“When you’re a time traveler, there’s no such thing as goodbye.”
This review contains spoilers for the series finale of Timeless, titled “The Miracle of Christmas.”
Turning any television show into a movie is an enormous undertaking, especially when that series is as complicated as Timeless. “The Miracle of Christmas Part I & II” manages to offer viewers a reminder of just how many lives the Time Team has lived together, and how unbreakable their bond is, in a way that should prove immensely satisfying for longtime fans.
This is particularly evident in the moment when Lucy (Abigail Spencer) flips through in her journal to revisit beloved memorabilia from their past missions: a theater ticket, a pamphlet from their time with the suffragettes in 1919, and a little something from the trip to Hollywoodland where the show’s central ship, Lyatt, set sail.
It’s a nice moment that does a lot without actually doing a lot. It also makes it clear just how much tension the movie has to unpack from the show’s last season, which ended with one member dead, and two estranged when Wyatt (Matt Lanter) decided to go back to his wife, pushing Lucy closer to Flynn. The movie also adapts one of the key parts of the television show’s historical-period-of-the-week formula: introducing a lesser-known historical figure with undeniable cultural significance.
In 1848 we’re introduced to Joaquin Murrieta, a famous outlaw whose vigilante activities inspired the story of Zorro. Though Murrieta has a negligible impact on the plot of the movie, his introduction feels like a way for the film to fold in the spirit of the show; approaching history with reverence and a social justice bent that aims to educate as much as entertain. But aside from providing a diverting historical detour that allows the show’s elegant and evocative costumes and cinematography to shine, the team’s time in 1848 is a bit aimless.
Despite killing Rufus (Malcolm Barrett) along with a handful of Rittenhouse’s top brass last season, Emma Whitmore (Anna Wersching) is a bit toothless as the Big Bad here. Her villainous acts are more frustrating than intimidating; she lures the Time Team into two different historical periods, the California Gold Rush in 1848, and North Korea at the beginning of the Korean War, but never shows up to confront them. Things don’t really get moving until the writers lay out how the team is going to pull off the movie’s raison d’être: saving Rufus. The plan comes from Wyatt who, in his first of many scenes designed to win the team back, offers one simple equation that will set everything right: taking Jessica’s life will restore Rufus to his. This is just the information everyone’s favorite unscrupulous assassin, Flynn (Goran Visnjic), needs in order to take off with the new autopilot-equipped Lifeboat (thank you Future Lucy and Wyatt) to kill Jessica.
It’s not clear why he needs to sacrifice his life to do so, other than to offer the writers a chance to cheat their way out of resolving the pesky romantic triangle between Lucy, Wyatt, and Flynn that created a season’s worth of friction between the team members. It’s an easy out, but if Flynn had to die, at least he died in a sequence that honored the complicated hero he was.
Soon after Flynn’s sacrifice,the film gets a welcome shot of adrenaline when Rufus busts down the door to rescue the team from a hostage situation. The dire straits the gang finds themselves in puts them just close enough to the edge of hopelessness to ensure that the Rufus reveal feels like the movie’s titular miracle.
Rufus appears, grinning from ear-to-ear, a pop culture reference slipping naturally off his tongue — “Merry Christmas, ya filthy animals” — and completely re-energizes the team and the movie. Barrett has played Rufus with such thoughtfulness, warmth, and wit since his first episode, it’s no wonder he quickly became the heart of the show. While there are a handful of nods to the holiday like Agent Christopher (Sakina Jaffrey) attempting to offset the bunker’s drab aesthetic by outfitting it with Christmas lights, the real spirit of Christmas isn’t on display until this moment when the team reunites. And if it feels too easy, that’s because it is. It’s incredibly convenient that a future engineer has configured the Lifeboat for autopilot just in time for Flynn to use it, and that Flynn’s confrontation with Jessica, one of the first hour’s central dramatic points, goes off without much of a hitch. But it’s hard to question it when the Time Team is so desperate for a win (and has limited time to earn one).
It’s also exactly the pickup the movie needs heading into its final hour. Between Jiya (Claudia Doumit) being at once sad and angry about her losing Rufus, Lucy still grieving her mother’s death from last season, and Wyatt being guilt-ridden over not seeing his wife for who she really was, there’s an atypical dreariness to the first half of the movie that belies the show’s origins as a lovably campy sci-fi adventure.
As with any time travel show, so much has happened and then un-happened that it’s hard to keep the the timey wimey wibbly wobbly stuff straight. Rufus is brought back to life — only to him it’s like he never left — meaning he is a different Rufus than the one who went to rescue Jiya from her three-year hideout in Chinatown last season. They both are and aren’t the people they used to be. As interesting as it is to hear Connor (Paterson Joseph) tease the physical side effects of time travel, it’s way more interesting to see the emotional side effects on the team. This is when the movie, and Timeless, is at its best: focusing on how the core characters have been affected by their thrilling but dangerous romps through time.
Jiya repeatedly brings up her time in Chinatown throughout this special, and it’s clear it’s changed her — Rufus literally sees scars on her body that she is unwilling to talk about. Lucy has now lost her sister and her mother, and is at a loss for how to sort through her feelings of wanting to be with Wyatt without feeling like she’s playing second fiddle to Jessica. Meanwhile, Connor is forced to confront questions about accountability and technology that we are still struggling to answer in the real world.
When pursuing Emma leads the team to North Korea in the middle of the Korean War they, in typical Time Team fashion, are derailed by their own good intentions. A pregnant woman needs their assistance evacuating from a war zone and Lucy feels compelled to help. “Is she important to history?” Wyatt asks. “Everyone’s important,” Lucy responds. This storyline is in line with the show’s penchant for filtering stories about large historical events through the experience of one individual. From freeing accused witches at the Salem trials to standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Union spy Harriet Tubman in the heat of the Civil War, interfering with history has constantly asked the Time Team to consider history from a more personal angle. Here, one woman’s plight puts into perspective a three-year war and demonstrates the radical changes each member of the Time Team has undergone since the first season when Lucy, a former history professor, was strict about preserving historical accuracy and closely monitored how they dressed, talked, and interacted with historical figures. After experiencing unimaginable loss and repeatedly having the rug pulled from under them, the new Time Team is unafraid to mess with the historical timeline if it means saving even one life. This shakeup to their initial mission statement feels like a real moment of growth for the characters and for the show, and it would be a shame not to see it explored further in a potential third season.
With so much ground to cover and relatively little space to do so, there isn’t time for the show’s usual nuanced storytelling for every character. Several important threads like Jiya’s premonitions are resigned to throwaway lines — while freezing their butts off in North Korea Jiya tells Rufus to shush because “I’m trying to have a vision of a hot shower.” Also, Lucy instantly letting go of all of her mixed feelings about the Wyatt situation in time to reunite with him under some mistletoe by the movie’s end is a little too Hallmark, but even that is easy to forgive because it’s clear that, had the show been given another season, Lucy would have ultimately ended up with Wyatt anyway. This finale only moved up their start date as a couple.
The NBC drama posed many questions over its two-season run and this finale answers most of them, so it’s impossible to see it as anything other than a win for the series and its passionate fans who campaigned this movie into existence after the show’s (second) cancellation earlier this year.
If this really is goodbye, then show creators Shawn Ryan and Eric Kripke should take comfort in the fact that they did an admirable job wrapping things up in a nice bow — or rather, in a nice hand-knitted scarf from Agent Christopher. They save Rufus, and they close the show’s most important time loop by showing how a future Lucy gives Flynn the journal he needs to kickstart the events of the show’s first episode. There’s even a time jump — written more in service of fans than the plot — where we see the team living out the best-case scenario versions of their lives, with Jiya and Rufus going on to found a successful socially-conscious tech company named Riya, and Wyatt and Lucy ending up together in Palo Alto where Lucy becomes a tenured professor who specializes in women’s history. Still, despite its neat wrap up, there’s just enough of the show’s timeline left open to justify the Time Team living on for another season, or movie. After all, as Eric Kripke recently tweeted, “When you’re a time traveler, there’s no such thing as goodbye.”
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