Building with the premise that the original terminator was sent back in time to kill Sarah Connor as a ruse to weaken the future Resistance (see here
for explanation), it is now possible (for me) to salvage the entire franchise from total incoherence. Edit:
Apparently, it is the Sarah Connor Chronicles (SCCs), rather than Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines that is the actual path to Terminator Salvation (unlike what my original diagram shows below--and actually I'm no longer sure those connect either!). This is my best time tree of all three movies and the TV series to date:
Since time travel cannot be the original basis for any of this, it follows that the original time line had a Sarah Connor that got knocked up by someone else other than Kyle Reese shortly after the initial events of the first Terminator movie. I've seen at least two other sources suggest this. We have to at least account for the relative age of a John Connor and we have to explain the "self fulfilling prophecy" photograph of Sarah at the end of the first movie. We will call this original unfilmed time travelless time line T-ZERO. Instead of being hounded by a killing machine, she meets someone else, has a wild night, and it doesn't work out very well. Why do unwed mothers leave town? Invent an explanation, like this:Fulongamer
over at Terminator Wiki suggests: Given that Sarah was basically just out there dating, any of a dozen one-night stands could certainly have led to a pregnancy. And the "flake" nature of the guys she was dating, like Morsky, can easily lead to Sarah being a single mother. So could whatever hook-up she may have made with any unnamed stranger in Club Noir as a rebound-bang for Morsky breaking their date. Since without TDE intervention, no one was coming to the club to kill her that night. Perhaps it is this original situation that leads to Sarah abandoning the conventional lifestyle of College, Waitressing, and City life to become a recluse militant survivalist on her own, placing her in a position to be John's mentor through the unaltered original timeline Judgment Day that has to have happened prior to any TDE intervention.
There has to be some reason John Connor was most fit for the job. And Sarah didn't seem to have much trouble falling right into the roll in T-ONE. Maybe incidentally she just has a taste for the power of militantism... It seems that whenever a Sarah Connor's life falls apart it leaves her heading the same direction and as creatures of habit, this should come as no surprise. There would always be that same
kid taking those same pictures at the same gas station. Hence, this explains the same distant look on her face, the same angle, the same lighting, the same vehicle, etc. You'd have to compare the two photos to find those slight differences. ;) Anyway, some unknown company develops Skynet, brings on Judgment Day, and Sarah's original John Connor becomes the focus of the super computer's ruse. The T-ZERO John Connor would have no previous knowledge of any Judgment day, and would accidentally survive and find himself gathering resources and mounting a counter attack. This is the John Connor to revere the most.
That means the original John Connor is not the same John Connor from T2. The point is, it doesn't matter. Skynet is trying to waste Resistance resources and targeting the old John Connor's mother results in the creation of a new John Connor via the Resistance pimp fighter, Kyle Reese. It is worth noting that he plays Sarah up as though she's a legend who trained John Connor...and for this theory to work, he'd have to be lying to get her into the spirit of it so John would be that much farther ahead in military helpfulness (in the event the T-ZERO militant survivalist theory doesn't work out). Hell, Kyle might have just gotten the photograph just so he'd know what Sarah looked like. This actually explains why the original John Connor didn't think twice about sending his dad to his death. He wasn't his dad. And it makes Kyle an opportunitistic and horny meddlesome hero, that actually fails by not living long enough to destroy the evidence that speeds up Judgment Day. His original time line (T-ZERO) hasn't been touched one bit, and now this one (T-ONE) is that much more fucked up. Cyberdyne now has a chip and a robo-hand to work with in the new time line created by the original ruse. The original T-ZERO Skynet doesn't care. The original Resistance has wasted its resources in its time line, and it has its advantage there. Whatever chaos is created in throw away alternate time lines is nothing to a self aware super computer that is neither stupid, sentimental, nor altruistic.
Dr. Silberman: I see. And this, uh, computer thinks it can win by, uh, killing the mother of its enemy, killing him in effect, before he's even conceived. Some sort of retroactive abortion? Why didn't the computer just kill John Connor then? I mean, why this obsession with the Terminator?
Kyle Reese: It had no choice. Their defense grid was smashed. We'd won. Taking out Connor then would make no difference. Skynet had to wipe out his entire existence.
Dr. Silberman: Is that when you captured the lab complex and found the, uh, what's it called? The time-displacement equipment?
Kyle Reese: That's right. The Terminator had already gone through. Connor sent me to intercept and they blew the whole place.
Dr. Silberman: Well, how are you supposed to get back?
Kyle Reese: I can't. Nobody goes home. Nobody else comes through. It's just him and me.
It's possible that the "smashing of the defense grid" was the bait having been taken and that T-ZERO John Connor knew all along that the "time displacement equipment" was there to find. He just didn't tell Kyle. Kyle thinks they just "discovered" it and he thinks that they "won" even though perhaps they suffered serious losses to do so. It is also conceivable that this wasn't the hollistic victory Kyle seems to think it was, and that John wanted him to believe that the war was effectively over so that he would be willing to let go of it. A solidier at the end of a war, especially a war he's never known anything but, is likely enough to not want to bother dealing with the "next phase" of existence. So T-ZERO John Connor is going out on a limb with some half truths...and then T-ZERO Kyle Reese goes a little further with some motivational lies to push T-ONE Sarah in a better direction. Judging from the T2 results...I'd say he did a great job in that sense.
However, on second thought, it seems we can salvage a great deal of what Kyle seems to be by adding in an extra timeline, that we'd call T-PT.FIVE. After rewatching the first movie, it seems pretty clear that the Sarah Connor from Kyle's "past" knew Judgment Day was coming and trained John accordingly. This would be halfway between T-ZERO and T-ONE and would take the necessary elements from my solution above, but allow for more of Kyle's story to be true as played out in the first movie. The T-PT.FIVE Sarah would have gotten "played", but by the time it comes back around (photo included), Kyle is actually more genuine about things for T-ONE Sarah. T-PT.FIVE Kyle still has to be a little mistaken about the nature of the circumstances that brought about his time traveling.
Another untold story is the T-ONE time line during the events of T2. In T-ONE the Arnold terminator and the T-1000 are not sent back in time. T-ONE John Connor (fathered by Sarah and Kyle) continues to be raised by his foster parents (who are not killed), and it seems inevitable that Sarah would escape from the mental hospital given all she needed was a paper clip to pull this off. This would happen later in the T-ONE time line, she'd probably try to recruit her son again and likely attempt to hit targets plausibly responsible for Skynet. Apparently she failed in that regard in T-ONE, since she didn't have very good information. Eventually, since we learn that John Connor leads the Resistance, he'd either have to be convinced by Sarah before the war, or much like his T-ZERO predecessor, just go at it fresh once the bombs start wiping most everyone out.
The untold T-TWO story during the events of T3 would be the same nihilistic John Connor constantly on the run. His mom would still be dead. Since there isn't anything time travelie about John running into Kate in T3, apparently in the T-TWO time line...they manage to stay together and not die in the nuclear holocaust some other way. I need to go watch T3 again to figure out a more specific alternate scenario.
What does one do with the smorgasbord of time travel events on one time line? That's quite a lucrative ruse especially in the Sarah Connor Chronicles (SCC). Not sure, but I think I count at least four Resistance time traveling events all at different intervals. That could get really messy if there is an original and tangents that build off of each other. There's at least the banker/time machine builder guy, Cameron, the large group of Resistance soldiers (including Derek Reese), and the red headed dude who didn't get very far. Skynet just keeps stirring the pot as long as the future Resistance still believes that sending protectors back in time is worth it. I think I even read point blank that the Resistance sent it's very best people back in time. What idiots. As long as the hoomenz iz stoopid, Skynet keeps making up bogus missions. I'll have a separate post that branches off from this one dealing with the complicated and revealing specifics of that series. Why? Because it's so fun to think these things through and get them totally wrong. lol I'm not sure if Cameron comes from T-ONE or T-TWO yet. I'm guessing T-TWO. I just know they short stop the T-THREE. I think I'm going to go with the theory that you can only visit your own past so as to keep the assumptions simple. They have a Kyle Reese in the SCCs future who is obsessed with Sarah Connor again. Little does he know another Kyle already did the job (literally). "But I luvs her!" It seems that all of the Kyles after T-ZERO could easily get confused with strange ideas about their own destiny depending on how differently T-ONE John Connor (and beyond) deals with it. T-ONE Sarah would have told T-ONE John the bullshit story that T-ZERO Kyle told her, and so T-ONE John's expectations of how that plays out are different and he gives the photo to Kyle in a different context than the probable pragmatic way T-ZERO John did for T-ZERO Kyle. That's the power of suggestion. That could be really awkward if multiple Kyles get sent back to create a slew of alternate T-ONEs. If the time bubbles don't show up at exactly the same time...guess what? One terminator has it easy and one Kyle has no one to protect Sarah from. lol I shouldn't laugh I guess, since this could be a serious problem in that say the Christian Bale John Connor thinks he has to send a Kyle back and a T-800 after this has already been done two to three times previously on the 5D axis.
In T-THREE we learn that Sarah Connor was successful in salvaging Kyle Reese's failures. But...the show must go on, and she didn't change it quite enough. Why was a T-1000 sent back in T2? Probably because it represents a more advanced ruse. The second generation Skynet was that much further ahead and had the same idea. Is it any coincidence that the Resistance is always able to send a "protector?" I think not. Skynet wants it to happen. And the TX is likely just another updated ruse. Great supercomputers think alike, eh?
In the preview to Terminator Salvation, starring Christian Bale, he even notes there that "This is not the future my mother told me about." The majority of what his mother would have told him would actually be info from Kyle Reese...and that takes us all the way back 3 Judgment Days to the T-ZERO time line that was completely unpolluted by any time travel meddling. Granted, he got two new generations of info from the Terminators from the T-ONE and T-TWO Judgment Days, but those wouldn't be the "old school" stories droned into his head since from before he can remember. There's three different eras of information in the mix, and of course a completely new era he doesn't have any info on. Presumably there might not be any time travel in part 4. This should be a straight shot from a T-THREE time line with no alternates.
I see no reason to think that Judgment Day is actually inevitable. That may be the studio mantra, but nothing more. Even though in T3 we learn that Skynet is uploaded on thousands of computers, there's no reason a Resistance computer hacker couldn't design a virus to take out a great deal of it, go back in time, and upload it. Perhaps they could even start an anti-virus service called SkyClear Anti-Virus and continually monitor and deal with the problem. No computer virus is perfect. No matter how many times it plays out, Skynet is not Jesus Christ or Mohamed. It can be thwarted...especially since everyone has the luxury of hindsight and since Skynet never actually cared about whatever happens in the past. "Oh noes! Some other Skynet might never be built!" No doubt given the original ruse in play, and the overwhelming nature of many of the apocalyptic factors, many characters in many convoluted alternate time lines would have many different superstitious perspectives on what was really going on. Just the intimidation of anything like it going on, would lead many people never to question the validity of the time travel exercise. And of course, people in the alternate pasts would have to take Skynet seriously even if it was a different Skynet and even if they knew the original thang was a charade. However I'm sure there would be bizarre coincidences and that would lead people shooting off on those misguided and passionate vectors as well. That's life in subjectivity land.
And this brings us to my own idea for a Terminator TV series that would be much more interesting and dynamic than the Sarah Connor Chronicles. Why not have an anthology series like the Outer Limits and bring in all sorts of different directors and writers to have their own one shot episodes? Have someone keep track of all the contingencies of time travel and really toy with the entire tapestry from every possible angle. How interesting would that be to fully recognize how bizarre things would really get based off of this original ruse? Anything would go, and there'd be no need to drag things out in unlikely and prolonged circumstances like we see in the Sarah Connor Chronicles. There's no reason, ironically, to repeat the plot from T2 over and over and over again...no matter how hard they try not to. That would really be the only way to truly capitalize on my version of things, as everyone would naturally feel pretty much everything would be completely undermined and difficult to care about as much as the more "liberal" versions.
Long ago, I was struck by my own stupidity when I realized that perhaps Qui-Gon Jinn's perspective on the Force might not be the correct perspective. That was a true head slapping moment. Just because a character says it, doesn't make it true even for that fictional canon. It just makes it true to them for the time being. Hence, it is rather easy for the most part to retcon (retroactive continuity) the various things characters may say about how it works in favor of a more coherent backbone to the story. Some heroes may look better...others will look worse.