Birds do it, bees do it, shows of pretty much every genre do it. It was clear from very early on—from the pilot, really—that Timeless was planning to engage in the time-honored tradition of the will-they-or-won’t-they. Not all WTOWTs are created equal, of course; for every Jim and Pam or Mulder and Scully, there’s a Rachel and Finn or an Apollo and Starbuck. Sometimes they emerge thanks to a natural chemistry between the performers on screen, as was the case with The West Wing’s Josh and Donna, and the show adopts to accommodate that energy. More often, though, there’s a plan to wring as much tension as possible from two people not doing it, and it was clear from the beginning that Timeless was going to do just that.
Well, shippers rejoice, because the Lucy-Wyatt will/won’t train is a-rollin’. In one sense, it had already started, since they’ve got shippers on board. Given how much of the story to date has focused on Wyatt’s grief over the death of his wife, however, this episode feels like a proper launch, using the story of Bonnie and Clyde to force Wyatt and Lucy to pretend to be a couple of lovestruck bank robbers, too. Interestingly, Team Lifeboat openly acknowledges that the history doesn’t matter so much in this episode—everyone’s after the key, not out to change history—because this time, they’re present to set the scene, and the mission is largely incidental.
As far as these things, go, it’s handled well enough, hitting the familiar beats en route to a final awkward parting that promises weeks, if not years, of sexual tension to come. Good actors who are also pretty people can usually make these things work, and Matt Lanter and Abigail Spencer are doing just fine, but it has to be acknowledged that their chemistry might not be off the charts. While the Barrow Gang’s presence helpfully provides thematic fodder as well as a reason for Lucy and Wyatt to smooch-for-show, the chemistry between Jacqueline Byers (Bonnie) and Sam Strike (Clyde) only emphasizes the just-ok energy given off by their complementary pair. Lanter and Spencer are great together in general, but when the big moments of tension come knocking, they just don’t seem well-suited.
Fittingly, the episode’s other threads also have a similar will/won’t kind of energy. Rather than romantic, it all ties into the increased presence of the terrific Sakina Jaffrey, who’s still riding high off of figuring out, at long last, that something’s not right about this top-secret domestic time-travel program. Will Agent Christopher find out what’s happening before she gets Rittenhoused, or won’t she? So far, signs point to yes. Will Connor Mason be able to throw her off the scent? That one’s a no. Will Rufus and the rest of Team Lifeboat fill her in, or won’t they? As of the episode’s penultimate scene, Rufus will, and I’m sure that in no way bodes ill for Agent Christopher, a character that’s just now beginning to take shape.
None of this stuff is particularly original, but it’s far from frustrating. The Timeless team has put together a terrific cast, and while the material may not get better and better, the ensemble certainly does. No, to get to something that’ll make one grind their teeth, you’ve got to skip to the final scene: the moment when Timeless went full Rambaldi.
For the uninitiated, Rambaldi sat at the heart of the central mystery of Alias, and while it started out as a pretty tantalizing bit of world-building and added some ominous flair, it quickly descended into silliness. Now, I’m eager to be proved wrong about this, but as Garcia Flynn, the nutcase time-traveler with motives that are both hyper-specific and totally nonsensical, put a key he took from Bonnie Parker into a gear-filled shiny thingamabob, I thought “whoops, they Rambaldi-ed. That’s a shame.” That would be true if Parker’s stolen key didn’t first belong to Henry Ford, and it would be true even if the preview for next week’s episode hadn’t prompted a Liz Lemon-worthy eyeroll.
The thing is, it’s simply not clear that Timeless is up to making a mystical, nefarious, mysterious shadow organization work as an antagonist. Interesting, sure, but nowhere near as interesting as it should be. It’s easy to wonder if they simply haven’t decided yet and they’re just winging it for now. The stakes are so high, and yet it’s exceedingly difficult to care one whit about anything Rittenhouse-related. Other than poor Rufus’s terrifying car takeover and the admittedly clever moment this episode where Rufus uses his voice recorder to help Team Lifeboat, it’s not clear that the presence of this organization adds anything of value.
None of that sounds particularly positive, but this isn’t a bad episode of Timeless by any stretch of the imagination. Sure, it’s short on quips and heavy on painfully familiar tropes, but it has its charms. If it feels a bit like filler, that’s probably the case—next week brings the mid-season finale, after all—but it’s also still a nice diversion from everything else going on in the world. Maybe try not to think about it too hard and just enjoy the ride.
- Time-travel nitpick of the week, part 1: So, wouldn’t the Rittenhousers become aware that they had a problem when they kept hearing long pauses on the tapes, during which Team Lifeboat’s members signal back and forth about turning it off? And isn’t that also the case when Lucy and Wyatt are in no way startled by Rufus pulling it out to play back the tape for Bonnie and Clyde?
- Time-travel nitpick of the week, part 2: Lucy’s awful blasé about the possible changes to history, given that several people died who shouldn’t have and all of Bonnie and Clyde’s famous ending would be different.
- Hoping we’d see more of Jiya? Yeah, no.