’s saved by Reese in 1984, which is convenient for his small but crucial scene in 2017. Thanks to Detective O’Brien’s "crackpot" beliefs, he helps Sarah, Kyle, and Pops arm up and secure a ride for the third act finale. But how does the cop’s knowledge change the course of events?
Possible Answer: In previous Terminator films, the crux of the journey has always been skepticism from the outside world. People don’t believe Judgment Day is possible. It’s what holds those who would save humanity together, and it’s what those who would destroy it count on in order to help their endgame. However, with Detective O’Brien having knowledge of time travel, as well as accepting the reality that Terminators exist, this puts the equation back on equal footing. If one man is convinced of such fantastic notions being true, you can bet there are others who believe him - and could be called upon in either direction to serve. Who even needs Skynet anymore, when you could have a contingent of humans on both sides fighting to either prevent or ensure Judgment Day? This notion has interesting potential to play out in subsequent movies.
5. How Could Skynet Survive The Explosive Finale?
Background: At the end of Terminator: Genisys, John "T-3000" Connor and Pops have a knockdown/drag out fight that involved securing the T-3000 unit in the Temporal Displacement Unit. One gigantic microwaved baked potato with the foil on later, the Genisys campus is obliterated, save for Pops (who has a liquid metal upgrade,) Sarah and Kyle (who were in a safe room, built into the building’s plans by Pops)… and Skynet?! How is the scene featured in the post-credits possible?
Possible Answer: So how did Skynet know to save itself? Simple: it can see time and all of its variables, so it not only threw several coins into the fountain of humanity’s past, it built itself a piggy bank in case Sarah Connor was successful with her plans to destroy Genisys. Taking a cue from Pops’ alterations, because you know Skynet had to have caught onto the alterations in the building’s schematic - as well as Pops’ continued existence - "Alex" built himself a chamber to house his true mind. The rest of the building could fall to Godzilla for all he cared, as he knew all he needed to do was hide a backup copy of himself and wait for someone to plug him in. Which leaves us with one, two-film-sized question that needs to be answered in the next two sequels…
6. How Is John Connor Still Alive If Sarah And Kyle Didn't "Mate" In 1984?
Background: It’s a classic story. Boy travels back in time. Boy meets girl, and saves her to become the mother of humanity’s last stand. Boy gets girl pregnant, thus ensuring the prophecy is fulfilled, and dies. However, since the nexus point of 1984 has been so screwed with that it’s not even funny, John Connor’s existence in this new Terminator Prime timeline should be wiped out. Yet there he is, straight out of an unused draft of Terminator 3: Rise Of The Machines, living as a successful computer program who’s helping give birth to big bad Skynet. But shouldn’t he be, you know, non-existent?
Possible Answer: Skynet, you magnificent bastard, we read your book! And that book basically tells us that John Connor, like it or not, died in 2029 as he was sending Kyle Reese back to 1984. Once Alex/Skynet/Genisys (played by Matt Smith) got his hands on John Connor, he converted him into a being of pure mechanical existence. The John we knew and looked up to is dead. In his place lies a shiny T-3000 that’s programmed with a copy of his mind (and memories), and can wear his skin as camouflage. Not to mention, time travelers in the Terminator universe are shielded in a sort of temporal wake that preserves their memories and mere existence to a convenient degree. So John can still exist as an idea, because he and Skynet traveled to 2017 with full knowledge of his existence in another timeline.
Breathe, dear readers. It’s OK to be a little bit scrambled after the six questions - and possible answers - we’ve given to Terminator: Genisys’ biggest questions. And we still feel like we’re just scratching the surface. Yes, all of this could be bunk, and some of this could be altered down the line with future revelations. Much like the future, none of these answers are set. There is no plot continuity, but what the writers of the next two Terminator films make for our characters. In the meantime, feel free to dissect or refute our arguments, as well as pose alternate theories, in the comments below. And if you haven’t already, go see Terminator: Genisys at your local theater, so you can join in on the discussion!
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CinemaBlend's James Bond (expert). Also versed in Large Scale Aggressors, time travel, and Guillermo del Toro. He fights for The User.