Thanks to promo stills and paparazzi shots of Mackenzie Davis in bowl cut/dirty tank topped glory, many queer women I know have been eagerly awaiting Terminator: Dark Fate for months. Davis, who gained dykon status for her role in “San Junipero,” Black Mirror’s gayest and sweetest episode, got jacked for her role as Grace, a robotically enhanced human sent from the future to protect Dani, a robotics factory worker living in Mexico. Having little to no previous interest in the Terminator franchise, I assumed that Davis’s arms would remain the highlight of the movie. I would watch her fight some bad guys and win, and it would be satisfying, if not memorable. I did not expect to love it, and I especially did not expect Terminator: Dark Fate to be so, SO gay.
Here’s a brief summary, if you haven’t seen the movie yet, which you should rectify as soon as possible: Grace (Davis) is sent to present-day Mexico to save Dani (Natalia Reyes) from a Terminator (Gabriel Luna), who has been sent to kill her. Why a Terminator wants Dani dead, and why Grace was sent to save her, is revealed in due course, but first, Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) shows up to help Grace — at first just because killing Terminators is her thing, and later because she’s persuaded by Grace’s mission. Along the way, they meet Carl (Schwarzenegger), the original Terminator, and it’s very sweet and enjoyable, but he’s really not the point, so I won’t dwell on his role too much here. Before he gets involved, a not-inconsiderable portion of the movie focuses on Sarah and Grace’s competing ideas about how to keep Dani safe, and it is so. So. Gay.
I’ll take a moment here to manage expectations: there is no kissing, I’m sorry to say. It doesn’t seem either the film’s male producer (James Cameron) or its male director (Tim Miller) intended for this movie to be as palpably, queer-ly sexy as it is — Davis told Vulture Miller “didn’t want it to be sexy.” But it is so sexy. Nearly from the moment Grace meets Dani, it’s clear there is more to their relationship than Grace will let on. I can’t tell you much about what that relationship entails without spoiling it — though my wife figured it out, like, ten minutes in, so maybe I should assume you’re smarter than I am. Let’s just say that there’s at least one good reason Grace is so immediately loyal to Dani, even though (as Dani insists) she’s nobody, and certainly not worth dying for. The movie eventually gives you that one perfectly logical reason. The other, unstated reason is that they are obviously, at some point in the future, in love.
For instance: there is a moment when Grace tells a frustrated, determined Dani that “[she’s] seen that face too many times before.” Her delivery is flirtatious, and the implication to anyone who is even remotely aware of queer female sexuality is that they will be (or were once) lovers. They are immediately at ease with each other’s bodies: in one scene, Dani cradles a sick Grace, and in another, Dani sleeps in Grace’s lap. Eventually the movie will try to make you think there is some kind of mother/daughter thing going on here, but that is ridiculous. They are in love. They are doing it. And if there’s ever a moment in the past or future in which they are not doing it, it’s because Dani is doing it with Sarah Connor instead.
If butch Mackenzie Davis gave you heart problems, just wait until you see butch Linda Hamilton: the early Harry Styles–ish swoop of platinum hair, the aviator sunglasses, the bulletproof vest. While I suppose we must accept that, canonically, Connor was once involved with a man (their son, John, being the would-be leader of the Terminator resistance), Dark Fate establishes her as either bi or late-in-life lesbian. There is no heterosexual explanation for the outfits she wears in this film, or for her swagger. Connor is a hot butch mommi with a thing for Dani, and the only thing standing in her way is a butch with superhuman strength (Grace). Will they overcome their selfish desires and work together to save the woman they both obviously love? You will have to see for yourself.
But this much isn’t debatable: Terminator: Dark Fate is a lesbian love triangle story. I can only assume its queerness wasn’t made explicit because it’s about saving humanity, and there wasn’t a ton of spare time for sex. If Connor and Grace’s roles were played by men, there would be no question about their ulterior motives, and I would find it gross and annoying. But instead they’re all played by hot women, so it’s gay, and cool, and I love it. And if there’s a follow-up, I expect kissing.