This post was sponsored by one of our Patreon donors in support of Who Against Guns! With his donation to that fundraiser, Clinton won the ability to recommend any show for us to watch and then write about. He picked NBC’s Timeless.
All I knew about Timeless before I started was that its fans were willing to die for it – or at least stage as many social media campaigns it would take to keep it going until it could reach a satisfying ending. It was a “huh” moment for an outsider when NBC un-canceled the show and decided to bring it back for season 2 – a pretty rare thing in network TV land. Either the show dies for good or someone else saves it. But it seemed fitting for this genre-defying series that its network turned back the clock and reversed its decision. And lucky for us it did, because what a sophomore season it was.
Sadly, Timeless was canceled again after season 2, and again, the dedicated took up the cause. The result of that wasn’t the third season they were looking for, but instead a finale movie to let the writers wrap up this adventure. It would have be cruel to deny them that after that last finale, which was breathlessly exciting and left a lot of ends that need tying.
So at this point, you may be wondering why it’s worth getting into Timeless at all, seeing that it’s almost over. But that’s one argument for it. A binge involves 16 existing episodes, plus the two still to come. And you know you’re getting a satisfying end to the story. It’s not very often that a beloved but little-watched series gets to wrap up its narrative instead of ending on a cliffhanger that’ll keep fans up at night until the end of time, waiting for a resolution that will never come. (Right, Pitch? Selfie?)
So, without spoiling too much, here’s why you should listen to the evangelizing of all the Clockblockers in your life and give Timeless a try:
1. It’s Not Prestige TV, Thank God
If every show were The Romanoffs, blood would steadily drip from our eyes and ears every time we turned on our TVs. It’s not that Timeless isn’t well-made, because it is. It’s just a little bit silly, in that really wonderful way that a lot of network shows looking to appeal to a broad audience are. What you’re asked to accept as reality in the pilot is a lot – that an Elon Musk-type billionaire has been secretly working on not one but several time machines, that the federal government would throw two civilians (Abigail Spencer as Lucy, a historian, and Malcolm Barrett as Rufus, an engineer who worked on the ship) and a ~loose canon~ military man (Matt Lanter as Wyatt) into a prototype to chase a serial killer with a to-do list that spans history (Goran Visnjic as Flynn, or as I will still call him always: Luka), that this doesn’t air on Syfy. But if you’re willing to shrug your shoulders, suspend your disbelief, and take the ride, it’s totally worth it. You can enjoy what’s tongue-in-cheek about Timeless (which seems to have a sense of humor about itself) and respect what’s deadly serious.
Because beyond entertaining you, the series has another goal. “History’s a whitewash,” as the Twelfth Doctor once said. And almost every episode of Timeless tells the story (with the addition of a rag-tag group of out-of-their-depth time travelers) of someone that the overwhelmingly white and male mainstream history texts either gloss over or ignore. Flynn has stolen the newest version of the time machine – the mothership – to try to wipe out the people who killed his family before they’re even born, which involves him and his allies dropping into important points in the past and taking people out. (This is MUCH more complicated than it’s first presented to be, as you may have guessed. But the unraveling is part of the fun.) Understandably, the government is concerned about all the paradoxes (more on that later), and want Flynn either captured or dead. Of course, he proves more difficult to capture than they’d hoped, so each episode finds the team in the pre-mothership (or, the lifeboat) tracking Flynn and attempting to stop him from drastically changing history, often teaming up with those lesser sung heroes who changed the game without their due fanfare. (Kim pointed out that the “Rosa” episode of this season of Doctor Who has a similar relationship with the past, in that it involves the Doctor and her companions helping to ensure that events play out as they’re supposed to.)
So though Timeless isn’t exactly accurate, it’ll send you down a wiki hole every episode, and leave you marveling over its guest casting most of the time. And if you’re a stan of a particular moment in time, the show probably at least gets close to it. (Me, during the Chicago World’s Fair episode: Please, give me H.H. Holmes, PLEASE give me H.H. Holmes…)
2. That Ship You Think You’re Shipping? You’re Not
Unless you’re talking about Rufus and Jiya (Claudia Doumit), then yes, you are, and you always will.
Timeless is a glorious OTP fake-out. Because it just seems rational in the beginning to ship whip-smart, practical Lucy with sad-eyed widower Wyatt. And that’s enough, for a while, even though they bond a little TOO much over his grief for his dead wife. But over time a new OTP begins to emerge and it’s oh so sexy and forbidden.
Without spoiling it too much, Lucy isn’t unknown to Flynn before she’s put on the team whose only purpose is to either kill him or bring him to justice. They’re connected in some mysterious way that puts Lucy back on her heels, but involves a lot of close-talking and eyebrow raises and promises of things looking very different a little farther down the timeline. As the universe of the show starts to open up and new, more dangerous villains are revealed, there’s a truce of sorts and even some teamwork. Meanwhile, Wyatt is showing off his boy scout version of toxic masculinity, doing Lucy dirty and keeping secrets from the rest of the team because he and he alone thinks it’s best. Who needs another man deciding what they should do? Not you, and not Lucy Preston. Not when Luka from ER is waiting right around the corner with the face and the accent and the hint of danger. Yeah, he’s a remorseless killer but is that all that much worse than a remorseful one? As least he’s always told Lucy the truth.
All of this is to say, it’s all about Garcy. And it would be bold and cool as hell for Timeless to make it end game.
3. It Doesn’t Gloss Over Race & Gender
Like I said, Timeless is all about deconstructing the establishment version of history, which alone justifies its existence. (And the cast itself is beautifully diverse, in every way. From main characters to extras.) It’s delightfully subversive – and though it obviously finesses history into a fictional sci-fi narrative, it’s always accurate when it comes to how dangerous time travel would be for women and people of color. Many, MANY episodes take pains to show how much easier it is for Wyatt to move through these spaces than it is Rufus, and sometimes Lucy. On many occasions, the two of them have to appear subservient, to downplay their intelligence and their role on the team, or to take on an identity that’s demeaning. The show wants you to feel uncomfortable about that and for WYATT to feel uncomfortable about that. Because even though it’s not his fault that he isn’t subject to the same humiliations, he needs to be aware of the imbalance. And that’s what privilege is, kids.
4. Paradoxes Are Fun
The Doctor may laugh when Bill Potts worries about stepping on a butterfly and changing history, but Timeless deals in paradoxes. In fact, the first and most shocking one comes at the end of the pilot, when one of the team’s life changes forever thanks to their first failed mission.
And there’s more where that came from. The stakes are high on this show because it’s not only possible that one or all of them could die on a hop, but also that they could unknowingly act in a way that would result in them returning home to a present that they don’t recognize. Things, institutions, people – they are all affected by the team’s (and Flynn’s) work. Sometimes the changes are harmless and cute, like when Wyatt, Rufus, and Lucy appear in history books. And sometimes they are devastating collapses of the reality they knew. Add to that that the enemy they’re up against is INTENT on creating paradoxes, and you have some seriously extreme reversals to look forward to.
One of the most satisfying arcs to play out is Lucy’s loosening restrictions of what she will or won’t do when they’re traveling. As a historian, she comes to the mission determined to keep the past in tact. But she starts to make decisions in the moment, based on the people who she’s with and her own survival, which is much more interesting than having a 24/hour buzzkill on the payroll.
5. Rufus Deserves The Entire World, LEAVE HIM ALONE
Rufus Carlin is the GLUE, okay? In addition to piloting the lifeboat, he keeps the team together, no matter where Wyatt and Lucy are on the will-they-won’t-they scale. His crush on Jiya stems from respect and consideration, and they work well together because he values her intelligence and courage. As I said above, he has to put up with a lot as a black man traveling through time. And he does, because bigger picture. But he’s no pushover.
Rufus probably has the most interesting backstory of the core three, and it means that he feels an obligation to do what he does. Though some plot twists force him to decide what of his success he owes to other people and whether or not there’s a debt there.
Since #SaveRufus is the tagline of the finale movie, I don’t consider it a spoiler. I’ll just say this: Rufus has to live, because he deserves it. His moral compass is the most true, he didn’t ask for any of this, and he’s stuck his neck out farther than anyone else. Go get our boy.
6. The Names And The Fashion
Timeless is also really funny!! When the team goes back in time, they adopt new personas using the same strategy we all would: by stealing from pop culture. (i.e. Lucy introducing herself as “Dr. Quinn,” a medicine woman.) I won’t list more here because I don’t want to spoil them for you, but they’re guaranteed to make you smile and lighten the mood a little bit. And in Rufus’s case, he uses names to try on heroic identities and cast himself as men he looks up to, which says a lot about his character as well.
AND THEN, there’s the fashion. I love a top-secret government operation that involves an extensive wardrobe room, and that’s what this is. It may not be bigger on the inside, but this collection may give the TARDIS’s a run for its money. Each trip involves a little bit of fancy dress, whether it’s embarrassing, glamorous, or uncomfortable. We stan three heroes who look damn good in clothing from every era.
7. We Need Somewhere Shows Like This Can Live
If Timeless can’t survive on network TV, what can? Much like we lost the mid-range theatrical feature about ten or so years ago, we’re in the process of losing any hour-long network drama that isn’t part of a larger franchise. Middle of the road scope doesn’t have to mean middle of the road quality, but I’d imagine that Timeless would be a tough sell to premium cable or streaming, because there’s something a little old-fashioned about it, in the best way. Part of the reason it didn’t find a big enough audience to keep it going is because Timeless isn’t a drop-in show – each adventure has its own storyline, but the larger arc is hugely important. So what happens to shows that aren’t “sexy” enough for premium cable but are too serialized for network? They might not get made anymore, and that’s the viewers’ loss.
Are you ready to let go of Timeless? Let us know why you love it in the comments.
Featured Image Source: NBC