'Terminator Genisys': The franchise timeline, explained
Everything is always happening all of the time.
Let’s say that time moves in a straight line.
Yes, this is probably a fallacy of our third-dimensional existence. Yes, quantum physics tells us that time is flowing forward and backward and outward and inward. Yes, the universe is just the hologram-projected deathdream of a turtle falling down the cliff of sorrow beyond The Maw At The End Of The Universe.
But again, just for the sake of argument, let’s say this is how time works.
So, this is how time works in Terminator Genisys.
Let me explain.
In the dark future originally introduced in The Terminator, an artificial intelligence called Skynet has decimated the world’s population with an army of machines. After decades of fighting, in the year 2029, humans launch a successful counter-attack. Led by a man named John Connor, the Resistance smashes Skynet’s defense grid. The humans have won… but the machines have a secret plan. Clearly believers in Thomas Carlyle’s “Great Man” theory of history, the machines send a lone robot agent—an infiltration unit known as a Terminator—back in time to kill John Connor’s mother… and thus, kill John Connor before he is ever born.
The Resistance fighters successfully sends an agent of their own back in time to stop the Terminator. This implies that Terminator subscribes to the gradual ripple perspective on time travel, similar to the disappearing photograph in Back to the Future. Otherwise, the Resistance would blink out of existence the moment Skynet sends a Terminator backward.
The Resistance’s agent is Kyle Reese, one of adult John Connor’s closest friends. And although Kyle has never met Sarah—she is presumably long dead—he feels a personal connection to her. John gave Kyle an old Polaroid picture of his mother. Maybe because his entire world is black, bleak awfulness, and maybe because James Cameron is a hopeless romantic, Kyle has fallen in love with the dead woman. (That Polaroid picture burned into ash sometime before Kyle traveled back in time.)
In 1984, Kyle manages to rescue Sarah Connor. They spend about two days together, on the run from the Terminator and from the LAPD. They make love. Kyle dies. The Terminator gets crushed—nothing left but his robot arm. And Sarah is now pregnant with Kyle’s son: John Connor.
The Terminator establishes three key points in the history of the universe: John Connor’s birth, which occurs sometime around 1984-85; the machine apocalypse known as Judgment Day, which occurs at some undisclosed point in the future; and the victory over the machines in 2029. It also throws a fourth variable into the equation: time travel. But in The Terminator, this time travel is a closed loop. And we are given every indication that Skynet’s time-travel plot was an absolute hail-mary, last-ditch, doomsday-device, break-only-in-case-of-absolute-defeat plan.
Now, you may ask yourself: Was there ever an original Terminator timeline, without time travel? Is it possible that the John Connor who sent Kyle Reese back in time was the son of a different man—Random ’80s Baby Daddy—and Kyle’s somewhat-rash decision to copulate with his best friend’s mom created a new timeline, where John Connor looks a lot more like Kyle Reese?
Possible, but unlikely.
We’re told in the first Terminator movie that John gave Kyle that Polaroid photo, which strongly implies that he was trying to build up a connection between the two of them. (You could say that The Terminator is just John Connor pulling a Parent Trap.) And at the end of the first Terminator, Sarah Connor is recording a series of audiotapes for John, explaining his time-tossed ancestry—which implies that John Connor will have prophetic knowledge of future events. Of course, for John Connor, some of the future is in the past. “God, you can go crazy thinking about all this,” Sarah says.
Terminator 2: Judgment Day begins with a simple idea: The machines had a back-up plan for their back-up plan. They sent one evil robot to 1984 to kill Sarah Connor; and they sent another evil robot to a different time, 1995, to kill John Connor himself. (Side note: Terminator 2 came out in 1991, but it had to take place 10 years after The Terminator to explain the 10-year-old John Connor. There is some debate about whether that places it in 1994 or 1995. In this and only this, let’s not be too pedantic.)
The beginning of T2 also helpfully pins down the precise date of Judgment Day: Aug. 29, 1997. We can tweak the timeline thus:
This relatively straightforward idea leads to an equally straightforward question: If Skynet sent back two robots to two different times, why wouldn’t it send back a third robot to a third time? Why not send back 100 different robots to every single year of the 20th century, aimed at every single person in John Connor’s bloodline?
You could argue that Skynet views the John Connor mission as a precision-targeting assassination—that the robots are worried about causing too much of a ripple in the space-time continuum. But actually, Skynet isn’t worried at all about changing the past. Because Terminator 2 makes it clear that Skynet’s whole existence is because of a rip in the fabric of typical space-time. John Connor was created because he sent his own father to the past. This makes him the Jesus figure in Terminator‘s techno-Biblical cosmology; his existence is a miracle of time travel.
So it’s appropriate that his nemesis, Skynet, also owes its existence to a self-creating paradox. In Terminator 2, Cyberdyne engineer Miles Dyson is in the process of creating Skynet—with a little help from the robot arm and broken CPU from the original Terminator from the first movie.
This is not really that crazy in the context of time as Terminator 1 established it. Time is still a loop. But it does bring up weird fourth-dimensional questions that you would love to see someone like Grant Morrison tackle. Namely: Is it possible that John Connor’s existence somehow creates Skynet? Because if Skynet didn’t send a Terminator back to 1984, then there would be no robot arm, and Skynet would never create itself? You could argue that Skynet was always going to get built eventually. But from Terminator 2 forwards, Skynet is always fighting two wars at once: The war with humanity in the Dark Future across Judgment Day, and the war across time to create itself.
And in Terminator 2, it loses both wars. Whereas the first movie argued that the future was set in stone—that Judgment Day had to happen so that the eventual Victory Over The Machines would happen—Terminator 2 argues that the future can always be changed, and the Dark Future can be avoided. Sarah Connor and her son blow up Cyberdyne—with a little help from Miles Dyson, who dies in the process and thus presumably erases whatever specific knowledge he might have had that could have created Skynet without the robot arm.
Even after Cyberdyne blows up, Sarah and John still need to take care of two robots from the future: The T-1000 assassin, and the reprogrammed Terminator sent back in time to teach John the power of love. Both are dissolved into molten steel; the Terminator actually sacrifices himself, reasoning that his CPU could be used by someone, sometime, somewhere to create Skynet.
“The unknown future rolls toward us,” Sarah says. “I face it, for the first time, with a sense of hope.”
Sarah Connor dies a couple of years later. Leukemia. She lives long enough to watch Judgment Day come and go without any machines launching any nuclear bombs. In 2004, we pick up with John Connor, in his early ’20s, living off the grid, still apparently concerned that someday, sometime, somehow, Skynet will rise.
Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines is not a very good movie, but it does have the last good car chase in the Terminator franchise, and there is something insanely poignant about the early scenes featuring Nick Stahl as John Connor, an apocalypse-zealot hobo convinced of his own grand importance in the world. There was probably an angle where this became the key twist of Terminator 3—that John weirdly starts to wish he could be living in the Dark Future where he is the most important human being in history, and not just an aimless drifter in a world that steadfastly refuses to end.
Rise of the Machines is not interested in twisting the Terminator mythos, though. Quite the opposite: It untwists. Arnold Schwarzenegger explains the new theory of time travel in a single line: “Judgment Day is inevitable.” There is no point in trying to change the future. You can only forestall the inevitable. So in Terminator 3, two more killer robots arrive from the future. Skynet has sent back another assassin, the lady-looking T-X. In what is arguably the single most strategic use of time travel in the Terminator franchise, the T-X isn’t just trying to kill John Connor; she’s also trying to kill all of the people who will become key lieutenants to John.
The Resistance has sent back its own robot: A third Terminator played by Arnold Schwarzenegger. This Terminator is decidedly less lovable than the Terminator who protected John in T2. In fact, we learn that this new Terminator actually killed John—in 2032, during the Future War, before getting reprogrammed by John’s wife, Kate, and sent back in time to protect John in what amounts to a rather elaborate penance ritual. This strongly implies that the old 2029 Day of Victory has been wiped out of the timeline. (In the past, the Terminator takes John and Kate, childhood acquaintances who barely know each other, and locks them in a fallout shelter: Yet another Parent Trap.)
Rise of the Machines is the first film that demonstrates how Skynet’s origins adjust forward according to techno-social-political realities. In the original timeline, Skynet was created by a defense contractor for the military as what sounds like a scarier version of Ronald Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative program, better known as The Star Wars That Wasn’t A Movie But Actually A Policy America Had. When it went online, this Skynet fired America’s nuclear arsenal at Russia, which apparently counter-attacked by launching its own nuclear arsenal at everything else.
But because the 1997 Judgment Day was avoided, this new timeline sees the Bush-era military nationalize the bankrupt Cyberdyne. The military is creating Skynet to prevent cyber-hacking; Skynet spreads through the World Wide Web before launching nuclear missiles at everyone. (Short version: Terminator 1 is to Cold War as Terminator 3 is to Internet.)
Terminator 3 posits that you cannot completely defeat the machines in the past. You can only ultimately defeat them in the Dark Future. And, freakishly, Terminator 3 is the only movie that doesn’t explicitly state that the humans will win the Resistance. Quite the opposite: This new Schwarzenegger-Terminator managed to kill John in 2032, because Skynet knew that John was “emotionally attached” to the Schwarzenegger-Terminator from Terminator 2.
Hold onto that for a moment because it will become important later.
Skynet in this new timeline’s 2032 not only knows that John Connor is an important human being who needs to be killed. Skynet in 2032 also knows that John Connor was saved by a Terminator when he was a kid… a Terminator sent back in time from a different future… a future where the war was ending in 2029.
Let me try again. In the first Terminator, Skynet just wanted to send a Terminator back in time to kill John. By the third Terminator, the Skynet of the new future knows that the Skynet of the original timeline failed to kill John Connor, and knows that it needs to try a different strategy.
But let’s hold off on that rabbit hole for a second. Here is the timeline after three Terminator movies.
Keep in mind: This is still the easy part.
Terminator Salvation could have done some truly insane things to the Terminator timeline. There are two well-known alternate endings to the fourth film. In the first alternate ending, John Connor dies—but his face and voice live on thanks to Marcus Wright, a cyborg, who assumes John Connor’s identity to maintain the undefeatable image of John Connor, Savior of the Humans. This would have been a shockingly clever retcon, flavored with paranoid propaganda: The human leader was a robot the whole time!
But there was another, totally insane-o ending, revealed to our own Chris Nashawaty by Terminator Salvation director McG and lead Christian Bale. In this ending, Marcus Wright would have assumed John Connor’s identity—and then immediately killed all the leaders of the Resistance, including Kyle Reese, presumably chopping off all those closed loops and launching the Earth into a neverending Dark Age.
None of this happened. Instead, Terminator Salvation deserves some weird credit for just how strenuously it tries to follow the twisted timeline that came before it and after it. Although the leads have been recast, it appears to honor the events of Terminator 3. John is now married to Kate (Bryce Dallas Howard, always trying.) And although pre-release buzz pegged the film as a Total War action fest, Salvation goes out of its way to continuit-ize the proceedings. John Connor spends his lonely hours brooding in the shadows, listening to his mom’s recorded messages about the future past.
Here’s where things get a bit wonky, though. Salvation establishes what earlier films had hinted at—John Connor is a kind of Cassandra figure, completely aware of what is coming in the future thanks to his Mom’s cheat-sheet tapes. Those tapes seem to contain information about the Terminators that Sarah heard from Kyle. (Apparently, their one night of lovemaking had a lot of pillow talk.)
But Salvation also establishes that Skynet is also aware of the future, which is the past. In Terminator Salvation, Skynet is trying to kill Kyle Reese, who in 2018 is just a random teenager. So Skynet knows that Kyle is John’s father. Because… well, unclear. Let’s give Salvation the benefit of the doubt here. Sarah Connor spent much of the early ’90s in a mental asylum, claiming that her baby daddy was a time traveler from the future named Kyle Reese. Skynet is a supercomputer with access to everything that has ever happened. This seems like something it could find out.
None of this actually matters. Terminator Salvation was supposed to lead to two more movies, forming a trilogy set entirely in the future war. That didn’t happen, so we can stitch Salvation into the existing timeline without much fuss.
I feel the masochistic need to take a brief detour here and mention Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, which is notable for a lot of reasons, not least because it was the first time an actress from Game of Thrones played Sarah Connor. (Expect the Maisie Williams-fronted reboot sometime next decade.) Sarah Connor Chronicles ran for two seasons on Fox, ending its run just a month before Salvation hit theaters. It never quite found a groove, partially because the plot was built on helium nonsense, but there was a lot to love in the show. (James Cameron thinks so; he hired showrunner Josh Friedman as one of his Avatar sequel co-writers.)
Sarah Connor Chronicles begins in 1999. The events of Terminator 2 all happened—but for no reason that is ever explained, Sarah Connor is alive and cancer-free. You could argue that Sarah Connor Chronicles is just ignoring Terminator 3, like Jaws: The Revenge—but it does honor a few key facts from Rise of the Machines. Sarah will die of cancer at some point. And Judgment Day doeskeep happening, forestalled but never prevented.
At the start of Sarah Connor Chronicles, two new killer robots are sent back in time from the Future War. (It’s established that they’re sent back from 2027, I believe, which is a slight change from the original 2029. But this is the point when you can start arguing that things in the Dark Future happen differently because of changes in the past.) There’s a Terminator who isn’t Arnold Schwarzenegger, trying to kill John—and a Terminator who is Summer Glau, sent to rescue him.
But Summer Glau-Terminator doesn’t just rescue John. She takes Sarah and John to a top-secret location—where she reveals a time machine, built by another time traveler, who was sent back to 1963. And then Summer Glau-Terminator takes the Connors forward in time, to 2007, with the stated purpose of preventing the New Judgment Day, which will take place/has taken place/will have been taking place in 2011.
If that sounds confusing, I hasten to add that Sarah Connor Chronicles immediately made things even more confusing immediately and frequently. In the first Terminator, time travel was a last-ditch plan. The time-travel device was used by Skynet and then immediately used by the Resistance.
Sarah Connor Chronicles argues that, actually, everyone in the future has access to time travel, and half the people in the present are actually killer robots from the future trying to create Skynet in the past or vaguely untrustworthy Resistance personnel from the future trying to prevent the creation of Skynet or third-party Cyborg Rebels trying to fight Skynet for their own weird reasons. Also, the lead singer from Garbage plays a T-1000 who turns Garrett Dillahunt into her Robot Messiah child.
It all looks a bit like this:
Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles was always hamstrung by Terminator-ness and Sarah Connor-ness: It looks in hindsight like a fascinating time-travel show that needed to keep finding reasons for Lena Headey to fight machine-men. But the show did make a legitimate argument for Brian Austin Green as a smallscreen action hero. (Badass-wise, Brian Austin Green makes Jai Courtney look like Anton Yelchin.) Like, the current 12 Monkeys reboot is basically Sarah Connor Chronicles at lightspeed.
More importantly, Sarah Connor Chronicles establishes a key idea that Terminator Genisys runs with: Everything that has ever happened in any timeline is still happening, all of the time.
Terminator Genisys begins there. It’s 2029, and the Resistance is launching a final attack against Skynet. The attack is two-pronged: Most of the army is taking down the Skynet computer core (or maybe the defense grid?) while John leads his own unit against the Skynet base in Los Angeles. This is because John knows about Skynet’s last-ditch plan—the Skynet L.A. Bureau has the time-traveling unit that will send the original Schwarzenegger-Terminator back to 1984.
The first 20 minutes of Genisys could have easily been the first twenty minutes of The Terminator, if James Cameron had been a terrible storyteller. It’s the prologue we never really needed. We see Kyle Reese meet John Connor. We see them pal around. John jokes about “getting a cold beer” after the war, which I think is the first time in any Terminator movie that someone in the Dark Future isn’t Cormac McCarthy-level sad. There is one notable change from past canon—which I will talk about in a second—but everything leading up to Kyle Reese going back to the future seems to be leading right into The Terminator.
But then everything changes. (SPOILER ALERT FOR EVERYTHING THAT CHANGES.) It changes in the future and in the past, simultaneously. In the future, a new kind of Terminator played by Matt Smith kills all of John’s lieutenants and transforms John into another new kind of Terminator.
Kyle sees this happen, right as he is getting tossed backward in time. During his time-jaunt, he experiences a sudden onset of memories he shouldn’t have. Kyle clearly establishes at the start of Terminator Genisys that he was born after Judgment Day; but in his memories, the year is 2017, and a twelve-year-old Kyle is hanging out with his happy parents in a non-apocalypsed America.
We soon learn that whatever has happened to John Connor in the future has caused weird, never-fully-explained ripples in the timeline. In this new 1973, two killer robots arrived from the future: A T-1000 sent to kill Sarah Connor, and yet another Schwarzenegger-Terminator sent to rescue her. The fourth Schwarzenegger-Terminator—henceforth “Pops”—doesn’t actually know who sent him back in time. That memory was erased, presumably to make sure that Skynet could never kill that person, but also maybe because it lets the sequel to Terminator Genisys twist-explain how Kyle or Sarah sent the Terminator back.
Pops has raised Sarah Connor for the last 11 years. And, apparently, whoever programmed Pops to protect her also programmed him with the entire history of the first Terminator timeline. Pops knows that Kyle Reese is the father of John Connor, and also knows that Judgment Day is going to happen in 1997.
Precisely how Pops knows all of this is up for debate. This could be yet another example of the Parent Trap model of Terminator time travel; whoever sent this Terminator back to the past knew that Sarah wouldn’t meet and fall in love with Kyle Reese the way she was supposed to, so it needed this Terminator to get Sarah and Kyle together.
(Aside:One of the weirdest things about the Terminator movies is that, with regards to humans, the franchise clearly believes that nature is more important than nurture. John Connor will be the human savior, no matter how his parents meet, no matter if his mom is alive or dead. But the franchise believes the precise opposite when it comes to robots. With just a little nurture, Schwarzenegger-Terminators and Worthington-Terminators can always learn to disobey their programming and do the right thing. End of aside.)
Anyhow, Pops and Sarah Connor have been waiting patiently for the arrival of the original Schwarzenegger-Terminator, because that Terminator’s CPU is needed to activate their time-travel device. They are going to time travel to 1997 to stop Judgment Day. So, if you’re keeping track, Pops the Terminator and Sarah Connor are using their knowledge of Terminator 1 to skip ahead to Terminator 2.
But what they don’t know—maybe—is that the original Schwarzenegger-Terminator’s CPU and arm invented Skynet in Terminator 2. So what I’m about to say is going to make maybe a bit more sense than it should:
Sarah Connor and Pops the Terminator have spent the last 11 years preparing to travel to 1997 to stop Judgment Day, and Kyle Reese convinces them that they should travel to 2017 instead, because he thinks that is when Judgment Day is going to happen now, because his memories tell him so.
So, this happens:
Taking a page from the Sarah Connor Chronicles, Kyle and Sarah leap forward in time—just forward enough to prevent the creation of Skynet. But simultaneously, the now-Evil Cyborg John Connor travels backward in time (to roughly 2014) so that he can be the one to create Skynet.
If I follow this correctly—and I admit that my nose is bleeding while I type this—here is the sequence of events:
1. In the future, Skynet sends the original Schwarzenegger-Terminator back to 1984. Kyle Reese follows it.
2. John Connor gets turned into an evil cyborg by Skynet.
3. Skynet sends a T-1000 back to the past to kill Sarah Connor, even though they now control John Connor in the future.
4. Someone else in the future—let’s say Moon Bloodgood—sends Pops back to the past, to save Sarah.
5. Skynet also sends Evil Cyborg John Connor to roughly 2014 as a preventative measure, because John Connor will need to invent Skynet in case Skynet ever gets dis-invented.
6. The ramifications of all this time travel occur simultaneously across the fourth dimension. Pops saves Sarah in 1973. In 1984, they eliminate the Original Schwarzenegger-Terminator, and because Cyberdyne never finds his CPU and arm, they accidentally destroy Skynet. Which means Evil Cyborg John Connor arrives in a new 2014, without Skynet, and needs to invent Skynet.
This means that, by the time Sarah and Kyle and John all meet up in 2017, they are all impossible paradox beings, their existence only making sense in the context of a timeline that no longer exists. John Connor actually says this, more or less. When someone points out that he can’t kill Sarah and Kyle without killing himself, John announces (paraphrasing here): “I can do anything I want to, because we are now exiles outside of the timestream, so all rules of causality have been broken, BANG BANG BANG!”
There is actually a simpler explanation for what happens in Terminator Genisys, though:
We are actually seeing the very end of a cycle that has been going on for untold decades, centuries, maybe even millenia, on an eternal loop. Every time someone time traveled backwards, it left some residual mark of history—history that either John Connor or Skynet carried forward into the next time loop. This goes back to what I was saying earlier, about how Skynet is aware of its previous timeline’s Skynets. We actually seem to get confirmation of this later in Genisys, when the hologram that will become Skynet keeps popping up. At one point, Kyle tells this hologram—which is called Genisys, but it’s also Skynet, I think—that they turned John into a bad guy, and Genisys/Skynet says that it turned John into something better than a human. Keep in mind: When Genisys/Skynet says this, it is referring to something it will do in the future, which is the movie’s past. Genisys/Skynet in 2017 has the memories of Genisys/Skynet in 2029.
And that explains what Matt Smith’s plan is in Terminator Genisys. The first time John sent Kyle back to the past (in The Terminator) Skynet was defeated. But in the new timeline, Skynet KNEW it was going to be defeated, and so it changed its plan from “Kill John Connor” to “bring John Connor into the Borg Skynet collective.”
Imagine that, when Kyle Reese first traveled back in time in Terminator 1, he was wearing a GoPro with infinite space and infinite battery. Imagine that when he died, Sarah Connor kept that GoPro, and handed it off to John before she died—and then imagine that John handed that GoPro to Kyle, in the future again, so he could take it back to the past. This theoretical GoPro would have 45 years of video footage—starting in 2029 and ending in 2029. And when 2029 rolled around again, it would have 90 years of video footage. Imagine what Skynet could do, knowing what happens during one turn of the wheel, and knowing they can always spin it back to the beginning.
And in turn, imagine how there would be tiny differences in every timeline. For instance: In the first Terminator, Kyle remembers a Polaroid of Sarah, but the picture burns long before he travels to the past. In Terminator Genisys, Kyle looks at that Polaroid right before the big final battle. (Emilia Clarke even rocks that fierce ’80s headband.)
This would also explain certain elements of reality drift that reappear across different, apparently unconnected timelines; in Terminator Salvation, the main Skynet headquarters is in San Francisco, but in Terminator Genisys, Skynet-Genisys first emerges out of a corporate headquarters a few miles down the Peninsula. In Terminator 3, Judgment Day is caused by the military-industrial complex. In Genisys, it’s caused by Silicon Valley; apparently, the Cyberdyne of this timeline—complete with a living Miles Dyson!—has transitioned away from robotic military stuff into the FaceGoogleChat of the Terminator universe. Except Judgment Day gets averted this time around, just like in Terminator 2. And just like in Terminator 2, the Schwarzenegger-Terminator sacrifices himself, because if there are any Terminator CPUs lying around then someone like Miles Dyson could invent Skynet…
…wait, never mind, in this movie, the Schwarzenegger-Terminator falls into liquid metal and gets upgraded, because shut up. So Kyle, Sarah, and Pops drive off together, with the promise of maybe solving some mysteries (even though none of the mysteries matter anymore, because the timelines they originate from have been erased).
And also, as the post-credits scene makes clear, Genisys-Skynet still lives in this new timeline. This reframes the future of the Terminator universe as, basically, the saga of a superhero team (the Terminavengers) and their world-conquering supervillain nemesis (literally just Ultron with Matt Smith’s face). And the nemesis can depend on the fact that it can always get new reinforcements from the Dark Future.
Actually, Genisys-Skynet doesn’t even need to cause Judgment Day: It can just move things into place for Judgment Day, which will send a ripple effect down the timestream creating the Dark Future. Like, keep in mind: Genisys-Skynet sent John Connor back to 2017 from a future where John Connor was born in 1984. That future was wiped out of existence when Sarah and Kyle jumped forward in time, but John was still there.
On some level, the Terminavengers must know that they are doomed to repeat this cycle. That’s the only reason I can figure that, at the end of Terminator Genisys, Kyle Reese from the Dark Future That No Longer Exists finds young Kyle Reese circa 2017 and tells him “Genisys is Skynet.”
There is no reason for Adult Kyle to tell this to Young Kyle, unless Adult Kyle knows that Young Kyle will someday be in a Dark Future, from which he will travel back in time. And if Adult Kyle does think that is going to happen, he should be copulating like mad with Sarah to create John Connor, who will be just 12 years old in 2029 if he’s born in 2017. Or maybe Kyle and Sarah and Pops want to cut John Connor out of the equation and just run the Human Resistance themselves. Or maybe Pops was programmed by Skynet-Genisys in the future as an embedded double agent, purposefully guiding Sarah and Kyle away from the version of history where they produce the human savior in 1984. Or maybe the Skynet-Genisys of 2017 will operate in secret, creating a time travel device and sending new enemy agents back in time before Judgment Day even happens.
If you think about it, the Skynet-Genisys of 2017 could be responsible for the time travel event that killed Sarah’s parents. After all, why would the Skynet-Genisys of 2029—which had Evil Cyborg John Connor under its control—want to kill his mother? It makes more sense that the Evil Hologram Matt Smith from the Genisys post-credits stinger would want to kill Sarah. Which means that Terminator Genisys requires both the closed-loop system of Terminator 1—Sarah’s parents are only killed because Evil Matt Smith is seeking vengeance for Sarah destroying the Genisys facility—but also requires the future-changing system of Terminator 2—Evil Matt Smith was only invented because Sarah Connor and Pops destroyed the Terminator from Terminator 1. It all looks kind of like this:
In conclusion, this is what happens in the classic comic book series RoboCop Versus the Terminator, when because of various RoboCop-related circumstances, Skynet is forced to send a small robot dog back in time to invent Skynet: