The Ending Of Terminator: Dark Fate & New Timeline Explained

Terminator: Dark Fate

Dark Fate takes the Terminator franchise back to basics, resetting the timeline back to the end of Terminator 2. We’re diving deep into Terminator: Dark Fate to analyze the ending, the new timeline and what it really means for the future of the franchise.

Plus We’ll explain the intriguing way Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Carl connects to the T-800 from Terminator 2, and my predictions on how the new Skynet, Legion, will be defeated in possible sequels. There will, of course, be spoilers for Dark Fate and other movies in the franchise.

Resetting The Timeline

The Ending Of Terminator: Dark Fate

Although it’s the sixth Terminator movie, Dark Fate is a direct sequel to Terminator 2. The events of T2 mean that Skynet no longer exists in the new film. However, the unstoppable march of artificial intelligence means a new AI system called Legion goes bad instead.

Legion then sends a Rev-9 terminator back in time from the future to assassinate Dani, the future leader of the resistance in this new timeline. The Rev-9 racks up a brutal body count and is relentless in its pursuit because it can recover from virtually any physical damage including being sent through a turbine in the final showdown.

As a final resort augmented human Grace tells Dani she must use her power source to fry the machine’s neural net processor. Removing the power source from Grace kills her, but Dani is able to jam it into the Rev-9’s skull, short-circuiting many of its functions.

To finish the killer cyborg off, an injured Carl reactivates and holds the killer cyborg down while the power source burns them up shutting both of them down, effectively killing them.

This ending combines the finale of Terminator 2 when the T-800 came back to life after its secondary power source activated to rescue John Connor from the T-1000 and the ending of Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines where, like Dani, the T-850 jammed its own power source into the skull of the T-X terminator, killing them both. With the Rev-9 defeated, the future resistance leader Dani has been saved.

But a future apocalypse where the A.I. system Legion turns against its human creators still hasn’t been avoided, so it’s similar to the first Terminator movie where John Connor’s future is saved but the apocalypse isn’t prevented.

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In the very final scene of Dark Fate, Dani watches a young Grace who’s still alive in the present day and she vows to Sarah that she won’t let Grace die for her again. In other words, Dani wants to break the time loop that in the future forces her to send adult Grace back in time to die for her.

This final playground scene is also a cool homage to the iconic scene from Judgment Day where Sarah had an apocalyptic vision of the future and foresaw the nuclear catastrophe that Skynet would inflict on the world.

Dark Fate links that moment from T2 which was what drove Sarah to prevent the rise of Skynet with Dani’s own decision to change the future and stop the rise of Legion.

The Future Is Not Inevitable

Dark Fate leaves the future open to change making this new sequel to Terminator 2 a lot more hopeful and optimistic than Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, the original sequel which took a fatalistic view that despite everything Sarah Connor did to stop Judgment Day in T2, Armageddon at the hands of Skynet was unavoidable.

That third film killed off Sarah Connor and finished with the nuclear apocalypse that had been averted in T2. Dark Fate, by contrast, actually reveals that there’s a glimmer of hope and the future of artificial intelligence may not be as catastrophic as seen in previous sequels after T2.

The Human T-800

The Ending Of Terminator: Dark Fate

Dark Fate’s Carl is the perfect example of how a destructive A.I. machine can actually become a friend to humans and actively work to do good. Carl was a T-800 that was sent back by Skynet together with other terminators to make sure that one of them completed the mission to assassinate John Connor. Before Carl got to John, the events of Terminator 2 destroyed Cyberdyne and the existence of Skynet was erased from the future.

Despite this, as a machine, Carl had to follow the mission he’d been programmed to perform. But after he kills John, he has no further instructions from Skynet, so he follows his other programmed directive which is to blend in with human society so he can carry out any missions covertly.

And with over 20 years of continuous machine learning about human society under his belt, Carl has transformed into something almost human. In fact, Carl’s evolution can be seen as what would have happened to the T-800 from Terminator 2 if it hadn’t sacrificed itself at the end of that movie.

In T2, Uncle Bob, as John Connor nicknamed him, learned over the course of just a few days how to become more human, even picking up slang. Another interesting parallel between Carl and Bob is how they both became benevolent father figures.

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Carl helped rescue a woman and her child from an abusive husband and, when he talks about how reliable he is, it echoes what Sarah thought of the T-800 from Terminator 2. And as a measure of how human Carl has become, notice how in Dark Fate we see the machine sitting comfortably next to the family’s dog.

This is in stark contrast to what was established in the first Terminator movie, that dogs instinctively bark and get nervous when a terminator is nearby as they have an ability to detect Infiltrator units.

Carl even seems to have acquired a form of his own free will. When he meets Sarah, he tells her that because she chose to change the future, Skynet now no longer exists, meaning that he’s been set free because he has no further orders to follow. And now he’s choosing to make his own autonomous decision to protect Dani.

No Fate But What We Make

Carl’s freedom and ability to make his own decisions also fits well the phrase “no fate but what we make” that first appeared in T2. This is echoed again in Dark Fate’s flash-forward scenes from the future where Dani rescues Grace from attackers who are after her food.

Dani tells the other humans that they shouldn’t be fighting amongst themselves but joining together to fight the machines instead. When one of them says there’s no point as they can’t win, Dani urges them to resist fate, a belief that rallies people to her cause and builds an army that is fighting to take the world back from the machines.

How To Defeat Legion

The Ending Of Terminator: Dark Fate

Given the terrifying future we see in Dark Fate’s flash-forward scenes, what chance do Dani and Sarah have of defeating Legion in future sequels? Well, the movie sets up several interesting possibilities.

The first thing to consider is that in Dark Fate the catastrophe happens over several days, when Legion, an A.I. designed for cyber warfare, becomes self-aware and begins its attack on humanity by turning off the power grid.

The next day, humans attempt an EMP attack on Legion that fails, which leads to a full world war by the third day. That was eventually followed by the famine which wiped out the majority of humanity, with Legion then hunting down any remaining human survivors.

As terrible as that scenario is, it’s a slower wipe-out than nuclear annihilation, and it allows for a window of time where Dani and Sarah could attempt to prevent the catastrophe from playing out in its entirety.

Something I’ve already mentioned on is how Carl is a great example of how a machine can learn and become something almost human with the ability to make its own decisions rather than follow a hard-coded set of rules.

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This is something that Sarah and Dani both witnessed and might investigate further. For example, they could find a way to change how Legion’s machines operate so they live together with humans rather than kill them.

In fact, there’s a deleted scene from Terminator 2 that’s in the Extended Cut where the T-800 explains to John that his machine learning model is something that has to be switched on.

Someone who might come in useful for this is Sarah Connor’s contact Major Dean, the military officer who has an alliance with Sarah. Major Dean was only in Dark Fate briefly, handing over the EMP device to Sarah.

Major Dean was only in Dark Fate briefly, handing over the EMP device to Sarah. But in an interview with IGN, director Tim Miller explained that,

“Dean was originally in more scenes and that he’s a military intelligence officer who is wary of AI and had turned to Sarah Connor to help him out on a few missions.”

Time Travel Paradoxes

The Ending Of Terminator: Dark Fate

If you’re at all confused by the circular nature of time travel in The Terminator franchises and the time paradoxes it creates, well, it’s basically different to the recent very popular time travel movie Avengers: Endgame in which time travel creates new [branching] timelines and alternate realities.

In Dark Fate and the Terminator franchise, time travel is a closed loop in which changing the past rewrites the future.

Even if logically this seems to be impossible, Dark Fate director Tim Miller has said he prefers this type of time travel, despite the plot holes and paradoxes it creates, because it means higher stakes for the characters.

Will He Be Back?

Even though Carl was damaged beyond any likely repair in Dark Fate, it’s still possible for Schwarzenegger to return in a sequel as a brand new character, perhaps even a human next time around.

James Cameron has said it’s unlikely Legion would attempt to,

“Build an Arnold T-800 in the Legion version of the future because that’s a different technological developmental pathway.”

However, there could still be more Arnold T-800s kicking around that Skynet sent back, but what could be more interesting is if we met the human being that Skynet based its T-800 designs on. In a Q&A; in 2007, Cameron said:

“It has flashed through my mind that there has to have been a prototype. There has to have been a guy… that they grew the Terminator from… and that presumably was a real person at some point. And did that person have some sort of meaning to Skynet on why they chose that one?”

Now, what do you think of Terminator: Dark Fate?