Fair warning: Stargate SG-1 was a big deal in our house while my kids were growing up. We watched every single one of its 214 episodes, both made-for-TV movies, and the spin-off series Stargate Atlantis. I am predisposed to like anything Brad Wright does. Travelers was created by Brad Wright.
And I really do like the pilot of Travelers, even without knowing Brad Wright was involved. Pilots are tricky things. They often feel forced, since they have to cram character introductions, world building, and a plot line that hooks viewers enough to make them want more, into their 42 minute time frame. Travelers manages to avoid making the viewer feel like piles of exposition are being thrown at us all at once. The action and the characters keep moving, and we find out enough about each character and their lives by being shown their environment and the people around them, not just told. I feel like I understand the basic premise of the story, but there’s still so much I don’t know, which is where you want to be after a pilot.
The story is a 12 Monkeys/Invasion of the Body Snatchers fusion. The travelers are people from the distant future, a time when humankind is almost extinct. They have come back to our time to try to prevent the events that led to the decline of our species. We learn that the group that makes up the series regulars is just one of many. There are thousands of travelers among us. The travelers travel by using historical records, including social media, to determine the exact time and place of death of an appropriate person (Facebook will never die). Then they send their consciousness back in time about a minute before the person died to take control of the body and mind at the moment of death. It looked to me like they might be altering some of the events so that the victims weren’t as seriously injured as they had been. They definitely did that in one case, since Eric McCormack’s character avoids injury completely, but still gets taken over.
The pilot follows each main character as they “die” and are revived with a new mind. Marcy is a severely learning disabled girl who works as a night janitor in a library. She is attacked at work and ends up recovering from her disabilities overnight. This allows her to grow closer to her case worker, David. Carly is the young mother of an infant. She is nearly fatally abused by the baby’s father. After that she doesn’t put up with any more abuse. Trevor is a high school athlete who takes too many blows to the head in a fight. The traveler allows him to walk away with a concussion and memory loss instead of dying. Philip nearly overdoses on heroin, but stops himself at the last minute. His roommate does die. Philip is arrested in connection with his roommate’s death. Both his lawyer and the arresting officer are suspicious of him, and follow Philip after his release. Philip has knowledge of upcoming sports victories, and places bets to raise cash for the travelers’ needs.
FBI Special Agent Grant MacLaren finds out about the secret, encoded chatroom discussions the travelers are having to make their plans. He begins to investigate. It eventually leads him to a dark, empty building late at night where the travelers are supposed to be meeting. Carly’s violent boyfriend has also followed her there, though at the end of the episode he’s locked alone on the roof in the dark. There’s a slight chance that he’s become a traveler himself, since MacLaren’s countdown clock also spent time hovering over him.
MacLaren almost falls down an elevator shaft in the dark, but is caught by Trevor. Trevor explains that MacLaren was meant to die in that moment, chasing the mass shooter that the other travelers have helpfully already taken care of. MacClaren suddenly screams and clutches his head. Within a few seconds he has become a traveler as well.
It was a little sad that we got to know the real MacLaren over the course of the episode, then they casually tossed him aside. Trevor did mention to his girlfriend that his personality would slowly return to normal as he recovered from his concussion. Does that mean that the original person is still in there too in some form, or just that the traveler becomes a better actor over time? We still don’t know much about the world of the travelers, or the individual characters and their goals. The rest of the 12 episodes of season 1 will likely be spent setting up this universe. I’m ready to find out more.