Love blossoms in 1941 Hollywood, in which the trio sneak around and find their way into a glamorous party.

By Devan Coggan
March 25, 2018 at 11:00 PM EDT
Paul Drinkwater/NBC
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There’s a point in the Timeless episode “Hollywoodland” where Lucy, Wyatt, and Rufus are sneaking around a 1941 studio backlot, trying to find a way into a glamorous party thrown by newspaper mogul William Randolph Hearst. They break into the studio costume closet for something to wear, and Lucy emerges in a stunning gold-and-white gown — the same gown worn by Katharine Hepburn in the 1940 comedy classic The Philadelphia Story.

There are no time-traveling terrorists or nefarious secret organizations in The Philadelphia Story, but “Hollywoodland” still captures the film’s giddy, screwball spirit to delightful effect. The episode’s historical-figure-of-the-week, actress and renowned inventor Hedy Lamarr, outsmarts and outquips everyone in the room, not unlike Hepburn’s glamorous socialite Tracy Lord. And Lucy and Wyatt trade flirty banter that evokes some of Hepburn and Cary Grant’s best. There’s even a love triangle (a MAJOR plot twist that we’ll get into later). Timeless has dipped its toes into other genres before — shoot-’em-up Westerns, paranoid conspiracy thrillers, World War II adventure epics — but this episode feels like a true love letter to its old Hollywood setting, zipping along with gleeful action scenes and swoon-worthy romance. The result is one of Timeless’ sharpest and most enjoyable episodes to date — with a bombshell ending that’ll have an explosive effect on the series’ future.

And so the trio sets off for the glitz and glamor of 1941 Hollywood. After a quick detour to find some period-appropriate wardrobe — “So this is what we do now?” Rufus asks. “We steal clothes wherever we go, like Winona Ryder pre-Stranger Things?” — our heroes set to work trying to figure out what Rittenhouse wants on a studio backlot. Rufus bluffs his way into a meeting with Barney Balaban, the real-life head of Paramount Pictures, by posing as Langston Hughes and claiming that Lucy and Wyatt are the next tap-dancing musical sensation. Eat your hearts out, Rogers and Astaire.

There, they cross paths with one of the most fascinating characters in a town full of ‘em: Hedy Lamarr (played by Alyssa Sutherland), glamorous actress and renowned inventor. Lamarr’s life was marked by scandal, allure, and drama, and she first made headlines for her role in the 1933 Czechoslovakian film Ecstasy, which features the teenage Lamarr skinny-dipping and performing what’s believed to be the first onscreen orgasm. She later fled her abusive, Nazi-affiliated husband and headed to Hollywood, where she became known for roles as a seductive, glamorous temptress. In her spare time, however, she was a brilliant inventor. Along with her friend and inventing partner, composer George Antheil, she developed a frequency-hopping technology designed to prevent radio-controlled Allied torpedoes from being jammed. The Navy eventually adopted that frequency-hopping tech around the time of the Cuban missile crisis, and it helped pave the way for the development of Wi-Fi and modern cell phones. (Lamarr’s story was recently told in the Susan Sarandon-produced documentary Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story.)  

In short, Hedy Lamarr was a badass bitch, and the trio is appropriately starstruck to meet her. (When Lucy praises her as one of the most glamorous stars of the era, Hedy replies, “Any girl can be glamorous. All you have to do is stand still and look stupid.”) It’s Hedy who sees through Rufus’ Langston Hughes disguise — she asks him to read some of his poetry, and he tries rapping the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air theme — but she ultimately agrees to help them.

It isn’t long before they learn what Rittenhouse is up to: The first and only cut of Orson Welles’ seminal film Citizen Kane (codename RKO 281) has been stolen. The most obvious suspect is eccentric newspaper mogul William Randolph Hearst, who helped inspire Welles’ Charles Foster Kane, so Lucy, Rufus, and Wyatt break into a glitzy Hearst party to snoop around. At the party, Hedy points out a celebrated (but handsy) RKO producer named Lucas Calhoun, who’s developing the craziest idea for a dinosaur movie called Jurassic Park, and they realize they’ve found their Rittenhouse sleeper agent.

As Rittenhouse agents go, Calhoun got a pretty plum assignment: While past agents have been sent to the front lines of World War I or rural 19th-century cabins, he gets to play around in 1941 Hollywood. (Apparently, his dad is a Rittenhouse higher-up, which probably explains the preferential treatment.) Over the last 15 years, Calhoun has worked his way up the ladder as a producer at the legendary movie studio RKO Pictures, and now, he pretty much runs the place.

Turns out that he’s the one who swiped Citizen Kane, and he’s offering to give Hearst the only copy in exchange for a weekly syndicated column in each of Hearst’s nationwide newspapers.  It’s a chance for Rittenhouse to silently spread its doctrine to every corner of the country, giving new meaning to the phrase “fake news,” but honestly, I’m more worried about the societal implications of destroying Citizen Kane, one of the most influential films of all time. (Here’s a great supercut exploring some of the many movies that have borrowed from it over the years.) 

But before the trio can get to tracking down Citizen Kane, Balaban grabs Lucy and Wyatt and asks them to show off their musicality in an impromptu talent show. A terrified Lucy takes the stage and launches into a shaky-at-first rendition of “You Made Me Love You,” but before long, she taps into her inner ‘40s starlet and gets fully into it. It’s a joyous and delightful performance from Abigail Spencer, capped with an emotional moment where Lucy and Wyatt look into each other’s eyes and realize, oh no.

Back at Hedy’s house, Lucy and Wyatt make adorably awkward small talk — at one point, Wyatt tells her she’s “not hideous”— before finally opening up to each other. He tells her that she saved his life (“Which time?” she quips), and finally, we get a kiss that’s not part of a mission, not some hilarious misunderstanding, but a real, bona fide kiss. It’s a kiss shared between two people who have been through hell, only to realize that they really, truly, deeply care about the person who’s been standing beside them this whole time.

At first, Lucy and Wyatt are going to keep things quiet as they try to figure out what this all means — only for Rufus to promptly walk in on them in bed together the next morning. So much for secrecy! Does the bunker have an HR policy on coworker relationships?

In the end, Lucy, Wyatt, and Rufus rescue Citizen Kane and take out the sleeper agent (with a poor security guard getting caught in the crossfire), but before they head back to the present, the trio has one last road trip to take in 1941. They drive to a recently built and as-yet-unoccupied prison, hiding a few little gifts in the walls of one particular cell. More than 75 years later, everyone’s favorite incarcerated time-traveling terrorist, Garcia Flynn, gets a tip from a reluctant Agent Christopher, and he finds a key, a gas mask, and 75-year-old escape plan that allows him to break out. Welcome to the team, Flynn! Most of the crew is understandably reticent about having a confirmed mass murderer just chilling in the bunker — remember when he literally shot Abraham Lincoln in the head? — but Lucy insists that he’s their best chance for keeping up with Rittenhouse’s machinations. Lucy, I hope you’re right.

If there’s one plot thread in this episode that doesn’t quite fit, it’s what’s happening back in the bunker. After Jiya experiences yet another seizure, Agent Christopher pressures her to see a doctor, despite her apprehension. Mason warns Christopher that he knows exactly what’s been happening with Jiya: In the early days of Lifeboat testing, there were two pilots who went out and came back with similar symptoms as Jiya. One of them is currently being treated for schizophrenia, and the other died of a brain aneurysm.

Much to Mason’s surprise, however, Jiya comes back from her exam and says that the doctor told her she’s totally fine. Not only is she healthy, but she’s also healthier than she’s ever been: A lifelong heart murmur has totally disappeared.

All of this makes for one of the strongest episodes Timeless has delivered yet, but the episode still has one more trick up its sleeve. After the trio returns to the bunker, Wyatt gets a text message, and he bolts to a nearby bar, where he finds…his previously dead wife Jessica — who is now very much alive. The two silently embrace, and then…fade to black.

So what do we think brought Jessica back? My money’s on the poor security guard who bit the dust; he probably had some connection to her actual killer. (Not to be confused with the serial killer who everyone THOUGHT was Jessica’s killer in season 1, and who Wyatt and Rufus successfully erased from history.) Alternately, maybe Hedy Lamarr’s newfound status as a tech mogul/billionaire warped the timeline enough to prevent Jessica’s murder. Any theories?

But what’s more important than how Jessica is back is how her return will affect the show. We don’t know the context of her text to Wyatt, and we don’t really even know what their relationship is: She clearly recognizes him, and she’s wearing a wedding ring — but who’s to say she’s married to him? And what about poor Lucy? She and Wyatt have finally allowed themselves to move past their traumas and find a small slice of happiness in each other — only for a beautiful blond wrench to jam up the works. After one season of will-they-won’t-they, looks like we have a different TV romance plot device on our hands: the good ol’ fashioned love triangle.

Episode Recaps

NBC’s science-fiction drama Timeless features Abigail Spencer, Matt Lanter, and Malcolm Barrett as they time-travel in an effort to save history.
type
  • TV Show
seasons
  • 2
Genre
Premiere
  • 10/03/16-12/20/18
Performers
  • Abigail Spencer,
  • Matt Lanter,
  • Malcolm Barrett,
  • Malcolm Barrett
Network
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