simon barry

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, “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.