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Terminator: Dark Fate’s NEW Future Timeline Changes Explained

Warning! Contains SPOILERS for Terminator: Dark Fate.

Terminator: Dark Fate sets up a whole new timeline - and even a new Judgment Day. Time travel is one of the hardest concepts for sci-fi films to use in a consistent way, in part because it's only theoretical; there's no real-world analogue. As a result, every franchise tends to develop its own "rules," but they're often broken for plot convenience.

James Cameron's first two Terminator films were remarkably consistent. The first movie was centered upon the idea of a time loop, with the past and present feeding into one another. Sarah Connor was hunted down by a T-800 Terminator because she was destined to give birth to John Connor, the resistance leader; in an ironic twist, John's father was the resistance hero sent back in time to save her. Terminator 2: Judgment Day saw a further temporal event allow the time loop to be broken, with Sarah and her now-teenage son John learning how the Skynet AI was destined to be created. They were able to destroy Cyberdyne Industries, the company that would have developed Skynet, and thus prevent its creation.

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Related: Terminator: All Timelines & Retcons Explained

Terminator: Dark Fate mirrors the first Terminator movie, and as a result it exploits all the classic time travel tropes. It sets up a whole new timeline - one that, at first glance, is every bit as dark as the first one.

How Terminator: Dark Fate Creates A New Future

Terminator: Dark Fate begins when a new breed of Terminator, the Rev-9, arrives in the present day hunting a young Latino woman named Dani Ramos. Fortunately for Dani, the Terminator is opposed by another time traveler, a cybernetic freedom fighter named Grace, but it's soon clear that the two women are outmatched by the Rev-9. They get further assistance from Sarah Connor herself, who has spent the last 20 years of her life safeguarding the present from time traveling Terminators.

Sarah had essentially believed that she was still killing off the last remnants of a defunct timeline, Terminators sent back by Skynet before the past had changed. To her fury, however, Grace reveals that's not the case. While Sarah may have destroyed Skynet, all she's done is delay the inevitable. It seems that human society is destined to evolve to the point where scientists begin to experiment with artificial intelligences - and that these AI will always go rogue.

Terminator: Dark Fate's Legion Explained

Terminator Dark Fate

This new timeline's artificial intelligence is called "Legion," and it was developed by the military as a cybersecurity system. The film is deliberately silent about just which country was responsible for the creation of Legion, leaving that to the inevitable Terminator: Dark Fate sequels. Frankly, it's entirely possible that there's a secret "arms race" going on between different world powers, all competing to create AIs that improve the efficiency of their military operations. The United States is the most likely culprit, but in the real world the Pentagon is struggling to keep up in this field with both China and Russia. Whatever the case, Legion was the result, and it caused a global catastrophe when it decided human beings were a threat to its existence.

Related: Linda Hamilton Was In Terminator Salvation: Why Does Everybody Forget?

It's interesting to speculate about just why the AI is named "Legion." That may reflect that it was designed to run an army of drones; alternatively, it could be a Biblical reference that subtly hints its code is situated on the cloud rather than on a single server. The latter possibility is quite an ominous and important one, because it means that stopping Legion's development could be a lot harder than preventing Skynet's.

Terminator: Dark Fate's New Judgment Day

Terminator Dark Fate Rubble

The new Terminator: Dark Fate timeline even features its own "Judgment Day," a single day when the whole world stopped in an instant. Again, details of this new Judgment Day are sketchy - Terminator: Dark Fate gives the sequels as much room to maneuver as possible - but it still likely involves nuclear weapons and the associated electromagnetic pulses. It's unclear whether these nukes were launched by Legion in an attempt to wipe out humanity, or if the human military used them while trying to destroy Legion.

Meanwhile, Grace's account of the future - of the world just "stopping" - seems to suggest that the Legion AI was able to use the Internet to shut down all computerized systems in an instant. It's important to remember that modern society lives in a world where "the Internet of Things" is a reality, where digital intelligence has been integrated into everything from kettles to lightbulbs, from pacemakers to driverless cars, from the stock market to air traffic control. A viruslike AI could cause chaos with ease by shutting all that down at once.

Robots Used By Legion

Terminator Dark Fate Rev-9

While Legion's Terminators are visually similar to the Skynet ones, they're a lot more sophisticated. The Rev-9 is particularly impressive, and seems to be a logical advancement on the T-1000; it features a mimetic polyalloy exterior that can fully detach from the metal endoskeleton. Essentially, a Rev-9 can split into two units, driven by the same shared consciousness. Splitting the endoskeleton and the polyalloy does seem to make the Rev-9 slightly less durable, but that's clearly a price worth paying for doubling the killing power. Grace suggests that, once a Rev-9 has locked on to you as a target, you either win in the first few minutes - or you die.

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

It's safe to assume that android Terminators like the Rev-9 were largely developed for infiltration and execution, but flashforward scenes confirm that Legion has a fleet of military-grade Terminators with a very different design. The AI appears to have refined the classic "liquid metal" technology, and as a result its general soldiers have moved away from human form. They're more like whirling cyclones of death, with the mimetic polyalloy forming razor-blade tentacles instead of arms.

Dani Is The New John Connor In Terminator: Dark Fate's Future

Natalia Reyes as Dani in Terminator Dark Fate

In the original Terminator timeline, John Connor was the man destined to lead the human race in the war against the machines. With John dead, murdered by one last T-800 in 1998, Dani Ramos is destined to become the new resistance leader. Legion's attempt to change history has unwittingly initiated another time loop, with Dani learning of her destiny and apprenticed to Sarah Connor. When Legion strikes, and human civilization collapses overnight, Dani is on hand as a symbol of hope. Flashforward scenes show future Dani as a charismatic and persuasive leader, able to talk scavengers down and convince the last human beings to band together in order to defeat Legion.

Terminator: Dark Fate strongly suggests that the machines can never win. In both the Skynet and Legion timelines, the conflict between the machines and the last survivors of humanity has escalated to the point the AIs have decided to try to change history. A logic-driven AI would understand the risks associated with this strategy, and would only consider it as a last resort. The clear implication is that Dani is winning.

Is The Legion Future Stopped In Terminator: Dark Fate?

Gabriel Luna as Rev-9 and Arnold Schwarzenegger as T-800 in Terminator Dark Fate

Like 1984's The Terminator, this film isn't about changing the timeline or averting an apocalypse; it's simply about survival. When the dust settles and the Rev-9 is defeated, Sarah and Dani are left with a sense of what's coming, but they don't have enough specific information to prevent it. Grace doesn't give them enough data to track Legion down; they don't even know which country will develop the rogue AI, and it's likely funded by black-ops budgets, meaning there's no paper trail to chase. As far as Terminator: Dark Fate is concerned, Legion's future is set in stone.

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

But that might well change going forward. The time loop can be broken by a new temporal event, in just the same way Terminator 2: Judgment Day allowed Sarah Connor to avert the Skynet timeline. It's safe to assume that sequels will see Legion send further Terminators - more Rev-9s, or worse - back in time to kill Dani Ramos. Any further encounter will serve as a new data-point, allowing the protagonists to learn more about the future, and potentially providing them with an opportunity to prevent it.

More: Every Terminator Movie, Ranked Worst To Best (Including Dark Fate)

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