Kyle Reese's laying out the facts for Sarah, he tells her how goal-oriented Terminators are. To be clear, I mean the original model we see in the first movie; it is clear that later models probably can do strategic things -- but the Arnold "Eff you, ahole!" version seems to lack interpersonal skills and patience.

If the circumstances indeed warranted it, could a Terminator be patient and smart enough to, for example, offer a human money in exchange for Sarah's location?

Or would the Terminator simply decide to kill a human who attempted to do this and try to find Sarah some other way?

I think we know that a Terminator is as intelligent as a human, but its thinking may be dominated by its mission and it may not be equipped to weigh a human's offer.

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    Given the comment in T2 about Terminators having "detailed files on human anatomy", Im betting torture is well within their repertoire...
    – Moo
    Commented Jan 18, 2023 at 23:33
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    There has been an awful lot of terminators with various levels of sophisticated behavior see for example terminator.fandom.com/wiki/Myron_Stark Commented Jan 18, 2023 at 23:42
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    @releseabe once it becomes obvious the person he is interacting with has or may have information or a value, the terminator acts violently - if you try and demand something in return, they will turn to violence. In T2, the T-1000 kills someone for merely being in the background while they are engaging with the target over the phone - thats a much lower threshold than extracting information. Also, torture isnt necessarily "fun", its a means to an end - gathering of information or forcing an action.
    – Moo
    Commented Jan 19, 2023 at 2:27
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    @Moo : that kill in T2 happens to eliminate a witness. The T-1000 interacted with civilians many times, even including earlier conversations with the foster parents, when it didn't kill anyone. It even managed to be friendly enough with the foster parents at the beginning, to persuade them into providing information voluntarily .
    – vsz
    Commented Jan 19, 2023 at 9:14
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    @releseabe : As I said, he kills him to eliminate a witness (and kills her shortly before, to take her place). But he doesn't kill them at their first interaction, doesn't even threaten them, he acts friendly.
    – vsz
    Commented Jan 19, 2023 at 9:34

4 Answers 4


Everything Kyle told Sarah has be to judged through the lens of who he was (i.e. a soldier, not a computer programmer) and what he was realistically likely to be aware of.

Humans didn't design T-800s, so he wasn't likely to be aware of all their tech specs or the full nature of their programming. He'd have been going from personal experience, or what he was told by John Connor or other Resistance fighters.

John would've known alot about Terminators, through his own personal experience with them as a child, from what his mother told him on the tapes she recorded for him, and from what she told him in person as well. However, he apparently withheld alot of this knowledge from Kyle, in order to avoid changing the course of events that led to his own birth.

For example, he didn't tell Kyle that he was going to reprogram a T-800 and use Skynet's Time Displacement Equipment (TDE) to send it to 1995, shortly after Kyle was sent to 1984. Kyle thought the TDE was blown up right after he went through, and John couldn't inform him otherwise without changing history and jeopardising his own birth.

In regard to Kyle's personal experience with T-800s, that was likely pretty limited. He told Sarah that they were a new model, and we only ever saw him fighting them, or fleeing from them. As far as we know, he never had a conversation with one, or watched one converse with other humans. Nor did he have the opportunity to see how one could grow beyond its original programming, given sufficient time to learn from its interactions with humans.

Those of us who've watched all the films almost certainly know more about T-800s than Kyle did. As such, we should take what he said about them with a pinch of salt, especially if it conflicts with what we've seen of them first-hand.

In Terminator: Dark Fate, we were introduced to 'Carl,' a T-800 running his own drapery business, who presumably engaged in transactions with customers and suppliers on a regular basis. That's pretty cut-and-dried evidence of the ability to agree to and abide by deals, and like the T-800 in the first film, Carl was sent back in time by Skynet (not humans) and was never reprogrammed by humans.

The only meaningful difference between Carl and the T-800 in the first film is the greater amount of time Carl spent learning from interactions with humans. And even the T-800 in the first film voluntarily paid for the hotel room he was shown using -- according to the official novelisation -- meaning that he engaged in at least one financial transaction that we know of, because it served his objectives to do so.

It was a four-storey firetrap that smelled of disinfectant and stopped-up toilets. In the winter it was a refrigerator, and in the summer, an oven, chilling or baking the human contents mercilessly. But it was cheap. Back from the main street. With a fire escape he could climb out of and into an alley, unseen by the desk clerk.

Therefore, he selected it, threw a wad of bills down onto the counter, and refused to sign the register. The steel-blue eyes fixed the big-eared, tiny-framed fifty-year-old clerk like a bug on a board. The clerk muttered something about writing Mr. Smith for him, then handed him the keys to the small room up the stairs.


This was his base of operations. It had to be secure; therefore, he could not bring attention to it by any overtly aggressive behavior, such as outright life denial. He knew enough about this society to avoid doing anything that would jeopardize this neutral zone. That was why he paid the desk clerk for the room.

The Terminator (novel by Randall Frakes)

On that basis, we can confidently say that not everything Kyle told Sarah about it being impossible to bargain with or reason with a T-800 was strictly true. That said, I suspect that when Kyle said that, he was probably thinking about it mainly from the POV of someone a T-800 had been programmed to kill.

So if a T-800 has been specifically programmed to kill you, then no, you probably can't convince it not to fulfill its mission via bargaining or reasoning. At least, not if it hasn't had sufficient time to grow well beyond it's initial programming.

But sure, if it has had time to grow beyond it's programming, then perhaps you could convince it not to kill you after all.

And if you're not the person it's been programmed to kill, or an apparent obstacle to its objectives, then sure, you could potentially strike a deal with it, provided it viewed that arrangement as one that was beneficial to its objectives.

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    There's that one time the T-800 ordered the truck passenger to simply "Get out." in the 1st movie, because it was more expedient than having him around (interfering) or killing him (time consuming). It makes me feel like the Terminator can pretend to be "bargaining" with us because it's the path of less resistance. The key idea here would be that it's not the human-beings who initiate the bargain.
    – Clockwork
    Commented Jan 19, 2023 at 10:43
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    I'd count the T-800 in the first film paying for a hotel room as a legitimate bargain. That's a textbook transaction: "You give me X, I'll give you Y in return." I think it just comes down A) what serves its objectives, and B) what involves the least amount of wasted effort/time. If paying for something is easier and more reliable than taking it by force, then that's obviously the more logical option to go with. Commented Jan 19, 2023 at 11:12
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    There’s an elephant in the room: the Terminator has always been described as infiltration unit, supposed to blend in with the surrounding environment. In other words, as long as it doesn’t conflict with its primary mission objectives, it should always do what an ordinary human (or humans in the specific location) would do. Which includes making deals.
    – Holger
    Commented Jan 19, 2023 at 13:18
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    @LogicDictates neither of these actions caused the witnesses to develop the suspicion that they didn’t see a human. And I’m not sure whether carrying weapons was such unusual in that motel. But granted, they are learning (except that in the extended edition of the second movie, the T-800 says that they are not (on such missions))
    – Holger
    Commented Jan 19, 2023 at 14:14
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    Also worth mentioning that yanking someone away from a payphone is in "get a load of what this whackjob did to me today" territory, not "my god, call the authorities!" territory (and not just because they've been denied the means to do so.) Carrying an assault rifle is less subtle, but still within the realm of human behaviours, especially in a seedy motel, and at that point subtlety is less a concern than expediency.
    – Aos Sidhe
    Commented Jan 19, 2023 at 14:38

In the original Terminator movie, the T-800 model is pretty much a killing machine with a one-track mind. It's programmed to find and eliminate Sarah Connor, and it doesn't have any room in its programming for negotiation or understanding human behavior. So if someone tried to offer it money or information in exchange for Sarah's location, it's likely that the T-800 would just see that person as an obstacle in its mission and eliminate them.

In later Terminator movies and series, we see different models of Terminators that have varying levels of complexity in their programming. These later models have abilities beyond the T-800 from the first movie, they have been shown to have more advanced forms of learning, adaptability, and self-preservation. For example, in Terminator 2: Judgment Day, we see the T-1000, a liquid metal terminator, that can mimic the form and voice of any human it encounters and adapts to different situations. In the later movies, we see the T-X, the T-3000, which have advanced forms of stealth, hacking, and even the ability to control other machines. In the Terminator: Dark Fate, we see a new model Rev-9, that can split its endoskeleton and exoskeleton, that gives it a huge advantage in battle.

These later models of Terminators are also shown to have a more advanced form of reasoning and problem-solving abilities. They are able to use their intelligence to manipulate humans and exploit their weaknesses, which could give them an upper hand in achieving their mission. They could also be programmed with a more advanced form of decision making and the ability to weigh different options and scenarios.

So, while the original T-800 from the first movie is primarily focused on killing Sarah Connor, later models of Terminators have been shown to have more advanced abilities, which could allow them to use more strategic or nuanced methods to achieve their goals, including the ability to weigh a human's offer.

  • Hi, welcome to SF&F. This is well-reasoned, but isn't quite all the way their on whether or not someone could bargain with them; if a T-1000 wanted something, could you trade something else to them instead?
    – DavidW
    Commented Jan 19, 2023 at 21:06
  • when the t-800 bought the guns, i guess he ended up killing the shop owner because he lacked money to pay for them but up until that time, he was a more or less normal customer. he also stayed in a hotel and must have checked in and paid for it. so the t-800 can interact with humans w/o killing them even over an extended period. i assume he killed the gang of punks even after he had their clothes but maybe not.
    – releseabe
    Commented Jan 19, 2023 at 22:16
  • @releseabe If I remember, one got his heart pulled out, and one got slammed against a gate (either lost consciousness or died). The last one undressed to give his clothes and might have lived.
    – Clockwork
    Commented Jan 20, 2023 at 0:30
  • @Clockwork: seems like killing all three would be a good idea -- letting them remain alive could in no way help him. If the last guy took off running, the T-800 might have decided it was not worth chasing him but if he was close by, it makes sense to kill him in the same way he killed the gun store owner.
    – releseabe
    Commented Jan 20, 2023 at 0:42
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    @Clockwork: since he killed two, least resistance is to kill the third since he was a witness. But if the T-800 did not kill the third because he complied, is that not a bargain? -- "give me clothes, I will not kill you." Its word is not why it observed the bargain -- it did so because it did not need to kill the punk. So not an example. A real bargain would be paying cash for info and not killing human because that human might have further info. Paying cash for room is indeed an example of bargaining. Not due to honesty but pragmatism. The police might have handed over Sarah to save themslvs.
    – releseabe
    Commented Jan 20, 2023 at 9:52

That will depend upon what you mean by “bargained”. It is not driven by greed, anger or desire, so other than possibly of something that wins or loses the war, there’s nothing to offer or threaten that will cause it to abandon its mission.

So, what about a bargain that allows it to complete it mission or simply furthers it? It’s clear that it understands transactions, the problem with trying to bargain wouldn’t be conveying the concept, but rather the larger range of choices available to it. It doesn’t have a reputation to maintain, or family to protect or any desire to be a good person.

In that sense you can’t bargain because as soon as it gets what it thinks it needs to go onto the next step, it will no longer care about you. It has no interest in keeping its bargain. You may think you can get around that by getting what you want first, and that may work. But without knowing all of its goals, you can’t know what it takes to achieve them, and thus you can’t be sure it will be done with you once you provide whatever you offered. It may require extra info, your death or a pair of glasses, and not stop until it gets what it thinks it needs.

  • The key problem may be that you'll always remain (at the very least) a witness that knows too much at the end of that transaction. The Terminator might not care at all about the things he has given you, and they won't feel offended by you trying to bargain, but at the end of the day you are still a (small) risk that's better eliminated than left alive.
    – xLeitix
    Commented Jan 20, 2023 at 13:43
  • @xLeitix: that’s sorta my point, you being a witness may be important it may not, the only way to find out is to try, but if successful (doesn’t try to kill you) that means nothing for the next bargain. You will always be at an unknown and unknowable risk of becoming a target at the end of the bargain.
    – jmoreno
    Commented Jan 21, 2023 at 0:57

Well, no… 'It can't be bargained with. It can't be reasoned with. It doesn't feel pity, or remorse, or fear.'

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    That is what Kyle says. Which is not necessarily the truth or maybe not even what he believes. His purpose is to convince Sarah to cooperate with his plans, not a scientific lecture on Terminatorology.
    – slingeraap
    Commented Jan 20, 2023 at 10:19
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    I thought Kyle's purpose was both to convince Sarah and, yes, to give the audience a scientific lecture on Terminatorology. If that's merely what Kyle says and not necessarily the truth or even what he believes, where will you draw the line? Must the character speak directly to camera? Do you want a narrator whose every word is taken as gospel? Commented Jan 20, 2023 at 11:47
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    The OP is clearly asking whether or not Kyle's statement is true. So, "Kyle said so" is not a very productive answer.
    – slingeraap
    Commented Jan 20, 2023 at 11:52
  • To be ‘clear’ if releseabe was asking whether Kyle's statement was true, the Question might be ‘Despite Kyle’s biased/decietful/dodgy/misleading/unlikely/unreliable/unsupported/untrustworthy claim, can a Terminator be bargained with? Why would releseabe rely on unsupported speculation and contradiction starting from the get-go by opining Kyle was laying out the facts for Sarah, then insisting he was not? How could specifying ‘the original model… seems to lack interpersonal skills’ help? Why would ‘patience’ make anyone susceptible to bargaining? More… Commented Jan 22, 2023 at 21:10
  • … Further: Do either of you care circumstances that might warrant anything are hypothetical, not part the ‘Termiverse’? Either way, are ’circumstances…’ a plank on which to build a theory or your speculation? Do you care that being patient or smart enough to offer money for Sarah's location is irrelevant, except to emphasise how ‘we bargain’ just barely encompasses both ’he bargains with me’ and ‘I bargain with him’ but the last two are not the same? More… Commented Jan 22, 2023 at 21:11

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