Apocalypse Now or Later?

What Women Really Think
May 26 2009 1:11 PM

Apocalypse Now or Later?

Meghan wasn't the only person who missed Sarah Connor . Terminator Salvation lost the weekend's box office war to another sequel, Night at The Museum . There's surely some "in this economy" fauxrgument to be made explaining this outcome (ITE people want family friendly fare, not dark tales about the world's end), but I think Terminator 's problem is more basic, a structural flaw, a storytelling 101 screw-up.

Apocalypse narratives-movies, books, TV about the end of the world-can be divided into two groups: stopping the apocalypse narratives and surviving the apocalypse narratives. In the former, the end of the world is nigh, thanks to nukes, aliens, meteors, robots, a deadly virus, an odious supernatural being, or even angry trees . The worst is on the verge of happening and the whole story centers on the heroes pulling us all back from that brink (Think Lord of The Rings , Harry Potter , Independence Day , Armageddon , Outbreak etc.) In the latter, the apocalypse is a foregone conclusion. The word's been decimated and some small group of survivors rattles around in the wasteland, forgotten or hunted, scrounging for food or banding together to fight an evil overlord. (Think Mad Max , The Road , Oryx and Crake , The Matrix , Battlefield Earth ).

Advertisement

Generally speaking, fictions aren't both of these narratives at once-and for obvious reasons. If our heroes stop the apocalypse, there isn't one to survive. If there's an apocalypse to survive, our heroes failed to stop it, which makes them a little less than heroic. But that's exactly what has happened in Terminator Salvation . After watching John and Sarah hustle, plot, and risk death, their mental health and society's approval to stop the machines, the fourth movie unceremoniously supposes that, despite all this effort, they have failed: the apocalypse is here. It's as if Frodo lost the ring to Sauron in The Twin Towers or Voldermort killed Harry in The Goblet of Fire and we were all expected to be interested in the next installments, even though they now have a completely different set of stakes. Of course, all the time travel in the Terminator universe means the future, and the rise of the machines, is always subject to change. Next time, they should consider putting off the apocalypse for a few more years.

Willa Paskin is Slate’s television critic.

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Don’t Worry, Obama Isn’t Sending U.S. Troops to Fight ISIS

But the next president might. 

The Extraordinary Amicus Brief That Attempts to Explain the Wu-Tang Clan to the Supreme Court Justices

Amazon Is Officially a Gadget Company. Here Are Its Six New Devices.

The Human Need to Find Connections in Everything

It’s the source of creativity and delusions. It can harm us more than it helps us.

How Much Should You Loathe NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell?

Here are the facts.

Altered State

The Plight of the Pre-Legalization Marijuana Offender

What should happen to weed users and dealers busted before the stuff was legal?

Surprise! The Women Hired to Fix the NFL Think the NFL Is Just Great.

You Shouldn’t Spank Anyone but Your Consensual Sex Partner

Moneybox
Sept. 17 2014 5:10 PM The Most Awkward Scenario in Which a Man Can Hold a Door for a Woman
  News & Politics
Altered State
Sept. 17 2014 11:51 PM The Plight of the Pre-Legalization Marijuana Offender What should happen to weed users and dealers busted before the stuff was legal?
  Business
Business Insider
Sept. 17 2014 1:36 PM Nate Silver Versus Princeton Professor: Who Has the Right Models?
  Life
Dear Prudence
Sept. 18 2014 6:00 AM All Shook Up My 11-year-old has been exploring herself with my “back massager.” Should I stop her?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 17 2014 6:14 PM Today in Gender Gaps: Biking
  Slate Plus
Slate Fare
Sept. 17 2014 9:37 AM Is Slate Too Liberal?  A members-only open thread.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 17 2014 8:25 PM A New Song and Music Video From Angel Olsen, Indie’s Next Big Thing
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 17 2014 9:00 PM Amazon Is Now a Gadget Company
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 18 2014 7:30 AM Red and Green Ghosts Haunt the Stormy Night
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 17 2014 3:51 PM NFL Jerk Watch: Roger Goodell How much should you loathe the pro football commissioner?