It only took three seasons, but Continuum is finally living up to the incredible potential of its premise. This Canadian sci-fi import has always been fun, its time travel premise allowing for a giddy mix of multi-decade causality loops, blistering indictments of modern corporate culture, an increasingly convoluted mythology around various time-traveling factions, and—because apparently every show has to be a police procedural—lots of reliably solid police procedural storytelling. What made Continuum’s first two seasons so frustrating, beyond the glacial pace at which the show revealed hints about its central mystery, is that the show’s premise was never just meant to be fun; the show had constructed a brilliantly thought-provoking premise for itself, and then it went out of its way to avoid provoking thought. The central conflict pits Rachel Nichols’ Kiera Cameron, a police officer in the corporate-controlled world of 2077, against the violent terrorists Liber8 as they fight for control of present-day Vancouver and, by extension, the right to reshape the future. Episodes routinely open with flashbacks to Kiera’s past—or flashforwards to everyone’s future—that unambiguously depict the world of the Corporate Congress as a dystopian, Orwellian nightmare, a place in which no sane person would ever want to live. The show then asks us to root for someone who desperately wants to return to that time.
Admittedly, Continuum has never been quite that straightforward, but Kiera—and, by extension, the show in general—has shown remarkable incuriosity about the world she left. There’s no doubt that she’s a good person and that the Liber8 band are violent extremists, but she’s a good person who happens to be a committed fascist, and Liber8 is a band of violent extremists who might just be fighting for the right side. It’s really only tonight, 36 episodes into the show, that Kiera finally, unambiguously confronts the horror of the world that she left. In the past, the show has somewhat justified her myopia by arguing that everything she does is designed to get her back to her beloved son (and her probably beloved husband, but the show is always a bit vaguer on that point). But after being a mainstay of flashbacks for two seasons, young Sam Cameron doesn’t appear once this season, which may just be a reflection of the practical reality that Sean Michael Kyer is going to keep growing up, eventually past the point where he looks like he did in the series premiere. Whatever the specific reason, this year’s forays into the future—including the terrific seventh episode “Waning Minutes,” which is set almost entirely in the 2070s—have shifted the focus away from the Cameron household and onto the world at large, and even Kiera has had to admit just how grim the world she left truly was. As she says here and in a few other episodes this season, Kiera has been asleep for a long time, and now she’s woken up.
The show has risen with her, bringing with it a far clearer sense of purpose. Because the earlier seasons refused to explore the moral complexities of the Kiera-Liber8 divide, and because it jealously guarded the secrets of its mythology, it was difficult to work out just where the show could even be going. There was a vague sense that the elderly Alec Sadler was orchestrating events in our time toward… well, toward something, and that something might be a better, more just future. Tonight’s “Last Minute,” on the other hand, features nearly every major character on the show teaming up not to play some poorly understood role in a future man’s game but instead to do what they feel is right and the best course in service of a better future. Over these last few episodes, Kiera and company have attained a new kind of agency, and a big part of that has been a willingness to accept our time as the living present, not as an arbitrary past that can be reshaped toward some predetermined future. Kiera and her new friend Brad Tonkin—a soldier from a newly created 2039 where Matthew Kellog is a half-mad warlord—are at their happiest when they believe, if only for a moment, that the future is finally in flux, something waiting to be written by those who are alive now. As Kiera explains in the pivotal 11th episode, “3 Minutes To Midnight” to a shattered Liber8: “No one controls the future. It is an ever-evolving organism, free to change as it sees fit.” At last, Kiera recognizes that a chaotic good is better than an orderly evil.
Her journey to that point over the course of the season has been shaped by the growing realization that Liber8 is really the least of her worries. After engaging in their fair share of murderous mayhem in the show’s first two years, Liber8 engaged in a PR-conscious campaign to recast themselves as anti-corporate Robin Hoods. That shift in tactics has at times made Liber8 appear little more than an annoying distraction—their resident tech genius Lucas Ingram draws a comparison to Wile E. Coyote and the Roadrunner that serves as a pretty good encapsulation of the general pointlessness of the group’s season three activities—and allowed Continuum to focus more on the kind of men who would hunt them down. Corporate stooges are everywhere this season, repeatedly using their unlimited wealth to set themselves up above the law, and it all occurs with the willing assistance of Kiera’s superior Jack Dillon. His arc this season, as he accepts a seat on the board of the very corporation that is funding his anti-terrorist policing, represents some of Continuum’s most riveting character work, as the show depicts in real time how a once decent person could compromise and dispense with every last one of his principles for the sake of security and expediency. Continuum’s vision of a corporate dystopia has never felt terribly unrealistic, but the journey to that particular future is particularly real and vital when explored through Dillon.
The season has also gotten significant mileage out of the Freelancers, a mysterious faction who have hovered around the fringes of Continuum since its first season finale but finally reveal their true intentions—or some approximation thereof—in the third season premiere. The fact that the Freelancers turn out to be a cult-like, centuries-old order founded by a quasi-mystical Traveler who originates in the 22nd century and may or may not be a thousand years old adds just the right amount of goofiness to Continuum’s premise, especially when contrasted with the far grimmer time travel misadventures that unfold this year. The Freelancers also offer Kiera a much-needed reflection of her own philosophies of law and order, as she quickly grows disillusioned with their dispassionate, unthinking commitment to preserving the temporal status quo. This is a ridiculous bunch of would-be time cops, but then their very presence offers a roundabout sliver of hope. When it was just Kiera fighting Liber8, the assumption was that the corporate future was just the way things were meant to be, and that no better alternatives could exist without dangerously high levels of interference. But the revelation that history has always been stage-managed, perhaps unconsciously corrupted, by yet another faction suggests that Kiera could someday find the future’s master reset button, clearing away all external influences and opening the way toward a better tomorrow.
Speaking of reset buttons, there’s no better way to close things out than to look at the case of Alec Sadler and Alec Sadler, the temporally twinned, warring boy geniuses. The third season premiere, in which Alec and Kiera both travel a week into the past and find themselves in a new timeline, one in which another Alec and another Kiera already exist, marks the show fully engaging with its time travel premise not just as general background but as an engine to drive specific stories. Erik Knudsen has very clearly had a blast playing both versions of Alec, as the well-meaning but slightly too amoral genius finds himself being split along very different paths. The season has expertly handled one Alec’s journey toward villainy, mixing a bad case of heartbroken jealousy—seriously, the guy loses his dream woman to himself—and more than a little bit of absolute power corrupting absolutely. More than that, this season of Continuum has let the characters’ lies catch up to them, often in devastating ways; the premise demands that pretty much every character lie to everyone else on a near-constant basis, and the notion of betrayal hangs heavy over this year’s proceedings. The evil Alec—if evil is the right word—is, more than anything else, someone who just can’t bear being lied to anymore: not by his girlfriend Emily, not by his best friend Kiera, not by any of the other time travelers trying to shape his life, and definitely not by his other self.
Tonight’s “Last Minute” is a tremendous capper to a generally tremendous season, one that promises an even better fourth season (one that the show hasn’t officially been given, but I’m going to guess the odds are pretty good). It’s a season that mercilessly sheds its deadweight, killing off now irrelevant side characters at a furious clip. It’s a season that gives its characters renewed purpose by forcing them to confront the pointlessness of what they’ve been fighting for all along. It’s a season that isn’t afraid to redefine which side any of its characters are on. (Except for Kiera’s partner Carlos; that giant hunk is consistently on the side of the angels, especially when he starts openly calling out the fascism of Kiera’s time.) “Last Minute” is a fine hour of television in isolation, a rousing team-up caper episode that ends in one hell of a split-screen showdown between Alec and Alec. But it’s better viewed as the culmination of what is by far Continuum’s best year. If you’re still reading this for some reason and haven’t watched this season, go do so posthaste. And if you have seen it? Well, if Continuum has taught us anything, it’s that you can always go back and do it all over again. Things might all go to hell the second time around, but that’s a risk I’m willing to take.
Season grade: A- (only missing out on the “A” because I think future seasons could be even better)
- The end of “Last Minute” is particularly clever, as Matthew Kellog—a somewhat peripheral, adrift character throughout much of this season—makes a hell of a play to take control of Alec’s company Piron and seemingly help ensure the future that he sent Brad Tonkin back to prevent. The arrival of a bunch of futuristic soldiers, looking like they just wandered off from their Starcraft unit, is a great hook for season four. Yes, things are looking bad, but it’s now the kind of bad where I’m pretty sure it can all be solved. Might take a few seasons, but still.
- I must admit that I have very little idea how Liber8 would fit into a fourth season. Still, this is pretty much the third straight season finale where Continuum has apparently written out or killed off huge swathes of the organization, and every time the show finds a way to wind it back.
- For those looking to sample just the very best of this season, I’d go ahead and recommend the premiere “Minute By Minute,” the college protest episode “Minute Changes,” the future-set “Waning Minutes,” and the final three episodes of the season, as those are the most crucial in redefining Continuum’s identity.
- I’ve always found the show’s indictment of modern corporate culture to be way too plausible for my liking, and it’s interesting how the show has incorporated concepts like bit currency and the Darknet into its depictions of both modern-day and future Vancouver. That said, Continuum may have missed a beat by focusing all of its cultural criticism on corporations, as the past year’s NSA revelations have made it perfectly clear that non-corporate governments are perfectly capable of setting up massive surveillance states. Oh, and the show is really not winning any points for subtlety with an evil corporation called “Somnanto.”