When you think of robots, you’ve got two kinds in pop culture: the helpful, friendly robots and the ones who want to kill all humans. The number nine entry on the Robot Round-Up started out in the second category and then kind of moved into the first. I mean, it still kills a lot of people, but it’s done to protect a very important human. That’s right, I’m talking about the T-800 Terminator….aka robo-Arnold.
In universe, the T-800 model terminators were designed by Skynet and used as the basic foot soldier of their “kill all humans” army. For some reason, despite wanting to replace humans, Skynet thought the standard, bipedal human design was the best design for their robots and the T-800 is basically a walking skeleton that carries a big machine gun. It’s not the fanciest design, but it works. In the real world, the T-800 was designed by Stan Winston Studios. It’s a solid design from one of the premiere special effects houses. When we first meet the original T-800, it’s sent back in time to kill Sarah Connor. Skynet knows that the only way to stop the human resistance is to kill the man who would be their leader and what’s an easier way to do that than by killing him before he’s even born, eliminating his mother from the timeline. John Connor sends a man named Kyle Reese back in time to protect his mother (and possibly become his father—time travel in the Terminator universe is a bit confusing). In another bit of time travel confusion, the laws of time travel in the Terminator universe prevent Skynet from sending robots back in time unless they’re covered in flesh. So, Skynet coated the T-800 in synthetic skin and sent him back in time. For some reason, Skynet thought Arnold Schwarzenegger would blend in well enough in the 1980s, so that’s what the Terminator wound up looking like. (Funny behind the scenes story about Terminator: The casting director originally wanted O.J. Simpson to play the T-800 but James Cameron thought no one would believe O.J. as a homicidal robot.) Kyle Reese and Sarah Connor would work together and defeat the T-800 by crushing him in a hydraulic press (meaning we’ve got machine-on-machine violence), but that wouldn’t be the last time we’d see one in the movies.
The next time we see a T-800, John Connor has managed to reprogram one and send it back in time to protect his younger self from another Skynet assassin, the liquid metal T-1000. I don’t know how liquid metal gets around the “no robots unless they’re covered in flesh” time travel rule, but that’s how it happened. Still looking like Arnold, the T-800 finds John Connor and kills or wounds a lot of people protecting him. Seriously, there’s a pretty high body count in T2: Judgment Day, and it’s not all the T-1000’s fault. The T-800 eventually sacrificed itself at the end of the movie to prevent Cyberdyne from getting the technology from him that they use to create Skynet. Yes, I know, that doesn’t make much sense either. If the T-800 never goes back in time from a future where there is a Skynet, Cyberdyne can’t create the technology that would eventually become Skynet so then Skynet wouldn’t exist, but Skynet can’t exist without the T-800 coming back in time…sigh, sometimes I hate time travel.
However, the T-800 would come back in time one last time in Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines. This time, it’s clear that Judgment Day is more of an inevitability so all the talk of John Connor being able to stop it from happening in previous movies is rendered moot. One again, future John Connor sends an outdated T-800 back in time to protect his younger self from a more advanced cybernetic assassin. Even though Skynet developed liquid metal technology, which is really quite useful, they went back to the standard robotic endoskeleton model with a new after-market feature: boobs. The T-X model Terminator was a lot more dangerous because of the advanced technology inside, but it was still no match for a standard T-800 model reprogrammed by John Connor which begs the question of why Skynet keeps sending back new models when they apparently hit the pinnacle of killing with the T-800.
We would see the T-800 one last time (sorry, I don’t count Terminator: Salvation because that really turns the timeline on its head and I’ve already burned enough brain cells trying to figure out the time travel here). This one was sent back in time by an unknown agent to 1973 to protect Sarah Connor. This Terminator, called Pops by Sarah and John, protected them many times and helped them travel through time to prevent Judgment Day. However, if Pops has been around since 1973, why didn’t he protect John or Sarah Connor in 1984 or 1992? Those seem like pretty important times to act as a protector but instead, John Connor had to send a different T-800 terminator back in time to do the protecting. Does that mean this one was just watching, saw another one of him kicking ass and just decided to sit this one out even though it was smarter due to the additional years of experience online and could better fight the T-1000? Again, time travel makes my head hurt…at least with robots, you don’t have to worry about aging, though Pops did age to blend in with humans better because we needed to find a way to justify old-ass Arnold Schwarzenegger playing the T-800 again since when they tried making a Terminator movie without him (Terminator: Salvation) it didn’t really work out all that well.
Let’s be fair, the T-800 was not a complicated robot design. However it was probably one of the earliest major pop culture examples of the robot as a relentless killing machine. Even losing is lower body in the first Terminator movie wasn’t enough to stop it from trying to kill Sarah Connor. It was that devotion to its job that allowed Sarah Connor to destroy it. However, it’s clear that the T-800 isn’t a bad robot. It was just programmed by an evil computer. When John Connor captured a few T-800s to send back in time, they were just as adept at fighting off robots as they were trying to kill humans. The T-800 endoskeleton is surprisingly resistant to a lot weapons and can take a lot of damage before failing. There aren’t any built in weapons systems, which seems like a bit of a design flaw for a robot soldier. Why wouldn’t you just build guns in so it could never get disarmed? Regardless, the T-800 is a robot that’s hard to stop and it was built that way. It’s nice to see some organization viewing robots as something other than disposable cannon fodder. Yeah, it was an evil super computer, but seriously, robot soldiers are a threat and they should be threatening. The T-800 definitely has that in spades.