10 Jun 2014

[Review] - Continuum, Season 3 Episodes 10 and 11, "Revolutions Per Minute" And "3 Minutes to Midnight"

Courtesy of Reunion Pictures
As much as I would have loved to dissect each of these episodes individually (sorry again about that), there have been perhaps no two better episodes to review together. Because what a wallop they delivered. Between Alec's continued descent down the rabbit hole of unconscionable behaviour, the revelations brought forward by the magnificently bearded John Doe (or Brad Tonkin [updated: I originally identified the character as Brett, which is how he was referred to in some supplementary literature, but not in the show. I have changed it to the broadcast identity]), or the general corruption of ethics in the face of ideals being experienced by everyone else, it has been a busy couple weeks.

It also delivered a potentially seismic shift to the series' paradigm. Everything we assumed to have known about the implications of action concerning the way timelines work in this series has changed. We're back to square one in being able to predict what will happen next. It feels like the heady days of the first season, when everything was still a mystery. Now, like the characters, we have to reassess everything in the shadow of the knowledge that the future is less certain than ever.

Hit the jump for the review, which contains spoilers that have decided they are just going to stay away from all power tools.

This season, we had it explained to us that time is a twisting river, prone to deviation at the slightest inclination. It has fallen to the Freelancers to carefully guard the flow of time, to make certain that the river stays within the limits of the river bed. It turns out, that is not the case. The Freelancer's millennia of diligent and murderous caution has been largely pointless. Time is stringent and largely inflexible. It's a rail line, following a well laid course. There might be pennys on the tracks that cause little bumps, and the occasional cow might create a slight delay of arrival, but always arrives at it's intended destination. It takes something massive to cause time to jump the track and crash flaming into a gulch. And that is exactly what has happened.

Last week, as Brad slowly unraveled the mystery of his life, I kept returning to the thought that, if he did come back from the future, it would be the future that Kiera's actions had crafted. Clever of the show to tease us with potential outcomes without verifying any of them. Had her choice in Alec preserved the future she has grown to loath, or create a new timeline where personal freedoms have been preserved. Turns out, not so much. The choosing of Earlier Alec over Later Alec is exactly what the timeline needed to jump the rail and careen the future towards it's doom. Not that it should surprise any of us. Earlier Alec, under the seductive influence of shiny toys and unlimited resources has proven himself to be a manipulative bastard that makes his Elder self look like a kitten.

He has successfully alienated his closest friends and family through his selfish tactics. Kiera got wise to his theft of her other selves CMP, and was disgusted that he would attempt to hide his actions in the guise of dedication and mourning. Carlos clearly wants to punch him in the throat, if only for stealing his frozen drinking buddy. Even Jason, whom we must remember is working at Piron undercover as an agent of Kellog, views Alec's ambitions with suspicion and the benefit of foresight (keep in mind, Jason is also a lunatic). Even Julian, who has never been nearer to embracing his future as Theseus, has been brought into the watchful fold of the Piron group, so that Alec can spoon feed him lies and make him feel like he is making a difference. Alec used to be motivated by what was right and just and interesting, now his every action is directed by the need to satisfy both his and his father's legacy.

And as it turns out, that is a bad move. Brad's version of the future is even more craptastic then Kiera's. 30 years from now, the corporation declare war on the government, no doubt spurred on by Alec and Piron's advancement of technologies based on known future designs (Jason keeps mentioning that Halo is about 30 years ahead of schedule). Alec's control over this future is completely absent, having been replaced as a leader and figurehead by the more conniving and manipulative Kellog. I've called the character the ultimate survivour before, this just confirms it. The rest of the population suffers in an every changing tide of sympathy towards one side or another. What Liber8 first believe describes the ultimate vindication of their actions is actually a dystopia where freedom and oppression have been replaced by anarchy and desolation. Lucas' analogy that the roadrunner can never be caught is actually a brilliant one. the future appears to have two directions. One leads to ultimate destruction of everything, the other to a personally oppressive but plentiful and successful future.

Because I can't help but do so, I wonder if there is a third option. A switch on the rail. Since the train has jumped the track, it is likely that Kiera will reorient herself towards getting it back on track. Better the future you know than the one you don't. Replacing Earlier Alec with the one she handed over to the Freelancers would be the first logical step, but I fail to see how that would put things right. That Alec is far from the enterprising and industrious individual he started out as. He has been tempered by betrayal, culled by loss and seen first hand the effects of his own ambition, in the form of his other self. If Later Alec was the one meant to bring about the future Kiera came from, I don't see similarities between him today and the Elder Sadler. The cut throat pragmatist that directed the actions of everyone 70 years from now has been lost. The best that Later Alec might be able to bring about now is a more reserved version of that future. One that undercuts corporate control, but doesn't sacrifice morality in the name of advancement. Is such a future possible? Both in the sense that, once a company becomes successful, can they resist the inertia towards abusing that success, and in the sense that, in this new view of time, is a third timeline even possible. Does it have to be either or either, or can it also be or?

Brad's revelations leave a lot of elements disjointed, which is fun. Liber8 has effectively disbanded, with the realization that nothing they can do will have the slightest impact on events, which really would take the wind out of your sails. Kiera and Brad have to find a way to get beyond the fact that he killed her other self, and I hope they do because they are adorable together (probably the only time I'll every use that word). There is still Curtis and Kellog to reconcile, now more motivated than ever, Kellog towards preserving himself and his success, and Curtis towards... you know, I'm still kind of unclear what it is that Curtis wants.

He was a loyal Freelancer until it was made clear to him that their actions were meaningless. Was it Brad who showed him the truth of things after coming back using the pillaged Freelancer tech, or did Curtis become enlightened and retrieve Brad in an attempt to stop the more corpse and rust filled future? And, there is the momentum that has already been put in place with Piron's actions and the modern Liber8 movement. With corporate injections into the public sector, will people like Dillon be willing to scale back such resources? And with the public being made aware of the truth of corporate behaviour, will the civil unrest subside naturally, or continue to build? Have all that Kiera's actions done this past season is set two trains on a collision course with each other? Is the only viable third option complete annihilation?


  1. Bryan Kast10 June 2014 15:31

    Good stuff! One thing, though: I believe the time traveler from the dystopian future is named Brad Tompkin (not Brett). =X

    One conundrum that I've been struggling with is the following: as soon as a time traveler leaves their own specific timeline, does that very act destroy that timeline? Any specific change they enact in the "past" (say, Kira buying her apartment or Kellog's grandfather being killed) renders their future nonexistent: because things will not be "EXACTLY" the way they were.

    Thus, in theory, you could only time travel FORWARD to the future of the timeline that you have altered just by time traveling to the past.

    So did Brad's dystopian timeline collapse as soon as he left, just as Later Alec's timeline collapsed as soon as he (and then Kira) left?

    The Freelancers claimed that the timeline collapsed because Alec was "important". I don't think that's 100% accurate--the timeline collapsed because he was set on affecting change, just like Brad and Kira were (and are).

    Will a Freelancer traveling to the past NOT collapse the timeline they leave, because they are self-conscious about doing anything to affect the future? (But how does this justify their actions such as killing Agent Gardiner??)

    AND WHO THE F&%K IS IN THE MYSTERY FREELANCER ROOM? The architect of the Freelancers, perhaps? The bro who traveled back 1000 years?

    Continuum makes my brain hurt.

  2. Anonymous10 June 2014 16:45

    The timeline that Brett came from is the one that Alec and Keita left. It collapsed because Alec was important. It was collapsing when Brett left. Brett had never heard of Alec because Alec did not in exist in 2039 in Brett's timeline. Technology advanced quickly because of the tech that all the time travelers had brought back and also because Escher was not killed. There are two groups of freelancers, guardians and free lancers. Escher was a guardian and became a freelancer. Freelancers use time travel for personal gain. Guardians protect the time line and a certain few are allowed to time travel with that goal in mind.

  3. Keith Z-G10 June 2014 19:45

    It seems to ,e that the show is taking the (intriguing, and not necessarily something I entirely buy, but certainly fertile ground for plot and philosophy) position of the original V For Vendetta graphic novel, ie. that eventually there are only two options, oppressive fascism or lawless anarchy. It's also built things to a point where the show itself and most of the main characters are admitting that Liber8's ideals, at least, are correct, at least in opposition to the dystopia of the Corporate Congress, so it was important to establish a new dichotomy to drive conflict in the show. And yeah, illustrating that via Lucas' semi-crazy, semi-enlightened analogy of Coyote and Roadrunner was indeed pretty brilliant.

    Anonymous: Naw, the previous timeline was collapsing pretty badly in 2013 (or whenever exactly we are) when Kiera was put into the "lifeboat". Meanwhile Brad (I think that was indeed his name) was saying he grew up in a beautiful city, and things only took a turn for the worse right after his childhood. So his is another timeline, one we haven't quite seen yet.

    Also, the whole "who is Alec Sadler?" comment gave me chills, both for what it seemed to imply (and did in fact, as we then found out) and also for the flashback to the other excellent time-travel TV series, The Sarah Connor Chronicles. Not to spoil anything for anyone who hasn't seen it (because you really, really should; it's a far better continuation of Terminator and T2 than any of the other movies have been) but it's always captivating when time travel lets storytellers undermine what seemed like the initial premise of the show itself. If done right (which TSCC definitely did, and so far it seems Continuum is doing), that kind of sudden pulling of the rug out from under the audience, leaving them standing but suddenly unsure what they're standing on, is breathtaking.

    1. SF Mornay14 June 2014 14:54

      Excellent allusions to both V for Vendetta and TSCC!

  • by MR. Clark11 June 2014 09:39

    First off, yes, the character is indeed Brad, not Brett. He was called Brad in the show, and some materials online referenced him as Brett. I thought it was wrong when I saw him called Brett, and it felt wrong when I was writing the review and have changed the review accordingly.

    Bryan - You're part right, I feel. When a traveler leaves a timeline, that timeline becomes susceptible to any changes that traveler makes. So, the show's original timeline collapsed around Kiera because of the changes that Alec made after traveling back. This new information suggests that the new timeline will only be a variation on a theme of one of the two core outcomes, though that has yet to be written in stone. Once Kiera moved back, she created yet another new timeline, where both she and Later Alec were making changes. And yes, travel forward in time would land you in the future of the timeline you had left (Doc Brown's Back to the Future chalkboard bit seems to hold water).

    So, from Bryan's perspective, his general timeline is probably still intact because it was created by the decisions Earlier Alec has made and the massive paradigm shift that invented. But as soon as Brad traveled back and started making changes, those smaller changes would have had tiny effects. Think of it as returning to a city you haven't been to in thirty years. Most of the city is going to be the same, and familiar, but some building might be new, some roads might not exist any more. Kellog, for instance, saw his grandmother killed in season one. If he had returned to his time right then, it would have been the same corporate controlled future he recognized, but lacking the Kellog lineage. It took an entirely different Alec making entirely different changes to shunt the future off one path and onto an entirely different one.

    Anon - While the idea of Brad coming from the collapsing timeline is nice, I don't know if it would hold up. The two timelines couldn't coexist. One is destroyed, and replaced by the other. If Brad came from the future created by Alec's absence, that future would have had to existed at the same time as Kiera was watching the future deteriorate, and they would have had to travel back fairly simultaneously. I'm not ruling it out, as Kieth mentions, the "who is Alec Sadler" is a chilling line, and just ambiguous enough to lend itself to multiple interpretations. But for now I'm siding with Alec's choices eventually leading to his own obscurity.

    Kieth - I agree. The absolute dichotomy of the choices - bad, and worse - makes for great drama. And continues the kind of pessimistic philosophical direction the show has been leaning this season. The realization that Liber8 are the ones in the right really was the solid first step in establishing this new tone to the series, one that has only gotten bleaker as the season has went on. And none of that has proven to be a bad thing. It has given the series new life. Though, coming to terms with the idea that the future either has to be physically or morally unlivable is going to gut every character.

  • Anonymous13 June 2014 11:24

    So, it has been said that neither Alec can solve the future problems. What about both Alec together? (possibly twins separated at birth?) Time travel shows, become "The song that never ends", because anything is possible, the future is constantly changing from interference, but in order to determine if your actions caused a good change, (IE: travel to the future to see the outcome) you again change the future by traveling forward to take a peek. Again, "The song that never ends". I still love the idea of it!