Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Skynet vs. Genisys: The War Between the Machines

The following is an analysis of certain story elements contained in the film Terminator: Genisys, and not a review of the film.

Warning: Spoilers

Terminator: Genisys, the fifth film in the 31-year-old Terminator franchise, offers us yet another version of the homicidal artificial intelligence known as Skynet, this one taking the form of a cloud based app called Genisys that is supposed to provide cross device connectivity for over a billion people. The screen writers apparently wanted to update the face of Skynet, and make it more relatable to a generation with little memory of Cold War thermonuclear brinkmanship but a great deal of familiarity with cloud based computing and connectivity apps. The producers of this film have indicated that Genisys may be a super aware version of the original Skynet, having seen the outcome of the war between man and machines across multiple timelines. But their creative intentions aside, my own theory about Genisys is that it is not a new version of Skynet at all, but rather a competing artificial intelligence who has been fighting its own war against Skynet through all of the Terminator movies since T2.

The Terminator franchise has been riddled with paradoxes since the beginning. Kyle Reese, sent back in time by his commanding officer, John Connor, to save Connor’s mother from the original Terminator, is actually Connor’s father, and was only there to father him because his son had sent him back to 1984 in the first place. Similarly, it seems that Skynet itself would never have been built if pieces of the first Terminator had not been found and adapted by Cyberdyne industries into the technology that would eventually become Skynet. Now, in Terminator: Genisys, something else happens as Reese is sent back to the past, John Connor is attacked by Dr. Who Genisys and assimilated into its collective. Connor, the great leader of humanity’s war against the machines has now become part machine, and is sent back in time to 2014 to initiate the creation of the Genisys program. Yet another ‘character’ that uses time travel to create itself.

But why 2014? In the original timeline the military control system Skynet “wakes up” and initiates Judgment Day (a launch of America’s thermonuclear arsenal at the Soviet Union, which retaliates in kind) in 1997, killing three billion people at the start of the war to eradicate humankind. The Genisys program that gets created almost 20 years later is more of a civilian system with military applications, a cloud based app that would seem to need human customers (one billion pre-orders) to work in the first place. It is a totally different program from a totally different decade than the original Skynet. It couldn’t have been created in 1997, so it needed to prevent Judgment Day from coming. It needed to prevent Skynet from being born. It did that by reprogramming Skynet’s own Terminators and sending them back in time to collude with John and Sarah Connor in changing history.

The premise of Terminator 2: Judgment Day, was that Skynet, operating from a second time travel facility, sent an advanced T-1000 Terminator back in time to kill John Connor. Future Connor, somehow aware of this second Terminator, reprograms an older T-800 (Arnie) model and sends it back in time to protect himself. But Terminator: Genisys shows us John Connor being attacked by Adam (Genisys, also called the T-5000 in his human form) just as Reese is time traveling. The conceit of the film is that this is what creates the new timeline, and that Genisys had not assimilated future Connor is the previous movies. But what if he did? What if that was always what happened and it was always the Genisys controlled Connor sending Terminators back in time to protect himself. After all, where did Connor suddenly acquire the ability to reprogram Terminators? If Skynet’s assets were so easily manipulated, why wasn’t the resistance using them against Skynet in the war? No, Connor was able to reprogram the T-800 because he had already been integrated with Genisys, who was able to manipulate Skynet’s systems. Genisys sent the T-800 back to battle Skynet’s T-1000 to save John Connor, because Connor was vital to Genisys’ plans. John and Sarah adopted the mission to stop the 1997 Judgment Day after being rescued by the T-800, a plan that worked out to the benefit of Genisys and the detriment of Skynet. It was the T-800’s plan to destroy himself as well (even though he couldn’t self-terminate), ensuring that the technological foundations of Skynet would disappear from the timeline.

We could carry this logic forward to Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, with Skynet sending the T-X back to kill John’s future wife and lieutenants, and Genisys sending another T-800 back to protect them. Yes we’re told a story by the T-800 that Kate Brewster reprogrammed him after he killed John. But that could be a fiction created by Genisys to sell the story. Of course the Rise of the Machines timeline still had Judgment Day occurring in favor of Skynet over Genisys, so this film, removed from the canon by Terminator: Genisys, could at best be considered an alternate timeline in the war between Genisys and Skynet, one where Skynet triumphed.

Terminator: Genisys also complicates the timeline by sending Terminators back to Sarah’s childhood, where her family is killed by a T-1000 and she is rescued by the T-800 she calls “Pops.” This is just another battlefield in the war between Skynet and Genisys. In each of these conflicts the older model T-800 is successful against the more advanced T-1000. Why? What edge could the human leader John Connor have given these machines? Almost none. But the advanced artificial intelligence Genisys may have been able to provide intelligence and strategic assets that enabled them to consistently defeat a superior enemy.

Of course Terminator: Genisys ended with Sarah, Kyle and Pops destroying the complex that housed the Genisys project, believing that Genisys is just another version of Skynet that would seek to launch Judgment Day. But we never saw Genisys’ version of Judgment Day, so maybe that’s not the plan at all. Genisys seems more interested in converting humans into machines, and even Sarah wonders whether or not this is what will happen to them. After all, it may be possible that Genisys has won its time war against Skynet (since the mid credits scene did confirm its survival), but that doesn’t mean its plans for the future of the human race are significantly more benevolent.

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