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In the movie Terminator 2, in the scene in the steel mill, the T-1000 machine tortures Sarah Connor to make her call her son John. Watching the movie we learn that T-1000 can reproduce human voices of the people that he touches, so why does he torture Sarah and try to force her to call John? Why doesn't he call John directly?

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The T-1000 had past experience of trying to imitate Janelle (John's foster parent). It tried to pretend it was her when John rang to warn them. But it took the wrong tone with John & he knew something was off.

So that attempt failed, and it got to confirm that when it checked the dog's name.

That, added to the damage it had sustained, probably convinced it that imitating a woman that was even closer to John would be a failure. Hence, next strategy, torture compliance out of Sarah (which ended just as poorly, in the short time it had access to her).

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    Great answer. Given a sample size of one, it knows it can't convince him. However Richard's answer suggests that there is a stronger reason - it doesn't know what Sarah sounds like. – Tom W Oct 12 '15 at 18:57
  • @TomW Yes that was a good point and I upvoted. Was even tempted to 'steal' that bit and add it to my answer, but could not have covered it as well as Richard had. ;) – Andrew Thompson Oct 12 '15 at 19:00
  • Good answer. I just wanted to pedantically point out that it wasn't the T-1000's tone that made John suspicious, but the fact that he could hear the dog barking. – Pepijn Schmitz Oct 17 '15 at 8:06
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    Ah no, now I remember that he also takes the wrong tone, being too nice with John. Never mind, as you were... ;) – Pepijn Schmitz Oct 17 '15 at 8:09
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    Though I'm usually a big fan of long, elaborate answers with tons of relevant references, nifty graphs and pretty pics, when your logic is sound, you don't need all that. This was my favorite one in 2015 because, among many (valid) answers to a great question, it seems the most reasonable and completely changed my mind about this scene, making me like the movie even more. I'm therefore awarding it an additional bounty. – Walt Feb 6 '16 at 11:37
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A possible reason is raised in a deleted scene: The T-1000's mimicking skills are compromised after freezing, melting and cohering again. From the IMDB FAQ:

The T-1000's decreasing efficacy is explained in a few scenes cut from the theatrical version of the film but are able to be viewed as part of the director's cut or on most versions of the DVD as a deleted scene. After being frozen in the liquid nitrogen and then shattered, the T-1000 starts to show evidence that it may be malfunctioning. As it is walking, its feet, up to about the knee, involuntarily imitate the diamond plate flooring it walks across and its hand bonds with and imitates a yellow-striped railing. The T-1000 itself seems confused by this but is unable to stop it. Later, when it calls John in Sarah's voice, the glitch occurs again: John glances down, and there's a quick shot of the T-1000 imitating the grating its standing on right before Sarah shoots it the 1st time. In the theatrical version, the only evidence of the glitch is the slight flutter that you see after it crushes Arnold's arm in the gear. This may explain why it moves much more slowly during the final conflict, which allows Sarah to escape while it is dealing with the T-800.

TVTropes raises a couple of other valid points, like:

  • T-1000 is unable to replicate emotions that well;
  • T-1000 wanted to put Sarah at risk so John would come to her aid, since this happened before.
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    I have seen those scenes on TV and thought they'd always been in there even in the original version I watched back in the days. However, it doesn't really say/show that the T-1000's voice-immitating abilities have been compromised, too. It's a reasonable deduction, for sure, but I'm not sure I'd call that "explained" really. – Napoleon Wilson Oct 12 '15 at 16:16
  • True, maybe not a definitive explanation - rephrased. – Walt Oct 12 '15 at 16:45
  • Very plausible, and I always assumed this was part of the explanation for the same reason (visual glitches). There is a question on SciFi.SE that talks about how the computer works at a microscopic level. While it does not claim that the freezing/shattering/melting process might damage its computing abilities, that is quite plausible and the visual glitches do seem to back up that theory. – user9311 Oct 13 '15 at 2:44
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The T-1000 only seems to be able to emulate the voices of people that it's heard speaking. Up to that point in the theatrical version of the film, the only contact between Sarah and the T-1000 has been at the barrel of a gun which means that until Sarah says "F*ck you", he's not heard her before and therefore can't replicate her voice.

On top of that, I think it's reasonable to suspect that John and Sarah will have a pre-arranged code to help him identify whether she's been replicated.


You may wish to note that in the film's official novelisation, the reason for him attacking her was that he genuinely thought that she might accede to his demands, offering further confirmation to the theory that he can't replicate her voice yet

THUNK! A steel needle slammed through her shoulder, pinning her. The polymorphic killer cocked back its other hand. The index finger extended as a gleaming needle, toward her eye, angling to slash through her frontal lobe and up through her upper medulla. It said in a smooth, chilling voice, “Call to John. Now.” Sarah had survived one metal motherfucker, only to be skewered by another. She was terrified, but more than that, she was mad. She couldn’t stop herself from screaming through her gasps of pain, “Fuck you, asshole!”

Once it successfully concluded its request had been denied, the T-1000 went into termination mode and arched back to deliver the killing blow.


Out of universe, there's actually a deleted scene in the film in which the T-1000 locates various tapes from Sarah. This means that he should have been able to sample her voice before the "Call to John" scene. Obviously that makes no sense from a continuity point of view which is almost certainly why it was removed.

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    Is it certain that at no point prior to then, Sarah was in earshot at all? Overhearing from a distance may not have enough fidelity to produce a convincing imitation, however. – Tom W Oct 12 '15 at 18:56
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    @TomW - Sarah was shouting instructions as the T-1000 attacked their car. I'd be astounded if he could hear her though. They were quite far away and there was lots of blanketing noise and gunfire. – user7812 Oct 12 '15 at 18:57
  • I don't see the discovery of the tapes as a continuity problem. The tapes may have been old and the quality degraded, or maybe the recordings of Sarah weren't very good to begin with, so the T-1000's imitation of her voice after hearing the tapes was still unconvincing. – dodgethesteamroller Oct 12 '15 at 21:10
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It can reproduce her voice mechanically, but cannot figure out the proper tone and content to coax her son out of hiding. However, it is apparently intelligent enough to know that it can't do this... and instead attempts to force her to do it.

The funny thing is, given what we learn in the movie, I don't believe she has any better idea how to do it than the machine.

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All answers thus far are in-universe, however I think there is another not-insignificant answer:

The scene suited the portrayal of the T-1000 as a sadist, despite his nature making him presumably incapable of such a thing. He's been menacing people for the whole of the movie prior to this scene, and capping it off by forcing Sarah to help him endorses his cinema baddie credentials.

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    Upvoted. Thematically this is an excellent justification for the scene: character development of the villain which also heightens the character development of the heroes in contrast (in particular John and Sarah, both of whom [re-]learn loyalty and the importance of family from the T-800). In other words, just as the T-800 learns to understand human emotion--"I know now why you cry"--the T-1000 learns, at very least, how to exploit it, and perhaps also, like the worst villains, is driven by hatred into sadism and poor judgment, which prove to be its undoing. – dodgethesteamroller Oct 12 '15 at 21:06
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I always assumed it was because the T-1000 was not yet able to emulate Sarah because it had not yet sampled her "by physical contact". This is backed up by the fact that, after having made contact with her, it then does emulate her a few scenes later.

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