I like 1984’s The Terminator. It’s a fun and exciting movie in which an unrelenting threat from the future turns a young woman’s life upside-down.

I also love its sequel, 1991’s Terminator 2: Judgment Day, basically a two-hour chase scene on steroids.

Both movies feature time travel.

And neither movie could possibly happen the way they are presented.


Unlike the vast majority of the internet, I do not believe that there is a statute of limitation on spoilers. If you have never seen a movie, no matter how long it has been out, it is new to you. That said, I also acknowledge that there are certain discussions that cannot be spoiler-free. I don’t usually have a problem with people on podcasts and the like having spoiler-y talks about things… but for the love of all deities that may or may not exist, warn people first. NOT after casually dropping the Great Secret of the Thing.

Hence, this is your spoiler warning for the Terminator franchise; since this is a discussion about the very premise of the story, you know there have to be some pretty heavy spoilers — particularly for the first two movies.

If you want to proceed anyway, that’s your business. But you can’t say I didn’t warn you.

Before I begin, a brief note: I am sure I am not the only person to realize what I am going to present. I am probably the least eloquent of the people to present it. But I did come up with it organically, while talking to ChatGPT about series and trilogies. It occurred to me in a flash of realization, and the more I thought about it, the madder I got about it. Thus, I get to subject you to the torture of my discovery.


Time travel hurts my brain. For as brilliant as I think the Back tot he Future trilogy is, that second one leaves me dizzy every time I watch it. The idea that changing a thing in the past affects something in the present is too chaotic for my poor little brain to comprehend. It’s why The Butterfly Effect was so hard for me to follow. It’s why Ian Malcolm’s explanation of Chaos Theory in Jurassic Park left me scratching my head.

Doctor Who seems to do it “right” for me. Nothing really changes when the Doctor messes with time.

Quantum Leap: Sam has to “fix” whatever is wrong in the time he’s leapt into, so whatever changes had crept in are never fully seen, just alluded to by Ziggy, via Al.

Marvel comics skirts the issue entirely with the multiverse. In the 1990s there was a comics series called Guardians of the Galaxy (not the ones you know and love, but a team from the 31st century). They were outside the main 616 universe when they went back in time and met the younger version of one of their members. Vance Astro convinced young Vance Astro not to become an astronaut, so when the Guardians returned to their own time, nothing had changed. Their timeline was no longer branched from 616. 616 Vance became Marvel Boy and joined the New Warriors, while Major Astro continued his tenure with the Guardians.

What’s all this got to do with the Terminator movies? Well, I have one more time travel thing to mention and I’ll explain what this is all about.

In 2012, I wrote the first of what I expected would be a trilogy of books that I have since abandoned. It was about a time-traveling assassin who took out the deadliest serial killers at the point in history in which they disappeared. The specific depiction at the beginning of the book was the moment where he killed Jack the Ripper. I was trying to be careful to follow the rules of “nothing in the past can actually change” version of time travel. Which was why, when I considered the idea that he might father a child with one of the characters who became a love interest, I immediately kiboshed it.

One of the biggest dangers of time travel as a storytelling device is the paradox. I may not fully understand the concept — again, it all hurts my brain — but to put it simply, a paradox is a situation in which effect precedes cause.

Think of it in terms of there not being time travel. In the case of my own story, without the assassin, the woman gave birth to a baby boy who would grow up to produce the theories that would lead to the invention of time travel. Then a time machine was used for our assassin to go back in time and kill the wrong person. That in itself created something of a paradox, because in the story, that woman ended up on the extended list of the serial killer’s victims, and he had to prevent her death to let his timeline resume.

(See? Even the simple version is convoluted!)


The Terminator opens with a war between the machines of SkyNet and the human race. The machines send a Terminator back to 1984 to kill the mother of the resistance leader before that leader can be born and become a threat. This resistance leader sends one of his men back to protect the intended victim.

Again, it’s a good movie. It’s thrilling. Exciting. Watching Arnold going through the phone book and killing everyone named Sarah Connor he can find… you wonder if she will survive.

Except that the resistance leader could not have sent the guy back to protect her… because the resistance leader could not possibly have existed. And why not?

Because that man was the leader’s own father. Conceived during the mission to protect Sarah.

John Connor is a paradox. He doesn’t exist without the time travel. And if he doesn’t exist without the time travel, who sends Kyle Reese back in time to protect Sarah from the robot?

If this was the only paradox that destroys the premise, I’d find a way to let it go and move on with my life. But then a sequel comes out a few years later that makes the entire franchise absolutely impossible.


John Connor has been born and is now a teenage boy. He’s in the foster system because his mother has been institutionalized, going off the proverbial deep end trying to prepare John for being a resistance leader.

Having failed the first time, the machines try again, sending a more advanced robot to assassinate John himself. Meanwhile, the resistance have captured and reprogrammed the same model that tried to kill Sarah before, to serve as John’s protector.

The movie is exciting. It is effectively, as I said before, one giant chase scene. If we thought the T-800 from the first film was relentless, the liquid metal T-1000 here is even more so. It doesn’t have the same physical limitations of Arnold’s model, who is a techno-organic cyborg.

In the course of the movie, Sarah decides to go after the guy who invented SkyNet in the first place. John stops her from killing the guy, but it is revealed that SkyNet was invented using the brain chip from the first T-800.

(*record scratch*)

So now, not only is John Connor, the leader of the resistance, a paradox who does not exist without the time travel, but SKYNET ITSELF, is a paradox?

I’m done.

This entire franchise boils down to a threat that does not exist sending through time a killing machine that will then be used to create the threat that already doesn’t exist. Meanwhile, the resistance leader — who also does not exist — sends back the man who will become his father to protect his mother from this killing machine. Because of these entities that do not exist, they will spontaneously be brought into existence: The protector (Reese) will father the leader, and the killing machine’s brain chip will be used to create the threat.

Effect (Terminator and John Connor) precede cause (SkyNet and John sending his father back in time). I’m not usually a person who nitpicks things like this, but once I realize such a massive logical flaw, I just can’t unsee it. And now these movies I have loved for so long are tainted to the point where I can no longer enjoy them to the extent I did before.

I hate time travel.

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