Remember the Alamo? I honestly don’t, so I couldn’t recall a thing I learned about it in high-school history before I watched this week’s Timeless. (My adolescence is such ancient history, I expect our Scooby gang to one day pay me a visit in homeroom.) Luckily, “The Alamo” not only provided a super-satisfying trip back in time, it also served as a neat little crash course in how Texas came to be.
The episode begins with William B. Travis penning his renowned “Victory or Death” letter, a show-opening device that seems hacky at first, with Travis’s written pleas voiced over sweeping shots of everyone’s favorite San Antonio tourist trap. But sneakily, that scene foretells the letter’s importance as a key plot device later on, not to mention a critical part of Texan independence. You know that old Chekovian chestnut about how a gun introduced in the first act must go off in the third? Between the letter and Wyatt’s smuggled-through-time grenades, we get a double dose of that in this hour.
But first, we’ve got some busywork to attend to: Wyatt, Lucy, and Rufus are facing pushback over their own mission in 2016. From least to most interesting, Lucy’s mom is yet again fretting over her daughter’s erratic schedule, questionable life choices, and secret new job, prompting Lucy to emotionally time-travel back to her own adolescence and be all, “I learned it from watching you, mom!” Then we’ve got Rufus and Mason rehashing their Rittenhouse standoff as the former tells the latter about the Mister Mysterious who showed up to hack his car in the middle of the night. Mason swears to Rufus, “You’re like a son to me,” but, dude, have you ever witnessed actual father-son interactions? Ideally, it’s not conducted with a perpetual smartest-Brit-in-the-room smirk on your face. Also, for the umpteenth time, we need more info on Rittenhouse. Lastly, there’s Wyatt being told by Agent Christopher and Agent Some New Guy that he’s being replaced on the Scooby Gang due to his failure to kill Flynn. Wyatt’s reaction to this news surprised me; he’s disappointed yet good-natured, revealing a world-weary acceptance of his flaws. “A guy like you doesn’t show up unless it’s to replace a guy like me,” Wyatt tells Agent New Guy, even offering to train his own replacement. “This is a results-oriented business and I haven’t delivered results.”
Emotionally speaking, this week is all about Wyatt. After previous episodes left him without much to do, let alone say or feel (I’m thinking specifically of “The Assassination of Abraham Lincoln”), the contours of his curious personality are now being sculpted in finer detail than I ever would have expected.
To wit: There are few things I love more than a well-done flashback. I mean, you could argue that nearly the whole of Timeless is a flashback of sorts, but what I’m talking about this week are Wyatt’s touching, character-deepening, slightly disturbing visions of his tours of duty in the Middle East and the men he left behind. After last week’s tête-à-tête between him and Lucy (when she opened up about her bad car accident), I certainly didn’t expect Wyatt’s sob story to be presented in such a visually sophisticated way. While I watched his first flashback, I initially and erroneously thought I was looking at Flynn’s time-traveling henchmen in action. Timeless can tell pretty obvious stories: If you travel back to Lincoln’s assassination or the Hindenburg disaster, you already know a good chunk of what you’re going to get. So to be surprised by this element of Wyatt’s backstory counts as not only refreshing, but necessary.
Better than any other episode so far, “The Alamo” manages to synthesize its narrative and historical to-do lists into one seamlessly action-packed plotline. Weaving the story around several famous figures gives everybody more to do. I loved Rufus’s fanboying over Davy Crockett. (Best line of the episode: “You’re Davy Crockett … [to guy standing next to him] He’s got the hat.”) And Flynn gets to engage in some intriguing double-crossing — a much better choice than his straightforward evildoing — as he attempts to play General Santa Anna and Colonel Travis against one another. While I still believe we need more info on Rittenhouse, we’re starting to get a few clues as to what Flynn’s overarching game plan might be. He didn’t choose to prevent the Battle of the Alamo, nor did he try to change its outcome; it seems he just wanted to prevent Travis’s “Victory or Death” letter from being published. Is his goal more about influencing propaganda than altering facts? Does he want to outright destroy America, or does he just want to destabilize American democracy to sow the seeds for some sort of sociopolitical revolution? (Insert Donald Trump reference here, natch.)
Aside from a well-done flashback, there are few things I love more than a kickass readying-for-battle montage. I don’t care if it’s Saving Private Ryan, The A-Team or Home Alone: If you splice together some footage of noble do-gooders arming themselves to the teeth with bullets, busted Christmas ornaments, or anything in between, while heart-stirring music swells to a patriotic crescendo, I’m swooning. When you take all the Alamo prep work and combine it with Wyatt’s heartrending plea to stay there and die rather than return to the present (“I can’t leave good men like this, not again”), my tears are flowing like the Rio Grande. It is Timeless at its most heartfelt.
Important question: Did you think Lucy and Wyatt were going to kiss in the middle of the Battle of the Alamo? Even more important follow-up question: Did you actually want them to? It was starting to feel like the show was about to go there, with Lucy cupping Wyatt’s face in her hands as she cries, “I don’t want anybody else. I trust you. You are the one that I trust.” I am suuuper glad that nothing happened. It’s way too early and it would’ve been way too obvious. Here’s a theory: If Timeless gets Wyatt and Lucy together before we get more info on Rittenhouse, then the show will jump the shark. (Besides, what would their couple name be? LucyAtt? Lyatt?)
Last week, I said that Timeless is at its best when it’s a little campy. This week, I may have to take that back. Aside from some nice fraternal banter between Rufus and Davy Crockett, “The Alamo” plays its proceedings in arrow-straight fashion, and it’s far better for it. This show keeps improving, and so long as we get some (say it with me!) more info on Rittenhouse soon, Timeless’s future should prove to be as engrossing as its past.