From a plotting perspective, the time travel narrative is inherently nonsense. There’s just so many rules, you know? And those rules are driven by various degrees of belief: logical, scientific, metaphoric, mathematical, paradoxical, causal–I could go on (and that’s not getting into the “causal loop” or “multi-dimensional” ways of thinking). Has any form of entertainment fully done a time travel episode that manages every logistical and temporal point perfectly? Maybe Primer, but I bet even that had plot holes in it, if you spent a million hours analyzing every single frame. TV episodes or films about time travel are mostly just about enjoying the ride; the smart ones at the very least allow for some philosophical (or spiritual) thought-experiments, some historical character reflection, or maybe some comic meta-criticism. ”The Waste of Time” does all of this in a scant eleven minutes, and then some.

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How? Mostly by not committing to any single specific time travel idea (well, it kind of does, which I’ll get into later). It starts when Wander and Sylvia finds themselves on a planet to fill up on orbble juice, but accidentally fills up on time travel juice. This accidentally propels them into the past–specifically, the show’s pilot, “The Picnic.” At first, it looks like the episode is going to be a classic case of revisiting (and disrupting) the pilot, but the episode quickly jumps into a host of other concepts: revisiting past episodes, revisiting the characters’ pasts, visiting an unknowable future–all the while satirizing the very “rules” that govern time travel. Neither Wander or Sylvia cares about the particulars of these rules (they toss out vague nonsense terms about paradoxes, time shifts, and the butterfly effect, before exclaiming their hatred for time travel in general)–they just know they can’t interfere with anything, past or present.

The title of the episode, “The Waste of Time,” pretty much sums up the episode’s relationship to time travel. It doesn’t bother spending any time playing up any real, universe-shattering conception of it; it mostly has fun playing around with its potential, mainly with a very cool visual of Wander and Sylvia walking past a slideshow of their past episodic misdeeds within the time orbbal bubble. Wander Over Yonder once again makes use of its core, experimental animated nature, this time as a simplistic historical exploration of the show itself, and while it’s not as effective as past efforts, it still looks great, and it’s always a treat to see clips of past episodes utilized in a different context, even if that context is mostly background.

The most important aspect of the episode is how far the relationship between Wander and Sylvia has come. There are some moments early on where it seems as if Wander will go overboard with his behavior, what with wanting to revisit number of his past adventures, all at Sylvia’s expense. But I love how it quickly doubles down on the “seriousness” of the situation, forcing Wander and Sylvia to come together to really solve their dilemma. It’s a mentality that stems from two quick but remarkable snippets of their past lives: one of Wander’s days as “Tumbleweed,” a cosmically hilarious copy of exactly how “The Picnic” began (with Major Threat as Hater’s replacement), and one of Sylvia’s days as a villainous bounty hunter. The second one is important in particular, not only because we see a past, darker version of Sylvia, but we get to see a warm, vulnerable moment where she accepts, but is deeply ashamed of, her past. It’s notable because that’s the exact moment that Sylvia and Wander stop messing around and focuses fully on fixing things together, to the point that they’re willing to work at that very orbital station for fifty years so they can make sure their “past” versions can grab the correct orbital juice. It’s a strong moment, made stronger by the mutual decision that they’re willing to sacrifice their very existence to make it happen. It’s a bit disappointing that their tragic disappearance happens so fast, but it’s very trenchant visual that emphasizes how much the two mean to each other, something that even time itself can never interfere with.

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Stray observations

  • Sylvia almost “slips up” when she mentions they have no time to revisit past episodes–quickly adding in “of their lives” at the end there. Smooth, Syl.
  • Pretty sure we’ll be visiting that point in the future where Hater (and an unnamed figure?) will be attacked by some bug creature. That has me more intriged than anything. I really hope that wasn’t a season three idea though.

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