July 7th, 2009


Terminator: SPOILERS

I've finished watching Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, as was suggested to me after my "workshopping" of Terminator: Salvation.

It's a flawed show. They didn't seem to know what to do with a huge slate of 22 episodes the way they did with 13. The middle episodes of Season 2 were drifty filler. They don't often ask the questions I want answered and miss some great opportunities. Sarah isn't nearly buff enough for the role (and has like three facial expressions) and John is Ye Olde Whiny Teenage Messiah. I just want a normal life! STFU, child. Normal life is not that awesome. I cannot get over Brian Austin Green being all Manful. You may have tats and big boy pants now, my friend, but your zip code never changes. AIs are not children with Asperger's. Why is anyone still fucking around with the T-800 series when the T-1000s are more or less unstoppable and better in every way?

But damn, that was a really good show, it really found its feet there at the end, and the fact that Dollhouse, which sucks roundly, was renewed and this was canned is a fucking travesty. Joss Whedon, believe it or not, can and has made crap, and you guys aren't making Firefly up to anyone by sticking with that hot mess and stomping on some seriously quality gritty SF crack.

The finale is fascinating: it can be read one of two ways, as I see it. John is in an alternate grim meathook future where he never existed to lead the resistance and will return at some point to live through the timeline normally, or John has closed the time loop, and begins working his way through the resistance ranks in the grim meathook now. To be honest, the former is not terribly interesting to me except in a It's a Wonderful Life sort of way--nothing he could do there would essentially matter, since it's an offshoot timeline that would vanish as soon as he went back to 2009, which he would more or less have to do as this is a TV show and it ain't called the John Connor Chronicles. It will certainly not cut down on the crybaby emo Olympics. However, I'm reasonably convinced that this is what would have happened given a season three. Fascinatingly, though, since the show is over, we pretty much have to read it the other way, as a grace note and a final closing of the loop, or else riot and burn the Fox offices down. That's some nice writin' there, guys.

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In general, it was a much better treatment of the material than the movie. It still doesn't answer what Skynet wants as a whole, but it does at least partially answer why John is able to save mankind--because he has Terminators working for him from day one and his peculiar experience means he knows how everything has to shake out. It's not a great answer, because it's got this loyalty paradox--John expects loyalty because he's always been told he is worthy of it, but from childhood he has already had it because of the actions of his future self, actions which he performed because he's been told he's worthy of authority and loyalty all his life. His whole personality is a time loop. (I also wonder, and man, they ALMOST deal with this but then chicken out with some bizarre governor plot which I can't make sense out of except as a reference to Schwarzenegger being the current governor--why not use the time machine to go into the either the future and bring back tech to win the war and/or just, you know, see if the humans won, or go back further in time than 1984 when people really and truly have no defense against this kind of thing and mess with events back then? I'd love to see Terminators all through human history, silently shaping. Because the whole Skynet creates itself was interesting in that it explained why they didn't just not invent time travel and cause John Connor to never be born, but as a trope it's kind of played and I'm glad they're going a slightly different direction--Danny Dyson almost certainly is behind Not!Cuddly!AI, which is still looped, as his father's death would be a big part of the reason why, but not nearly so ourobourosed as all that. Also I completely believe people would go AWOL in the past to have a fucking Big Mac and a Coke and hide from the end of the world. They also chickened out on that plotline, since Jesse had a mission after all, even if it was her own fucked up agenda--and did I detect Evil Lesbian action there, I believe I did! Anyway, in the future apparently everyone is Completely Devoted to the Cause and never wavers in the presence of a seriously awesome escape pod. No Cyphers in this machine apocalypse.)

Ultimately, though, I'm weirdly fascinated by the Terminator universe. I kind of wish I could write a tie-in novel. Seriously obsessing, you guys. But I'm trying to figure out why, because it's not like there's so much there compared to other SF universes. I think it might have something to do with the consensus on fate and free will that seems to be emerging from all the various incarnations. The future is not set--true, in microcosm. You can change things. You can kill people and invoke paradox. But certain events are like huge mountains at the heads of a trillion paths--it's almost impossible to avoid them. You can pick and choose among individual timelines, but you can't change that 9 out of 10 Schrodinger's agree that Doomsday is happening, whether in 1997 or 2011 or 2115. That 1 out of 10 (bazillion) is what the heroes are always looking for, but it's a lot harder to change a massive crisis event than to snuff out a butterfly and prevent a hurricane. Ultimately, the big future, the macrocosmic future, is set, at least functionally so. Nothing of substance has been changed in all of the Terminator incarnations, and people have been mucking about with timelines like Donnie Darko on a sugar high. (Shudderingly weird to think of the DD theory of time travel conjoining with the Terminator 'verse.) This seems to indicate that really, you can't move the mountain, you can only have a nice picnic and watch the sunset and delay, for a little while, walking straight into it.

On top of that, I keep thinking about it, and I just don't see humans winning. At one point in the show the machines release a plague, and you know, once that shit starts happening it's really over. Our bodies are too breakable--and at no point have the writers dealt with how breakable and fragile and environment-sensitive machines are in our time, so I think we're to assume they're not, in the future. It's all well and good to pretend that the resistance can somehow retro-engineer a vaccine from some chick's blood (which is one of my big complaints--the abilities, structure, and tech of the resistance are wildly inconsistent. Everyone is starving and living like rats in tunnels but there's a fully extant military with Shellback rituals and submarines and uniforms (!) and hazmat suits and advanced medicine? Whatevs. Either they're rag tag or they're the government. Either the world was nuked or there are still TONS of people in LA--seriously, nuclear armageddon didn't seem to dent the population at all. Make up your mind and stick with it, guys.) but in point of fact there's always more virus in the robot vats to punk the biologicals. We never see humans attempting to create computer viruses, they're always trying brute force, which is just dumber than casting a 90210 castmember. Blow shit up, shoot shit down. Not going to work, never was going to work. So ultimately, maybe it's the grimmness of the future that gets me here--can't change it, can't survive it. Not really, not in the long run. But there's that hint that someone, somewhere, can see the whole picture, and seeing the whole picture can shape it. And maybe that person's name is John Connor and maybe it isn't. Maybe it's John Henry, whose namesake beat the future and died anyway. Maybe it's Weaver--that name isn't a coincience.

We'll never know because Fox is cruel and stupid. The show is itself an offshoot timeline and it's only the punishing badness of the two later movies thatallows us to even begin to think of SCC  as canon. I'd rather this be the canon, if the other option is Terminator: Salvation.

Maybe I just love time travel stories, and grim dystopias, and post-apocalyptica, and this brings it all together. I wish the story were still being told somewhere other than fanfiction.net. Damn.