After last week’s emotional examination of a classic time travel trope, Continuum turns its attention to more political maters. Aside from a few subplots that get advanced and a few bits of intriguing backstory, “Time’s Up” is all about the beliefs and methods of Liber8. This brings us back to one of the big questions of the series: whose side are we supposed to be on?
We’ve danced around this issue before, but we’re at a point in the series where the writers have given us enough material to really address it. When the series begins, it’s clear that Kierra’s world is not one any of us would want to live in. I know there are, ahem, certain factions of our society that think the government is crazy out-of-control with power, but I doubt that even they would prefer we be ruled over by a council of corporations.
From the moment Kierra is introduced as an unthinking cog in the dystopian future of 2077, the series sets up a cognitive dissonance—our hero is fighting on behalf of a system we despise—that can only be resolved in one of two ways: either the show demonstrates why Kierra’s future isn’t all that bad, or Kierra slowly comes to understand the viewpoint of Liber8, even if she despises their methods. “Time’s Up” has a few moments indicating that Continuum is committed to the latter course. It’s nice to see the beginnings of a moral dilemma in Kierra’s mind, but it’s handled in a pretty awkward way, with flashback-Kierra stumbling upon a plot by the council to withhold rations. Actually, the fact that Kierra experiences a moment of sympathy for Liber8’s cause in a flashback could potential undermine her entire character arc, but I choose to view that as a single poor piece of writing rather than a series-destroying mistake.
The depiction of Kierra’s future and the continued exploration of Liber8’s beliefs make the group’s actions in the pilot seem… not justified, because they do murder thousands of innocent people, but understandable. The mass murder itself is rendered in a distant, CGI explosion, so while the audience is intellectually aware of Liber8’s awful crimes, we don’t get an opportunity to sympathize with the victims. This has held true for the rest of the series so far: the most emotionally upsetting thing that Liber8 has done is the murder of Kellog’s grandmother, and even that act is decried by Kagame as soon as it happens.
“Time’s Up” continues this trend. Aside from the cold-blooded murder of the security guards (again carried out by Travis, the same member who violently strayed from the plan last week), Liber8’s actions in this episode take the form of vigilante justice. They force a criminal to confess and hand out millions of dollars to the public. Sure, the audience knows that Liber8 is a terrorist group, but it’s not hard to see why the Vancouver public of 2012 would like them.
All this could have been better explored in an episode with a little more breathing room. The plot of “Time’s Up” is too conventionally twisty for its own good, crowding up a story about Kierra and Liber8 with boring scenes about two Exotrol employees working to take down their own company. The whole thing was unnecessary, and all it got us was another chase/fight scene. To the writers of Continuum: I don’t actually need you to include a fistfight in every episode, especially if it’s going to be as lame as this one.
Liber8 had enough going on this week to fill two episodes, but the corporate espionage plotline crowds them out. I could have watched an entire episode about Liber8 infiltrating and winning over the anarchist group, but that gets breezed over in the first few scenes. Once the CEO of Exotrol is kidnapped, the entire episode could have just been a cat and mouse game between Liber8 and Kierra. The gimmick of having citizens vote for whether someone lives or dies is a storytelling device that has been popping up here and there ever since the internet became a massive cultural force, and it’s usually connected to the worst kind of “the-internet-is-destroying-our-souls” alarmism, but here, it doesn’t even matter! The voting goes live and Alec tracks down Liber8 almost immediately. Continuum had an opportunity to do something worthwhile with this semi-cliché, since the idea of Liber8 holding a public tribunal for a CEO is completely in character, but the writers dropped the ball.
The kidnapping plot is eventually revealed to be an elaborate method of getting the CEO to confess and winning the public over to Liber8’s cause. If the writers had left it at that, I would have been fine. The final shot of Liber8’s logo being spray-painted on a wall is suitably ominous: how will Kierra fight against Liber8 if they have a whole army of citizens behind them? But then the show returns to the stupid corporate espionage plot, wasting another five minutes just to show that Liber8 was also playing Exotrol from the inside in order to… get a lot of money? Huh?
The best motive I can ascribe to the show’s writers here is that they wanted to address the unspoken question of how Liber8 is funding their terrorist activities. But that question had gone unspoken because no one cares. This is a show about time travel. I don’t care about how the bad guys get their money; I care about how they exploit their unique position to accomplish their goals. If the writers really wanted to explain how Liber8 gets their funding, they could have found a better way to do it.
How about this: in the imaginary version of this episode that I wrote in my head—the one all about Liber8 allying themselves with anarchist groups—Liber8 manipulates their new allies into robbing banks for “the cause.” There! That would take up maybe a scene or two and it would have been much more interesting than this.
Continuum is a show with a unique premise that trips over itself when it tries to introduce plotlines from a standard procedural show. Unlike the case of the week in episode three, the events of “Time’s Up” at least connect to the rest of the show, but they’re obscured by a big lumpy subplot about an attempted corporate takeover. Continuum, I know you want to be like those other shows, those American shows that run on CBS and NBC, but you don’t have to be like them! You can be your own show! You just have to believe in yourself, Continuum, you just have to believe.
- I did appreciate how much “sci-fi stuff” was used in the main plotline, like the re-appearance of the truth serum and Kierra using her H.U.D. to shoot out a weak point in the chain-link walkway.
- It seems like Alec’s step-father owned a farm until he was forced out by corporations, and he’s understandably a little tense about it. Hey, that’s way more backstory than I thought we would get for that character!
- The photos that SyFy released for this episode make it seem like it was going to be all about Alec’s family, which would ALSO have been better than what we actually got.