“The Politics of Time” introduces a character portrayed by Tahmoh Penikett, known to many for his role in Battlestar Galactica, but known to me for his roll in Joss Whedon’s Dollhouse. Dollhouse was a show with an interesting science fiction premise that tripped all over itself whenever it stepped away from serialization—sound familiar?
Dollhouse picked up a lot of steam halfway through season one when it dispensed with the boring episodic installments and focused on the overarching story. This sudden upswing in quality confirmed the beliefs of the Whedon-faithful and, perhaps coupled with some residual guilt on behalf of Fox re: Firefly, netted the series a second season.
Funny thing, though: after the miracle-level event of Dollhouse’s renewal, the creators went right back to the dull case-of-the-week style episodes that had nearly sunk the show to begin with. We had caught a glimpse of what the show could be, a surprisingly ambitious exploration of identity with apocalyptic implications, but now we were watching Eliza Dushku match wits with a serial killer in a warehouse. Even after the creators of Dollhouse discovered a winning formula for the show, they couldn’t resist shooting themselves in the foot.
This isn’t quite the same as what’s happening with Continuum: we’re really only halfway through the first season and the show is still going through growing pains, trying to figure out what kind of episode works best. But it’s hard not to see the similarities between Continuum and Dollhouse. Or, should I say… the echoes!
Get it? Because the main character in Dollhouse, her name was… uh… you know what, just forget it.
We’ve seen what Continuum looks like when the writers exploit what makes the show unique, and it looks pretty good. They’ve already written one fantastic episode—“A Test Of Time” for those keeping score at home—and it hurts to watch them flail around, trying to cram their unique show into a lame procedural format.
It’s hard to say exactly where this episode went off the rails. I was uneasy from the first scene, which flashes back to a time when Kiera was sexually assaulted by her husband’s friend. Things got shaky when the show put an unusual amount of focus on Carlos, by far the most generic member of the cast. But even with all the uncomfortable revelations, undeveloped themes and dull, self-contained story-lines it wasn’t until the ninja showed up that “The Politics Of Time” revealed itself to be Continuum’s worst episode so far.
Where to start? This episode is a big old mess, stranding the characters in the middle of a dull murder mystery that feels completely separate from the rest of the series. Alicia Fuentes, a reporter who happens to be Carlos’s childhood friend and occasional booty call, is murdered, and the obvious suspect is Jim Martin, candidate for union president and fellow childhood friend of Carlos. Carlos is too close to the case—he was having sex with the victim hours before she died—but he refuses to reveal his connection to his colleagues, because… actually, it’s not clear why Carlos risks his entire career over this case, but if I had to connect the dots, I’d say he feels a responsibility to solve his friend’s murder. That’s just a guess, though. Maybe he actually forgot that he knew her, it wouldn’t surprise me.
Anyway, with all the childhood connections, shady political deals and murdered reporters, this plot-line feels more like a Dennis Lehane novel than an episode of Continuum. There are still plenty of sci-fi touches to remind us that we are, in theory, watching a show about time travel, such as the ongoing pseudo-drama with Alec and Kiera’s suit, and Kiera using her future-tech to solve the crime. The use of the fingerprint scanner was mildly clever, and I found it hilarious that Kiera solved the murder by doing basically the same thing that Bruce Wayne does at the climax of The Dark Knight.
Of course, that little bit of techno-wizardry brings us to the stupidest reveal of the show’s brief history: the murderer… is a ninja! Okay, technically, it’s Jasmine, the spiky-blonde-haired member of Liber8, who has no personality and probably isn’t technically a ninja, but still. Seriously? You can’t throw me into the middle of Mystic River and then tell me that Emily Rossum’s killer was a member of the League of Shadows.
“The Politics of Time” is mostly beyond salvaging even before Talia al Ghul shows up. The return of socially awkward Kiera is always welcome, but it was overshadowed by that bizarre flashback in which Kiera is groped and then, in the worst-written scene the show has ever done, discovers that her husband cheated on her before their wedding. This explains why Kiera seems kind of cold towards her husband in some of the flashbacks, but it was a strange choice by the writers to add this dark bit shading to her marriage, just when her husband was starting to seem likable.
There are two possible reasons why the writers included this flashback: to form a loose parallel (very loose, like sweatpants loose) between Kiera’s past and Jim Martin’s situation with his wife, and to set up a romantic pairing between Kiera and Carlos. I’m not crazy about Kiera and Carlos coming together, but it’s sadly inevitable, isn’t it? They’re a male and female partnership, they’re both attractive, and even if Kiera’s not single, hey, her husband cheated on her, so what’s the big deal, right?
The flashback wasn’t show-ruining bad or anything, but why go through all that trouble just to mess the show’s basic premise? Kiera’s just dying to get back to her family, but it’s starting to seem like she’s better off in the past. I wouldn’t be surprised if the next episode’s flashback reveals that her son is actually a bank robber.
Look, I’ve been wrong before. I thought the fourth episode was one giant waste of time, and while half of that episode was pure filler, the other half was set-up for the fantastic episode that followed. “The Politics Of Time” ends with what I will generously call a “twist” that ties this week’s shenanigans into Liber8’s master plan, and I have to admit, I’m intrigued. Kiera’s adversaries are building up quite a force, and it’s hard to figure how she’s going to best them.
But in order to find out, the two forces have to actually come up against each other, and no matter how well this episode might set up future developments, right now it feels like a time-killer run-around case-of-the-week that involved murder, infidelity and ninjas but was somehow still really uninvolving. Continuum has my faith, but after this episode, I think I’m having a crisis.
- Seriously, that scene in the bathroom is painfully bad. Who talkes like that? “Well, I had an affair with your husband, I mean it’s n.b.d., whatevs.”
- I don’t even remember what Kiera’s suit does. She sure seems to be doing fine without it.
- Kiera is pretty quick to forget about that piece of the orb that Kellog stole.
- So: I realized about halfway through the editing process that I’ve been spelling Kiera’s name wrong for at least the last six weeks, which, my bad, but when I Googled ‘Continuum Kierra’ to confirm my error, I was confronted with a MASSIVE SPOILER. Now, considering this show is actually six months old, I ain’t even mad—though really, why would you just put that right in the headline—but the spoiler itself is so stupid that I’m already angry about it. For anyone following along with the SyFy airing schedule, I’ll just say this: it’s so, so much worse than I thought it would be. You’ll see what I mean two episodes from now.