This has certainly been the year for time travel shows, but time travel is hard to do well, as shows like Frequency proved. Now it’s time for Netflix to enter the fray with Travelers, a not-particularly-original series that originally aired in Canada, but now finds itself on Netflix. So was it any good? Strap in and find out.
A team of future people are sent back to the present with a mission to save the future. They can take over the bodies of people who are just about to die and must maintain their normal lives so no one figures out what’s going on. Can they stop a horrible future from happening?
The first thing the series brought to mind was John Varley’s excellent book Millenium, not the not-so-great movie that was made from it. Being able to jump back in time at the moment of death is an interesting concept, although not particularly original.
But where I think the series got a bit off was when the future was sending dozens of people back from the future and it stopped being novel. It took all of the excitement out of it when they could just keep sending back specialists to fix all of the problems that might crop up. I also think it lost focus after they used their super laser to shoot down the asteroid, or at least we think they did, that’s never really brought up again, and the season kept on going. You hit a high point, now it’s just future people trying to get on with their lives and I admit that I got a little frustrated with the whole thing. It’s hard to get invested in some future apocalypse when they spend most of their time talking about normal minutia in the modern age. I want to see them save the future, I don’t care who is cheating on who or whose cover is about to get blown. And even the ever-changing future isn’t all that interesting because we never got invested in the way the future works, having it change due to modern events doesn’t have any emotional impact. Is the Director still in charge? Did the Faction take over? Who cares?
And besides, their premise is that they can only take over people who are dying, but then the future downloads a new consciousness into the traitor late in the season, so clearly, they can take over anyone they want, any time they want, so long as it’s done secretly and nobody would ever be the wiser. That means that they can download their minds into anyone, at any point in history, and the whole claim that they have to know the exact moment of death becomes meaningless. Plus they have messengers, people who get taken over momentarily to relay a message, all of which stops these characters from being terribly significant. They set up artificial limitations and then immediately override the limitations. So what?
It was a good season, I hope it gets another one, but there are a lot of things that would have made it far better. First off, they don’t have a very consistent set of rules for their time travel. Without that, it just turns into whatever is most convenient for the plot at the moment. Secondly, there isn’t a well defined goal. Is it to change the future for the better? Is it to stop an asteroid collision? Is it to overthrow a coup? Who knows and without a well defined goal, how will anyone ever know if they’ve achieved it? And finally, they need to ditch a lot of the mundane aspects of keeping their identities. I want to watch a sci-fi show, not a family drama and certainly not a reality TV show. When it’s on point, it’s great. When they’re whining about drug abuse or baby problems, not so much.