‘Terminator: Dark Fate’: Where Does the Ending Leave the Franchise?

Deadpool director Tim Miller takes the long-running franchise into uncharted territory with Terminator: Dark Fate. Soon after the finale of Terminator 2: Judgment Day, the film follows a young woman hunted by a machine and the warrior sent to protect her. Sound familiar?

While its concept goes back to basics, Dark Fate diverges drastically from the two films it follows. Some of these changes may upset fans, but for better or worse, the film does provide a definitive close to the narrative James Cameron started 35 years ago.

Spoilers for Terminator: Dark Fate ahead!

Director Tim Miller and the cast of 'Terminator: Dark Fate'
Director Tim Miller and the cast of ‘Terminator: Dark Fate’ | Dave J Hogan/Getty Images

The day after ‘Judgment Day’

Much of the film’s marketing has hinged on how Dark Fate concludes the story of Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) and her son John (Edward Furlong). The opening moments of the film take place in 1998, just months after T2 ends. Sarah and John are on the run in Guatemala but otherwise happy, having prevented Judgment Day.

Then the unthinkable happens. Another T-800 (Arnold Schwarzenegger) appears and brutally murders John before Sarah’s eyes. In an instant, the entire crux of the franchise — the human resistance led by John — is torn away.

Sarah goes on for the next couple of decades hunting any remaining Terminators from the now-defunct future timeline. Toward the end of Dark Fate, she discovers that the T-800 that killed John calls himself Carl and has been assisting Sarah on her quest. As it turns out, these two relics of a non-existent future have given birth to a whole new timeline.

How ‘Dark Fate’ changes the franchise forever

With Skynet taken down in T2, another robotic enemy known as Legion has risen in its place. Grace (Mackenzie Davis) — a human enhanced for battle — has traveled back to protect Dani (Natalia Reyes) from the Rev-9 (Gabriel Luna). In Grace’s future, Dani becomes the leader of the human resistance.

This massive shift succeeds in finally liberating the Terminator franchise of its dependence on John Connor. The struggle to do so has defined every film since T2, as the series has tried to outgrow John. Now, without him around, Sarah literally no longer has a place in the story.

This is the point of her arc in Dark Fate, but that in itself doesn’t make the film a satisfying follow-up. By the end, Sarah makes her peace with Carl, who — like Grace — sacrifices himself to destroy the Rev-9. Sarah’s new role appears to be assisting Dani on her destined path. Still, it’s unlikely fans will get to see this dynamic play out.

Is the ‘Terminator’ series over for good?

Back in 2015, the failure of Terminator Genisys convinced everyone that the franchise was over. Yet, remarkably, the series got yet another chance at box office redemption with Dark Fate. But by the looks of it, the aptly titled sixth installment will continue this trend.

Fans viewed Cameron’s return as their last hope that the Terminator series could, at last, recover. Alas, this didn’t appear to make much of a difference with audniences. So fans of Dark Fate are unlikely to get much resolution or development anytime soon.

For a series about time travel, it’s fitting that the last four sequels all attempt to follow T2. Since The Terminator began as a cult film, maybe the series was always doomed to go full-circle, playing to a niche audience. The future may not be set, but it certainly doesn’t look good for the Terminator series right now.