Sunday, May 13, 2018

REVIEW: 'Timeless' - The Team Confronts the Rittenhouse Leaders in a Life-Changing Way in 'The General' & 'Chinatown'

NBC's Timeless - Episodes 2.09 "The General" and 2.10 "Chinatown"

When the Mothership jumps to South Carolina in 1863, the Time Team partners up with a courageous Union spy and military leader, Harriet Tubman, to thwart Rittenhouse's plan to alter the outcome of the Civil War. Back in the present, Rittenhouse hits the team where it hurts the most. When Jiya makes a daring escape from Rittenhouse that strands her in San Francisco's Chinatown in 1888 with no way home, the fractured Time Team goes back to save her.

In its first season, I enjoyed Timeless quite a bit. Yes, it had some significant growing pains that it struggled figuring out. But it knew how to tell episodic stories that were actually entertaining while still pushing a serialized element forward. In its second season though, I completely fell in love with Timeless. This was such a wonderful season from top to bottom. There wasn't really an episode that fell flat. It told such emotional stories that compromised the main characters in interesting ways while pushing its premise to its full potential. I've said it before but the brush with death may actually have given the creative team the courage to push the envelope with the story and not simply wait around to tell stories that could simply be pushed off for future seasons. Of course, that also gave them the courage to present a finale that ends on a massive cliffhanger even though the ratings have still been fairly low. I would be so upsetting if these were the last episodes of Timeless ever. I would understand the rationale behind such a decision. But the creative of these episodes was just terrific. The cliffhanger is such a scary way to close out this season. And yet, it always keeps things focused on the characters and the emotions they would be experiencing as this life-changing thing happens to them followed by something that seemingly defies any kind of logic. It's crazy and wild. That's the exact kind of ride I want to take with this show. It's clear that these episodes weren't designed to air on the same night as a two-hour finale event. "The General" still follows the pattern of the Time Team needing to stop a Rittenhouse sleeper agent in the past. Then, "Chinatown" tells the climatic story of the team confronting the leaders of Rittenhouse with there being significant casualties on both sides. It's a thrilling conclusion that also does a phenomenal job in setting up the future for story should there be another season.

"The General" features Rufus, Lucy, Wyatt and Flynn going back to the Civil War to ensure that Harriet Tubman is successful in raiding the plantations to free hundreds of slaves who will then fight with the Union forces right when they need those victories the most. It's such a precarious time in American history. When the Time Team first arrives, it already seems like they are too late. The attack has already occurred that took out the forces that Harriet was going to use for this attack that night. The Confederates are being aided by the general who happens to be Rittenhouse and guided by a book about the history of the war. He doesn't have that tool until Emma shows up though. That's when he is able to put his plan into motion with the intention of changing history. This is the crucial moment that will determine the fate of this war. It's important for the Union to win otherwise slavery would still exist. It's such a personal moment for Rufus. It's important for everyone on the team because they know just how destructive a different outcome could be while playing exactly into what Rittenhouse wants of the future. In the end, it's empowering to see Harriet lead her forces to victory while freeing woman and children from slavery. Rufus and Wyatt are able to sneak into this party to figure out who the sleeper agent is. In fact, it may actually be a little too easy for them to eliminate the threat because Wyatt has a weapon from the future and Rufus is able to find the book pretty quickly. Even when the sleeper agent flees, he immediately runs into Harriet who kills him. As such, history has been restored. And yet, it's also tragic because Rufus doesn't know how to help Harriet to ensure that her future looks brighter than what Lucy ultimately knows it to be. And yet, he does give her the one thing she desperately wants more than anything. She wants her freedom. She will have that thanks to the team.

Meanwhile, it's much more daunting for Wyatt when he is confronted with an image from the Rittenhouse computers suggesting something more is going on with Jessica. This has been a concern ever since Jessica returned and it became clear that Rittenhouse was responsible for the change in the timeline. Wyatt has been so happy to have his wife back. He has been wanting this for such a long time. He saw having a time machine as being the thing that could help him fix this horrific mistake from the past. He failed in that mission but Rittenhouse succeeded. He thought she was only returned to him in order to distract the team. But now, it's clear that Rittenhouse had much more nefarious intentions with Jessica. It was all first teased with the reveal that her brother didn't die from cancer like he was suppose to do. Rittenhouse saved him as well. And now, it's clear that that was used as leverage in order to recruit Jessica into the organization. So, she has been a spy this entire time. As such, the question immediately looms over whether or not there was any love or truth to this relationship at all. This isn't the same Jessica that Wyatt grew up with and married. She isn't the woman that he loves and knows so well. She carries the same face but she was raised differently. She was brought up with the Rittenhouse morals and beliefs. She has been trained her entire life for this mission. She finally takes action after it's clear that Wyatt is questioning too much of her past and family. She steals the Lifeboat and Jiya. That's an action that seems so destructive because it means the team is now powerless to stop Rittenhouse from altering history. They have won in this war and it's just because Wyatt trusted Jessica completely and didn't want to express any of his concerns with anyone else on the team.

And yet, it's also important to note that Jiya is very resourceful throughout these two episodes. She is able to figure out that Connor Mason knows other pilots of the time machines who have experienced the same visions she has. That allows her to train that muscle and figure out what they actually mean. She is able to see more than glimpses of impending doom. She is able to experience those events herself. She is able to travel through time without having to rely on the machine. Her mind is now open to the universe. That's freeing. But this is also quite a restrictive episode for Jiya as well. She's taken prisoner by Rittenhouse. She manages to escape very quickly and make it back to the Lifeboat. Of course, it's crazy that Rittenhouse just lets that time machine sit idly by with no security whatsoever. The only resistance Jiya faces is Emma trying to catch up to her while also firing at the machine. She is successfully able to escape. But that act actually leaves her stranded in the past. She is stuck in 1888 Chinatown. The Lifeboat was damaged too much for her to stick the landing in the present. As such, she was flung at random into the past. It was just convenient that she landed in a time that she was becoming obsessed with ever since she got that apocalyptic glimpse of the Golden Gate Bridge. That shows that her consciousness probably brought her here for a reason. Of course, there's also the tragedy that comes from this being the time frame where Rufus is suppose to die. The team is able to quickly figure out where Jiya is in the past. But it also comes with the warning that she doesn't want them to rescue her. She can point them to where the Lifeboat has miraculously gone unnoticed for the next 130 years. But that's all that she wants.

Of course, it's inevitable that the team mounts a rescue mission because Jiya means so much to them. She pushed them away because she wanted to save Rufus. She didn't want to be the reason why he died. She has spent three years in this time period. She has grown slightly more hardened and confident in this world. She has managed to fit into the time and make new friends. It's a life she could become happy with should she be stuck here forever. And yet, it's so heartbreaking and emotional when it still ultimately builds to Rufus' death. That moment lands in such a visceral and moving way - much more so than the earlier deaths of Carol and Nicholas. Rufus has been such a crucial part of the team. He is the heart of the team always fighting to do what's right no matter what time period they have to visit to stop the evil forces of Rittenhouse. And now, he's the one who finally takes a bullet from Rittenhouse. It's not the way that Jiya saw it. As such, that serves as further proof that these visions can't always be trusted in predicting the future. However, Rufus still dies in this time. The end result of the vision still actually plays out. That means the show may be delving into the idea that some events are just fixed in time. That has been a huge theme and question of this year. The show has always proven that history is capable of changing. The team has made things for the better on a number of occasions. They have made an impact on time. But now, it appears that Rufus, Carol and Nicholas were living on borrowed time. They were all suppose to die. Nicholas on the World War I battlefield, Carol from cancer and Rufus by a cowboy who works for Rittenhouse. Now, their deaths are different but still occur. It's brutal to watch. It hits the team so hard. They don't know how to save Rufus even though they have a time machine. All they can do is take out their vengeance on the Rittenhouse agents still alive. But Emma is able to overpower Lucy while Wyatt just can't kill Jessica. But hope is still alive at the end of the season. The finale closes with a second Lifeboat landing in the bunker with a future version of Wyatt and Lucy coming out to join the team in saving Rufus. It's such a crazy reveal that breaks more of the rules of time travel. It's something the show previously set up through Flynn's story of getting the journal from Lucy. But now, the team is seeing it in reality and knowing that there is reason to hope that they can rescue their fallen friend. And that's really beautiful and exciting.

"The General" - B+
"Chinatown" - A

Some more thoughts:
  • "The General" was written by Matt Whitney and directed by John Showalter.
  • "Chinatown" was written by Tom Smuts & Nancy Baird and directed by Greg Beeman.
  • When Carol is dying, Lucy sees her final moments as her confessing her biggest regret in life is not making Lucy aware of her Rittenhouse lineage sooner. She laments all of the things that Lucy doesn't even know about Rittenhouse yet. Lucy sees it as further proof that her mother was never capable of change or betraying the system she believed in her entire life. But it's still brutal to watch her mother die.
  • Of course, the audience may have a different reaction to what Carol says in her dying moments. To us, it presents as there being a completely different facet of Rittenhouse that still needs to be uncovered and explored. Moreover, Lucy could actually make a legitimate claim to the leadership of Rittenhouse simply because of her bloodline. She may actually be the rightful leader should she want to infiltrate the organization and reshape its priorities that way.
  • However, Rittenhouse is already changing because Emma decides to kill Carol and Nicholas. She's the one who eliminates the leaders of this organization. She does so because they want things to still be drawn by family lines. She's upset that she was pushed out of vital decisions simply because she wasn't born to a Rittenhouse family. She's over that and willing to take charge now.
  • So, is Jessica the only member of her family who is Rittenhouse? That seems like a legitimate and pressing question to ask. Agent Christopher did a background check on her entire family the moment she moved into the bunker. There was nothing to be worried about. But now, Wyatt presents the truth about the many differences between the timelines. Agent Christopher wouldn't think that it's a big deal that Jessica's brother is alive. But Wyatt does. That really should have tipped him off that something was very wrong in this situation. And yet, he was blinded by love.
  • It's crazy that it has taken this long for Connor Mason to actually get a glimpse as to how Agent Christopher spends her time while the team is out on their missions. It's important for the audience to see that moment because it shows the members of the team left behind not knowing what's going on. It's a nervous time for them that basically proves just how much love there is for this family right now.