Hi, time-travel fans. Let’s start this time around by playing a bit of catch-up: there were two characters introduced in episode 2 of Time After Time who bear mentioning as we move forward (and occasionally backward) into episodes 3 and 4. First there’s Griffin, Vanessa’s paramour and a candidate seeking a U.S. Senate seat. Then there’s the guy I thought of in my head as “the tall ginger.”
The tall ginger appears to be stalking Wells—though he denies it more or less convincingly when confronted. Of course we later learn that he is indeed stalking both Wells and the Ripper—he’s got the classic obsessive’s wall-covered-in-news-clippings-and-photos in his apartment—and as we learn early in episode 3, the obsession apparently revolves around an undisclosed promise the ginger (who now has a name: Chad) made to his aging mother in a nursing home. Anyway, we know now Vanessa is not the only one who knew about Wells and John before they arrived.
Let’s recap events quickly, and then get to the time-travel stuff. Episode 3 follows three main storylines:
1. Wells and Jane need to repair the time machine in order to meet John’s deadline. But they need to replace a special gem, so off they go to meet Jane’s old flame, a distinguished gemologist. They are followed there by Chad.
2. Vanessa tries to keep a lid on the Wells/Ripper/time-machine secret that she’s keeping in her vast Manhattan townhome while she and Griffin are interviewed about his campaign for Senate.
3. John kills time while waiting for Wells and Jane to meet his demand: time machine with non-return key or he will kill again. He meets and seduces the brilliant and beautiful neuropathologist Brooke, likely intending to kill her.
Jane and Wells are off on a rather standard race-against-the-clock story, and the complication presented by Chad is resolved rather predictably. (He’s shot dead by Vanessa’s head of security, Carl, who we learned earlier in the episode has years of military training and special-ops experience.) There’s a little bit of cuteness in Wells’ jealousy when he learns that Jane and the gemologist used to date, and the budding romance between Wells and Jane is charming. Vanessa’s plotline is not terribly interesting, either. Do we care if her boyfriend becomes senator or not? Meh, not really. The only interesting development there is that Vanessa eventually has to come clean about Wells and the time machine—which Griffin thinks is preposterous, of course, until he witnesses the time machine in action. Then, predictably, I think, we learn that Griffin has actually known the whole time, and appears to be playing Vanessa to get access to the machine.
It’s John and Brooke who give us the most interesting storyline. They have great chemistry, and we cringe as we watch knowing that John obviously plans to kill her. Both of them doctors, they are intellectual equals, which seems stimulating for both of them. After they make love, John calls Wells to let him know that, deadline or not, he’s gonna kill someone anyway. But he has spoken too soon: before he can plunge the knife into Brooke, she plunges a syringe into his neck. John passes out, and when he awakes he’s in Brooke’s lab, where she reveals she knew all along that he’s Jack the Ripper, and a time-traveler.
Jeez Louise, how many people knew about Wells and John before they showed up in 2017?
Episode 4 follows Jane and Wells as they pursue the “Chad” thread to see where it leads. They find his apartment, and the wall covered with photos and clippings confirms the deceased Chad’s obsession. They also find a leather satchel, empty but for a piece of paper with time-date-and-location coordinates. The paper also has that symbol on it, the one from the letter that H.G. wrote to himself at some point in the future-past (or the past-future). Jane and Wells travel to the coordinates, which turns out to be near the fancy Long Island Anders home. They are greeted by a three-year-old Vanessa as they intrude on the garden party her parents are throwing.
This part is fun—watching Wells try to “blend” in the 1980’s as he and Jane try to figure out why this particular date is so important—though some of it strains credulity. For example, Jane and Wells follow the man they identify as Chad’s father (same leather satchel!) to a private meeting in the garage with Vanessa’s father. They manage to witness the entire meeting—which ends with Vanessa’s dad killing Chad’s dad with a wrench—without ever being noticed until they had already left the garage. This is less likely than the time-travel device used to make their getaway.
Back in the future, Brooke explains to John that she wants to study him, the famous Ripper, so that she might find a way to cure him (and others like him) of his evil ways. But she’s not exactly the most ethical doctor, having seduced, drugged, and kidnapped her subject. Naturally, John starts plotting an escape. He eventually manages to get past Brooke’s big-but-not-bright goon, and though Brooke threatens John with a loaded gun, John already knows she needs him alive. John saunters out of the lab, with the address of Vanessa’s house. (Brooke is terrible at being a kidnapper. She didn’t keep him tied up, and she gave him way too much information, including, unwittingly, the location of the time machine.)
Vanessa, meanwhile, is throwing a fancy party to help Griffin’s senate campaign, little knowing that he is working with unnamed cohorts to access and maybe steal Wells’ time machine. Turns out that one of those cohorts may be Brooke, who is revealed to be his sister. She shows up at the party like, you know, no biggie but the Ripper is on the loose and is probably on his way here. Indeed, John does show up, doing some damage along the way: stabbing a guard, fighting with Griffin and wounding him, and scaring the crap out of Jane. The Ripper manages to get away in the machine—to early 20th-Century Paris—but Wells has already rigged the machine via modern computer to return even with the “non-return key” in place. This is thanks to Martin, a young tech and Wells-admirer/fanboy, who has been working with Team Wells in both episodes.
That’s more or less how these two episodes go. Now let’s get down to the time-travel nitty-gritty…
If you read my last post, you know what my big complaint is so far: the machine seems to travel to—and become—its own future iteration when both Wells and John use it to travel. This begs so many questions, including and perhaps especially, “Can the machine travel to a time and place where it doesn’t exist already?” Well, turns out that yes, it can. Some of the knobs and dials can be used to choose a location, i.e. coordinates for longitude/latitude, which Wells and Jane use to travel to a secluded spot in the forest near the Anders Long Island home circa early-mid-1980s.
Fine, okay. No, wait…not fine. Did the Ripper and Wells in episode 1 set coordinates for New York City in 2017? If not, did the machine simply travel by default to its future location? And if so, does the machine just plop the travelers into a future version of itself? Or replace its future self somehow? We know that the machine does actually travel, because we have seen it dematerialize and rematerialize—and the root word in both of those is matter, as in the famous known law of physics: “Time machines are made of matter, and two particles of matter cannot occupy the same space at the same time, so get your shit together, creators of Time After Time.” (I think that was one of Newton’s. No, wait, maybe it was more recent, like Fermi…)
This is a continuing integrity problem for me, the discerning time-travel enthusiast. There is little consistency here in the time machine’s operative functions. I have less of a problem with the introduction of the Alexandrite gem “at the heart” of the time machine—it’s just a device that gives us a race against the clock subplot. I also have less of a problem with Martin’s explanation to Griffin of a self-imposed time-travel rule: Griffin wants to know how long they will wait for the machine to return, and Martin responds that the machine travels “in real time” in order to avoid possible tears in the fabric of time. In other words, they will wait exactly as long as Jane and Wells decide to spend at the Anders’ garden party.
This latter device is slightly arbitrary, especially considering that the machine has self-returned on a number of occasions to within seconds of the moment it left, with no apparent damage to the fabric of time. But I like the explanation because it is cleaner than other explanations for real-time passage of time between parallel timelines that I’ve heard in other movies and shows. (I don’t think Timeless ever addressed it at all.) And I also like it because it appears to be self-imposed: they could return at the moment they left, but Wells believes they shouldn’t. So they don’t. I like this nod to Wells’ rigorous attention to ethics, one of his defining character traits.
The bigger time-travel news breaking in these episodes is that Wells and Jane have begun using time-travel to investigate some of the mysteries surrounding his would-be assassin, Chad (the ginger). It’s risky: neither of them are detectives, and they don’t know where they are headed or what they are looking for. (If they’d talked to Vanessa before leaving they’d have had more information—maybe next time they’ll remember they have a time machine, which means they don’t need to rush.) It pans out of course, they learn what they need to know. But as mentioned above, they get lucky to the point of absurdity—They recognize the satchel? They witness a murder without being detected?—finding information and getting away with it in a way that is less likely than real-world time-travel.
The TT analysis:
TT Integrity: Deducting points for these episodes. The time-travel operative functions are very messy, and we are not getting much in the way of explanation. This will continue to bug me unless it’s addressed. The Alexandrite gem (and the race to replace it) is a little bit arbitrary, as is the newly revealed “real time” travel rule. But these are minor issues compared to the much bigger one: how and why did the time machine land in/on/within itself—or replace itself?—in episode 1?
Determination: 5.5 wormholes on my 10-wormhole scale.
TT Narrative: In terms of the story, I’m enjoying Time After Time quite a bit. At the end of episode 3 I was worried that there were just too many damn people and groups in 2017 who know about Wells and the Ripper, but Chad getting killed and Brooke turning out to be Griffin’s sister eased my mind a little. There’s really just three threads to watch for: the Anders family, the possibly-evil Monroes (Brooke and Griffin), and Mary, Chad’s mom and apparently the last surviving member of the Holland family. I also enjoyed Jane and Wells taking the time machine out for a spin to do a little research, and I’m especially fond of watching Wells try to apply his rigorous ethical standards to time-travel. Even the semi-arbitrary “real time” rule doesn’t bug me too much since it appears to be an ethical choice rather than a time-travel operative. It’s hilarious hearing him caution Jane to be careful what she says and who she interacts with at the party, even though he’s much more likely to say something to give them away. Then, when they re caught snooping, the only plan he has boils down to “run away and hope to escape before anyone can see us vanish into nothingness.” Wells and Jane are learning that time-travel ain’t easy, no matter how committed you may be to your principles—and surely no matter whether you were raised and bred to be a perfect English gentleman.
Oh, and let’s not forget that we get to go to turn-of-the-century Paris soon! That should be fun. If I were writing episode 5, I’d start with looking through old news clippings of the terrible Paris Ripper murders. Let’s see if I’m right: time-stamping as I write this, it’s 1:51pm Eastern on Sunday March 26, 2017
Determination: 8.0 wormholes on my 10-wormhole scale.