In the Terminator – The Sarah Connor Chronicles episode “Ourselves Alone”, we revisited the aftereffects of damage done to the Cameron Phillips terminator when she was caught in an explosion at the Season 1-2 transition. The symptoms caused by the glitch, and the ramifications that follow pose many questions.
The obvious question is whether Cameron is correctly interpreting her glitch. I noted before that in this episode the hand spasms occurred whenever Cameron was presented with a life/death conflict. Her basic programming informed her to kill – she admitted as much to John when questioned about her intentions about Riley. But now…
Here’s my problem: I want to say that she has a conflicting moral imperative to not kill. But morality implies a lot. I’m not sure she’s quite there, and I know I’ll be taken to task by many for suggesting that this robot has emotions. Whatever it is, there is a directive that is compelling Cameron to not be the decisive terminator that she still believes (or at least believed) herself to be.
This really shouldn’t be surprising. She didn’t (quite) kill Jody in “Allison From Palmdale”, in contrast to her (apparent) reactive killing of Allison. She didn’t (quite) kill Moishe’s bodyguard, Rico in “Brothers of Nablus”, though she did kill the three thieves in the bowling alley (but then again, they did take her leather jacket).
Cameron has constantly been receiving explicit instructions from Sarah and John to not kill. The bird, for example. In “Mousetrap”, Cameron immediately wanted to kill the bird that was stuck in the chimney, but Sarah told her not to. Once the bird was loose in this episode, Cameron tried to set it free, but was faced with a conflict:
Cameron: What am I going to do with you? A bird in the chimney is a fire hazard. I’m not supposed to kill you, but you can’t stay here. Go!
At which point Cameron (or more to the point, the bird) experiences an involuntary movement of her fingers. This seemingly mechanical problem is supposedly solved, but appears later with Cameron’s confrontation with Riley:
Cameron: What am I going to do with you?
Cameron: You can’t stay here anymore, but I can’t let you leave.
Cameron: What am I going to do with you?
Along with the hand spasms, the dialog clearly shows the difficulty Cameron is having with this decision between mercy and termination.
John: Were you going to kill her?
Cameron: I don’t know what I was going to do.
John: What do you mean you didn’t know what you were going to do? Since when do you not know what you’re going to do?
Cameron: I don’t know. I should have killed her. She’s a threat to you.
John: That is not your decision to make.
Cameron: It’s usually not a decision.
John: Well, obviously it is this time…and it’s not yours. What’s happening with you?
Cameron: I don’t know.
And therein lies the crux of our question: is the glitch causing Cameron to evolve some sort of morality, or is she simply damaged and unable to carry out her programmed directive? Whatever it is, it is clearly a personal cause of concern for Cameron. She understood that she needed to kill Riley, but couldn’t. If she can’t, then her role as John’s protector is precarious—she becomes a threat because she is now unreliable. As she told Riley, Cameron views being unreliable (at least regarding John) as a threat.
It’s ironic that just as soon as Sarah realizes that she needed to be more lethally ruthless to protect John (i.e. be more like Cameron), Cameron is having trouble with the decisive kill (i.e. becoming more like Sarah).
Whether the glitch is born from some combination of experience and insight that could be described as a cyborg’s version of emotion, or whether it is simply a mechanical failure in some circuit, Cameron does at least remain true to her one primary mission: protect John. Since she is now in the category of potential threat, but is unable to self-terminate, she put her life into John’s hands. With the pressing of a switch, the intelligence that was Cameron will disappear.
Since she was able to construct this terminate switch, presumably without her left hand spasming, there is no conflict here. The decision is clear. She must protect John.
Cameron: I can’t let anything happen to him.
— “Mr. Ferguson is Ill Today” 0208
Since her sole reason of being is to keep John safe, then from her point of view she loves John no less than Sarah does. (Whether that is true emotional love, or just a cyborg estimation I leave on the table…I’m still using the word.) As has been exhibited before, if Cameron has one great fear, it’s that she will be the cause of John’s death.
Going with the assumption that Cameron isn’t “killed” in some future episode (as it would likely doom the series), what are we to make of Cameron now? What if the glitch can’t be fixed? What if it can?
Clearly, if it would protect John, Cameron will very willingly have her glitch fixed. Even if she lost her “emotions”, in the end it’s about John. Since scenario has a sort of been-there-done-that feel to it, I think what will happen is that the glitch isn’t fixed.
If the cascade of homicidal doubt continues, will Cameron lose the ability to intentionally kill at all? That certainly seems to be where we are headed because Riley was definitely one of the clearest threats to John and yet Cameron didn’t just put her hand around Riley’s windpipe and squeeze. Perhaps what is needed is a specific command from Sarah, or especially John, that she needs to terminate someone. With that, you eliminate the decision. As John indicated in the quote above, from his point of view, it isn’t Cameron’s decision who gets terminated.
But there is one more aspect to this glitch that we haven’t (re)visited: the Allison Young persona (AYP). Whether or not Allison Young was a true future-memory of Cameron’s, the fact is that that personality is part of her. It emerged suddenly and fully formed once, what’s to say that it’s not trying to re-establish itself? While I’m not suggesting a terminator version of Multiple-Personality Disorder—though it’s an interesting idea—what if the emergence of AYP resulted in the current conflict?
Though not to the extent of a human, AYP did have emotions: fear, joy, sadness, compassion, and so forth. If you are an emotionless robot, imagine the confusion that would create if those things kept popping up. Although Cameron was able to overcome her day of AYP, was she able to put the persona back into the box and lock it securely, or do the questions she has (e.g. turning over the tortoise in “Complications”) cause parts of AYP to escape and filter into her reality?
Basically what we have is a Cameron who is not happy. She isn’t herself, and she doesn’t know why. If she were human, she’d be sent straight to counseling. If it weren’t for the fact that it would endanger John, counseling could be very useful for Cameron. Perhaps she could start talking to the one person would will not only listen to her, but take her seriously: John. Barring that, it seems that Cameron is doomed to become ever more erratic as she tries to both experience life as well as to re-establish her own bad-ass terminator self. I wouldn’t be surprised if she overcompensates from time-to-time, but then moody terminators always seem to relax after a bit of a massacre (just ask Catherine Weaver).
Of course, there is always the possibility that the stronger of the personalities is AYP. If it completely reestablishes itself, what happens with John? Does he fall in love with this new Cameron? Assuming she would be just as loyal as Allison was, she’d doubtless do everything possible to protect John, so in that aspect she would not be a liability. Still being a cyborg, she can take a lot of punishment, which again would not be much in the way of a liability. In fact the AYP could be a great advantage. Even though Cameron is a very good infiltrator, she still has an oddness about her. AYP simply fits in (except, perhaps, at a dog kennel). And AYP that is able to access Cameron’s cybernetic abilities/memories might be a bigger asset than a decisive Cameron. Or maybe not.
I wish I had answers to give. Cameron will likely always be a bit of an enigma. By all accounts, there hasn’t been a terminator quite like her before…and certainly not since her chip was damaged. Is what is happening to Cameron ultimately for the good, or does it make her a tragic character, like the Connor’s previous two time-traveling protectors? I guess we’ll just have to keep watching the show to find out.