NBC’s Timeless throws down the gauntlet as the craziest time travel series on TV, with a cliffhanger that basically dares the network to cancel it.
Is there a more adorably absurd series on the air right now than NBC’s Timeless? The show is a shippers’ fantasy wrapped up in a truly loopy time travel soap opera that has become increasingly self-referential as it dives deeper into its own mythology, one that not only routinely throws out its own rule book but almost seems to be improvised on the spot. This is a show that isn’t content to have a mismatched crew bounce around the time stream righting wrongs, it wants to use the narrative device of time travel as the backdrop to a massive conspiracy carried out by a clandestine group bent on world domination, one that also (naturally) bears a familial connection to Lucy Preston (Abigail Spencer), the show’s ostensible protagonist.
All of that was a key part of the show’s appeal long before Timeless was scratched by NBC at the end of its first season. A vocal fan base was enough to bring the series back from cancelation on a new night where it might perform better. Apparently not everyone who joined in on the social media campaign to save the show has been tuning in regularly. As it turns out, resurrection isn’t quite the cure-all you might think since Timeless once again finds itself on the bubble at the Peacock Network. That leaves the show in a tricky place, as an emotional appeal may not be enough to save the series again, especially since the powers that be at NBC know people like to bemoan a show’s premature cancelation on Twitter more than actually watching the show in need of saving. In response, the writers’ room has seemingly decided to up every ante possible and leave season 2 on a cliffhanger so massive it might have the power to conjure up a season 3 renewal entirely on its own.
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It isn’t until the final moments of the two hour finale, ‘The General’ and ‘Chinatown’, that the things begin to feel like a season finale. The two-hours unfold in much the same way every episode this season has, with the conspiracy surrounding Rittenhouse becoming more and more convoluted, while Lucy, Wyatt (Matt Lanter), Rufus (Malcolm Barrett), and Jiya (Claudia Doumit) race to prevent the group’s ultimate plans from coming to pass. If the introduction of Rittenhouse in season 1 wasn’t loopy enough, season 2 saw fit to make it absolutely bonkers by introducing Wyatt’s wife Jessica (Tonya Glanz) — who was recently revealed to be a part of Rittenhouse. But that’s not all! To make those shipping Lucy and Wyatt really lose their minds, Jessica is pregnant with Wyatt’s child — something she flat out confirms in the finale, though I guess that will just result in the “she’s totally lying!” argument to emerge — making Timeless a truly impressive example of soap-operatic daffiness that’s so bonkers it’s inability to bring in enough viewers to guarantee a renewal is truly mind-blowing.
As effective an hour as ‘The General’ is, it’s ‘Chinatown’ where things really get interesting. Timeless isn’t a show that deals much in subtlety, so when Jiya is kidnapped by evil Jessica and taken to Rittenhouse, it’s all in an effort to see the character turned into this show’s version of a superhero. Jiya’s visions of the time stream have been a fixation for the series for a while, but after she escapes from Emma (Annie Wersching), Carol (Susanna Thompson), and Nicholas (Michael Rady), and ends up lost in time, she has all the, uh… time she needs to master her abilities as well as the art of self-defense. Any other series would turn Jiya’s disappearance into an hour-long quest to locate her. Timeless isn’t any ordinary series, though. It does it in mere minutes, thanks to Jiya sending a message in Klingon 130 years in the past where Lucy would eventually find it. (Let it not be said this show doesn’t know its core audience.)
The rest of the hour is essentially a setup for the cliffhanger. Jiya is convinced Rufus will die if she returns to her own timeline, and Rufus refuses to leave his girlfriend in the past. Thankfully, Rittenhouse employee of the year, Emma, arrives to force both their hands. In doing so, Timeless is put in a position of digging into its own rules of time travel by putting Jiya in the position of saving Rufus from the fate she saw in her vision. Though she succeeds in preventing his death at the hands of the yellow-toothed thug, Rufus is nevertheless struck down by Emma moments later. That death sets up the cliffhanger in which an older and more battle-hardened Wyatt and Lucy from another timeline, show up back a the bunker, inviting everyone along on a mission to save Rufus.
It’s the sort of thing that is guaranteed to get fans hollering in excitement, while simultaneously raising questions about what’s really at stake on this show. Thankfully, Timeless has an answer, and it’s not whether or not a character lives or dies, because, let’s face it, any death the writers want to undo, up to and including Lucy’s mother after she is shot down by Emma, is pretty much fair game. Instead, Timeless puts the emotional connections of its characters on the line. That much is made clear with Lucy’s near heart-to-heart with Garcia Flynn (Goran Visnjic), when he was about to tell her another sure-to-be life-altering truth, and especially with Wyatt’s confession of his true feelings for her, which conveniently arrive after the mother of his child was revealed to be part of a massive conspiracy.
The result is wonderfully melodramatic, and aimed right at the core interests of the show’s audience, which makes the ratings struggles of Timeless all the more confounding. To the show’s credit, however, it has made a strong case for at least one more season, if for nothing else than to bring resolution to a doozy of a cliffhanger. It’ll be interesting to see whether or not the powers that be at NBC are as intrigued as the writers’ room wants them to be.