The utterly charming, increasingly confident first season of “Timeless” combines its elements in a fresh way we’ve never before seen: A fun adventure-of-the-week procedural structure, the elevation of historically marginalized figures, complex discussions of morality, stunning period-accurate costuming and design, and a contagiously goofy sense of humor.
The action-packed season finale includes all this, plus at least three fantastic — and well-earned — twists that set up a myriad of possibilities for a possible second season.
Midway through the episode, series antihero Garcia Flynn (Goran Visnjic) wryly notes that “everyone’s the hero of their own story.”
This could serve as a thesis statement for this morally complex series, where each week both the heroes and the villains they encounter feel entirely justified in their actions — but both sides, of course, can’t both be right. Flynn, for all bodies he’s left strewn throughout history, clearly sees himself as part of a “John Wick” style noble crusade. For most of the series, we assume that Connor’s (Paterson Joseph) relationship with Rittenhouse was made for at least partly altruistic reasons. And then the Time Team themselves, over and over, must wrangle with whose side they’re truly on, moving fluidly from temporary alliances with Garcia to working to kill him, sometimes in the same episode.
Nobody has born the burden of these moralistic decisions so much as Lucy (Abigail Spencer) — partly because her expertise is academic rather than military or scientific, a field in which there are no concrete answers to what’s right or wrong. Her lodestar throughout has been about bringing her sister back into existence: This plot, mentioned every few episodes but often in the background, has always been focused on the sister — what Lucy, and we, have forgotten is that a return to the timeline where she has a sibling means dooming her mother to life as an invalid.
So when we get the show’s first big twists — that Jiya (Claudia Doumit) may have developed “Legion”-like superpowers via the Lifeboat; that Emma (Annie Wersching) is a double agent for Rittenhouse; that Connor has been secretly on their side all along — we know something bigger must be on the horizon — and, given the “previously on” selections, it’s to do with Lucy’s family.
So when Lucy meets with her mother in the final moments, we know this will be more than a sweet mother-daughter moment. And sure enough, when we learn that Carolyn has been with Rittenhouse all along, our jaws dropped along with Lucy’s.
This information puts the entire conceit of the show — Lucy’s involvement with the Time Team — in a whole new light: Her initial recruitment seemed more or less random, and the reveal of her father’s identity hinted that she was specifically selected. Now, Carolyn’s description of Lucy as more or less “Rittenhouse royalty” seems to suggest her entire life was built up for this purpose, “Truman Show” style — casting her ongoing concerns with predestination in a whole new light.
It sets an earlier scene, when Garcia hands over the diary outlining their adventures as a duo, in an even darker light. We know from her sister’s erasure that time is permeable and anything can change; but Lucy’s life seems to consist entirely of fixed points — as well befits the Rittenhouse Chosen One.
And yet, it’s another of her relatives whose actions may hint toward a possible new path Lucy can take. Meeting her grandfather at a hidden gay club ties in seamlessly with the show’s theme of McCarthyism, as well as with the constant witchhunt for Rittenhouse members. It is also important for us to see — via her kindhearted, pragmatic, admirably brave grandfather — that perhaps her entire gene pool isn’t poisoned by villainy.
Which brings us back, again, to that amazing final scene…
We’ve gotten the sense all along that Rittenhouse is rotten because, frankly, we’ve only ever seen them being terrible — and their founder Rittenhouse The Person (Armin Shimerman) is the grossest person… And that’s on a series that has brought us at least two serial killers. But, to Rittenhouse The Organization and to Carolyn specifically, they’re the good guys. Thompson’s manner, in revealing the truth to her daughter, is buoyant — she’s been eager to share this secret with her daughter for ages, and is now thrilled they get to work together.
And who knows, perhaps next season we’ll come to see that Rittenhouse themselves — for all their child-murdering and President-assassinating — are, somehow, the good guys.
It’s always bold to see a show with an uncertain future put themselves out there, leaving many stones unturned, all but challenging the network not to renew them. In its short freshman season, “Timeless” has more than earned a place at the table for a second season. Just as each week’s destination links up perfectly with the emotional arc of the core trio, so too does this show’s arrival at this point in its — and in our — history feels perfectly matched.
The questions “Timeless” raises, of finding and trusting your own sense of morality even as the world itself feels untethered, is so personal and so universal that it might take a goofy network genre show like this to really feel safe enough to talk about. And if you can get these stories along with a weekly dose of awesome Abigail Spencer playing historical dress-up… Who could possibly say no?