Timeless Travels To The Wild West For A Lesson in Moral Relativism
But screws it all up by letting bad boys play with big guns.
It looks like there's a push on to save our favorite (sorta, kinda) time travel show. One of the show's creators, Erik Kripke, took to Twitter earlier this week and offered some advice on how to get the ratings up. Over on a slightly more well-known NBC show, SNL, Leslie Jones gave a shout-out to Timeless while discussing a pivotal plot point in this episode: that the inspiration for the Lone Ranger was a real lawman named Bass Reeves, who was African American.
So maybe the show will survive to see another season. The real question -- the one I keep struggling with is -- should it?
Having the courage to choose a side has been a running theme through the last half dozen or so episodes. Rufus, most notably, has struggled with whether or not to continue spying on his friends for Rittenhouse. Connor Mason also had to decide whom he sided with: his friend, or Rittenhouse. The last episode saw Rufus definitively reject Rittenhouse. This week, we learn the consequences of that decision as Mason doubles down on his role as a Rittenhouse lackey and announces that Jiya will be the next lifeboat driver, making Rufus obsolete and a likely target for some Rittenhouse revenge.
This week's episode proves, once again, to be pretty threadbare but with a much better payoff as Flynn travels to the Wild West and enlists the help of Jesse James to track down a former pilot who faked her own death after learning some pretty bad things about Rittenhouse's plan for the time machine. As with most key plot twists in Timeless, it raises more questions than answers and, as we have come to expect, the show gives us all a big middle finger for daring to ask about some of the more obvious conflicts and problems associated with what just happened. But what the hell, man, it's the Wild West, where everybody was too busy killing each other to do any serious thinking.
The lack of a substantial amount of plot did give our characters lots of time to explore the sticky problem of moral relativism. Sure, as Rufus told Mason last week, you have to make choices and choose sides. More important than that choice, though, is the reason that choice was made. We all think we do the right thing and pick the right side, but so do the people who pick and choose the other side. Are our reasons, our causes, more just or right than those we oppose?
This is some heady stuff, and as a historian and not a philosopher, I can't say with any real certainty how well our crew handled tossing these ideas around, but these segments certainly weren't the worst part of the episode. Although it did seem weird to hear Jesse James lecture Flynn on the questionable moral value of believing in a cause.
And, thinking back over the season, the show keeps returning to the question of how morally acceptable is it to kill somebody when you know beyond a doubt they are going to do bad things -- the "would you kill Hitler" question. And more often than not it sides with the argument that killing people to prevent them from doing bad things is a justifiable act. At least it did in this episode, as we saw Lucy shoot Jesse James in the back.
And I was digging on all of this. But then. Ohh, but then they went and ruined the whole vibe but putting an M16, brought by Flynn, in the hands of Jesse James and letting him blow off an entire thirty-round magazine on full automatic like he's Chuck Norris saving Americans from a Vietnamese POW camp. For the life of me, I cannot find any good reason on God's green earth for this scene to have happened.
Let's review: there was no reasons for Flynn to have brought the gun back in time. There was no reason for Jesse James to have seen it. And there was no reason Flynn couldn't have handed it over without any bullets.
In other words, an entire subplot about a gun was put in the show for the sole purpose of our seeing Jesse James shooting it. Not to mention the fact that what happened to the gun isn't clearly resolved. And that was the moment I said, "Fuck this show." Because in not resolving the gun issue, clearly the writers either don't care about something that is more than a minor detail in a time travel show, or they're asking us to trust that it was resolved in a satisfying manner.
And I don't. After a dozen episodes, I don't trust the show. And that's why I won't be upset if the plug gets pulled at the end of this season. It has a lot of really interesting elements, but at the end of the day, I think the viewer has been asked to accept a lot -- really, too much -- that doesn't make sense by holding out the promise that something good is coming down the road. I may have believed that early on, but I don't anymore. And while I liked the plot twist involving the fake death, it has too much of a "we're flying by the seat of our pants, we don't know where this is headed but it sounds like a cool idea" vibe to it to make me think this was their plan all along.
But who knows. We've got four episodes left. Maybe this whole thing gets turned around, the various plotlines all come together nicely, and the writers find the right balance between discussions of serious moral questions and fun historical goodies. I just think it's relatively unlikely to happen.