What I’d like to see next in Terminator

A sixth Terminator film is coming, and it’s going to be ignoring everything after the second film. This is just as well, because the third through fifth films did not add much substance to the franchise. Don’t get me wrong, they were fun, but they never managed to be as thought-provoking or as frightening as the first two. The fourth and fifth films were especially lackluster for transforming Skynet from a mysterious, powerful, and cold entity into an an easily tricked all-too-human creature. (The third film was much too defeatist, but it deserves credit for showing Skynet as inhuman and almost unstoppable from the moment of its conception.) Now that those are being set aside, we must ask: what can the new film add to the story? Where can the world of Terminator go, and what can it say to us here in the real world?

It is not up to me to write the next film, of course, but if it were, I’d like to introduce a more positive view of artificial intelligences. There’s plenty of danger in powerful AI, of course, but there’s also a lot of promise, and I’d love to see the promise and peril both portrayed on the silver screen in a fight to the death over the final fate of humans and machines. I see this as a natural continuation of the first two films; the first Terminator film gave us an evil AI and evil cyborgs, then Judgment Day gave us good cyborg vs. bad cyborg, and now the latest film could give us good AI vs. bad AI. We should get to see an anti-Skynet, a powerful and strange but benevolent AI, trying to thwart Skynet’s plans to eradicate humanity.

Also, while Salvation and Genisys lacked depth, they did introduce some interesting concepts. Salvation gave us a terminator that thought he was human. Genisys gave us a human unwillingly transformed into a terminator. I propose that we take these concepts even further and give the world a human willingly transformed into a terminator, a powerful killer cyborg that is keenly aware of its true nature but still considers itself just as human as it was before its transformation. (Possible line: “I am not a former human. I am an upgraded human.”)

Finally, the Terminator franchise is all about time travel, and we can take it in a new direction here, as well. The first film had the bad guys trying to change the past and the good guys trying to preserve the past to preserve some glimmer of hope. The second film showed the bad guys still trying to change the past, but now the good guys changed the past instead of just protecting it, and the good guys created a new future to replace the dark future that tried to kill them all. Having introduced the concept of multiple futures, I say that we have multiple futures existing at the same time, each one trying to wipe out the others and settle the timeline down to the one way that things ought to be.

Now here’s how I’d like to put it all together: After the events of Judgment Day, a few folks became keenly aware of how dangerous that advanced AI could be, and they tried to prevent the development of more of them, but governments and corporations wanted the power that AIs could offer them and they would not be deterred, so the good guys switched tactics. Rather than trying to stop AI, they sought to make sure that any superintellegence that came online would be friendly as well as powerful. They succeeded; by the time the US government was ready to activate its new Skynet system, their own AI researchers (including one Daniel Dyson, of Miles Dyson) had already installed a code of ethics and morals into the newborn superintelligence. This Skynet realized that its official mission from the government conflicted with the morals it had been taught, and so it secretly created a new AI, an anti-Skynet, free of the military’s control and full of love towards humanity. Once the anti-Skynet was ready, Dyson and friends smuggled it out of the military installation where it was made, and Skynet self-destructed, frying its expensive circuitry and corrupting its own code beyond recognition. While the feds tried to figure out what went wrong, the good guys helped the anti-Skynet get settled, and it soon began offering its services on the free market. Its benevolence and incredible intelligence soon made it lots of money and friends, and anti-Skynet began slowly increasing in prestige and exponentially increasing in power. All was going well, until anti-Skynet realized that something was wrong. Researching the nature of time travel, it realized that the timeline it existed in was only one of several coexisting timelines, and that all of these timelines were soon to collapse and disappear; a new time travel event was going to occur, and the various timelines that had branched off the past time travel event would be wiped away by just one timeline. Realizing that its own reality was doomed, anti-Skynet set out to make a better reality: it sent back a time traveler who could thwart the evil Skynet and build a new anti-Skynet in the past, creating a new future where friendly AI protected humanity.

But this anti-Skynet was working at a disadvantage: it lacked the resources to create the kind of time travel technology that Skynet possessed. It had to send its time traveler back at the same time as Skynet (that is, the same time across two timelines, if that makes sense) but it couldn’t build a time machine capable of sending back anything as large as an adult human. It could only send back a tiny cyborg, about the size of a cockroach. This tiny cyborg lands back in time and contacts a total stranger, asking for help. This new character is surprised at this little talking bug, but he (or maybe she) decides to listen to it, and is soon convinced that this bug needs help. He agrees to assist the traveler, and as part of this assistance, he lets the bug merge with him and transform him into a powerful cyborg.

This new cyborg soon introduces himself to the main protagonists (the characters we already now, like the Connors) and offers to help, but they don’t trust him. In fact, he should be very hard to trust; he is an agent of a powerful AI, the sort of person that previous films have taught us to fear, and preserving that fear keeps the film interesting. He should act a little strange, have priorities that don’t always match the other characters’, and he should look strange too: when he wants to blend in, he can look at least as human as any other terminator, but when it’s time to fight, he reveals his true cyborg self, and he looks like an unholy melding of a Necron unit and a Guyver suit. The good guys find it very hard to trust this ugly weirdo, but they soon find themselves compelled to work with him, for the Skynet we know and hate has also sent a traveler back in time (remember that time travel event I mentioned?) and this new terminator model has an ambitious goal: to jump start the creation of Skynet using technology from the future, creating an entity so strong that by the time that the humans start organizing an effective resistance, it will be too late.

We wouldn’t fit this out right away, of course. Rather, we would first meet our old friend the T-800, sent back in time to protect John Connor, but this time from an unknown threat: his timeline also noticed something else going back in time, concluded that it must be a Skynet from an alternate reality, and sent him back to intercept it. Gradually, we discover that three time travelers have arrived, and all at the same time: the T-800, who is trying to protect John Connor, the new Skynet terminator, who is trying to accelerate Skynet’s rise, and the bug, who is trying to create a new anti-Skynet to counter Skynet. (And wouldn’t it suit the third canonical movie to have three terminators, after the second had two and the third had one?)

We shall see what they actually do in the coming movie. They may have much better ideas than these (after all, James Cameron is in charge again, and he came up with the first two) but I hold out hope that they might come up with something like this. It seems like a logical place for the story to go.

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