With almost every TV network now in the time travel business, it seems only right that Netflix jumps aboard the biggest science fiction trend of 2016. The streaming giant debuted Travelers season one on December 23. It features time-traveling terrorists trying to save the world, and it’s actually one of the best of this season’s bumper crop of chrono-soaps.
If you don’t wish to have the pilot episode spoiled, you should stop reading now. Knowing almost anything at all about the show or the cast in advance blows a key twist in the first episode. Consider yourself warned.
The Future Sucks
The premise of Travelers is simple enough; the future sucks but humans invent time travel. They can then send their consciousness back in time to take over the mind of a person in the 21st century. Once set up in new host bodies, these future folk set about altering the past. The goal is to remake the future so it won’t suck quite so much.
The travelers only jump into individuals who are about to die. One would suppose this is to limit the effect on the timeline, but that premise falls apart if you stare at it for too long. Once embedded, they continue living that person’s life while also carrying out their future-saving missions. Neat trick, but it’s also messy. The selection of the ready-to-die is limited and future folks don’t always have the right information about the hosts.
For example, the future got all its info on Marcy (Mackenzie Porter) from a fake Facebook profile. A social worker posted it to help his severely intellectually disabled client understand social media. The doctor from the future who downloads into Marcy doesn’t know it’s fake. She starts living the life of the smart librarian she read about. She hasn’t any inkling that Marcy had difficulty speaking in complete sentences before her brain was hijacked.
The surprises continue for Trevor (Jared Paul Abrahamson) who ends up in a bad-boy jock, and Philip (Reilly Dolman) whose host is a heroin addict. Traveler Carly (Nesta Marlee Cooper) downloads into a single mother. In the future, she was a military tactician. In her new body, Carly is overwhelmed with emotions towards an infant. Her new host also has an obsessive and abusive ex who’s a cop.
Time Travelling Terrorists
A common trope among time-traveler-comes-back-and-saves-the-future stories is that to the casual observer, these guys are terrorists. We know they’re justified in highjacking that truck to stop the ultra-dangerous McGuffin from killing people, but those not in the know just see a team of black-clad gun-toting people shooting military personnel and stealing stuff.
The time travelers here operate just like terrorists. There are several small cells, with little communication between them, taking orders from a central command. Apparently, thousands of these travelers live in the here and now. They work in teams of five, a team leader (Eric McCormack), a doctor, tactician, technician, and historian.
Travelers Face Moral Quandaries
Philip, the historian of the show’s main team, is perhaps the most interesting and valuable team member. He spent his entire life in the future memorizing details about the past. Phillip knows the when and where of important stuff like explosions, plane crashes, and meteor strikes. He funds the missions through gambling since he also memorized racing results and lottery numbers. While that sounds like fun, for Phillip the knowledge of all the disasters he’s not allowed to prevent sits heavy on his mind.
It’s also questionable if all these bad things they’re doing is helping anything at all. The primary team’s main mission is completed long before the end of the season. It’s big, but it doesn’t appear to save the future. We know this because Future Command has limited communication with the present. They can apparently take over the bodies of kids (adult brains would melt or something) to communicate new missions to the teams.
The future seems highly-organized but inherently flawed. The travelers don’t get to see the big picture. This leads many to suspect their future bosses aren’t telling the truth about the overall goal of their missions. The result is rogue teams of travelers up to no good. Some travelers even decide to just duck out on their teams and hang out in the past due to the relatively low suck factor of the 21st century.
From all this messiness and uncertainty comes a sometimes fun, sometimes sad, and always entertaining little time-travel show. You can currently stream the first season of Travelers now on Netflix (unless you’re in Canada in which case it’s on Showcase).