- 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 blasts John straight in the chest. Sarah immediately tries to stop him, but he throws her away and fires one more shot at the dying 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.
- These lines from Sarah neatly wrap it all up in a tidy, heartwrenching bow:Sarah: Skynet had sent several Terminators to hunt him. One finally caught up with us, and... carried out orders from a future that never happened.
- Diego's death, and later Grace telling Dani that her father is dead too.
- 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 hellscape where people killed each other over food. At least in the Skynet future, the humans eventually won. Here, there's no guarantee whatsoever.
- Grace was only a kid when Legion gained sentience. We see a flashback of her with her stuck with her parents in traffic during the evacuation. A plane crashes nearby and she calls out for her dad while her mom grabs her, and then she follows up saying that her dad was killed by bandits over a can of peaches. In a later flashback, we see her scrounging the apocalyptic wasteland alone while hiding from Hunter-Killers, only to be confronted by another group of bandits. What happened to her mother is never stated. And the epilogue shows that Grace also had a younger brother that she didn't mention.
- Dani saving Grace by persuading the bandits to stand down and join the Resistance is nothing short of Awesome and Heartwarming, but if you rewatch the scene after the end of the movie with Grace's death, when Grace tells Dani her name, Dani's smile almost becomes wistful as she repeats back her name, as if realizing that she's just found her future protector that she knows she'll lose someday.
- 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.
Dani: Do you love them?
Carl: Not like a human can. For many years, I thought it was an advantage. It isn't.
Dani: I'm sorry.
- And then that family ends up losing Carl. "I won't be back" indeed.
- There is also a sad meta text to that line. At time of Dark Fate's release, Arnold Schwarzenegger was already 72 years old. This will likely be the last time he will ever play the Terminator, especially since the planned trilogy was scraped.
- 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. To make things sadder, after the two Terminators have been fried by Grace's power source, Carl's last act is to have his vision zoom towards her saddened face.
- Sarah herself just looks heartbroken and close to tears watching Carl die and even moreso watching their dead endoskeletons. She even looks away at one point. Even worse was that beforehand she called Carl by his name in an effort to save Dani from Rev-9 despite the fact that she stated earlier that she'd never call him that due to being disgusted that he murdered her son. It seemed that either she's heartbroken that she never got to kill him like she said she would or that she finally understood that he genuinely atoned for his actions right when he dies.
- 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 he was reborn as a sapient being.
Tear Jerker / Terminator: Dark Fate
WARNING: Spoilers are unmarked.