Timeless is a doozy of a show, zipping you along with the Time Team through two entertaining seasons of time-traveling missions.
After Garcia Flynn (Goran Višnjić, ER, Extant) breaks into Mason Industries and steals a time-traveling vehicle called the Mothership, three people are called in to capture him: Wyatt Logan (Matt Lanter, 90210, Star Wars: The Clone Wars), a Delta Force soldier; Lucy Preston (Abigail Spencer, Angela’s Eyes, Rectify), a broadly learned history professor; and Rufus Carlin (Malcolm Barrett, Better Off Ted, Preacher), a scientist/pilot specially trained to steer the Mothership. Using the Lifeboat, the Mothership’s predecessor, they pursue Flynn through time to stop him from altering historical events crucial to the formation of the United States. However, this also puts them on the trail of uncovering information about Rittenhouse, a nebulous organization whose endgame may prove to be even more abominable than Flynn’s.
Created by Eric Kripke (Supernatural, Revolution) and Shawn Ryan (The Shield, S.W.A.T.) for NBC, Timeless is sixteen episodes long in Season 1. NBC initially cancelled it, but a few days later they renewed it for a second season of nine episodes, thanks to the show’s loyal fan base, AKA Clockblockers. The first episode of Season 2 even drops a reference to them when Rufus angrily shouts, “Freaking Clockblockers!” While ratings were too low for NBC to order a third season, a two-hour movie will air on December 20 to wrap up the show’s loose ends. And it’s a shame, because I think it could have lasted for quite a few more seasons. Even with the moments of narrative clumsiness and the potential time paradoxes, the dramatic twists and turns, sense of humor, focus on relatable characters and their relationships, support for LGBTQ/racial equality, and educational capacity makes Timeless a surprisingly sophisticated TV show.
It’s classic to include Abraham Lincoln and John Wilkes Booth in one episode or a young JFK in another — a little unusual, since he was brought to the present instead of being visited in the past — but what’s special about the show is how so many episodes focus on the most obscure historical figures and events. When would Harry Houdini, the undisputed master of illusion, and H.H. Holmes, the first true serial killer, ever appear in a time-travel storyline together, along with cameos made by Thomas Edison, J.P. Morgan, and Henry Ford? The answer: Season 1, Episode 11, “The World’s Columbian Exposition.” What about the Nazis launching a rocket to bomb Belgium and the inclusion of Ian Fleming, the creator of James Bond, in his days as a WWII spy? Check out S1 E4, “Party at Castle Varlar.” Interested in Hedy Lamarr, her inventions, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, and a Rittenhouse operative stealing the film for Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane? Go to S2 E3, “Hollywoodland.” And I had never heard of Robert Johnson, the blues singer-songwriter and musician who may or may not have sold his soul to the devil at the crossroads of a Mississippi highway, before S2 E6, “The King of the Delta Blues.” The list goes on and on. In short, you learn about topics that you might otherwise only be able to learn from esoteric textbooks and articles, plus they greatly enrich Timeless as a whole with original source material.
Of course, why give a damn about these trips through time if we can’t connect with the time-travelers themselves? Fortunately, that doesn’t apply here. Wyatt, grieving for his murdered wife, is hopeful for a chance to change the past and erase her death. Lucy also hopes to take advantage of the fluidity of time when the events of the first mission shift history so much that her sister ends up never being born. I particularly enjoy Rufus’s darkly humorous but completely pragmatic opinions on the African-American lifestyle, seeing as he’s a black man who has to travel through the Civil War and other time periods involving slavery and racism. And as the two seasons progress it becomes pleasantly surprising to watch arcs develop for other characters like Jiya, Rufus’s love interest; Agent Christopher, the Homeland Security agent who organized the Time Team in the first place; and Connor Mason, the founder-CEO of Mason Industries and the inventor of both the Mothership and the Lifeboat.
What takes Timeless a step further is the villain(s) whom the Time Team must chase down. Flynn, an ex-NSA agent, initially seems to be a madman bent on killing anyone who stands in his way as he bombs the Hindenburg, works hand in glove with the Nazis, or sabotages the Apollo 11 mission to the moon. However, he does small things that make him more and more curious, like in the pilot episode where he hands Lucy a journal and claims that her future self gives it to him so he can travel to the historical dates written inside and carry out his acts. This leads up to his somber backstory, as it should go for any self-respecting villain, and gives him a facet of sympathy.
As it turns out, the primary antagonist is Rittenhouse, which has its minions promoting the organization’s aims as benevolent and hopeful instead of outright acknowledging its ambitions to gain control of the world from the shadows, even as they take merciless measures to follow their orders. This basically turns it into the same old shadow organization that we’ve seen many, many times, although Timeless still manages to make it pretty enjoyable to watch. “The Capture of Benedict Arnold” in Season 1 gives a satisfying look at Rittenhouse’s origins during the American Revolution.
Overall it’s enjoyable to watch the Lyatt (Lucy-Wyatt) romance, the bulk of it built upon the conflict over their metaphysical viewpoints. Lucy believes that all events are destined to occur for a reason, which clashes with Wyatt’s belief that we have the power to alter our fate, no matter what has to be done to achieve such control. This continues in Season 2 to complement astonishing events that add layers to the romance, which reaches a significant point in its arc in the finale.
Seasons 1 and 2 each stand out equally well for different merits. Season 1 brings the Time Team to a greater variety of time periods and historical figures and does a good job of laying down roads for characters and the story to tread upon, although it loses steam whenever it runs into clunky plot devices or occasionally drifts away from the meatier storylines. Season 2 doesn’t take us on as many adventures, but the manner in which it concentrates even harder on the ever-looming schemes of Rittenhouse and thrusts the Time Team toward the horizon — with the assistance of an ambivalent ally — makes it more condensed and exhilarating, all the way to an eye-popper of a season finale.
At this point it’s difficult to look up Timeless on the good old Web and avoid spoilers. Even if you encounter them, don’t let them detract from the fun you can have watching all the episodes. Make sure to mark your calendar for the wrap-up movie on December 20.
Windup score: 94/100