Continuum

Continuum, “End Time”

In this article that went up nearly a year ago, right when Continuum premiered in Canada, Simon Barry is supposed to be selling the show. I mean, in a story like this, we hopefully get some insight into the creative process, but Barry is the creator of the show, it’s about to premiere, and part of his job is to make us want to watch it. I didn’t read this interview until last week, but in six sentences, Barry did the opposite of what he was supposed to do: he made me care less.

We made a conscious decision, early on, that our characters are not in control of what’s happening to them. They’re basically pawns. One of the things that’s different from other time-travel shows is that none of our main characters are controlling the process, or designed the process. These characters are part of somebody else’s plan. So the mystery of whether or not they are changing time will remain open until the end of the show. When we do our last episode, that will be part of the reveal.

So, to recap: Continuum doesn’t know how to do stand-alone episodes, and the series creator just single-handedly sapped all the tension out of the over-arching plot. Is there any reason to watch this show? I guess we can look forward to that “reveal” in the last episode, but I don’t want to wait an unknown number of years and slog through countless half-baked hours of procedural just to find out whether any of this matters.

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Oh no! Kagame carried out his plan to change the past! By… fulfilling it. Wait, what?

Barry’s comments, along with the events of the season finale, reinforce the idea that the plot of Continuum is a Stable Time Loop, a la Twelve Monkeys. “End Time” even throws in a Brad Pitt-esque crazy guy who turns out to be way less significant than he first appears to be. Here’s the thing: Twelve Monkeys is great, and yes, part of that greatness is the circular ending, which reveals that the hero’s efforts were preordained to fail. But—please don’t make me say this, Mr. Barry—Twelve Monkeys is a movie and movies don’t work the same way as television shows. Also, Simon Barry is no Terry Gilliam, but I don’t think anyone, least of all Simon Barry, is going to fight me on that.

“End Time” does its best to impress us, though, throwing out tons of plot points and new mysteries. There’s Jason the technician, who has a lot to say about the event that sent Kiera and the terrorists back in time. There’s the mysterious Mr. Escher, who helps Kiera out of a jam. There’s something about ‘The Privateers’, another group of time-travellers we still haven’t met. All of this stuff sounds interesting, but I’m just not confident that Continuum is smart enough to make it work. Within this episode, the script seems to be confused about Jason—he got sent to an asylum because he said he was from the future, but he clearly was from the future, so why does the show present it as a sad inevitability when his “time machine” is just a collection of crazy-person clichés?

As long as I’m nit-picking: it really doesn’t take much to talk Julien into a suicide mission, does it? I can buy that Julien would be young and angry enough to get confused about what happened at his father’s farm, but the show itself doesn’t seem to realize that the group Julien should be mad at is the government, not “corporations.” Unless I missed something where this version of Toronto has privatized law enforcement, the “they” that Julien is fighting against should be the exact opposite of who Liber8 is opposing.

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This isn’t so much a “nit-pick” as it is a “major inconsistency”.

Continuum could still work if I cared about the characters, and “End Time” reminds us that, yes, there are characters somewhere in there that we could perhaps learn to care about. The members of Liber8 feel more like actual people than they have since Kagame got back. The show even returns to the plot thread of Travis’s contentious relationship with Kagame, and Sonya’s split loyalties between the two. Even the blonde girl gets some characterization, even if she’s just trying to freak out Alec… for no discernible reason. Hey, it’s something.

Kiera, though… the show is in a jam with Kiera, because her greatest goal—to return to her family—means the end of the show if she ever accomplishes it. So we can’t get too invested in her mission because we know it’s never going to happen. Hell, if the show is good enough, then we don’t want it to happen because that means the end. While Kiera has show some personality now and then, it’s not enough to make me want to hang out with her. I hope that season 2 brings her closer to Kellog and Alec—and hey, let’s throw Carlos in there, too—because she’s much more interesting when she’s bouncing off her allies.

And speaking of Season 2, there’s that cliffhanger to address, and I have a confession to make. As the episode wound down and we got right up to the edge of discovering the message Future-Alec sent to Past-Alec, I tensed up. I wanted to know what Future-Alec’s plan was, and I groaned when the episode ended before I could find out. In short: I cared. I still do care! Or at least I’m curious, which says more about how much time I’ve invested in this show than it’s actual quality.

So, ten episodes later, where am I? Curious enough to keep watching,  but not hopeful enough to think it’s going anywhere good. I’ll tune in whenever the second season premieres, and if I have anything to say, I’ll let you know… but don’t count on it.

Other Thoughts:

  • This is the first full season of a show I’ve ever written about episode-to-episode. There were some bumpy parts—like the fact that I got about week off schedule here at the end—but I’d like to think I learned something about how to write about television. If you read any of these reviews… thanks, I guess? Or… sorry?
  • This might be my last chance to say it, so: the gimmick of using the word “time” in the title of every episode is really, really stupid, like Friends-level stupid. It wouldn’t be that bad if the titles made sense, but most of the time, they really don’t. Like this week’s: “End Time.” It’s not the end-times. It’s the end of the season, but that doesn’t count. And the pilot is called “A Stitch in Time” for no discernible reason. Whatever, Continuum. See you this summer, ya jerk.
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Continuum, “Family Time”

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This can only end well for everyone involved.

“Family Time” is a well-plotted episode of Continuum that reveals just how sloppily written the show is most of the time. To put it another way, it’s an episode so good that it makes most of this season look terrible in comparison, and it’s not even that good.

The story-structure of Continuum, on a macro level and an episode-by-episode basis, has been shoddy since episode three. The first two episodes (which were originally filmed as a single two-hour pilot) set up the overarching plot in an effective way, but as soon as the show really got down to business and started telling new stories every week, things went south. “Wasting Time,” if you’ll recall, opens with intimations of a murder mystery that turns out to be anything but mysterious, hinges on an unexplained illness that one of the villains contracted off-screen, and ends up in a place that seems totally disconnected from where it began. Aside from the jarring effect of seeing Travis laid up without much reason, the episode flowed well enough that you didn’t notice what was happening, but a simple glance backwards from the end reveals little coherence.

Lack of coherence was also the problem with “The Politics of Time,” or as I prefer to think of it, “The Ninja Episode.” Obviously, I don’t hate ninjas on principle—I’m a red-blooded American man, I can get down with a ninja or two—but the fact that a shadowy martial arts warrior popped up in the climax of an episode about backroom political deals demonstrates how bad the writers are at crafting stand-alone episodes. Early on, these sort of mis-steps are forgivable, easily written off as a show “finding its voice.” Continuum is still relatively young, with only nine episodes, but due to its awkward ten-episode season, those nine episodes are nearly the show’s entire first year. It’s hard to come back from a bad first season. It’s been done before, but not often.

In “Family Time,” the show’s creators utilized some restraint that helped them out immensely: aside from a few cutaway shots, 95% of this episode takes place on the farm where Alec’s family lives. It turns out that Alec’s stepbrother Julien and his anti-corporation friends have a bomb they plan to use to start their revolution. When Kiera and Carlos discover the plan, guns come out on both sides, a few shots are fired, and before you know it, we’re steeped in a classic hostage crisis/face-off-with-the-authorities story.

By building the episode around a Dog Day Afternoon-esque storyline, the writers give themselves a solid structure that they manage not to completely ruin. They can’t craft a murder investigation to save their lives, but they’ve got escalation beats of this kind of story down pat. Alec reveals to Kiera that he keeps a gun in his office and—paging Dr. Checkov—that gun ends up as a major part of the plot. And unlike episodes like “Politics of Time” or “Time’s Up,” where Kiera is one step behind her enemy the whole way through, our hero actually accomplishes her goal in this episode: she stops the bomb from going off. I was let down that we didn’t get another big explosion, but the fact that we got some legitimate dramatic payoff for once more than made up for it.

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The official photo galleries for the past two episode have each included a shot of Kiera lying prone on the ground. This is not good. 

It helps that they feed into this basic story structure several long-developing plotlines, like Kiera’s damaged suit and Julien’s quietly seething rebellion. I know I’m something of a broken record with these continuity issues, but this show is at its best when it moves the overarching plot forward. The premise of this show is interesting, and the writers would do well not to ignore it.

“Family Time” keeps Liber8 in the background, but they do pop up for a couple of scenes. In one, Kagame watches the events on the farm unfold with great interest. We don’t know exactly why he cares so much, only that whatever is happening is fundamental to the creation of Liber8 and to his own personal evolution. This scene is placed right before the climax (where things really hit the fan and Julien’s dad ends up dead), and it adds a layer of suspense that wouldn’t be possible in a show where half the cast isn’t from the future.

What else? Oh, yeah, Kiera and Kellog sleep together. Maybe. I mentioned a couple weeks ago that I had something very stupid spoiled for me during a Google search, and this is what I was talking about. I found out later that the spoiler-ific page I saw was actually a forum post, but that’s beside the point. I don’t feel the same anger and betrayal that this person felt about Kiera and Kellog hooking up; if anything, I’m pleased to find that Kiera and Carlos are going to continue being just friends.

Kellog presents a reasonable argument to Kiera about why they should be together: he’s the only person she can really open up to about what she’s going through, and the odds are that her husband and son don’t exist now anyway. It’s not an outrageous plot point—if it actually happens, and again, I’m not certain that it does—but it does seem a little pointless. I want to say that it’ll probably end up being a major part of Kiera’s series-long arc, but the lumpy, inconsistent first season we’ve gotten so far gives me little faith that the writers have any long-term plans… or, at least, any that I care to stick around and watch.

 

  • This week, I stumbled upon a news story released when Continuum premiered in Canada in May of last year, featuring some choice quotes from creator Simon Barry. Some of them are humorous—he directly addresses the similarities with Alcatraz—and some of them are… disheartening. I’ll talk more about it next time, but for now, you might want to take a look for yourself.
  • Part of the problem is that Continuum is stuck at season length halfway between American television (usually closer to sixteen or twenty episodes, gives a show more time to figure itself out) and British television (one season is usually only six episodes, just long enough to tell one good story and get out).
  • The flashback in this episode makes it seem that Kellog was only guilty of trying to help out his sister and got himself arrested before he could even become a full-fledged member of Liber8. Not only does this swing his alignment way too far in the direction of ‘heroic’, it doesn’t make any sense: if Kellog was arrested at that point, how did he become such close friends with Lucas? How was even considered a ‘terrorist?’ Does anyone on this show’s writing staff know what anyone else is doing?

Continuum, “Playtime”

As this episode began, I decided to take it easy on Continuum. If the show wants to step away from the overarching plot sometimes and serve up a self-contained episode, that’s okay. It may not be the show I wanted, but it can still be an entertaining show. If that’s what the writers want it to be, it’s a waste of time for me to whine whenever an episode doesn’t live up to “A Test of Time”… and it was getting pretty dull writing the same thing every week, anyway.

So I was all set to like this episode, even as it opened with a series of scenes setting up a murder mystery involving two murder-suicides and futuristic mind control. But I got a little anxious when it was revealed that the murderers were both beta testers at a video game company called Tendyne. Whenever a crime procedural sticks its toe into some aspect of “nerd culture,” everyone usually comes away looking desperate and stupid. See: the “First Person Shooter” episode of the X-Files, or CSI’s infamous “Fur and Loathing.”

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Yeah, not a good look. 

Before we go any further: I’m not the kind of person who feels the need to defend “nerd culture”—which shouldn’t even be a thing, but that’s an argument for another time—but I am close enough to that subculture to feel highly embarrassed whenever it gets reduced to a series of buzzwords or blamed for all of society’s ills. “Playtime” is guilty on both counts, but considering how stupid the whole “mind-controlling-video-game” plot-line is, I think everyone involved did the best tehy could.

The buzzwords are especially heinous. Oh, man. Every time we cut back to that plotline, it gets worse. I was happy to see Betty getting some characterization, but that joy was undercut whenever she spouted off about an “FPS with SLG elements” or her friends in “the hacker world.” It’s not that she even says anything inaccurate, it just hurts my ears to hear those terms thrown around. It doesn’t get bad until Betty explains the underground market for an energy drink that gamers are addicted to, and it doesn’t get REALLY BAD until, in one scene, we find out that one of the murderers was a furry and also hear the following exchange:

“It’s like Virtual LARPing!”

“We prefer to call it Cyber-LARPing.”

I want to give the writers the benefit of the doubt. The twinge of horror I felt at that exchange may have less do to with the quality of the writing and more to do with some deep-seated insecurities from my years spent identifying as a “nerd.” Hell, the game they’re talking about could actually be descripted as “cyber-LARPing” if that phrase wasn’t just an absolute cluster of pseudo-relevant slang. But I’m less inclined to go easy on an episode that ends with Kiera being turned into a mindless pawn of the villains because she played a video game… although the image of Alec strapping on a Virtual Boy headset and diving into Tendyne’s “game codes” was funny enough to almost make up for it.

At least Liber8 was actually a presence in this episode. Even though they weren’t behind the original murders, they did strike a deal with the real killer—spoilers, it was the chief programmer of the game, a.k.a. the only guy who could possibly have done it—to help them attack Kiera, which is what I was begging for last week. Having the villains actually BE the villains gave this muddled episode a jolt of life towards the end: when Liber8 finally gets control of Kiera’s mind and sends her on a murder spree, intended to wipe out her partner and herself, the sequence that follows is nicely tense. Sure, it’s lame that the climax of the episode completely removes Kiera’s agency and reduces the main character to a literal pawn, but at least it has your attention.

The writers squander that, too, though. As soon as Kiera shoots the programmer and attacks Carlos, all sorts of questions start flying: how will they stop her? What will happen to Kiera once she’s free? Will she still be able to work with the police department? Will she be wanted for attempted murder? Will Kiera go on the run, ditching Carlos and the rest of the law enforcement cast, a group of characters that rival the Miami Metro on Dexter in terms of irrelevancy?

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Ladies and gentlemen, the savior of humanity.

The answers: easily, nothing, yes, nope, and nooooooo way. Once Kiera has her mind restored, everyone immediately accepts that her will was overridden by an evil programmer, including the chief of police, whose only requirement for his continued cooperation is that Kiera see “a specialist.” Not even a specialist within the department, she can just go for a check-up with any doctor she knows. Since she chooses Alec, I assume that no one’s even going to talk to the doctor afterwards.

If Continuum wants to devote half a season to single-episode cases that are mostly unrelated to the main plot, that’s fine. Everything doesn’t have to be 100% serialized, I can accept that. But the writers need to at least give us cases that follow-through on what they set up, and don’t lean on ridiculous green-screen “Virtual Reality” sequences or ninjas or whatever stupid plot point stinks up the episode next week.

 

  • One promising development this week: Liber8 finds out that Alec is helping Kiera. I did not expect that, and it does not bode well for Alec.
  • I’m sure I’ll talk more about Kellog after the next episode, but for this week I’ll just say that his friendly interaction with Lucas rang false to me. I get that they’re old friends, but isn’t Kellog also a traitor to your cause, Lucas? You know, the one you’ve dedicated your entire life to?
  • Oh, if you don’t know what LARPing is, just watch “The Wild Hunt.” Actually, watch “The Wild Hunt” even if you do know what LARPing is. You’ll thank me later!

Continuum, “The Politics of Time”

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“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.

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I’d like to dedicate that last joke to my girlfriend, who will understand it but still won’t think it’s funny. 

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.

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Carlos is kind of dumb, is what I’m saying here.

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.

Continuum, “Time’s Up”

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.

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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.

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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.

Continuum, “A Test Of Time”

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This guy!

“A Test Of Time” is the best episode of Continuum so far. It crafts a story that only a show like this could do, but grounds it with emotional beats that resonated better than they have all season. There’s not many shows that could build an episode around the grandfather paradox, and Continuum makes the most out of it. This episode climaxes with a hostage exchange involving not one, but three different characters’ ancestors.

It gets a little ridiculous when Kellog reveals Kagame’s mother—after all, he is “very resourceful”—but it’s still sad when poor Maddie gets shot. Seeing Kellog kneeling over the dying body of his grandmother was moving in a strange way. It’s a scene that seems like it shouldn’t resonante emotionally, because there’s no real emotional precedent for it—as far as I know, most people don’t take on a father/daughter relationship with their grandparents—and yet, it works. After all, Maddie is an innocent caught in the crossfire, but to Kellog, she was more family. Time paradoxes aside, everyone knows how it feels to lose someone you love, and seeing one of the show’s most likeable characters in that state was wrenching.

I haven’t been feeling that kind of emotional connection with Kierra, but her separation from her loved ones actually clicked for me this week. I’m willing to chock it up to personal feelings about fictional proposals—I’m sorry, I think people devoting themselves to each other is just so beautiful AND NO I AM NOT CRYING—but it didn’t hurt that we actually saw Kierra and her husband loving each other, instead of arguing or talking about the baby. Seeing Kierra fret over her husband’s safety in the flashback was nice—as was her son not having to deliver horrible dialogue—and made her love for her family seem much more real. So, when Kierra gives that speech to her grandmother about being surrounded by love, it has actual weight to it. Having children seems like an absolute nightmare to me, but the way Kierra described it was really lovely.

This episode was so good that it redeems last week’s underwhelming effort. “A Test of Time” reveals that last week’s episode was actually Continuum’s first pieces-setting episode. Heavily serialized shows are usually allowed a couple of episodes to set up payoffs further down the road, but this early in a show’s run, it’s hard to tell if it’s going to be good enough to deserve that sort of slack… and in Continuum’s case, it was unclear if the show was even serialized enough to deserve that sort of slack. But with “A Test of Time,” Continuum proved its dedication to telling a long form story with episodes so good that they don’t even need a shootout to be satisfying.

Last week’s time with Kellog set up the devastating turn of events in his storyline, but the most important piece that got moved around was Kagame, the leader of Liber8 who had been absent from 2012 (and the show itself) for unclear reasons since the pilot. Well, he’s back, and he’s already a fantastic addition to the show.

His presence gives Liber8 coherence and a level of motivation they didn’t have when they were flailing about just trying not to die. Now that their leader is back, Liber8 has transformed into a legitimate antagonistic force. Not only are they actively working against Kierra, but it looks like they’re going to devote all of their energy to starting the revolution that they lost the first time around.

It helps that Kagame himself is the sort of interesting, nuanced villain that’s been missing from the show thus far. We find out early on in this episode that Kagame doesn’t want to take a life when it isn’t needed, and that gets reinforced when he chews out Travis for shooting Kellog’s grandmother. Kagame’s philosophical clarity and moral code gives the massive terrorist act at the beginning of the series even more weight. If Kagame thought that all those people needed to die, he must have been serious about it. He may be dedicated to his cause, but you can see in his eyes that he feels the weight of every death.

Kagame is the only Liber8 member that’s almost likeable—except Kellog, but he doesn’t count—but the show never tries to make him anything less than a villain. Even when he gets a sympathetic flashback like last episode, it’s tempered a cold act of calculated evil. Kagame’s ordering the murder of an innocent Lily Cole, just because she might be Kierra’s grandmother, is a perfect example. Liber8 has not been more viscerally frightening than when Travis executed that screaming girl in the alleyway.

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You can tell she’s bad news because she has two piercings. TWO!

This episode works so well that I can overlook the tiny bits that don’t make sense, because they get the wheel rolling on everything else. When Kellog shows up at the Liber8 base, I can understand why Kagame would want to speak with him, but why would the others let him in? The last time he showed up, he was carrying a tracking device. And then there was Sonya’s method of extracting a tissue sample from Kierra. If you can get close enough to stab her with a medical instrument, why not just stab her with a knife and deal with the problem directly?

I still don’t want to slide into the trap of over-praising Continuum just because it’s better than it should be, but I think it’s earned a little faith. You really have to give some leeway on plot-holes to any long-form fiction, especially a genre show like this one that’s so plot-heavy. And at least Continuum doesn’t let the really stupid stuff just lay there for too long, like when the second episode immediately addressed Kierra’s super-flimsy alias, or in this episode, when Kellog’s treachery was exposed almost immediately. This is a show with at least some amount of brains, and this episode proves that it may have a heart, too.

  • The fact that the REAL Lily Cole was a sterotypical “bad girl” seems kind of hokey in retrospect, but when she first showed up it was a nice little twist.
  • Proof that Kellog actually cared about Maddie: he doesn’t even care that her death didn’t wipe him from existence. Awww.
  • Alec’s speech to his stepbrother is probably going to have negative consequences. Wouldn’t it be crazy if he accidentally inspired his family to join Liber8? Maybe “crazy” is a bit much—“natural plot development” might be a better term.
  • The “FETUS DETECTED” thing that popped up in Kierra’s H.U.D. was so funny I almost missed the car crash that happened five seconds later. 

Continuum, “A Matter Of Time”

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I was disappointed when Kierra settled in with the Vancouver police force of 2012. It made sense from a plot and character standpoint—Kierra was a cop in her time, of course she would join up with a law enforcement team—but the setting was too reminiscent of the police procedural genre for my taste. I’m not knocking procedurals, they’ve got their place in the television landscape, but they’re not my cup of tea and they’re not what I was looking for in Continuum.

After resisting the format for three episodes, Continuum finally went full procedural with “Matter Of Time.” The episode opens with Carlos investigating a the scene of a murder and from that point on, everything plays out exactly as you’d expect. There are a few sci-fi touches that gesture faintly towards the more interesting show happening off to the side: the victim, Martin Ames, was a scientist working on an anti-matter device that blew a hole through five floors when it killed him (which leads to a neat CGI-assisted zoom through the hole).

But for the most part, this plotline follows the standard beats of a police procedural. Kierra and Carlos interview the suspects a few times each, scrounge for clues and finally interrogate the perp until he confesses… but then, a bit of information discovered at the last minute leads to a twist and the discovery of the real criminal. It’s kind of bizarre and more than a little disappointing to see Kierra trapped in the rote plotline of CBS drama when last week she was engaging in a two-on-one fistfight with a terrorist from the future. I thought I was watching Continuum, not Law & Order: 2012! Wait, that doesn’t really work. Law & Order: Vancouver? No, that’s stupid, too. Well, you get the point.

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Sometimes jokes can be hard

Episodes two and three both devoted time to self-contained storylines, but the one in episode two was directly related to the premise of the show (Kierra tries to return home) and the one in episode three took a backseat to character development for Kellog and a big punch-out for everyone else. The investigation into the murder of Martin Ames hints that it will tie into the overarching plot, but it never does, except in the broadest thematic sense.

It turns out that Ames’ partner, Dr. Dobeck, fearing that their work would be weaponized, murdered Ames to prevent him from selling out to the government. In the end, Kierra not only lets Dobeck go free, she lets her keep the work. It seems that this unnecessary plotline will be redeemed with a major bit of character development. Is Kierra finally beginning to see that there are more important things than upholding the law?

Actually, Kierra was just upholding a different kind of law, the law of time travel. In her time, Dobeck is widely hailed for developing an energy resource that saves millions of people. Kierra decides that Dobeck’s future work is too important to lose, so important that she lets her get away with murder. As Alec eloquently puts it, “That’s messed up.”

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“I think I left the stove running in 2077.”

The whole thing is slightly redeemed by a bit of parallel structure. Kagame, leader of Liber8, has finally joined everyone else in 2012, and when Kierra shows up to take him in, he says that he’s spent his whole life “making decisions that affect millions of people,” and darn it, that’s just what he’s good at. At the end of the episode, Alec explicitly compares what Liber8 is doing with what Kierra has done: in a way, they’re both playing God.

It would have been a nice bit of character work if it hadn’t been set up with that extremely awkward line from Kagame. In fact, the entire scene where Kierra confronts him is awkward. During the episode, we see a glimpse into Kagame’s past, and it brings us dangerously close to sympathizing with him and his cause. The writers can’t have that, though, so when Liber8 shows up to rescue their leader, they threaten to murder an infant. Good work, writers, nice and subtle. Way to keep everything in good taste.

Everything around Kierra’s case of the week is still interesting. Kellog is getting more flagrant with his knowledge of the future, buying a boat and helping out a young girl who is pretty clearly his grandmother. He didn’t even interact with any of the main characters this week; he just hung out in the past and bought stock. It was still fun to spend time with him.

The rest of Liber8 didn’t get a lot to do this week, but at least they were having a pretty good time until their leader showed up. In their first scene, Canada’s favorite time-displaced criminals beat up a couple of marijuana farmers and take their house. Travis and Sonya immediately post up and start smoking weed, having sex and watching television. This was the first week where I at least knew what the group’s goal was: at the beginning of the episode, they just wanted a new place to live. After Kagame shows back up, they re-dedicate themselves to starting their revolution 60 years early. Right. Got it. Let’s try to keep things simple from here on out, okay?

Continuum needs to stay away from this kind of filler episode in the future. There’s only ten episodes a season, after all, it’s not like they have a lot of time to kill. Still, even “Matter Of Time” worked in a few interesting character moments and some developments that could pay off down the road… and there was plenty of Alec. More Alec is always good in my book.

  • I didn’t even talk about how Alec and Kierra finally meet face-to-face in this episode! And they have a cute bit of banter about dry-cleaning. It’s good to know their chemistry works just as well face-to-face.
  • Really, Carlos? You’re worried about Liber8 “adding to their numbers?” Relax, this is the first week where one of them hasn’t died.