The Pilot picks up two years after the events of Terminator 2: Judgment Day. The episode is set in 1999, RetConing the film's date to 1997 rather than 1995 as in the original. After a nightmare of Terminators stalking her and killing her son (John Connor, future leader of the human resistance), Sarah wakes up beside her fiancé, Charley Dixon. He presents her with a ring and she bolts.
When Charley goes to the FBI for help finding her, Agent James Ellison reveals that his fiancée "Sarah Reese" was actually Sarah Connor, a dangerous, criminally insane domestic terrorist. This won't be the first time you feel REALLY sorry for poor Charley. All this digging up the past leaves an online information trail, not just for Ellison but for Sarah's worst nightmare: a new Terminator is stalking her.
Sarah and John arrive in New Mexico, where John starts school and garners the attention of a pretty teen named Cameron. John whines that he hates his new school, and thinks they're living in a "hick town."
At school, a substitute teacher who introduces himself as "Cromartie" arrives, and alarm bells start ringing for Cameron. The teacher's revealed to be a Terminator when pulls a gun from inside his own leg and shoots at John - Cameron takes the bullets while John leaps out the window and runs. Cromartie follows him, but Cameron runs him over in a pickup truck and reveals herself as a pro-Connor Terminator. He then finds Sarah and apparently tricks John into meeting them at the house. When a hooded 'John' arrives home Cromartie shoots him, but it's actually the bulletproof Cameron in disguise. A Kung-Shui battle between the two cyborgs, followed by a firefight, ensues, and our heroes barely escape, with the intention of running to Mexico. We find out that Cameron is from 2027 and that Skynet was still somehow created, despite Sarah's best efforts and Miles Dyson's Heroic Sacrifice.
After a visit to the widow Dyson to ask if she can think of anyone who was part of the project, and let her know that more Terminators are coming, our heroes escape from the ever-pursuing Cromartie once more. While she recovers from impromptu surgery, Sarah reveals that she wants to stop running. The next morning, Cameron takes them to a bank vault, where she assembles the parts of a time machine other time-jumping anti-Skynet resistants left there, as well as an energy weapon. She reveals that they're not sure who starts Skynet, but they do know when and where.
Cromartie finds them again, but too late: The trio blow his head off and leap forward through time to 2007. Sarah's nude arrival is captured by a mobile phone video and broadcast on the news, alerting both Charley and Ellison to the fact that she's back and wasn't killed when the vault exploded.
- The '90s: The pilot starts in the summer of 1999.
- Adorkable: Cameron trying to make friends with John. She's trying too hard.
- All Just a Dream: The opening arrest of Sarah and John's death. It serves as a Call-Back to the original films and jump us into the new story, however.
- Alternate Timeline: The series, because it begins in 1999, avoids the events of Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines. It does, however, leave in Sarah's eventual death from cancer.
- Arc Words: A couple of examples. First, Cameron says "Come with me if you want to live," a version of which has appeared in every installment of the Terminator franchise. Near the end of the episode, Sarah says "I'll stop it. I'll stop it," which is also her promise to John that will end the series.
- Artistic License Cars: When Cromartie scans Cameron's truck outside the Dyson residence he identifies it as a 1988 Ford F 150, It's actually a 1996 Ford F 250.
- Artistic License Geography -
- There's no 'hick town' named Red Valley in New Mexico.
- There isn't a place called West Fork in Nebraska, either.
- The Bait: Cromartie takes Sarah hostage so he can kill John when he comes to rescue her.
- Characterisation Marches On: Cromartie delivers "Class dismissed" to the traumatized students in a very Bond One-Liner manner, which is inconsistent with his entirely unemotional and machine-like characterization in the rest of the show.
- Deceptively Human Robots: Cameron is this even by Terminator standards and completely fools John with her schoolgirl persona until Cromartie forces her to reveal herself.
- Distracted by the Sexy: In her opening dream, Sarah's short skirt distracts the cop long enough for her to knock him out.
- Driven to Suicide: Sarah tries to put a gun to her head so Cromartie won't get John.
- Fish out of Temporal Water: Sarah and John become this after their leap forward to 2007.
- Full-Frontal Assault: Shortly after arriving in 2007, Cameron walks up naked to a car who conveniently belongs to a bunch of delinquents who want to take advantage of her, so she promptly beats them up and steals their clothes guilt-free.
- Hope Bringer: When asked what the equipment in the bank vault is, Cameron answers "Hope." Cameron's role will zigzag for the rest of the series, however, because her loyalties and her mission are never really clear.
- It Sucks to Be the Chosen One: John hates that he has to keep changing schools, and can't take computer classes, and he doesn't want to lead a future army.
- Just Eat Gilligan: Most of the series would have been resolved if Cameron had just taken out Cromartie's chip while he was incapacitated.
- Losing Your Head: Cromartie is decapitated by Sarah shortly before they time travel.
- Ms. Fanservice: Cameron played by Summer Glau who shows a lot of skin in her two naked scenes this episode.
- Mythology Gag: Count them, especially with all the Call Backs to T2. Some examples:
- A road rolling under car headlights while Sarah narrates.
- Several "chase" scenes while the Terminator tries to kill our hero and they barely escape.
- Both Cameron and Cromartie are able to mimic people's voices. (John and Sarah, respectively).
- Cromartie trying to torture Sarah into contacting John.
- John offering food (to Cameron rather than Sarah) at a restaurant and being rejected.
- The visit to the Dysons' home, including Cameron revealing herself as a Terminator and John taking Danny away to Danny's room. Then the Terminator arrives.
- A Terminator performing a makeshift "operation" on Sarah's wounds, in an out-of-the-way abandoned facility of some kind. Then the Terminator stands by the window all night to keep watch.
- The bad Terminator uses Termovision to assess the threat from the group of cops gathered outside the bank.
- Our trio (a boy, his mother, and his Terminator again) blows up a building.
- Time travelers arrive naked in a burning sphere, this time in the middle of the LA freeway.
- The Terminator in Sarah's nightmare somewhat resembles the one played by Arnold Schwarzenegger. It may have been intended to be the one from the first film.
- Additionally, the nightmare ends with the nuclear blasts incinerating its skin, leaving only its endoskeleton. In a script draft of the second movie, Sarah's first nightmare ends with both her and the Terminator's skin blown out of their skeletons.
- Naked Freak-Out: John and Sarah are clearly embarrassed when they end naked in the middle of a busy highway after time traveling. Cameron of course, is completely nonchalant about it.
- Naked on Arrival: In the Terminator-verse, you can't take anything with you when you time travel, so when Cameron, John and Sarah arrive in 2007 they don't have any clothes.
- Only One Name: Discussed. When Cromartie introduces himself to the class, someone asks if he only has one name, like Madonna. Zigzagged with Cameron. She's known only by Cameron throughout the series, but she is given the last name Phillips in the pilot.
- Please Put Some Clothes On: Sarah tells Cameron to "put those back in the holster" while she's repairing herself while topless.
- Playful Hacker: John has been caught hacking.
- Refusal of the Call: After John tells Sarah I Just Want to Be Normal, Sarah, who sees that he is in pain and will do anything for her son, agrees to try and stop the apocalypse. Again.
- Robot Girl: Cameron, a female Terminator sent to past to help John.
- Robotic Reveal: Cameron is forced to reveal herself as a Terminator to John when Cromartie tries to kill him.
- Rousing Speech: See Hope Bringer above, Cameron uses this to galvanize John and Sarah into following her into the future to stop Skynet.
- Scenery Censor: Used a lot with John, Cameron and Sarah when they arrive in 2007, before Cameron gets them all some clothes.
- Shameless Fanservice Girl: Cameron, as usual for a Terminator is utterly nonchalant about how little she wears or who sees her, yet she's acutely aware of the reactions others have to her body. When Sarah asks her to Please Put Some Clothes On for John's benefit she understands why.
- Shoulders-Up Nudity: When John, Sarah and Cameron arrive naked in 2007, they are mostly shown like this.
- Shout-Out: Dialogue and a prominently-displayed memorial plaque indicate that the bank building where the Connors and Cameron activate the time machine was built in 1963, the year a certain very famous time travel show was first broadcast.
- Taking the Bullet: Cameron takes a bullet meant for John when Cromartie tried to kill him.
- Tired of Running: Sarah says this nearly verbatim to Cameron.
- Toplessness from the Back:
- Cameron is shown like this when pries a bullet out of her torso.
- Cameron and Sarah when they get up after they time travel to 2007.
- Cameron once again when she confronts a group of delinquents for their clothes.
- Voice Changeling: Both Cameron and Cromartie are capable of perfectly mimic other people's voices.
- We Have to Get the Bullet Out: Cameron casually removes the bullet from her wound, since she's a Terminator that doesn't feel any pain.