Two guys and a girl walk into a Nazi-occupied palace. What unfolds is the best episode of Timeless yet: "Party at Castle Varlar" is a tart, efficient hour stuffed with cool espionage, nifty historical tidbits, earnest emotion, unexpected twists, and a sweet pop-culture cameo from the original 007 himself.
Our preamble to history is smartly condensed this time around, with no long-winded opening scene about Lucy's tumultuous personal life back home. Instead, we cut to the chase with a more narrative-packed setup and our Scooby Gang already assembled at Mason HQ. Jiya, the smart-cookie computer whiz who deserves way more screen time than she gets, comes up with a clever way to determine where Flynn and his gang are hiding, pinpointing the location by tracking localized drains on the power grid. That leads to a pressure cooker of a scene in which Flynn and Co. (including Anthony, mid-bomb-assembly) get the hell out of 2016 while the Feds are pounding down their door.
"Party at Castle Varlar" succeeds because it counterbalances those bigger action sequences with smaller, character-driven moments. I liked it when Wyatt revealed he speaks four languages and adored it when he later made sure to assert, in an otherwise throwaway line, that when he says he loves James Bond, he's talking about the books as much as the movies. There is also a nice shot of Rufus mulling over his recorder, letting us know he's weighed down by his spying on Lucy and Wyatt for Mason (and ostensibly for Rittenhouse). These are the kinds of wrinkles in Timeless I really enjoy.
And so, off goes the Scooby Gang to Germany circa December 1944. The goal? To thwart Flynn's apparent attempt to give the Nazis the bomb. Just as this episode starts to unfold like last week's visit to Rat Pack–era Vegas — complete with vague, cheesy, back-of-the-head shots of Hitler — who should arrive from Her Majesty's Secret Service but Ian Fleming himself, cleverly sliding into the action under the guise of a Nazi soldier. "Perhaps you can tell by my accent, but I'm not German, you idiot," Fleming intones as only a sassy Brit can. "I swear, you Americans, you couldn't stand out more if you tried." And then he says the most sassy-Brit thing ever when Rufus shows up a beat later and he deadpans, "I stand corrected." (This is easily Timeless's funniest episode yet, too.)
A guest-star spot has got to be one of the toughest gigs in the acting biz, the way an actor has to hold his own among any number of established characters, so I must give big props to Sean Maguire (one of those been-around-forever character actors; geez, anyone else remember Off Centre? The Class?) for inhabiting his part so deeply and naturally. I dare say I reacted to his magnetic onscreen presence much like the Scooby Gang did, with my stomach slightly aflutter. Never has a line on Timeless felt so historically accurate as when Wyatt insists, "That's Ian Fleming. The Ian Fleming."
But what's most intriguing about Fleming is how Lucy, Wyatt, and Rufus all see themselves and their work reflected in him. To Wyatt, he is a specter (Bond pun intended) of his grandfather, who was probably fighting on a frontline nearby, and a reminder of those pure, good-versus-evil mores that compelled Wyatt to become a soldier in the first place. To Lucy, he is a kinda-humorous, kinda-weird romantic foil. ("Dude, James Bond just hit on Lucy.") And why not? Girl deserves some strange. To Rufus, he's a moral litmus test with regards to his undercover Rittenhouse reconnaissance. "I don't consider what I do lying," Fleming tells Rufus with a matter-of-fact sense of pride. "Allies, contacts, and women — never trust. Only the mission." So not only does "Party at Castle Varlar" come complete with cool espionage, nifty historical tidbits, heartfelt emotion, unexpected twists, and a sweet pop-culture cameo, but it also throws in a little Greek tragedy at the end when Rufus, newly emboldened by his clear-eyed loyalty to Lucy and Wyatt, capitulates once more to Rittenhouse when they mess with his satellite radio (that beat could've been more high-stakes, no?) and ultimately threaten his family.
Oh geez, I'm traveling too far into the future! Back at the rocket site, Fleming and the Scooby Gang determine that the nuclear pit hasn't been installed yet when a zoot-suited Flynn and his henchmen show up with aerospace engineer and future NASA engineer Wernher von Braun, this week's "The More You Know" historical figure. "If von Braun is so important to America, why didn't Flynn just kill him?" Wyatt asks, a question that eventually prompts a big lightbulb moment when Lucy realizes his real plan is to turn von Braun over to the Soviets so they can win the Cold War. It's all so very James Bond meets Indiana Jones meets Buck Rogers — so much double-crossing intrigue and swashbuckling do-gooding and sci-fi geekdom! I dig it.
Lucy, who has been uncharacteristically quiet and timid this week, finally opens up to Wyatt about what's bothering her. I'm not usually a fan of "telling, not showing" backstories, but I've got to give Timeless credit: The scene where Wyatt and Lucy exchange sad tales is pretty heartfelt. I loved Wyatt's takeaway, which I think counts as the series's first legitimate life lesson: "You want to know why you're doing this? Figure out what you're fighting for and you'll be okay." And I really loved Lucy and Wyatt's Bogart and Bacall–esque banter, subtly setting the groundwork for whenever these two finally fall for each other:
Lucy: "Don't you know how to knock?"
Wyatt: "I did, twice."
Wyatt: "Get over the hump or crack up."
Lucy: "How do I get over the hump?"
Wyatt: "You talk about what's bothering you."
Lucy: "You never talk."
Wyatt: "I'm over the hump."
We finally arrive at the titular party at Castle Varlar, with Lucy enlisted by Fleming to help track down von Braun. As per usual, Flynn gets to her first. (From here on out, this should be an "everybody drink!" moment.) Apparently, Ian Fleming leaves everyone on this show more starstruck than Abraham Lincoln, Sinatra, or JFK, because even Flynn can't help sneaking in a Bond joke. ("You found your way to the British spy. Love your movies." Fleming: "What movies?") Whiz-bang-boom, Rufus and Wyatt set fire to the rocket, then Wyatt swoops in and saves Fleming and Lucy. Just as Wyatt's on the verge of killing von Braun for conspiring with the Nazis, Lucy suddenly remembers that those bendy-line figures she noticed earlier indicate a fireplace escape route out of the castle. Cue yet another great punchline from Wyatt: "They called them priest holes … it was in Skyfall."
Just as this week's prologue was an above-average one, the epilogue exceeded all expectations for me. A new Bond novel complete with Lucy, Wyatt, and Rufus — what a totally clever twist! And although I still can't believe we know nothing about Rittenhouse (save that nameless man who threatens Rufus at the end), at least a new wrinkle develops when Anthony reveals he'd converted the nuclear pit into a battery for the baddies' time-traveling pod that will last a whopping 300 years, and, more important, throw Mason Industries off their scent on future journeys through the fourth dimension.
Aww. I'm fighting for you, Timeless! More of this, please!