Their mission is to change history so that their post-apocalyptic future never occurs. The central conceit of the show isn’t terribly original, but Travelers brings something fresh to the table by focusing less on this overarching narrative and, instead, spending much of its time devoted to the members of the team.
Each agent has their own specialty, whether it be medic, tactician, technician, historian or team leader. These roles are filled, respectively, by Marcy Warton (MacKenzie Porter), Carly Shannon (Nesta Cooper), Trevor Holden (Jared Abrahamson), Phillip Pearson (Reilly Dolman), and Grant MacLaren (Eric McCormack).
Travel in Packs
It’s in the team that Travelers truly shines. Certain performances stand out from the rest, as Porter and Dolman steal many of their scenes.
Porter’s Warton is a developmentally challenged young woman, and the nuance she utilizes to portray both the original Warton and the traveler that takes her over is remarkable. She also has some of the most character development of any of the team members over the course of the season, playing admirably off Patrick Gilmore’s David Mailer, a social worker who helped the original Warton with finding work and education. Their on-screen chemistry is palpable, and they ultimately share the most tragic moment in the series.
Likewise, Dolman turns out a stirring performance as the heroin-addicted Pearson. As their historian, Pearson is tasked with memorizing important dates and facts about the 21st century to supply the team with the information they need. Coupled with his addiction, his feverish reactions and manic behavior are some of the most compelling moments in the show.
Initially Abrahamson’s Holden comes off as uneven until a certain revelation about halfway through the season. This resulting juxtaposition produces some of the more comedic moments in the show’s 12-episode first season. Supporting characters Mailer, Grace Day (Jennifer Spence) and Mrs. Bloom (Karin Konoval) are also worth noting here, with Gilmore’s Mailer offering the most human and grounded role in the entire season.
In this regard, Travelers functions more like a character study than a specific show. It’s a time-displaced The Walking Dead. These travelers are forced to resume the lives of the people they inhabit, people who lived and died hundreds of years before the travelers were even born. Rather than allowing them to hide out or assimilate into society by inventing new identities, they’re forced to pick up the pieces of their host’s shattered lives. That the hosts were on the brink of death when the travelers take them over only adds to the sense of urgency the show carries. Shannon is forced to deal with Jeff Conniker (J. Alex Brinson), the abusive, alcoholic father of her son who also happens to be a cop. Holden realizes that the original Holden was a bully and a cheat whose dramatic shift in behavior quickly gains the attention of everyone in his life. The messes the travelers must clean up in their hosts’ personal lives builds two different characters: the original person and the traveler who has come to inhabit them.
Time After Time
The overall story is textbook, as the team is tasked with completing certain missions provided by an enigmatic presence known only as the Director. The goal is to alter the future so that the world doesn’t devolve into anarchy and pestilence.
The first episode is handled elegantly. As individual episodes go, it’s the most compelling by far. The conceit of the show isn’t formally addressed at any point in the premier, instead focusing on each of the characters, in turn, as they make their way into the present day.
While the future is never shown and one of the rules the team adheres to is to never discuss it, hints are dropped throughout the show that convey the future as catastrophic. The usual issues with time-travel stories reoccur with Travelers, where alternate timelines are seemingly produced, and the altering of the past results in changes that the team sees happening right in front of them. Plot holes abound, to be sure, but Travelers doesn’t shy away from them and even approaches the issue head on with a darkly comedic version of Who’s On First? in the season finale.
What Travelers gets right with its story it gets right in ways many other time-travel shows miss: a wider world. This team isn’t the only team of travelers sent back, not even the first. Some have been in the past for years and offer their expertise to this younger team while others seem to have become disillusioned with what the travelers refer to as “the Grand Plan.” Once again, the interpersonal relationships and interactions are where this show truly makes a name for itself, resting squarely on the performances to carry the story along.
The Grand Plan is mentioned sparingly throughout the course of the show, and certain rules, known as protocols, are adhered to and referenced when it’s convenient to the plot. Otherwise, the rules of the world they come from seem to change on a whim. While this is utilized in some ways to beneficial effect, it often falls into the same trap many shows centered on time travel do: It’s too confusing for even the characters to keep up with.
At a certain moment in the season, the entire team, except MacLaren, find themselves facing a shadowy antagonist. The mystery and intrigue is compelling and could have set up an interesting antagonistic force in the present for a second season, but the true nature of these antagonists is revealed in the finale, and the answer is less than satisfactory.
Another moment involves Warton and her deteriorating condition resolving abruptly with little explanation. Again, they move to the interpersonal relationships to salvage the plot, showing a rather tender and moving moment between Pearson and her that harkens back to a moment earlier in the season.
Just in Time
Travelers is nothing entirely new to science fiction or to live-action television. It joins an ever-growing line-up of time travel-based programs, but Netflix has something unique in this show. While the story often leaves a little too much on the cutting-room floor, the characters and actors portraying them make up for it. Travelers serves as an intriguing character study and compelling bit of entertainment. Strong performances set within an interesting perspective on present-day America make Travelers an easy recommendation.