Timeless Recap: Message in a Bottle

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Malcolm Barrett as Rufus, Abigail Spencer as Lucy, Matt Lanter as Wyatt. Photo: Sergei Bachlakov/NBC
Timeless
Show
Timeless
Episode Title
Stranded
Season
1
Episode
7
Editor’s Rating
5/5

Let's make like this week's episode of Timeless and jump right in. Abandoning all pretense of an introduction, "Stranded" kicks off mid-chase in 1754 — a change I appreciated in retrospect, although in the moment I thought my cable was messed up — while our Scooby Gang tries to get back to their time machine. But before they can get there, they're held at gunpoint by a Frenchie identified by Lucy as "the only man George Washington ever surrendered to." "No history, not right now!" Wyatt responds, the first of several instances this hour when Timeless cuts the tension amid impossibly high stakes with a little one-liner banter. And just as I'm wishing that their captor, who's been messing with Wyatt's pistol, accidentally blows his head off à la Marvin in Pulp Fiction, Wyatt insults him, uses the tip of his bayonet to cut himself loose (clever!) and puts a bullet through the guy's abdomen. Our time-traveling trio is on the run once more.

"We still haven't even figured out why Flynn is here," Lucy says, wondering if he maybe wants to change the outcome of the French-Indian War. Just then — gasp! yes, I audibly gasped right here — we discover that the entire journey has been a ruse, with Flynn's henchmen trying to destroy the prototype and abandon the gang stuck in colonial times! "That was our ride," Rufus says in a Captain Obvious moment after Flynn's goons take a chunk out of the machine's (definitely not "flux") capacitor. "Our last chance to get back to the 21st century — we're trapped here." Dun, dun, DUN!

So this week's premise is quite the switcheroo, with our usual straightforward procedural replaced by a one-off bottle episode. At first, I thought this setup was meant to serve as a morality play following last week's series of reveals about who's been less than truthful. I anticipated several grave platitudes dished out "Five Characters in Search of an Exit"–style, or at least a lot of bickering and posturing. (Wyatt, sarcastically: "Yeah, we're really working together, aren't we?") And just as it seemed like things were headed in that direction, and I was getting worried that we'd wind up with a lot of conversational filler, the episode surprised me yet again by taking a turn for the action-packed.

Rufus determines that he can (maybe) fix the capacitor with ye olde-fashioned blacksmithing. He also remembers the contingency protocol designed for just such a stuck-out-of-time emergency. Thus, multiple plotlines unfurl: Rufus leaves a literal message in a bottle for Mason Industries to find buried underground in 2016, then the gang's off to Fort Duquesne for him to fashion a replacement gizmo. Meanwhile, back at HQ, the woefully underutilized Jiya finally gets a story to sink her teeth into, as Connor chides her to "stop moping like a bloody idiot" and get to work locating Rufus's message. Connor also fields a call from Rittenhouse guy, a.k.a. Lucy's real dad, a.k.a. Benjamin Cahill, and rather than kowtowing to him as per usual, he gets all up in his grill by asking why a "young, untenured professor was chosen for something this important […] Makes me wonder if strings weren't pulled for Lucy to get the job."

This may be a teeny point, but I found all these little details super-satisfying because they finally answered some long-pestering questions I've had about the show. Yes, why was a young, untenured professor chosen for something this important? I've wondered that since day one. And I've always assumed that wanting an explanation was just too realistic a request to make of genre TV. Likewise, I'm so glad the series finally picked up the Rufus-Jiya romance it had teased in the pilot and then left dormant. Honestly, I was beginning to question whether that had ever really happened. Don't gaslight me, Timeless!

En route to Fort Duquesne, the gang gets captured by natives and are nearly killed by a spellbinding female tribal chief (who I'd swear was played by Tilda Swinton's twin) before Rufus and his undying loyalty saves them all. It's funny: I assumed this would be a Wyatt-Lucy–heavy episode because of their leftover trust issues, but it really turned into a Rufus episode, didn't it? Rufus the moral compass, Rufus the ladies' man, Rufus the metallurgical improviser, Rufus the punch-line generator ("I just wiped my butt with some leaves").

So the gang finally gets to Fort Duquesne and everything's going great. While Rufus is off teaching himself metalsmithing like it got downloaded into his brain Matrix-style, Lucy and Wyatt are having a madcap old time in a hilarious little subplot that involves them trying to outsmart Dr. Quinn, Medicine Man. (I was honestly begging Wyatt to just deck the guy before Lucy finally agreed and said, "Hit him!") Then they get made by the French (another "gasp!" moment for me) and skedaddle. Meanwhile, Connor and Jiya retrieve Rufus's subterranean message, only to find that it's all been erased save for two ominous words: "death" and "millennium." Things aren't looking good until they start swapping Rufus stories, which leads Jiya to realize that Rufus was talking about "what the Death Star did to the Millennium Falcon" … and voila! There's a plan to guide the prototype back home to Mason Industries HQ.

I have to give Timeless credit for the kitchen-sink strategy it pulled off this week. Even without camera time for Flynn (which is kind of weird, but I didn't miss him because he's still not a very well-fleshed-out character) this episode had everything: Romance! Slapstick! Star Wars references! Chocolate-covered Twinkies! Callbacks about chocolate-covered Twinkies! And yet, the hour didn't feel disjointed or overstuffed or like it was trying too hard. If all that weren't enough, we finally witness a breakthrough in Scooby Gang camaraderie when the episode ends with Lucy, Wyatt, and Rufus going out for an after-work drink together. Aww! (I'll quibble here only to say that Rufus should be off making good on that lovely kiss Jiya planted on him.) Lucy brings up the journal she will allegedly write in the future. "You don't want to write a journal? Don't write it," Wyatt tells her. "If you're not happy with the history that Flynn has predicted for you, then rewrite it." I'll end on a hopeful wish: Journal or no, just keep it away from this show as long as possible. It's going great and getting better with every episode.