These are the Kyle Reeses I know, I know …

Warning: There be spoilers here.

Four months ago, I created a collection of photos depicting all the actors who have played John Connor in all the various timelines covered by the Terminator movies and TV episodes produced so far. Yesterday, I finally caught up and finished watching the entire first season of The Sarah Connor Chronicles, and I discovered that multiple actors have begun to play some of the other characters too. So here is another photo archive — for Kyle Reese, Dr. Peter Silberman, and The Photo.

First, Kyle Reese.

In the first two films, we were led to believe that, in the original timeline before all the time-travel began, the nuclear war began on August 29, 1997 and Kyle was born some time after that. In other words, he lived his entire life under the rule of the machines — until John Connor sent him back in time to protect Sarah Connor and thus become John’s father. But by the end of the second film, Sarah and John had succeeded in averting the nuclear war, at least temporarily.

Now, in the TV show, we are told that the nuclear war is going to start anyway — on April 21, 2011 — at a time when Kyle is already eight years old. It is exceedingly unlikely, of course, that the circumstances that led to Kyle’s conception in the original timeline would have been replicated in the new timeline — and it is even more unlikely that the Kyle who was sent back in time to father John Connor in the original timeline would be all that similar psychologically to the Kyle who is sent back in time from the new timeline — but hey, let’s run with these ideas, for now.

So, here are the various actors who have played Kyle, from youngest to oldest. Note that there is a slight complication in that, according to the movies (timeline 1), Kyle was sent back in time from 2029, whereas in the TV show (timeline 4), he was sent back in time from 2027 — yet we are apparently supposed to think that the Kyle who was sent back from both timelines is one and the same. And while the TV show indicates Kyle was born in late 2002 or early 2003, I don’t believe the movies have ever specified how old he was. Finally, just to be a completist, I am including Kyle’s cameo appearance in the dream sequence from the “special edition” of the second movie.

Kyle Reese, age 5, timeline 4 — ?, age ?

Kyle Reese, age 8, timeline 4 — Skyler Gisondo, age 11

Kyle Reese, age 15, timeline 3 — Anton Yelchin, age 19

Kyle Reese, age 24, timeline 4 — Jonathan Jackson, age 25

Kyle Reese, age ?, timeline 1 — Michael Biehn, age 27

Kyle Reese, age ? — Michael Biehn, age 34

Second, The Photo.

In the first movie, Kyle is motivated to come back and rescue Sarah partly because John gave him a photo of her. Kyle tells Sarah he always used to wonder what she was thinking about when the photo was taken — and then, at the end of the film, after Kyle is dead and Sarah has become pregnant with his child, it is revealed that Sarah was thinking of Kyle himself, and pondering whether to tell John about him. (In the end, she does — so John knows exactly why he has to give Kyle the photo of Sarah.) Thus, the first movie follows a closed-loop view of temporal mechanics: You can go back in time, but you can only fulfill what has already happened.

The sequels have messed with that idea in multiple ways, to the point where each new branch of the franchise seems to exist on a separate timeline. And there is certainly something to be said for the idea that many timelines can branch off of a single moment in time. The paradox here is that The Photo persists as an essential element in the Terminator mythology — appearing in the second movie and also in the TV series — yet it represents the very antithesis of multiple-timeline dynamics. It serves as a constant reminder that John Connor would not even exist if the series had been following the open-loop view of temporal mechanics from the beginning.

Anyway, you could almost say that The Photo is, itself, a character in these films, so here are its various depictions, arranged chronologically — that is, following the lifespan of the photo, rather than the precise dates that any film or TV episode might have assigned to any of these moments:

The Photo — fresh out of the camera, 1984

The Photo — in John’s possession, 1995 (film) or 1997 (TV)

The Photo, timeline 4 — as seen by Kyle, 2027 (TV)

The Photo, timeline 1 — as seen by Kyle, 2029 (film)

The Photo, timeline 1 — destroyed as Kyle watches, 2029 (film)

The Photo, timeline 4 — discovered after the fire, 2027 (TV)

Finally, Dr. Peter Silberman.

Dr. Silberman is the only character who appears in all three films, and a version of him appears in the TV series as well. (Yes, Arnold Schwarzenegger stars in all three films as well, but he plays a different Terminator in each film and is thus a different “character” in each film.) In the first film, he is a skeptic who does not believe in the Terminators — but in the second film, he personally witnesses a confrontation between the T-800 and the T-1000, and he deals with this in different ways, depending on which sequel is telling the story. In the third film, it is clear that he has spent the past several years trying to deny what he saw; but in the TV show, he has gone to the exact opposite extreme and has become a fanatical, even religious, believer in the Terminators.

Dr. Silberman, in 1984 — Earl Boen, age 38

Dr. Silberman, in 1995 — Earl Boen, age 45

Dr. Silberman, in 2003, timeline 3 — Earl Boen, age 56

Dr. Silberman, in 2007, timeline 4 — Bruce Davison, age 61

And that’s it for now. If even more actors tackle these roles in future movies or TV episodes, I will update this post accordingly.

MAY 17 2009 UPDATE: I have added an image of Anton Yelchin as the teenaged Kyle Reese from Terminator Salvation.

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  • I’m a huge fan of the Terminator flicks, and I stayed away from the SCC series for most of the season. I didn’t think a show would have much to add.

    I was wrong – I’ve found it compelling, for some new reasons that the films didn’t explore. I love what they did with Silberman – Bruce Davidson is a seasoned actor who delivered crazy just right (hope he shows up again). The FBI agent, played by Richard T. Jones, is exploring the Bible as a means to explain what he’s learning about the end of the world. Derek Reese has been an interesting character, too. They all ask great questions. And what to make of a Terminator dancing ballet!

    I don’t like how they’re messing with the mythology of it – it’s uneven as you pointed out (some elements follow the films, others retconned and altered). But, interested in Season 2. The new films are going to be interesting.

    So much post-apocalypse on TV right now, between Jericho and SCC.

  • Terminator really bakes my noodle. That’s why I love it!

    Having just rewatched the first two films, I’ve begun to realize that the events of T1 are actually the third time around for these characters. Lemme ‘splain. No, there is too much. Let me sum up …

    (1) There was a point in history where the future was “virgin territory.” Sarah Connor met some guy (NOT Kyle Reese), conceived a child, and may have/have not raised her son to be a strong leader. Nevertheless, whatever the circumstances were that brought about his leadership traits, history shows this John Connor to have become a successful leader of the resistance. (No picture of Sarah was taken at this time.)

    (2) Skynet, through the creation of time displacement equipment (TDE), decides to perform a “retroactive abortion” on John Connor. John chooses Kyle Reese to protect his mother probably for no other reason than Kyle’s faithfuless as a solidier. Kyle goes back in time, meets Sarah, falls in love with her, fathers John, and dies. It is only in history’s second iteration that John Connor is Kyle’s son. So, this John Connor most definitely had different physiology, psychological makeup, etc. Of course, Sarah had a direct impact on John’s upbringing this time around, and it is the first time Sarah’s picture was taken at the gas station.

    (3) Thus, the events in T1 have to be (at least) the third iteration of history. Kyle wasn’t motivated to go back in time until after the picture was taken, which could only have been taken after the invention of TDE existed and the timeline screwed with the first time. This third iteration, then, is the first time Kyle had an ulterior motive to return to the past to protect Sarah.

    Noodle thoroughly baked.

  • Mike, that is certainly an interesting way to try to reconcile the open-loop premise of the sequels with the seemingly closed-loop premise of the first movie.

    But if sending people back in time merely creates new timelines, and does not affect the original timeline at all, what need is there to send anyone back to “protect” anyone?

    In any case, I don’t think your theory works, since The Photo was created — on the third timeline, by your reckoning — after Kyle came back from the second timeline, yet he supposedly had that photo with him in the second timeline. If each timeline produces a different John Connor, then surely each timeline would produce a different Photo, too.

  • But if sending people back in time merely creates new timelines, and does not affect the original timeline at all, what need is there to send anyone back to “protect” anyone?

    Someone in the present might not necessarily know if history was changed or not. Some posit that if the past changes, the future that was instantly dies, creating a whole new … ah, screw it. I can’t handle much more.