Wyatt has been the third wheel of the Scooby Gang all along, hasn’t he? He’d be the first to tell you that he’s not the brains of the operation, and the sad backstory about his murdered wife has taken a backseat to all of Rufus’s personal baggage (new girlfriend, supporting his family, long-running loyalties to Anthony and Mason, the Rittenhouse recordings) and Lucy’s family matters (absent Rittenhouse dad, short-lived fiancé, even-shorter-lived sister). With that in mind, it makes sense that Wyatt would finally barge his way to the forefront in “Karma Chameleon,” showing up at Lucy’s house in the middle of the night to tell her he’s stealing the prototype and teleporting back to the ‘80s to prevent Jessica’s killer from ever being conceived.
That is a doozy of a setup! So why did its execution feel kind of dinky? The nagging problem I have with “Karma Chameleon” is that, in toto, all the little hoops Wyatt and Rufus jump through to thwart one night of drunken hotel sex never clears the high bar set by the episode’s gonzo premise. We’re going rogue, people! If we’re gonna go off the rails, go big! Instead, this episode underwhelmed me by chronicling a litany of weird attempts to gum up the wheels of fate by ordering banana daiquiris, which did give me a chuckle, and lying about kitchen floods, which struck me as just strange. (Dude, I’ve been a bartender. If a customer who wasn’t a regular suddenly told me there was a flood in the kitchen, I’d be all, “Um, well, what were you doing back there in the first place?”)
Perhaps we can chalk up this unsatisfying string of low-jinks to the fact that Wyatt isn’t the smart one, or the fact that the episode involves nothing of historical importance. (Manimal and A-Team reruns aside.) In fact, Rufus more or less admits as much when Wyatt fake-kidnaps him at gunpoint to “force” him to pilot the prototype. “I’m pretty sure that they’re not going to believe I’m your hostage,” Rufus says. Yep, exactly.
Meanwhile, the most gripping storyline coming out of last week’s episode — the discovery of former Mason Industries time-traveler Emma — is barely touched. We know Emma knows all of Rittenhouse’s secrets, including their unfathomably evil endgame. We just don’t know the details of that endgame. That’s fine; we don’t need everything revealed to us just yet. However, if Timeless is going to dangle that carrot in front of us, it’s super hacky that Emma’s first line of dialogue in this episode is, “And that’s Rittenhouse’s dirty little secret,” just as she wraps up telling Flynn and Anthony everything they need to know. Also hacky: Flynn nixing Anthony’s very solid suggestion to thwart Rittenhouse by destroying the time machine. Even Emma muses that it’s “not the worst idea,” but Flynn insists, “No, we stick to the plan.” (Flynn needs to take improv lessons. You’re most likely to come up with a winning scenario if you always answer, “Yes, and!”)
Flynn’s pigheadedness prompts Anthony to take matters into his own hands, calling Mason HQ and insisting he talk face-to-face with Lucy. (I loved the little moment when he found Lucy’s tracker, concealed it in a gum wrapper, and then stuck it on an unsuspecting passerby’s briefcase; that was some real 24 shit!) Once he gets Lucy alone, the spiel Anthony delivers is mostly more Rittenhouse wheel-spinning. “I’m just a cog in Flynn’s machine … but I can’t do it anymore. Not with what Rittenhouse plans to do,” he says, basically repeating what he’s said every other time he’s lamented Rittenhouse’s plans and how he’s signed on to stop them. He throws in a couple references to JFK and MLK, then it’s back to more Rittenhouse vague-booking. “Rittenhouse tries to control everything, but it’s a struggle,” he explains. “These days they lose more control every year. But what if they could change it?” I’m starting to wish we could Rittenhouse scenes like this and just time-travel past them, or even rewrite them.
The stakes ratchet up a few notches once that flight attendant (sorry, stewardess) who helped out Wyatt at the airport arrives at the bar, forcing him to give up the pretense that he just happened to be knocking back booze and playing Galaga on a totally random night. Unfortunately, this cool, Hitchcockian twist soon evaporates, as Wyatt continues to act irrationally, flying off the handle with Rufus and making things up as he goes along. (Come to think of it, Wyatt should partner up with Flynn on those improv classes.)
I realize I’m going hard on Timeless here, so let me be clear: I’m not opposed to a Wyatt-driven storyline — watching him pursue his wife’s killer, departing from the usual episodic format of chasing Flynn through time. It’s just that I did not feel good watching this particular hour unfold. You know when you’re watching an insanely good action cliffhanger and you’re balling up your fists and making “eeeee!” sounds because even though you can’t see a way out for your hero, it’s so thrilling to watch anyway? That’s not what “Karma Chameleon” was like for me. As the episode wore on, I found my lips curling in distaste as one Wyatt decision after the next left me groaning. The flood-in-the-kitchen thing is a weird and implausible beat. Then Wyatt jumps that nice state trooper with the injured arm. Then he rampages up to the motel room, takes the bartender downstairs, and … welp … ends up killing him. It was all too over the top. Perhaps I still want my good guys to be good guys.
The worst part is that it’s all for naught. When Rufus and Wyatt return to the present day, they find out that Jessica’s still dead, even though the other two women her killer allegedly murdered are now alive. I went back and watched last week’s episode and the killer never explicitly confirmed to Wyatt that he was the one who murdered Jessica. This all raises a big question: Was Flynn lying to Wyatt, or did Flynn give him bad information in good faith?
Of course, that’s just one of many questions I have heading into next week’s episode. After a reported explosion in Oakland — which Anthony told Lucy to watch out for, after he blew up the Mothership — why was there no debris? Did Anthony commit suicide or did Flynn murder him? And how will Wyatt get out of bad-guy jail for stealing the time machine? I didn’t experienced “eeee!” levels of excitement over these questions as they unfolded, but I’m eager to see how they all play out.