Travelers: Season One Review

This review is spoiler-light, and appropriate to read before watching the series. The comments section, however, is fair game for anything that happens in Season One.

Brad Wright’s Travelers is a character-dense, mythology-light science-fiction series that has a peculiar Canadian charm, despite being set in Seattle, and a few fun twists, despite being otherwise straightforward.

The premise sounds more complicated than it is. The future is mostly awful, but they’ve got time travel. In the future, the Director is able to send people’s consciousnesses (a word the spell-checker doesn’t think should exist) back to the present day to inhabit someone else’s body. The Director, being moral, chooses people who are about to die. So nobody in the present has their life ended—rather, their body’s existence is extended past its previous expiration date, but with a new consciousness.

Why? Because the future people want to change the past, of course, to make it less awful. That could lead to a boring procedural about doing “missions” each week after receiving directions from other Travelers (Seattle is filled with ‘em) or via the creepy temporary consciousness downloads the Director can commit upon prepubescents.

But the show quickly transcends a procedural model by focusing on the character-based conflicts. Part of the show’s delight comes from gradually understanding how the future personalities are struggling to fit into the lives of their present-day physical hosts. For instance, Marcy (played by MacKenzie Porter) was a young woman with an intellectual disability and a history of abuse. Now Traveler 3569—whom everyone still calls Marcy—is an intelligent doctor who must figure out how to deal with an observant social worker while trying to save the world.

The show’s ostensible star, Eric McCormack, plays a Traveler who inhabits the body and life of an FBI agent named Grant MacLaren: McCormack does a great job with what he’s given, but many of his struggles—with MacLaren’s wife, for instance—are less interesting than some of the subtler character moments of the secondary players. Like Philip, whose host has a heroin addiction. Or Carly, whose host has a baby and an abusive ex-boyfriend.

Or Trevor, whose host is a high-school football player. At first, the Traveler inhabiting Trevor seemed like a sycophant. Then, it gradually emerged that he was—in the future—a very old man. His politeness isn’t of the Eddie Haskell variety, but something that springs from his long, miserable experiences of life. He is kind to others because he knows that kindness is the one thing he can control in a disordered universe. (Or can he…?)

Although there are more than a few action-based episodes, creator Brad Wright manages to spin narrative gold out of the conflicts among these characters, between this team and other Travelers in Seattle, and even between the Travelers in our present-day world and the folks in the future who know how various missions are affecting the world 500 years from now. The second half of the season, in particular, begins to explore some of the consequences of changing the future at both the micro- and macro-levels.

Travelers is the sort of show that I might not stick with if individual episodes were parceled out week-by-week. Good, in other words, but not addictive on its own merits. However, since it’s streaming on Netflix—the TV equivalent of a can of Pringles—I’d recommend binging it or at least digging into a couple of episodes at once. It’ll charm you more than you think, and get you thinking more than you might expect.

Three out of four Historians.

Josie Kafka is a full-time cat servant and part-time rogue demon hunter. (What's a rogue demon?)

14 comments:

mazephoenix said...

Watched three eps and wasn't able to go on. I like the idea, but the show didn't pull me in for some reason. Pity.

Billie Doux said...

I've still only seen the pilot, but I'm looking forward to the rest. And I love your comparison of binge-watching to a can of Pringles, Josie. :)

CH said...

Many spoilers in this comment, so do not read unless you have watched Helios 685.

So I watched the entire series, and I enjoyed it, but I felt it lost momentum after the midseason "finale" (Helios 685) if you may call it that (the laser for the asteroid episode).

However, I also for some reason had a huge problem in that episode with the way the military deaths occurred and I am wondering if anyone else had this issue. The engineer dies just before the key is turned, so it is up to the director to assume the consciousnesses of the military officers in the room to get one of them to turn the key. Instead of either 1) assuming the consciousness of Major Gleason or 2) having an officer incapicitate Major Gleason so he stops shooting all of them, they go through the director assuming consciousness of every officer there and having Gleason shoot them all, which in the end leads to the director assuming consciousness of Gleason.

It seemed like a horrific loss of life, and I almost couldn't watch after that. It seemed like really bad writing just for shock value. So I had trouble watching the show after that ( but I did watch it).

Josie Kafka said...

CH, how interesting!

I agree with you about that scene: it was verging on farce, which made me uncomfortable. Why didn't the Director realize the most effective action was inhabiting the major?

But for me, the show really picked up after that midseason finale. I loved the episode after it, as they grappled with the psychological effects of the anti-toxin.

Billie Doux said...

I've seen all the episodes now and I like this series. I like the character-drivenness of it. I especially like Trevor, the old man in the teenager's body. Actually I like all five of them. Marcy is particularly impressive, going through self-surgery and directing lumbar punctures in order to keep herself alive. I was bummed about what happened to her near the end, although her relationship with David might survive. If he doesn't end up in prison.

CH, that scene is indeed annoying. You'd think that the Director would be smart enough to have chosen the commanding officer first.

Cliffhangers. I hate cliffhangers. There is going to be a second season, isn't there???

TJ said...

Yay!

Great that you are giving this show some attention. I don't think many people have heard of it.

I loved it. Sure, it had its ups and downs and I wasn't completely satisfied with the season finale. But the characters were all so good and I got drawn in...I love it when that happens.

Go season 2!:)

TJ said...

Oh, about that scene when the commanding officer kills everyone before the Director chooses him.

I thought that the future kept changing multiple times so it didn't matter how the Director would choose - they would all have killed each other anyway.Kind of a catch 22 moment. Does that make sense?

Mallena said...

You know what the problem is with binge watching? Having to now wait forever for season 2. I wasn't sure after the first episode if I was liking this show, then boom...I was hooked. I really liked Marcy and David. Marcy was so little and soft spoken, but she was determined and focused and got the job done. I liked the way that Trevor was so nice and polite. That was great to see in a teen, even though I knew that he really wasn't that young. I liked how Carly was so determined to take care of "her baby." Philip was interesting, I liked him more when he was sober, but I did feel bad for his addiction. MacLaren was a little harder to enjoy, as a character. I didn't get as much sense of the traveler inside, as I did with everyone else. Maybe they are both middle aged men who have stressful jobs? Anyways, this is my kind of show. I also liked the way that the deaths were counted down. That part reminded me of six feet under, because at the beginning of that show, I always was waiting to see how someone was going to die. I'm morbid that way, sorry.

Ian Evans said...

Very good review. Great comments from readers as well. I got hooked on the premise and loved the way the writers use it to develop characters and dilemmas. Some great surprises and the actors delivered well and entertainingly. Unique, thanks Netfix for the pringles.
Yes the scene with the commander killing his troops was special and somewhat disturbing. I think we all knew they were all doomed, but it was fitting for that character to execute that final scene as his character had been developed well enough for that finish. Laugh or cry it was art. Remember there were conciousness' from the future that were sacrificing their lives too for the end result! Sort of helping ys put together a view of what the future is like if they do that. Sorry, did I just make it even more depressing fir some?

Romero said...

rogue charlatan here, greetz.
Thanks for the review. I will watch the show.

Anonymous said...

CH, the point there was that everyone who was in the immediate vicinity of that antimatter was going to die - period. The Director can't (or won't) kill people before they're definitely going to die, but he usually leaves well enough alone (no doubt due to the butterfly effect). He's choosing the person closest to the key first on the remote chance that the others could either escape or do something else that might impact history unpredictably. As soon as the major decides to shoot the new traveler, then history changes and the director can pick another person. Note that even though they're all certainly dead men, the director seems to be working very hard to not kill people unnecessarily. There are probably a lot of reasons of that (butterfly effect, morality, who knows what) but the result is a situation where people get to make their own choices. The major CHOSE to shoot his own soldiers, thus leading to the domino effect of traveler possessions. If the major HADN'T shot the first one, then the director would only have had to kill one of them. Note also that each one of these possessed individuals means some future traveler just sacrificed his or her life. The director probably doesn't have an unlimited number of these people!

magritte said...

I'm enjoying this show quite a bit, though I'm not quite finished the first season. I was a bit skeptical because the whole "people from a terrible future go back to change the past" is such a familiar trope. But what makes the show interesting is not the way the Travelers find themselves enmeshed in the lives of the people whose bodies they've taken over. Though I'm with you on McLaren, Mallena, and maybe it's just that he is too similar to the predecessor in his body. The transition for him is too seamless to be interesting. He's become an entirely different person and his wife thinks it's because he's having an affair?

While I found that scene that everyone's talking about annoying too, the old lady traveler in that episode was wonderful. If only we could have had more of her.

Mallena said...

magritte, I did a rewatch with my hubby and he was not impressed with the first few episodes, but by the time he got to the last one, he was really into the story. He wanted more episodes; he doesn't watch cable much, so he isn't used to the short 10-12 episode format. Sorry, I said, you just have to be patient and appreciate the lack of filler. Season two is filming now.

magritte said...

Finished season 1 now, and rereading my comment above I realized that I meant to say what's interesting is not the way they're changing the future, but how they become entangled in the lives of their predecessors. It becomes a study in how easy it is to make life-and-death decisions with the greater good in mind when you don't know the people whose lives are at stake. I like that all five travelers on the team are basically good people who bond in their various ways with the people around them, which makes it so much harder to hold to the primacy of their mission.

Unlike CH, I enjoyed the second half of the season a lot, though the Kathryn episode was weird. I loved the episode that followed it though.

MAJOR SPOILERS FOLLOW:

While I was glad to see the thread of their capture taken up again in the final episode, I was kind of hoping that it had been done by a present-day agency rather than a future faction. The future factions with different goals seemed too close to the 4400. But not knowing which faction is giving which orders is a more interesting spin.

I'm relieved to know the show will have a second season, given the wild ending.