I’m running out of ways to say that Timeless keeps getting better and better, so let’s try this: Did you ever think you’d see the day when a network drama left you thoroughly entertained while also teaching you the sort of historical trivia you’d normally only learn while bingeing a Ken Burns documentary?
I am now officially obsessed with the fact that Al Capone had a long-lost brother, and I credit my newfound obsession to guest star Mather Zickel as Richard Hart/Jimmy Capone. The guest-star quality curve on Timeless is a steep one; when the second episode featured a laughably surly John Wilkes Booth and an Abe Lincoln who looked like he belonged in Disney’s Hall of Presidents, I worried the show’s need for famous historical figures would be its undoing. Things improved quickly with wow performances from Roadies’ Jacqueline Byers as Bonnie Parker and Mr. Robot’s Michael Drayer as Harry Houdini. This week, Zickel carries the emotion of “Public Enemy No. 1” — who even needed the Scooby Gang around once they convinced him to pull the trigger on his brother? And who could soon forget the look on his face when he did? When Timeless yammers on about fate — like Flynn does in this episode, asking a priest, “What if you had the power to change the course of history?” — it can feel a little like, okay, we get it. Zickel asked that same question and let his character answer it for himself, all while saying very little. It’s a performance that makes Richard Hart seem totally relatable yet just as captivating as his famous little brother. And that’s why I’m obsessed.
Meanwhile, back at Rittenhouse-compromised HQ, the baddies from the NSA have decided that Rufus and Lucy’s new mission is to murder Flynn’s mother in Houston circa 1962. Of course, they won’t be the ones actually pulling the trigger; this week’s wannabe Wyatt is onboard for the job. “So you just want us to play wingman to the Terminator here?” Rufus clarifies. Well, joke’s on you, Terminator! Rufus does end up pulling a trigger, except it’s a tranquilizer gun to knock that dude out so they can take the time machine back to the present, pick up Wyatt, and chase Flynn to Chicago circa 1931.
In one of his sneakier roundabout strategies, Flynn curries favor with Capone by preempting his tax-evasion conviction, using that leverage to gain access to notoriously corrupt Chicago mayor (and yet another Rittenhouse member) William Hale Thompson. It’s a long and winding road before Flynn’s ultimate intention is revealed: He wants to know the exact details of Rittenhouse’s next get-together, which won’t happen until 1954. Along the way, the Scooby Gang tails him with help from famously “untouchable” federal agent Eliot Ness (yet another wonderful guest turn, this one from Supernatural’s Misha Collins). Then Ness gets gunned down in his rat-trap apartment — quite a shocker, no? — prompting Lucy to recommend Hart as their backup point person to infiltrate Capone’s inner circle.
As tantalizing as that whole story line is, with its surprising twists and turns, this episode is a superlative one due to what’s happening back at Mason Industries. First, Rufus hilariously trolls Mason by bugging up the computers. (When his little “Eat Me” message popped up, I was all, “BWAHAHAHA!”) “Rufus thinks he’s smarter than me? Well, I’ll handle this myself. You get the hell out!” Mason harrumphs to Jiya and everyone else within earshot. I love this slow destruction of Mason’s chrome-plated exterior as he grows ever more frustrated by his morally untenable position. Jiya is so right when she later compares him to the small guy behind the curtain in The Wizard of Oz. (To be fair, though, Mason comes off as equally badass when he asks Jiya, “Do you really think that this childish, plucky snark is going to help you?”)
After a couple more pitch-perfect jokes — Wyatt decides the gang’s made-up names in 1931 Chicago are “Connery, Costner, and Robert … De Niro,” then later says he can’t be put in old-timey jail because “I’m wearing button-fly jeans from the Gap” — we get to the final showdown between the brothers Capone. Al (shout-out to guest star Cameron Gharaee!) reveals that he owes Flynn one more favor: “To take out the colored fellow.” It’s a line that made me cringe not just for its retrograde casual racism, but also for how it reveals that Flynn doesn’t really care about the Scooby Gang as individual people. Gah, there are so many dudes on this show who need to grow goddamn souls already.
Although Jimmy Capone does manage to take out his brother, Al still manages to lodge a bullet in Rufus’s abdomen. Ever the good guy, Rufus insists he can pilot the Prototype back to the present day before needing medical attention, only to whisper, “Tell Jiya…” before collapsing in his captain’s chair.
I am refusing to get upset about Rufus’s condition because I refuse to believe that Timeless would get rid of Rufus … RIGHT!? Also, I can’t believe there’s only one more episode left this season. I have a feeling we might be heading for a cliffhanger that will be difficult to stomach. Personally, I plan to get through it by diving into the ever-growing, Timeless-inspired reading list I’ve accumulating over the past few months. Which books will you be reading? Will Rufus live to fly another day? Who’s gonna play Joseph McCarthy in next week’s finale, and where will he rank among Timeless’ super-duper guest stars? Stay tuned!