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'Timeless' recap: 'The Assassination of Abraham Lincoln'

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Sergei Bachlakov/NBC


TV Show
Current Status:
In Season
run date:

If Garcia Flynn’s goal is to steal a time machine and wreak as much havoc as possible, he’s certainly not aiming low.

After blowing up in the Hindenburg in the pilot, the time-machine-stealing terrorist has set his sights on an even more important part of American history. In fact, it’s arguably THE single most influential moment in American history: the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. No pressure.

Just a few hours after our trio returns from (sort of) saving the Hindenburg, they’re forced to take the Lifeboat back out again. This time, Flynn has headed to April 14, 1865, and hooked up with the notorious John Wilkes Booth, who apparently spends all of his time sulking in a dark bar and looking shady as hell. As Lucy puts it, “His brother Edwin was literally the most famous actor in America. John never quite measured up.”

“So this is like if Donnie Wahlberg assassinated the president,” Rufus replies. Yes, Rufus. It’s exactly like if the guy from Blue Bloods assassinated the president.

At first, Lucy, Wyatt, and Rufus aren’t quite sure what Flynn’s goal is — does he want to not kill Lincoln? — so they spend their time sniffing around Ford’s Theatre trying to find Flynn, Booth, or anyone involved with the plot. Instead, Lucy has a bit of a meet-cute with Lincoln’s son, Robert, while Rufus runs into some African-American Union soldiers. Rufus says his name is Denzel Washington, while Lucy goes by Juliet Shakesman. Our trio may include an expert historian, an expert coder, and an expert soldier, but apparently, coming up with fake names is not their strength.

While the last episode only touched briefly on moral issues, choosing instead to be more of a madcap time-travel adventure, “The Assassination of Abraham Lincoln” raises some actually important questions about whether our trio has a responsibility to change history. Rufus is especially affected by meeting the many young African-American soldiers who fought in the Civil War, all of whom are hopeful about the future under a Lincoln presidency. Rufus, however, knows that Lincoln’s assassination sparks decades of Reconstruction-era infighting and increasingly fraught racial tensions, including horrific lynchings in the South. He tries to convince Lucy that it’s their civic duty to shoot Booth here and now, preventing the assassination, but she argues that they have no way of knowing how Lincoln’s survival would affect the future — or whether it would even make things better.

“It’s our job to protect history,” Lucy tells him.

“Yeah, rich white guys’ history,” Rufus replies. “A lot of my history sucks.”

Soon, however, they learn that although General Ulysses S. Grant was scheduled to leave town, his train has been tampered with — meaning that he’ll be attending the play with President Lincoln after all. It doesn’t take Lucy long to put the pieces together: Booth’s plot to kill Lincoln was part of a much larger conspiracy to kill Grant, Vice President Andrew Johnson, and Secretary of State William H. Seward. Lincoln’s death sparked enough chaos and panic in the late 19th century: Imagine how differently things would have turned out if Booth had successfully killed all four.

NEXT: Bye bye, Booth


It turns out that Flynn is determined to do just that. He and his cronies meet up with Booth, and they bring gifts: 21st-century weapons that will definitely get the job done. Booth isn’t so sure — he is, after all, an actor with a flair for the dramatic — and he politely declines Flynn’s offer. Flynn has no tolerance for Booth’s grandstanding, so he knocks him out and decides to carry out the assassination himself.

As for Lucy, another chance run-in with Robert Lincoln scores her a ticket to Ford’s Theatre with the younger Lincoln as her date. Notably, the Secret Service didn’t exist until a few weeks after Lincoln’s death. If they had, I’m not sure they would’ve been cool with Robert Lincoln inviting some random woman he just met to hang out with his dad, the president of the United States. They also probably would have stopped the Lincoln assassination, but that’s another matter.

With Grant in the box next to her, she tries everything she can to get the general to leave before Booth arrives, but with Rufus’ words still weighing on her mind, Lucy isn’t sure whether she can let Lincoln die — especially after she actually meets him and has a total history fangirl moment. While she’s fretting, Flynn shows up, and when she realizes he’s there to shoot Lincoln, her heart gets the better of her, and she tries to warn the president. Alas, it’s too late, and Lincoln goes down, but before Flynn can shoot Grant, Lucy springs into action. Their struggle is enough to protect Grant, but Flynn still manages to get away.

So, not that much has really changed. Wyatt and Rufus manage to successfully stop the assassination of Seward and Johnson, and everyone who’s dead is supposed to be dead. Back in the present, things are largely the same, although Lucy’s sister Amy is still nonexistent. Rufus’ coworker, Jiya, offers to help, and she uncovers that in the new timeline, Lucy’s mom and dad never actually met — which means that Amy should never have been born. So why is Lucy still around? Turns out that Lucy’s dad is not who she thinks he is. This is only episode 2, and things are already getting complicated.

To further complicate things, we learn a little bit more about the mysterious Rittenhouse. Turns out that Connor Mason has recruited Rufus to secretly record all of his conversations with Lucy and Wyatt, all in order to appease the mysterious Rittenhouse. Rufus isn’t comfortable with this, but as Mason reminds him, he doesn’t have much of a choice.

We wrap things up with Lucy returning home to her now cancer-free mother and her nonexistent sister. As she arrives home, she walks right into the middle of her own engagement party. Oh yeah! In this new timelines, Lucy is engaged! And she has no idea who her fiancé is. We briefly meet him when he walks up behind her and kisses her, much to her horror. Hey, as far as mystery fiancés go, he’s pretty attractive. You could’ve done a lot worse, Lucy.

Odds and ends

  • Mason, after the time machine sends papers flying throughout laboratory (again):  “We really should get some paperweights.”
  • Wyatt, on why he needs Rufus to stitch up his gunshot wound: “You work with your hands.”

    Rufus: “Yeah, on circuit boards.”

    Wyatt: “Then think of me as a circuit board that’s gonna die if you don’t help.”

    Lucy: “Don’t look at me, I faint.”

  • Rufus: “This is gonna be the worst game of operation ever.”
  • The look on Abigail Spencer’s face when Lucy meets Abe Lincoln is adorable.
  • “Juliet Shakesman” had an elementary school named after her.

Episode grade: B