TIMELESS, Episodes 6+7 (“The Watergate Tape” and “Stranded”). A Review for Time-Travel Fans (SPOILERS!!)
Fellow time-travel obsessives, I’m not gonna lie: the election results hit me like a ton of bricks. But my depression (and my lack of a time machine that I could use to go back and take us out of the Darkest Timeline) is not the reason I did not post to Geek Girl Authority after the November 14 broadcast of Timeless. After watching episode 6, “The Watergate Tape,” I realized that it was really ‘part one’ of a kind of two-parter, and I figured that episode 7, “Stranded,” would bring the conclusion. I was not disappointed, so to speak. Timeless is nothing if not formulaic.
“The Watergate Tape” opens in the present, with Rittenhouse Guy and Mason showing up at Rufus’ house, which is understandably alarming for the time-machine pilot. We learn that Flynn has jumped to 1972 Washington, D.C., in all likelihood for the purpose of stealing the titular tape, the one with the 18 minutes or so that Nixon’s secretary famously erased—but, you know, before it gets erased.
Now Rittenhouse Guy not only wants Rufus to continue recording the trips (i.e. spying on his friends) but also to make regular reports while in 1972 to a phone number on a mysterious business card. Oh, and Rufus is also supposed to make sure no one hears what’s on the tape. (He will fail at that one.) Oh, and also, he’s supposed to stop saying the word Rittenhouse aloud, like it’s “Voldemort” or something. Oh, and if he messes up, his home and family could be in danger. Rittenhouse does not mess around.
Meanwhile, Lucy hasn’t yet got up the nerve to approach Benjamin Cahill, the man her mom says is her dad. No, instead she’s just been hanging around outside his house, trying to get up the nerve. Before that happens, she gets the call from time-travel HQ. Saved by the bell—time to go to work!
Our heroes have barely been in 1972 for more than a few minutes when they are captured by Flynn and his men, and taken (rather conveniently) to the same hotel room where the trio stayed when they traveled to 1865. We never get to see whether their absurd wardrobe and fake White House credentials would get them anywhere near the Oval Office, but that turns out to be unnecessary. Flynn already has the tape, which he happily plays for his captors.
(Before we continue, I need to ask this question one more time: Why, for the love of God, WHY can’t our heroes ever set their coordinates to get to a place BEFORE Flynn? If Marty McFly can figure it out, why can’t Rufus?)
On the tape we hear President Nixon sounding very worried, because he’s being blackmailed by, you guessed it, Rittenhouse. Seems he has to produce “the doc” in order to appease the shadowy conspiracy…whatever “the doc” is. (Everyone seems to think it must be a document of some kind.) Flynn rubs Lucy’s nose in the tape’s content—she had previously shamed him for being paranoid and delusional, but Nixon’s name-checking of Rittenhouse puts Flynn on pretty solid footing, actually—and by so doing reveals to Rufus and Logan that he’s had more than one private conversation with Lucy, which she kept secret. He also reveals to them the existence of (Future) Lucy’s notebook. All pretty humiliating for Lucy, whose partners in time-travel may never trust her again.
Because Flynn had to kill a couple of guards while infiltrating the White House, he can’t risk going outside. So he uses Logan’s life as a bargaining chip to force Lucy and Rufus into finding “the doc” for him. While they are out, we are treated to the first real glimpse into Flynn’s motivations. He explains that he first crossed Rittenhouse’s shadowy path while working for the NSA, and that his wife and child were murdered as a result of his getting too close to…what, exactly? We don’t learn as much as I’d like about Rittenhouse in this episode. But we know for damn sure they protect their secrets—even from us in the Timeless viewing audience. And we know that Flynn is terrified of them, and simultaneously bent on revenge, and maybe hoping to impact the timeline so that his wife and child might be restored to him. Even Logan cannot help but empathize.
Meanwhile, Lucy’s plan is to set up a meeting with Deep Throat, Woodward and Bernstein’s anonymous Watergate source. Lucy knows that Throat was revealed in 2005 to be Mark Felt, who in 1972 is an associate director with the FBI. While Lucy sets up the meet, Rufus makes his first report to the mysterious phone number. (The voice on the other end, after hearing the report, tells Rufus to “destroy the doc.”) Then they are off to a quiet parking garage to meet with Felt. Lucy mercilessly blackmails Felt, threatening to identify him publicly as Deep Throat, into revealing anything he might know that could help, but all he can offer is a description of a symbol found on a scrap of paper during a hotel room break-in. (Get it?) Rufus knows the symbol, a fist with horns, because he went through a “militant phase.” It’s a symbol of the Black Liberation Army.
Donning the name “Kanye” (har!) and wielding his knowledge of Eldridge Cleaver, Rufus manages to infiltrate the BLA. Gregory Hayes (the apparently fictional leader of the local BLA chapter) leads Rufus and Lucy to a safe house where the “doc” is kept. The doc is a doctor it turns out, not a document, a young black woman with a Ph.D. in history. Commence bonding with Lucy, whom Doc mockingly calls “Lori Partridge.” (Even though Lucy looks more like Karen Carpenter or maybe Marlo Thomas than like Susan Dey.)
More importantly, Doc happens to have been born into a family with deep ties to Rittenhouse—so deep that she actually serves the secretive group as a living roster of its secret membership. Nothing is written down, mind you: she keeps the names memorized.
Folks, I’ll tell you, I got a tiny bit frustrated at this point. Here is a character with direct knowledge of Rittenhouse, who appears to be trying to escape her involvement with the shadowy conspiracy, and all we learn from her about Rittenhouse is, “They control everything.” Argh.
Rufus uses the phone in the safe house to make another report, and again the voice tells him to “destroy the doc.” But the doc is a person, and killing is a bridge too far for Rufus, who is finally compelled to reveal to Lucy that he’s been spying for Rittenhouse. (She’s upset to say the least, but her private confabs with Flynn don’t leave her with much of a perch from which to judge him.) With Rittenhouse agents on the way to kill Doc, Lucy has a stroke of genius: she calls Flynn and tells him where to find the Doc. This has the twofold effect of setting Flynn and his men against Rittenhouse and giving them time enough to help the Doc escape and rescue Logan.
Oh yes, Logan needed rescuing badly. After Flynn switches gears from telling his back-story to needling Logan about his dead wife (I thought Flynn was trying to make common cause, but I guess he really, really dislikes Flynn), Logan manages to get out of his bonds. We’re treated to a really very nice hand-to-hand combat scene, but ultimately Flynn has two guys to help him, and Logan is on his own. They subdue him and make him a captive yet again. It’s kind of a pointless scene, but it’s fun. Anyway, while Flynn is killing Rittenhouse guys at the safe house and realizing he’s been tricked, Lucy rescues Logan and they say a tearful goodbye to the Doc, who will go into hiding somewhere overseas. (I think we are pretty likely to meet an older version of her in the present, at some point.)
As the episode wraps up, we get more revelations. For one, the guy Rufus was calling in 1972 is actually Rittenhouse Guy, when he was younger. (Whoa!) For another, Logan insists that Rufus keep recording their missions for Rittenhouse, so that he can act as a double-agent and keep his fellow time-travelers informed as well. (Interesting…) We also learn through a montage set to a cover of “The Sound of Silence” that Logan is indeed obsessing over his wife’s death, and would appear to be still looking for a way to use the team’s missions to impact the timeline to save her. Logan and Flynn are more alike than not, no?
But the BIG revelation is this: Benjamin Cahill, the man Lucy has been told is her dad, is none other than Rittenhouse Guy. Rufus would know his face, but Lucy doesn’t, so she remains oblivious to the connection. But Rittenhouse Guy, whom we will now call Cahill, knows damn well who Lucy is.
So: Why did I come away thinking this is part one of a two-part arc? Because the trust was broken, you guys! Lucy and Rufus have both been keeping secrets, so they can’t trust each other, and Flynn can’t trust either of them. Flynn is particularly mad at Lucy for making a deal with Agent Christopher that the NCTC would work to help Lucy get her sister back. (Why not help him get his wife back, too?) Anyway, after seeing how the episode ended, and then seeing on IMDB that the following episode is entitled “Stranded,” it didn’t take a genius to see what was coming. Somehow our heroes would need to overcome being stranded in time, and in so doing would earn each other’s trust, bond with each other, become a stronger team then before, yadda, yadda, yadda.
I’m not going to spend a whole lot of time on “Stranded.” It was quite possibly the worst episode yet in spite of a few enjoyable plot devices and our first time really getting to know Jiya (though we mostly learn that she has feelings for Rufus).
The short version: The episode opens in 1754, the year of the start of the French-Indian War. I don’t even think we know where our heroes actually are other than North America, probably. Whatever the team has come back to do they’ve already done, because they are running frantically back to the time machine, only to find Flynn’s men trying to blow it up with explosive charges. Ultimately only one charge ignites, but it’s enough to blow a hole in the hull of the “lifeboat” and destroy part of its navigation system. They’re stranded, y’all! Oh, noes!
The rest of the episode is mostly by-the numbers: captured by the French, then they get free, then later captured by the Shawnee tribe. While waiting for the Shawnee to execute them, our heroes have a heart-to-heart-to-heart, and it seems like we’re all going to be friends again. Shawnee chieftess Nonhelema decides to kill the two “British” (Lucy and Logan) and let Rufus go free because she presumes he is a slave and is not there of his choosing. But Rufus makes an impassioned plea, even suggesting that he would rather die with his compatriots. Of course, Nonhelema frees them all. And of course they figure out a way to fix the ship and get home.
Here follow a few things that really annoyed me about episode 7:
For one: remember in the last episode when Logan decided that Rufus should keep recording their missions and pretending to be a spy for Rittenhouse? Well in this episode Logan takes the recording device from Rufus and chucks it into a nearby river. So, he changed his mind, I guess?
For another: at one point Rufus mentions that the ship is “short a couple capacitors.”
Logan responds, “Flux capacitors?”
Rufus: “No, those don’t exist.”
Note to the creators of Timeless: you have referenced the Back to the Future franchise now twice in just seven episodes. Let that be the last time until at least Season Two. It was cute once. But after that you’re just pandering to an audience that would rather you invest in making your show original and interesting than in pandering.
Here’s another: The episode introduces a great time-travel plot device, called “the protocol.” The protocol is essentially a message-in-a-bottle sent through time: Rufus writes a note and sticks it in a specially designed airtight container, which they then bury very deep in the ground precisely three feet in front of the time machine’s door. Back in the present, Jiya, Mason and Christopher lead a crew in retrieving the container, which they’ve calculated is located under some poor soul’s front yard. They find the container, but…Oh, noes, y’all! It’s cracked! That means it ain’t airtight, which means most of the ink has evaporated after 262 years. The only words they can make out are “Death” and “Millenium.” What could it mean?
This could have been an intriguing story arc, but instead it’s just a flimsy excuse to show us that Jiya cares about Rufus: she figures out that the words are a reference to the Death Star pulling in the Millenium Falcon by tractor beam in Star Wars. She guesses that Rufus is trying to tell her that they are having a navigation issue, and that they need time travel HQ to assume navigational control of the ship once it is mid-jump. She and Rufus have a bond! So awesome! Maybe they will go on a date!
Worse, this type of plot device is just padding, making it take longer for the thing we know is going to happen to happen. We know that Rufus will figure out how to fix the ship. We know Jiya will help bring them home. And we know that Lucy, Logan and Rufus are going to be best buds again. Stop dancing around, creators of Timeless and just do it already!
Maybe I seem annoyed? I am. The previous three episodes were all pretty damn good TV, if a bit formulaic. “Stranded” was a return to the less-than-worthy form of the first few episodes. I really thought we’d got past that phase, but it seems Timeless still has some growing up to do.
The TT analysis:
TT Integrity: We’re mostly on solid ground with these episodes. But some of my questions were raised yet again, such as why our heroes never try to get to a place in the minutes, hours, days before Flynn and his henchmen arrive. Meanwhile, Flynn reiterates another “rule”: apparently time-travelers are not allowed to travel to a time period in which they already exist. I can’t think of a good reason why this should be so, and no one on the show has said anything to justify this. It has simply been stated. That makes it arbitrary, which is a no-no. Definitely deducting points for that. But I love “the protocol.” Points awarded.
Determination for episode 6, “The Watergate Tape”:
5.5 wormholes on my 10-wormhole scale.
Determination for episode 7, “Stranded”:
6.5 wormholes on my 10-wormhole scale.
TT Narrative: Remember when I said that Lucy’s father better have something to with time-travel or with Rittenhouse? Well, maybe having him turn out to be the Rittenhouse Guy is a little ‘on the nose?’ It could have been a different Rittenhouse member, maybe? For instance, the Doc could have heard Lucy mention the name Benjamin Cahill, and then… Oh, well, no one asks me to write for the show. Anyway, it is certainly intriguing that we now know members are born into Rittenhouse, because that has implications for Lucy.
But otherwise, we are having some narrative issues with these episodes. Writers are shoe-horning previously unmentioned bits of knowledge into character bios. (Rufus had a militant phase! Lucy knows French! Logan, who speaks four languages, doesn’t!) At the same time, they are getting way too cute with references to Kanye West, Miller Lite beer, and the Star Wars and Back to the Future franchises. And the writing and direction of the “Stranded” episode were so poor as to make me wonder why I should keep watching. Honestly, if I were a Shawnee, or a member of any Native American nation, or even French or British, I’d probably find the entire episode insulting.
Also, while I’m glad we know more about Flynn’s motivations, they sure seem personal rather than patriotic, as he has claimed. And we still know annoyingly little about Rittenhouse. That needs to change, and soon.
Determination for episode 6, “The Watergate Tape”:
5.0 wormholes on my 10-wormhole scale.
Determination for episode 7, “Stranded”:
3.5 wormholes on my 10-wormhole scale.