This Timeless review contains spoilers.
Timeless Season 1, Episode 11
The Chicago World’s Fair turned out to be the perfect setting for the return of Timeless as the episode had plenty of historical figures and events to play with. It felt very much like a refresher episode, reminding viewers what was at stake for the different characters, especially Rufus and Wyatt. The time period doesn’t often outshine the underlying mythology of the show, but in this rare case, 1893 is more compelling than the small progress made towards dismantling the hold Rittenhouse has on team. However, the re-introduction somehow seems a suitable transition into the second half of the season.
Honestly, the chosen setting could have included any number of famous figures and did bring in quite a few references, which shows what a remarkable time of innovation the so-called Gilded Age was. Even small mentions such as Cracker Jacks, Hershey’s chocolate, the Ferris wheel, and Pabst Blue Ribbon provided both context and comic relief. There were even visitors to the fair like Helen Keller and Alexander Graham Bell that could only receive a token mention, so rich was the tapestry that served as this episode’s backdrop.
The fact that Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, and J.P. Morgan could get upstaged by Harry Houdini is a testament to what a crowded stage this time period was, but the fact that the inventors and their financier would be part of Rittenhouse gives their involvement an interesting twist. Perhaps some viewers were unaware of Flynn’s assertion that these men “went on to become some of history’s greatest dicks,” but their attempted assassination seems a bit extreme even for Flynn. Perhaps viewers are now seeing a man resorting to desperate measures.
How else do you explain his deal with Wyatt? Flynn says he’s a man of his word, and that’s supposedly why he delivers the identity of the killer of Wyatt’s wife: Wes Gilliam. But surely there’s an ulterior motive here, perhaps a desire to split the team, which keeps coming back together despite all of their differing motivations. Will Wyatt go after the man who is being held prisoner in San Quentin for the murder of two others, giving Timeless viewers an adventure in the present for once?
Whether that happens or not, the MVP for this particular story has to go to Harry Houdini, who comes to Lucy’s rescue after being used by Flynn to pick some locks. The fact that the escape artist was just starting out his career in 1893 made him an endearing character not yet buoyed by fame. He had so many good moments, including the jump through the ceiling to enter the locked room, the “cutpurse” maneuver to expose Flynn and foil his plans, and his grand exit telling the inventors they had been saved by “the great Houdini.”
But his most notable contribution was in telling Lucy that fear wasn’t real and that he conquered it while performing his escapes by focusing on a single thought: escape. This provided Lucy with a great scene when she should have been overcome by her fear of tight spaces. Using only her knowledge of history, she was able to manipulate the world’s first recorded serial killer, H.H. Holmes, into keeping her alive long enough for rescue to arrive. This dialogue made full use of Abigail Spencer’s formidable acting skills.
The “Murder Castle” itself provided a suspenseful, surprisingly effective conflict as well. Although Flynn’s decision to lure Wyatt and Rufus to the World’s Fair Hotel was a bit of a Bond-villain move, the fact that Holmes mentioned that he was paid to kill Rufus and Wyatt added credibility to the plan. The twist of having the murderer confined with the prisoners was a nice touch, too, as was having architect Sophia Hayden along for the ride. Even Sophia’s mention of Robert Robinson Taylor, MIT’s first African-American student (also an architect), felt natural in this crowded field of rich history.
The bit with Connor and Rufus arguing over the Rittenhouse recordings has probably been played out, even though this is one of the biggest reminders of where we left off. Rufus’ repeated refusal to comply and Connor’s fear of reprisal are getting old, and hopefully, the statement of finality Rufus recorded for the malevolent organization indicates an end to this arc. Along with Wyatt being given the identity of his wife’s killer, perhaps some progress can be made towards resolving some conflicts in the present.
All in all, it was a Timeless episode that avoided stagnation by wowing the audience with a genuinely interesting time period in American History. This series has really settled into its groove, and as long as it capitalizes on the heightened interest “The World’s Columbian Exposition” created, it should be a fun ride to the finale, perhaps even a Ferris wheel that returns us to where we began with Lucy’s changed past.