- This film has one hell of a Downer Beginning: John Connor's death. It starts peacefully in 1998 in Guatemala, with Sarah having a drink and John happily chatting with a girl. Then, out of nowhere, a T-800 (who will later be named "Carl") comes in, armed with a shotgun, and shoots John twice in the chest. Sarah immediately tries to stop him, but he throws her away and fires one more shot at the dead kid. His mission completed, the T-800 leaves, with Sarah weeping over her deceased son, the supposed leader of a human resistance that was never to be with the destruction of Skynet three years ago.
- What's worse is how quick John's death is. No final acts of defiance, like running or shooting the T-800 down. No Famous Last Words. No last look at his mother or gestures towards her. Just a painful, silent passing.
- Dani finds Sarah sitting outside after she tries to shoot Carl, crying. Sarah states that, due to her paranoia, she never took any pictures of John so it would be harder for Skynet to track him down. Now, nearly 24 years after his death, she finds she's starting to forget his face.
- Even worse, John was the only proof that Kyle Reese ever existed. With Judgment Day prevented, the circumstances leading up to Kyle's birth may never have happened. He's effectively erased from history; therefore, his entire existence ends up being completely pointless.
- Let's twist the knife in as deep as we can here. In Judgment Day, John developed a deep friendship with the T-800, who served as a father figure to him. Carl is the very same model, eerily referencing a scene in Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines: Skynet likely assigned Carl on this specific mission because of John's emotional attachment to the Model 101 design. And just to punch it all in, Skynet banked on one cruel, petty thing despite facing the inevitable fate of being Ret Gone: John is just 13 years old. He is still somewhat oblivious of the future, not knowing too much about Terminators. John must have figured this was his Uncle Bob, Back from the Dead. And all Carl does is just kill him, in cold and impartial blood. Imagine what John must have been thinking in his final moments when that first bullet hit him.
- Grace tells Sarah and Dani the story of how Legion started its war on humanity. Rather than rising from a nuclear war like Skynet did, Legion struck during a time of peace. Humanity was caught completely off-guard and the ensuing holocaust turned most of the world into a hell-scape where people killed each other over food. At least in the Skynet future, the humans eventually won. Here, there's no guarantee whatsoever.
- Carl having to leave his adopted family and tell them to go somewhere safe due to Rev-9 locating them. While he could not truly love them as he was a machine, he still tended and cared for them as much as he could despite that. From him having saved his future wife and stepson from an abusive boyfriend, to living a peaceful life where he worked as a draper, it is all but stated that he was an incredibly good parent and husband. His Subverted Catch Phrase just hits you in the heart.Dani: What did you tell them?
Carl: I told them you coming here makes this place unsafe for them. Also, the day I warned them would come, has come. My past has caught up with me. And...I won't be back.
- And then that family ends up losing Carl. "I won't be back" indeed.
- While not nearly as powerful as Uncle Bob's death, Carl's death is still soul-piercing. This was a Terminator that grew a conscience, learning to tend to a family and regret killing John...and once you realize that he's probably the last remaining T-800, it can definitely feel like an End of an Age for the series.Carl: [stoically looks at Sarah one more time as his skin burns away] ...For John. [relaxes himself once being reduced to an endoskeleton]
- When Carl and Sarah run into each other for the first time, she immediately goes on the offensive and accuses him of killing John. When Grace asks for confirmation, he acquiesces but follows it up with a simple "I'm not what you think I am". It's a simple moment that goes a long way towards setting him up as The Atoner.
- As he drags Rev-9 with him into the pit, he gives Sarah a final look before letting go. He's not just killing Rev-9 to neutralize his threat or I Cannot Self-Terminate, but perhaps out of guilt. In the end, he acknowledges that Sarah can never let go of her grudge against Terminators, and for very good and understandable reason. He knew this was the one way he could truly make up for killing John; to give Sarah the hollow catharsis in watching him and Rev-9 die.
- He doesn't just look at Sarah. His vision zooms in on her saddened face.
- The more somber flourish of the traditional Terminator theme plays through the whole sequence, as the camera shows Carl and Rev-9 laying together as they fry up in slow motion. Given the circumstances, it's almost like this scene could serve as Arnold's last hurrah as the Terminator, going out with not just a bang, but with a blinding shockwave of glory.
- Imagine you don't have free will, and there is so little to your mind that you barely exist. You are ordered to kill someone and do it, feeling nothing. Then you gradually develop human emotions, and are essentially a newborn in terms of having genuine sapience and free will. And all the memories you have, memories that were just raw data to the soulless thing you were born from, slowly gain emotions of horror and guilt. Carl was essentially born into pain. The Terminator he formed from wasn't really him; it was a dead thing. It is highly debatable whether he deserves the guilt of what he did before becoming emotionally alive. Yet he has to endure the guilt. And he's had to endure that guilt since the moment be was reborn as a sapient being.
Tear Jerker / Terminator: Dark Fate
WARNING: Spoilers are unmarked.