Timeless Recap: Undercover Blues

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Photo: NBC/Justin Lubin/NBC
Timeless

Timeless

The King of the Delta Blues Season 2 Episode 6
Editor's Rating 5 stars

Dear Connor Mason,

Please accept this epistolary recap as my apology. All season long, I’ve gleefully trolled you for your underwhelming plotlines, easy one-liners, and general uselessness as the Time Team worked circles around you. I believe that more than once, I ended my weekly wrap-ups wondering if next week would be when you finally get to be the star, only to tune in and see you once again skulking around the bunker, dutifully mouthing bits of narrative exposition that seemingly pertained to everyone but yourself. I regarded you the way your fictitious fellow tech gurus had come to regard you: as a joke. But after “The King of the Delta Blues,” it is quite clear, Sir, that the joke is now squarely on me.

I was initially fooled by the content of this week’s “previously on Timeless” catch-up. It contained all the narrative threads I don’t care for and/or happily forgot about: Jiya’s visions, the book Lucy wrote that guided Flynn’s missions in season one, and your constant whining. (Sorry again, buddy!) I instantly worried this episode might prove a total bore-snore, and I certainly never thought it would wind up serving as your delightful coming-out party.

The episode opens in San Antonio circa 1936, and in a flash, we know: Robert Johnson. I say “we,” Connor, because I am actually not the only Timeless fan who lives in my house. The Timeless fan I live with might geek out about the show even more than I do, and he definitely geeks out about Robert Johnson every bit as much as you do. He is, in fact, a musicologist with a focus on Johnson’s music. I would be thrilled to introduce the two of you once you’ve rejoined society.

My musicologist becomes so instantly and deeply invested in the historical accuracy of “The King of the Delta Blues” that he watches the rest of this opening sequence standing up, very close to the TV. As the show hints, he concurs that it was Johnson’s womanizing that ultimately got him killed. He also appreciates the veracity of Johnson’s facing-the-wall recording habit and the name of the label, Vocallion. (Vocal lion!) This would have been the first of only two recording sessions that the “Crossroads” artist ever participated in before his mysterious death in 1938, but what could Rittenhouse want with him?

Before we find out, we find you drunk before noon. You are in full Debbie Downer mode, which is a bummer considering how fun Rufus and Wyatt’s PG-rated shtupping banter was right before you stumbled in. “Today is the day I finally lose control of Mason Industries,” you declare. “Today, Connor Mason is officially nobody.” You spout Shakespeare and babble about Icarus descending.

You may not believe this, given how much I’ve razzed you this season, but I have always rooted for you. I know that the guy who plays you comes from a Shakespearean background, because I have visited his Wikipedia page more than once because I like him and I want to see him do more. So when you went off on your Bard jag, I thought that maybe this was a signal, that you would finally get to live it up and chew some scenery. And I was right!

You are the only one in the bunker who knows what happened in 1936 at the Gunter Hotel. You are the only who knows that “Don Law changed the world” when he recorded Robert Johnson there. You correctly denounce your colleagues as “philistines” for not knowing any of this.

(Academically nitpicky sidebar: My musicologist looks forward to a lively, post-bunker debate as to whether or not Robert Johnson was as singularly responsible for the blues, rock and roll, Elvis, and the Beatles as you suggest. There’s a case to be made that Johnson’s buddy Muddy Waters is more deserving of such credit, or, of course, Chuck Berry. Anyway, I digress! And I agree with your larger geopolitical point!)

Lucy concurs that wiping out Johnson wipes out “the counterculture as we know it,” and based on last week’s efforts to replace Kennedy with Nixon, it seems there’s nothing Rittenhouse hates more than a hippie beatnik. Christopher and Lucy agree that you’re the one who’s gotta play historian on this mission, and when you initially refuse, it comes out that you’ve never time-traveled before. Ha! “You’re afraid of riding in your own invention,” Flynn says, to which you reply in your oh-so-Connor way, “Well, it is bloody dangerous.” The laughs keep coming once you’ve made it to the ’30s, where you marvel at how the hairs stand up on your knuckles and how the — blergh, vomit! Flynn responds to your vom by deadpanning, “Boom goes the dynamite!” and I’m starting to think that Flynn is kind of adorkable for using decade-old catchphrases with such swagger.

One of the many reasons Timeless is so good this year is because of the many ways it now plays with its own formula. Last week, JFK wasn’t in trouble in the past so much as he was in trouble in the present. The Lifeboat used to max out at three people, but of course it should be upgraded to four. And who says the time travelers have gotta be the same people every time? (Certainly not Christopher, who assigns Wyatt to the task of Total Rittenhouse Annihilation instead. It’s a hard-to-believe solo freelance gig, but the gist is that Rittenhouse is now nothing but Keynes, Carol, Emma, and the Mothership. Rittenhouse Lite!)

So you’re the gang’s fresh eyes this time around, and your naïveté leads to great bits of humor — like when you ask, “How do we begin?” and Rufus and Lucy reply by rote, “Get some clothes, steal a car.” When y’all find Johnson in the hotel, you say you’re British intelligence officer Lando Calrissian. I can’t imagine Rufus and Flynn would’ve remembered that once upon a time, Queen Elizabeth II actually wasn’t Queen of the Commonwealth, and not even Lucy would know that Don Law was a bookkeeper or that Robert Johnson had a juke-joint-owning sister named Carrie Thompson.

But your value isn’t just about your newbie enthusiasm or your encyclopedic knowledge of all things Robert Johnson. Your value is downright existential. Because, like Johnson, you’re haunted by your Faustian demons. “I’ve made my own deal with the Devil. Cost me everything I had,” you tell him. Later, when it’s up to you to convince him to record despite Don Law’s murder, you add, “I’m at the same crossroads as you, Robert. Do I walk away or fight back? Maybe you made a deal with the Devil and maybe you didn’t. Bad luck’s gonna keep chasing you until you stop, stand your ground and fight. To hell with oblivion.” This whole time, Connor, I downplayed your significance as a man stuck in a rut. I am sorry I didn’t realize that you are actually a man in deep flux.

Speaking of fluxing, how about that Flynn and Lucy flirtation, amirite?! Just like my disdain of the whole Jiya-vision thing, my musicologist is quite upset about the prospect of #Flucy stanning, but I have to say, I’m weirdly down with it. Flynn is clearly vibing on Lucy as more than just a hookup; I honestly feel like he’s most jonesing for a brand-new BFF. “I’d like to get to know you, but I understand if you don’t want that,” Flynn politely tells her, and damn if that isn’t the sexiest come-on a guy can issue in this #MeToo world. I loved when she silently showed up at his door with her bottle of vodka. Maybe you could teach her a thing or two about moving on when you have no flux left to give!

Anyway, back to you, Connor. I honestly thought this hour was going to end with you insisting on staying down in the Delta, where you’d reboot your life to become Don Law 2.0. I give you credit for walking away from Johnson, Waters, Son House, and “the nonpareil Miss Bessie Smith!” to return to the unknown in the present. When you listened to your Robert Johnson record (engineered by you, Lando Calrissian) and heard your own “yeah!” in the background, I called that moment. And just like I called that, I’m writing this: To hell with oblivion, Connor. And just as you’ve learned to forgive yourself, I hope you can forgive me.

Yours,
Rose

Timeless Recap: Undercover Blues