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Eight Questions About “Carl,” Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Character in ‘Terminator: Dark Fate’

The T-800 now has a wife, a stepson, a drapes business, and a human name. No, really.

Tristar/Paramount/Ringer illustration
Spoiler warning

The Terminator franchise is back. Again. Not just content with changing the past to save the future (again), Terminator: Dark Fate also asks that you wipe clean any memories of the past three movies from the series—Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, Terminator Salvation, and Terminator Genisys—and treat it as a direct sequel to Terminator 2: Judgment Day. Considering that the post–Judgment Day sequels were varying degrees of awful, and the most entertaining thing to come out of any of them might be an iconic Christian Bale meltdown on the set of Salvation, that decision is definitely a good thing.

Nevertheless, Dark Fate has the makings of a quintessential Terminator movie, with a few notable changes. As Dark Fate’s devastating prologue shows, saving a young John Connor in Judgment Day only delayed the inevitable, as another T-800—not the one who protected him from the T-1000, but another model who also happens to look like a de-aged CGI Arnold Schwarzenegger—goes back in time to finish the job shortly after the events of that film. In the present day, a new Terminator model, the Rev-9, has been sent back in time to kill a young woman named Dani Ramos, who once again holds the key to saving humanity’s future—and who receives protection from an “augmented” human soldier from the future named Grace along with a grizzled, resentful Sarah Connor. And the women are aided against the Rev-9 by the same T-800 who killed John Connor, who has grown a conscience after his killing ways, found a wife and stepson, and opened up a drapery business in Texas—yes, you read that correctly.

Of all the developments in Dark Fate, a formerly murderous Terminator turning into a certifiable Wife Guy who goes by “Carl” is among the most unexpected. The exposition of the Domesticated Terminator is exceptionally strange and extremely funny, punctuated by “Carl” monologuing the number of guns he can own in Texas and getting annoyed that Sarah shoots him because he doesn’t know how he’ll explain the bullet marks to Alicia. ([Borat voice] That’s his wife!) These moments aren’t just played for laughs, however, as the Terminator explains that he saved Alicia from an abusive relationship, and helped raise her son, Matteo—in the chaos of Dark Fate, it’s Schwarzenegger’s reformed robot who registers as the most human. But despite the film’s best efforts to explain Carl’s years of dadhood, the reveal of a Domesticated Terminator leads to more questions than answers. Here are eight of our most pressing.

How Does a Terminator Develop a Conscience?

Dark Fate is far from the first film or TV show that presupposes that a machine could learn to care about humans, but the reason this T-800 decides to change his ways seems largely a product of … ennui? After killing John, the Terminator had completed its mission on Earth—but had no way to return to its own timeline because Skynet has been successfully destroyed. During this period of listlessness, the Terminator didn’t just integrate himself into society: He willfully chose to protect and care for a family.

That’s dope for Alicia and Matteo, but I still don’t get how my dude made the jump from child murder to “Honey, do you need anything from CVS?” Did he simply spend so much time around humans that he was eventually charmed by our idiosyncrasies? Did he experience a period of robo-self-loathing for killing a child, and choose to do some good in the world? Did he binge This Is Us? Dark Fate fails to properly establish how this robot gained autonomy, assuming we’d accept this change of heart—er, wiring—on its face. Then again, given how watching Westworld often feels like squirting lime juice into your retinas, perhaps that was for the best.

What’s It Like to Be Married to a Terminator?

Alicia and Carl have been going strong for some time—good for them! But even though Alicia’s got no idea she’s actually married to an enhanced robot from the future—to be fair: because the T-800 has living tissue over his metal endoskeleton, he ages like a human does—you’d have to figure she realizes something is a little off about her dear husband. Carl might look like a human and mimic a person’s behavior, but he still isn’t one—a recurring theme of the Terminator franchise is how, after a certain point, people get weirded out by interacting with one of them. (The Rev-9 similarly sucks at small talk in Dark Fate.)

But this T-800 compensates for his strangeness by, in his words, “changing diapers efficiently and without complaint” while also being a “very good listener” who is “extremely funny.” (It’s worth noting the deadpan delivery of Carl’s claim that he’s hilarious was, itself, quite hilarious.) My skepticism was immediately erased when my girlfriend audibly cheered for Carl in the theater—listening, changing diapers, and having a sense of humor, the bar really is so low for us dudes! In related news, I’m now accepting relationship advice from a washed robot.

Is Carl a Good Stepdad to Matteo?

Matteo is around college age by the time we see him in Dark Fate, which means he grew up with Carl as his stepdad for nearly all of his life. And just as Alicia should’ve been suspicious of strange spousal behavior, Matteo surely must have picked up that his stepdad was a little bit, um, off. If you’ve watched The Americans, in which deep-cover Russian spies in the ’80s are so immersed in their assignment that they’ve had two children and are raising them in the States, you’ll know how difficult it is to keep big secrets from kids. Don’t underestimate a child’s intuition.

Still, there’s a crucial difference: Elizabeth and Philip “Sad Boi” Jennings were living a double life and literally killing people; Carl is just trying to be a normal (robot) dad. In Dark Fate, it appears that bonding with and raising Matteo makes the T-800 realize just what he stole from Sarah by assassinating John—expressing the closest thing he can have to remorse. On the dad level, Carl was probably really supportive of Matteo’s interests growing up. You can totally imagine him deadpanning to his stepson after a soccer game, “That was an excellent performance. You scored two goals off of five total shots, and your expected goals for the regular season is now at 0.93 per match.”

How Has the Terminator Avoided Having Sex With His Wife for Decades?

Apologies for being untoward, but let’s face it: During the movie, when the Terminator implied that coitus simply isn’t part of his relationship with Alicia, you thought about it, too. Unfortunately, because their decades of marriage haven’t led to any conscious coupling between the sheets, we’re left to forever ponder whether a Terminator with living tissue can also ... (Yes, I expect an email from HR in the morning.)

How Sturdy Is Their Family Furniture?

In a throwaway line, Sarah wonders how neither Alicia nor Matteo has realized that Carl weighs around 400 pounds. Well, now I can’t stop thinking about it, either. (I’m not sure why Sarah knows T-800 models weigh this much, but I’m willing to let it slide.) There are two solutions here. Either furniture, chairs, and other household items have been destroyed semi-regularly—Carl can just be like, “Sweetie, this chair was composed of weak material”—or he’s somehow discovered the manufacturers of the most sturdy furniture on the planet.

Through the power of Terminator machine learning, I bet Carl learned from his past furniture mistakes by doing a lot of online research and determining the best brands through aggregating Amazon reviews. I’m sure he always leaves his own, comprehensive review after a purchase, too.

How Successful Is Carl’s Drapery Business?

It’s as hard as ever to sustain a small business, but Carl’s Drapes—the very original name for Carl’s drapery business—looks to be doing all right. You gotta admire the hustle. Our guy had no connections yet somehow started a business from scratch and established a loyal customer base. Carl does have some built-in advantages from any would-be drapes competitors: He can work tirelessly and literally does not sleep; he’s a hyper-advanced robot from the future; he knows floral patterns will be the highlight of any little girl’s bedroom.

He also doesn’t seem like the type of drapes owner who will bullshit a client: The Yelp reviews must beam about his straightforward attitude and reasonable prices! I’m not saying all small businesses should be owned by reformed Terminators—I’d imagine their cooking would suffer from things like Vision’s rampant abuse of paprika. But if Carl’s Drapes is interested in branching out into blinds in the Brooklyn area, hit me with a business card.

Why Isn’t the Family Dog Freaked Out by Him?

Dogs are good and perceptive boys, and it is Terminator canon that the animals can notice the difference between a regular human and a Terminator disguising itself as one. Ergo, man’s best friend is a Terminator’s worst enemy. However, in Dark Fate, Carl and his family dog chill together in the yard. It’s an adorable sight, but one that yields a bunch of questions.

Does the dog not recognize that Carl is a Terminator? Is he that integrated into society? Does the dog intuitively understand his owner isn’t a human, but that he doesn’t have any malicious intent? Is the dog simply getting bribed by treats from a T-800? (If so, we shouldn’t judge him for succumbing to an endless supply of biscuits.) Please note that none of this is a complaint: I would gladly watch a spinoff in which Carl and Rex (the name I’m giving him, because the Terminator would absolutely choose the most generic dog name in the world) play fetch, drive around in the Carl’s Drapes van, and snuggle every night while the Terminator pretends to be asleep for several hours next to Alicia, his oblivious human wife.

Is This Kawhi Leonard–Paul George Commercial Terminator Canon?

Please, it has to be.