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film criticism by maryann johanson | since 1997

‘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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