Nitpicking “Terminator”

“What happened to the guy that stood up Sarah Connor?” and other important questions in Terminator Studies.

I’ve seen Terminator 2 probably a couple dozen times. The original Terminator, not quite so many times. So when I saw it for the first time in a while this past weekend, my neural net processor was working in overdrive to find new insights into this film. Here are a few of them:

1) The One That Got Away

The iguana actually traveled through time to be with Sarah Connor, too.

Remember this sequence of events in the first act of the movie? Sarah Connor is primping for her date on that fateful Friday night in May 1984 when she gets a message from her suitor who has cancelled at the last minute. Disappointed, Sarah goes out on the town by herself, first to a pizza restaurant, then to the Tech-Noir club where she is attacked by the Terminator and saved by Kyle Reese. The rest is history (or at least one timeline’s version of history which may or may not exist depending on which theory of time travel and timeline continuity you subscribe to arghmybrainasploeded).

Have you ever thought about who that guy was, why he stood up Sarah Connor, and what happened to him? All we know about him is that he drives a Porsche. We don’t know if he was a friend of Sarah’s roommate, some guy that her mom set her up with, or anything that indicates the extent to which Sarah was involved with this guy.

But we do know that the media was all over Sarah’s story, given the attention they were paying to the previous two Sarah Connors that had been killed the day before. After an insane shootout at a police station, multiple pipe bombs being tossed on an LA freeway, and a huge gas tanker exploding outside a factory, it’s pretty safe to assume that her face was all over TV the next day. And we can stand to assume that asshole Porsche guy who stood up Sarah Connor heard the news.

What do you think his reaction was? Did he feel guilty that he stood her up and possibly caused her to go wherever it was that got her into trouble? Or maybe he was relieved that he wasn’t around when that crazy Connor Serial Killer tried to gun her down. Either way, he surely took note, and it was probably the strangest thing that happened to him that week, month, maybe even year.

I mean, the guy drives a Porsche. C'mon.

But eventually he would forget about Sarah Connor as she went off the grid. But sometime in the late 80’s or early 90’s, her name would have resurface in the news after she was arrested for trying to blow up a computer factory. “Sarah Connor…she turned out to be a crazy terrorist. I guess I dodged a bullet back in ’84,” he would have thought to himself. Then, a few years later, after Connor escaped from Pescadero and blew up Cyberdyne, her name would have again appeared in the news, and he would have again thought to himself, “Whoa. Sarah Freaking Connor. To think that I was supposed to go on a date with her back in ’84. I mean, she is seriously a piece of work.”

Eventually he would forget about Sarah Connor again, as she again went off the grid. Judgment Day would come eventually. Would he have survived? Probably not; given that he drove a Porsche and lived in Southern California, his survival instincts and paranoia were probably not as strong as, say, a guy who drove a Bronco and lived in Montana.

But maybe he survived? If he did, he probably didn’t live too long in the post-Judgment Day world. But maybe he became a resistance fighter? If he did, he probably would have found out that John Connor’s mom was Sarah Connor, the girl he stood up  all those years ago. Although he knows that things managed to work out in the end, he can’t help but feel guilty and offers to make it up to Sarah (I know, she dies in the Terminator 3 continuity, but multiple timelines, blah blah blah. Bear with me.) In 2029, the two of them are approaching old age. Kyle Reese went back in time, and besides, he isn’t exactly Sarah’s peer. The two of them watch an 80’s movie on their nostalgic make-up date (perhaps Sixteen Candles? It was new in theaters in May 1984, so the timing works), hit it off, and start a post-apocalyptic romance in the twilight of their years.

Hey, it could happen. No fate but what we make for ourselves…in our fan fiction.

2) The Beat Goes On?

When you're a cyborg, you don't have to pay the cover charge.

In the “Tech-Noir” night club (an awesome name, by the way), we hear a jamming 80’s rock song, “Burnin’ in the Third Degree” by Tahnee Cain & The Tryanglz:

(Note: the internets don’t tell me if this song was written for the movie or if it had a separate life as a pop song apart from this movie. If you know more, tell me in the comments).

And it’s pretty obvious that the patrons are dancing to this song. In other words, this is a piece of “diagetic” music; i.e., it’s playing “in the scene” and the characters can hear the same song we’re hearing.

So why does the music stop playing when the gunfight breaks out?

This whole article was actually just an excuse for me to take sweet screenshots from "The Terminator." You're welcome.

If you watch the scene and listen carefully (sorry, YouTube embeds are disabled for all the clips from this scene), you’ll notice that the song “Burnin’ in the Third Degree” gets progressively washed out while Brad Fiedel’s score increases in intensity as the Terminator lines up his shot. All music stops while the gunshots ring out.

What happened here? There’s no band visible, so we can assume that the music is coming from a prerecorded source. After I realized this, I was puzzled at first. Did the DJ stop the music on his way out the door? Did James Cameron choose to ignore this detail and just stop the music for aesthetic purposes, hoping no one would notice? A likely explanation, as he probably wasn’t cutting the movie to satisfy film geeks’ twelfth viewing of the film.

Then a perfectly logical explanation hit me. It’s not strange at all that the music stops. A lot of bullets tore up that club, so it’s totally possible that the sound system was put out of commission fairly quickly. And even if it somehow managed to escape the chaos, it’s likely that the DJ, or someone else, knocked the turntable arm off the record while running out of the club.

Phew! Plot hole, consider yourself nicely closed up. It’s a good thing we figured that one out. The rest of the movie is airtight, after all. Especially the time travel part.

Oh, wait.

3) The Unstoppable Killing Machine?

I have seen this movie way. too. many. times.

[Spoiler alert for Terminator, though I doubt you haven’t seen the movie if you’ve read this far.]

In the final confrontation, the tenacious Terminator doggedly pursues Sarah Connor by pulling its legless torso along the ground with one metal arm.

I realized that there’s a serious problem with this method of self-propulsion. Namely, a metal hand has no way of gripping a smooth metal surface. As far as I can tell–and believe me, I’ve spent a lot of time looking at metal Terminator hands–there are no grippy contacts on the tips of the endoskeleton hand. This should be of no surprise. After all, Skynet designed the hand as something that only needs to function underneath living tissue, which provides all the gripping a Terminator could possibly want.

If we follow this line of Overthought to its totally unnecessary conclusion, then we must consider the far more realistic yet less effective ending to The Terminator: instead of pursuing Sarah Connor with its freaky metal claw, the Terminator would actually be left helplessly pawing in place along the smooth metal surface of the compactor machine. Sarah Connor would then be able to calmly work the controls to crush the Terminator, rather than dramatically reaching for the button while the metal arm tries to choke her.

Perhaps she stops to laugh at the irony of the unstoppable killing machine thwarted by its own lack of understanding of friction. Maybe she watches it do this for a solid five minutes before crushing it, just to mess with the Terminator. She’s had a long day, after all, and could use some comic relief.

25 Comments on “Nitpicking “Terminator””

  1. Chance McClain #

    You had me at “Burnin’ in the Third Degree” What a great song. Burnin’ in the Third Degree? Welcome to my iPhone. And welcome to the ears of Houston sports fans because this is bumper music on 1560 The Game.


    • Lee OTI Staff #

      I like the idea of using “Burnin’ in the Third Degree” as bumper music or entrance music. It signals to the listener that something ominous and crazy is about to happen.

      Related tangent: is this moment the “Ghost Ship moment” in “The Terminator”? I.e., the moment when Sarah Connor knows what the audience knows from the title of the movie? Or is it shortly afterwards when Kyle Reese is giving Sarah the backstory while driving away from the scene?


      • Gab #

        I’m inclined to think the scene with the song is the “Ghost Ship Moment” of the movie. I’d equate the conversation in the car to the one in a haunted house movie where the old neighbor down the street tells the owner of the house, after said owner is certain there’s a ghost, that someone was murdered there fifty years ago or whatever.


        Or the scene in Poltergeist where Steven finds out the gravestones were all that got moved from the plot of land (previously a cemetery) his house is built on.


      • Edvamp #

        Slight detour, but have you ever considered submitting Ghost Ship Moment to


  2. Sylvia #

    Part three is a genius example of overthinking. While reading it, my brain cheered.


  3. Dav3 #

    As for the grippiness of the defleshed metal hand, I think you are forgetting that in the sequels we see terminator robots hunting humans without any skin on. This implies that they were designed as a multifunction product.
    Ad: “Here we have your basic relentless killing machine and for an additional payment of $19.99 we can cover it in skin to allow for time travel and blending in at social functions”.
    I can only assume that along the way Skynet developed grip technology that is invisible to the naked (human)eye. In fact, it seems like the easiest part of designing a multi-use assassination cyborg. They probably put their worst engineers on that part of the project. “Here you guys can do grippy fingers, we’re working on Artificial Intelligence and indestructibility.
    Also the guy drove a Porsche, he obviously made up a story about being there for all the commotion that night and probably added that he knew just how crazy that Sarah Connor bitch was because he “totally hit that”.


    • Blake Shrapnel #

      In addition to the points you made, with the frequency that these machines get their skin ripped off, I don’t think that you would want to rely solely on the skin to create gripping friction. It would take a couple of incidents of say, hanging on to a fire truck ladder while it drags you through the facade of a strip mall, before you would be totally screwed.


  4. Patrick Perez #

    The grippy hand problem could be easily explained by the terminator devices being able to make any part of their frame magnetic on an as-needed basis. The metal paw becomes an anchor point from which the mechanism can pull the rest of the remaining body. Duh!


  5. Jamas #

    Re “Porsche guy”, you skipped over the ‘jerk’ theory. He had heard about what happened to the other Sarah Conners, and called off the date because of that. He knew something bad was coming down, and wanted nothing to do with it.

    (Okay, I have no idea if the timeline of the movie supports that, but guys act that way…)


    • Lee OTI Staff #

      It’s ambiguous, since we don’t know when Porsche guy left the message. It could have been earlier in the day before the news got out, or maybe he didn’t catch the evening news.

      But if he DID know about it and this was his way of getting out of the date (“Something came up, I’m really sorry, I’ll make it up to you”), then that would have been a serious dick move.


    • R #

      Nope, sorry. Sarah and her roommate listen to the answering machine, and then Sarah goes out to the bar, sees the news report about Sarah #2 getting killed, and starts to realize something’s up. It’s possible “Dan” may have heard about the first woman’s death, but even if so, like Sarah, he probably would have shrugged it off.


  6. Bert #

    Here’s a glaring plot-hole: the Terminator has to arm himself with weapons he finds in the 80s. This is explained in the film by Reese’s telling us that you go through the portal naked; only biological tissue gets through. Still, the Terminator’s skeleton is metallic; therefore couldn’t he easily have put future super weapons inside him and ripped them out through the layer of living tissue when he had reached his destination?


    • Valatan #

      Hell. They could have just made his right arm a big Mega-man-style cannon, and just hid it under skin. The rules as to how the time machine worked were always the weakest seam in the series–why send back just one Terminator? Why did no Terminator end up going after Sarah Connor’s mother in 1963?

      How the hell did the T-1000 not qualify as ‘being made completely of metal’?


      • Carrie S. #

        Skynet didn’t have records on Sarah’s mother. It only had enough records on her to get “Sarah Connor, lived in LA in 1984”. I mean, there was a nuclear war, stuff gets lost.


  7. Frank Michaels #

    I loved T1 and 2, especially the first one. Great story, great casting.

    [spoiler alert]
    How about when, after Reese managed to blow up the gasoline tanker outside the factory and the Terminator rose out of the flames to pursue them on foot? All males (since we were boys once) have some experience with metal objects in fires…metal that’s been in a dirty fire like that tanker inferno would be blackened with soot, not all clean and shiny. Actually, a sooty, smoking terminator (enter Smell-O-Vision) would’ve been even more wicked-looking, but I guess film makers don’t want black subject matter in a night scene.


    • Rico #

      I had a thought watching this very scene the other day. Why were they even running away from the terminator? I mean, it was severely damaged and could barely limp along. And it wasn’t armed either. Watch it again… A 5 year old could have out-walked that terminator yet Sarah & Kyle are running like they’re being chased by Usain Bolt.


    • Lee OTI Staff #

      To crib from an earlier podcast title:

      No cake but what we make.


  8. Kimbo Jones #

    Hmm… Re: point #2. Perhaps the music change symbolizes the change in focus between what Sarah is experiencing when she first enters the club and the pulse-pounding terror she is experiencing once she gets shot at by a giant Austrian man. At first the scene is “open” as she notices her surroundings, but then it narrows into just her (i.e., the music is still in the background, but we don’t care and she doesn’t care – all she can focus on is the Terminator).


  9. Trapzoid #

    One wonders how Skynet kept the power on for mass production of energy-intensive killing machines, post-Judgement Day. I’d imagine the electrical grid wasn’t in very good shape after global thermonuclear holocaust. Did they first build an army of robotic coal miners and utility repairmen?


  10. Brad #

    The non-covered in skin terminator designs never made much sense to me. Sure they can be disguised as humans, but if you’re not going to do that, it’s not really an efficient design. A swarm of tiny bee-shaped terminators with poison stingers would be far more effective, and short of that, you could just make a bunch of robotic tigers with guns built into their shoulders or something.


    • iDude #

      How about sharks with frickin’ lasers?


  11. Carrie S. #

    The first time I saw Terminator I groaned when Arnie hears Sarah’s message–“Oh no, scary cyborg guy now knows where she is and can go kill her!” The thing is, without that bit the whole rest of the movie would be different. And probably worse.

    It’s the Terminator’s attack in Tech Noir that convinces Sarah that Reese is the good guy. Without that, the sequence goes like this: Sarah, freaked out by Reese’s apparent stalking (that’s what makes her call home in the first place), hangs around Tech Noir until it closes, or slips out the back with the help of a friendly bartender. Either she calls the cops on Reese, or he loses her completely; in either case, she goes home eventually, with or without police escort. Whereupon the Terminator kills her, and any cops who are with her.

    So it’s a good think Reese is not so great at being inconspicuous, because if he’d done a better job of it Sarah’d be dead…


  12. kamper #

    Great piece, and maybe you’ve touched on this elsewhere, but have you ever noticed what terrible killers Terminators are? They get their hands on their victim and then, rather than choking the living shit out of them, they pick them up and throw them against the wall. This was especially egregious in Salvation.


  13. Tim #

    I know this is ancient… But friction? That’s easy. when two flat pieces of metal (or anything that flat) come into contact with each other, they stick. But let’s ignore that static force, since it’s probably not the main cause. The weight of the torso, head, and arm is on two points: the wide base of the torso and the tips of the fingers. The tips of the fingers will gouge the metal and pull it forward.


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