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Warning: SPOILERS for Terminator: Dark Fate are in play. If you want to remain unspoiled and haven’t seen the film yet, please back out of this story and come back once you’re current.
Throughout the history of the Terminator franchise, John Connor has been a key figure to the survival of humanity, as well as the series’ progression itself. So naturally, when Edward Furlong was announced as returning to help bring his character back to life for Terminator: Dark Fate, it felt like a sign that something pretty big was about to happen. And boy, we couldn’t have been more simultaneously right and wrong about that statement.
His is a fate so different from what we’re accustomed to seeing on the screen, we just had to discuss what happened, as well as why it runs so counter to James Cameron’s Terminator series. It’s a subject that needs to be danced around to a certain extent, as even with the spoiler warning above, you might still be reading this story without having seen the film.
We’re not kidding when we warn you to turn around and come back if you haven’t seen Terminator: Dark Fate, as the entire John Connor storyline of the film is going to be discussed in great detail after this point. So consider this the final warning, as we dig into director Tim Miller’s film, and just what it did with John Connor.
What The Hell Happened To John Connor?
In the first five minutes of Terminator: Dark Fate, John Connor gets mowed down by a shotgun-armed T-800 we’ll come to know as Carl (Arnold Schwarzenegger). With Skynet sending back several T-800s into the past to preserve itself, its assassins were scattered to the temporal winds, lacking any sort of cancelation order once the A.I. meant to destroy humanity was wiped out in Terminator 2: Judgement Day.
So when Carl catches up with John and Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) in Guatemala in 1998, he doesn’t hesitate to knock Sarah down and shoot her son down in cold blood. We see John's mother cradling his dead body as he bleeds out, and this moment not only weighs on Carl’s conscience throughout the decades that take place between T2 and Terminator: Dark Fate, it hardens Sarah to the world more than ever.
How Terminator: Dark Fate Disrespected John Connor
John Connor’s death is supposed to be this huge catalyst for Sarah Connor to return to the position of a world-weary Terminator hunter in Terminator: Dark Fate. By killing John in the first five minutes of this new movie, you would think that Sarah’s mourning, and even the memory of her son, would play an important part in the film’s narrative structure. As it turns out, all it really does is operate as a cheap theatrical tactic that represents emotional shorthand and the decision to create a new savior for the series.
We as an audience of Terminator fans are supposed to connect with the fact that Carl is trying to make amends with Sarah Connor, sending her the coordinates of every new Terminator arriving in the timeline with the message “For John.” But that’s about as deep as the connection between John Connor and this new Terminator film gets, as it focuses more on setting up Mackenzie Davis’ Grace and Natalia Reyes’ Dani as the new generation of revolutionaries.
Why Taking John Connor Off The Board Does Make Sense
That’s not to say that removing John Connor from the Terminator franchise board doesn’t make sense. In fact, it totally does, as once Skynet is removed from the timeline, John wouldn’t be seen as a threat anymore. Once that particular wrinkle was ironed out of history, there not only shouldn’t have been any sort of harm visited upon John Connor, but technically, the T-800s sent back in time shouldn’t have existed either.
But John truly had no part to play in the Terminator: Dark Fate story, as Legion’s existence was not threatened by him in any way. And even if James Cameron really wanted to keep John Connor in the loop, changing his character would have made sense to a certain extent. He’s not supposed to be a major figure in the new timeline, so ditching the former savior of humanity made sense.
Terminator: Dark Fate Didn’t Earn John Connor’s Death
All of this boils down to one, singular point: John Connor’s death in Terminator: Dark Fate, or even his removal from the alternate timeline, isn’t the problem. The problem is that if such a deeply-rooted fixture of a franchise is going to be removed, it needs to count for something. If you re-wrote the story of this new film and excised all moments involving John’s death or reaction to his death, the remaining movie could be easily shaped to still make sense.
Carl’s humanity could still come from having no orders to follow in a post-Skynet world, which would mirror Sarah’s lonely road to hunting Terminators without her son. That even leaves room for a subplot where she drives John away with her dogged determination, presenting an even more emotional note for Sarah’s story to end on. Hypothetical story beats such as those prove that John Connor didn’t have to die in Terminator: Dark Fate, which only makes the decision to include and mishandle such a scenario even more nonsensical in comparison.
The new direction the hypothetical trilogy started by Terminator: Dark Fate seems to have a clear idea in its canon. But no matter how much sense the rest of this story potentially makes to the audience, the way that John Connor’s legacy as a character was handled is something that’s most definitely up for discussion. As the series occupies a sort of crossroads, thanks to its underperformance during opening weekend, now is probably as good a time as any to hash out these sorts of issues.
While the opinion of this entire rundown has been that the death of John was something detrimental to the end product of Terminator: Dark Fate, it’s a question that can easily be posed to you, the audience, for further debate. Take the poll below and don’t forget to leave some feedback in the comments below, further talking out whether John Connor’s dark fate was inevitable, or if it could have been handled better.
And should you have read this entire spoiler-heavy showdown without having seen the film, Terminator: Dark Fate is in theaters now, ready for you to witness the future of the franchise for yourself.