Timeless (Season 1)

Although iTunes calls Timeless a drama, there’s a healthy dose of science-fiction as well. It’s a time-travel show, for Pete’s sake!

The three main characters, who have a pretty nifty-looking time machine, are struggling with some kind of shadow organization that has control of a newer one.

The sets, costumes, and special effects are fun (the show must cost a fortune to produce), but I found the expositiony dialog intolerably overbearing. Clearly the writers are trying to contrast prejudiced views of women and minorities in the past with views of women and minorities in today’s more enlightened times, but the well-meaning messages are written in clumsily.

Since the good guys and the bad guys both wind up changing history and killing people, there are interesting moral issues at play, involving questions of the good of the many vs. the life of an individual and whether the end ever justifies the means. Why couldn’t some of the same subtlety be brought to bear on issues of race and gender?

See below for two grating examples of political correctness in Episode 8, “Space Race”.


In Episode 8, the black protagonist hastily infodumps a bunch of factoids about the life of a black woman at NASA. Then he tries to make up for history’s failure to recognize her importance in her own time.

“Honestly, I’m a little star-struck right now. You’re one of the reasons I am who I am.”
“What are you talking about? I’m just a number cruncher in the basement.”
“Not true. To me, to a lot of people, you’re—you’re just as important as the guys in Mission Control or the ones on the Moon.”
[poignant music]

Honestly, I’m feeling a little patronized right now. That bit of dialog is about as respectful as a pat on the head. I hope the movie Hidden Figures did a better job of showing, not telling, why Katherine Johnson was important at NASA.

Meanwhile, a callous white male scientist exhibits appalling sexism towards the incognito female historian from the future:

“Sweetheart, I never got that coffee…”
“Sorry, very busy, okay?”
“Come on, now, Doll. How busy can you be?”
“You know what? Come here. Trust me. You do not want to drink the cup of coffee I would you bring you after grabbing me like that. And, by the way, my name is not ‘Doll’ or ‘Sweetheart’ or anything else that sounds like a baby. The women here have actual names. I’m sure you can learn their names. It’s not that hard, kind of like making coffee for yourself. You’re a rocket scientist. Figure it out.”

I’m supposed to feel gratified by this? Like, “Oh, that’ll teach him! Take that, sixties dude!” But no. It’s so heavy-handed it’s embarrassing.

I would far rather have seen the privileged white female time traveler have to suffer casual prejudice in silence, like the women of the past did, so that she, and vicariously us privileged viewers, could appreciate just how privileged we are to live now rather than then.

As it is, male prejudice isn’t ever a real problem for her, just a temporary inconvenience, an obstacle easily overcome by a show of anger. The protagonist’s defiance is meaningless because she can always leave. In fact, she probably made the lives of the coffee-carrying women at NASA worse as a result of her outburst, not better! Upshot: I’m more annoyed at her than the guy who mistreated her, and that can’t be what the writers intended.

Better luck next time around. Personally, I’m not on board for Season 2.