Warning: contains major spoilers for Terminator: Genisys.
So, Terminator: Genisys is out, and it’s not doing too well with the critics (us included). Although review aggregators are by no means the be-all-and-end-all of film analysis, an average rating of 4.6 out of 10 on Rotten Tomatoes from nearly 200 reviews is still fairly bad going.
On the eve of the film’s global release, news came to light suggesting that a long-mooted Terminator TV series was still in development. As it stands, ‘two more movies and a TV series’ is the officially-announced plan surrounding the latest attempt to revive James Cameron’s classic sci-fi property.
Seeing as Terminator: Genisys is doing decent money (it picked up $220 million at the global box office in just 12 days – hardly Jurassic World or The Avengers-sized shillings, but not to be scoffed at either), we assume this is still the plan for Paramount and Skydance. Indeed, we’ve not yet heard anything to suggest that the franchise will be shut down as it was after Terminator Salvation, the previous shot at a revamp.
So what direction could a Terminator TV show take? It wasn’t too long ago that The Sarah Connor Chronicles was building a solid fan-base, so it shouldn’t be impossible for a new TV show to garner popularity, if pulled off correctly. Right?
Here are some possible directions, then…
So, as we’ve discussed in detail already, it looks as though Matt Smith’s mysterious character from Terminator: Genisys is actually Skynet itself. Yes, the former Doctor Who star (credited in the film as Matthew Smith, for the first time) is playing a visual representation of the very concept of Skynet, put inside a T-5000 model Terminator.
But how did a self-aware artificial intelligence come to wander about as a very convincing-looking normal bloke? Yes, we know Skynet created the Terminators, but what’s the reasoning behind Skynet having a leader? And why would you then send Skynet-the-person into John Connor’s army? It makes sense to keep an eye on him, and later recruit him, but couldn’t a well-programmed foot soldier do that?
All in all, the subplot of Matt-Smith-is-Skynet was rushed over somewhat in Terminator: Genisys’ bubble and squeak plot (as in – chuck everything in and hope for the best). It raised more questions than it did answers. An incredibly vague mid-credits teaser told us that Skynet will return somehow, with the help of a big red semi-circle thingy.
Presumably, then, Matt Smith will play a more screen-time-engulfing villainous role in future film instalments, but surely there’s something to be said about how his Skynet/T-5000 came to be.
We know that Skynet was a computer system developed by Cyberdene and the United States Air Force (using the remains of the first film’s Terminator), but there’s a big ol’ gap in our knowledge between ‘becomes sentient, starts killing’ and ‘looks like Matt Smith, can turn any person into a man-machine hybrid.’
Until now, Skynet was almost always explained via dialogue and the actions of characters. The inception and development of Skynet has never been the core focus of a property. Terminator 2: Judgement Day came closest, and is widely considered to be a ruddy brilliant film.
Thinking about this stage of the Terminator story brings up plenty of questions. What were the people who built Skynet like? Did the system deceive them with its crafty sentience? Could it have been stopped? Did anyone have doubts?
It feels like there’s a story there, and if Matt Smith could be lured back to TV (perhaps for a lavish event series), it might just be an interesting one to explore on the small screen.
If the series focused on the people developing Skynet, and Skynet’s early evildoing actions, perhaps Matt Smith could begin as a computer interface (not too taxing on his schedule) and develop into a fully-fledged villain as the show went on.
The future war
Again, in the two classic Terminator films, we don’t see much of the future war itself. What we see is the agents from both sides who get sent back to the 1980s to try and secure a victory for their respective armies. Terminator: Genisys chose a similar tactic, travelling away from the future war as soon as the plot allowed it. Only brief flashbacks to the future war occurred after the time travel plot beats had happened in Genisys.
Terminator Salvation tried its best to portray the idea of a future war, but it did a fairly naff job by most people’s accounts. Some of the ideas there were interesting, though – a shifty Skynet trying to deceive the Resistance with undercover Terminator-human-hybrids and fake leaks of made-up vital information. Battling with an army controlled by a super-intelligent killer computer system is pretty bad as post-apocalyptic visions go.
Could a TV series visit this time period, then? Between the events of Judgement Day and before the time travel antics of The Terminator and Terminator: Genisys’ opening acts? There’s certainly potential there, as well as a few stumbling blocks in the way of getting it right.
The biggest of these obstacles would be the no-win-scenario nature of the story. Naturally, we know that the Resistance don’t win. Well, they nearly do, but then Skynet does its time-travel thing and the Resistance has to follow. Saying that, how many great films and TV series have followed normal people’s parts in seemingly unwinnable conflicts? How many characters that we loved have we watched die in war dramas? Look at Band Of Brothers for a prime example. Yes, the allies won World War II eventually, but most of the stories before that point weren’t happy or predictable ones.
A show set during the future war could be gripping viewing, then. Like The Walking Dead, death and danger could be lingering around every corner. John Connor’s journey to heroism could be the central story, or the show could focus on an entirely new band of freedom fighters within his army.
This idea might be the most difficult one to pull off, but it could also be thrilling telly if the right writers got involved.
The New Sarah Connor Chronicles
As well as the revelation of Skynet’s physical embodiment, Terminator: Genisys also threw out the established canonical version of Sarah Connor. Linda Hamilton’s everywoman waitress was nowhere to be seen when the recast Kyle Reese jumped back to the 1980s. Instead, Emilia Clarke’s Sarah skipped that part and went straight to the leather-clad bad-ass bit.
This was all thanks to ‘Pops’ – Arnold Schwarzenegger’s original Terminator who has been repurposed by an unknown helper. It’s still unclear who sent Arnie’s T-800 back through time, but we know that they sent him to Sarah’s childhood and programmed him to protect her, not kill her.
This new chain of events pretty much serves to delete the events of The Terminator and cut straight to Terminator 2: Judgement Day where Sarah and the T-800 were kicking arse and working together to save mankind. As much as this decision appears to be a storytelling shortcut, it also creates a whole new timeline where a younger Sarah grew up raised by a Terminator. That sounds like it could be a great TV show to this writer.
Finding suitable actors would be a big difficulty, with a young Emilia Clarke and a young Arnie not being the easiest casting calls in television history. However, with the right young actress and buff actor, this could be a recipe for an exciting and fun show.
There’s a period of about a decade between the T-800 guardian appearing in the 1970s and Kyle Reese showing up in the 1980s. While we know what happened when Arnie first arrived (pilot episode alert!), we don’t really know anything that happens after that, until Kyle turns up.
In the new timeline, we also don’t know for sure if Skynet sent anyone else to kill Arnie. For argument’s sake, let’s say they sent a bunch of Terminators after him, in an attempt to get to Sarah and stop whoever sent him back in the first place. This would offer us plenty of action and a central mystery of ‘who sent Pops?’ – it might not make for the longest running series ever, but there’s surely a couple of solid seasons in that. Right?
Something else entirely
Of course, there’s also a chance that the new show might not focus on the Connor family, Kyle Reese or Arnie’s T-800 at all. Perhaps Skydance are cooking up something else entirely.
In a giant war with all mankind against an unlimited supply of robots, there’s a chance that there might be a few more vital characters than the same old names and plot-points.
Star Wars: Rebels is a prime example of this methodology – invent some new characters, find them a slot in your established canon where there’s not much going on, and let them go at it. Within the universe of the Terminator films, there are plenty of points where you could plonk in some new characters.
Jumping straight to mind are the early days of the Resistance – the immediate follow-up to Judgement Day. Although, yes, John Connor eventually took control, there must have been a mad scramble for life, power and control in the remaining human settlements after the initial nuclear devastation. We know that mankind survived, so there must be some other people out there doing something interesting.
Again, there are a few interesting questions here. What happened to the Governments of the world? How quickly did the Terminators appear to kill the remaining humans? Did civilisation manage to rebuild at all while Skynet built its army? Did anyone escape their concentration camps?
Perhaps this would be the best approach, seeing as we’ll have little idea what happens to these hypothetical new characters. With the Connors and Reeses we know who falls in love with whom, who leads the Resistance, who dies when, and all sorts of other information that could distract from viewer engagement in a weekly episodic structure.
With new characters, though – anything’s fair game. As is rumoured for the Ghost crew from Star Wars: Rebels, perhaps early members of the Resistance could later become a part of the cinematic franchise if the show became popular enough.
Also, and this might sound a bit sacrilegious, but there are also plenty of other Terminators that aren’t played by Arnold Schwarzenegger. Is he the only one that ever went rogue and joined the resistance? Lee Byung-Hun’s T-1000 felt underused in Terminator: Genisys, perhaps there’s a way that a series could do something more interesting with that character. Perhaps we’re clutching at straws here, but there’s no reason a new series must focus on the established core characters.
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