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Timeless Season-Premiere Recap: Good Guys Revolt

Timeless

The War to End All Wars
Season 2 Episode 1
Editor’s Rating *****
Photo: Justin Lubin/NBC

Welcome back, first-season friends, to the show that miraculously didn’t end! And to the newcomers hoping to hitch a ride on Timeless’s spin through the fourth dimension: To put it in a way Rittenhouse might, Timeless doesn’t seem particularly concerned about slowing down to “enlist new recruits” such as yourselves. Timeless is living on borrowed time, spared by the fickle Hollywood gods from cancellation (or in series parlance, an alternative timeline in which we remain stuck in the past forever). Now it’s barreling full speed ahead into its future and playing like it has nothing to lose.

When I say Timeless is playing like it has nothing to lose, I’m talking about the show’s narrative as well as its meta-narrative. Granted another ten episodes to finally reveal what the eff Rittenhouse is and does, this week’s season premiere signals that we’re done monkeying around with ancillary story lines and second-tier characters. No more slippery alliances between Mason Industries and Rittenhouse, or Rufus and Mason, or Lucy and Flynn, or Agent Christopher and, well, everyone. It’s straight-up good versus evil now, with all comers ganging up to take down Rittenhouse together. Remember on Alias when Sydney Bristow annihilated SD-6, doing away with all her triple-crossing spy-jinks? This is what that feels like, with one key difference: Alias pared down its hyperlayered plot to make the show less opaque and more palatable to the masses, but it lost some of its raison d’être in the process. Timeless’s decision to streamline its saga, on the other hand, reads more like a wise choice to distill the show to its essence. In my very first recap, I described Timeless as “Quantum Leap meets Lost,” but it’s been clear from the beginning that its wannabe J.J. Abrams–ness, its halfway-successful veneer of Peak TV finesse, was always a put-on. Timeless is swashbuckling, a touch campy, and more than a teensy bit old-fashioned — like the very staunch concept of good versus evil. I’m so glad the show is finally embracing all of that.

As proof, just get a load of the “previously on Timeless” montage that kicks off this season premiere. It’s less like a good-faith effort to recap what went down last season and more like a concerted effort to forsake plot for mood: Once upon a time, Connor Mason invented a time machine … yada yada … Lucy, Wyatt, and Rufus need(ed) to eliminate Garcia Flynn … whatever, here’s some super-cool badassery! Woo, explosions and shoot-outs and an Imagine Dragons sports-rock anthem! Oh, and also, Emm is a Rittenhouse operative and Lucy declares she’ll never be a part of Rittenhouse.

Only that last tidbit is really relevant to the machinations of “The War to End All Wars,” where our yesteryear port of call is France, circa 1918. It’s World War I and American troops — including that one guy who suspiciously carries a smartphone — are helping to launch an offensive against the Germans at the Battle of Saint-Mihiel. Whereas our Scooby Gang used to chase Flynn through time with the primary purpose of thwarting his history-changing missions, now Wyatt and Rufus are off in the Lifeboat to do one thing: Get Lucy back from Rittenhouse. It’s a gamble because only Wyatt is convinced that Lucy is still alive, and he insists on keeping a seat free in their time-travel capsule for her return trip. (Also because: Who wants to see Agent Wet-Blanket Christopher join one of these missions and ruin all the fun? Exactly nobody, that’s who.)

Meanwhile, Lucy has similarly assumed Wyatt and Rufus must be dead after Rittenhouse detonated a bomb inside Mason Industries HQ. (Thankfully — and kinda implausibly — Rittenhouse only detonated a dinky little bomb that couldn’t kill or destroy a thing.) While the good guys have been hiding out in a bunker, repairing the Lifeboat and awkwardly sharing a co-ed bathroom, Lucy’s been brought into the Rittenhouse fold seemingly by force. (The signs of a struggle at the house she shared with her mom surely mean she did not begin her tenure as a Rittenhouse operative willingly. That, and the fact that her mom compliments her for “coming so far these past few weeks.”) The only good thing I can say about Lucy time-traveling with her mom and Emma to the Great War is that it was cool to see an all-female crew. “We’re here together like I’d always hoped,” Lucy’s mom breathlessly declares. “Let’s go change history.” BLERG to Lucy’s mom and BOO HISS to Emma, two characters that I anticipate I’ll thoroughly enjoy rooting and seething against this season, especially Emma as Lucy’s wicked-stepsister antagonist. Bringing her back and promoting her from occasional guest star to full-fledged main character is just brilliant, and the sole exception to this season’s less-is-more, forget-about-everybody-else direction.

Speaking of forgetting about everybody else, a quick LOL to slimy-annoying Connor Mason for, well, still existing. How cutely hapless he appears in this episode, the way he insists on sticking around. I honestly thought the show might ditch him, and in another example of Timeless’s narrative and meta-narrative operating in tandem, all the other good guys seem to likewise wish he’d just go away. Mason himself moans, “Being rich and powerful has made me useless,” which I interpreted as a quick bit of Trump trolling, and if the show keeps Mason around for that reason only, I’m good. Also, he calls math “maths.” So you get to stay, Mason, if for no other reason than you’re British.

This week’s first OMG/WTF moment comes when Lucy ACTUALLY KILLS THAT SOLDIER. OMG, WTFFFF?? Not only is that (I believe) the first time Lucy has killed someone, but she does it for the totally not-noble reason of proving her faux-loyalty to Rittenhouse! Lest we think this means she’s permanently gone over to the dark side, she soon sneaks away from her mom to smuggle some grenades that she plans to later use to blow up the Mothership — until she’s interrupted by Wyatt in the most misty-eyed, meet-cute-again moment.

With the Wyatt-Lucy romantic rapport reignited, our story is now fully set in motion: Wyatt and Rufus will instead attempt to blow up the Mothership while Lucy works to save Nicholas Keynes’s life (for Rittenhouse-nefarious reasons we still don’t know) with help from Marie Curie, the inventor of the mobile X-ray machine. As all that business is carried out, we’re treated to our first dose of signature Timeless humor when, a few minutes later, Wyatt and Rufus are (of course) captured. Wyatt insists they were “asked to save Private Ryan,” and when Rufus is asked, “What regime are you in?” he replies, “The black one.”

Soon enough, they’ve killed Captain iPhone in another signature Timeless bit: the old-school, hand-to-hand combat, Wyatt-whupping-buttt scene. He goes so far as to kill iPhone Guy with a blade through the heart. It’s played as an important beat, a surprise that Wyatt would decide to go that far — again, nothing to lose. (Or as Rufus later declares, “Sometimes saving the world sucks.”)

Like all good Timeless episodes (which has been most of them), the last third of “The War to End All Wars” had an aura of dread hanging over it, as once again I couldn’t fathom the Scooby Gang finding a way out of their messy predicament. Marie Curie and her daughter appear to be goners after they happen upon the Mothership just as Emma, Lucy, and her mother are set to make off for the present day with Nicholas Keynes in tow. There’s some good if obvious paralleling going on vis-à-vis Lucy and her mom when Marie Curie declares, “My daughters are the only work that matters,” but clearly Lucy’s mom doesn’t feel the same way. When Wyatt sneaks up on them and grabs Keynes, he uses his insta-hostage as leverage to get Lucy back from Rittenhouse. She can’t help but make a pitch for her mom to likewise leave the dark side, but to no avail, and Lucy’s silent reaction as she watches her mom abandon her for Rittenhouse is the most deeply felt moment of the entire hour.

That pathos carries over into the next scene when Lucy plainly tells Wyatt, “I’ve lost everything.” Lucy has, in effect, become the Wyatt of season two. Last year, he was possessed by the demons of his past, a man both tortured and without any damns left to give. Lucy, having been told by Emma that her sister will never exist again, is now the one with (say it with me!) nothing left to lose. Wyatt is now the clear-eyed one, at least when it comes to his love for Lucy. Don’t worry, though; we know from this season’s previews that zzzexxxy time is coming for these two.

I started this episode thinking it might take weeks to find a way to get Lucy back with the Scooby Gang, so I give the show huge credit for untangling that daunting narrative knot so plausibly and efficiently — but wait, there’s even more! With that WWI phone in their possession, the good guys surmise that Rittenhouse has spent years installing sleeper cells throughout history and that the handwritten documents stored on the phone were penned by none other than Keynes — a.k.a. Lucy’s maternal great-grandfather, dum-dum-DUMMMMM! (Point of information, in case you were temporarily confused like I was: Keynes is not Ethan, Lucy’s paternal grandfather who helped expose Rittenhouse to the feds in season one.)

Having read Keynes’s manifesto, Rufus also tells us that Rittenhouse aims to create “a perfect world somewhere between Hunger Games and Handmaid’s Tale.” As Keynes’s documents are a lot like that journal Flynn carried around during season one — you know, the one he said Lucy wrote from the future — Christopher knows who she has to turn to for help deciphering this huge clue: Flynn! “I’ll only talk to Lucy,” he says.

What a perfect ending. I can’t wait for next week.

Timeless Season Premiere Recap: Good Guys Revolt