Thursday, January 26, 2017

Timeless 1x12 Review: “The Murder of Jesse James” (In Which Lucy Crosses A Moral Line)


“The Murder of Jesse James”
Original Airdate: January 23, 2017

If you’re a fan of pop culture based on comic book heroes and heroines like I am, you’ll quickly realize that there is one central theme every movie, television show and comic book hero faces: the question of how far they’ll go in order to defeat the bad guy. What generally makes the hero the hero and the villain the villain is that heroes are above unnecessary killing — the villains generally tend to see people as obstacles en route to their goals. Heroes, on the other hand, tend to place a hefty emphasis on preserving humanity and fighting for the greater good. And so, heroes often grapple with the morality of killing a bad person in order to justify saving other people. Aren’t they doing something good by ensuring that there is one less bad guy on the streets? We’ve seen Oliver Queen struggle with this in Arrow recently, and it’s interesting to watch our core three characters — Wyatt, Lucy, and Rufus — struggle with the very same thing in this week’s Timeless.

Our heroes are burnt out. They’re tired of chasing Flynn and losing. They’re tired of facing insurmountable obstacle after obstacle. They’re tired of the lives they’re having to lead and the things they’ve left behind — or lost altogether. “The Murder of Jesse James” finds every character in a very precarious situation: Wyatt has visited his wife’s killer in prison and decides he’s going to go back in time and save Jessica; Lucy is tired of forgetting her main mission — restoring her sister to existence; and Rufus is caught in a really difficult place when Connor Mason tells him that Jiya will be trained as a pilot and he’ll be, essentially, eliminated after that.

With that context in mind, let’s dive into this week’s very existential and really emotionally compelling episode of Timeless, shall we?

WELCOME TO THE WILD WEST


With all of their emotional baggage dragged along with them, Team Timeless heads to the Wild West, where they realize that Flynn is tracking the notorious Jesse James. When the trio arrives, they enlist the help of Bass Reeves — inspiration for The Lone Ranger — and his friend whom I’ll refer to as #NotTonto in hunting down Jesse James and Flynn.

There’s a little bit of a twist in Flynn’s pursuit of the Wild West this week though that I thought was really interesting and tied in, narratively, to the present-day. As Connor Mason trains Jiya to become a pilot for the ship, she begins to ask questions about whether or not Connor had any video footage of other pilots so that she could understand how to better operate the machine. Connor dismisses this, and it’s just sketchy enough that Jiya begins to dig. What she finds is evidence of another pilot — a woman named Emma — who time-traveled.

And as it turns out, Flynn finds her in 1882, hiding out. He knows her story: that she was a pilot and was recruited by Rittenhouse to do bad things, and faked her death in order to escape their clutches. Emma isn’t the kind of person to be trifled with, and Flynn knows this. So he plays the empathy angle — they both had their lives destroyed by Rittenhouse — in order to get her to go back to his ship with him. Meanwhile, Flynn gets Jesse James-d when the outlaw demands Flynn’s high-tech machine gun in exchange for Flynn and Emma’s escape. Our villain has no choice but to obey.

Meanwhile, Bass and #NotTonto agree to help Team Timeless track down Jesse James, a dangerous outlaw, but only on one condition: he’s brought back alive. Wyatt publically agrees, but secretly confides that he plans to kill James before they return. Rufus is horrified, and this is where some really interesting conversations about morality take place. Rufus is still affected by the man he shot and killed during “Space Race,” and he doesn’t understand how the team can talk so flippantly about ending someone’s life — whether that person is bad or not. Rufus is firmly against killing, while Wyatt has proven before (even in last week’s episode) that he will kill when he thinks it is the best course of action. Throughout the entire episode, he’s prepared to end Jesse James’ life. But the difficulty in letting a killer be brought to justice rather than buried is eventually what Wyatt decides to face.

Not so with Lucy Preston.

It’s so interesting, to me, that Lucy has evolved in the way she has. In this episode, she’s battling immense guilt for forgetting her sister’s birthday — a sister who, by the way, does not exist anymore. Lucy feels like she’s losing her grasp on the thing that drove her to this job in the first place. As a result, Lucy has begun to compromise that “don’t rewrite history” thing she preached at the beginning of the series. A hopeless Lucy is a dangerous Lucy, and the team quickly learns this when she shoots and kills Jesse James. Yes, that’s right — she KILLS HIM. And she barely bats an eye while doing so. You can tell that Wyatt is shocked by this (he had his own gun trained on an unarmed James), and what it might mean for their team. But Lucy is numb, going through motions without caring anymore. That is what makes her so dangerous and so volatile in the episode. And that’s what made her so compelling to me this week.

I’m not used to watching the heroes of the story crumble under the weight of their moral decisions, but this week’s episode saw Team Timeless spiraling and shifting themselves toward a darker side. While Wyatt made the decision not to kill Jesse James, Lucy did — and that’s something she can’t come back from easily. But Wyatt isn’t entirely free of these moral tangles, either: by the end of the episode, he recruits Rufus to help him steal (or, I guess, borrow) the time machine in order to go back in time and save Jessica. Now that Lucy has crossed a moral boundary, Wyatt is even more determined to follow through with his plan, it seems.

Whether she likes it or not, Lucy Preston is the moral compass of the team and when she crumbles, so does everyone else. Her decision to kill marks a line that she can’t un-cross, and I’ll be interested to see how her decisions continue to affect the rest of the team. Lucy is tired — emotionally and physically — and just wants her old life back. But she’s struggling to regain the pieces of herself that existed when her sister did. Same with Wyatt. And same with Rufus.

Timeless doesn’t often leave me feeling pretty down, but this week’s episode didn’t exactly end on a high note for any of our characters. Still, I’m interested to see what happens next and whether they find any hope amid their pretty bleak circumstances.

Timey-wimey bits:
  • “It’s not exactly Google Maps.”
  • “The Lone Ranger’s black? That’s... awesome.”
  • Lucy finds ways to proclaim her awesome feminism in every era. This week, she tells The Lone Ranger: “You’re not escorting me. I’m helping you.”
  • Lucy falling off the horse is one of the best subtle comedic moments.
  • Jiya is in too deep already with Connor Mason, who threatens her by the episode’s end. Eesh.
What did you all think of this week’s episode? Sound off in the comments below!

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