Chapter 5: I'll Be Back

1984 was the year Gibson's Neuromancer first made waves but the popularity of his cyberpunk novels was undoubtedly helped along by a cyborg named Arnold. The word "cyborg" had been around for quite a while by the time 1984 rolled around, but it was clearly The Terminator which introduced the world to the concept in a way they'd never forget. And if there's one concept that's central to cyberpunk film and fiction, it's the cyborg. Whether it's Case's implants or Molly's razor fingers and mirrored eye sockets, everyone and everything has got technology implanted inside their bodies. The Terminator would show us all what happened when you took the technology to the edge.

Arnold Schwarzenegger's wooden acting style turned out to be the key to the success of this film, and no doubt laid the groundwork for the future concepts of the effect of cybernetics on humanity, and cyberpsychosis. There had been cybernetically-augmented characters before, even way back as far as Metropolis, but no movie prior to this one had bothered to reach back to the Frankenstein myth and apply its message in a truly technological way. The Terminator is the ultimate Frankenstein's Monster--created by man, then sent to destroy his creator. Half-man, half-machine, at once superior and inferior; more powerful than humans, yet incapable of true humanity.

Without humanity, The Terminator is just another film about a robot, of course, and the most important human in the film is Sarah Connor, a 19-year-old kid playing life fast and loose in the mid 1980s when she suddenly gets a dose of reality. Someone is trying to kill her. Or rather, someone is trying to kill everyone in the phone book named Sarah Connor. Two other Sarahs have already bit the dust, and she's next on a very short list.

Making her way to a nightclub (what better place to avoid being killed than a nightclub, right?), Sarah phones the police and sits down to wait it out. Of course, The Terminator shows up well before the police do, and it's up to a bystander to save her life. The Terminator is filled with a metric ton of lead, but refuses to lie down and die. As they make their escape, the man who saved her life, Kyle Reese, explains it all.

	Sarah closes her eyes, as if to shut it all out.

				I can't believe this is happen-
				ing.  How could than man get up
				after you...

	Reese's tone is equal parts hatred and respect as he replies.

				Not a man.  A Terminator.
				Cyber Dynamics Model 101.

The Terminator is a cyborg, a being sent back in time to kill Sarah Connor before she can give birth to the savior of mankind, John Connor, leader of the human underground several decades into the bleak future. Having discovered the plot to kill her, John sent back Kyle Reese to find and rescue his mother before it was too late. Understandably, Sarah thinks everyone is a psychopath, and tries to bail out. But Kyle is determined to keep her safe. Because she has no choice.

					(slow, but intense)
				Listen.  Understand.  That
				Terminator is out there.  It
				can't be reasoned with, it can't
				be bargained doesn't
				feel pity or remorse or fear...
				and it absolutely will not stop.
				Ever.  Until you are dead.

	Sarah slump in utter resignation.

				Can you stop it?

	Reese doesn't look at her.

Predictably, the police get involved in the action, after it's too late to do anything but make matters worse. While Sarah is coddled and given a bulletproof vest to "keep her safe", Kyle is interrogated by a psychologist who, understandably, doesn't truly believe Kyle's story about coming from the future. Especially when he starts talking about Skynet.

				  SKYNET.  A computer defense system
				  built for SAC-NORAD by Cyber
				  Dynamics.  A modified Series

				  I see.  And,
				  thinks it can win by killing
				  the mother of its enemy, kill-
				  ing him, in effect, before he
				  is even conceived?  A sort of
				  retroactive abortion?


While Kyle's sanity is being questioned, we get to see The Terminator operating on himself, dissecting first his arm and then removing his eyeball. But after all the stitching is said and done, it's the glimpse we get of The Terminator in the mirror that establishes the prototypical cyberpunk anti-hero's looks once and for all. Even if he's the bad guy, it was ultimately Arnie who got it right, from the leather, to the mirrorshades, to the weaponry.

	C.U. - TERMINATOR, contemplating his reflection in the
	mirror.  With the hat pulled down, the collar pulled up,
	and favoring his right profile he looks unhurt...though
	a bit gaunt and pale.

	A turn of his head brings the balefully glowing left eye
	in its metal socket into view.
	He slips on a pair of wrap-around Gargoyle sunglasses.

	FULL SHOT as he goes to the bed and flips up the stained
	mattress.  He picks up the Remington 12 gauge, the AR-180
	and the .38 off the springs and leaves by the fire escape.

The police are as useless in this film as they are in any cyberpunk film. In Escape From New York, they have to recruit a criminal to help them out, and in Blade Runner, of course, they have to enlist the help of a replicant to kill other replicants. Their complete inability to stop the bad guys in this movie as well continues a thematic quirk which will appear again and again in cyberpunk films. Of course, the way they handled it in The Terminator was quite memorable.

				Look.  It's gonna be a while.
				You wanna wait?  There's a

	Terminator steps back, scanning the booth, the electric
	door, the rooms beyond.

			    I'll be back.

Of course, The Terminator doesn't lie, and he "comes back" a moment later by driving a stolen car right through the front of the building. Within a few minutes, he's mowed his way through the entire police department (Where's a Psycho Squad when you need one?), pursued Kyle and Sarah out onto the highway, and generally been quite a nuisance. The fleeing duo do escape, however briefly. It's long enough for Kyle to whip up some explosives in the kitchen, and whip up a little something else with Sarah in the bedroom. But the lovin' don't last for long, because The Terminator shows up and chases them back out onto the road. Then it's time for what seems like the film's fiftieth chase sequence, one which ends with Kyle shot, Sarah wounded, and The Terminator seemingly buried beneath a ton of twisted, flaming metal.

	It would be a wonderful final image.

	M.C.U. - TERMINATOR, the last flakes of flesh are falling
	from him like burning leaves.  His gleaming structure is
	revealed in all its intricacy.  No longer a 'He', but an 'It'.
	It looks like Death rendered in steel.
	FLEXIBLE CABLE.  In the sockets of the metal skull, the
	eyeball swivels with a WHIR of tiny servos, both glowing
	red now.

The Terminator pursues the two into a machine factory of some sort. Kyle begs to be left behind, but Sarah is frantic, having realized that Kyle is the father of her unborn son, John. Kyle makes the ultimate sacrifice to buy her some extra time, blowing The Terminator into two chunks with a stick of explosive and killing himself in the process. But even that's not enough to kill the beast--it will take Sarah and a hydraulic press to ultimately crush the machine.

Of course, even if there weren't a sequel to this film, the story would continue. Sarah escapes into the desert to hide out and protect her unborn son. And the Terminator's discarded cybernetic arm, left uncrushed by the hydraulic press, is discovered by Cyber Dynamics employees (who will, of course, ultimately go on to use the found technology to create the very Terminator who will then come back in time to kill the person who killed it, leaving behind the technology that the Cyber Dynamics people would later find.

If that's a little too complicated, try Back To The Future.

Setting aside the time travel stuff, the central themes of this film are all about cyberpunk--man versus machine, human versus inhuman, large corporation versus two people desperately trying to escape destruction. But even more important than the themes in this movie are the three primary characters, each of whom represents a different face of the cyberpunk anti-hero:

Sarah Connor The femme fatale, the real hero, Molly and Case rolled into one. She's young, a bit naive, making her way through the world with a dead end job, some fashionable friends and no real goals for the future. But as it turns out, even the most lowly waitress can make a big difference, because she will give birth to the man who will one day save the world from total annihilation. Of course, as T-2 would show us, she's not content to just lie back and watch the world roll by. She will grow up into a strong, capable woman (albeit an unstable one) who's more than capable of changing her own future, and the future of the entire world.


Sarah Connor, age 19, Nomad

 INT [ 5]    REF [ 6]   TECH [ 4]   COOL [ 5]
ATTR [ 4]   LUCK [ 7]     MA [ 6]   BODY [ 4]
 EMP [ 6]    Run [18]   Leap [4.5]  Lift [160]

Armor: N/A

Save:4   BTM: -1

    Cybernetics: N/A
Special Ability: Family (unborn) [ 1]
         Skills: Awareness [ 5], Endurance [ 3], Melee [ 3],
                 Rifle [ 1], Drive [ 6], Basic Tech [ 2],
                 Wilderness Survival [ 2], Brawling [ 3],
                 Athletics [ 3]
    Possessions: N/A


Kyle Reese The savior, the Han Solo type, the guy who takes the bullets while his friends save the world. He's grizzled, he's been to hell and back again, and he's got dozens of stories to share about his time in the stinking pits. He knows his place, knows that he's got to save this girl, even if she doesn't want to be saved. The police can try to stop him, people can shoot at him, but he's going to break the law, and a few legs to boot, if anyone gets in his way.


Kyle Reese, age 24, Solo

 INT [ 6]    REF [ 7]   TECH [ 7]   COOL [ 8]
ATTR [ 6]   LUCK [ 6]     MA [ 8]   BODY [ 7]
 EMP [ 7]    Run [24]   Leap [ 6]   Lift [280]

Armor: N/A

Save:7   BTM: -2

    Cybernetics: N/A
Special Ability: Combat Sense [ 8]
         Skills: Awareness [ 7], Handgun [ 6], Brawling [ 4],
                 Melee [ 3], Weapons Tech [ 6], Rifle [ 7],
                 Athletics [ 3], Submachinegun [ 3], Stealth [ 4]
    Possessions: N/A


The Terminator The villain. Even if he were human to start with, he's so far gone now that he'd be a total cyberpsycho anyway. He is what everyone wants to be--indestructible, unstoppable, and even fashionable. But at the same time, he's your worst nightmare, a total killing machine that has no pity and no empathy. He's what happens when the Cyber takes over the Punk, and eats it for breakfast.


The Terminator, Solo, Cyberpsycho

 INT [10]    REF [10]   TECH [10]   COOL [10]
ATTR [ 3]   LUCK [ 3]     MA [10]   BODY [12]
 EMP [ 0]    Run [30]   Leap [7.5]  Lift [480]

Armor: N/A

Save:12   BTM: -5

    Cybernetics: Gemini Full Body Replacement (p 76, Chrome 2),
                 Optics: Image enhancement, Targeting scope, Times
                         Square, Teleoptics, Thermograph, Infrared,
                 Audio: Amplified, Voice Stress, Sound Editing,
                        Enhanced Range, Digital Recording
                 Body: Thickened Myomar, Skin Weave
                 Other: Biomonitor, Pain Editor, Motion Detector,
                        Digital Recorder, Radar Sensor, Voice Synth
Special Ability: Combat Sense [10]
         Skills: Awareness [ 8], Handgun [ 8], Brawling [ 5],
                 Melee [ 5], Weapons Tech [10], Rifle [ 8],
                 Athletics [ 2], Submachinegun [ 8], Stealth [ 2]
    Possessions: N/A


I'll assume that you probably don't want to work time travel into your cleverly crafted campaign world. But there's no reason why the main players can't believe that time travel is involved.

Imagine this: your little group of characters are enjoying a night out in a bar when they are caught in the middle of a firefight between a young solo and a monstrous cyberpsycho. Whether they choose to help out or not, they'll be drawn into the chaos as the two tear all over the city, blowing things up and generally raising hell, all over the fate of a single woman. Is it a lover's quarrel? Are they really from the future? Are they both escaped madmen? Which one of them is telling the truth, and which is the real villain?

Now take it a step further--the woman they're fighting over is pregnant, and the father of her child is some important muckity-muck high up the corporate ladder somewhere. The cyberpsycho was created and sent out by that corporation to kill the woman before she can tell the world about the baby, and tarnish the reputation of this married corporate goon. The young solo trying to protect her is her real boyfriend, and he's not only trying to save her, but is intent on taking down the corporation at the same time.

Whichever way you decide to play it, there's only one way this one can go--full out, balls to the wall firefight from end to end. When you're not shooting at each other, you'll be chasing each other in cars around town, and when you're not chasing each other you'll be reloading and buying more weapons and ammunition. It's all fun and good to play it quiet when you're Snake Plissken or Deckard, but when your opponent is a cyberpsycho Terminator who could eat a half-dozen replicants for lunch, and come back for seconds, you've got no choice but to haul out the big guns and pray for acid rain.

A few weeks ago, I put it up to a vote between Blade Runner and Tron, and it was a virtual tie. This time, it's going to be even harder, with three great movies to deal with in the year 1985. Send me your votes, suggestions, and comments, and help me pick between the media-centric Max Headroom, Luc Besson's oft-forgotten Subway, or Terry Gilliam's absolutely insane Brazil.