It’s a satisfying thing, watching a show grow into itself. With last week’s “Party at Castle Valar,” Timeless seemed to hit its stride. With “The Alamo,” it feels settled, confident, and if still a little silly, unembarrassed about the vein of earnestness that runs through its stories. It’s always been there, sometimes masked, others not, but in this episode at least, the show finds a way to balance that big, bloody heart on its sleeve with smart, efficient storytelling and character-building.

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With this episode, at least, they’ve got an assist from the rest of the world. Sometimes, timing is everything, and as we approach the end of a tough year and a nasty election, a story about the importance of courage and honor, to say nothing of the value of the written word, feels like a breath of fresh air. To quote the guy currently occupying the Oval Office, “Don’t tell me words don’t matter.”

They do, of course—in politics, in print, in war. They also matter in storytelling. Let’s not elevate this thing too much; after all, it’s still a time-travel procedural with a silly premise and plot-holes bigger than a softball-sized entrance to an aqueduct buried under three feet of stone. But “The Alamo” tells a simple story so well, so earnestly and honestly, that its shortcomings don’t seem to matter much. It may not be surprising—gee, I wonder how they’ll finish that letter, and boy, there’s no way that Chekhov’s grenades will come in handy—but it’s stirring all the same.

There’s one thing about it that’s surprising, however: it’s the first Wyatt-centric episode of the series that packs the biggest punch. That’s not a slight against Matt Lanter, who’s been fine thus far. But to this point, Wyatt’s been the least interesting of the show’s three leads, and it isn’t close. The character felt like he was pulled off of the TV drama assembly line, a soldier with guilt issues and a general melange of angst barely masked by a tough guy exterior. That’s still what we’ve got, but writer Kent Rotherham gives Lanter something of real substance to do, and lets his personal struggle emerge organically from his overall objective. Just like that, Wyatt works.

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It’s such a reversal from previous episodes that there’s a risk of whiplash. The character becomes so much more compelling and defined, he borders on unrecognizable. Lanter anchors the episode from almost moment one, and gives an unexpectedly solid and emotive performance. Not everything works perfectly. The whole “mid-battle PTSD flashbacks to a war of the future” thing was handled much better on an episode of Outlander earlier this year, and the show still has a tendency to do just a little too much when restraint would serve them much better—the old acting tip that the audience cries when the performer doesn’t would really come in handy. Still, it’s Lanter’s episode to lead, and he and Rotherham succeed in transforming Wyatt from G.I. Joe to three-dimensional character. No small feat.

By the episode’s end, Wyatt seems to have cemented himself as the team’s cornerstone—and that’s in spite of the fact that he tried to die, rather than go back to the present. When viewed through the lens of his backstory, it’s an emotionally satisfying conclusion, but more importantly, it feels like it emerges organically from the events of the preceding episodes. Timeless has pressed the “we’re a team!” button a few times before now, and it’s always felt a little hollow. God love Rufus, but he barely knows these people, and his angst about trust never quite rang true. Not so anymore—these people have literally been through a war together, and the moment in which Lucy and Rufus refuse to continue without Wyatt proves far more emotionally potent than one might have expected. If Timeless was missing a key ingredient, it was emotional investment. It’s got that now, or at least it does from me.

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Now, not everything’s been cleaned up overnight. Flynn remains a cipher, and not necessarily in a good way, though his three brief scenes in “The Alamo” provide more tantalizing tidbits of character-building than all the previous episodes combined. Lucy’s family mystery also remains not as interesting as the show seems to think it is, and it’s unlikely that whatever name is written on that paper could suddenly make it compelling. Last, the general vibe of the show—an odd blend of Alias and Wishbone with a Lost-esque mystery organiztion stirred in—still feels a bit silly at times, and rarely does that silliness seem intentional.

Still, at the moment, it’s difficult to care. Timeless tackle some timeless themes here. It unblushingly tells a story of heroism and sacrifice, of the power of words and the importance of inspiration, at a time when that kind of earnestness could earn some serious eye-rolls. Bowie and Crockett, Wyatt and Lucy and Rufus, the people of Texas and those sitting at home and watching television—for all of these people, words and stories matter. Inspiration matters. Crockett tells Rufus that sometimes people need a leader who’s wrestled a bear. Lucy writes, not Travis’s letter, but her own, realizing that it’s the passion behind the words that counts. Wyatt tells Bowie about the bloodshed ahead of him not out of cynicism, but instead because of his desperate desire to save lives. Bowie refuses him, not because he’s a stubborn fool, but because he knows the importance of hope.

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Together, Bowie and Lucy give Wyatt a reason to keep going. They give him a reason to protect his team. And with his arrival as a character, Wyatt gives Timeless a chance to get much, much better.

Stray observations

  • Solid guest performances from Jeff Kober and Chris Browning, both of Sons of Anarchy. Might be my favorite on-screen depiction of Davy Crockett. Loved that tiny grimace when he readied his rifle before the big charge.
  • I know basically the whole review was about Lanter, but he really did a great job. My favorite moment: “Said it was fate, like that’s a thing.”
  • “How’d you get fired? How do I get fired?”
  • There’s not much of that show that’s reminiscent of Doctor Who, but the little moments where the team (in this episode, Rufus and Lucy) geek out about meeting a historical figure are very Tennant.
  • “Psycho-what?”
  • “You’re, like, macho at a level I can’t even deal with.”
  • “Outmanned. Outgunned.” Outplanned, outnumbered?

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