How the Ending of 'Terminator: Dark Fate' Rewrites the Franchise's Grossest Plot Device

sarah connor
Paramount Pictures

This post contains spoilers for Terminator: Dark Fate 

An ickiness pervades the plot device at the heart of the (otherwise unimpeachable) The Terminator, James Cameron's 1984 movie that introduced the world to terms like "Skynet" and the "T-800." Kyle Reese is sent from the future to protect Linda Hamilton's Sarah Connor from a rampaging machine. Sarah's life is worth saving, not because of who she is, but because she'll give birth to the man who will become the leader of the resistance in the Future War: John Connor. And, on top of that, Kyle, turns out, is John's father. Cue one of the most awkward sex scenes in cinema history.

Terminator: Dark Fate -- the latest attempt at reviving the franchise that was perfected with Terminator 2: Judgment Day -- acts as a sort of reimagining of the movie that started it all. This time Grace (Mackenzie Davis), a genetically enhanced (female) soldier from the future, has come to protect a young Mexican woman, Dani Ramos (Natalia Reyes), from a ruthless Terminator (Gabriel Luna). Skynet remains defeated after Sarah stopped the apocalypse in Judgment Day, but humans' foolish use of technology led to the rise of a new evil AI called Legion. When Sarah, weathered and fierce, arrives on the scene, she simply assumes that Dani's value is her womb. It isn't until the final act when Sarah learns that it's not Dani's reproductive organs that are worth saving: It's Dani herself. She will become the leader who will stand up and fight when the time comes. 

"Well, I just got goosebumps when you said it," Hamilton says over the phone when I ask her about the moment. "So it must mean a lot to me."

terminator dark fate
Paramount Pictures

It's a welcome inversion of Terminator's initial narrative, and one that's genuinely moving when you consider Sarah Connor's painful arc, which Hamilton spent a lot of time figuring out how to inhabit all these years later. "I had gone into all of the deep, dark places and places of greatest sorrow and regret and disappointment, and that was the work that I did," she says. "It was hard to go there, but I had to go there every single day." 

For a while during production, however, Hamilton didn't think the Dani reveal was going to happen. When she went to Dublin to read with Davis, she was only given an excerpt of the script, sans context. "It was the scene where I'm assuming that she is going to bear a child and the Grace character does not correct me," Hamilton remembers. "I said to [director] Tim [Miller], 'I must say, I'm a little disappointed to see that she's just the one that's going to give birth to the future leader.'" Miller didn't challenge Hamilton's assumption. "He let me believe that for the longest time until I read the script," Hamilton adds with a laugh. "I didn't want to repeat [that]. I want to move the characters forward and have surprises like that. Then, of course, with our beautiful, beautiful Natalia I think the future is in great hands. Love that girl. And she's just a stunning actress." 

It's Davis' Grace who delivers the revelation of Dani's ultimate purpose. The actor, best known for her work on Halt and Catch Fire and the "San Junipero" episode of Black Mirrorwas careful in the messaging of her delivery. "The only sort of progress in the world is when you can move forward without announcing the achievement of progress," she says. "That feels important to me in many of the things I do. That moment with Dani's womb, I was always cautious about it being like, 'You're not some man who saves the world.' I really wanted it to not be, 'It's not this, it's this.' But just to be simply, 'It's you.' Instead of creating a binary of opposition, just saying there is no other. It's just you. I find that so much more impactful than being, 'it's our turn, girls.' Because that makes it feel like a trend, and that makes it feel temporary, and I would much rather just evolve forward without having to package it in some sort of moment that we're living through."

Paramount Pictures

The final act of Dark Fate echoes beats in the previous Terminator films. (At least the ones that matter: This new film pretends that every sequel after T2 just didn't happen.) The climactic battle between the Terminator and Grace, Dani, Sarah, and Carl, the latest robot Arnold Schwarzenegger plays, happens inside a reservoir that winks at the industrial machinery present in T2's finale. Grace sacrifices herself for the cause just as Kyle Reese does. So does Carl, just like (one of) Schwarzenegger's previous T-800s. And at the very end, it's Dani and Sarah driving off in a Jeep into an unknown future, calling back to the denouement of The Terminator. 

The significance that she is the new face of the franchise is not lost on Reyes, a Colombian actor who had mostly worked in TV prior to getting Terminator. "Not only women but also Latinas, our characters are always serving other characters or the story," Reyes says. "But this is the story. She is the leader. She is the future." Reyes explains that while she doesn't know of any concrete plans for Dani's future, she wants to follow her evolution into leadership. Hamilton is a little more wary about agreeing to the notion that she will indeed be back. "In another 28 years, maybe," she says, guffawing. "Only if there's something new to add. I don't want to do the same thing over and over again. Then it would be diminished returns. Really, if there's something interesting to play, I'm in."

She does, however, deliver that famous line about being back during her introduction in Dark Fate, taking over for Schwarzenegger. It seems like an easy enough quip, right? Not so. "You know how hard it was to say it and not sound like Arnold? You cannot say, 'I'll be back' without thinking of Arnold," she says. Getting it in Sarah's no-bullshit intonation was tricky. "I had to do it, I don't know, 10 times, 12 times, to not sound like Arnold," she says. "I would turn to Tim and I would say, 'Did that sound like Sarah? And he goes, 'Nope, sounds like Arnold.' Okay, let's try it again. It was so hard because he's Arnold and it's just a classic, iconic line." A classic, iconic line that sounds different in Sarah's jaded mouth. 

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Esther Zuckerman is a senior entertainment writer at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter @ezwrites.