This is the first time a sequel has been made to a time travel movie about which we had already written an analysis, and it happens that in our earlier analysis we also made a few suggestions concerning what a sequel would have to do. Several people have written to say that it appears they took my advice. I am flattered. I have no proof of that, and no one asked my opinion officially. I am aware that my analysis was being discussed on an official forum, but only, as far as I know, by fans, and probably well after a script had been written. In any event, although some of what I suggested would have to be done was included in the film, the writers took it in a surprising direction. I am pleased with what they created, in terms of the overall story, although had I been consulting on the script I would have pointed out a few of the problems which are addressed here. It is, overall, a good time travel story, which errs in minor ways.
I also feel I ought to apologize for the delay in bringing this page to the site. It was probably over a year ago that someone sent me a copy of this film, and I watched it, analyzed it, and wrote a complete analysis. This was followed almost immediately by a computer crash, destroying the file before it was uploaded or backed up (I am using more effective backup methods now) and leaving me with far more urgent problems than a lost analysis of a time travel movie. Since then one interruption after another has prevented me from making meaningful progress on replacing it. I hope this analysis will be as good as that.
Finally, I should acknowledge the contribution made to this analysis by John "A1nut" Cross, who wrote the analysis of Final Countdown on this site, and who has long been a fan of the theories and the applications. I cannot say whether any of his ideas made it into this page, but I can say that his editorial review avoided at least a few silly mistakes, and his persistent nagging for me to complete an analysis and prove that the events of the movie are possible was a major impetus in forcing me to look deeper into what is happening here, resulting in a solution that manages to resolve all the major issues.
It is a rather convoluted solution, in some ways, but hopefully it will be clear enough to make its point.
A great deal has happened in our two previous full length movies; however, rather than insist the reader refer to the previous analysis, it will be easier to provide a quick synopsis of what is known to this point. On the other hand, this synopsis will assume that the reader has some understanding of the theory of time used for these analyses. If you have not read at least a few of the other pages on this site, this part is likely to confuse you.
It was established that there must have been an original history in which no one traveled from the future to the past. That is inherent in the theory of time, that history must reach the point at which a traveler departs before, in a sequential sense, that traveler can arrive in the past. A time traveler cannot help but change history, because he cannot have been part of that history at all until the history has been written once. His presence causes it to be rewritten at least once.
In this original history, Sarah Connor must have had a child. It was not Kyle Reese's child; it might not even have been a boy. All that is certain is that a child was born. It is also certain that someone created something called Skynet, a computer system able to control all of our computerized weapons systems, and that at some point this system became self-aware, and turned against humanity. An unfathomable number of humans died, but Sarah Connor's child survived, and led a resistance of some sort which fought back and prevented Skynet's victory. At some point, however, Skynet decided that it had one good option, to send a machine to the past to destroy Sarah Connor's child. For whatever reason, it determined to do this by destroying Sarah Connor before the child was born. Thus a Terminator was sent back, and history changed completely.
When I say that in this timeline Kyle Reese did not come from the future to protect Sarah Connor, the immediate thought will be that Sarah will die. However, in response to that it is probable that the original terminator was not the T-800 of the first movie, but a much less developed model. The reasons for that are explained in the previous page. Somehow, Sarah Connor managed to escape and give birth to her child. A terminator is relentless, though, and eventually it would have caught up with Sarah Connor and killed her. This must have happened after the child was born. Otherwise, there would have been no child, and Skynet would have had no reason to send the T-800 back, and we would fall into an infinity loop. Because Sarah was killed by the Terminator, Sarah's child would have sent Kyle Reese back to protect her; there is no good reason to have sent someone back to protect Sarah Connor if Sarah Connor survived (something already known from that moment in the future which immediately follows the departure of the Terminator), so Sarah must have been killed. This arrival of Kyle Reese in the past is the second time history changes completely, the third version of time.
The situation is severely muddied by the return of Kyle Reese, and this could have derailed history completely. Kyle tells Sarah much about the future; he also displaces the original father of Sarah's child, fathering the John Connor familiar to us. This sets up an escalating cycle, because Sarah will prepare John in ways she would not have done in previous histories. At the same time, working together Kyle and Sarah destroy the T-800 and leave its parts inside the factory of Cyberdyne Systems. This means that Cyberdyne is now examining the parts of the destroyed machine, and developing computer hardware unknown in previous histories.
It is at this point that Skynet becomes a product of Cyberdyne Systems. All history is rewritten to include this, because the Terminator that is sent back to kill Sarah is the more advanced model that benefits from the work done by Cyberdyne. As explained previously, Cyberdyne displaces the original creator of Skynet, getting it online sooner and with greater power.
It was into that history that Skynet sent the T-1000, this time to kill John Connor as a boy. Again, as explained in the other page, it fails to kill John, but it captures and kills Sarah, and so John feels the necessity to risk changing history by sending back the T-800 ostensibly to protect himself but actually to save his mother. This succeeds. Sarah Connor then pumps the T-800 for information, and destroys the Cyberdyne materials. This, we said, means that Cyberdyne does not create Skynet, but that whoever created it originally now does so again, on the original but long-lost timetable.
There is an extra wrinkle in this, concerning what John Connor had to do so that his mother would not cause an infinity loop. Sarah Connor has altered the future based on knowledge from the future, and so undone the knowledge on which she acted. We would expect that the information available to the T-800 now would concern the other developer, the one who originally and now again creates Skynet. John Connor can avoid this only by programming the T-800 with what is now false information, the history of the world that he was given by the T-800 at that time, which he now knows is not what actually happened. He must have recognized this necessity and done this, to avoid the infinity loop.
In essence, this is where the story paused; it is from all this that the story continues.
What this film gives us is the identity of the original inventor; it also gives us an entirely different kind of Skynet system. The first point was exactly what we needed; the second is interesting and unexpected, but quite workable.
In our original analysis, we faced the question of what would have happened had no one traveled from the future. That is not this scenario. John Connor has been born, son of Kyle Reese. The T-800 has come back twice and the T-1000 has also made its appearance. However, events have happened in this timeline which would undo the early development of Skynet and return it to the original history, in which someone other than Cyberdyne creates and launches Skynet at a later date. We now find that this someone is the Autonomous Weapons Division of the Cyber Research Systems branch of the United States Air Force, under the direction of General Robert Brewster.
The other difference here, though, is that Skynet is no longer a hardware system. There is certainly a great deal of hardware under the control of Skynet, but it is the software that is the essence of the system. Of course, Skynet was always inherently a mix of hardware and software, but now the software dominates, the hardware being the network of computers and Internet servers around the world now at the command of a system that is part virus and part artificially intelligent antivirus.
That matters within the story, because it is impossible to destroy Skynet once it has launched. John Connor does not understand that until the very end. However, that aspect of the problem saves the story. Had it been possible to stop the disaster ahead, John Connor would have stopped it. Had he done so, time would have been caught in an infinity loop, the future being undone based on knowledge from the future, the knowledge being thus undone restoring the future to what it was.
The third movie gives us two more anomalies, that is, events in which someone or something travels from the future to the past and so changes history, forcing it to be rewritten. However, what we have not yet done is establish exactly what must have happened in what we must loosely call the original timeline of this film, that is, that history which flowed from the destruction of the T-1000 in the previous movie. We were able to extrapolate a great deal of this in our previous analysis, but this movie gives us some essential detail.
We are immediately told that John Connor vanished "from the grid", that is, he reordered his life such that no one would be able to find him. There were no school records, no utility company listings, no property deeds, no registrations of his identity anywhere. (This suggests that the motorcycle he is riding at the beginning is not his, or at least that it is not registered in the United States, and that he does not have a legal drivers license; however, it is not impossible for someone to hold false license and registration, a fact attested by the number of hispanics in our southern New Jersey community who have Pennsylvania license plates on their vehicles.) This is not terribly important in this particular timeline, because although Skynet is seeking him, it will have to create a new history to target him.
There is no reason to think that John Connor would not have wiped out on the road, or that he would have done anything other than break into that veterinary clinic to acquire medicine and supplies to tend to his wounds. Betsy's cat will still get sick, and Katherine "Kate" Brewster will respond, finding the stranger in the clinic and locking him in the kennel. At that point, she manages to treat Betsy's cat and send the woman home, and then returns to talk with the familiar stranger whom she has by now correctly identified as the John Connor she once knew, who has some very strange stories to tell.
We know that these two get together. We can only speculate how. Perhaps when he tells her that he didn't kill his foster parents, she offers to take him out for some breakfast, and they start talking. He unfolds bits of his story. Probably he does not tell her that the people after him are machines from the future, but he does tell her that they tried to kill him the day after he was with her in Mike Kripke's basement, and that this other guy saved him and his mother, who had been locked up because these same people had tried to kill her but no one believed her.
The most difficult parts of this scenario are not that rough, really. We wonder how Kate and John survive, and why Kate never marries Scott. However, everything that happens to them happens in a single day. By the time they have finished breakfast, already the cell phones are out, the credit card machines are down--the virus that will fuse with the program to create the monster is doing its damage. John Connor is paranoid. He comes by this honestly. He knows this is imposing, but could Kate possibly drive him far, far away from this place--like to Mexico, or somewhere really rural.
While they are there, General Brewster launches Skynet to stop the virus, and the results are disastrous. Before Kate can leave John and drive back to Los Angeles, the missiles have launched, the disaster he has feared has come upon them, and Scott is an ashen memory.
Of course, there are people who somehow remarkably survive the blast. It is confusing how Jose Barrera and Elizabeth and William Anderson manage to live through the blast that destroys their city. However, they did. When John and Kate return, they will find these people alive.
I should note that this scenario falls apart if we believe that Skynet launched the virus that leads to its own creation. There is, however, no evidence that this is so. Although no one ever determines the origin of that virus, it did not come from the future.
It is also significant that in this play of the scenario, the autonomous weapons that play such a colorful role in the movie remain dormant for quite some time. There is no particular need to launch them. When General Brewster loses control of Skynet, he attempts to regain it, but there is not much urgency to this. He has no reason to believe that it is going to launch the missiles that destroy the world. It is at that point a serious problem, but not an insurmountable one.
All of this leads to that bleak future, the sending of several other time travelers, and a rather complex set of updated timelines. Then at some point in the future, a T-800 kills John Connor and is captured. At about that same time, Skynet makes another run at the past, this time sending back its most advanced machine, the T-X, described at one point as a terminator that terminates other terminators.
Why does Skynet send the T-X back, if John is dead?
There are actually two questions in this, one an obvious question with a deeply obscured and convoluted answer, the other a completely obscure question with a very simple answer.
The simple question is, if John Connor is now dead, why bother trying to kill him by sending someone back to the past? The problem is solved, right? What benefit is there to destroying the man who is now dead? The basic answer must be that John is no longer relevant when he is killed. Like all good leaders, he has made himself superfluous, redundant, unnecessary. The rebellion no longer needs him, and can function just as effectively without him. The opportunity to benefit from killing John Connor has long passed, and this one man is not important to the war effort any more.
This, though, opens the question, why bother to kill him if he is irrelevant? Certainly it is a moral victory. It will be a blow to the morale of the rebels for their revered iconic leader to have been assassinated so, even if it makes no difference to their organization. Yet there is another answer to this. Skynet is learning from the past. Every time it sends something back to kill John Connor, John Connor sends something back to protect himself. Thus Skynet has decided to try once more to kill John Connor before he matters, but this time has succeeded in killing him in the future before he can respond to this attempt on his life.
Of course, Kate Connor sends the T-800 back, so the tactic did not quite work as hoped. Still, Skynet does not actually know but only guesses who is sending help to the past, and since it cannot know at the moment that it kills John that it is Kate who will send the terminator, it cannot adjust its plan for that outcome.
Why, though, does it send the T-X, specifically? The answer to that is, it doesn't. It has been fighting a war in which resources are critical. There is no reason to send something as powerful as the T-X back. Note that the T-800 identifies the T-X as an anti-terminator terminator, saying that its own presence in the past has been anticipated. It probably was not anticipated. Skynet thought that the assassination of John Connor would prevent the rebellion from sending help to the past. It sent the least potent machine it believed would be effective in locating and terminating the members of John's team, which is probably another T-800. It was not until history played out a couple of times and the presence of Kate's T-800 in the past became evident that Skynet upgraded to the T-X, in a sense "retroactively anticipating" the presence of the other machine and reacting to it.
Thus we have the first change to history, as a terminator arrives in the past, sent by Skynet to terminate members of John Connor's team, including his wife Katherine Brewster, before they can become members of his team.
This is by far the most difficult of timelines to reconstruct, because it is the most improbable and yet the most necessary. It must be that a terminator is sent back to kill John Connor's lieutenants, including Katherine Brewster, and that it fails to do this, despite the fact that John Connor walks right into the middle of this and no help arrives.
Even for veteran readers of this site, that may require a bit of explanation.
We know that the time travel departures occur in sequence. That means before the T-800 can be sent back to protect John and Kate, the T-X must have been sent back to destroy them. However, once the T-X has been sent to the past, whatever it is "going to do" it has, from the perspective of the future, already done. If it has failed in its mission, then a moment or a day or a year later (it's all the same) there would be no particular reason to send anyone back to thwart it. However, if it succeeds, then the people it has killed are no longer among those who survived the disaster, and no longer on its roster of people it must kill. Further, if it kills Katherine Brewster and John Connor, then neither of them will be alive to send the T-800 back to protect themselves. This is a separate problem that will have to be addressed before moving to the next timeline, but for the moment it means that the T-X, as incredible as this seems, must have failed to kill Kate and John.
This supports our contention that T-X was not sent. Remember, when John Connor describes the T-X as a terminator that terminates terminators, the context includes the statement that the presence of the T-800 in this timeline had been anticipated. Perhaps it had been recognized retrospectively.
This requires a bit of temporal wrangling, but it is a perfectly reasonable scenario. We suppose that at a specific moment in time, Skynet sends back a terminator to track down and destroy John's lieutenants. It does not expect these to be difficult, and so does not waste resources, sending perhaps a T-800. The T-800 is not so bright. It tries to get Kate but hits the wrong target, and since it can't do that cute DNA identification by taste trick, it takes a bit longer to determine that Betsy was not Kate. A T-800 is also quite recognizable to John, and with one person shot, one recognizable terminator in the area, and one maiden in distress, he's going to take to the road. The problems are not so bad as they are in the movie, because the T-800 has few of the tricks used by the T-X in her pursuit. John and Kate might escape with their lives and flee to Mexico. The T-800 is still looking for them in Los Angeles, and gets destroyed in the blast. The rest of the scenario is very like the previous history.
Why, though, does Kate send the T-800 back to protect herself and John, all that far in the future? She must already know that they are not going to be killed by the terminator, because they are alive after that terminator leaves the future.
The answer this time lies in the list of targets the T-800 mentions when telling them of the lieutenants the T-X would be killing. One of these is General Robert Brewster. Even apart from the attack on the Cyber Research Systems facility, it is unlikely in the extreme that he would have survived the first wave of missiles. He is in a critical military facility, and will not have sufficient notice to reach Crystal Peak even if he abandons his efforts to regain control of Skynet. General Robert Brewster is not one of John Connor's lieutenants after the initial battle. Why, then, is he a target?
Here, the evident answer is that Skynet recognizes that sending back anything might create problems. It needs Brewster to live long enough to give it life, but not long enough to figure out how to kill it. It has put the general on the target list for this reason. John and Kate manage to escape, but whatever machine this was, it succeeded in killing Kate's father.
Then, just as she saw John send the T-800 back to protect his younger self so that his mother would be saved, she in turn sends back the T-800 to protect herself and her husband so that her father would be saved. This fails, but it has another effect.
Perhaps a few hours after Skynet sends its machine to the past, Kate Brewster Connor sends her captured and reprogrammed T-800 back to protect her and John, and in the process to protect her father. It succeeds. It is possible even that it destroys the other terminator before General Brewster is killed--but not before the General is threatened. However, General Brewster does not succeed in shutting down Skynet. Perhaps he tells his daughter to take John (whom I think he must mistake for Scott, the fiance he has not met) and flee to the mountain, assuring them that he will follow. He never makes it, but is killed in that first blast.
However, as time advances we eventually reach the moment when Skynet sends back its terminator to kill those lieutenants. It now knows that a T-800 will be sent back, because we are in the history in which a T-800 was sent back. It thus replaces its terminator with the T-X, a model specifically designed to destroy other terminators, and thus the logical choice only if it is anticipating the presence of the T-800 in the past. The T-X is a much more formiddable killing machine, and John and Kate could not reasonably escape it on their own--but they do not have to do so. Because the T-X is sent back in the timeline created by sending back the T-800 after it, it arrives in a place in history that can only lead to the arrival of the T-800. Kate and John have help on schedule, and the events of the movie now unfold as shown.
It has been suggested that there is a problem with the T-800 knowing that Sarah Connor's coffin was filled with weapons. After all, John did not know this of his mother's coffin, and Kate certainly did not know, so who told the terminator? It is not so big a problem as suggested. Someone somewhere knows that there are weapons in that coffin; it is probably one of Sarah Connor's Mexican contacts. When John starts organizing the resistance, he will undoubtedly look for the people his mother knew, and particularly those whom he knew before. At that point he will learn about the weapons in the coffin. Since by that time he will be with Kate, she also will learn about it, including the place where these were hidden. As long as they do not attempt to recover those weapons in the future, no problem is created.
Once the location of the weapons has been passed to Kate and programmed into the T-800, the original source is irrelevant. After all, at the moment the terminator reveals that there are weapons in that coffin, John and Kate both know exactly where those weapons are. No one has to tell Kate about the weapons for her to know to include that information in the T-800 program years in the future. She knows they were there.
All is not well, however. As the watch became the death of the story in Somewhere in Time, so here it is the little things that become the big problems.
While in the past, the T-X kills seven specific people. Three of them don't matter. It is already clear that Scott did not survive the disaster in the original history. General Brewster could not survive in any history, and we have discussed him already. There are also cat owner Betsy, and the woman in the sports car, whose deaths are likely to be a few hours premature. However, three people are killed who cannot be killed.
Even here, two of these might not be a problem.
The first of our victims is Jose Barrera. The T-X has downloaded information concerning his probable location by contacting the school database. This is something that another terminator probably could not have done, so Jose probably was not killed in any previous timeline. In this timeline, however, she has him on her list of targets, finds him at the fast food restaurant where he works, and as she passes through the drive-up window puts several bullets into him.
Although the chance of survival is slim, it is not none. Jose is not alone, and emergency services will be called. He will be rushed to intensive care, and could survive. Since he was standing in the window, it is probable that not all the bullets hit him, and that he fell to the floor. She did not confirm his death. Further, someone familiar with firearms tells me that the pistol in question appears to be a 9mm Baretta, and it is quite possible to survive several direct hits at close range with such a gun. Jose may have survived the shooting.
Of course, for him to have survived the bombing, he will have to have been moved out of the city the next day. This is highly unlikely, but again not impossible. If his family is Mexican, they may have decided that Los Angeles is too dangerous, and taken him back to Mexico once he was stable.
The problem, of course, is that if the T-X has killed Jose Barrera, then when the T-X is sent back Jose Barrera will not be on its hit list, because he will never have become one of John Connor's lieutenants. Thus he has to survive in order to be targeted, but if he is not targeted he will survive to be targeted. His death would create an infinity loop.
Elizabeth Anderson also presents this problem. It seem unlikely in the extreme that having determined from her brother that the girl is upstairs, the T-X would not have gone upstairs and killed her. On the other hand, gunshots downstairs are going to create a major panic, and Elizabeth might find a way out of the house. If she is upstairs with friends, the T-X might kill the friend believing it to be Elizabeth, not check the identity (the T-X might not have DNA samples on all of its targets), and leave.
The one that is most problematic, though, is William Anderson. Bill answers the door, and is shot several times at point blank range. The T-X then examines him before heading for the stairs. It does not seem possible that William Anderson survived, and if he did not survive, he could not be on the hit list, and if he is not on the hit list he was not shot, and if he was not shot he was on the hit list. We have an infinity loop based on the death of one boy.
It could be a case of mistaken identity. Anderson is not that uncommon a name, and William is extremely common. Just as the T-800 killed several Sarah Connors before coming after the right one, it might be that this is not the William Anderson who matters. The problem is that even though Elizabeth is also a fairly common name, it is very unlikely that there would be two brother-sister pairs named William and Elizabeth Anderson in the same location. Even if we include the possibility that the William and Elizabeth Anderson who should have been sought were husband and wife, not brother and sister, the odds are still very low. Still, if the T-X has actually killed one of its intended targets based on the knowledge that that person would live to become a danger to Skynet, the future is undone. It is a complicated loop, to be sure, because the T-800 has to leave in order for the T-X to have been sent, and we are going to be looping through several timelines in a rather unstable fashion, but we can no longer have a future beyond this point.
These, though, are the minor details. William and Elizabeth Anderson might be cases of mistaken identity. Some of John Connor's lieutenants might have taken false names, names of people they knew would die in the past, to prevent themselves from being targeted in precisely this way.
The same cannot be said of Jose Barrera. The T-X confirms his identity by means of a retinal scan. You cannot persuade me that a high school graduate working in the fast food industry has his retinal pattern on file somewhere. This retinal image must have been obtained after Jose became an important part of the resistance, specifically to identify him in the past. Skynet has matched Jose Barrera to his future self, making this a positive identification on this count. At the same time, that the T-X does not attempt a retinal scan on Betsy whom it thinks is Kate, nor on William Anderson, suggests that it does not have retinal images for all of those on its list.
It also complicates the Barrera situation because if he was identified by a retinal image taken in the future, his death in the past will mean he cannot be identified by that means. If he dies, it means an infinity loop for a long list of reasons. For the movie to work, he must survive.
There is at least a fair probability that being hospitalized would improve his chance of survival. Hospitals are generally well-built solid structures which under Geneva Convention guidelines must be constructed far from legitimate military targets. Not everyone in the blast area will die. The further removed you are from the blast center and the more cover you have against it, the greater your chance to survive. Thus the one victim most positively identified is also the one with the best chance of having survived, all factors considered.
I would rather conclude that John's lieutenants were not killed, because then I have a working time travel story and an excellent ending to a remarkable series. It has taken quite a bit of work to unravel it favorably, and it requires a few remarkable coincidences, but the question is not whether this is a probable story, but whether it is a possible one. The answer appears to be yes.