Archives for posts with tag: alternative history

In my latest spate of catching up on things, I am finally getting round to season two if Timeless. Season one was a hodgepodge affair, with what started out as just a bit of sci-fi and alt-history silliness trying to become darker in ways that didn’t really pay off for the viewer.

Season two is shorter and designed purely to finish the story, which will at least satisfy the audience. But in doing so, it has now raised a big question. And I hate big questions.

The question is what exactly do Rittenhouse represent? It is never made clear how they are the enemy or what their idea of a ‘tidy’ American history is. Why kill car manufacturing giants if that is what made America so prosperous? Why try to hang Ben Franklin’s mum as a witch if she is to bring to life one of the nation’s great heroes?

Indeed, many of their missions are looking similar to so-called terrorist Garcia Flynn’s aims. He too attempted to assassinate car supremoes and overthrow/prevent Kennedy’s presidency. So who is the bad guy then? What could be an interesting dialogue of ideas as to what we class as terrorism and what is ‘correcting’ a power imbalance is suspiciously blank.

There seems to be a fear of defining whether the ideologies of the competing groups is far left or far right lest someone gets offended. Instead, we have this void that, for me at least, detracts from the show. Yes, Rittenhouse are the baddies, but what is their end vision that makes them so evil? Is it racial purity? Religious intolerance? Social inequality far beyond what it is now? Perhaps it’s the other way – an extreme socialist society? Maybe these questions get answered later in the series, but it is still a source of angst for me.

My other issue is that the formula has bored me, as I feared it would. The team go back to an historical event, meet a famous figure who helps them prevent a bad thing from happening, some minor detail in history gets altered, some other revelation that was revealed on the trip sinks in, everyone stares at each other dreamily or suspiciously.

So, after all this, why do I still watch it, you may ask. Because I like the idea of alternative histories. Looking back at flashpoints that make or break a nation is fascinating. I want more of this, more understanding of why this moment matters, and less love triangles. More importantly, it could be asking us questions of who gets to tell history. But it doesn’t. It happily sinks into just being a conspiracy show. Maybe if it had challenged itself more, it wouldn’t have been cancelled.

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Regular readers will know I am not averse to a bit of fluff when it comes to TV. Whether it is high-camp horror Scream Queens or OTT urban fantasy Grimm, a bit of daftness is rarely a bad thing. Of course, if you are trying to create some deep, meaningful tale of sin and redemption while musing on the existential qualities of humanity, daftness is not a quality you want. But then, I wouldn’t watch that show anyway.

Timeless is a great example though of how a bit of silliness lifts a show rather than sinking it. Now, no doubt its creators and starts would be very hurt by this thought, but, let’s face it, it is a bit silly. The premise suspends your disbelief for a start – a corporation designs a working time machine which is stolen by a terrorist who is trying to change history, and a band of plucky adventurers are tasked with preventing him.

If I was the kind of guy who flinched at plot holes, I would probably find this show unwatchable. Thankfully, I’m not. Instead, I find myself sitting back and enjoying the ride. This is helped by my love of history and the fact I often find myself asking ‘what if?’ about historical events. It’s amazing how much of our modern world is dependent on details that seem to be quite small. For example, what if a top German rocket scientist during WWII had defected to the Soviets rather than America? Could the Cold War have ended differently?

One of my tiny niggles with the show is that it is very America-centric. Of course, it is an American show, so this shouldn’t surprise me. But there are some moments in British history that could be worth the show exploring. What if Lord Halifax had been made prime minister in 1940 rather than Churchill? Would Britain have withdrawn from the war, leaving America to fight alone when Japan made its move on Pearl Harbour? What if Britain had never turned away from the Catholic faith, or if one of the founders of the Industrial Revolution not been born?

What I do love about the show is that it reminds you of the comparative stability we have now. I say comparative, obviously we have ISIS, not to mention Russia gearing up to become the Soviet Union v.2. For instance, episode 2 reminds us just how important the Civil War was to setting the tone for race relations. The right people being alive ensured the creation of important institutions.

There is a background mystery in the show, one that is only just starting to build. How much this enhances or detracts from the show remains to be seen. Even so, this is a highly enjoyable hour. One that is not as daft as it first may seem.