Those excited to see Linda Hamilton reprise her role as Sarah Connor in the latest Terminator found a lot more to get hyped about in the trailer. Arnold Schwarzenegger is back as an aging T-800; a new Terminator type Rev-9 can split itself in two; and most interestingly, a new protector from the future who's able to physically tackle murderous machines insists that she's human. So who, or what, is Grace in Terminator: Dark Fate, and what does that say about humanity as a whole?
Grace (Mackenzie Davis) is similar to Arnold's T-800 in Terminator 2: a cybernetic protector deployed against a relentless, high-tech machine assassin. In the trailer, Sarah says to Grace, "I've never seen one like you before. Almost human." Grace retorts, "I am human, just enhanced." Dark Fate director Tim Miller expounded on that to Empire, saying "She's not a machine, she's enhanced. She is a machine-fighter — that's the way I think of her.”
Ironically, Grace comes off as more human than Sarah, reassuring the Rev-9's target Dani Ramos (Natalia Reyes) that she's there to protect her and getting emotional at the situation's high stakes. Sarah, meanwhile, coolly locks and loads. Speaking to Variety, Miller explained that that was intentional and and something they looked for when casting Grace. "I didn’t just want a woman who could physically fit the role but emotionally as well. Mackenzie really wanted to do it; she came after the role," he said, adding that the new "machine-fighter," as he and the film's writers call Grace, has almost too much empathy. "It’s a painful life, and they're scarred and take a lot of drugs to combat the pain of what’s been done to them. They don’t live a long time. It’s a very sacrificial role; they risk death to save others. And from the very first suggestion it was always a woman," Miller continued.
That last point unfortunately leans in to the persistent stereotype of women as the world's caretakers. In T2, Sarah Connor is painted as a poor mother for prioritizing training her son John (Edward Furlong), a.k.a. leader of the future human resistance, over nurturing him emotionally, when it likely wouldn't be considered so remiss in a father.
Still, baby steps forward, as the film features Grace's emotional concern and fighting skills working in tandem with Sarah's clinical analysis (and apparently enormous gun collection) to protect Dani, a family-oriented young woman in the same position Sarah once found herself in. With three lead female characters — each with their own personality and issues — there's no pressure on one to represent the totality of womanhood. It's a refreshing change of pace in a year where, though the number of women in movies went up, their actual representation went down, according to a report from the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film. Grace may have a partially metal endoskeleton, but she seems pretty fleshed out otherwise.
With the weight of the future on her buff shoulders, Grace seems to combine the best of machine and humankind — fighting for and with compassion, with boosted agility and force.