The term psychopath hasn’t been in the DSM for a few years now, as these behaviors now fit within the larger spectrum of antisocial personality disorders, but it’s a vivid term that continues to persist on TV shows, from crime procedurals to “Bates Motel” to — perhaps most significantly — the reality stars of the “Real Housewives” franchise.
Removed from its clinical definition, “psychopath” has become a catch-all for those seemingly without empathy, the manipulative, or even simply those who behave erratically. All of which may, sometimes, lead to violent crimes — like the serial murders that earn John “Jack the Ripper” Stevenson (Josh Bowman) the title in “Secrets Stolen” (March 19), the third “Time After Time” outing.
The diagnosis, such as it is, is delivered here by last week’s surprise non-victim, neuropathologist Brooke (Jennifer Ferrin). Her cliffhanger syringe attack on John is explained here: We learn she works in a secret basement lab continuing her father’s research on psychopaths in general, and Jack the Ripper in specific. Clearly still proud of getting the upper hand last week, John quickly seizes upon the best tools at his disposal — his third-straight episode wardrobe of low-slung towel, accent, and the fact he has the face of Josh Bowman — to charm his way out of a Magneto-style glass prison cell/surgery room.
Having learned his lesson from her blindside him last week, John carefully allows Brooke to think she’s still in control, confidence bolstered by the bulky bodyguard watching closely at all times, to the rage-filled human experiment in an adjacent cell, to the number of doors between the lab and the world outside. But before his “John Wick”-style escape, John gains important intel on both Brooke’s work and his own history/future.
Brooke’s research interest is not so much in John the person as it is in his brain — particularly, whether his specific personality disorder is genetic and therefore can be eliminated… Or weaponized for her own conspiratorial purposes. Brooke briefly notes John’s parentage — sex worker mother, unknown father — which clearly unnerves him, and he adds the postscript that he worked his way out of his poverty-stricken roots to attend Oxford and become a respected surgeon.
The mother’s situation is glossed over pretty quickly, but any armchair psychologist could easily link this to his propensity for murdering sex workers who — at least in historical fact — tended to be about his mother’s age, with no sexual assault, reproductive organs removed. Which is not to say that had he been raised by a mother working as a painter or a police officer or a queen he may not have become a killer, but his particular pathology seems inextricably linked with his mother’s history — not that a narcissist as extreme as John would ever entertain the notion that his actions are not purely of his own motivation.
The effects of parents on children looms large over the ensemble this week, as a jaunt to 1980 Long Island throws the fathers of both Vanessa (Nicole Ari Parker) and Chad (William Popp) into lethal confrontation. The two men worked together on something called Project Utopia, and the sort-of-accidental murder is the result of apparently a lengthy professional entanglement. The date and time of this incident was the intended destination of the now-deceased Chad, clearly an important part of what his mother counselled him to do, “Stop this all from happening.” Something bigger’s going on than just Wells and John’s arrival in 2017, and given that the Anders family descends from the Wells, its roots could date back to HG’s own time.
More family connections are revealed when shifty-eyed Griffin (Will Chase) is revealed to be Brooke’s brother and co-conspirator. Given that she’s honoring their father by continuing his research, this could be either a third family at war with the other two, or perhaps John’s unknowing descendants — given their shared ruthlessness it seems possible (although alternately, as Brooke has already bedded John, seems perhaps more complex than network TV would dip into).
What we do know is that John has at least one descendant: A son he never knew about, fathered during a trip to Paris at the turn of the century. His instinctive reaction to this news is patronizing, inferring that Brooke has been given bad information. When she provides enough paperwork to convince him, something ineffable twists. Of course he was always going to escape Brooke’s basement lab, and plot mandates that he’d would eventually get his hands on the time machine again. But his destination here — Paris, about eighteen years after his son’s birth — is clearly not where or when he’d have chosen, prior to learning this new information.
We don’t yet know precisely why he’s intent to meet this young man — Identifying with this boy, growing up without a father? The narcissistic need to have a face-to-face with someone sharing his DNA? The hopes of beginning a father-and-son murder enterprise? — but for the first time so far, John’s main focus is not on murder and power, but, possibly, actual human connection.
Not that anyone, let alone John, expects fatherhood to upend his villainous plans — but it’s one more ripple in what’s turning into an unfathomably large pond connecting this show’s characters through past, present, and future.
“Time After Time” airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on ABC.