Timeless Recap: History’s Atomic Dustbin

Timeless - Season 1
Abigail Spencer as Lucy. Photo: Sergei Bachlakov/NBC


Atomic City Season 1 Episode 3
Editor's Rating 3 stars

Those who don’t learn from history are supposedly doomed to repeat it, but here’s the thing: What if repetition works? Like when you’re only three episodes into Timeless and it’s already clear that the template looks something like this: Lucy momentarily reflects on her destroyed personal life before being hastily summoned to Mason Industries HQ; Scooby Gang determines Flynn’s new time-travel destination; Gang chases Flynn through history; blah-zee-blah, doot-dee-doot; Gang returns to 2016 on yet another largely failed mission. As Ol’ Blue Eyes might sing, that’s life!

“Remember that? That was a perfect day, wasn’t it?” Lucy’s new fiancé-who-shall-remain-nameless (did they give his name? Actually, I don’t care) croons in her ear as she gazes at a meaningless-to-her photo of them strolling along the shore. “Yeah, the beach was … amazing,” she replies unconvincingly, leaving Dude to remind her, “I mean, it was the day we got engaged.” Ha! That is a good beat. Unfortunately, one good beat is usually the most this show can offer any given story line since there’s so much going on. Cue incoming text from Mason Industries. Bye, Dude!

Lucy arrives at “work,” meaning her secret mission that isn’t her actual career. (I just realized, Lucy is the only Scooby Gang member who’s taking on the preservation of civilization as an extracurricular. No wonder that absent-minded professor will never be granted tenure.) “What happened on September 21, 1962?” Agent Debbie Downer asks her. While Lucy’s all, “Let me Google that for you,” Rufus engages in another off-the-record, pre-flight confab with Mr. Mason. This time it’s about Anthony (played by Matt Frewer, a.k.a. the actor formerly known as Max Headroom). Mason tells Rufus that a half-hour before Flynn breached Mason’s lab and stole the mothership, Anthony dialed an unknown number that’s since been disconnected. Although Mason believes Anthony was serving as Flynn’s “inside assistance,” eternal good guy Rufus insists, “Anthony is the victim here. He was kidnapped.” I know I have already developed a snarkiness about Timeless, but about this I will never be snarky: I love Rufus’s earnestness and his slight dorkiness and pretty much everything about him.

Our time-traveling trio pilot themselves to Rat Pack–era Las Vegas on a hunch that Flynn will “‘JFK JFK one year early.” (Great line!) We’re taught that a floating craps game isn’t just an expression, but an actual pool accoutrement (WANT) and that before it was called Sin City, all those nearby nuclear detonations meant Vegas was known as Atomic City. We learn that JFK kept a sidepiece named Judith Campbell who also ran around with mob boss Sam Giancana. (Yep, already put this memoir on my reading list.) As Campbell watches a mushroom cloud erupt in the distance from the safety of their hotel window, Kennedy tells her, “It takes more than an atomic bomb to impress the president of the United States.”

To be honest, the back of JFK’s head tells her this, which raises an issue I’m gonna harp on for a minute. Three episodes in, Timeless remains undecided when it comes to the delicate issue of how to present historical figures. This isn’t a problem for lesser characters, like Giancana or Abraham Lincoln’s son last week, whose countenances we don’t know by heart. But how Timeless showcases famous faces like JFK or Honest Abe is … kind of a big deal? Because it will determine the show’s overall cheese factor? All I know is that Lincoln arrived last week as an animatronic figure from Disney World’s Hall of Presidents, this week they just give us glimpses of JFK from afar or from the back, and both are snort-worthy moments. So what I’m really saying is that cheese will be a main ingredient whichever way you slice it.

The Scooby Gang arrives at the Sands Casino on the hunt for Flynn and — in an example of history not repeating itself — Rufus proves the catalyst for getting them into Sinatra’s sold-out show when he swipes some waitstaff uniforms because, as he puts it, “I’m pretty much invisible.” This is a break from the previous two episodes, when Rufus was consigned to literally stand around outside a building while Lucy and Wyatt did their whatever-sleuthing. I found this change to be very refreshing. There’s so much about historical identity politics that Timeless can explore through Rufus and Lucy; I’d been wondering when the series would get around to making Lucy’s gender some sort of plot point. I can’t say I’m thrilled that tonight, it merely amounted to a Sands customer hitting on her, but it’s a start. (Also, it’s a nice beat when Lucy tucks her cash tip down her cleavage because, well, where else does she have to put it?)

Rufus happens upon Anthony downing booze at the bar and attempts to extricate him until he realizes that Anthony is really there of his own volition. Meanwhile, Judith is taken out of the Sinatra show by Flynn until Wyatt follows them and a fight ensues. A few moments later, when the Scooby Gang discusses Judith’s significance and Lucy informs Wyatt and Rufus that Judith used to pass messages between JFK and Giancana, Rufus has a great line: “Okay, this is some really Oliver Stone stuff right here.” Which is funny, but not true, because instead of grand conspiracy theories bandied about, here we reach the typical busywork portion of our Timeless hour, as various cat-and-mouse activities come to pass. Judith escapes Wyatt to help Flynn get some keys from a military general. Flynn then hands over the incriminating photos he has of Judith, but when she finds out she’s actually helped this guy gain access to an A-bomb, she is very upset. (You know, as one is.) Then the Scooby Gang intercepts Flynn, along with Anthony and various henchmen, in the middle of a highway. Flynn scurries off again, except this time our do-gooders think they’ve thwarted him since Rufus convinced Anthony to hand over a briefcase. Except they haven’t, because Rufus soon discovers that Anthony switched briefcases on him, so the plutonium “pit” is still with the bad guys.

Interwoven in all of this is the usual talk about whether “saving history” is really their job and what it’s like to “wake up one day and not recognize your own life.” There’s also another, almost gratuitous throwaway reference to this mysterious Rittenhouse whatnot when Flynn tells Anthony that he’s willing to kill Rufus “if that’s what it takes to wipe Rittenhouse from history.” (I should go back and catalog every Rittenhouse reference we’ve heard so far, because at this point I’m confused as to who’s pro-Rittenhouse and who’s anti-Rittenhouse.) Wyatt attempts the world’s most futuristic meet-cute when he sends a telegram to his future/dead wife to somehow prevent her death, but it doesn’t work. He tells Lucy he wanted to try it because it “worked in Back to the Future II,” which is funny, but Rufus already suggested a Back to the Future II–inspired scheme when he mused, “There’s like 54 years worth of baseball games we can bet on in here.” Plus — hello, plutonium?

In the end, the important takeaway is that Flynn and his cohorts not only ferried the pit to the present, but managed to bring along the rest of the bomb by leaving it buried in the desert for 50-plus years. I must admit: They fooled me with that casual shot of what looked like a grave being dug. I must also admit: While this episode was merely entertaining enough, I’m looking forward to what will hopefully be a bombshell next week.

Timeless Recap: History’s Atomic Dustbin