I just spent an hour watching Journeyman. And f I went back in time and watched it again, then watched it a third time, I’m still not entirely sure I’d know what was going on.
Which is not to say I didn’t like it. Kevin McKidd is always fun to watch (although I kind of expected him to strip down to his skivvies and start lopping off limbs — what can I say, he made an impression in Rome), and Gretchen Egolf was convincingly confused, heartbroken, and then pissed off as the time traveler’s wife. But between the without-warning time jumps, the messed-up web of relationships, and the cringing over former fashions — well, it’s a lot to get your head around.
I’ve come back from the future to save you from spoilers! Ahhh! Too late!
Time travel is problematic for all sorts of reasons. There’s the constant danger of running into yourself and thereby causing the universe to implode; the horror of realizing yes, you really did wear ginormous shoulder pads; and the ticklish situation that arises when you run into your dead fiancé when she’s still alive and living with you, but you’re a happily married man several years after her death.
Let’s get the relationships out of the way first. Kevin McKidd is Dan, a journalist who used to have a gambling problem and various other unsavory habits. He’s married to Katie, who used to be involved with Jack, Dan’s brother. This was back when Dan was engaged to Livia, who died in a plane crash seven years ago. Except, maybe not. This would make for some awkward family dinners, don’t you think? Oh, and Katie and Dan have a kid, Zack, whose purpose is to be adorable and give Dan something to be tortured about when he’s traipsing through time.
See, Dan has apparently been reading too much Vonnegut, because he’s become unstuck in time. This means he blacks out and wakes up in a totally different decade. This is difficult to explain to friends and family, as he disappears for days at a time without warning, his car is involved in an accident when he wasn’t in it, that sort of thing. They think he’s developed a drug problem. Dan kind of wishes that were true.
Dan seems to be tracking this guy named Neal Gaines. First he saves Neal from a suicide attempt (death by cable car — surely not the most efficient way to go), then he convinces Neal’s significant other, Nicole, not to get an abortion. This involves a stopover in the 80s, and dear god, the costumers had fun digging up massive shoulder pads, shiny blouses, and the occasional Michael Jackson-circa-Thriller jacket. Ooof. The eighties, they were not kind.
On one of his sojourns back in the present, Dan finds out Neal’s wife and son, Jacob, die on New Year’s Eve, 1997. And what do you know, he gets sent back to that very day. Apparently he’s there to help Neal again, but first he has some personal business to take care of.
Job one: Convince Katie he’s not crazy. That involves a toolbox, her wedding ring, and a trip the house that will become theirs in the future. Job two: A change of clothing (saving your future marriage is wet, dirty work.) So Dan breaks into the apartment he was living in at the time, and runs into still-living Livia. This brings up the moral dilemma — Does it really count as cheating when you’re in a time when you were still together, before you were married to your wife? Dan decides it does, and ducks out on nookie. Outside the door, he runs into Livia, again, some more. But this one has straight hair, meaning she’s from the future! Maybe. This is the part where I got really, really confused. FutureLivia tells Dan she didn’t die in the plane crash, then scampers — but not before telling him to follow his gut, and not to mess things up too much. Dan is confused. You and me both, buddy.
Dan has to do some juggling to get the information he needs — it involves eavesdropping on his past and then pumping soon-to-be-dead-but-not-really Livia for information — but he eventually tracks Neal down. Neal is looking just as close to the edge as he was when they first met — you remember, when he was bent on getting run over by a San Francisco tourist icon. Apparently his wife and kid are moving to LA today, and he’s not happy about it. Dan follows Neal, and distracts him just as he’s approaching his family — causing him to get hit by a bus. Now that is a form of public transport I can see doing real damage. Dan thinks he’s messed up, but look! Neal is carrying a gun! He was on his way to kill his wife and child rather than let them leave him! So I guess Dan saved the day. Um, yay?
Back in the future… the present… our time (see what I mean about this making my head hurt?), Dan does some research and finds out Jacob Gaines saved six kids from a school bus crash. So he wasn’t sent to protect Neal so much as make sure Jacob grew up. All righty then. At least he saved the right guy.
Speaking of saving — there’s a marriage to save, folks! Dan goes home to find Katie mightily peeved. She’s not buying the whole "sorry, honey, I got sucked into the past to save a kid who would be a hero in our time!" story, so Dan has to prove it to her. He breaks out the sledgehammer and starts breaking up the back patio. "What are you doing?" Katie shrieks. "Saving my marriage," he replies. "Um, not really!" says Katie. I’m with her: wanton destruction of property doesn’t exactly scream "Honey I’m not unbalanced, now take me back!"
Ah, but there’s method to Dan’s madness. He unearths a toolbox, and inside, shows Katie a newspaper form 1997 and her wedding ring. "I’ll always come home," he says. Katie’s convinced. Me? I keep thinking that one of these days, he’s going to pull out one of the new-design $10 and get arrested for being an incompetent counterfeiter. That would throw a wrench in his world-saving duties.