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the film criticism aspect of cyber | by maryann johanson

‘Sarah Connor Chronicles’ blogging: “Pilot”/“Gnothi Seauton”

So now we know: forget Terminator III. Everything that happened in Terminator III doesn’t count. Until Terminator IV, of course, which will follow on from the events of III. But till then, consider the future changed. Just not changed enough.

These two debut episodes of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles — the pilot and “Gnothi Seauton,” which is an ancient Greek aphorism that translates as “know yourself” — introduce us to not one but actually two alternative timelines in the Terminator universe. The first is the obvious one we encounter in the pilot: It’s 1999, Sarah Connor is still alive, her son, John, is still a teenager, and a cute little girl Terminator named Cameron — har har — has been sent back from the year 2027 to protect John from the neverending onslaught of big bad muscly boy Terminators the machines keep sending back to kill him (you know, cuz he’s gonna be the worldwide leader of human resistance against the machines). And then the three of them jump to the year 2007 so that they can track down and stop whoever is going to create Skynet again, the eventual development of which was supposedly stopped by Sarah and computer dude Miles Dyson when they blew up Cyberdyne in Terminator II.
So: Sarah and Miles stopped the first Skynet, which was to launch nuclear armageddon in 1997. That didn’t happen. And now we know that the nuclear armageddon that would have happened via an Internet-distributed Skynet in 2004 (the events of Terminator III) didn’t happen either, because here’s Sarah and John and Cameron safe in the non-nuclear-armageddoned world of 2007. And, obviously, we know that Sarah is not dead, as she had been for years in Terminator III.

Is your head spinning yet? Here’s more: In Terminator III, the Nick Stahl John informed us that his mother died in 1997 of leukemia (perhaps exposure to Terminators causes cancer…?). But in “Gnothi Seauton,” Cameron reveals that not only did they jump to 2007 in order to get closer to the new Skynet activation date of April 19, 2011, but also to jump past the date of Sarah’s death… in 2005. She’s still destined to die of cancer, of course, but this gives her more time with John closer to the new armageddon date, a better chance (presumably) to again prevent it from happening.

But this means we’ve got three Terminator timelines:

• Sarah dies in 1997 (the timeline of the movies)
• Sarah lives through 1997 but dies in 2005 (the timeline of a story we haven’t seen)
• Sarah jumps over 2005 and lives to die another day (the timeline of SCC)

Could be I’m missing more timelines that will become apparent if I try to bend my brain around this some more.

Random thoughts on “Pilot”/“Gnothi Seauton”:

• If cute little Terminators are just as effective as big musclebound ones, why bother with the big musclebound ones? Just for the psychological impact? And what happened to the liquid-metal ones? Do they exist only in another timeline?

• Do the machines realize they’re not really changing the future (their present), merely creating branching timelines? I’m guessing not.

• Wasn’t time travel a one-way proposition: back into the past, with no travel into the future allowed? Is that limitation limited to another timeline, too?

• Is the future John Connor doomed to spend his entire adult life doing things for himself as a child? And how will the show avoid such easy outs as having the teenage John merely making a note to himself to, say, remind him: “Send someone back from the year 2043 to leave a gun behind the radiator in that old house in the year 2008 so that I can kill the bad guy who’s after us”? After all, we’ve already seen that John has sent back Kyle Reese, multiple Terminators, a time machine hidden in a safety deposit vault, and new IDs.

Lesson for the week: If you find a supercool cyborg head from the future in the garbage, leave it there. Don’t take it home.

(next: “The Turk”)



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  • I got ahold of the pilot of SCC about 6 months ago in a not-so-legal way. Actually, it was quite stunning to know a TV series was being done. I was afraid that it would suck big time. Sure, the plotline is rather contradicting with many things regarding the Terminator canon. However, I still believe this storyline is way much better than that crappy T3 movie. The only good thing I remember of that movie is the TX.

    I hope they can somehow surpass that point in which the episodes are just about the “terminator-of-the-week”. The “time-jump” was something I didn’t really expect. Neither Cromartie or Cameron. When I saw Cameron, the first thing that came into my mind was “Now Skynet is making some midget infiltration units…okay…”. I think Cameron is a midget, compared to good ‘Ol Arnie or to Kristanna Loken. I expect that these surprises turn into something good eventually.

    I wish they would show the SCC anytime soon here in Mexico. If not, well, the guy with the bootlegs outside the subway maybe has the newest episodes already.

  • Good summary, MaryAnn.

    As far as the T-1000 “liquid” Terminators go, the novelization of T2 establishes that the T-1000 was an unstable model, a prototype that hadn’t had all of the bugs worked out of it yet, and that SkyNet only sent it back through sheer desperation. It’s highly unlikely that we’ll ever see another one of those.

    But yeah, we definitely have to accept the fact that the storyline for Terminator is apparently not fixed, and each movie/show just takes place in a similar reality.

  • Ryan H

    Frankly, I don’t have any real problem with the inconsistencies. I view it more like I do the new Battlestar. As long as they keep the plot moving, have good character moments and manage to keep me interested for 45 minutes at a time, I figure they have done their job.

    MaryAnn, I’d be much more interested in hearing your thoughts on the differences between the leaked pilot from a few months back and the aired one. While they are mostly similar, how they play Sarah Connor is subtly different. There are a couple (good) scenes which were replaced by ones that have her (in my opinion) emotionally weaker.

    Also, I was dying for a scene of Summer Glau walking up to someone and pulling off the classic “I need your clothes” line.

  • MaryAnn

    I haven’t seen the leaked pilot, so I can’t comment on it.

    I never said the inconsistencies bother me: I just think it’s fun to think about them. Part of the whole being-a-geek thing.

    I like the show so far. I’ll stick with it. I am, too, far more interested in character, in how these characters deal with their unique situation, than I am with anything else. As long as I like the characters and feel that the writers are treating them fairly — not that they shouldn’t experience bad things, but I want them to be treated with integrity — then I’ll stay tuned.

    Also, I don’t consider novelization stuff canonical. So there. :->

  • Great Blog, MaryAnn. I definitely enjoy the new Terminator show…though I’m still disappointed we won’t see a new season of ’24’ in that time slot till next year (assuming the writers’ strike ends before next year). =P

    As far as the T-1000 goes, hopefully the show will constantly get high ratings, and FOX will amp the budget if there’s a second season. And then money for the special effects will be cheap enough that we see Cameron blasting shotgun rounds into another liquid metal robot in a future episode. =)

  • Here’s what I really wonder, though: How many things have SkyNet and John sent back, and when exactly did they do that? It was my understanding that the future use of the time displacement equipment went something like this:

    1. SkyNet sends back Arnold (model 101?) (The Terminator) to kill Sarah Connor.

    2. SkyNet sends back T-1000 as a contingency to kill John Connor (T2).

    3. Humans capture time displacement facility and destroy SkyNet.

    4. John Connor sends back Kyle Reese (The Terminator), because he knows that Reese is his father. (This implies an attempt to prevent a paradox in a single-timeline, 12 Monkeys universe.)

    5. John Connor sends back Arnold (T2) to protect himself from the T-1000.

    So where in all of this does SkyNet send back Cromartie, the T-X from T3, the other Terminator from Monday’s episode, or any of the other Terminators we are sure to encounter? (John Connor could have sent back Cameron to SCC… after all, SkyNet is destroyed and Connor can do whatever he wants with the time displacement equipment at that point. And he has as much time as he needs to use it.) Are all of these “refugees from the future” being sent back from futures that end up being orphaned by the changes they make in the past?

  • boz

    if we accept paralel timelines theory (back to the future style) it makes some sense. here is the deal:

    bad arnie sent to past (first break in timeline)
    kyle reese sent earlier if he arrived later than arnie he would end up in his own normal timeline without terminators in 90s. he went earlier to be able to stop arnie (second break in timeline)

    skynet’s first intrusion slightly changed future “an earlier T prototype for cyberdyne industries” resulted in more enhanced cybernetics. also with kyle’s help john has more knowledge about terminators. so in this renewed timeline t1000 and arnie goes back.

    with these two in past, once again the timeline breaks and a new branch occurs. the cyberdyne is destroyed so skynet is produced by military, concept of cybernetics change again this time skynet is more succesful. it manages to kill john connor of future but not succesful enough for ending the resistance. so it sends T-X, after resistance’s key elements in past. john’s wife sends the reprogrammed killer cyborg to protect them. so far this is the most succesful skynet.

    now if you notice, there is a key point of time in terminator timelines. a desperate skynet in its fall, sends something backwards in time. to create a succesful skynet in another timeline. and resistance sends a protector for that timeline.

    as far as i can see, (if my theory is true that is) there’s only one rule in this game of ragnarok. protector must came at an earlier time than terminator. terminator can choose its own time, whenever he arrives he creates his own timeline.

    I hope I could explain it clean enough :)

  • Gene

    I hate temporal mechanics.

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