Season 1, Episode 8 “Space Race”
Written by Matt Whitney
Directed by Charles Beeson
This was an awesome episode. Do I sound surprised? I am. I only wish all the episodes were as good as this one.
What did they do right? They chose an event that everyone cared about. Lives were on the line, and they were lives that the audience already cared about. Instead of being forced to watch something terrible in history that our protagonists should not prevent, they were there to fix a tragedy that hadn’t happened in their timeline. Along the way, they find an unsung hero and push her in front of the chorus.
A lot of the episode dealt with prejudice, racism and sexism. Many of the episodes show that Lucy (Abigail Spencer) or Rufus (Malcolm Barrett) have problems with discrimination in the time that they are in. But this time, instead of just showing something simple, like slavery is bad, it showed several layers of discrimination. Some forms were blatant, while others were more subtle.
The show opens with the moon landing the way that it occurred the first time. There’s a little blip on one of the computer screens but the landing is a go. They end the scene when the Eagle lands.
Garcia Flynn (Goran Visnjic) interviews an older gentleman, Wayne Ellis (Robert Pine), about his time in Mission Control. You can’t say he doesn’t do his homework. He asks questions about security and badges and when the gentleman said he hadn’t kept his badge, he asked him how long he’d lived in his home. All of his life and would probably die there, he answered. So Flynn goes back in time and kills the man’s younger self to get his badge. It gives him a place to stay as well. It just goes to show that you’re safer if you move once in a while. Flynn looks like he regrets the man’s death.
He doesn’t look like he regrets the plumber’s death later when he calls a plumber at random just to steal his identity. He’s a cold, cold man.
Lucy is not happy with the role she is assigned as they prepare to go after Garcia. She’s a secretary at Mission Control. Rufus points out that his is even worse. He is a janitor. Wyatt (Matt Lanter) likes his cover, an FBI agent.
They know Anthony (Matt Frewer) is involved because Garcia needs him to scuttle the space mission, and they are right, he is involved. Anthony sends Garcia off, in John the plumber’s uniform, to get a punch tape from Lockman Aerospace. He stops along the way to talk to a receptionist, Maria (Caitlin Carver).
Our trio splits up, Lucy and Rufus to NASA, Wyatt to look for Flynn. Wyatt hands Rufus a gun. Again.
Lucy runs into one of the guys who works there, who helps her with her badge and then asks for coffee.
Anthony uses that punch tape as a password, I think, and starts messing around with the main computer at mission control. I have no idea what he’s doing as he moves huge things of punch tape around. But when they replay the landing, all communication is lost just as they touch down. We never hear that the Eagle has landed.
Rufus is beside himself. He is distraught that the most remarkable achievement in human history has been ruined; he’s worried that his heroes might die, but he’s also horrified that Anthony would be involved in this.
He can’t get into the computer system, either. It’s too primitive for him to figure out. But he knows someone who can, so he and Lucy go to the basement to try to get her to help. Katherine Johnson (Nadine Ellis), math genius, helped calculate the trajectory for the Apollo 11 mission. She is skeptical of their claims at first, but is won over by Rufus’s math skills. Katherine wants to take him to her boss but realizes that he would be skeptical as well.
Meanwhile Garcia leaves everything to Anthony and stalks the pretty young receptionist. He meets Maria in the park where she has taken her young son. They bond over the loss of their spouses. At this point we are wondering who she is and what she has to do with anything. She could be his mother, which would be a little icky since she seems interested in him. They have the same ferret face and she’s the right age. But the little boy is definitely not him, and his name is Gabriel (Brenden Sunderland). Wyatt is following Garcia but gets stopped by a cop and loses him.
Lucy, Rufus and Katherine run around trying to remove the virus from the computers. Rufus knows how and Katherine knows how to run the computers. Rufus and Lucy are appalled by the primitive tech. They try to hide it because Katherine is so proud. They are on a clock because the astronauts will run out of air. While Lucy is fetching some more tape, she runs into the coffee guy again, who remembers that he never got his coffee. He wants coffee now and Lucy can’t stop because she’s on a mission to save history. He grabs her and she tells him off in epic fashion. The other women walking down the hallway smirk. It’s a great moment.
Wyatt finds the woman and asks her questions, as an FBI agent. He implies that Garcia might be a Russian spy. While they are talking they see Garcia outside with the kid, bending over him. It looks like an attack but as soon as I see the needle I know what’s happening. He’s saving Gabriel from an allergy to a bee sting. He tells the woman that she was always sad and he didn’t want to see her that way, then he gets away.
Anthony bursts in when they are trying to fix the computers, with one of Flynn’s men in tow. He says Rufus won’t shoot but Rufus does shoot and kills the red shirt. It was a good shot, right in the heart. Anthony gets away when others come in. Rufus and Lucy flee, leaving it up to Katherine to finish running the program. It works and they are in communication with the astronauts again. Everyone in the room applauds Katherine. .
Our time travelers get home and find out that she is now famous for saving the Apollo mission. They also find out that the kid Garcia saved was his older brother, who died before Garcia was ever born. Wyatt and Lucy are jealous that he saved someone when they have people they desperately want to save. Lucy gets a reassurance from Agent Christopher (Sakina Jaffrey) that they will save her sister when Garcia is stopped, but Wyatt gets no such reassurance.
Lucy and Rufus talk about what happened. He says that he doesn’t regret killing someone and probably would have killed Anthony as well, but he worries about himself. Lucy is empathetic but I wonder if maybe he shouldn’t have been talking to Wyatt, who might understand better.
So, we cover racism in a major way: the fact that no one knows that there were educated black women working on the space program, and they get to correct that both for the audience and for history. We get to see sexism in a minor way, when Lucy experiences what women had to put up with every day and still do, even though she seems shocked by it. What’s really nice is that they also touched on intellectual elitism, when Katherine Johnson is skeptical of Rufus when he pulls a Good Will Hunting on her, because he is a janitor. She should, in some respects, know better.
Katherine Johnson received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2015. There’s a movie coming out in January of 2017, about her and others, called Hidden Figures. As far as I can tell the stories about her are true. The blip on the screen is a warning device that she designed.
Garcia is interesting in this episode. He acts in what looks like an altruistic fashion. He saves a brother that he does not know and will not remember. This is at odds with his usual psychopathic self. Even if you think his cause is just, that Rittenhouse needs to go down and that his family should be saved, he’s completely ruthless in his methods. Garcia Flynn acts as if everyone in the past is expendable, whether they are good, bad, or historically significant. Except this one child, his own family. Is it altruism or extreme selfishness?
Another little quibble: they send the astronauts out for a walk with an hour of oxygen left, as soon as they are in contact again. So imagine you are on the moon, not knowing if you are going to make it back home or not, and you sit there waiting for the phone to ring? Don’t you go ahead with your mission?
I think Timeless missed the boat with this series. I like having a female protagonist, or at least one of three. But I think it might have been a better show and more popular if Rufus was the lead and MacGyvered his way through time, battling racism on the way. He’s by far the most interesting character and played by a very good actor. Lucy could be the love interest. All right, I’m not comfortable relegating Lucy to just being a love interest, but they have more chemistry than Jiya and Rufus do.
A very good episode. They should have started out with this one. It may be too late to have a few good episodes now, if the loss of interest among people I know is any indication.
The next episode is going to be about Bonnie and Clyde. We get to see them die, I suppose. Again.
Timeless airs on Monday nights at 10pm/9c on NBC.