Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Terminator Timeline: My Attempt to Sort it Out

Or, "Come With Me if You Want to Live"

I've written before about getting lost in "Wiki holes," where you just lose yourself in Wikipedia (and related links) for hours, reading about the history of things. Over the last few days, I've taken up an interest in The Terminator franchise, particularly because of the current Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles series on FOX.

Many fans of the series take exception with each new episode (and the movies themselves) for inconsistent chronology. Thus is born the "fanwank," which is an effort to make sloppy writing (or unrevealed plot points) "fit" into a consistent timeline. The same thing happens in any series that has been written/produced by many different people. One commonly held belief is that such series should hire a fan to keep track of continuity!

The Terminator franchise throws in a HUGE monkey wrench because of the use of time travel. This causes as many divergent opinions, because different people have different ideas on how potential time travel should operate. Some think time can't be changed, so everything must fit in a consistent, linear fashion. Others think time can be changed, and the future is not set (an actual quote from the series, by the way). Still others think that every time someone moves in time, a new reality is created.

The problem with the "time can't be changed" theory is that it creates paradoxes: Kyle Reese can't be John Connor's father, because if he were, how could Connor send him back in the past to be his father if John Connor wouldn't exist without him? The only solution here is that time is a closed loop, and that Connor always sent him back from the future. Which blows my mind a little.

The third theory, that separate timelines are created, won't fit in my head. Each new time traveler creates his own universe, and the original still exists? Where did the matter come from to create a whole new reality? Dozens, hundreds, millions of "separate realities" are all existing at the same time in different dimensions? How? What exactly created them?

I prefer the "no fate but what we make" method of thought. But with a few tweaks. In order for it to work, the time traveller himself has to be unaffected by any action he takes in the past. Sure, he might wipe out his own existence in the future, but he himself--his current time traveller self--does not wink out of existence. The future--the only future--changes with every action taken by the time traveller. People he interacts with, mates with, kills--everything--would change the future he knows. But he himself does not change, and he still remembers the future he is from. With that in mind (if it makes any sense), here is my Terminator timeline.

The Terminator - Kyle Reese is sent back from his future by John Connor, the leader of the resistance against the machines. He is sent back to protect Sarah Connor, so that she can give birth to John. The machines send back a Terminator to kill her. It kills Kyle instead, but not before Kyle gets Sarah preggers. Sarah destroys the Terminator. But parts are left behind.

CONTINUED (Click Link Below)

Terminator 2: Judgement Day - In a now altered future, a John Connor who has Kyle Reese as a father sends back a reprogrammed Terminator to protect his 10-year-old self (and sends Kyle Reese too? Ah geez, another wrinkle). The machines send back a liquid-metal Terminator (possibly one that never existed in the T1 future) to kill John. The parts from the original T1 Terminator are used by Cyberdyne to propel Skynet's creation faster than would have ordinarily happened. Sarah and the good Terminator destroy the liquid Terminator, all the parts of the T1 Terminator, and the good Terminator himself. No evidence is left, except possibly off-site software backups from Cyberdyne.

Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines - I hated this movie, from a timeline perspective. We can assume that something survived from Cyberdyne's records, and that Skynet still came into being, but later. We now have (at least) a third future where Terminators are sent back, but it doesn't really matter, because. . .

Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles - From another version of the future, a reprogrammed female Terminator is sent back to protect John Connor in 1999. A bad Terminator is sent back to kill him. The good Terminator locates a time portal, built over the years by an unknown group of people sent back to 1963. The female Terminator launches Sarah and John into 2007, unwittingly taking part of the bad Terminator with them. In 2007, a group of resistance fighters has also been sent back, along with assorted other bad Terminators with various missions.

Now, in the first two movies, most events in the timeline worked, and don't need to be "fanwanked." In the third movie, continuity was thrown out the window, but it doesn't matter, because it has been retconned out of existence, effectively. Unknown events before T:TSCC caused that future to not take place. Or, unknown events from the series cause T3:ROTM to happen. Either way, I'm ignoring it.

Several events in T:TSCC have differed from what we "know" from T1 and T2. From my perspective, these events do not need to be fanwanked away. This is the current timeline, up to this point. Who knows how many versions of the timeline have happened by now? Just because there were three movies and a series doesn't mean that we, the viewer, are privvy to everything that has happened. After T2:JD, there could have been two, three, a dozen different adventures that altered the timeline to how it appears now. The producers of the show are free do do pretty much whatever they want. And the movie makers can then retcon the series. Time travel is very freeing that way!

Unfortunately, my brain won't let that work, not entirely. After all, any person's conception is determined by which sperm hits the egg. Alter the conception by a day, a minute, a second. . .and you are a different person. So global, or even local events that are changed would fundamentally change the people involved in these adventures. With all the changes made, the John Connor of 2029 would be a vastly different person, or at least have different memories and compatriots each time. So I'll have to find a fanwank for that one. Not to mention that if different future John Connors have sent back different Kyle Reeses, Sarah Connor had a very busy dance card.


  1. sorry .. hey man .. i saw your article and before that was doing a wiki and net timeline search for the terminator stuff and i believe i can answer some of your questions ... not per se timeline issues but how time travel works in the terminator movies and what it means to the future.

    ok first you have to start with timeline A

    Timeline A: sarah connor is never visited by time travellers .. she has a son John by an unknown father .. skynet is eventually created by an unknown entity and John Connor as an adult leads the resistance. skynet sends a T-800 back in time

    Time line B: A T-800 from timeline A future is sent back in time to kill sarah connor before she can conceive John connor. The future john Connor of Timeline B still has an unknown Father but also has the knowledge that the T-800 does not succeed in killing her at least before she has john with unknown man. We have to assume this because john (alive in the future) will eventually send kyle back in responce to this timeline. it is safe to assume that in timeline B it takes the T-800 longer than a couple of days to kill sarah connor. Maybe she runs and flees and it takes years for the t-800 to locate her. The fact is that there is no Kyle to help her but she has to have John at some point so that john in the future of timeline B can send kyle back. I believe john is born from an unknown father while sarah has been on the run from the terminator for some time and in this, Timeline B, she is killed by the same T-800 after john's birth. It becomes the only reason John would send Kyle back because he is alive and his mother is dead killed by that specific T-800, NOT because kyle is his father, it hasn't happened in this timeline.

    Time line C: Kyle Reece is sent back in time to stop timeline B from happening creating timeline C, a timeline where now the terminator is sent back in time and followed by Kyle. this is the timeline we see play out in the THE TERMINATOR. What you have to realize is that the moment Kyle comes back in time, timeline B never exists. It's like the butterfly effect. Memories suddenly appear in john of the future unbeknowist to him. Kyle is now his father because he changed history by finding sarah and saving her life and impregnating her. she would still name her son john because that's what kyle told her she would do ... whether or not he would be the father. what's crazier is that all the information that kyle has and tells sarah is of timeline B. not C. the moment he came back in time it changed the future. all his memories no longer happened. form this point on in every movie, t.v. show and comic, Sara connor is acting on information from a timeline that never happened, Kyle's info, false information, as much as 5 timelines removed such as the t.v. series. also Cyberdyne didn't create Skynet in time line A or B .. another entity did. Only when the events of Timeline C play out, THE TERMINATOR film itself, does this become the future because of kyle's involvement. The climax of the movie and cyberdyne thusly finding the arm only happen in Timeline C and timelines thereafter. ... i'll go into more is if you want .. the other movies and such

  2. I'm with you, with the new timeline being created, and the future being a different one each time.

    But there is a further chronology problem we don't account for with our theories. One is, does Timeline C (or D, E, F, G, etc.) John have to keep sending Kyle back in every new future? If he does, wouldn't there be several (slightly different) Kyles running around?

    And then there is the problem of our "present" Sarah Conner storyline. She could be meeting up with cyborgs and resistence fighters from Timeline D, E, F through infinity. Since they could be sent to any point in the past, a Terminator from Timeline D could end up in her story after she's dealt with one from Timeline F--who was sent to a previous time. You see? The mind wobbles. . .


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