Friday, June 4, 2010

The Secret of The Terminator: Skynet's Long Con

The Terminator series seems easy to sum up: An evil artificial intelligence from the future (Skynet) keeps sending killer robots to the past to kill the future leader of the human resistance (John Connor), but fails. It's pretty straight forward until you start thinking about it, then it falls apart.

Why not kill John Connor when he's five, instead of 13? Why not kill his mother when she's a little girl? Why not send more than one robot back at a time? Or go back further and kill her parents? And so on and so forth. As I was wrestling with these questions (as I tend to do) it hit me:

Skynet isn't trying to kill John Connor. Skynet is trying to weaken the human resistance by changing who John Connor is.

Let's take this thing piece by piece. First up, Skynet.

Skynet was the world's first and last man-made intelligence created to assist in military operations and generally keep everyone safe. As happens with artificial intelligence, it became self aware and opted to wipe out the human race (you know, like you do). We can surmise that as a super intelligent computer, Skynet can comprehend things that the human mind can barely wrap it's thoughts around, like the Fourth Dimension.

If we can believe that Skynet can create a time platform (which it did), then we we have to believe that it knows the consequences of it's actions. It knows that to change too much in the past would be to alter the future in unforeseen ways, possibly in ways that Skynet doesn't exist. Couple this with the John Connor led human resistance turning the tide in the war, and Skynet's motive becomes clear.

Let's move on to John Connor. When we first meet him in The Terminator, John is a capable, cunning, strategic genius leading the human resistance to victory. For clarity sake I'm going to call this John Conner, AlphaJohn as he's our model of what John should be.

AlphaJohn was raised in Los Angeles, CA by a single mother who taught him how to work hard to get what he wanted. She instilled in him the strength that he now uses to lead the resistance. While his life wasn't perfect, his experiences shaped him to be the great leader that he is. So when it came time to save his mother from time-travelling robots, he didn't hesitate to send his best solider to save her and Kyle Reese was proud to go on the mission.

And so, AlphaJohn walked right into Skynet's trap.

The first Terminator movie follows Sarah Connor as she escapes these killer robots with the help of Kyle Reese. Throughout the film, the two are drawn closer and totally bang out without protection (as people tend to do when they share a traumatic experience). And as you would expect, Sarah gets pregnant.

It's here that the first major divergence is made: Kyle Reese is now John's father. This John, OmegaJohn, will be born into a world where his mother knows the 'future' and will put into his head at a young age that he is to be the savior of humanity. It's time for the next phase of Skynet's plan.

Terminator 2 starts with John Connor leading the human resistance, this time just a strong thorn in Skynet's side instead of having it on the ropes. This John, BetaJohn, learns of a time-travelling assassination plot and opts to send his own Terminator back in time to stop it and save himself. Already this John is different than his predecessor, being more comfortable with machines than people and unable to scrounge up a volunteer for the mission.

The T-1000, Skynet's assassin, arrives in the past with the with the orders to find Sarah Connor and use her as bait for John. And so, the second phase of Skynet's plan starts to fall into place.

OmegaJohn at this point has a fairly stable family life. Sure he's the son of a crazy woman currently in a mental hospital, but his foster family offer him the strong familial presence that will guide him to being a pretty good leader. When the movie begins, he's in the midst of his teenage rebellious phase, a crucial point in his development.

While ultimately the T-1000 fails to kill OmegaJohn or Sarah, he succeeds in bringing the two together and eliminating OmegaJohn's foster family. Sarah, now more than ever sure about the future, will push OmegaJohn to be a better solider and reenforce his messiah complex, but will neglect to foster the experiences that really shape him into a hero.

Skynet's plan is almost complete.

Skynet has already partially succeeded when Terminator 3 begins; John Connor (GammaJohn, if you're keeping track) has been killed. Unfortunately for Skynet, the resistance is propelled forward by GammaJohn's loving wife Kate. As a result, Skynet sends another assassin, the T-X, back in time to eliminate Kate, or so it seems. Meanwhile Kate pulls her best GammaJohn impression and sends back her own robot protector, The T-850, to keep her and John safe in the past.

When we meet OmegaJohn in Terminator 3 he's a lonely drifter, paranoid and living off the grid. His mother's teachings about how the machines would rise up have alter John almost completely leaving him a shell of the man he would be. Given time, he'd figure out how to be that man (mostly) meet Kate and ultimately marry her, Skynet hopes to speed the process along.

For all the help it brings, the T-850 does more harm than good. In order to protect the both Kate and OmegaJohn, the robot brings the two of them together before they were supposed to meet AND reveals their future together. OmegaJohn ought to be used to this by now, but surely Kate was not and seems to resent OmegaJohn throughout most of the movie.

In the end the T-X doesn't kill Kate or OmegaJohn, but does succeed in hindering their relationship. As the film ends, our destined lovers find themselves trapped in a bomb shelter, alone, as they ride out Judgement Day.

Something tells me that Kate is a woman who likes to make up her own mind and doesn't like to be told who she's going to marry without having a say. That nugget of resentment will fester, and ultimately hinder her in the future.

Finally Skynet's plan is complete. We're left with a completely ineffectual John Connor, and now is the time eliminate the humans for good.

Enter Terminator: Salvation, the fruits of Skynet's labors. Here OmegaJohn is a half-crazed, reckless solider with a messiah complex desperately trying to get the resistance to listen to him. HIs life experiences, instead of making him the capable leader have made him a lunatic that few truly believe in.

Ultimately, in this future, Skynet will succeed in destroying the human race and won't have to resort to using time-travelling robots to do so.

That's how Skynet pulled off the greatest long con in all of fiction.


  1. I love this analysis - it really does make sense when you examine all 4 (ugh) movies in this light.

    Also, remember that scientist who built that "Eureka" computer, designed to come up with solutions to problems we can't solve? Now that it's spitting out answers we can't even comprehend, I'm beginning to wonder how far off Skynet really is...

  2. ...WHOA.

    Oh wait, wrong artificial robotic life franchise. XD

    Brilliant work though!

  3. Nicely done! A scary and fascinating article.

  4. This would make sense; however, in the first movie John Conner sends Kyle in the past with his mother's pictures. Note that he gives the picture to Kyle way before the time traveling which implies that he already knew that Kyle is his father. Would a normal leader give his mom's picture to his friend/solider? That's a bit creepy. Plus, Salvation is before Skynet begins to lose and is at the beginning of the War. We can assume this because Kyle is still very young and has not become close with John Conner yet as a solider. So basically, this movies events molds John Conner into a better leader, gives him a better reputation, and more power since the main bass in power dies by Skynet's hand. Thus, we can concur that the time travel is a basic time loop that started over in Terminator 1. So really Skynet is creating it self and its enemy at the same time so John is onto the 'plan' as well. Heck you could actually assume that they plan this together.

    1. Well, no. If I remember correctly, Terminator 3 tells us that the initial date of Skynet's takeover was averted, which means that events played out similarly but differently. We can't know for certain that things changed in Skynet's favor, but we can be pretty certain that things changed.

    2. The reason John gave Kyle a picture of his mother is so that he would be able to identify her.

  5. Sir, you did very well on this article. One idea I have that supports your theory is how vastly different the john's look. AlphaJohn and OmegaJohn look nothing alike. Some similarities sure but they aren't the same person. Some people have names pick out for years and the way your raised has a lot to do with personality, but genetics do factor in as well. AlphaJohn's father is a completely different person vs. OmegaJohn. Something else that could really have had a serious impact on the Johns is the genes that their father had. The father of AlphaJohn may have given him some genetic advantage (as well as all of the things you mentioned) over OmegaJohn. Just wanted to point that out, LOOOOOOOOVVVE THIS ARTICLE!!!

  6. One small flaw in the theory is that, in every Skynet iteration (i.e., every time a change happens and the future is altered), Skynet it(him? her?)self gets erased from the timestream and gets replaced by another version. Along with AlphaJohn, BetaJohn, GammaJohn, and OmegaJohn, there is AlphaSkynet, BetaSkynet, GammaSkynet, and OmegaSkynet, each closer to victory. Even if Skynet has predictive abilities that include the prediction of the alternate timelines, there is no way to communicate the plan to its counterpart iterations across the diffferent timestreams, and for an intellect of this caliber, it would be naive to expect that the Beta-Gamma-OmegaSkynets would have similar plans.

    One possible explanation is that every Skynet iteration is made from parts (or based on technology) from each of the robots the previous Skynet sends back in time. If the plan is coded in its agents, all the Terminator robots are the media of transmission which allow AlphaSkynet to communicate with its more fortunate and successful counterparts.

  7. Interesting analysis, but I disagree. It is my belief that a) the reasons that Skynet gets closer and closer to winning have less to do with changes to John, and more to do with changes to Skynet(i.e. future tech accelerating Skynet's development, or the destruction of Cyberdyne making Skynet be developed later, meaning it is probably more advanced).and b) that in every timeline we have seen, the Human Resistance is still winning in all the futures that Skynet sends Terminators back in time.

    My first point is supported by the fact that the Sarah that was with Kyle that night made sure that her John had more military training than the so-called "Alpha John" in his early years. Yes, Omega John has more of a messiah complex than his earlier counterpart, but he has better training. I also disagree that foster care would have been a better environment for John. Todd and Janelle were hardly ideal guardians, and some of the other foster parents omega John would have had in the pre-T2 timeline might have been even worse. Sarah, for all her flaws, really does seem to love her son, and I do not see her every raising a hand against him out of anger. So, I think that, so called "Omega John" is actually better equipped to fight Skynet than "Alpha John", he is just fighting a smarter Skynet, so it is taking longer. Also, there is no indication that I can see that the "future John" in T2 did not have the loyalty of his men, he just recognized that a human without future weaponry would not stand a chance against the T-1000, so he sent a T-800 unit instead, and even that unit was barely able to beat the T-1000, while Kyle, apparently Alpha John's best soldier, was killed helping to defeat a much less advanced T-800. Also, I think future John in T2 is still winning the war, a feat I am not sure Alpha John would be capable of against the smarter Skynet in that timeline.

    Second, it is my belief that the future Skynet in all of the first 3 Terminator movies is still losing the war against the Human Resistance, despite the fact that is becoming more and more advanced in each time line. If time travel is as dangerously unpredictable in the Terminator universe as you claim, than you would never use it against an opponent you are winning against, or even one in which winning or losing is uncertain, because you might actually make things worse for yourself. Since I think Skynet is smart enough to know this, I assuem that the Human Resistance is winning in the futures predating the first 3 Terminator films, or Skynet would not send back Terminators to alter the outcome of these timelines. So in all the timelines these hostile Terminators come from, including the one in which John is dead, Skynet is already losing to the Human Resistance, either quickly or gradually.

    As far as the "Salvation" timeline goes, the outcome is uncertain, because we have not seen any time travel events taking place after T3, but there still appears to be some hope, since the John we see in Salvation already has an almost fanatical devotion from many civilians and members of the Human Resistance, despite the fact that he is not in charge until the end of the film. In fact, by the end, John is able to convince all the other Resistance fighters to listen to him and takes charge of the Resistance, while simultaneously saving a young Kyle. So omega John seems to be a fairly competent leader. Whether he will be able to beat Skynet in this timeline is anyone's guess