Monday, November 28, 2016

REVIEW: 'Timeless' - Flynn Carries Out a Very Personal Mission During the Moon Landing in 'Space Race'

NBC's Timeless - Episode 1.08 "Space Race"

As the nation waits to hear the fate of the astronauts of Apollo 11, Flynn arrives near mission control, intending to rewrite the evens of that momentous day. Hot on his trail, Lucy, Wyatt and Rufus need to be bolder than ever and call upon one of history's unsung heroes if they're going to have a shot at setting things right.

Timeless likes to stick to the same formula. Flynn takes the time machine out to some point in the past with a nefarious agenda to change a crucial moment in American history. Lucy, Wyatt and Rufus follow him in the hopes of stopping his plans before he completely alters history. The narrative largely focuses on the adventures in the past while also providing cryptic and brief details about the bigger conspiracy at play. Meanwhile, characters like Connor Mason, Jiya and Agent Christopher just have a couple of lines at the beginning and end of each other to really drive the themes of the overall hour. Last week's episode, "Stranded," worked remarkably well because it broke from this pattern. It wasn't a story about needing to stop Flynn or unravel the Rittenhouse conspiracy. It was instead about the team being trapped in time when they didn't really trust each other. Plus, the drama was able to go back-and-forth between the past and the present. It was a nice shakeup that really helped develop the ensemble of characters. Unsurprisingly though, "Space Race" returns to the formula that has worked for the show up to this point. This time Flynn takes the time machine out to the day of the moon landing. It's an adventure the show has teased since the very first episode. So now, it's time to see just what's so important about this particular time period.

Flynn makes some big moves when he is in 1969. He's not the one who actually messes up the Apollo 11 mission. He lets Anthony take control over the mission because he's more skilled when it comes to the technology of the era. That proves to be a huge driver of action throughout this hour. And yet, the episode does a nice job continuing to flesh out the backstories of Flynn and Anthony. Up to this point, Flynn has somewhat remained a mysterious, one-note villain. He's the guy that the team has to stop from destroying all of history. His motives have become more clear as the season has gone along. He blames Rittenhouse for the deaths of his wife and daughter. He's been framed for their murders by this nefarious organization. And now, he's trying to save his family by erasing Rittenhouse from existence. Apparently destroying American history is how that can be done. But here, he's not really interested in that. Instead, he's much more focused in making a new change to his past. One that takes awhile to reveal its importance but makes quite an impact in the end.

Flynn's trip to 1969 allows him to save his half-brother from dying from a bee sting. That's what makes this mission so important to him. It does nothing to save his family from Rittenhouse. And yet, this is an easy thing for him to do. Lucy and Wyatt have been trying to change their pasts for the entire season so far. They've been fighting to get Lucy's sister and Wyatt's wife back. They haven't been able to do so because they've had to remain focused on the main mission of hunting down Flynn. And now, Flynn is just so easily able to change his own history. It's frustrating for the team. They didn't even know about this connection that Flynn had. They were left in the dark because they don't know Flynn's full story. Because of his actions, Flynn's half-brother, Gabriel, is still alive. His mother, Maria, has a much happier life because of it. That's a nice gesture that he was able to do for his family. It's a plan that he has clearly been wanting to do ever since he got his hands on the time machine. Once again, he is able to change time to his benefit. Lucy, Wyatt and Rufus are still just playing catch up. They don't know what Flynn's done until it's too late. They don't know what he's doing with Maria until they travel back to 2016 and learn more about his personal history.

Meanwhile, Rufus shares some details about Anthony's past as well. It almost plays as the stereotypical storytelling decision of giving a supporting character a tragic backstory right before they are killed off. It has the trajectory of that kind of story. Rufus is in awe of the scientists behind the moon landing. This is a momentous day for him. He can't understand why Anthony is trying to ruin it - and thus possibly leading to a different outcome in the Cold War. The show even goes so far as to give Anthony a thematically similar journey to the astronauts currently in space. He was the first person to take out the life boat. It was a trip through time that left him seriously injured and in the hospital for months. It was during that time that he and Rufus really bonded as friends. Rufus was there for him throughout the recovery. And now, they are on opposing sides of this conflict. Anthony is trying to ruin history while Rufus is trying to save it. However, it's once again clear that Anthony is operating with information that the team and the audience just don't have yet. He claims to be helping Flynn with this mission because he doesn't want Rittenhouse to carry out their agenda for the time machine. That's an ominous tease for the future.

But again, the conflict between Rufus and Anthony needs to come to ahead. It does so just as Rufus is about to save the Apollo mission and Anthony arrives with armed men to stop him. The friendship is still there. But Rufus was handed a gun earlier in the hour from Wyatt. So, it needed to become important in the story at some point. Here, it shows just how far Rufus is now willing to go in order to preserve history. He doesn't have the information that Anthony apparently has about Rittenhouse. Right now, he's just seeing a completely different side to his friend and doesn't like what he sees. That leads to Rufus actually killing a man. It's a moment that is perhaps a little too rushed and chaotic. It provides Rufus with an easy justification. He killed a man out of self-defense. He needed to do it or risk the astronauts dying up there on the moon. Anthony is able to escape and Rufus' program is allowed to finish wiping out the virus from the computer system. He saves the day and the team is able to return home. And yet, Rufus doesn't really feel anything about killing a man. He recognizes that he is changing because of the time travel mission. Some of that is good. His relationship with Jiya is just getting started - though she doesn't appear in this episode at all. But killing a man and feeling nothing could be foreshadowing of something much darker going on with him.

However, all of that is just teasing for the future. The show does not succeed when it comes to the conspiracy elements of the narrative. Each episode either works or doesn't because of the weekly adventure. The trip to the 1960s and the space race does have its moments. It's nice to see the show incorporate Katherine Johnson into the main narrative and makes sure she is credited for all the incredible work she did for the space program over the years. Things are also appropriately tense in mission control - both when everything ultimately goes right and when everything goes wrong because of Anthony. It's also fascinating to see how quickly everything deteriorates in this world once the computer virus strikes. The moon landing is the only thing happening in the world. It doesn't go according to schedule and the world suddenly starts mourning the deaths of two American heroes. It's all just a little too chaotic and scattered to really work effectively. This episode is about Rufus and Flynn. This moment means so much to both of them for different reason. But the ways the show distracts the other main characters isn't always that great. Still it's a solid main story that shows the series is getting more confident with each passing episode.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Space Race" was written by Matt Whitney and directed by Charles Beeson.
  • If Rufus never wanted to set foot in the time machine after seeing what it did to Anthony, why was he then trained to be the pilot for it? He's the only man at Mason Industries who can do the job. That's why he's a member of the team. It just doesn't make a whole lot of sense given this new information.
  • Lucy facing sexism in the '60s is all a bit too on-the-nose and unnecessary. It's basically all that she really does in this episode. There's just one engineer who keeps getting on her nerves with his comments. It's suppose to be rousing when she stands up to him on behalf of the other secretaries. But it's never aimed to be an important part of the main plot.
  • Wyatt is the only member of the team who gets a legitimate cover identity for this mission. He gets to be an FBI agent while Lucy and Rufus are stuck being a secretary and a janitor. And yet, they are the ones who ultimately save the day while Wyatt can't make sense of what Flynn's doing.
  • More and more, it feels like Agent Christopher is on Lucy, Wyatt and Rufus' side. She doesn't know anything about Rittenhouse or what's really going on. But she also wants to give the team as much information as she can to help them in the field despite how confidential those files might be.
  • Upon returning to the present, Rufus is proud that Katherine is finally getting the recognition she has always deserved. He even mentions that there's a movie about her. Of course, there is a movie coming out about her shortly, Hidden Figures, with Taraji P. Henson playing the role and getting some serious Oscar buzz for the performance.