The Terminator Question

At my new job, pretty much everyone there is a comic book/sci-fi nerd. That’s fine with me, cause I can be fit into that category as well. We were talking about sci-fi movies when I posed a question to one of my fellow workers about the Terminator series.

In the first movie, set in 1984, the Terminator failed it’s mission, which led to them sending a new one in the second movie. My question is this: Why send the second one against John Conner? If they really wanted to get rid of him, it would have been more beneficial to send it against a different target. Sarah Conner got pregnant in 1984, which means she had John in either late 84 or early 85 (I don’t know if they ever actually said his birthday in the movies, and I don’t feel like looking it up). The machines know when he was born, however. At that point in time, the only person who knows about the machines is Sarah Conner, so she is the only one who would be able to stop them. Why didn’t the machines wait until Sarah was in labor (when she’d be unable to help), then send a Terminator to kill Kyle Reese’s (John’s father) parents?

At first, he said that it wouldn’t work because the machines didn’t know who John’s father was. I pointed out that in Terminator Salvation, they knew who he was. The guy at work said that if the machines did what I suggested, and pulled it off, it wouldn’t change anything. Nothing would change in the machine’s reality, it would just create another reality in which the machines win. What do you think? What would happen if the machines killed Kyle’s parents?

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4 comments on “The Terminator Question

  1. twindaddy says:

    I’m sure someone would have stood up in John’s place to lead the human’s against the machines. Perhaps someone more efficient, perhaps someone less.

    Were I the machines, I would have sent someone further back in time. Get Sarah when she’s a child. You would think artificial intelligence would be smarter, but it was created by man…

  2. Null says:

    If Skynet ever figures out at any point in time that Kyle Reese became John Connor’s father by following the T-800 through the time machine, Skynet could eliminate John Connor by simply not building the time machine in the first place. With no time machine, Kyle has no way to go back in time and help Sarah Connor conceive John Connor — that would be an even easier way than killing anyone’s parents. Even if Skynet didn’t find out how John Connor was born until far into the future (after it had built the time machine), it could use its time machine to send a message to itself back in time to before it builds the time machine so that it never builds the time machine.

    I think that any time loop formed by a travel backward through time (e.g. the T-800 and Kyle Reese) would have to be “closed” by the time travelers in order to persist as part of reality. The time loop in the first movie is closed when the T-800 fails and Kyle Reese impregnates Sarah Connor, because that allows John Connor to be born and gives Skynet the impetus to build the time machine that sent the T-800 and Kyle Reese back in time in the first place. If the first movie had ended differently and John Connor was not born (e.g. Sarah Connor was killed by the T-800), however, then Skynet might not know it has to build a time machine in the first place! Unless the T-800 somehow told a newly activated Skynet that it (the T-800) had been sent back in time to kill John Connor, Skynet would be unaware that it sent a Terminator back in time to kill a person it is unaware of (because John Connor would never have existed). Skynet would not know to build a time machine, so how could the T-800 have existed in 1984? The time loop would not be “closed”. Perhaps the Terminators sent back through time were doomed to fail since it was their failure that closed the time loop and caused Skynet to build a time machine and send them to kill Sarah and John Connor.

    If you’re interested in time travel stories, I suggest reading Isaac Asimov’s “The End of Eternity”. Asimov has some interesting insights about time travel in it (which are applicable to The Terminator, Back to the Future, etc.), and it’s a great story as well. If you like science fiction in general, for that matter, I’d suggest any Asimov book.

    • The problem with time travel stories is the incredible amount of loopholes that can be found within. The Terminator series has done pretty good in limiting the number of loopholes there are, but there still are a few. This is why I will never attempt to write a time travel story.

      • Null says:

        Yeah, it’s very tricky to avoid paradoxes when writing time travel stories. The first Terminator movie actually did a decent job maintaining a consistent time loop. It was the sequels that introduced serious paradoxes and problems (e.g. the second movie reveals that technology recovered from the first T-800 allowed Cyberdyne to develop the technology for Skynet, which is an ontological paradox since no one originally designed this technology).

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