Timeless Recap: Spies Like Us

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Timeless - Season 1
Goran Visnjic as Flynn, Malcolm Barrett as Rufus, Abigail Spencer as Lucy, Matt Lanter as Wyatt. Photo: Sergei Bachlakov/NBC
Timeless

Timeless

The Capture of Benedict Arnold Season 1 Episode 10
Editor's Rating 4 stars

How can a society endure “idiotic, unenlightened times” when “democracies are too chaotic” and “peasants can’t govern themselves?” Must we resort to “tyranny disguised as democracy”? While there may be no better historical figure to serve as a conduit for these questions than Benedict Arnold, the most well-known traitor to the American republic, the Timeless mid-season finale also suggests a few low-key ways to upturn an effed-up patriarchy. Like, for example, how you can do it by chilling with some mustard chicken and video games.

As we’ve seen during previous opening sequences, we begin with Lucy eating a home-cooked meal on upscale tableware. So why so glum, Lucy? Are you dining again with that shadowy fiancé of yours? Nope — surprise! Lucy’s actually supping with Agent Christopher and her — double surprise! — wife! Christopher invited Lucy over to ask a favor: She needs her to store a thumb drive that’s loaded with family photos aboard the Lifeboat. “Promise you’ll show it to me and tell me everything you know about tonight,” Christopher pleads. “I need to know they existed.” Excuse me, Agent Christopher, surely you and your wife won’t mind if I use one of your fine linen napkins as a snot rag because … sob, sniff, sob.

Meanwhile, Connor Mason shows up lit at Jiya’s apartment, where she and Rufus are playing video games and waiting for pizza to arrive. (Timeless has become wicked good at hilarious, half-mumbled throwaway lines. This week, that talent is put to use when Mason is asked if he’s drunk and replies, “No … yes … slightly.”) He tells Rufus that Rittenhouse knows he’s been tampering with the secret recordings and that if he does so again, “I can’t protect you or your family anymore. I really am very sorry. Good night.”

Did you catch the new world order in those two scenes? If not, let’s review: An interracial lesbian couple of color dine in their expensively appointed home with a white woman. Then, a black billionaire barges in on his two genius employees, also an interracial couple of color. (Props to Jiya on the swanky rental pad!) Not one word they speak is about any character’s gender, skin color, or sexuality. Folks, if we can just time-travel to this place, the future will be beautiful.

Back in the darker ages, the Scooby Gang is sent to find Flynn during the Revolutionary War — specifically, at the moment when Benedict Arnold’s plot to turn over West Point to the British goes sour. We learn lots of great historical trivia about Arnold, including the fact that he was a “grade-A douchesnozzle” who once spent “$80,000 on one bottle of wine.” (Talk about a coastal elite!) Also, General George “Your Excellency” Washington was apparently the John Wayne of his day, spouting dialogue like, “And what the hell are you doing here?” Meanwhile, Flynn arrives under the guise of Austin Roe, a real-life spy. (Seriously, Timeless: We could really use a Pop Up Video filter, but for history stuff. Think about it.) He tells the Scooby Gang, “I need your help.” Ooh, this is gonna be good.

Flynn wants to locate and interrogate Arnold about the key that Bonnie and Clyde had in last week’s episode. He shows them the paper scroll he retrieved using that key, which states that Arnold was a founding member of Rittenhouse. In exchange for their support, he’ll hand over the Mothership — which seems shocking to the Scooby Gang and me, because then what is Timeless about anymore? Flynn replies exasperatedly that once he’s gotten to the bottom of Rittenhouse, “Why would I keep taking these God-forsaken trips?” (I think my mother once said the same thing about our annual family vacation.) He sweetens the deal by offering intel on the guy who killed Wyatt’s wife. Lucy takes the most convincing, but ultimately the gang’s all in.

Question: What about the fact that Rittenhouse funded Mason Industries’ explorations into time travel? If you destroy Rittenhouse, wouldn’t you automatically lose your ride home? You know, since it’ll never be invented? This may be one of those don’t-think-too-hard sci-fi conundrums we just have to live with.

Anyway, interrogate Arnold they do, with Lucy and her vast encyclopedic knowledge leading the way. Even more good stuff about the real-life Arnold follows. “When it came time for your promotion to major general, Congress just passed you over, didn’t they?” she asks him. “And what did Washington do for you? Nothing.” Arnold insists he’s sticking with Rittenhouse because “he’s going to give me the future that I deserve.” Exsqueege me — he?! Yep, turns out Rittenhouse “isn’t a they. It’s one person.” Hilarious!

En route to Rittenhouse’s house, there’s a heart-to-heart between Flynn and Lucy about what he’ll do after his mission ends. He says he’ll hug his wife and child before leaving them, because “what kind of husband or father could I be after what I’ve done?” In retrospect, that’s clearly just a bit of business solely meant to set up the big showdown later on when Flynn wants to kill Rittenhouse Jr. Not my favorite narrative crutch, as it’s all a bit too literal, but fine.

Things get a lot more literal when they arrive at Rittenhouse’s Creepy Fun House of Clocks and Courtesans and encounter his son John, clearly a Child of the Corn who took a wrong turn out of the fields somewhere in eastern Pennsylvania. It’s he who actually spouts his evil father’s retrograde hogwash about peasants and democracies. “Peasants can’t govern themselves,” he explains. “An illusion of a voice … Father says that’s what democracy’s for.” In a rueful bit of irony, Lucy asks him, “What do you believe, John?” He replies, “No one’s asked me that before.”

Finally, like Lost’s Man in Black (or Jacob?), David Rittenhouse himself arrives. He’s macabre and self-aware and grotesque and leering, and I dug him more and more with each passing second of his extended scene. Surely, Timeless can’t just make this guy a one-and-done character, right? Why did we have to move so fast to meet him? It’s only been a mere ten episodes. [Insert lengthy diatribe about TV shows rush-delivering their Big Moments to keep precious eyeballs hooked, but how doing so can backfire because it’s like, welp, that’s over.]

There’s impending doom as Wyatt and Flynn look like goners, until Rufus arrives to save the day. Wyatt and Flynn do that super-badass thing where you stand back to back to fight people off in a circle. Unfortunately, but a moment later, Flynn kills Rittenhouse. Welp, that’s over.

Except for one not-so-minor detail: John Rittenhouse has escaped and Flynn wants him dead, too. Like a man possessed, he hunts John down and tries to screw up the fortitude to pull the trigger. Lucy comes out and throws herself in front of the boy, recalling their earlier conversation, as well as one of the overarching themes Timeless has rammed home on numerous occasions. “We all have choices,” she tells Flynn. “We can decide to be something different.”

Question: Why not just bring John back to the future? If he’s there, he can’t grow up to form Rittenhouse in his father’s image, and then you wouldn’t have to kill him. How about that?

Instead, John escapes and Flynn goes on a rage. He yanks Lucy into the Mothership, seemingly to time-travel to some other era where he can show her how bad things will get because Rittenhouse still exists. Poof! Mid-season finale over.

Here’s the thing: I was dreading a mid-season cliffhanger so shocking and vexatious and stomach-gnawing that it would make me feel like, Arghhhh, I can’t even. The kind of ending, in other words, that would burrow into my mind for the next several weeks without a resolution. This ending, while totally surprising and unexpected, feels pat by comparison. Rittenhouse is still a thing and Rufus and Wyatt will go after Flynn and get Lucy back and that’ll be that and we’ll keep doing the procedural thing for the rest of the season. Although this wasn’t quite the crescendo I was anticipating, I’m grateful for the reprieve and the lack of agita. See you one month into the future, Timeless.

Timeless Recap: Spies Like Us