Fighting the T-1000

Fighting the T-1000

Why not just dunk the frozen T-1000 straight into the steel?


I had no choice. My health insurance wouldn't pay for anyone else.

My doctor recently diagnosed me with Terminator: Salvation induced post-traumatic fanboy stress disorder (TSIPTFSD–if it’s not in the DSM yet, it will be soon). The treatment regimen consists of repeatedly watching Terminator and Terminator 2 until the names “McG” and “Sam Worthington” no longer send me into an apoplectic rage.

So far it’s going OK (the apoplectic rage that resulted from me typing those words only lasted five minutes this time), but one of the unfortunate side effects of this treatment is that I’m starting to nitpick the hell out of these movies, more so than they probably deserve (see also: motto of this site). Take, for instance, the famous “hasta la vista, baby” scene from Terminator 2 in which Ahnuld shoots the frozen T-1000 and shatters him into a million pieces.

This seems like a poor tactical decision. Sarah Connor and Ahnuld are both injured. John isn’t much good in a fight. Their adversary is frozen pretty damn solid and isn’t going anywhere. Why don’t they run away, fix themselves up, and fight later?

Instead, he shoots the frozen T-1000 and shatters it into pieces. Okay, I know he needed to deliver a catchy one-liner, but look what happens. Moments later, the T-1000 quickly thaws out and reconstitutes itself.

Shouldn’t Ahnuld have known that the T-1000 would thaw out faster when shattered?

Here’s a better idea: why not take the frozen T-1000, pick it up, and just dunk it into the nearest convenient molten steel vat? It’s frozen. It’s not going anywhere. Its’s completely vulnerable.

To evaluate this strategy, I turned to resident OTI scientist Shechner to better understand the properties of liquid nitrogen:

Okay, I have a thesis to write, and can’t give an extended answer to this, but for all intents and purposes, Lee, your reasoning is perfectly correct.  Smaller bits would thaw more quickly, and there’s no reason why they wouldn’t be able to pick him up.  Which is to say, there’s no *real* risk of seriously injuring themselves.

I routinely (accidentally) plunge my fingers into liquid nitrogen (LN2, for people in the ‘biz) for 0.5-1 second at a time.  Hazard of doing cryocrystallography.  It stings like a muthafucker, but doesn’t leave any permanent damage.  More extended contact would require gloves, or, say, robotic hands that don’t feel pain.  If I recall, Ahnuld has both.

(Terminators don’t feel pain. I do. -Ed.)

As far as I can see it, the only problem might involve the manufacture of the T-1000 itself.  Is there a critical CPU-type-component that needs to be thawed in order for him to function, or is literally every mote of his construction autonomous?  If it’s the latter, then they do, in fact, have a problem transporting him.  Or waiting.  Industrial LN2’s stored at ~100 K (-279.67 F).  We don’t know the freezing (thawing) temperature of the T-1000, but it’s between room temperature (~273 K, depending on the location/season), and that of the LN2.  Which means that, as he’s exposed to the ambient temperature, his outside’ll begin to thaw.  Once those little bits on the exterior go – if any bit is autonomous – then they’re once again in danger.

Shechner brings up a good point. Even if they dunked and melted 99.9% of the T-1000’s mass, the remaining 0.1% could still be a big problem.

Now THAT would have been a hilarious sequel: the remaining drop of liquid metal does everything it can to kill John, but the best it can do is crawl into his digestive tract and give him a really bad case of indigestion.


Edward Furlong. Such wasted potential.

But although this is never explicitly addressed in the movie, we can reasonably infer that separated pieces of the T-1000 are not autonomous for one simple reason: anytime the T-1000 engaged a target, if it could split itself into autonomous, smaller pieces of itself, it would have done so every time in order to come at the enemy from different angles. It never does so in any of the battles depicted in the movie. Plus, Ahnuld tells John that the T-1000 can only form “an object of equal size.”

Granted, the T-1000 can function without 100% of its mass (we see it walking around just fine after a piece of it was blown off during the escape from Pescadero), but even if the T-1000 doesn’t have a discreet “brain” or “chip” the way Ahnuld and non-liquid metal Terminators do, it seems safe to assume that the T-1000 needs to meet a minimum size threshold for it to function properly.

So let’s get back to the issue of picking up the frozen T-1000 and dunking it into the molten steel. Again, OTI scientist Shechner:

I’ll also point out that metals are wonderful heat conductors – a property gloriously exploited in the “miracle thaw.”  Aah, daytime TV products of the early 90’s…  Counterproductively, Ahnuld, having a metal skeleton, would conduct ambient heat toward the frozen T-1000 more efficiently than would either of the Connors’  hands, hence thawing it more quickly.  Which is not to say that the humans should do all the lifting.  The best method of transport would be to keep the T-1000 at LN2 until the point you want to kill it.  Throw him in a barrel and dump more LN2 on him (styrofoam is an eerily good insulator for this), and/or constantly douse Ahnuld’s hands in LN2 as he carries it.

All good advice if they had to carry the T-1000 any significant distance to get to the steel. But look at this scene again: they’re RIGHT NEXT TO a big vat ‘o steel, the same big vat that causes the now-shattered T-1000 to quickly thaw and reconstitute itself! They didn’t even have to worry about the logistical problem of keeping the T-1000 frozen to get it to the dunk tank. Surely it would have stayed frozen while they carried it over the short distance to the steel.

Granted, from a storytelling point of view, this would have made for a far less effective climax. Not only would there not have been the somewhat machina-ex-machina reappearance of Ahnuld to save the day, but since they wouldn’t be on the platform, there would have been no way to lower Ahnuld into the steel, and therefore no way for Ahnuld to do this:

Best. Movie. Ending. Ever.

But just when I think I’ve exposed a tremendous plot hole in an otherwise masterpiece of a movie, along comes OTI master nitpicker Belinkie with an alternate explanation:

I think you make one big assumption here. You assume that Ahnuld knows exactly what will and won’t kill the T-1000. Actually, earlier in the movie, doesn’t he say specifically that he doesn’t know if he can kill this thing?

This is true. After the escape from Pescadero, when Sarah asks Ahnuld if the T-1000 can be destroyed, he responds, “Unknown.” Back to Belinkie:

Ahnuld sees the T-1000 frozen, and he knows that if he shoots it, it’s going to shatter into a million pieces. You’re basically saying that he should KNOW this isn’t going to stop it, but I think that’s unfair. All he’s seen is that it can recover from bullet wounds and recover small pieces of itself that have been severed. He has every reason to hope that inflicting THAT much damage would be fatal.

I hate to admit it, but Belinkie has a good point. At the point of saying “Hasta la vista, baby,” Ahnuld has no way of knowing if the T-1000 would melt in the steel. For all he knows, the T-1000 could have just considered it to be a warm bath. Or a nice dip in a hot tub.

Kind of like this.

Fine. Maybe Ahnuld did the right thing, but that doesn’t mean this analysis is all for naught. The next time you’re wondering what to do with with a frozen T-1000 in a steel mill, you’ll know exactly what to do.

You can thank me later.

(For further advice on how to defeat Terminators in combat, go back in time and check out Overthinking It Podcast Episode 3: “How to Survive a Terminator Attack.”)

22 Comments on “Fighting the T-1000”

  1. Bob #

    Thank you Belinke – the entire time I was reading this, I was thinking ‘Arnold didn’t know how to take out the T-1000’.

    Heck, when Robert Patrick retrieved the metal part that was shot-gunned off at the mental hospital, the T-800 was already miles away and might not have seen it re-attach. I already assumed Arnold’s assumption at the time was that taking it into smaller parts would take it out and they needed to run away because they just blew up a plant and were wanted by the cops, not because he made a Erasto B. Mpemba like observation of smaller shards defrosting at a higher rate.

    Again, just my observation.


  2. Keith #

    Two obvious spelling errors:

    “or is literally *EVERY* mote of his construction autonomous?”

    “If it’s the latter, *THEN* they do, in fact, have a problem transporting him.”


  3. Valatan #

    My problem with this scene–why not aggressively try and throw all of the little T-1000 shards away somehow? Instead, they sit there, happy in their victory, not worrying about it, especially when it starts to melt and reconstitute itself, a process that would not happen evenly, considering that there would be uneven freezing from the ln2, combined with an extremely uneven heat distribution in the room. Once you see the first bit of melting (probably before), shouldn’t they go crazy trying to throw the frozen shards of t-1000 into the vat?


  4. bob #

    There are two types of advice that are never a waste. How to fight a Terminator; and how to survive a zombie apocalypse. The odds of needing either in a lifetime is low, but combined the likelihood is double.

    What I’m wondering is how bad-ass a Terminator would become after being bitten by a zombie? or . . . Would a Terminator be able to put an end to a zombie apocalypse if Skynet sent one back to kill zombie zero?


  5. Tom P #

    This isn’t even the biggest plot hole in the scene. That would be why, exactly, does the T-1000 approach Sarah Connor and demand she call out to John when it could simply murder her, turn in to her, and call out to him itself. Then, when he got close enough to comfort her, stab him in the face.

    I’ve never been able to get past it and it ruins the movie for me every time.


  6. lee OTI Staff #

    @Keith: Spelling errors TERMINATED.

    @Tom P: Okay, I’ll bite:

    The T-1000 can replicate shapes merely by physical contact, but it needs to sample voices separately. When the T-1000 stabs Sarah, it gets the physical sample, but at that point in the movie, it hasn’t heard enough of her voice to sample.

    The first time Sarah encounters the T-1000 is when she’s escaping from Pescadero. If you watch the whole escape scene carefully, Sarah only utters one line of dialogue that’s within earshot of the T-1000: when it’s latched onto the back of their car, she yells, “John!” as she tries to get him out of the way of the T-1000’s metal arms.

    And that’s actually the only time they’re in close quarters before the steel mill scene. The scene right before the T-1000 stabs Sarah is actually its first real opportunity to sample her voice: as the T-1000 approaches them, she tells John to “grab the chain,” and after it stabs her, it gets to hear Sarah moan and say “fuck you.”

    That’s not a lot of sound to base a full voice recreation on–I don’t care how advanced of a computer it is. So my interpretation is that the T-1000 didn’t have the necessary audio input to be able to replicate Sarah’s voice, which is why he wanted Sarah to call to John.

    I guess from all of that, it was just barely able to put together a sample to call out to John later in the scene. After all, it only says three words in Sarah’s voice: “John,” “help,” and “me.”

    Compare this to the sampling he did of Janelle (the stepmom): when he visits their house early in the movie, he gets the audio sample by hearing plenty of Janelle’s normal speaking voice. When comes to kill them, he gets the physical sample.

    Plus, don’t forget that the T-1000 was damaged from the freeze-shatter-reform. Maybe it was having a harder time creating Sarah’s voice, which is why he lingered so long with the stabbing and tried to get Sarah to do it for him.


  7. Matthew Belinkie OTI Staff #

    I have a related question: why does the T-1000 let Sarah Conner live, after having her pinned down by his pointy fingers? He just walks away from her to go kill John. And she, quite predictably, grabs a shotgun, gives chase, and shoots the crap out of him about 30 seconds later. It’s pretty clear that the T-1000 would have killed John easily if he hadn’t left Sarah alive to shoot him in the back. It seems like a huge tactical blunder. I understand he REALLY wants to kill John Conner ASAP, but it would have taken about a tenth of a second to kill Sarah first.

    Actually the blunder is more basic than that. The T-1000’s “fake calling to John” ruse only works if the REAL Sarah Conner ISN’T alive to shout out and warn him. She could have easily screamed, “It’s a trap, John! Get out of here!” The only reason she doesn’t is because she’s sneaking up behind him instead.

    I think this is one of those things that can’t be explained logically, but everyone’s willing to overlook it because the scene just WORKS, damnit.


  8. lee OTI Staff #

    @Belinkie, perhaps you should watch again: the T-1000 doesn’t just walk away. His stabby session is rudely interrupted by Ahnuld coming back and swatting the T-1000 with a big metal stick. At that point, Ahnuld is clearly a much bigger threat than Sarah, so the T-1000 stops with the stabbing and goes to work on Ahnuld. He thinks he finishes off Ahnuld, then goes back to looking for John.

    As for the second point, the T-1000 had lost track of both John and Sarah at that point. He has no idea where any of them are. John could be running away for all he knew. His best bet to get John at this point would be to bait him with his mom’s voice.

    Lastly, I will of course agree with your last statement. Indeed, the scene JUST. WORKS.


  9. Matthew Belinkie OTI Staff #

    @Lee – Whoops, I didn’t remember Arnuld rescuing her. I stand corrected.


  10. JoeyT #

    You forgot one fact about when he shot the T1000. It looked fucking cool.


  11. Tom P #

    @lee: I think you’re basing that on the idea that the t-1000 has some kind of voice recorder by which it’s sampling and playing back imitations. If one touch (or drop of blood) can give it a full sample of a person enough to fully recreate the look of that person, then wouldn’t it further reason that the T-1000 is taking a sample of the person’s DNA to create the copy? Otherwise, wouldn’t it just need to SEE the person it wants to copy in order for it to copy? If that’s the case, then obviously the vocal chords would be part of the copy. Maybe he wouldn’t have the inflections correct, but the base voice would be correct.

    And, failing all that — he certainly sampled enough of Sarah’s voice to scream in agony. It doesn’t appear, at this point in the canon, that John knows enough about his mother to realize that she’s far too bad-ass to do such a thing.


  12. lee OTI Staff #

    Well, when you get down to it, there’s really not a lot of rhyme and reason behind the T-1000’s sampling. Is it DNA? Think about the fat security guard at Pescadero. He samples the guy using the sole of this shoe. Is there enough DNA on the sole of a shoe to pull it off? Even if it’s not…how can the T-1000 replicate everything on the guy, from hair, eyes, to texture of clothing, just by that brief contact?


  13. Leon P #

    On a side note, I think you’re being unnecessarily harsh on T4 and Sam W. OK, so T4 can’t hold a candle to 1 or 2, but all that aside, it’s not a terrible movie. Also, if you’re going to be overly critical of an actor in T4, then surely Bale has to be the target. Great Batman, sure. John Connor, not so much.


  14. Jonas #

    I really hate doing this, especially as this is my first comment on the site, but…

    Well actually, room temperature would be approximately 293 K. 273 K is zero degrees Celsius, the freezing point of water.

    Big fan of the site.


  15. lee OTI Staff #

    @Leon P

    I should temper my comments a bit w/r/t Terminator: Salvation and Sam Worthington.

    You’re right, Christian Bale is more directly responsible for the failure of this movie than Sam Worthington, but not for his acting. He came onto the project late in the process, and his star power necessitated extensive re-writes of the script, which is why the movie feels like a jumbled mess. This is a pretty comprehensive review of how all of this went down:

    I should also admit that a small part of my “I f***ing hate Terminator Salvation” act that I play on the podcast and on the site is just that, an act. The movie isn’t entirely worthless. There are some cool parts; some of the terminator action scenes are fun, and there are a few nice nods to the past movies.

    But only a small part is an act. For the most part I’m entirely sincere when I say that Terminator Salvation was a shameful moment in the franchise’s history and that I actually do get upset when I think about it.

    I reiterate: Terminators don’t feel pain. I do.

    The more I think about this, I kind of get some sadomasochistic pleasure from repeatedly trashing Terminator: Salvation. I’m thinking about doing an extended, detailed take-down of all of the movie’s problems similar to what that guy did to Star Wars: Episode I.

    What do you say, OTI readers: do you want me to descend deep down into this heart of darkness?


  16. Tom P #

    @lee: I’d also argue that the T-1000 obviously has enough of Sarah on file to recognize her through its optic processors (Even Arnold’s version can do that). The information to replicate itself in to a person and the information to identify a person is probably stored in the same HumanProfile class, which likely contains both the replication method and the identification method. If it doesn’t, that would be poor programming on Skynet’s part. Even if you assume unlimited storage in the Terminator itself, Skynet MUST have some coding standards.


  17. lee OTI Staff #

    @Tom P:

    I like this train of thought. What’s Skynet’s source code like?

    Does Skynet have the equivalent of Code Monkeys and Boring Manager Robs?

    I bet there’s some bitchin’ ASCII art in the comments.

    Also, I’m sure they re-purposed some open source code, and post-Judgment Day, the hardcore Linux junkies are still complaining that Skynet violated the terms of the GNU General Public License.


  18. Gab #

    @Lee: Descend, by all means.

    I just watched T2 on I think AMC the other day, and I gotta say… The opening sequence, showing the post-apocalyptic world. It looks like their guns aren’t using bullets, both human and non-human- they look like lasers. The sound effects are borderline, too- they don’t *quite* sound like bullets to me, but they certainly don’t sound like the stereotypical “pewpew” of phasers and whatnot, either.

    Which totally contrasts with T:S, naturally.

    I could be wrong in this, but it was irking me during the entire opening scene. Not about T2, but about T:S, that, if I’m correct, they’d make such an error.


  19. lee OTI Staff #

    @Gab, you’re absolutely correct. In the future war of T1 and T2, both sides have decidedly non-ballistic weapons. Remember the line from Ahnuld in the first movie where he walks into a gun shop and asks for a “phased plasma rifle in the 40 watt range”?

    T:S doesn’t even attempt to address this lack of continuity, which is baffling since it makes such a show of caring about franchise continuity (Kyle Reese learning how to strap the shotgun to himself, Sarah Connor’s tapes, etc.).

    Dammit, here I go again. See earlier comment on sadomasochistic pleasure of trashing T:S.


  20. lee OTI Staff #

    Sorry, I need to “Well, actually” myself. The events of T:S take place in 2018. The future war scenes we see in T:1 and T:2 take place in 2029. So I guess it’s plausible that plasma weapons were developed sometime between 2018 and 2029.

    The other continuity problem people often mention is the general environment. The future war of 2029 is wasteland of eternal darkness brought upon by nuclear war; in T:S, there’s sunlight and even some vegetation poking around. Again, this could be rationalized with the time difference between 2018 and 2029.

    But there really wasn’t a good way for T:S to explain these discrepancies since it’s essentially working backwards from the depictions of 2029 from the first 3 films. The film alludes to technological advances with the accelerated development of the T-800, but that in part is undermined by the Marcus character and his endoskeleton. A better script might have found a way to do explain all of this, but it’s asking a lot of the audience to try to put all of these pieces together. The safer route would have been to make the 2018 future war look more like the 2029 future war, or start the movie earlier in post-judgment day so we can see the immediate aftermath of the events depicted at the end of T:3 and start from a place we understand more easily.


  21. Tom P #

    @lee: For whatever reason, I always pictured the “pure” SkyNet source code to be in C++. I’m not sure why. The Terminators themselves suffer from the grandfather paradox, right? All the Terminators are based on Miles Dyson’s reverse engineering of Arnold’s chip. I imagine that as a concurrent project to Cyberdyne’s SkyNet project.

    Besides, there’s no way there could be GPL code in SkyNet. What self-respecting defense contractor would use open source? No, SkyNet is your run of the mill, Mountain Dew fueled science project. Which means the comments suck and there’s an important float variable somewhere named managerRobBlows and someone with too much time on their hands wrote in a subroutine for what Skynet should do in the case of a zombie apocalypse.


  22. N #

    I always thought a steam explosion involving molten steel due to the severe temperature difference would risk damaging Arnold as well, which would risk him losing functionality before his mission was complete, violating a mission parameter.


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