The previous Chronicles left me on the edge of an emotional precipice, and I’ve dangled there for the last week waiting for The Last Voyage Of The Jimmy Carter like a political candidate in a recount. But after I’d watched it, instead of rushing headlong to the computer to put my thoughts into words, I’ve dwelled on it for 24 hours.
There were lots of rather deep ideas to take in and process, because this story goes to the very heart of a perspective that was first floated many episodes back, about the nature of time travel in this story. Specifically, the future they’re fighting for, and how events as portrayed in the present might impact or not on the future, or multiple futures.
It became apparent that Derek and Jesse had a relationship in this future world that wasn’t consistently the same, in that they came from two different threads which shared some similarities, like they met and had a relationship. But other details were different, suggesting that at the point a person is sent back in time, a split occurs where multiple futures are played out.
In the context of the Terminator franchise this has been a narrative hot potato over all the movies, because the exact point of Judgment Day is moved but the event can’t be altered, maybe.
There’s also the paradox created in the first Terminator story where, in an attempt to fight the future war, the machines send back a robot to kill Sarah, so John won’t exist. But in doing this John sends Kyle, his father, without whom he won’t exist. In this respect Skynet is the architect of its own downfall, potentially.
So how does this relate to Last Voyage Of The Jimmy Carter? In a number of ways it’s crucial, because it explains much about how John is perceived by humanity in the future, and how the conflict has moved beyond the ‘them and us’ simplicity of man versus machine.
The story is typically divided into three elements: the present reality of dealing with the death of Riley, the USS Jimmy Carter and its mission, and there is a small interlude with John Henry. The John Henry part is somewhat creepy as usual, but other than Catherine Weaver telling John Henry that humans will disappoint him, it isn’t substantially important, I’d suggest.
More crucial is what happens on the sub, where the ‘package’ has been brought aboard and stowed in a ‘secure’ location.
What transpires didn’t make me any more sympathetic to Jesse’s character, because in many respects, she’s also the cause of all her problems. In the previous story there are rumblings of discontent in the crew, which as second in command she virtually ignores. In this story she continues to do this until it has fatal consequences.
Chief discontent is Dietz, who decides that he wants to know what’s in the box and Pandora-like gets into where it’s stored with his pals, and gets inside.
What’s in there is a T-1000 poly-alloy frozen, which soon warms up and kills a crew member before disappearing into the workings of the sub. Given the rules Dietz and his friends broke, you’d think they’d be held, as the Jimmy Carter is big enough to have a brig, but no, they’re not.
So Dietz is free to seed more unrest in the canteen, where, when Jesse finally does something, she’s outnumbered and attacked. Terminator Captain Queeg comes to her aid and kills Dietz, but the damage is already done. It doesn’t really help that Queeg won’t tell her what their mission really is, but then he’s not a Terminator with any diplomatic skills whatsoever. When Queeg and Jesse have a stand-off on the bridge, one of them isn’t going to command again, and when Queeg refuses to stand down, she shoots him through the chip.
She then makes a really poor decision, to add to all the other ones she’s made so far. She puts the sub into a crash dive and tells everyone to abandon ship, which they can do because the Jimmy Carter has a submersible DSRV mini-sub. Just before Jesse boards the escape sub, the T-1000 appears and gives her a message for John, “The answer is ‘no’.” The DSRV gets away from the Jimmy Carter just before it implodes with the pressure and we see the liquid Terminator swim away.
So she destroyed a nuclear sub for what reason? It didn’t kill the Terminator, and actually worse than that, when she gets back to Serrano Point she discovers that the pressure change of the escape caused her to miscarry a baby that was presumably Derek’s. This bit I didn’t actually buy, as it seemed a somewhat tacked on motive and there would be no pressure change from the sub to the DSRV, as they both don’t pressurise as they go deeper. If exposed to the real pressure of 700 metres down you’d be dead instantly, as that’s a force in excess of 1,000 pounds per square inch.
In the end, the sub was lost and people died because Jesse didn’t follow orders, and when dissent appeared she didn’t come down on those spreading it hard. The tipping point for her actions in cooking up the Riley plan is that future Cameron tells her that the question the T-1000’s message answered was “Will you join us?” It’s been hinted at before, but this is the clearest indication yet that the machines have fractionalised. But to what extent it’s not yet clear.
All that leaves to talk about is the present narrative where John starts to put the pieces back together about the injuries Riley had before she died. He asks Derek how long he’d last against Cameron with bare hands, and the answer is not long at all.
John’s character has changed substantially from where we first met him in season one, as it’s required that he grow into the person who will become of the leader of the resistance. This is the first story where the stark difference between John then and now is revealed, when he’s waiting in Jesse’s apartment with a gun when she returns from a swim.
I know some people have been critical of Thomas Dekker in this part, but in this scene he’s quite superb. In an almost Poirot-esque fashion, he lays out how he began to suspect Riley’s appearance wasn’t an accident, and then, knowing that, continued the deception for his own ends. It’s about him wanting for the first time to be ‘John Connor’, rather than living wishing he could be someone else. John lets her go, but Derek catches up with her in an underground parking lot shortly after.
The scene that follows conveniently returns to where I began this piece, about multiple futures. Derek tells her the story of Billy Wisher, a future best friend of Derek’s, who, when he came back in time, he killed, paradoxically. Jesse doesn’t know Billy, because in the timeline she came from he never existed because Derek killed him. So she’s not from the same timeline as Derek, and as he puts it , “You’re not my Jesse You never were”. The acting here again is quite incredible for a TV show. Stephanie Chaves-Jacobsen and Brian Austin Green sell the scene for all they’re worth. She realises he’s going to kill her and runs. Derek aims his gun and pulls the trigger!
Does she die? I’ve no idea. I’ve repeat viewed it a dozen times; I can’t work out if he did kill her or not. Logically, she’s dead, but John Connor said “Let her go” as Derek states when asked if he killed her. Perhaps that’s a metaphor for emotionally releasing her, with a bullet, but I wouldn’t put money either way.
In the final shot we’re given a stark tableau. Sarah, John and Cameron are all sitting on a sofa. John breaks down and Sarah comforts him while Cameron is typically detached. They’re not the Simpsons, and the emotional toll of these events has gravity here.
Overall, while I wasn’t entirely happy with elements of the sub story, this was yet another top notch episode in a series that consistently delivers.
If a TV show ever deserved another season, then this is certainly it.
Read a review of the episode 18 here.