After finding itself on the receiving end of a miraculous reversal of fortune, one that was arguably as thrilling as any of its plots, NBC’s Timeless lives to jump through time for a second season. Much to the delight of shippers everywhere, the show’s stay of execution affords it the chance to further explore the romantic intrigue between Abigail Spencer’s Lucy Preston and Matt Lanter’s Wyatt Logan, but, more importantly, it lends the series a much-needed opportunity to take its various parts and fit them together in a more coherent and consistently entertaining way.
As entertaining as it often was, Timeless season 1 was a little like going out to eat at The Cheesecake Factory. Aside from the franchise-y sameness of it all, there was so much on the menu it was sometimes difficult to tell what Timeless was or what it wanted to be. While it hasn’t necessarily paired the menu down in ‘The War to End All Wars,’ the season 2 premiere doesn’t feel as though the series is trying to serve you everything at once. Much of that has to do with the house cleaning that was part of the season 1 finale, leaving Wyatt, Rufus, and what’s left of Mason Industries, to search for Lucy, while Rittenhouse’s plans for meddling with history were presumably ready to enter the next phase.
When season 2 picks up, plenty of time has passed since the finale, and all that yadda yadda-ing gives the premiere a sense of urgency and a clearer set of goals: Get the time machine working again and go find Lucy. The more simplified approach to storytelling makes for a more entertaining hour of television, and hints at a more streamlined season now that all the show’s cards are presumably on the table. That mostly has to do with the show and the audience being on the same page when it comes to which side of the conflict it’s characters are on. And Timeless has a terrific pair of antagonists in Susanna Thompson as Lucy’s mother Carol, as well as Annie Wersching (Marvel's Runaways) as the much more committed and ruthless Emma Whitmore.
The Rittenhouse angle is about as overstuffed as TV plots get. Add in the fact that it’s also a full-on family affair, with Carol intending to recruit Lucy into the group’s plan for world domination, as Lucy endeavors to rescue her sister who has literally been lost to time, and the show threatens to spill over and become unnecessarily complicated -- not complex, just complicated. But ‘The War to End All Wars’ demonstrates how the series can maintain all these elements it seems to think are necessary without being utterly tortuous to watch in the process. And it mostly comes down to better budgeting of the various storytelling elements on an episodic basis.
‘The War to End All Wars’ neatly distributes its narrative into two distinct parts, each with its own clear objective that actually reaches a conclusion at the end of the hour (a win for episodic television!), while still setting up the season’s overarching plot. Dividing the hour between Lucy joining her mother and Emma as they venture to France in the midst of World War I to search for an injured solider, while Wyatt and Rufus embark on a delayed rescue mission works wonders for the hour’s pacing and further establishes the degree to which Spencer is the show’s most valuable asset and its star.
Spencer enjoys an easy chemistry with whomever she’s on screen with and Timeless puts that to good use, pairing her with Thompson and Wersching in the role a double agent of sorts. With the trigger happy Emma itching for an excuse to rid Rittenhouse of one of its chief threats, Lucy finds herself in a tough spot when she’s forced to kill a soldier as proof of her allegiance to Rittenhouse. It’s an interesting line for the show to walk, pointing to the compromises characters have to make as a way of grounding the series’ main plot. However, all of that is essentially unnecessary as the weight of Lucy’s choice is quickly dismissed in favor of maintaining the show’s lighter tone, getting Lucy and Wyatt back together, and making room for an appearance by a person of historical importance — this time it’s Marie Curie and her X-ray machine.
Curie’s involvement is basically a fun, but inessential episodic footnote — this show’s Bill & Ted-like bread and butter. But what it lacks in substance it makes up for in opening the door for Timeless to introduce a new variable in Rittenhouse’s plans: sleeper agents who’ve been positioned throughout history for years at a time, like the WWI military officer carrying a smartphone onto the battlefield. The reveal reads like Timeless breaking its own rules, but it’s also the right time for the show to take a chance in doing just that. And for the most part the move works; ‘The War to End All Wars’ not only brings the core group back together, gives Lucy and Wyatt some time to get the shippers talking, but it also adds delivers just enough of a twist to give this new season an edge over its predecessor.
For a series that made an unlikely return after being canceled, Timeless doesn’t appear to be taking that second chance lightly. Overall, the series has returned with a much better understanding of where its strengths and weaknesses are, and how to bring out the former as much as possible. There’s plenty to enjoy about this sometimes-daffy series, and so far it seems as though season 2 is ready to put those qualities to good use.
Timeless continues next Sunday with ‘The Darington 500’ @10pm on NBC.