Netflix UK TV review: Travelers Season 2 (spoilers)
James R | On 11, Jan 2018
Warning: This contains spoilers for Travelers Season 2. Not seen any of Travelers yet? Read our spoiler-free review of the first season, also available on Netflix. Catch up with our review of Season 1, including spoilers, here.
“It’s time to take back control of our present and fight for our future,” declares Vincent (Enrico Colantoni) in Season 2 of Travelers. It’s the kind of rousing, passionate speech that you expect from a cause flying at the height of its powers – and the second season of this time travel series is doing just that. Season 1 impressed with its fast-paced plotting, intricate world-building and challenging moral dilemmas. Season 2 doubles down on all of those things, twisting the logic of the show’s technology to thrilling and gripping effect.
The first season ended with the reveal that the Director (the unseen force sending instructions and messages from the future to our time-travellers in the 21st century) is not some all-knowing figure, but a gigantic computer calculating how to save the world using algorithms. That revelation led to our team, headed up by Eric McCormack’s Mac, trying to help Grace reboot the Director into a safe new mainframe to protect him from The Faction – the rogue time-travelling operatives working against The Director. And so the FBI descended upon our team to arrest them all. Without a full connection to The Director in the future, our travelers are operating blind, relying on messengers they can’t trust. Who’s in charge? Who’s on the right side of fate? And are they helping The Director’s cause, or actually working for The Faction?
Which brings us to Vincent, aka. Traveler 001, who was the very first to be sent back to the 21st century by The Director. A test of transferring human consciousness through time, he was intended to be projected into the body of someone who dies during the fall of the World Trade Center in 2001. Upon arrival, though, Vincent decided he didn’t want to die and instead managed to flee, thus overriding The Director’s plan and breaking the rules. He’s been on the run ever since, fighting to survive. Getting married and having a son, it was when his wife was killed by The Director trying to send a message through her to him that he fully went rogue and started to talk about taking back control from the omniscient machine.
Enrico Colantoni plays Traveler 001 with a conviction that’s both fanatical and emotional enough to inspire some empathy, if not full-on sympathy, and his hard-staring determination makes him a worth opponent to McCormack’s unflappable FBI agent. If anything does flap Mac, though, is maintaining his host’s marriage with Kat (Leah Cairns), who is her first trimester at the start of the season. It’s testament to McCormack and Cairns’s chemistry that the arc of their relationship has grown into more than just a plot point, or a source of tension, but an emotional anchor – one of many, such as the relationship between Marcy and David (she’s now moved out of his apartment when we rejoin events). And you can tell the writers are aware of it, because Kat ends up a hostage kidnapped by Traveler 001 at the end of the season.
But it’s a winding, unsettling journey before we get there, as Travelers throws us through the emotional and moral wringer, limiting our knowledge to that of the characters – and they, as we eventually learn, know hardly anything. With the Director effectively out of action for the first half of the second run, the missions we find our heroes undertaking could easily be decoy missions from The Faction, and that uneasy uncertainty makes for fantastic telly; Travelers always works best when it uses the logic of its own universe to throw up threats and obstacles, rather than crowbar in people or dangers that are completely out of place.
And so we see poor old Philip (the excellent Reilly Dolman) helped by Traveler 4514, Jenny (Stephanie Bennett), who eases him off his addiction that plagued him throughout Season 1. All she actually does, though, is get him addicted to something else entirely, which she uses to get him to memorise a formula for an antivirus that will stop a dangerous flu-like virus in the future. But that formula only turns out to be a trick, instead causing Philip to spread a different strain of a disease that’s even more severe – and so a race against time turns in another race against time, but with the added nail-biting knowledge that, well, we don’t know if they’re even doing the right thing. When they do find themselves on a mission to protect the power source of the Director, even that gets sabotaged by The Faction – it’s only by some very high-risk time-travelling within some impossible parameters that the whole thing is put back on course.
Season 2 also brings more complications to the lives of everyone else in the team, as Carly and Jeff try to regain custody of their son, and Trevor and Grace bond in hospital following Season 1’s finale. And each of these challenges are balanced superbly with the action, so that they poke through the programme’s slick surface without disrupting the momentum. Grace, for example, finds herself on trial for overwriting someone not assigned to be her host – only for the trial to turn out to be a ruse to flush out a Faction mole from the panel of judges.
Philip, meanwhile, has to attend an update with other Historians, who are then given a copy of the altered future timeline, as a result of the events that have transpired. But that process of imprinting on his brain only sparks further trauma for him – an ordeal that’s echoed by Marcy’s decision to injure herself near fatally in an attempt to retrieve all her lost memories of her life (and of David), after Grace half-recovered her mind in Season 1. While she’s out cold, the others are assigned to protect the 53rd President of the Uniter States – or, more specifically, the young girl who will grow up to be the 53rd POTUS – and that assignment, which culminates in a shootout is a neat way to explore Carly’s relationship with kids. Other chapters include an assassination, a bombing and more, which our group make it through with aplomb.
But Traveler 001 remains ahead of them all, and his mission of revenge agains The Director and the Travelers climaxes in him taking their loved ones hostage (Kat, David, Jeff, Ray and Grace) and blackmailing our team into exposing their own identities to the world – which, needless to say, is an even bigger breach of protocol than not dying or transferring yourself into a new host without authorisation. Traveler 001, meanwhile, is plotting to do exactly that, by using Simon (Traveler 004), who is inside a host with schizophrenia, to build him a mission that can beam someone from one body to another.
The Travelers come up with a nifty bit of technical trickery to allow Mac to record a video message (which begins the final episode in a superbly effective cold open) and release it, before they quickly delete it again. But it’s too late, in the end, as Traveler 001, who has been hiding off-grid and away from any camera for years, succeeds in transporting himself into Dr. Perrow. And so, by the time The Director does track down Vincent’s body, The Director transports Traveler 5792 into him, but without actually killing off Traveler 001 as intended.
Even worse, though, is the revelation that the technical trickery didn’t work, which means the Travelers are now entirely exposed to the world – those videos, after all, were all the FBI needed to confirm the investigation into the mysterious Travelers they were carrying out back when Mac was first beamed into the past. That exposure is felt most keenly when Kat is rescued by Mac, but her thank you walloping him for lying to her and, effectively, killing her husband. Even as Travelers expands its horizons to its widest scope yet, the show still grounds everything in the personal relationships we’ve been following for two seasons – the bigger it gets, the better it gets at keeping things feel small. When you step back at the end of the season and question how The Faction’s motivations and The Director’s motivations intersect, or don’t intersect with Vincent, does it all make sense? It’s enough to make your brain hurt, for sure, but Travelers precisely paced storytelling is sharp and exciting enough to keep you thinking only of what’s happening right now. It grabs hold of your present, and for 13 riveting hours, it doesn’t give that control back.
Travelers is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £9.99 monthly subscription.