I was so blown away by the mid-season premiere of Timeless that I’m not even sure how to kick off this recap. I’ll just say this: Not only did Harry Houdini turn out to be the perfect historical foil for this week’s episode, with its murder-mystery twistedness, but his presence beautifully serves as a metaphor for the spellbinding leaps of progress this show has made since it debuted a mere three months ago. Timeless has repeatedly raised its own stakes, adding new complexities to its intricate setup and submitting its Scooby Gang to ever more dire circumstances. This week, they and the series emerged not only unscathed but triumphant. I once worried Timeless would turn out to be a creaky, clunky genre serial. From here on out, the sky’s the limit.
Funny enough, the cliffhanger we were left with at the mid-season finale, with Flynn jetting off with Lucy to eras unknown, turns out to be of little importance. That’s okay by me; Flynn literally dragging Lucy away by her wrists was a bit too low-rent damsel-in-distress. He’s now got her in a present-day hideout where he makes her research the whereabouts of Rittenhouse Jr., a.k.a. the kid who got away after she refused to let Flynn kill him. She finds no record of the boy, assuming he went underground after his father’s murder, and Flynn couldn’t find him on a quick return trip to 1780. After he lays a thick guilt trip on her — “So my family’s still dead. And it’s your fault. All this would’ve been over.” — Flynn effectively lays out the show’s blueprint for the foreseeable future, promising to “take down Rittenhouse one member at a time for as long as it takes.”
I love this! After the first half of the season kept us in the dark about, well, everything — including Rittenhouse, Flynn’s intentions to destroy Rittenhouse, and the purpose behind each of his missions through the fourth dimension — we’ve now got a clear game plan that logically props up the serialized, one-time-traveling-trip-per-week format.
Rufus and Wyatt return to HQ and ultimately determine that Flynn’s taken Lucy to the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893. Meanwhile, Lucy learns Flynn is planning to off Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, and J.P. Morgan, all of whom are Rittenhouse members. (Ha!) To intercept the titans of industry at their upcoming meeting, Lucy’s made to recruit the great Harry Houdini (still a small-time magician at this point) to pick a lock for Flynn at …
Okay, wait. Let’s stop. We need to talk about the Murder Castle. THERE WAS A REAL-LIFE MURDER CASTLE! This episode made me feel like a dolt for never picking up a copy of The Devil in the White City like I halfheartedly always said I would. Has Ryan Murphy ever picked up a copy of The Devil in the White City? Did this episode not strike you as the perfect American Horror Story installment that’s yet to be? Who needs another Saw sequel when there is a REAL-LIFE MURDER CASTLE waiting to be turned into the horror franchise of your freaking nightmares? Whew, Murder Castle is a lot to take in. Better add another book to the Timeless-inspired reading list.
So Lucy lures Houdini into picking a lock at Murder Castle where the Rittenhouse members will meet so Flynn can shoot them dead. Murder Castle is also where Flynn’s goon leads Rufus and Wyatt, who quickly turn into potential victims after they wind up trapped in a soundproof vault. (That was a real room in the real Murder Castle, by the way. GAH!) These parallel story lines are really well-done, with a seamless back-and-forth and smart dialogue throughout. I loved Lucy’s rapport with Houdini, especially how she apologized to him right before Flynn stuck a gun in his rib cage — and how she dropped that “cutpurse” hint to signal that he should pickpocket Flynn’s pistol. By the way, I also looooved the actor who played Houdini. (In case you wondered: His name is Michael Drayer, and you might recognize him from Mr. Robot.) He delivers a believable portrayal of a larger-than-life figure that feels right, yet also doesn’t look anything like what I assumed a Houdini impression would look like. His Houdini is right up there with Bonnie Elizabeth Parker and Ian Fleming for Best Actor in a Historical Role so far.
Also, the whole thing was so funny! Here’s a sampling of how funny this time-traveling action-drama set in a FREAKING MURDER CASTLE is:
- Rufus, upon entering H.H. Holmes’s incinerator room: “Y’need some Febreeze in here.”
- MIT architecture lady, to Rufus: “Oh, you must be Robert Robinson Taylor.” Rufus: “No, uh, I’m the other black guy.” MIT lady: “Oh, there were two?”
- Houdini to Edison, Ford, and J.P. Morgan: “You’ve just been saved by the great Harry Houdini … see my show if you can.”
- Everyone, to the Scooby Gang: “What’s a serial killer?”
Like other thrilling Timeless episodes, I was left guessing how all of these predicaments would eventually be resolved. At one point in my notes I literally wrote, “There’s no way.” And the surprises just kept coming, the biggest one obviously being when Lucy discovers that the guy who’d been “trapped” in the vault with Wyatt and Rufus is … H.H. HOLMES, KING OF THE MURDER CASTLE! Now sequestered away in a claustrophobia-inducing box and surely about to be mincemeat, she channels Houdini’s advice: “Fear isn’t real … think one single thought: Escape.” She hatches an instant and brilliant plan to sell herself to Holmes as a psychic, revealing all she knows about his life, and Wyatt ultimately shoots him dead. I like that the Scooby Gang is starting to give itself some wiggle room with regards to all the time-traveling rules and puritanical, leave-things-as-you-found-them orders they’ve been bound by so far. Let’s kill some people, dammit! Let’s change some history!
Speaking of throwing caution to the wind, Rufus returns and records a badass new message for the Rittenhouse overlords. “I’m done being your errand boy,” he seethes about the commands he’d been receiving through Connor Mason to tape everything that happens on their missions. “I’ll catch Garcia Flynn … [but] this is my last recording.” Like Flynn’s new mission to pick off Rittenhouse members one by one, this is a fantastic, plausible, and plot-driven solution to one of the series’ many little threads. Rufus is right: How can they continue making demands of him when he’s their only chance at tracking down Flynn through time and space? I’ll be satisfied if this is the last we hear of the recordings, but just as much, I’d look forward to Rittenhouse figuring out a clever way to call Rufus’s bluff.
And speaking of calling bluffs, the kicker this week is a doozy. Flynn calls Wyatt, then actually gives him the name of his wife’s murderer as a make-good for helping with Benedict Arnold in the previous episode. As Flynn points out, Wyatt can’t physically go back to when his wife was killed since that would violate the time-traveling rules — although, point of information, I think we already broke that provision with the Watergate episode, ol’ boy Flynn. “So the only question now, Wyatt,” he says, “is what are you gonna do about it?”
Who knows? We’re officially riding a high, folks. Anything can happen now!