Future Man was originally intended as a movie, and it shows: each episode manages to mostly hit one beat of a story that’s pretty easy to imagine as a 90-minute film. In this case, “A Riphole In Time” focuses on one of the lamer beats that tends to populate the type of movie Future Man is cribbing from: the hero’s indecision over whether to kill one person to save the world.
Once Josh, Tiger, and Wolf are safely back in 2017, Tiger and Wolf’s plan becomes obvious—they have to kill Dr. Kronish to stop him from ever curing herpes. As they say, they tried it Josh’s way and it didn’t work. (As Dr. Kronish tells Josh later in the episode, he tried to get his groove back after the dance off by going on a sexual walkabout, which unsurprisingly left him with herpes.) So much of this episode is a frantic race between Tiger and Wolf, who go through a decently funny focus group for Kronish Labs ads, and Josh, who tries to convince the doctor to get out of town.
This is silly, and not in a good way. We’re early enough in the show that there’s obviously no chance Tiger and Wolf will be successful in killing Dr. Kronish, or if they do, it won’t actually do anything to prevent the rise of the Biotics. Beyond that false tension, the show hasn’t given us any reason to take the stakes of Dr. Kronish’s life seriously. (Keith David is great, but he hasn’t actually given Dr. Kronish a multidimensional character.)
The idea that this individual life is sacrosanct enough to imperil the future of humanity makes sense for Josh (he’s a wuss, which Josh Hutcherson does a very good job playing up during his frantic skittering throughout the lab), but the show seems to back him up by spending so much time with his panic. I think audiences in 2017 can be trusted with a touch of moral sophistication. Besides, the heroes of Future Man have already killed a bunch of people, and with the exception of the cop from the last episode, their deaths have mostly gone unremarked, the way they would in a standard action flick. The value of human life in this kind of movie is insanely variable, and that’s okay—but it also means that being asked to take one character super seriously feels cheap.
The more interesting material in this episode mostly covers the way the present has changed. Josh and his work crush Jeri (Britt Lower) talk briefly about the fact that the ostensibly happy ending of Back To The Future also means that Marty would have to spend his entire life pretending to have been from the original reality, guessing at what actually did and didn’t happen in his life. This is a pretty funny premise, especially as Josh slowly learns what he has and has not changed. For example, his family got a gun and grew obsessed with self-defense after the 1969 break-in. Josh’s parents are still the peppy people they’ve always been, but they still have the gun, just in case. (Also, Lamar Price, one of the fraternity brothers from the last episode, has invented the iPhone.)
And as they have been for most of the show so far, Tiger and Wolf are the funniest parts of the episode, sweetening the more standard genre far. An opening flashback shows their entire squad, each with a goofy animal name, getting ready for their mission to acquire the time travel device, where Tiger steps on a trip wire that activates a noxious gas, killing the entire squad. This riff on the pre-fight pump-up scene is good, but also provides some grounding for their incredibly gruff, serious dialogue later in the episode, especially Wolf’s. When they go into the Kronish focus group, Wilson’s straightforward delivery of “she’s smiling, but she has sad eyes” is excellent, and his glee at realizing that he was right about Kronish being at the top of the building rather in the basement is very, very funny.
So far, Coupe and Wilson have done a very good job playing the unbelievably grim soldiers, letting them get away with scenes like the one where they “charge up” (have sex in Josh’s room while he watches). And it’s why it works so well when they peel back the face of Biotic to reveal their skin masks are just that—masks, covering human faces. Wolf closes out the episode with a joke that adds another layer of genre intrigue to the world of Future Man, which is exactly where this show should be living: “Biotics could be anybody. That’s what makes this so fucked up.”