Terminator: Dark Fate Ending & Future Explained (In Detail)

Warning: Major SPOILERS Terminator: Dark Fate ahead.

Terminator: Dark Fate's ending reveals Sarah Connor and Dani Ramos are trapped in another time loop - but it also confirms the machines will never win. Legendary director James Cameron has returned as a producer to give viewers the sequel they've waited 30 years to see, reuniting with Arnold Schwarzenegger and Linda Hamilton for an action-packed sci-fi movie he hopes will launch a new Terminator trilogy.

The film opens with a shocking twist, revealing one last T-800 successfully completed its mission to murder John Connor back in 1998. Since then, Sarah Connor has been on a one-woman mission to travel across the globe and destroy Terminators before they can accomplish their own objectives. This time around, she's facing her most dangerous challenge yet, as she struggles to keep the franchise's new Messiah figure - Natalia Reyes' Dani Ramos - safe from the new Rev-9 Terminator. The future may be bleak, but Dani is destined to bring hope to the human race in their seemingly-inevitable war with the machines, and the new evil AI - named Legion - can't abide that.

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Terminator: Dark Fate may be chock-full of action, but the script is smart and intelligent. It has countless thematic and structural nods to Cameron's first two films, and it ends with the heroes triumphant but wary. They now know the future has some very familiar challenges, but that the human race can indeed overcome them.

Terminator: Dark Fate’s Ending Is A NEW Time Loop

Gabriel Luna as the Rev-9 in Terminator Dark Fate

Once again, the key to the Terminator franchise lies in its intriguing temporal mechanics. Terminator: Dark Fate mirrors 1984's The Terminator by establishing a new time loop, with the present and the future feeding into one another. In the first Terminator, the time loop was centered upon Sarah Connor, who only became pregnant with future resistance leader John as a result of a time traveler from the future. Sarah initially assumes the same is true of Dani, reading too much of herself into the young woman, but this particular time loop is subtly different. Dani herself is the new "John Connor" figure, and she occupies that role because of the Legion AI's attempt to rewrite history. By the end of Terminator: Dark Fate, Dani has lost everything - including her father and brother - and has been committed to a life of conflict. She's on the road to becoming the hero humanity will need.

This particular time loop also encompasses another character; Grace, an artificially-enhanced woman sent back from the future to keep Dani safe from the Rev-9. Terminator: Dark Fate eventually reveals the older Dani knew who Grace was from the moment they first met, when she saved her from scavengers who would have killed the child for food. Grace was always destined to become a cybernetic being, and indeed to be sent on a time travel mission to prevent Legion changing the past. When Grace is assigned the mission, future Dani makes sure she has all the knowledge she needs to pull it off, including longitude-latitude coordinates stamped on to her body to guide her to help.

Carl’s Redemption Sees The Old Terminator Timeline Help The New

That crucial help comes from an unexpected source; Carl, the last T-800 model from the old Skynet timeline, played by Arnold Schwarzenegger himself. Carl was the T-800 that finally succeeded in his mission to kill John Connor in 1998, and he's spent the last 20 years living in an unfamiliar past. The classic Terminator seems to have been transformed by the experience, submerging himself in human society, gradually becoming more human. Although Carl insists these are only affectations, and that he can't really feel the emotions he's simulating, this doesn't actually appear to be true; he's motivated by a desire for redemption that seems far too deeply-rooted to be mere programming.

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Carl has secretly been attempting to redeem himself for years, monitoring the world for temporal anomalies and covertly sending coordinates to Sarah Connor so she can neutralize Terminators. He feels a sense of responsibility for everything Sarah has suffered, and he wants to put it right by giving her a purpose. When Dani and Sarah show up on his doorstep, he abandons any self-preservation programming, and commits himself to saving Dani - even if it costs him everything. It's interesting to note that this means the Legion timeline is frustrated because of the last relics from the old, defunct Skynet one; in a strange way, Carl's redemption plot implicitly redeems that entire apocalyptic future.

Carl's portrayal in Terminator: Dark Fate is a fascinating new development for the Terminator franchise, but thematically it fits perfectly with the T-800 in Terminator 2: Judgment Day. That reprogrammed Terminator was shown developing an almost paternalistic care for John Connor, and by the end of the film it felt more like a character than a soulless machine. Terminator: Dark Fate confirms that a Terminator, if left to its own devices, really can build a life of its own. It blurs the lines between machine intelligence and living being - and that's surely a development that will be explored in future movies, especially given the Rev-9s are able to simulate humanity a lot more effectively than the T-800s.

Can Dani And Sarah Stop Grace’s Future?

Terminator Dark Fate Sarah Dani

Of course, the greatest question of Terminator: Dark Fate is whether or not the future is set in stone. On the face of it, the symmetry between The Terminator and Terminator: Dark Fate seems to suggest that this particular time loop is stable; Dani and Sarah simply don't know enough to change the timeline. They know the future AI is called Legion, and that it's a military project, but they haven't even been told which country will develop it. It's even possible there's a secret "arms race" going on between a number of different nations to develop military-grade AI, and if so it's impossible to say which one is destined to go rogue. Meanwhile, the codename "Legion" could just refer to the army of robots the AI is intended to command; alternatively, it could be a Biblical reference, suggesting that the machine intelligence's code "lives" in the cloud, scattered across countless servers all around the globe. If the latter is the case, Legion will be far more difficult to stop than Skynet, because this won't just be a matter of blowing up one building.

The time loop may be stable right now, but - just as in Cameron's original movies - all it will take is the introduction of a new temporal event to disrupt that. It's safe to assume Legion will continue trying to change the timeline by attempting to murder Dani, meaning more Rev-9s - or worse - will be sent back. While every assassination attempt risks Sarah and Dani's death, it also has the potential to give them more data, the crucial information they need to change the timeline and erase Legion from history just as Sarah did Skynet.

RELATED: Terminator Salvation’s Original Ending Would Have Saved The Franchise

Sarah Connor Fulfills Her Destiny And Trains A New “John”

In Dark Fate, Sarah Connor has found a new purpose. Previously, she was the "mother of the future," the Mary figure destined to give birth to and raise the Messiah. When she learned John's fate, she dedicated herself to learning all the skills she would need to train him for survival in a world at war. Tragically, in spite of her best efforts, John was killed, and so Sarah's own destiny seemed to have been thwarted. Carl gave her the best he could, offering her vengeance against the Terminators, but it left Sarah Connor as a shadow of the woman she should have been.

By the end of Terminator: Dark Fate, Sarah Connor has become the "mentor to the future." Her role is to train Dani Ramos, to pass on all the knowledge she's accumulated in a life of constant conflict. She may not have given birth to this new Messiah figure, but she's still the one who will raise her, who will train her to become the leader humanity needs. There's a sense in which Sarah's destiny has come full circle.

Terminator: Dark Fate Suggests The Machines Will Always Lose

Terminator Dark Fate Rev-9

The first Terminator was a relentlessly bleak and fatalistic experience, foretelling the eventual end of humanity. Curiously, even though it's titled "Dark Fate," this movie ends with a more positive vision of the future. It's true the war with the machines now seems to be an inevitable part of history; human society appears predestined to come to a point where it constructs sophisticated artificial intelligence, which then go rogue. But it's crucial to note that, in both timelines, a human resistance fights back. What's more, on both occasions the resistance is so successful that the AI is forced to resort to the nuclear option of trying to change history. A logic-driven artificial intelligence would be aware of the risks associated with that strategy, so this sounds like a last resort.

Meanwhile, the very fact that John Connor can be replaced by Dani Ramos gives another reason to hope. It suggests that, however hard the AIs may try, there will always be another resistance leader, another savior who steps up to lead the humans in the war against the machines. John Connor may be dead, but Dani Ramos can now fill his shoes; and it seems likely that, should future Terminators succeed in killing Dani, she'll simply be replaced by someone else. Both John and Dani stand as symbols of human nature itself, resilient and unconquerable, and able to resist the machines' best efforts to destroy it. That, fundamentally, is why Sarah and Dani can face the future with hope at the end of Terminator: Dark Fate.

RELATED: Terminator: All Timelines & Retcons Explained

Terminator: Dark Fate Is A Mirror To The First Terminator

James Cameron doesn't intend Dark Fate to stand as a separate entity; rather, his goal is for this to relaunch the franchise, to be the beginning of a Terminator trilogy. Interestingly, there are conceptual similarities between Cameron's approach and the one deployed by J.J. Abrams when he attempted to relaunch Star Wars in 2015's The Force Awakens. In both cases, the legendary directors have created movies that are essentially a mirror of a classic film, and they've brought back the original cast in order to pass the baton to some new, more diverse stars. While this has led some critics to criticize both relaunches for their lack of originality, in theory it's a smart way to get nostalgic buy-in. Terminator: Dark Fate is probably the more original of the two relaunches; like the best mirrors, while there are similarities, there are also inversions - such as the ending that's redolent of hope rather than bleak and fatalistic.

This does not, however, mean James Cameron will continue the mirror themes on into the inevitable Terminator: Dark Fate sequel. As excellent as Terminator 2: Judgment Day is as a stand-alone movie, there's a sense in which it was a misstep as a franchise-builder, just because its ending was too satisfying and wrapped everything up far too neatly. This time round, James Cameron intends to make a trilogy - which means he inevitably has to deviate from that particular pattern, should Dark Fate's box office merit a sequel.

MORE: The Terminator Franchise Has Ruined “I’ll Be Back”

Key Release Dates
  • Terminator: Dark Fate (2019) release date: Nov 01, 2019
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