When watching Timeless, one doesn’t expect to be reminded of The Good Place. They couldn’t be more different, really—totally dissimilar in tone, style, execution, subject matter, and so on—but there are two key qualities they share. One, they’ve got a solid ensemble, and always find a way to give at least one member of the cast something really meaty to do. The other: they, too, like to throw in a twist.
Now, Timeless doesn’t have quite the expertise of its fellow freshman NBC series when it comes to shaking things up. Where The Good Place’s twists almost always feel both organic and totally unexpected, the Timeless twist tends to be either a little wild or a little safe. There are exceptions, of course: Lucy’s sister disappearing, the reason for stealing the atomic bomb, and even Jiya being selected as the next pilot were all expertly executed. Still, sometimes the big Timeless twists feel either safe or sloppy, and in “Karma Chameleon,” we get a little of both.
The episode wastes no time, opening with Wyatt telling Lucy exactly what he and Rufus are planning and Lucy reacting, well, about how you assume a person would react when someone she cares about tells her he’s about to do something that’s reckless at best and stupid at worst. Abigail Spencer and Matt Lanter do solid work, and while the moment seems to count on more investment in this relationship than the series has actually earned, it’s an appropriately grim and slightly nutty start to a grim, nutty outing.
Part of the success in this episode lies in the fact that only two members of the Time Team (thanks for that, Timeless writers) climb into the Lifeboat. In veering away from its typical formula, Timeless gets to play with new pairings and reveal some tough truths about others. The first is great Wyatt caper, which kicks off with a faux-abduction of Rufus (a nice callback to the pilot and the stealing of the Mothership) and a joke about parachute pants. As soon as they land in 1983, Wyatt explains the plan—make sure the parents of Jessica’s killer never meet—and that’s when things start to go wrong.
They never stop going wrong, of course. One of the simplest reveals is that, research or no research, this is a team that just doesn’t work without Lucy. Oh, it works from a viewing perspective. Seeing Wyatt and Rufus scramble shakes up the dynamic nicely, and Lanter and Malcolm Barrett are great together. Fictionally speaking, however, whatever dynamic keeps them from melting down simply isn’t there when Lucy isn’t around. Given the events at the end of the episode, it’s likely we’ll see if that dynamic returns when Lucy’s there but Wyatt isn’t (though since Lanter is a series regular, I’m guessing the answer is no).
Most of the ways in which things go wrong honestly don’t matter, though there is a nice touch in the fact that so many of their complications arise out of the shitty ways women are treated. What matters is Wyatt’s promise—that no one will get hurt—and the moment he breaks it, even though it’s inadvertent. Both of Rufus and Wyatt’s marks are written as decent people, a nice touch that makes the tragic end that much more upsetting. It would be easy to paint these two strangers in a more unflattering light, or to give them shiny little halos, but instead, they’re just a bartender and a flight attendant (sorry, stewardess) with a sister and a mom respectively. The sickening thud of the bartender’s head against the concrete and the terrified state in which Wyatt leaves Becky make it clear that he’s done irreparable damage, something that will make it hard to look Jessica in the face.
And then he can’t, a twist that’s not at all surprising but nevertheless effective.
Back in the future, Lucy spends the episode bouncing from person to person. There’s a moment with Jiya, her unsettling conversation with Bruhl (R.I.P.), and most of all, her team-up with Agent Christopher (Sakina Jaffrey). Every time Jaffrey’s given something to do, the show thrives, and Christopher’s growing conflict with Connor Mason (Paterson Joseph, creepier by the week) has become one of the series’ most reliable sources of undiluted tension. Still, it’s her car scene with Lucy that matters, in which Lucy manages to enlist her boss in a quest to destroy the Lifeboat and Agent Christopher reveals what she knows about Mason’s ties to Rittenhouse.
There’s another twist: the Dad reveal. Honestly, it wouldn’t have been surprising if the show had waited several weeks, if not until next season (fingers crossed), to have Lucy realize her father was a part of Rittenhouse. That she discovers it now is surprising enough; that she storms over to his house is particularly unexpected and, as with Wyatt’s choices, reckless. These three aren’t really meant to go rogue. They don’t seem to have the knack.
Nor does poor, poor Dr. Bruhl, whose ill-fated attempt to stop Rittenhouse from traveling in time by betraying Flynn and destroying the Mothership earns him two rounds in the chest. Hopefully we’ve got some Bruhl flashbacks coming up, because to lose Matt Frewer without some juicy backstory stuff would be a real loss. Bruhl may fail in his mission, but he does manage to get someone else on board the “destroy time travel to stop evil time travelers” train—which, to be honest, seems like a much better plan than chasing Rittenhouse members and Flynn through the centuries.
Overall, “Karma Chameleon” is a solid Timeless outing, if not a sensational one. More exciting than the episode itself is the promise it shows: if, like The Good Place (or Lost, or Alias) it remains willing to shake things up on an almost weekly basis, it’ll become the kind of series that, even when it’s not high art, is always, always entertaining.
- Lucy, gimme that robe.
- “God, that’s good. I missed beer.” I think I like Emma (Annie Wersching).
- Speaking of, think she’s the one that shot Bruhl?
- Speaking of, perhaps he’d still be alive if he hadn’t left two clearly labelled bars of C4 peeking out of his open bag in plain damn sight.
- “Could be worse. Could be the French and Indian War.”