After an untimely cancellation and an unexpected resurrection in its freshman season, Timeless is taking no chances this time around. The time travel drama is closing out its stellar second season with a gutsy, guns-blazing finale that completely rewrites the rules — and showcases how much this show has grown. Not only has Timeless ironed out some of its kinks and tightened up its mythology, but it’s also finally leaning into its strengths — particularly its strong cast and time-period-of-the-week structure.
What started as just another time travel show has grown into a compelling, character-driven drama, and the finale episode’s cliffhanger ending proves that the writers still have a lot of ideas they’d like to explore. As of right now, NBC has yet to announce whether it’ll be bringing Timeless back for season three, but after this week’s two-part finale, to cancel it now would just be cruel.
NOTE: This recap contains spoilers for both parts of the season finale: “The General” and “Chinatown.” If you’ve only watched the first half, come back later after you’ve watched both episodes.
There’s a lot here to unpack, especially in the second hour, but let’s start by diving into part one. On its own, “The General” stands as a particularly strong episode, sticking to what the show does well: Rittenhouse has placed a sleeper agent somewhere in the past, and it’s up to the team to find them and stop them before they completely rewrite history. But there are tensions and distractions on both sides. Emma is starting to chafe against Rittenhouse’s emphasis on pureblood families and legacy, while Carol is worried that Nicholas is getting a little too close to Emma and might be getting distracted from the larger mission. “You’re my grandfather and I have the greatest respect for you, but quit thinking with your crotch,” Carol tells Nicholas.
Back in the bunker, Agent Christopher and Mason finally confront the team about the dozens of pictures of Jessica that they found on Rittenhouse’s hard drives. The photos date all the way back to Jessica’s childhood, and they confirm that Rittenhouse clearly has some sort of sinister interest in her. Wyatt is shocked and immediately defensive, but before they can decide what to do, Rittenhouse takes off on a mission. Marital strife will have to wait: The fate of the Civil War is hanging in the balance.
The location: Beaufort County, South Carolina, June 1863. Rittenhouse has planted a sleeper agent, who’s risen through the ranks to become a Confederate general. Thanks to a particularly thorough book of Civil War military history, he has a near-perfect knowledge of where the Union troops will be and when, and he soon starts decimating a Union regiment. Unfortunately, that particular regiment was supposed to assist Harriet Tubman in her famous raid on the Combahee River, which freed hundreds of slaves and helped bolster Union forces. Tubman may be best known for orchestrating the Underground Railroad, but she was also a key spy for the Union Army, and she played a major role in helping turn the tide of the war. (For more on the Combahee raid and Tubman’s exploits as a Union spy, I highly recommend the Drunk History episode starring Octavia Spencer as Tubman.)
Tubman survives the sleeper agent’s massacre, and despite her decimated forces, she decides to go through with the raid. Lucy and Flynn set off to try to convince the Union Army to support Tubman, while Wyatt and Rufus stay behind to assist Tubman however they can. Rufus poses as a slave, while Wyatt infiltrates the house as a farmer named Rhett Butler. After Harriet starts trying to free the slaves, all hell breaks loose, and the sleeper runs — only to come face to face with Harriet, who shoots him.
All seems well, and the team returns home. Wyatt and Jessica even have a heart-to-heart about their unborn baby and their future together — which makes Jessica’s midnight revelation that she’s a secret Rittenhouse agent all the more devastating. (Next: Forget it, Jiya. It’s “Chinatown.”)
That’s right. Wyatt’s wife is not a lowly bartender but actually a lifelong sleeper agent. She wasn’t always, of course; the Jessica who died in Wyatt’s original timeline was presumably innocent. But Rittenhouse recognized the potential in having Jessica on their side, and they went back in time to save Jessica’s brother’s life with state-of-the-art medical technology. In return, they were able to indoctrinate Jessica at a young age. The Jessica in this timeline is a loyal servant of Rittenhouse, and she sets out to prove her loyalty by kidnapping Jiya (the only other person in the bunker who knows how to pilot the Lifeboat) and stealing the time machine.
It’s a power play orchestrated by Carol, and as a result, Rittenhouse no longer needs to rely on Emma as their only pilot. (Carol, it’s generally not a good idea to piss off the time-traveling homicidal psychopath who happens to be sleeping with your boss/grandfather, but we’ll get to that later.)
Jiya handles the whole thing pretty well, all things considered. (“We’re friends!” she tells Jessica. “We watched an entire season of Vanderpump Rules together!”) She manages to kill her captor and steal the Lifeboat back, but it’s damaged in a shootout, and she can’t bring it back to the present. So, she’s stuck somewhere in the past, and the team has no idea where. Rufus, Wyatt, Lucy, Flynn, Connor, and Christopher start desperately leafing through books, poring over pop culture references, scanning every photograph that’s ever been taken in an attempt to find her. But Jiya’s smart, and she leaves a clue in a place she knows Lucy will look: a book about San Francisco history. They find her in a photo taken in Chinatown in 1888, and she’s left GPS coordinates and a message in Klingon. (Attagirl, Jiya.) The message? “Don’t come.”
Of course, the team has no intention of abandoning her, so they trace the coordinates to a location in the woods. There, they find the Lifeboat, and it’s been sitting there empty for 130 years. Not only is it still damaged from the shootout, but it’s been exposed to the elements for the past century, and it takes Connor and Rufus ages to put it back together. But ultimately, they get it back online, and Rufus, Wyatt, Lucy, and Flynn set out for Chinatown.
They trace Jiya’s picture to a photo studio in 1888, but unfortunately, Nicholas, Carol, Emma, and Jessica have beaten them there. Emma moves to shoot Lucy, but Carol steps in front of her daughter — so Emma kills both Carol AND Nicholas. (Honestly, girl, you should’ve killed off crazy Nicholas as soon as he tried to give the Civil War to the South and take away women’s right to vote, but that’s another story.)
Lucy holds her mother in her arms as she dies, and instead of apologizing for all the pain she’s caused her daughter, Carol digs her heels in and tells Lucy that her last wish is to see her take control of Rittenhouse. If Lucy was expecting her mother to repent on her deathbed, she’s bitterly disappointed. “I should have seen her for who she was sooner,” Lucy says. “My whole life I was blind.” It’s a devastating loss, as not only does Lucy lose her mother, but she also realizes that she had no chance of saving her. Her mother’s loyalty was always to Rittenhouse, even above her own daughter.
With Jessica and Emma on the run, the team finally tracks Jiya to a local saloon — where she’s been living for the past three years. She’s eked out a living as a badass bartender, but now, she refuses to go home. She’s learned how to control and lean into her visions, and now, she’s finally arrived at the moment that’s been haunting her for the last three years: Rufus’ death. She foresaw him being murdered in a saloon shootout, and she knows that if she tries to leave, her vision will come true.
Rufus pleads with her and begs her to come with them, but she won’t budge. It’s Lucy who finally convinces her, telling her, “None of us have anything anymore except each other. That’s how we’ve survived this long. No matter how bad it gets, we’re together. We’re taking out Rittenhouse together. We’re going home together. Are we clear?”
It’s then that Emma bursts into the saloon, sparking a shootout. It goes down exactly as Jiya foretold — except, amazingly, Jiya kills Rufus’ attacker and he survives. She’s giddy that her vision hasn’t come true, he’s giddy that she’s coming home, and all seems well — until Emma shoots Rufus in the chaos afterwards, and he dies anyway. Once again, her visions were unavoidable, and now, the heart and soul of the team is lying dead in 1888. This is no misdirection or cliffhanger ending; we watch the light leave Rufus’ eyes, and the show makes it clear that he is really, truly dead.
It’s a shocking, devastating ending, and the survivors return to the bunker completely shellshocked. Lucy watched her mother die in her arms, and even on her deathbed, Carol refused to apologize for all the hurt she caused her daughter, instead doubling down on her loyalty to Rittenhouse. Wyatt regained his wife, only to learn that this entire time, she’s been secretly betraying and manipulating him — and she’s now pregnant with his child. And Jiya, poor Jiya, has spent the last three years struggling to survive in the 19th-century, tormented by visions of her boyfriend’s death — and no matter how hard she tried, she still wasn’t able to stop it from happening.
The entire team is grieving, when suddenly, the impossible happens: A second Lifeboat lands in the bunker, and who should pop out but Lucy and Wyatt themselves, both looking like grizzled action heroes. (Wyatt’s got a beard, and Lucy’s sporting a killer bob.) They’re both looking a bit worse for the wear, but they come bearing hopeful news. “You guys wanna get Rufus back or what?” Lucy asks herself.
And that’s how the episode ends, in a cliffhanger that completely rewrites the rules of the show and opens up infinite possibilities. From the get-go, the show has made it clear that a time machine can be used to meddle in the past, but once you cross personal timelines, that’s where things get sticky. A person can’t go back and change their own personal history; otherwise, the team would’ve been able to stop Flynn from stealing the Mothership in the first place. But Flynn previously teased that more short-term and recent time travel was possible, as it was an older, future Lucy who went back and gave him her journal. It looks like somehow, future Wyatt and Lucy have figured out how to do that, and their first order of business is getting Rufus back.
So where do we go from here? Sure, the show has killed off two of its major villains, Carol and Nicholas Keynes, but Emma and Jessica are still out there with the Mothership, and they both seem keen to continue Rittenhouse’s legacy. And now, with future Wyatt and Lucy here, there’s a whole new world of opportunity for the team, from potentially resurrecting Rufus to taking down Rittenhouse for good. As season finales go, this one is a doozy. Here’s hoping this isn’t the end of the line for the Time Team.