H.G. Wells must stop Jack the Ripper... in 2017
“My name is H.G. Wells. I discovered my friend John is Jack the Ripper. He’s escaped from 1893 in my time machine, and I am the only one who can catch him.”
Based on the objectively less sexy book and film of the same name, Time After Time tells a tale as old as… time. Sorry. After ABC said no to sexy Edgar Allan Poe in 2011 — a choice that some of us will never forgive — they’ve gone all in on sexy H.G. Wells and sexy Jack the Ripper in 2017. Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes.
Who doesn’t love a good tragedy about best friends broken by varying levels of betrayal and moral superiority? It all starts in 1893 England, where Jack the Ripper (Josh Bowman) — and his beard that ABC could have spent a few more bucks on — is getting his jacking and ripping on, all while H.G. Wells is down the street being mocked for being a divorced socialist in his own damn home. Talk about leading different lives, right? Eh, wrong! Because in a “twist” of events (you’d have to be going into this sexy time travel show super cold for this one to be a surprise), it turns out the man “known” as Jack the Ripper (that whole anonymous killer thing, which we’ll get into again later) is also Dr. John Stevenson, close friend to H.G. Wells and distinguished Victorian surgeon. Whoops.
Unfortunately for both men, Scotland Yard shows up, on the hunt for Jack the Ripper. It’s unfortunate for Stevenson because now he’s found out — the result of doing crime literally a block away from your second location — and it’s unfortunate for Wells because Stevenson escapes in his time machine. But luckily for Wells and the mythology of Time After Time, the time machine comes back to Wells; for future reference, without the key (which Wells has), the time machine always travels back to its original point. By the way, since you apparently don’t need the key to actually make the time machine work, that has to mean there have at least been a handful of people who have ended up in other times (possibly stuck, depending on access to the time machine after the fact), right? There are knobs and levers and time travel is — usually — very cool. It’s impossible to believe no one has fiddled with this time machine outside of these two very pretty boys.
But in terms of these two very pretty boys, Wells follows Stevenson’s lead and travels to 2017, ending up in the middle of an H.G. Wells exhibit at the American Museum of Space and Science, confused and getting hauled off by security to meet with the assistant curator of the museum, Jane Walker (Genesis Rodriguez). Really, if “confused Freddie Stroma” is what you’re into, then boy is Time After Time the show for you. Wells is expectedly surprised that a woman is in a position of power. After some attempted cutesy tough talk from Jane about how she won’t give him or “the other guy” any free publicity for their H.G. Wells performance art or whatever this possibly is, Wells is free to go, and he follows a black security guard’s tip on where to find John. Given Wells’ untimely amount of acceptance of others, you can guess how that exchange goes.
Stevenson, by the way, is thriving pretty quickly in this world, pawning his father’s gold pocket watch for $15,000, sweet-talking ladies (good thing people from 1893 have the same speech patterns as those in 2017), staying at high-class hotels, and dressing to impress.
Wells makes it to Stevenson’s hotel and heads to the bar to wait for him, which is when he sees it: the truth of this future world. You see, back in 1893, Wells was very much of the belief that the future would be a utopia — “where mankind lives in peace with no war, no crime, no disease or famine” — thanks to the advancement of science and technology. Of course, Stevenson believed that theory to be rubbish, and unfortunately for Wells, it looks like his serial killer best friend won that bet. This brings us to the heartbreaking moment when Wells sees proof on the hotel bar televisions that the utopia he expected couldn’t be any further from the truth, tears in his eyes at the “violence and bloodshed” of this modern, advanced world. In terms of Time After Time actually trying to say anything about the world, the episode peaks in this scene. That includes Stevenson’s proclamation that 2017 is the time for him. “In our time, I was a freak. Today, I’m an amateur,” he muses. But he wants to be king.
So, yes, that’s a real problem. Because since Wells is a pacifist (an actual H.G. Wells personality trait), his approach to getting Stevenson to stop is basically to say, “Please stop,” and demand he comes back to 1893 with him in a very serious voice. It doesn’t work, and it gets a blade pointed at his femoral artery (sexy, kind of), but he’s at least enough of a survivalist to hit Stevenson with a glass and run as fast as he can… right into a taxi. Oh yes, can’t forget about automobiles in the 21st century, y’all. And since the only contact information Wells has on him is Jane Walker’s card from the museum, she’s the one called by the hospital. Does that explain why she actually comes, especially when this is set in New York City and there are just so many crazies? No, but it’s necessary to move Time After Time along, so here we go.
NEXT: Meet Jane and her very big apartment
Now that Wells is spending the night at Jane’s place (again, the show’s got to move things along somehow), it’s time to get very personal and learn all about the show’s third lead. We know everyone’s only here because of the ludicrous pretty boy H.G. Wells/Jack the Ripper thing, but we’ve got to pretend, you know. Apparently Jane has “stray puppy dog syndrome,” which is another way to say that confused Freddie Stroma is her type. Understandable. Although, minutes later, she also goes on — at length — about how she has the absolute worst taste in men due to her “bad picker.”
It’s all… a lot to take in when it comes to a pilot. So however you feel about Jane in these two episodes, that’s probably how you’re going to feel about her for the next seven seasons. Yes, seven more seasons. Calling it right now. Either you’ll find her “fascinating” and “self-aware” like a classic Kevin Williamson female lead, or you’ll find her “curiously unspecial and intriguingly mediocre,” like one of her Tinder dates did. You’ve got all the time in the world to decide.
One more thing about Jane, before moving on to the romp of 2017 Jack the Ripper: You know how on The Flash, the opening narration has Barry call himself “an ordinary forensic scientist,” as though that’s just a blue-collar job that comes up in conversation often? Jane is a curator (assistant curator) at the American Museum of Space and Science, which sounds like one hell of a job, but apparently it’s just the type of job you have to “pay the rent.” Telemarketing, donating your body to science — it’s all just like museum curating. “It’s not forever.” This is not an easy job to get, in any economy. There is literal time travel in this series, and the least believable aspect of it all is that Jane is doing this assistant curator thing just to pay the bills. If her job was curator’s assistant, this would make sense. And before you can say she’s just being modest… she clearly has too little self-esteem to be modest. We just went through this.
Anyway, Stevenson is off killing some woman at a nightclub while those other two are flirting, so that’s the news Wells gets to wake up to. It’s basically Jack the Ripper’s way of putting out a Craigslist ad for a missed connection, as he makes sure the club he finds the girl at is called Utopia, and he puts some keys in her mouth. You see, he wants the key to the time machine. That is officially our Time After Time dilemma: Jack the Ripper wants the key to a time machine that doesn’t actually need a key. Don’t question it; let’s just move on.
So now’s definitely the time for Jane to get on the “H.G. Wells is actually H.G. Wells” train, which she finally does when Wells takes her three days into the future (the perks of having a time machine at your museum) to prove this new reality. Also, spoiler alert: Three days from now, Stevenson kills Jane. That’ll definitely get her head in the game. Using the almighty power of Google (no Bing in this house), Jane and Wells are able to find the second victim and eventually save her from Stevenson. But why no cops? Because you saw how hard it was to convince the woman who was immediately smitten with this “crazy” stranger to believe his story. Though, none of this acknowledges the fact that DNA evidence exists now, and there’s no way Stevenson would be killing with this knowledge — so all they’d have to do is contain him and get him to the police, allowing the rest to handle itself. But we must move things along, Time After Time.
When Wells actually does confront Stevenson to save the victim, he brings Jane’s gun with him, but of course he doesn’t use it, and his “friend” (his words) stabs him and gets away. It’s like Wells always says: “There will be no violence. The man who raises his fist first is a man out of ideas.” Not the time, dude. Not the time. Because, just in case you forgot, his “friend” is a serial killer. But the day is saved, leaving the night for Stevenson to very easily break into Jane’s apartment and kidnap her quickly, writing “the key” in lipstick on her bathroom mirror for Wells to see. All right, time to break this down now:
John fitting into modern times makes an unfortunate amount of sense, but the same can’t really be said for quickly he picks up what is, essentially, an entirely new culture. The New York grid system, sure, it’s doable. But cell phones, monetary conversion rate, lock picking, and the lipstick on the bathroom mirror trope? Please. Obviously, we’ve got Wells doing the wide-eyed, standard fish-out-of-water time-travel schtick, but since Stevenson doesn’t go through the same motions, Wells just… well, Wells just seems like a dummy. Again, if Freddie Stroma looking super confused is what you’re into, then this really is the show for you. But the lack of Josh Bowman looking super confused is odd, especially since ABC already proved with Revenge that he can pull off that look. Speaking of, how do we get a time machine to go back and save Revenge from itself?
NEXT: The descendant
Now tasked with saving Jane, Wells is really screwed… until Vanessa Anders (Nicole Ari Parker) shows up. You see, Vanessa Anders is the CEO of biotech company Anders Enterprises, the owner of the H.G. Wells exhibit at the museum, and H.G. Wells’ great-great-granddaughter. Oh yes, time travel on Time After Time gets even more complicated, as Vanessa tells Wells the story of how he approached her freshman year of college and told her all of this, even leaving her a letter he wrote for himself as proof — though when she traced her genealogy, she couldn’t find a link between the two. Though, again, DNA is key here, because when she later checks his blood, that definitely links them. Don’t… don’t even try to think about it. Let’s just move along.
Vanessa is also, fortunately, one of the richest women in the world, so she’s got the resources to help Wells find Jane and Stevenson. And Stevenson, being the smartest of the bunch, naturally takes Jane to a new location, the apartment of a fashion consultant for Macy’s named Jules, whom Stevenson has also taken hostage. Her profession isn’t too important to the plot, but Stevenson is somewhat in awe of making $125,000 a year, with her rent being $8,000 a month. Question about his knowledge of the conversion rate aside, that’s really not even a picture of success — that’s a picture of poor money management. Especially since that means Jane’s much bigger apartment would have to be at least $10,000. Not bad for a just-to-pay-the-rent job.
In a moment of ingenuity, Jane is able to knock out Stevenson and escape the apartment with Jules. (She can’t use his phone, which is locked. Though you can still call 911 when a screen is locked, by the way. Maybe 2017 was the wrong year if you want to get away with beats like this.) But because that’s not conducive to the plot moving along, Stevenson catches up to them as they run down the stairs and puts his blade to Jules’ throat, threatening to kill Jules (who takes a nasty tumble down the stairs in order to later remind us Stevenson’s a doctor) if Jane runs. It’s treated as a moral dilemma, as Jane is literally feet away from the outside, from freedom. But it also doesn’t address the fact that if Jane runs, Stevenson is back to having zero leverage, and Jane can provide things to the authorities like a location and a description and valuable information. Jules might still die, but greater good and all that jazz. But Jane returns to Stevenson’s custody so he can do a hostage negotiation over the phone with Wells; they agree to meet at the Central Park Bridge. Because Stevenson is already a master of New York City geography. At least the tourist traps.
The Central Park meet-up tanks because of Vanessa’s security detail, who are all about saying their guns can best Stevenson’s blade but end up getting stabbed by the psychopath without ever firing. For a trigger-happy world, people here sure don’t use their guns when it’s actually necessary. And now Stevenson is pissed, as he doesn’t have the key and Wells has back-up. He decides for a moment to just bypass the key and go travel to anywhere else, finally. But also, he’s a little miffed because Jane showed him the results of a Google search of “Jack the Ripper.” Apparently Stevenson intended to be the original viral star, and he’s really upset he ended up being anonymous. He’s also upset that texts say he was a misogynist, because he also killed vagrants, you know. Dude, you’re still killing women in this time. In fact, all those vagrants are even easier to find in 2017, especially in New York City, but you’re picking up women at bars and clubs and killing them. Stevenson may be physically attractive, but he’s still clearly a misogynist, even when he only pretends to kill Jules before grabbing Jane and heading to the time machine. Jane tries to convince him he doesn’t want to be Jack the Ripper, but he tells her, “I am exactly who I want to be.” Just like Reba.
Now to answer the question of why Wells can’t just travel to a time before Stevenson kidnaps Jane: “It is my theory every time you travel to the past or future, you prick the fabric of time. If you go too close to any one time repeatedly, it can cause a hole in time.” Is there any confirmation of this? Absolutely not. If you expect concrete time travel rules in Time After Time, don’t. Again, this show is all about confused Freddie Stroma. Let that be your guiding light. Obviously, dark and sexy Josh Bowman is a high selling point, but guys — he’s playing Jack the Ripper. Just like James Purefoy in The Following. We have to draw a line, Kevin Williamson. So now Wells just has to beat Stevenson the old-fashioned way: give him the key to use the time machine by himself and then yank every single wire in the machine to stop it. That’s the episode’s climax, and that’s where we’re at now. A broken time machine and an on-the-loose (because the museum security guard’s stun gun barely keeps him down for five seconds) serial killer.
Why don’t they just make a fake key to appease Stevenson and set up a sting operation? And why is Stevenson practically immune to the effects of a stun gun? Do you see how this story might have holes, ABC? Confused Freddie Stroma and conflictingly sexy Josh Bowman can only get us so far. And now sexy Josh Bowman is threatening to kill a different person (come on — different woman) every day until confused Freddie Stroma gives him the key. How bloody wonderful. Actually, to quote another Kevin Williamson joint, it truly looks like Jack the Ripper has promised his good buddy H.G. Wells “an eternity of misery.”
Oh, and there’s something with Vanessa’s senator boyfriend Griffin Monroe (Will Chase, terrifyingly devoid of any stubble) being suspicious of Wells, who he’s told is a “descendant” of H.G. Wells. The most interesting part of all that is how Griffin Monroe is the most ‘80s-soap-opera-villain name possible in 2017. Is he a time traveler? Also, Wells and Stevenson are being followed by some redheaded guy who has a crazy evidence wall about both of them. Which will be answered first: the actual rules of time travel or these mysteries?
So say we all, Time After Time. So say we all. Keep up the good work.