Who would have guessed that 2017 would be the worst possible setting for a time travel show? (Besides everyone.) If your characters have access to a time travel device that will let them go to any other years, why wouldn’t they? There have been a few strong episodes sent in the present, but as it becomes increasingly clear that Tiger and Wolf are going to try to kill Dr. Kronish as a baby, it feels more discomforting to spend time here. That’s part of why “Girth, Wind, And Fire” is the show’s weakest episode in a while—it briefly sends our heroes back to the present, and derails the run Future Man has been on for the past couple of episodes.
Josh, Tiger, and Wolf come back to 2017 so that Josh can find out when and where Dr. Kronish was born (is there no way to look this up on the internet?) before Tiger and Wolf leave him in the present and head back to kill Kronish as a baby. But it’s not a very joyful trip: Josh has reluctantly given up on trying to stop the infanticide, and Tiger dolefully acknowledges his feelings probably mean that his humanity is at least still intact. It’s a serious scene, undercut slightly by the van exploding behind them.
A piece of burning paper from the explosion lights a huge fire that threatens to consume Dr. Kronish’s house (and eventually our heroes, as they run back into it at the end of the episode). It’s a representation of the way even the smallest changes to the past have huge repercussions, which would be a pretty neat trick if Future Man hadn’t spent so much time talking about how time travel stuff is bullshit. Why should we care?
The detour to 2017 brings out the worst in Future Man’s tonal inconsistencies. In theory, these should be some of the funnier elements of the show—putting grim, determined time traveling warriors up against the goofiness of all of the show’s come jokes. But it’s tough to pull off the deeply serious scenes in conjunction with, say, Skarsgaard, who continues to be played as the most absurd, cliched movie cop imaginable. (He literally says “Just when I thought I was out, the fax machine pulls me back in.”) Or the joke that the unstable Cameronium has messed with the time travel process, represented by some pretty unconvincing blurry camera effects and lights, so that everyone’s bodies get scrambled whenever they jump. (Wolf and Josh trade dicks.)
Josh’s parents are the main bright spot in the episode, with some really funny moments for both Glenne Headley and Ed Begley Jr. The pair continue to be relentlessly upbeat and loving, to the point where they encourage Josh to fight them—after all, it’s what Gabe did to his own father when the Vietnam War kicked off. (“I had no quarrel with the Viet Cong, no quarrel!”) When Josh, Tiger, and Wolf learn that the police have taken Diane, Josh immediately asks Gabe whether the cops were hot or not as a way of determining whether they were Biotics, which is another one of those tonally awkward moments that still works because of Hutcherson and Begley Jr. Derek Wilson’s awkward, heartfelt goodbye to Gabe is phenomenal. And Eliza Coupe does a good job of playing the way Tiger surprises even herself when she says they have to go back for Diane before jumping to kill Kronish. But instead of a fight, Diane is released when her DNA isn’t a match for Tiger’s.
The emotional arc of this episode, such as there is one, is the growing conflict between Tiger and Wolf—Wolf having becoming fully enamored with the pleasures of the past, while Tiger insists on a degree of asceticism and commitment to the mission. She keeps telling him that the people they know in 2017 are “not our people,” which is a weird thing to say since they might be the ancestors of their team. (She’s essentially acting like they’re in a different country instead of a different time.) Still, the fight has been brewing for long enough that Wolf getting to use his chili scorpion isn’t a big enough payoff, there’ll have to be more.
And it seems like there will be, as Josh hijacks the time travel device to put into place a new plan: Convince Dr. Kronish to leave Los Angeles with his paramour Leslie, thereby preventing him from ever discovering the cure. This means one extremely important thing—we’re getting an episode set entirely in the ’80s. The decade is rather overripe for time travel parody (hello, Hot Tub Time Machine), but it’s one that at least promises to be purely fun. And that, friends, is the true meaning of Festivus.