Timeless Recap: What’s Up, Doc?

Timeless - Season 1
Malcolm Barrett as Rufus, Abigail Spencer as Lucy. Photo: Sergei Bachlakov/NBC


The Watergate Tape Season 1 Episode 6
Editor's Rating 4 stars

Our sixth episode of Timeless takes us on the ride we’ve been waiting for. Yes, we finally get the knowledge drop on Rittenhouse! In fact, we get pretty much nothing but that sweet, sweet intel, as this week’s field trip to the Watergate era serves mostly as narrative window dressing against which Rittenhouse’s backstory unfolds.

Let’s outline what we now know:

1. The first rule of Rittenhouse is don’t talk about Rittenhouse. (Alternate pop-culture reference: Rittenhouse is Voldemort.) Rittenhouse Guy advises Rufus not to say “Rittenhouse” out loud.

2. Rittenhouse’s rapport with Mason Industries is pretty comfy. Connor Mason and Rittenhouse Guy are both in that aforementioned limo with Rufus, and while Connor seemed cowed by Rittenhouse in the past, he’s not afraid to tell Rittenhouse Guy to quit with the sass when he makes a cavalier comment about Rufus’s surveilled brother.

3. Rittenhouse has been around at least since the 1970s, since Rufus is given a number to call while he’s in that decade to report on the Scooby Gang’s goings-on. (Love that the digits were written old-fashioned-like with the “JK5” exchange.)

4. Rittenhouse isn’t out to retrieve or expose something, like Flynn is. Rather, its primary purpose seems to be keeping secrets secret. “It’s important no one hears what’s on that tape,” Rittenhouse Guy tells Rufus about President Nixon’s infamous 18 and a half minutes of missing White House audiotape. “Not you, not Lucy, not Flynn.”

5. Flynn is terrified of Rittenhouse: “We can’t discuss Rittenhouse here,” he tells Wyatt while holding him hostage in that old Lincoln hotel room. (Apparently, Flynn got the memo on the Voldemort thing.) “Rittenhouse plays by different rules, do you understand?”

6. I’ll paraphrase Flynn’s own words for this last one: Mason Industries’ successful foray into time travel was quietly bankrolled by Rittenhouse. Four nights after Flynn found out, his wife and daughter were shot dead in their home. Rittenhouse then framed him for those murders, forcing him into a life on the run. (Very A-Team-esque!) Flynn’s goal is therefore to “wipe Rittenhouse from the map.”

That last one is what Timeless now hinges on: Who are the real forces of good and the real forces of evil? How long will it take us and the Scooby Gang to be fully convinced of who’s bad and who’s good? How will alliances form in the wake of those revelations? In my recap of the pilot, I described Timeless as Quantum Leap meets Lost, but now I think another J.J. Abrams show is more apt: Alias, with its double agents carrying out triple-crossing loop-de-loops. Flynn pretty much confirms that loyalties will be realigned when he produces Lucy’s journal from the future. “She is going to write it a few years from now. It’s my guide,” Flynn says. “Apparently, she and I are going to be quite the team one day.” Or are they? Let’s not forget that tantalizing detail about certain passages in the journal resembling neither Lucy’s handwriting nor her voice.

Speaking of quite the team, Rufus and Lucy are tasked with pulling off this week’s ticktock: Retrieve that missing Nixon audio within five hours or Wyatt gets it. After paying a visit to Deep Throat (Rufus: “I know the porn one”), Rufus pieces together that their next clue lies with the Black Liberation Army, which he coincidentally knows a lot about because in college he “had a militant crush on a militant girl.” He then pulls a switcheroo on Lucy outside BLA HQ, telling her, “You should probably wait outside. You should be fine — just don’t make any eye contact.” If this series lives up to its potential, one day a writer much younger and more erudite than I will craft a terrific dissertation on Timeless and identity politics.

After a cute string of typical Timeless jokes (“What you mean, Miller Lite?” and “Kanye sounds made up”), the big twist of the episode arrives: The “doc” that Flynn seeks and Rittenhouse seeks to destroy isn’t a document, it’s a doc … tor. Specifically, a young African-American woman with a PhD in history (just like Lucy!) who was born into Rittenhouse and had been staying at the Watergate Hotel. She now wants to escape the organization’s clutches for good.

So here’s our latest piece of intel: Rittenhouse was founded in 1778. You don’t join Rittenhouse — like The Doc, you’re born into it. The names of members are never written down. Everything about them, as Flynn found, is off the books. And Rittenhouse “controls all of us.”

The funny part is, even though Rittenhouse has been The Matrix for more than two centuries, they’re as easily tricked as Wile E. Coyote. Rufus and Lucy pull a True Romance by simultaneously sending Flynn and Rittenhouse to The Doc’s BLA safe house moments after they sneak out, pitting the rivals against one another in a shoot-out. Not to worry, though: All is well when The Doc drives off into the sunset in her BLA-chauffeured lift to freedom.

Or at least, all is well for her. (Let’s hope we see more of The Doc in future episodes.) Our Scooby Gang is ultimately torn asunder by trust issues, first by Flynn telling Rufus and Wyatt about the one-on-one conversations he’s had over and through time with Lucy, and then by Rufus finally coming clean about his own secret audio recordings. The solution? “Rufus is going to be spying on Rittenhouse for us,” Wyatt says, to which Rufus replies, “Like a double agent? I can barely single agent.”

I must admit I find it somewhat implausible that Rufus got away with so much shoddy espionage during this episode, all while under the nose of a seemingly unavoidable Big Brother like Rittenhouse. (Then again, I can’t see how The Doc’s cross-country road trip from D.C. to San Diego would likewise manage to be carried out detection-free.) Rittenhouse Guy himself seems bemused by this strange turn of events when he asks Rufus during his post-Watergate debriefing, “What happened that day? Why did Flynn show up at that house?” And when Rufus asks how he knows about that stuff, Rittenhouse Guy slyly replies, “Who do you think was on the other end of that phone?”

But wait, there’s more!

In what can only be described as a kickass kicker, Lucy finally musters up the courage to knock on the door of one Benjamin Cahill, a man her mother identified in the previous episode as her real dad. Folks, call me willfully naïve — a bit of a Rufus, even — but I am not usually quick on the draw when it comes to guessing plot twists before they happen. But believe you me, I typed the phrase “Wanna bet it’s Rittenhouse Guy?” in my notes maybe 15 seconds before he came to the door. Damn!

This, of course, gives credence to The Doc’s statement that you must be born into Rittenhouse. It also suggests that Lucy will one day, like The Doc, go rogue from it. Maybe she’ll find out she’s in the organization, and then seemingly help to destroy it. That would certainly explain the journal.

I suspect we’ll find out soon enough. In the meantime, I’ll keep enjoying the ride. Any show geared toward obliterating the evil forces hell-bent on dominating the United States can count me in.

Timeless Recap: What’s Up, Doc?