That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for time-traveling historians, scientists, and soldiers.
After getting stuck in the woods in the 18th century, Rufus, Wyatt, and Lucy are now keeping things a little closer to home: July 20, 1969. Specifically, our heroes are headed to Houston, Texas, right as NASA is in the middle of coordinating the moon landing. As far as major historical events go, few are as significant as the day the United States put a man on the moon, so whatever Flynn’s plans are to rewrite history, it can’t be good.
From the get-go, Flynn isn’t playing around. He and Anthony (Rufus’s mentor and the Mason Industries employee who helps pilot the Mothership) pay a visit in the present to one of the NASA officials who worked on the project to get some information on the landing…before going back in time and MURDERING THE SAME NASA OFFICIAL to steal his ID badge.
Now, Timeless has kind of played fast and loose with the exact logistics of time travel, only setting up a few ground rules. Really, the only main rule our heroes must follow is to not interfere in their own time streams — no going back to the same point in time twice. But other than that, things have been pretty open-ended. Flynn seems to have no problem stranding Lucy in 1754, even though that would prevent her from writing the future diary he relies on so closely. And oddly, the only reason he and Anthony went back in time and targeted this one NASA official is because of information the official gave them in 2016. If they shoot him in 1969, he won’t be around in 2016 to give them said intel in the first place.
That’s the textbook definition of a paradox, and it raises some serious questions about how exactly the time travel in Timeless works. We don’t need to have an extensive guidebook to the inner workings of the Lifeboat — Timeless is the kind of show that requires a certain suspension of belief — but violating major time-travel rules like that either requires an explanation or more creative storytelling.
But Flynn has no time to ponder paradoxes: He’s a man on a mission. He tasks Anthony with infiltrating mission control and taking out NASA’s computer system with a basic DDoS attack. The Apollo 11 astronauts successfully land on the moon, but without assistance from the officials back in Houston, they have no way of getting back to Earth. Thanks to Anthony, Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong are facing certain death, and the failure of the Apollo 11 program could have dire consequences on the space race.
Which is why Rufus, Lucy, and Wyatt need to find a way to reboot NASA’s computer system, save the space program, and, consequently, stop the Russians from winning the Cold War. As Lucy puts it: “Man, we live weird lives.” Yes, Lucy. Yes, you do.
NEXT: Not the bees!
Since Lucy and Wyatt have no idea how to troubleshoot major computer problems in 2016, let alone on antiquated 1969 machines, it falls to Rufus to help get NASA’s system back online. There are a few problems with this: He doesn’t know how to work these ancient computers, and everyone thinks he’s a janitor and won’t take him seriously because of his skin color.
And this mission is more than a little bit personal. It makes sense the Mason Industries techs who worked on the initial time-travel project would be inspired by the NASA employees who worked on Apollo 11. There are plenty of similarities between the two projects, and Anthony’s attempts to sabotage his heroes cuts Rufus deep. As Rufus reveals, Anthony was the first person to ever take the Lifeboat out on a mission. When he returned, he was injured terribly, having to spend weeks in the hospital. Rufus stuck by his side throughout all of it — which makes it all the more horrifying Anthony would be willing to condemn the Apollo 11 astronauts, his personal scientific heroes, to death on the moon.
Still, all this talk about scientific heroes gives Rufus an idea. He and Lucy head to the NASA basement, where they meet Katherine Johnson, one of the space program’s most brilliant physicists and mathematicians (and the subject of the upcoming Taraji P. Henson movie Hidden Figures). The definition of an unsung hero, Johnson was a black, female NASA employee who worked for many years as a “computer,” calculating figures for key space flights. She became one of the most important and influential figures to ever work at NASA, personally verifying the calculations for John Glenn’s orbit around Earth after he refused to fly without her approval. (Fun fact: She’s still alive at age 98.)
It’s always fun when Timeless introduces famous faces like Abraham Lincoln or John F. Kennedy, but one of the coolest parts of the show is how it spotlights lesser-known historical figures, especially women or people of color. From the female Shawnee chief Nonhelema to the scheming Judith Campbell, it’s pretty cool to explore the lesser-known but equally important people of history.
While Johnson and Rufus try to fix the NASA computers, Wyatt tries to track down Flynn, who’s gone rogue on a side mission, seemingly fixating on a defense contractor named Maria Thompkins. While Anthony is busy sabotaging the moon landing, Flynn is busy sweet-talking Maria and buying ice cream for her young son, Gabriel. It’s the most time we’ve spent with Flynn so far, and he’s finally starting to come into focus as an interesting, complicated person — instead of just a generic villain who we know nothing about. (When he hears Rufus has been giving Anthony trouble, he sighs and says, “I swear. Why do I even delegate?”) Now that we know his vendetta against Rittenhouse, he feels like a real human being — even if he’s still a murderous terrorist who, again, literally shot Abraham Lincoln.
It isn’t long before we learn Flynn’s connection to Maria Thompkins, in a particularly soapy twist: She’s his mother. Gabriel is his half-brother, and he died as a child after an allergic reaction to a bee sting, long before Flynn was born. Flynn said his mother was so sad for all the time he knew her, and he couldn’t pass up the chance to prevent his brother’s death and give her a little happiness in her life. It adds yet another complicated layer to Garcia Flynn, further proving this is a man who would do absolutely anything for his family.
Thanks to Katherine Johnson’s brilliance and Rufus’s computer skills, the pair successfully manages to get the system back online, despite Anthony’s continued attempts to stop them. It’s here Rufus has a prolonged heart-to-heart with his former mentor, and despite Anthony’s assurances he knows Rufus inside and out, Rufus still manages to surprise him — shooting and killing a Flynn goon.
(Side note: Where does Flynn get all his sidekicks, especially since Wyatt — and now Rufus — keep killing them? Does he just put an ad in Craigslist? “Henchmen wanted. Must not be susceptible to motion sickness. Degrees in history and/or engineering a major plus.”)
Anthony is shocked by the change in Rufus, but it makes sense: Every time the trio goes back in time, they change more than just history. These dangerous, high-stakes missions are taking their toll on Lucy, Wyatt, and Rufus — sometimes for better, and sometimes for worse.
Best Rufus one-liner: “It’s like all of my heroes in one room and every Christmas and July Fourth combined.”
Modern pop-culture references: Wyatt goes undercover as FBI Agent Mulder.
Episode grade: B