Sunday, April 8, 2018

REVIEW: 'Timeless' - Lucy and Wyatt Deal with New and Surprising Family Drama in 'The Salem Witch Hunt'

NBC's Timeless - Episode 2.04 "The Salem Witch Hunt"

While Wyatt sneaks away from the bunker to face an unbelievable truth, Lucy, Rufus and their former enemy-turned-teammate, Garcia Flynn, chase the Mothership to the Salem Witch Trials. There they must prevent the execution of a headstrong young woman who, it turns out, is mother to one of the most consequential Americans of all time - the yet to be born Benjamin Franklin. When Lucy is accused of being a witch, the team rallies together not only to save Abiah and Lucy, but all the accused women.

This season has already been commended multiple times for taking more risks. The first season was perfectly fine with the way it told its stories. There were just moments where it was clearly playing for the long game and delaying things so that they could be addressed in future seasons. And now, a brush with death has forced the show to boldly explore those things it delayed and analyze the consequences that extend out from that. It's created a new season with a new energy to it. The plot has been condensed down a little bit to focus on what really matters. And yet, the character beats always shine through every episodic story. It was a huge deal in the previous episode when Lucy and Wyatt kissed after a couple episodes teasing a big romantic moment between the two. It was then such a stunning reveal when it was teased that Jessica was somehow still alive in the new present day that they returned to. As such, the show feels the need to explain why that happened in "The Salem Witch Hunt." It does so by keeping Wyatt in the present day and sending Garcia Flynn to Salem, Massachusetts with Lucy and Rufus. That too is a significant change up to the formula. The time travel missions each week have always taken the priority over what was going on with the characters left back at the bunker. And now, the show sidelines one of the three leads from the mission just to explore a story of personal significance to him. That could feel like a massive and melodramatic plot complication to distract him from the mission. And yet, it's still moving to watch because this relationship has been talked about so much. It's finally nice to see it in action.

Wyatt has certainly romanticized his relationship with Jessica. He idolizes her and found it impossible to move on from her death in the first season. With the discovery of time travel, he believed he could bring her back to life. He had to remain focused on the mission. But he was always holding Connor Mason and Agent Christopher to their promise to help bring Jessica back. That mission failed spectacularly. It failed for a number of reasons - mostly related to him chasing the wrong killer. That's what makes it so fascinating here to learn that Rittenhouse was able to go back to the 1980s and fix this in just an hour. They went into the past for the specific reason of bringing Jessica back to life. They had the resources to research what kind of impact this change would make and the repercussions it could have on the greatest threat to their ultimate mission. They did this in order to distract Wyatt at a time when the team needs him focused on preserving history. Instead, he finds himself in a ghost of a life. Jessica has lived through six more years of marriage to Wyatt. Those are six years where he doesn't know what happened. He romanticized their bond because of the way she died. He wishes to undo the last fight they had. He has regretted that moment ever since. And so, he's not the same man who was constantly leaving her and keeping secrets. But the only way he can win her back is by being honest about time travel and the reality that he comes from. Sure, it sounds like a crazy story. But miraculous and unexplainable things do happen in front of Jessica. All Wyatt is asking for is another chance. He gets that the moment he brings her into the bunker because there's no way that Agent Christopher is letting Jessica go and possibly reveal its location to the wrong people. In fact, she doesn't know if they can even trust Jessica or if she's another Rittenhouse sleeper agent.

Wyatt has the potential for everything he has always wanted in his life again. As such, it's understandable why he chases that and why Lucy gives him the freedom to do so. She is aware that Rittenhouse has taken out the Mothership again when she calls him. And yet, everything changes in an instant after he updates her on the changes to history. Of course, the urgency is still there to immediately go back to Salem 1692 to stop whatever Rittenhouse has planned for the infamous witch trials. Flynn proves himself as an asset because he knows many details about the witch hunt. He is just as skilled a historian in this time frame as Lucy is. That's a resource they can utilize. But it's also an ominous tease because no one in the bunker knows if they can trust Flynn. They helped break him out of prison. They did so to protect that resource of information. Agent Christopher only wanted to use him for the information he could provide on what Rittenhouse is planning next. That's a well that is bound to dry up at some point. He doesn't have any insight into what their plans are for Salem or how best to stop them and find the sleeper agent. He just presents as a soldier who has the skills to protect Lucy and Rufus as they journey into the timeline to maintain history. Once landing in this time though, it immediately becomes apparent what is wrong. Benjamin Franklin's mother, Abiah, has been accused of being a witch. That's a significant change to history that could alter everything to Rittenhouse's exact vision for the future. He is monumental to the foundation of America. So, the urgency is there right away that the group needs to find whomever accused her of witchcraft.

Now, it seems like the show is spinning its wheels a little bit as the time travel team attempts to find the sleeper agent. They aren't all that subtle. That's the touch that Flynn brings to the mission. He's not one for blending into the past and handling things in a delicate manner. He has always been interested in changing history for the better. And now, Lucy and Rufus join him in that belief. The three are working together after being enemies in the first season. But it's also just a lot of complications with Rufus falsely targeting one of the judges in the town of being the sleeper agent. Then, Flynn and Lucy visit the home of Abiah's sister who was notorious in accusing women of witchcraft. It's those kinds of details that paint the show's approach to history. There is always some lesson hidden within these crazy conspiracy stories in the past. Not every episodic plot features some detail that isn't commonly known about a particular time period. And yes, there are now instances where the show is completely making up history because of the impact the various trips through time have had. But it's still fun to be surprised by the revelation that Abiah was in Salem at the time and was a very vocal opponent to the witch trials. And here, it's through Lucy connecting with her that she changes history to the better. Lucy was so reluctant to do that last season. And now, she is accused of witchcraft and must lead a revolt to save innocent people from being killed - even though that's what history dictates. She is done watching people die while she rationalizes it through protecting the timeline. These experiences are very real to her. And so, the Salem witch trials become the Salem witch revolt. No one else dies after the Lifeboat lands in Salem. That makes this mission a success.

Of course, there are also grave consequences for Rufus. Before he even knew that Salem would be the next destination he would be going to, Jiya told him that she's been having visions of the future. In the latest one, she saw him kill a pilgrim with a scar on his left cheek. It was such an ominous and horrifying tease of what's to come for him. She's been dealing with these visions by herself. She never knows what they mean. Some come true and some don't. Some happen immediately while others are teased for awhile. Here, she warns Rufus about what she saw. And yet, that influences his actions and beliefs in the past. He goes after this man believing him to be the sleeper agent. He's not. He's just one of the judges in the town. But it's through that accusation that fuels the judge's rage at the time travel team. During the big revolt, he corners Rufus. It seems like Jiya's vision is coming to fruition. Even though she warned him about it, it still seems to be occurring. It means that some things in this life are fixed even though there have been several changes to history over the course of the show. That argument can be made because this man dies during the revolt. Rufus just doesn't happen to be the one to shoot him. Instead, he lets him go to return home to his daughter. But he is immediately run over by a rampaging horse and buggy. It's a gruesome sight that will forever haunt Rufus. He doesn't know what to believe. He tried to control his actions so that Jiya's vision didn't occur. He tried to be better than what she saw. And yet, the outcome was still the same. It seems like a paradox to him. As such, he doesn't want to know about any of her other visions. That could put a huge strain on their relationship. Plus, it may mean she's not able to warn the team when they desperately need it.

Some more thoughts:
  • "The Salem Witch Hunt" was written by Kent Rotherham and directed by Guy Ferland.
  • It turns out that there wasn't a sleeper agent in Salem. It was just Carol's latest attempt to convince Lucy to join her at Rittenhouse. She wanted to prove to Nicholas and Emma that she could still control her daughter despite the threat she poses to the organization. She accuses Lucy of witchcraft and then gives her the tools to escape. But it doesn't ultimately change anything. They just belief different things.
  • And now, Nicholas is handing over the Lucy problem to Emma. He trusted Carol to take care of this issue and she has failed several times. Emma has no personal relationship to Lucy and is more than happy to eliminate the threat. Carol is worried about the legacy of their family. And yet, it seems like Nicholas already has a solution to that problem. That's ominous as well.
  • It's odd that Patrick Fischler is cast in such a forgettable part here. He plays the husband of Abiah's sister. She's the one who is crucial to the story because it seems likely that she accused her sister of witchcraft - even though that's not ultimately true. Meanwhile, he just exists to be thrown around by Flynn. That's good for the visual height difference between the two actors. But it's also a lackluster use of a recognizable actor who easily could have played a sleeper agent.
  • Lucy needs to know if she can trust Flynn before allowing him to go to the past with them. Even though she agrees to it, Rufus doesn't allow him to bring a weapon. That means there's this whole running story about Flynn struggling to find a weapon he can actually use because of the puritan town he's landed in. He still gets his hands on a rifle. It just takes a lot of time to load and fire the bullets.
  • The show prides itself with the big feminist moment it has with Lucy empowering the women accused of witchcraft. She speaks eloquently about women scaring men because they choose to be different and challenge the status quo. It's very moving and easy to get swept into. It then has the solid punchline of this time still being racist. So, it's still not great for Rufus to be accused of the same crimes.