Ahhhh! Fricken Clockblocker!
Timeless fans were, understandably, gutted at the announcement that the time travel drama had been canceled on June 22nd. They’d been down this road before when NBC canceled the time travel drama after the first season, and then uncanceled it four days later.
Upon news of the cancellation, fans have been fighting with the #SaveTimeless Twitter campaign to find the show another home on streaming services like Hulu and Netflix, and TV stations like STARZ, HBO, and even making a case for HISTORY Channel.
The fandom played a large part in how the show was saved the first time. They’ve even created the Lucy Preston Literary Society on Goodreads to further engage with the time periods these heroes travel to and created a book donation drive called #LifeboatLibrary.
On June 29th, TV Line reported that the show had failed to find a home at another network, but the fans still aren’t giving up. Recently, they started a GoFundMe campaign to get a helicopter to fly over San Diego Comic-Con. They raised $23,000, enough for the helicopter, a 4,000 sq. ft. banner, and a live stream of the three-hour flight, that will take place on July 21st.
From the outside, the passion that these fans have for their favorite series may seem trivial. There will be other shows that center around time travel and viewers may like them just as much as we like Timeless, and there are certainly other shows with historical influence out there, but in the time travel genre this show stands out.
Let’s do a thought experiment. Perhaps you’ve had that moment where you feel nostalgic and you’re thinking about a crossroads in your life.
You start to wonder what would happen if you could go back and change it? What if you could go back and right what once went wrong on a personal level?
Now, what if you went bigger? What if you could go back and stop John Wilkes Booth from killing Lincoln or find out what happened in those missing eighteen minutes of Watergate Tape footage?
What effects would that have on the present day and what might that do our present? Sure, Lincoln staying alive would have changed history on a macro scale, but think about your personal life. What effect could big historical changes have on you?
This is the kind of question Timeless sets itself up to grapple with.
It follows historian Lucy Preston who has just been passed over for a tenured spot as a history professor. Lucy is, understandably, upset because this is the department that her mother built, and she has been working towards that job for her entire career.
But, things change for Lucy when Agent Kondo from Homeland Security shows up at her door ordering her to come with him.
She’s taken to Mason Industries, a tech company that feels a bit like a fictionalized Tesla. Founder Connor Mason built a time machine, called “The Mothership,” and chose not to tell the government about it until it was stolen by a terrorist named Garcia Flynn. Flynn has gone back to 1937 when the Hindenberg exploded due to deadly static electricity.
Why? They don’t know, but Homeland Security Agent Denise Christopher and Connor Mason are worried about Flynn’s intentions. If Flynn goes back in time and kills people who aren’t supposed to die, they don’t have the kids they’re supposed to have or do the things they’re supposed to do, and history changes.
Lucy’s job is to follow Flynn in an earlier model of the time machine called “The Lifeboat,” along with Master Sergeant Wyatt Logan, Delta Force, and the Mason Industries employee Rufus Carlin, who pilots the ship.
Their objective: Don’t be noticed. Don’t change anything.
I confess to being late to the party when it comes to Timeless. It was the 2016 show that I never got around to watching even though I meant to. From the trailers, it seemed like a perfect fit for me.
There was time travel, a mystery, and an excuse for people to wear vintage clothing and garb. What I didn’t get from the trailers was exactly how personal this show would get with its three main characters.
Yes, the show deals heavily with time travel, but beyond it being a method to get these people to the past and effect some change, that’s where the science-y technobabble stops.
The first few episodes of Timeless feel something like a blend of the wit of Doctor Who, and the calculated stratagems of Revenge, plus a little bit of Farscape without space flight, prosthetics, or puppets.
What initially presents itself as a science fiction story is later wrapped in a mystery as Lucy, Wyatt, and Rufus find out about a skull and bones society called Rittenhouse. The introduction of Rittenhouse also puts Flynn’s allegiance into question because while it appears he wants to destroy history, he may actually be attempting to save it.
As proof, at the end of the pilot, Flynn shows Lucy a journal written in her handwriting. But, Lucy hasn’t written that journal yet and is skeptical of how Flynn tells her that it says they’ll eventually work together.
Timeless is interested in the past, with very little of the story taking place in our current timeline. But it doesn’t isolate historical events in its storytelling. Throughout the series, it delves into the common time travel theme of cause and effect, where one event causes something else to happen and can sometimes be a catalyst for change.
The difference is that Timeless makes it personal!
Other shows have dealt with this theme before. Doctor Who has “fixed points” in time where what happens in certain wheres and whens must always happen.
The 4400 dealt with human beings being abducted from the past and then returned to the present with supernatural gifts that would spark “ripple effects,” things that would have otherwise not occurred had these people not been anachronistically placed in the future.
Continuum places City Protective Services officer Kiera Cameron in 2012 where she has to be very careful of her movements to make sure her family still exists in 2077. Even when Captain Janeway of Star Trek: Voyager “did her best to avoid time travel” the crew still had to deal with the “temporal prime directive” whenever they found themselves in the past.
Similarly, when Lucy, Wyatt, and Rufus go back into the past they are not supposed to change history, and sometimes, actually most of the time, they fail epically. They don’t manage to save big historical figures, sorry Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy, but their presence modifies the past in small but subtle ways that impact the history books and sometimes the character’s personal lives.
For example, on the pilot episode, during The Hindenburg disaster, Flynn changes history by giving the ground crew warning about static electricity generated by dragging the ropes through the mud so that the airship can land safely.
Lucy is understandably panicked by these events because while killing people who shouldn’t be killed in the past is bad, having people alive who were supposed to die will also present wildcards in the timeline. And their existence has personal consequences for the team in the present day.
At the end of the pilot, Lucy returns home to find her world radically altered. Her mother was dying of cancer before she left for 1937, but now she’s healthy, and her younger sister Amy doesn’t exist.
On the next episode, Timeless Season 1 Episode 2, “The Assassination of Abraham Lincoln,” Lucy finds out that her father married a descendant of someone who survived the Hindenburg. Since her father and mother never met, and he got her mother smoking, Lucy’s mom never gets lung cancer. While that might be a good thing, it also means that her mother never had Amy.
It also unearths a buried family secret: the man Lucy thought was her father, really wasn’t.
But the idea of time travel affecting our present day lives goes beyond just Lucy and her sister. When viewers first meet Wyatt Logan, he is haunted by the death of his wife Jessica, who was killed one night after they had a fight. Wyatt regrets the events of that night, but thanks to some time travel rules the time team can’t go back to anywhere or anywhen that they might run into themselves.
In short, saving Jessica directly is a non-starter. This forces Wyatt to get creative in the first season, forming a plan in Timeless, Season 1 Episode 13, “Karma Chameleon,” to stop her supposed killer’s parents from meeting and having the one-night stand that would conceive a serial killer.
We also learn in the first few episodes that Flynn stole The Mothership so that he could get his wife and daughter back, by taking out Rittenhouse and eliminating the organization from the timeline in its entirety.
With this one rule, Timeless solved the classic rut of “If I had a time machine I would just go back in time and make sure [insert terrible thing] never happened.”
Instead of allowing these characters to take the time machine back to change a specific event they need to engage with history. They have to put a puzzle together and figure out what they can manipulate to achieve the desired result–or stop Rittenhouse’s desired result.
And while doing this, Timeless has introduced its viewers to historical figures like Ian Fleming, Hedy Lamarr, Alice Paul, and Harriet Tubman. They’ve taken their viewers to 19th Century Chinatown in San Francisco, and the Darlington 500, and a World War I battlefield, all rich with historical detail that provokes fascination from both the characters and the fans alike.
Timeless takes the history from our textbooks and immerses the viewer in it, and by making it personal for Wyatt Logan, Garcia Flynn, and Lucy Preston, the past resonates with the viewers as the characters attempt to bring the people they love back throughout time.
Did you love Timeless? Be sure to share your thoughts with us in the comments below!
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