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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 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.

Continuum, “Wasting Time”

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That green chick from Star Trek sure cleans up nice.

Look, I know I said that I admire the creators of Continuum for their commitment to putting a gunfight into every episode, but this week’s shootout was kind of dull. Maybe it was because Kierra’s partner Carlos was the one taking aim at Liber8 member Curtis, and boy, Carlos is just eight different flavors of vanilla. More likely, it was just that the action itself wasn’t exciting. They’re both firing at each other behind cover, nothing really seems to be at stake, and the whole thing is just static… that is, until Curtis pops out from behind his cover, jumps off of a wall and punches Carlos in the face.

At that point, what was a dull gunfight turns into an exciting fistfight. Even more exciting was that Kierra got involved after a few minutes. I was worried that the show was having Carlos trade blows with Curtis because the creators were uncomfortable having a man and woman wail on each other, but I let go of that when Curtis threw Kierra through a window. Kierra is supposed to be a tough-as-nails future-cop action hero, and I’m glad the show lets her get down and dirty. I’ll even forgive the fact that the fight ends with a trick used to better (and gorier) effect in Dredd 3D. Up until then, it’s a good fight, surprisingly good for a television show. There’s a real dearth of good fight scenes on TV.

I’m willing to forgive Continuum for a lot of flaws because the show itself is something we don’t have a lot of: a serialized sci-fi action/drama. Yeah, I know, we all miss Firefly, but it ain’t coming back, and what do you expect me to watch, Revolution? Please. Besides, Continuum has one major advantage over both of those shows: time travel. I’m struggling to come up with another show that has used time travel as the basis of its plot the way Continuum does… the closest I can think of is Samurai Jack.

Too old, too cancelled, too British.

Too old, too cancelled, too British.

“Wasting Time” is the least time-travel-centric episode of Continuum yet. Sure, that trip into the past is still hanging on the edge of the plot, influencing the actions of almost every character, but this episode was more about the immediate needs of Liber8 and how that puts them into conflict with Kierra. Those needs have something to do with an mysterious illness contracted by the leader of Liber8, and the lengths that one member (Sonya, aka The Queen of Hearts”) will go through to save him. The flashback at the episode’s beginning gives the impression that “Wasting Time” will be all about Kierra’s attempt to stop Sonya’s killing spree, which includes removing the pituitary gland of her victims so she can use their genetic code to synthesize a super-steroid… or something. Turns out, not so much.

(Sidebar here: I have no idea what’s going on with Liber8. Their situation and their goals seem to change episode-to-episode. In the pilot, I got the impression that they were stranded in 2012, but that they intended to carry out their pre-revolution anyway. When the second episode opened, they were talking about a plan to get back to their original destination. In this episode, Travis is suddenly dying of an unexplained illness. I don’t know if SyFy is airing these episodes with scenes missing, but it sure felt like it this week. They’re certainly placing the commercial breaks at the wrong point, which is especially awkward when we come back from commercial just in time for the dramatic act break. But I digress.)

The whole pituitary-gland thing just fizzles out—or, rather, Liber8’s plans to synthesize a cure for their leader work out exactly as planned. But the possibility of Travis’s death drives a wedge between members Curtis and Kellog, which leads to the aforementioned shootout/fistfight and to Kellog’s banishment from the group. Kellog claims to be a non-violent member of Liber8 and wants to start a new life in 2012, so he strikes up a bargain with Kierra.

Kellog’s alliance with Kierra is a welcome development because it gives Kierra an ally that isn’t Alec—though Alec is awesome—or Carlos (aka GuyCop McBlanderson) and because it provides some much-needed character development for the supporting cast. So far, the members of Liber8 have been characterized just enough to serve as cannon fodder. Don’t get me wrong, I think Curtis’s actions in this episode made sense for his character, it would just be nice if his character was more than “kill innocents and also everyone else”. But, he’s dead now, so maybe that would have just been wasted time. Oh, hey, that’s the name of the episode. How fun!

No show is without flaws, but Continuum is surprisingly well made for a Canadian import doing a second-run on SyFy. I realize that a show’s genre or its channel/country of origin is no excuse for sloppy storytelling, but the fact that this show is so unique makes me more forgiving when episodes come out lumpy and weird. I only hope the creators can tighten things up so that this show can live up to the highest standard it can hope to achieve: solid B-level television. You know what? Make that B+. Reach for the stars, Continuum, reach for the stars.

  • Kierra’s longing stare at the happy family in the restaurant was a nice way to remind us of how much she misses her home without beating us over the head with it.
  • Dredd 3D is pretty okay, if you were wondering. It’s better than you would expect but the story is still kind of dull. I wish I’d seen it in 3D.
  • “You’re a terrorist and a revolutionary.”“No, that guy won’t be born until 2041.” Dang, that’s cool. Time travel is cool. 

Continuum, “Fast Times”

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Time travel is cool. If you don’t get too hung up on the confusing bits—or pull a Looper and just have fun with them—it’s a fantastic storytelling engine, offering up plenty of ways to explore predetermination, destiny, chaos theory, and other things like that. The first episode of Continuum provided the bare bones of a time-travel story that would be light on philosophy but heavy on action. The premise just screams “pulpy fun:” a police officer from the future has to track down a group of terrorists that have escaped into the past? It’s like a reverse-Alcatraz! In another reversal of Alcatraz, it was actually good.

It wasn’t perfect, though. The main character, Kiera Cameron, was a bit of blank slate, not helped out by the underwhelming performance of Rachel Nichols. The emotional core of the show is that Kiera is trapped in the past, separated by sixty years from her husband and son. However, we only spent about ten minutes in Kiera’s time before she and the prisoners vanished, so we don’t get to spend any time with her family. I applaud the show for wanting to get things moving, but it’s hard to sympathize with Kiera when her husband and child only exist in an abstract sense… and it doesn’t help that her son is the kind of annoying child character that no one likes.

Once Kiera arrived in the past, she hooked up with a local police force in order to track down the escaped terrorists, which is fine, except Kiera passed herself off as Portland police officer and no one ever asked for her badge. It was the kind of plot hole I was willing to overlook as long as the show offered more cool stuff with Liber8 (the terrorists) and Alex (Kiera’s new paradox-inducing sidekick) but it did make the show a little stupider than it needed to be.

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To my delight, the second episode of Continuum, “Fast Times,” addresses the show’s biggest problems in the first ten minutes. We open with a flashback to Kiera’s first day as a Protector (read: future-cop), and I’m not sure if it’s because Rachel Nichols stepped her game up or if the writers realized that the main character needed to be a little more human, but she is immediately more interesting to watch. We see a bit of social-awkwardness peeking out through the cracks in her tough-as-nails future-cop exterior, making her more relatable. To me, at least. Maybe you don’t have that sort of problem, I don’t know.

Anyway, Kiera’s discomfort in social situations continues into the next present-day scene, where the false identity she used in the first episode is immediately revealed. By the end of the episode she’s got the whole thing settled, setting up a more thorough false identity with the help of her super-hacker sidekick. I was a little disappointed that the show was sticking with the police precinct setting, but I was just glad that they addressed it.

Even if the law-enforcement setting/supporting characters are a played-out television cliché, it makes sense that Kiera would hook up with a new team to take down Liber8. The only worry I really have about the setting is that it would transform the show into another boring procedural. Alcatraz—boy, that show is really taking a beating—had a lot of promise but immediately squandered it and became a run-of-the-mill cop show, with the science-fiction aspect reduced to window dressing.

All you ever did was disappoint us, you stupid, stupid show

All you ever did was disappoint us, you stupid, stupid show

Continuum put any fears I had to rest in this episode. Whether it was furthering several interesting plotlines—what’s the deal with Alec’s family? Is that one member of Liber8 starting a new life in the past?—or building the climax around a failed attempt to utilize nuclear fission to activate a time-travel orb, the writers have made it clear that this is not going to be another CSI clone.

Some things still come a little too easy, like when the wife of the kidnapped doctor helps out Kiera. Her husband was just kidnapped by terrorists, but when another stranger comes to the door looking for him, the woman offers her total assistance almost immediately. It’s a small problem, though, and I still can’t fault the show for wanting to keep things moving. Continuum ain’t Looper, and my enthusiasm might fall off if Kiera spends the entire second half of this season sitting around on a farm.

Hopefully, the show will continue to use flashbacks to flesh out Kiera’s character, although her son is still grating, even in the small glimpse we get of him in this episode. Maybe the whole “I get two tuck-ins?” doe-eyed innocence thing plays better for people who have children. For the rest of us, it’s like nails on a chalkboard… or maybe that’s just me, too. Either way, if Continuum can keep developing its characters and deliver a cool gunfight in every episode, it’s going to turn into quite the show.