Abigail Spencer
Photo: Darren Michaels (Sony/NBC)
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Grief, heroism, and sacrifice are often bedfellows in storytelling. So are ghosts. If there’s one thing we all experience in life, no matter who we are or where we’re from, it’s loss, and loss comes in many forms. You can lose your sense of self. You can lose faith—in a higher power, in a guiding principle, in yourself. You can lose trust. You can lose inspiration. You can lose the certainty that your previous decisions have been right—they often call that one regret. You can lose people you love. Those losses can haunt us—paths taken or untaken, people dead or gone away, remorse that lingers, a different kind of life that will never be.

And speaking of life, you can lose your own. If you’re lucky, before that happens, you get to say goodbye.

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You can also lose stuff you love—like, say, television shows. Shawn Ryan, Eric Kripke, and the Timeless writers (Lauren Greer and Arika Lisanne Mittman are credited here) know a thing or two about taking advantage of an unexpected reprieve, using their first unexpected un-cancellation to roll out a lean, surprising second season that greatly improved on the first. While it can’t be said that “The Miracle Of Christmas” improves on that terrific season two, it does something that’s perhaps more difficult. It takes those unexpected two hours, those miraculous two hours, and finds a way to fashion a satisfactory farewell. A bit knobbly, perhaps; overstuffed in some places, and a bit too neat in others. But in the end, that doesn’t matter much, because Ryan, Kripke, and company take those two hours, and give them back to the show’s devoted fans.

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It’s a decent, often good episode of television, but it’s an excellent goodbye—and like many of the best goodbyes, it dangles the hope, however faint, that it’s only for now.

Let’s break down the aims of this episode into three separate categories. “The Miracle Of Christmas” aims:

  • To be an entertaining two-hour chunk of TV
  • To tie off as many threads as possible, tell as much of their planned story as possible, and do so without sacrificing that first aim
  • To make fans happy—or put another way, to say thanks

It does all of those things at least moderately well. This isn’t an ordinary episode of TV. It’s a last minute reprieve, and as such, the degree of difficulty is automatically higher. I wouldn’t put “The Miracle Of Christmas” in a class with Timeless’ best episodes, but a thrilling season finale and a “whoops, see what you can do with a couple hours” probable series finale are two very different things. Watching these episodes, one can spot the places the series might have explored a little more, had it the airtime and the money.

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Lucy’s journal comes in handy in that respect—the journal gives us a glimpse of sorts of Flynn and Lucy’s relationship, without actually taking us there; it forces Lucy and Wyatt through to actively figure their shit out, rather than allowing them to let the awkwardness play out for weeks. Emma’s attempt to tempt Lucy into a partnership of some kind also becomes a road not taken, as it’s easy to imagine what that story, played out over several weeks, might seem like (and how satisfying it would be to see her choose not to take the bait). While one might wish for the chance to see these stories, opting to have the characters choose another path and leave that story unexplored feels honest, particularly because the writers have such a handle on who these people are and what they want.

In other places, instead of leaving a path unexplored, they simply sprint down it, or jump from the beginning of the path to the end.Imagine a whole episode in which Agent Christopher and Connor Mason are stuck trying to figure out how to save the Time Team, sans time machine. All the reconciliations happen too quickly, too easily, and while that’s undoubtedly the best choice—who wants a Timeless finale that ends with Jiya and Rufus on the outs?—it’s still ever-so-slightly unsatisfying. It’s not something that could really be helped, but it’s a fact of the episode all the same.

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So all that applies to both of those first two categories, and for this episode, in this circumstance, there’s little about which to complain. And again, that’s because the Timeless team, as ever, prioritizes character. We can forgive all the emotional fast-forwarding, because the moments we do get feel true. Think of Matt Lanter’s Wyatt confessing, unprompted, that the Rufus of that other timeline* blamed him for Jiya’s lost years in Chinatown. On another show, that would be jarring. Here, we can believe it, because it’s in keeping with a guy who has learned that not telling the truth comes with unbelievable consequences, and that he has to trust the people in his life or it will all end in tears. And then think about Malcolm Barrett’s Rufus, taking it in, processing, considering what he knows of Wyatt and what he’s learned himself. Think of him knowing that he was dead. Of course he takes that pause, and gives Wyatt his forgiveness. He gives it, because it’s a gift.

And that’s what this episode is, essentially. It feels like a farewell present, not just to those watching at home, but that they’ve given each other. With the possible exception of one despairing scream from Lucy and that terrifying fight between Jessica and Flynn—one of Goran Visnjic’s best scenes in the show, and one of his best episodes overall—it’s tender all the way through. Even the dark bits are tender. Example: Paterson Joseph and Sakina Jaffrey, speaking softly about Oppenheimer and the destruction of worlds. So thoughtful, such big ideas, and yet it feels warm, somehow.

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That’s true everywhere. Rufus’ pop culture references feel like little nods to the audience, but not winks (the shameless, but satisfying, inclusion of a ‘shipping name perhaps excluded). Lucy’s palpable air of fuck it feels like the best kind of fan service—the kind that’s totally earned. The extended farewells all play out as though no one could bear to cut a minute of happiness. And the ending, that ending, is the kindest, sweetest, gentlest moment of all.

In what may be Timeless’ final moments, the team takes what’s meant to be one last ride, and director John F. Showalter lets the camera linger, in exactly the way viewers might wish to, on their smiling faces, peering out of the Lifeboat as if they’re posing for fan art still to come. (This is not a complaint.) And then they leave us with a cliffhanger that isn’t a cliffhanger. They acknowledge, in one brief scene, the beauty and the danger of progress. They honor creation while acknowledging what harm can be done when miraculous advancements fall into the wrong hands. And they leave the door open for more adventures through time.

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A good episode that could easily have been terrible. A pack of empathetic, gentle performances from actors who seem to love their jobs and their coworkers alike. The warm glow of Christmas lights and the memory of cold, cold winter days. And a perfect final scene. That’s pretty miraculous, I’d say, and like Rufus’ forgiveness, it feels in every particular like a gift.


Stray observations

  • It’s been a pleasure. I’ll greatly miss this show. I’ve loved writing about it, and chatting with you all from time to time here or on Twitter.
  • * - The time travel logic is sound in some places and a total mess in others. If you watch this show for time travel logic—if you watch any time travel show for time travel logic—you’ll absolutely wind up disappointed at least once along the way. In a full season, I might unpack some of those, but making sure all the time travel rules are consistent is something that would be at the bottom of my priorities list for this particular chapter.
  • Some words from Shawn Ryan about the series’ possible future and the goals for this finale.
  • I spoke with Annie Wersching briefly this summer while on a Runaways set visit, and at the time, she wasn’t sure she was going to be in the finale because she was pregnant. So, that’s why we saw her mostly from the waist up, and look:

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