Synopsis: A private company builds a time machine, which is promptly hijacked by criminals attempting to change the history of America. To stop them, history professor Lucy, soldier Wyatt, and engineer Rufus are sent back as well.
Series: First season is airing.
I’ve Watched: First episode.
Verdict: Mostly a missed opportunity.
The pilot episode could definitely have been better, but pilots are notorious for being bad, so take this first episode review with a grain of salt. Or at least an understanding that many shows improve after their first few episodes. Personally, I’d call this episode average–good enough, but after watching masterworks like Stranger Things or Orphan Black, it’s hard to settle. There are some interesting concepts here, but the execution is a little shaky.
I do like some of the ideas. There are obviously secrets to be discovered about each of the characters. Lucy might have ties she doesn’t even know about to the criminals. Rufus is being forced into doing something–we don’t know what–behind his team’s back.
Then there was one especially intriguing moment where the bad guys prevented a disaster from happening by using their knowledge of the future. Which is a little awkward for our protagonists, given that they’re supposed to stop them. It could have put them in the morally ambiguous position of choosing between the greater good and the immediate good. But the story didn’t go that way, only toying with the concept long enough to show how cool it would be.
The characters are interesting on the surface–especially Lucy–but too shallow. For example, Wyatt breaks ranks fast because he meets a woman who reminds him of his late wife, and becomes hung up on saving her. (Also, flirting with her, which is super weird.) This just isn’t enough. People aren’t interchangeable like that. If the show wanted us to believe something about this woman reminded him of his wife, it needed to make us understand what. It needed to lay more groundwork in letting us know about his wife, then draw parallels between the two women. It needed the resemblance to be more than strictly visual, and Wyatt needed to interact with her for more than three minutes. Otherwise, we don’t feel his motivation. We don’t really understand who he cares about, or how it’s possible to take one look at a woman and turn her into a surrogate for someone you lost.
There was one scene that I think typifies both the positives and negatives of how Timeless works. Lucy goes to see her comatose mother, takes out a snickers bar, then puts it on the table–on top of a pile of other snickers bars. We immediately know that her mother likes the candy bar and that she’s been unconscious long enough that the others have been untouched. This lets us feel Lucy’s desperation–she keeps bringing more every day in the hopes that her mother will be awake enough to enjoy it, but every time she walks into the room, that hope is crushed.
This scene is both good and bad. It gives us a lot of information and an understanding of Lucy’s emotional state with one very concise shot. That’s impressive, from a storytelling perspective, and it’s clever. So long as nothing makes us think too hard about it, it comes off as a great scene.
But if it has to stand up to scrutiny, then it sacrifices something in believability. In this scene, Lucy is the character who matters, and her mother is a prop rather than a person. Would anyone really keep bringing the same candy bar to a comatose relative who wasn’t waking up, and piling it on a side table? That’s way too much candy for a sick person to wake up to. It gives the audience a sense of Lucy’s despair, but if Lucy’s mother had ever woken up, she’d sense her daughter’s despair in it, too. The pile of candy becomes a burden to the person who’s actually in the hospital bed, and that makes Lucy seem inconsiderate.
Obviously, we’re not supposed to read too much into the scene. But that’s exactly what makes the entire show feel so shallow. We’re not supposed to read too much into anything. This would have been fine in a show that otherwise didn’t take any obvious shortcuts, but Timeless isn’t that show. I can handle plot holes in an otherwise engaging story–as proven by Legends of Tomorrow–but here, the wrong shortcuts are taken too often, and character work suffers. Maybe if there was something else to engage me, maybe if the plot or concepts were tackled in a strong and interesting way, I’d be fine with it. But something has to stand out, in a good way.
I’ll give it a few more episodes. The best thing about the show so far is Lucy, who’s got this fascinating mix of expertise, confidence, and awkwardness. Maybe Timeless will manage to find its stride, but it’s got to start leaning on its strengths. And fixing what it’s done with Wyatt, because right now, how he treats people is off-putting.