Continuum — “Endtime” S1 / E10
- B Community Grade
Over the course of its 10-episode first season, Canadian import Continuum has established itself more as a solid, efficient police procedural than as a mind-blowing time-travel show. The big mysteries raised way back in the series premiere are finally addressed tonight after having been left on the back-burner all season; until now, time travel and the world of 2077 have served as a way to put a moderately fresh spin on standard cop show stories but not much more. This all too familiar narrative stalling can be frustrating, particularly for those who approach Continuum primarily as sci-fi fans, but it’s just the cost of doing business. The version of this show that is a full-blooded time-travel epic would likely be too expensive for episodic television—particularly considering the relatively small budgets Canadian shows have to work with—so Continuum needs all the modern-day procedural content to make the headier sci-fi stuff cost-effective. That tradeoff can be worthwhile if tonight’s big season-ending extravaganza packs enough of a wallop. “Endtime” definitely doesn’t skimp on sci-fi craziness, but it leaves a few too many of its biggest questions unanswered and, worse, often unasked.
The episode is often reminiscent of the gold standard of time loop lunacy, Terry Gilliam’s 12 Monkeys. A particularly strong connection comes in the form of Jason, a man Kiera finds wandering the streets who claims that he, too, was blasted back from 2077 but ended up in 1992, not 2012. The intervening 20 years have left him mentally unstable, but he is lucid enough to reveal two crucial facts to Kiera: There’s an unknown faction of time travelers known as Privateers, and Jason has built a time machine that, with Kiera’s help, could send them home. Meanwhile, Liber8 leader Edouard Kagame is ready to make his big move by blowing up one of the buildings in Vancouver’s City Plaza. He enlists present-day acolyte Julian Randol, the stepbrother of Kiera’s tech wizard Alec Sadler, as part of the scheme, but it soon becomes clear that Julian is just a diversion from the real attack. Kiera chooses to delay her return to 2077 in a last-ditch effort to stop Kagame, but as “Endtime” reveals, Kagame and his mysterious ally in the future have been one step ahead of everyone for a long, long time.
The big theoretical question that has hung over Continuum this season is how the show’s time travel works and whether its characters can change the future. A midseason episode that killed off Liber8 defector Matthew Kellog’s apparent grandmother—and revealed Kagame’s mother is pregnant with him in 2012, which becomes crucial in this episode—muddied the issue, and “Endtime” doesn’t offer any clear solutions. Kagame’s inverted interactions with Julian in 2012 and the 2070s suggest this is a time loop, with cause and effect blending together in a great circle in time. Kagame’s suicide bombing of the skyscraper seems to fit this as well, as it’s strongly suggested that the attack is part of established history, not to mention the older Alec Sadler’s cryptic references to how he knew to avoid the bombing in 2076.
What’s tricky about all this is that we still don’t really know the nature of Sadler and Kagame’s big plan. Are they trying to change the future and bring down the Corporate Congress that rules 2077, or are they actually working to bring that very timeline into existence? While it seems ridiculous to think that Kagame would betray his established ideals like that, his final action is one seemingly meant to ensure his past unfolds like it should. Perhaps the trouble is that the concepts of altering the future and defeating the Corporate Congress aren’t actually one and the same thing. As the repeated metaphor about standing on a beach and waiting for the tsunami to hit might suggest that the point of Liber8’s actions in the past aren’t to change our future, but the future of 2077, and that everything we have watched unfold won’t make a difference until 65 years from now.
Continuum simply doesn’t reveal enough in this story. We don’t need to learn Sadler’s entire plan now, but it also isn’t enough just to learn that he has a plan, which is merely confirming what the show hinted at way back in the season premiere. Kagame dies (and a few hours later is born) an enigma, and while “Endtime” is at its most compelling in revealing how he weaves through the timelines of Alec, Julian, and perhaps new Liber8 leader Sonya Valentine, it’s hard to see what the point of all his master-planning actually is. In fairness, the episode’s final sequence hints that answers will be forthcoming at the beginning of the second season—which starts up in Canada a month from now—as the young Alec reveals to a despondent Kiera that he has read his future self’s message and now knows why she was sent back to 2012. But this episode plays as the joint conclusion to and beginning of Kagame’s story, so it’s frustrating that his motivations and place in the show’s grand design remain so inscrutable.
Kiera herself doesn’t ask any of these big questions—she’s never been defined by her intellectual curiosity. The season finale should be the time for her to engage with the show’s mythology, but the episode leaves her dangerously close to being a non-factor. Her subplot with Jason has its merits, but it takes her away from the rest of the main cast and distracts her from tracking down Liber8 before it’s too late. Unlike previous episodes, she doesn’t even solve her own problems, as she requires the intervention of the mysterious Mr. Escher to get Agent Gardiner off her back. Worse, she fails to see through Liber8’s obvious decoy attack, apparently believing that a tactical genius like Kagame would use a faulty bomb and then not have a backup. It’s possible that Kiera is distracted by the promise of returning to 2077, but neither the script nor Rachel Nichols’ performance conveys that, at least not until after the attack. Her decision to literally disappear from the site of the bombing and leave it all behind—first with Jason’s time machine, and then, once that’s revealed to be a pipe dream, on Kellog’s yacht—suggests how much her failures have broken her. It’s an intriguing place to leave her character at season’s end, but the episode doesn’t organically build toward that moment.
“Endtime” has its flaws, but there’s nothing here that presents insoluble problems for Continuum. The finale loses track of Kiera, but that hasn’t been a recurring problem for the show—although it still needs to have her deal with her fascist worldview at some point, which it has studiously avoided thus far. While it’s a misstep not to reveal more of future Alec’s plan tonight, the cliffhanger strongly suggests answers will be forthcoming in the second season premiere. The episode also sets up enough elements that should carry the show once it exchanges the mythology for the usual procedural format; while I’m not particularly interested in Agent Gardiner investigating Kiera after seeing her vanish, a Sonya-led Liber8 should be a more interesting adversary than a Travis-led cell, and Mr. Escher is a particularly intriguing new mystery for the show to explore. Continuum has found a solid procedural formula that can support its overarching time-travel narrative. Now it just needs to be bolder in actually telling that larger story.
- In terms of grading, I’d give the season as a whole a very credible “B.” I particularly enjoyed “A Test Of Time,” which is the one that addresses the Grandfather (or, in this case, Grandmother) Paradox; “Playtime,” which explores whether free will can survive in the technological hell of 2077; and “Family Time,” which very effectively shatters the show’s usual procedural format and brings some of the show’s simmering conflicts to a head, even if it does rely on some irritating contrivances to keep the police in the dark about a crucial plot point.
- The finale leaves Matthew Kellog out of the proceedings almost entirely, with him showing up only at the beginning and end. While I can appreciate why he might be difficult to integrate into the story of Kagame’s endgame—indeed, the episode has enough trouble finding room for Kiera—he’s one of the show’s most entertaining characters, and I missed his unpredictable presence.
- The casting director deserves major kudos for finding Gerry Nairn, who looks spookily like what I imagine Julian would look like at 80-something. The X-Files veteran William B. Davis is a terrific presence as the older Alec, but I honestly thought they might have put Richard Harmon in old-age makeup when I saw Kagame and Julian together in their cell. The implication that Julian has spent the last 65 years in prison for his Liber8 activities also adds subtle poignancy to Kagame’s line in 2012 about the different but equal sacrifices they are both about to make.