One of the first things 1999 Tiff makes the girls do when she meets them is come in for a big group hug. “My poor, time-traveling babies,” she says as she brings them all in — yes, even Mac — and holds them for a second. Her instinct is dead-on: They look exhausted. They have really been through it. And it’s not just the “time-travel is real” and “future soldiers are trying to kill us” things, they’ve each been put through the emotional wringer, confronting some truths and life lessons well above their pay grade. KJ may be the only one we’ve seen fully snap from the stress, but come on, everyone has had her moment. So yes, hug those girls, 1999 Tiff! Hug them for all of us!
Tiff may be the one who’s been handling her situation the best of them all, but let’s be honest: She’s the last to have to face her future, so let’s assume her breakdown is on its way. You can see something bubbling just under the surface as she gets to know her future self. Don’t get me wrong, they get along very well. So well, in fact, that it really pisses off Erin. She had the complete opposite experience with her future self. Mac tries to make her feel better by reminding her that “Tiff has always been in love with herself,” which is an objectively hilarious thing to say in this situation.
1999 Tiff does seem quite cool — she’s unfazed by the existence of time travel (the science is there, so no biggie), she’s got a great loft in downtown Stony Stream, she’s some sort of “lighting designer” for local raves (the other girls can’t believe Tiff grows up to be “the life of the party”), and she has big plans to pull a Steve Jobs and revolutionize education with an online program (remember that in 2019, Tiff discovers the Quilkin Institute, so she feels confident in her future self’s endeavor). But Tiff still has some questions. She’s surprised to find herself still living in Stony Stream at 23. She’s beside herself with excitement to discover she does become class valedictorian and she ends up at MIT as she’d always dreamed, but she’s dismayed to learn she dropped out sophomore year. 1999 Tiff tells her MIT isn’t what she thinks it is, alluding to the fact that, as a Black woman, she was an outsider, but it still doesn’t sit right. Tiff’s not a quitter. That revelation paired with the way 1999 Tiff rolls her eyes and changes the subject any time their mom comes up in conversation leads me to believe there’s more going on here.
But aside from not understanding what the hell 1999 Tiff is doing with her dud of a boyfriend, Russ — the look on Tiff’s face when 1999 Tiff starts using baby talk with him is something I will treasure — they are pretty much a perfect team.
Their natural friendship comes in handy because Tiff realizes that in order to have any chance of getting out of 1999, they’ll need to go visit 1999 Larry (fucking Larry!) on his farm and have him explain how to decipher his notebook. Understandably, the other girls want nothing to do with Larry, but Tiff knows there’s no other choice. The two Tiffanys head to the farm. 1999 Larry is a brand-new recruit to the STF Underground. He seems excited and hopeful, a real departure from 2019 Larry. Tiff makes sure to put an end to that, however, by informing him that he ends up betraying four 12 -year-olds and, because of this, a woman dies. “Just seeing you again, let alone having to ask you for help, makes me sick to my stomach.” Tiff is brutal here, and it’s excellent. I know 1999 Larry doesn’t deserve it, but that’s what you get for being into time travel, buddy!
The Tiffanys get the formula, but it only brings bad news: According to Larry’s notebook, the next folding won’t be until 2006. They’ll have to wait seven years. Erin calls that “unacceptable,” and she isn’t wrong.
I really feel for 1999 Tiff, who is trying to do right by these girls but is saddled with a bunch of kids who are boiling over with angst. It’s not that it isn’t warranted, but the one, two, three of KJ, Erin, and Mac walking through the door in a huff is a lot of mood to receive at once. I suspect some fans of the source material may take issue with how much wild and weird sci-fi stuff has been scaled back for the TV adaptation, but it allows the show room for episodes like this one — full of meaningful, coming-of-age story beats. It’s brimming with powerful character moments that once again drive home the focus of the series.
Erin is beginning to process what she’s been through. Knowing her life doesn’t pan out the way she’d hoped before she bites it in a giant-robot battle is one thing, but what seems to be slowly washing over her is that she’s already very much like her future self. It’s easy to blame Adult Erin for their failings, but as Dream Ronald Reagan (he’s back, guys!) points out, she already acts like a martyr in her family unit. She says she has to take care of her mom because there’s no one else, but has her mom actually asked her to give up her childhood like that? The point is reinforced when she and Mac hide out near Erin’s house and she gets a glimpse of her mom and Missy happy and laughing and taking care of each other with no 1999 Erin in sight. “It feels like the whole world should stop when you’re not around, but it just keeps going on without you. And it really sucks,” Mac tells her. And Mac would know, right?
Erin telling Mac that she just doesn’t understand how pointless everything feels when you know you’re going to die is what breaks Mac. She hasn’t told anyone else that she’s supposed to die in four years and instead makes up a story about how she becomes a vet, and takes care of horses, and her brother and nieces visit. How heartbreaking to see it written all over her face that this is clearly some secret dream she had for herself. Later, she finally lets KJ in on her secret. She tells her that the only way she survived her shitty childhood was by reminding herself that when she turns 18, she can leave Stony Stream. Things will get better for her. “It never gets any better,” Mac confesses to her friend.
All KJ can do in that moment is hug Mac because, to be honest, KJ is discovering the opposite is true for her. She sneaks off to that Stanley Kubrick marathon Lauren mentioned that she and 1999 KJ would be seeing. She watches the two of them from the back and sees how at ease she is and how happy they are together. Out in the lobby, she finds Lauren by herself. (Has Lauren not mentioned the little cousin who keeps popping up?) She wants to ask her about how she knew she was gay, but you can see her get nervous about it and instead shyly, quietly ask her, “When did you know that you were someone who felt this way about movies?” It takes just a moment for Lauren to understand what she’s really asking, and the two keep up the ruse in a short but sweet conversation about figuring out your sexuality. She tells KJ that it’s okay to take time to figure out that you like movies and that not everyone will understand it: “You find a movie that you really connect with, and it feels really, really great, and you hold on to that.”
When KJ comes across Mac hanging out on the roof, she tells her that her future self seems happy and that she thinks she’s “sorted some things out.” She is on the precipice of coming out to Mac when she’s cut off.
All of these conversations carry so much emotional weight they all could be standout moments in an episode, but here they are, all in one. What a gift!
And then 1999 Larry goes outside and finds an ominous pink cloud spitting out bikes and newspapers dated November 1, 1988. So the self-introspection may have to take a back seat for a second.
• Are we just assuming Larry gets abluted at some point and that’s why 2019 Larry doesn’t recognize Tiff when she shows up on his doorstep?
• Hey, I guess the girls found a good use for all those tampons they bought after all — Erin uses one to plug Mac’s nose as it continues to bleed after KJ’s punch to the face.
• I think today is the day KJ becomes a Stanley Kubrick fan! She seems very into 2001: A Space Odyssey.