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Geeky Musings on Terminator: The Sarah Conner Chronicles - Synchronicity swirls and other foolishness

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May 5th, 2008

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01:23 am - Geeky Musings on Terminator: The Sarah Conner Chronicles
Watching the new season of Battlestar Galactica reminded me how much I like the new show Terminator: The Sarah Conner Chronicles – it is similar to BSG in a number of obvious and non-obvious ways, except that in The Sarah Conner Chronicles, the protagonists (or at least Sarah and perhaps John Conner) seem to be heading towards the idea that the only way to stop the cycle of violence and prevent the war is to find some way to defuse or avoid the conflict (or at least that’s my guess), while in BSG, if humanity survives is will solely be through luck or fate, and not because any of the characters has done anything remotely positive or humane.

teaotter also mentioned that she read someone comment about how they wished Joss Whedon has been in charge of T:SCC, and someone else responded that they were exceptionally pleased that he wasn’t, because for all of his virtues, one of his most obvious faults is that the only characters who can be actually heroes (as opposed to sidekicks or dependents) are those characters who can whomp the snot out of their opponents. Given that part of the point of T:SCC is that this is impossible, and the only way to defeat a terminator robot is to either have another terminator robot on your side or to be exceptionally clever and lucky (and often those are not enough, mostly you just flee). Because of the strong and clearly deliberate parallels drawn between Derek Reese and Cameron also because of and Sarah Conner’s unwillingness to accept either of their more violent and deadly solutions, I see this as precisely the sort of show Joss Whedon wouldn’t work on, in large part because it seems to be (or at least I hope it is) about finding solutions beyond violence. I could be wrong, but I’m definitely hoping I’m not and am exceptionally pleased this show is now definitely coming back for another season.

In any case, in addition to being one of the most definitely feminist shows on TV, I also like T:SCC because it’s fundamentally about the sort of time travel where nothing is fixed and the past and future can be changed. I was thinking about the (at this point exceptionally complex) timestream of the show. Looking at the first movie, it’s clear that we were watching at least the 2nd actual timeline. In the original timeline (before any time travel occurred) it’s obvious that John Conner was never born, because Kyle Reese never went back in time. Instead, presumably the war happened sometime later than 1999 (since the 1999 war happened earlier because of access to cyborg technology) and I’m betting that humanity did very badly indeed. So, somehow one of the few survivors, Kyle Reese, gets access to the time machine and goes back into the 1980s. There, he presumably tries to warn people, fails utterly, and instead hooks up with Sarah Conner, they have a kid, and Kyle Reese and Sarah Conner raise this child with the knowledge of the coming war – putting him in the perfect position to be a rebel leader who helps the survivors do a whole lot better than they did in the timeline the first Kyle Reese is from.

The first movie started with this timeline, where John Conner knew he had to send Kyle Reese back, both to protect Conner’s mother from the terminator and to become his father. So, we already have a third timeline, because this time Sarah Conner is attacked by a terminator robot and Kyle Reese is killed by it. Then, in the end of the 2nd movie, Sarah Conner eliminates this timeline by destroying the remains of this robot, creating timeline number four, where the war happens in 2011. Then, the show starts with Cameron taking Sarah and John Conner from the 1990s to 2007, creating timeline five, where John Conner is around a decade younger than he previously was. Sarah Conner destroying the first model of "the Turk" and Derek Reese killing Andy Goode have likely created another timeline that is again at least slightly different.

So, now we’re up to at least 6 separate timelines, several of which have very significant differences from one another. However, all of them have time-travel, AI’s Skynet, and the war. Since the show has categorically stated that AIs are going to evolve, and given that a (admittedly skilled and brilliant) hobbyist built one in his spare room, they clearly not exceptionally hard to create. At this point, John Conner could likely make one. So, stopping AIs from coming into existence is clearly impossible, which means that stopping the war means finding some way to avoid having them attack humanity. This is tougher than it sounds, since human resistance fighters from the future have already been attacking every proto-AI they can find, making the AI’s paranoia about humanity all too justified. This is why the only answer seems to be to find some way to get the two sides to stop destroying one another. So, if the show has a positive ending (and given the presence of characters like Sarah Conner who seem both moral and heroic, this seems likely), that ending will almost certainly be finding some way for AIs and humans to exist together.

That of course spawned a nifty (to me at least) idea for an RPG – one taking place in the future of that setting, where the war has been prevented and humans and AIs have just begun to learn to coexist. However, the game wouldn’t mostly take place in this present, it would take place in the past, where a time patrol made up of human and robot agents (likely in teams that must legally have members of both) go back to prevent dissidents from going back in time and screwing up the obviously fairly fragile peace and the equally fragile timeline.

In addition, the PCs would need to deal with human resistance fighters and terminator robots that were sent back in the past before the war was ended. These agents would still be there and could still cause problems, and the PCs would either have to convince them of the error of their ways or deal with them in some more direct fashion. In effect, you’d have Terminator: The Time Patrol Chronicles, which sounds like great fun to play in, but would of course suffer from all of the many problems that any time-travel RPG has for the person attempting to run it. This is definitely on the list of campaigns I’ll attempt to see if teaotter might be interested in running someday, since my own skills as a GM most certainly aren’t up for time patrol stories.

In any case, one of the nifty features of such a setting is coming back to the future and finding it drastically different and then going back and fixing it. There’s lots of possible fun to be had there, including having the PCs return to a future which looks almost identical to The Matrix and having to jack into it to get access to the historical records so they could find out where someone tampered with things and how to set everything right.
Current Mood: geekygeeky

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Date:May 5th, 2008 06:06 pm (UTC)
Reminds me of one of my potential campaigns: take the premise of Samurai Jack, but assume that multiple eras spawned heroes that were a threat to the big bad guy, and each time, the big bad guy kicked them down the timestream to deal with later when he was more powerful. Now the champions of different times have all met up...

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