(Spoilers Abound so don’t proceed past the nice Canadian time travelers if you don’t want to know)We devoured the second season of Travelers, or Grumpy Canadian Quantum Leap as it’s known here, on Netflix last week. Which means we’re now patiently waiting for the third to arrive now thank you please. It’s a profoundly weird, gripping, clever show and the second season really ups the game on an already impressive debut.
Here’s the premise plus spoilers; centuries upstream the planet is a wreck. The few survivors live in sealed domes. In a desperate attempt to stave off the end of the species, volunteers are sent back in time to the 21st Century. There, they work in teams (Leader, Medic, Tactical, Archivist, Engineer) and on orders from the Artificial Intelligence that runs the world upstream, try and steer us onto a different course.
The first twist is that their missions are rarely kind. One episode in season 2 features another traveler who has been picked to be ‘assassinated’ to help steer history away from one of the numerous icebergs of catastrophe they know is coming. The other mission, that same episode, involves bombing the lab that will create the feral super wheat that will choke the future.
The second twist? No one comes back physically. Instead, their identities are written onto people in the past who have an established time and place of death.
They parachute into someone’s life at the exact point it ends, and then carry it on. At the same time as doing the most important, terrible work in human history.
The show is a masterclass in idea heavy SF TV. The premise balances the personal and impersonal with total aplomb and the lives of the ‘hosts’ are continually used to drive the plot. Phillip Pearson, the team historian, is a prime example. A human wikipedia, Phillip has been trained since early childhood to remember everything about their target time. He places bets to give them operational cash, provides mission briefings and intelligence for everyone they meet and acts as tech support and a field engineer when needed.
And Phillip arrives in the body of a crack addict shortly before he OD’s and dies.
His struggle to balance his terrible job (it’s heavily implied that he knows when they all die) is mirrored by team mate Marcy. Where Phillip is isolated, she’s too connected. Marcy arrives in the body of a woman with what appears to be a major neurological condition. Her ‘imprint’ overrides that, right up until it doesn’t and that issue powers most of season 1. Plus, Marcy’s seasons are almost all shared with David, her social worker. Played by Patrick Gilmore, David is the platonic ideal of the Good Man; fundamentally kind, endlessly principled, funny and remarkably unlucky.
That rock solid cast is backed up by some stunningly executed scripts. ’17 Minutes’ in particular is a remarkable piece of TV. The team are all killed and the only possible hosts for rescuers are a pair of skydivers in mid flight. The consequences of time travel, the gradual accretion of knowledge and the high stakes all make it a jaw dropping hour.
Travelers is vastly clever, completely character driven and has more ideas per episode than many shows manage in a season. Give it a try, and get comfy. The chances you’ll binge the whole thing are high.
Travelers seasons 1 and 2 are on Netflix now.
(This piece originally appeared in my newsletter, The Full Lid. Check out the archive over here, and subscribe for a weekly dose of pop culture, enthusiasm and my work)