Sunday, April 15, 2018

REVIEW: 'Timeless' - John F. Kennedy Reads His Wikipedia Page After Escaping to 2018 in 'The Kennedy Curse'

NBC's Timeless - Episode 2.05 "The Kennedy Curse"

When a mission goes awry, Wyatt and Rufus are forced to bring a 17-year-old John F. Kennedy with them to the present. While the Lifeboat is recharging for the return trip, Kennedy escapes from the bunker - into modern day San Francisco. Anxious to return the future president to history, the team must find a way to work together to rescue JFK and return him to the past before Rittenhouse assassinates him in 2018.

"The Kennedy Curse" breaks from the norm of Timeless in a fantastic way. It opens with a mission already in progress. Wyatt, Rufus and Flynn have gone back to the 1930s after Rittenhouse has deployed their secret agents to attack a boarding school. They learn offscreen that it is one of John F. Kennedy's professors who is now trying to kill him. It leads to a huge shootout between the two sides that the audience only learns after the fact just like everyone left behind in the bunker. But it's such an ominous tease that sets a wonderful premise for this hour. Now, the complications from the past have come directly to the present to create a new set of problems. Wyatt and Rufus saw the only way to protect a young John F. Kennedy while staying alive was to bring him to the present. They were more than comfortable leaving Flynn behind in this time period to deal with the remaining Rittenhouse forces. That's a story that is never touched on again until Flynn is brought back to the present day to complain about the day he has had in the 1930s. Of course, it probably wasn't as difficult or potentially timeline altering as what was happening in 2018. It just makes for a really solid punchline that also establishes how John F. Kennedy can be restored to his rightful timeline without being targeted by an army of Rittenhouse agents. It's clear that Rittenhouse has amped up their tactics in carrying out these missions because the time travel team has been so effective at stopping them every step of the way. Lucy, Wyatt and Rufus have proven to be quite effective at throwing a wrench into Rittenhouse's plans. That only increases the severity of the situation and the threat against them. Those are consequences that play out throughout this hour quite well.

Everyone knows just how big a deal it is to bring John F. Kennedy to 2018. They understand that they need to keep him safe and guarded in the bunker to ensure he doesn't get out and sees the world as it currently exists. Of course, it was also inevitable that JFK escapes because that's where the fun of the story comes from. It would just be boring to have someone in the bunker babysitting JFK while the Lifeboat recharges to make the return trip back to his time. This is a young JFK who is very much prone to escaping whatever rules and barriers he encounters. He's simply a young man in boarding school who breaks the rules by charming every single women he encounters. Of course, his life is so famous that many people know his story and how to track him. Both sides know how he'll react in any given situation while knowing just how precarious it is for him to see this world. It runs the risk of JFK learning about his own history and possibly changing his future by trying to avoid the tragic circumstances of his family's curse. He is at a point in his life right now where his family hasn't been hit by tragedy. They are on the precipice of doing so though. But right now, JFK has no aspirations for the presidency because he has always seen that as the future for his older brother, Joe. He is instead just a charming young man who finds himself quite adept at surviving in this strange new world. He doesn't understand what has happened to him. But he is able to hitch a ride from strangers very easily just by putting on the charm and slowly learning to trust them with the truth about his situation.

John F. Kennedy telling his new friend who he is and that time travel must exist in order to explain what has just happened to him is the exact reason for him learning every detail about his life. Of course, it's just the Wikipedia highlights. He doesn't have the time to go over the full biographies of his entire family and what ultimately leads to their pattern of dying young. But it's enough for him to get seriously depressed and try to drink his sorrows away. It's only now that he realizes he must return to the bunker as it's probably the only place with a time machine that can restore him to where he is from. He goes on quite a journey over the course of this hour. He is sick to his stomach over all of these changes. He no longer understands the world. That makes him an easy target at the hospital he checks himself into. That leads to a full-on fight between Emma and Wyatt. It's a thrilling moment. It ends in a draw with both of them being able to fight for another day. Emma isn't able to succeed in her mission to take out this threat to Rittenhouse. She fails at being able to kill JFK. And yet, she still has the full support of Nicholas in the organization. Meanwhile, it's a resounding victory for the good guys as they are able to rescue JFK in the nick of time. He is willing to go along with them on this journey knowing that it's his only opportunity of returning home. Of course, he returns as a changed man. He knows that time travel will exist in the future one day. He got a glimpse of that world. Even though he knows he won't live to see it, he is proud of what the later generations become.

John F. Kennedy having full awareness of the time travel team and the future of his family could have unexpected ripples in the timeline. They tell him that he must keep this a secret in order to preserve history. Warning any of his family members about their fates could lead to additional consequences that could produce any number of changes to history. He must keep this a secret. As the President, it's a skill he will have to carry in his life. All he needs is the reassurance that he was a good one. Lucy does confirm that he's one of the best. But Rufus also tries to help him avoid his tragic fate. He gives him the clues to avoid being assassinated in Dallas in November 1963. He tells him not to visit the city during that month. JFK listens but still winds up dead at the hands of Lee Harvey Oswald. It just occurs in Austin instead. That fuels the ongoing debate between Rufus and Jiya over whether history can actually be changed. They are starting to see that some things are just suppose to happen. The man in Salem was suppose to die during that confrontation with Rufus. And now, JFK is destined to die when he dies. It may just be the Kennedy curse that historians have noted. Maybe everyone in the family is just suppose to die in some tragic way. Or maybe it's further evidence that there is some higher power out there that is ensuring that everything in the timeline is happening for a reason despite all of the meddling from the team and Rittenhouse. That would make it impossible for Rittenhouse to ultimately succeed in their grand goals. But they might only fail because of the efforts of Lucy, Wyatt, Rufus and everyone else in the bunker. As such, it is so complicated and twisted to think about why certain things are meant to happen and others aren't. Rufus doesn't want to believe in God after everything he has seen in his life. He believes he's in charge of his own fate. But that only further creates a rift between him and Jiya as she sees such profound value in the visions she is having.

Elsewhere, the team has to decide if it's truly the best strategy to keep having Lucy go out on these missions throughout time. They all clearly have targets on their backs. But the mission in Salem got so personal for her. It was proof that Carol was always going to prioritize her loyalty to Rittenhouse than to her own daughter. Yes, she helped plot the escape of the accused witches. But the plan didn't go how she was planning. And now, she kidnaps Agent Christopher to try to threaten her into keeping Lucy hidden away from this entire mission. It's her trying to be a mother and protecting her daughter. In the process though, she is fundamentally misunderstanding who Lucy is and the passion she feels for this job. Lucy is eager to be traveling through time with Wyatt and Rufus. She sees herself as an important and necessary member of the team. The guys go out without her this time because she's still injured from her trip to Salem. She is still healing throughout this entire episode. But she still goes out to find young John F. Kennedy. She's the one who can make the emotional appeal to him that it's better to return to his time and keep everything he has learned a secret. She succeeds in that mission. That shows her value to the team. But there's also so much personal material for the show to mine should it decide to bench Lucy from the team for a little while. Lucy and Jessica actually interact here and learn about their personal relationships with Wyatt. Jessica is willing to walk away and allow Lucy and Wyatt to be happy together. She was already resigned to that fate. Everything has gotten more complicated because of time travel and this being a completely different Wyatt. And yet, Lucy also tells Jessica to give Wyatt another chance simply by mentioning all of the elaborate plans he made to prevent her death from happening. It's heartbreaking when Jessica returns and Wyatt must tell Lucy that he has no regrets about what happened between them. It all makes sense. It's understandable but still heartbreaking too.

Some more thoughts:
  • "The Kennedy Curse" was written by Lana Cho and directed by Holly Dale.
  • Agent Christopher's family is the only personal connections to the team who are still living above ground. They don't know the nature of her real job and what kind of trouble she is getting into now. It's a huge risk for them to be exposed like this and possibly threatened by Rittenhouse. And yet, she rationalizes it by saying it's giving them the life they want instead of being cooped up in a cramped bunker with her new colleagues.
  • There's also the realization that Agent Christopher is chipped and can easily be found by her agency should anyone report her missing. Of course, that doesn't really interrupt Carol's plans for this grand meeting. It takes awhile before Connor Mason realizes she's gone. And he seems to be the one who finds her too. That's awkward while also revealing that Rittenhouse is keeping an eye on Agent Christopher's family.
  • There's a cheap trick employed during the climatic set piece to make it seem as if history is about to be altered in a significant way. The show used John F. Kennedy being imprinted on a coin to show him the importance of his life. Then it reveals that coin changing to a portrait of Nixon - the president Rittenhouse wants - while it seems likely that Emma will kill JFK. It's ultimately an empty tease though that doesn't really mean anything.
  • If there really are fixed events in the timeline that can't be altered no matter how much the various people controlling time travel machines want them to be, it's fascinating to see which events aren't included in that list. Last week, Lucy, Rufus and Flynn made a significant change to the Salem Witch Trials. They are now known as the Salem Witch Revolt with the phrase "witch hunt" no longer being common knowledge. That could change but the JFK assassination could not.
  • This is the second time that the show has featured John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon as major components of the story. Back in "Atomic City," the time travel team was tasked with helping one of JFK's mistresses cover up the affair. Then in "The Watergate Tape," they learn that the missing portion of the infamous tape features the president talking about Rittenhouse.