Let’s do the time warp again…and again and again and again.
It’s no secret time travel is very trendy right now. From Doctor Who and Outlander to 11/22/63 and Legends of Tomorrow, it seems like half the shows on television involve zipping through space and time. And with the premiere of NBC’s Timeless, we can officially add another show to that long, long list.
And if the pilot is any indication, this is going to be kinda fun!
The first episode makes it clear Timeless has no, um, time to explain how time travel works (or to give really any background at all). We’ve got terrorists to catch! You see, there’s this villain named Garcia Flynn (Goran Visnjic), a former NSA operative stationed in Eastern Europe who killed his own wife and child before disappearing. He’s now popped back up again and pilfered a working time machine from the mysterious Mason Industries.
With Flynn disappearing into history, it’s up to the government (led by a Homeland Security officer named Denise Christopher) and Mason Industries (headed by mogul Connor Mason) to assemble a badass team of experts to stop him. As Denise puts it: “We are on the clock so follow me, but hold on to your asses.” Roger that, Denise.
First up, we’ve got historian Lucy Preston. She’s a history professor, but she’s a cool history professor: She gives lectures about LBJ and his penchant for whipping out his junk. Lucy’s mother was also a famed historian, but she’s since gotten sick, and it’s up to Lucy and her sister, Amy, to take care of her. Lucy is keen to follow in her mother’s impressive footsteps, even though she’s been denied tenure at her mom’s former university. So Amy gives her some wise advice, which sounds more than a little like foreshadowing: “Stop worrying about disappointing Mom. Make your own future.”
There’s also Wyatt Logan (Matt Lanter), a Delta Force sergeant who serves as the team’s muscle. He’s pretty chill about this whole time-travel thing, and while the rest of the characters are freaking out about the fact that holy cow, time travel is REAL, Wyatt kind of just arches an eyebrow and makes a sarcastic comment about the whole thing, Han Solo-style. We soon learn, however, that he’s got a history of his own: His wife, Jessica, has died, and he holds himself responsible. He’d give anything to be able to go back and change that moment — which is almost definitely going to come up again as a future story line. This is, after all, a show about time travel.
And finally, we have Rufus Carlin (Malcolm Barrett), a technician at Mason Industries who’s the only one who actually knows how to pilot a time machine. He’s also not too keen on this whole “going back in time to confront a known terrorist” thing, but his boss, Connor Mason (played by Paterson Joseph), tells him he has no choice. Rufus is also African-American, which means that if he’s traveling into the past, he’s going to face challenges his white companions won’t. “I am black,” he says. “There is literally no place in American history that’ll be awesome for me.”
Flynn and his terrorist cohort hijacked the newest time-machine model, of course, which means our heroes are stuck with the so-called “Lifeboat,” an earlier prototype that works…most of the time. The Lifeboat is linked to Flynn’s Mothership, and although the Lifeboat can’t tell you exactly where the Mothership is, it can tell you “when” it is. As Wyatt puts it: “Naturally. Only tells you when. Time-machine problems.”
The rules are pretty simple: Our time travelers aren’t allowed to go back into their own timeline, and they aren’t allowed to go back to points in time where they’ve already been. (Wyatt, of course, asks the sensible question: Why can’t they just go back to earlier that day and stop this whole thing from happening?) If they did, it would cause major problems. Rufus says one pilot tried it, and when he came back to the present, he wasn’t all there. Literally, he wasn’t all there: Parts of him were missing. Ew.
So, our trio of time-hopping heroes tracks Flynn to New Jersey on May 6, 1937. That date, of course, is notable as the day the Hindenburg exploded. Along the way, they run into Kate Drummond, a renowned war correspondent and journalist who’s charming, smart, and destined to die when the Hindenburg comes down. Wyatt is horrified — partially because Kate reminds him of his late wife, and partially because Lucy tells him there’s nothing they can do to save her. Her death is a fixed point in time, and if they were to change that, there’s no telling how devastating the effects could be.
But when Rufus, Wyatt, and Lucy show up at the airfield, the Hindenburg safely lands without incident, and to their surprise, it doesn’t actually explode. It doesn’t take Lucy long to figure out Flynn wanted to prevent the explosion today so he can actually blow it up tomorrow, when notable historical figures like John D. Rockefeller are on board.
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Before the three of them can set out to stop Flynn’s plot, they’re arrested and thrown in jail. Wyatt asks Rufus to make a distraction so he can use the underwire in Lucy’s bra to pick the lock, so Rufus picks a fight with the racist police officer watching his cell.
We’re only one episode in, but Timeless does a pretty good job of framing its tone: As network television shows go, Timeless isn’t particularly thoughtful, and it’s clear the show’s more focused on being an Indiana Jones-style caper through American history than raising serious questions about the past. But at the same time, Timeless makes it very clear the writers aren’t afraid to confront the uglier aspects of American history, particularly when it comes to race. Is Timeless a thoughtful meditation on race relations in America? Not really. It doesn’t even go particularly deep when it addresses them. But it’s refreshing to see a show address these issues at all, and it lends a thoughtful, important angle to a show that would otherwise just be your standard adventure story about three people chasing a villain through space and time.
This comes front and center as Rufus confronts the officer who keeps calling him “boy,” replying, “I’m in the damn stone age, but man, I hope you live a long life. Long enough to see Michael Jordan dunk, Michael Jackson dance, Mike Tyson punch… really, just any black guy named Michael. OJ? Yeah, he gets off. He did it, but we don’t really care. And Obama? He’s the president. 2008, that’s gonna suck for you. I hope you see it all because the future is not on your side, boy.”
It’s a show-stopping moment, and it’s also an effective distraction: It buys Wyatt enough time to pick the jail lock so the three of them can try to thwart Flynn’s dastardly plot. They successfully board the ship and find the bomb Flynn planted in the Hindenburg kitchen, but before they can get it away from the passengers, the ship takes off. Desperate to get the ship back on the ground, Rufus and Lucy head to the cockpit, where they claim to be terrorist members of the Anarchist Black Cross and order the pilot to land.
As for Wyatt and Kate, they manage to successfully defuse the bomb, but not before one of Flynn’s henchmen shows up and tries to shoot them. That, of course, is a very dumb idea while aboard a combustible airship, and the Hindenburg soon goes up in flames anyway. Flynn, you need to hire smarter cronies.
Chaos breaks out as Wyatt, Rufus, and Kate try to evacuate the ship while Lucy comes face-to-face with Flynn. Interestingly, he knows exactly who she is — and he reveals he has a mysterious book written in her handwriting. “I didn’t write that,” she tells him. “Not yet, but you will,” he replies. He adds that she should be more curious as to why the government picked her as lead historian on this mission, telling her to ask her boss what “Rittenhouse” is. In the chaos, Wyatt attempts to take down Flynn, but he gets away after shooting Kate. In the end, there are only two casualties in the Hindenburg explosion: Kate and Flynn’s unnamed henchman.
Dejected, the trio heads back to the future (ha), where a lot has changed, but they’ve still failed to capture Flynn. An exhausted Lucy heads back to her house, only to find her mother is suddenly healthy, Lucy is engaged, and her sister no longer exists. Plus, her job as a historian is now in jeopardy, considering everything she knows about American history after 1937 has suddenly changed. Things are not looking good.
So there you have it! Timeless episode 1 is officially in the history books. As pilot episodes go, this one wasn’t unlike the trio’s time machine, the Lifeboat: It’s a little clunky and a little bumpy, but it got the job done. Time will tell whether Timeless goes down in history or fades into obscurity (like so many other time-travel TV shows), but for now, I’m more than happy to tag along for the ride. See you all next week, when we head to 1865 and witness the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.
Odds and ends
- Connor, on why he didn’t tell the government he successfully invented a time machine: “Because the federal government never screws up anything and can always keep a secret.”
- Rufus, after the trio takes a bus into town: “So, the back of the bus was amazing.”
- Lucy, trying to convince a military officer to help them: “This is Dr. Dre. I’m Nurse Jackie. We’re from General Hospital.”