Warning: This contains spoilers for Season 2 of Timeless. Not seen the show? Read our spoiler-free review of Season 1, available on Netflix UK – or our interview with creator Shawn Ryan here.
Building on its successful and much-loved first season (currently streaming on Netflix UK), the second season of Timeless – NBC’s show about a trio of time-travellers trying to stop a sinister organisation from altering history – hit an extremely impressive stride. Showcasing an increased confidence in its writing, it delivered a thrilling mix of time-travel adventure, compelling characters and a little bit of history, capped off with some of the finest cliffhangers on television. All of which only made its second cancellation that much more devastating.
After initially axeing the show following its first season, NBC gave Timeless a reprieve and ordered a shortened second season of 10 episodes, down from the first season’s 16. This was arguably an improvement, effectively forcing an all-thriller-no-filler approach that meant each episode moved the story forward in significant ways. Accordingly, the writers – overseen by creators Shawn Ryan and Eric Kripke – made a series of small adjustments to the general set-up. Chief amongst these was the discovery that sinister organisation Rittenhouse (now led by Lucy’s mother, Carol, played by Susanna Thompson) had planted a series of sleeper agents throughout history, as opposed to the team chasing “time terrorist” Garcia Flynn (Goran Višnjić) through time. In addition, a power struggle was established within Rittenhouse ranks, when Carol and second-in-command Emma (Annie Wersching) pulled Rittenhouse leader Nicholas Keynes (Michael Rady) from history. Nicholas’ sexist attitude to discovering that Rittenhouse’s leadership was all female in 2018 led to some fascinating, topical conflict, ultimately inspiring Wersching’s character to disobey Rittenhouse orders.
The renewed confidence in the writing of the show was a sign that it had really found its feet. In the previous season, the character dynamics were effectively developing alongside the main plot, but Season 2 achieved the perfect dove-tailing of emotional storylines and thematic stories that were rich in historical detail. This reached its high point in Episode 3 (Hollywoodland), which simultaneously included: an engaging story about actress Hedy Lamarr (Alyssa Sutherland) inventing the technology that led to modern WiFi; a strong political edge in Rittenhouse’s plan to use publisher William Randolph Hearst (John Colton) to disseminate propaganda; the fan-pleasing consummation of the relationship between Wyatt and Lucy; a wonderful moment where Lucy is forced to sing a song on stage (and Abigail Spencer knocks it out of the park – while singing directly to Wyatt, for added feels); a thrilling subplot where the Time Team use the past and present to spring Garcia Flynn from jail; and a stunning cliffhanger, where Wyatt, having just declared his love for Lucy, discovers that his dead wife Jessica (Tonya Glanz) is, in fact, still alive (NB: totally called it). And that’s just one episode.
The first season drew great critical and fan acclaim for the way it was suffused with a genuine love of history, with the writers obviously having done their homework, using each episode to focus on a lesser-known historical figure. Happily, that continues throughout the second season, spotlighting fascinating characters such as detective Grace Humiston (Mrs Sherlock Holmes), Civil War activist Harriet Tubman (The General) and African-American racing driver Wendell Scott (The Darlington 500).
Needless to say, the chemistry between Spencer and Lanter is still smoking hot, but the second season plays time-honoured games with their relationship, throwing a pair of giant spanners into the works. Most shows would choose to make Wyatt’s wife an unlikeable or immediately untrustworthy character from the start, but Glanz’s appealing performance means that the audience is conflicted, as Wyatt still loves Jessica and is clearly torn apart by her return. In turn, the show uses that as an excuse to ramp up the pre-existing chemistry between Lucy and Flynn, who becomes altogether more sympathetic this season and clearly harbours feelings for Lucy.
In addition to the central love quadrangle, the show significantly improves the characterisation within the supporting cast, giving both Agent Christopher (Sakina Jaffrey) and Connor Mason (Peep Show’s Paterson Joseph) emotionally engaging episodes where they’re the central focus, and developing the relationship between Jiya (Claudia Doumit) and Rufus (Malcolm Barrett).
That, in turn, leads to an extra sci-fi element within the show, as Rufus and Jiya are forced to grapple with predestination paradox. As established at the end of Season 1, Jiya begins having seizures, accompanied by what appear to be visions of the future. After she tells him about a vision where he kills someone, Rufus goes out of his way to avoid that becoming a reality, only for the man to end up dead anyway, suggesting – in line with several other time-travel shows – that history will always course correct. This is backed up by the Kennedy episode, where Rufus warns JFK (a superbly cast Grant Jordan) to avoid Dallas on 22nd November, 1963, but he ends up being assassinated in Austin, instead. All of which sets up a tense final few episodes, whereby Jiya has foreseen Rufus’ death and they do everything they can to avoid that coming true, only for… well, that would be telling, but the hashtag #SaveRufus wasn’t trending for nothing. (Jiya’s vision also had a fruitful, blackly comic side-effect, in that Rufus spent a few episodes thinking he was invulnerable, given that he knew the circumstances of his death).
Ultimately, the show caps everything off with a season finale that is as close to perfection as humanly possible. In addition to a number of surprise twists (particularly in relation to Rittenhouse), Season 2 ties everything together with an episode where the Time Team have to rescue Jiya when she becomes trapped in the past, only to discover that they’re in the exact time period where Jiya foresaw Rufus’ death. It also resolves the Lucy / Wyatt relationship, before ending on the mother of all cliffhangers, whereby future, battle-hardened versions of Lucy and Wyatt appear, urging the team to help them go back in time to #SaveRufus.
Unfortunately, despite an outpouring of support from a hugely vocal fanbase, NBC cancelled the show for a second time. According to the show’s Twitter feed (@TheTimelessRoom), the situation is currently pretty bleak, with every major network – including Netflix and Amazon, shame on them both – having passed on the show. However, as of the time of writing, there’s still a sliver of hope that the producers might get to wrap up the dangling plot threads with a two-hour movie, although it’s looking less and less likely, as the options on the actors’ contracts have now expired.
In the meantime, by way of compensation, the producers have gone out of their way to provide a number of fan-pleasing extras on the Twitter feed, including a number of deleted scenes and unseen script extracts. As to whether we’ll ever get closure on the adventures of Lucy, Wyatt et al, only time will tell.
Timeless Season 1 and 2 is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.
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