Travelers Season 1 Analysis and Speculation

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Whew! What a wild ride this season turned out to be! I love it when you get to the end of a season of television, then have to go back and question everything you thought you knew about the previous episodes. They gave us a lot to think about over the hiatus. When Travelers returns, it’ll seem like a different show, now that the Faction’s role has been revealed. All of these changes open up so many new plot lines to contemplate, so many directions the show could take its mythology and characters.

The goals of everyone, as far as we’ve seen, continue to be saving the world, environmentalism, and respect for the sanctity of life. (In a global way, at least. It’s accepted that individuals of a certain class are disposable in order to further the greater good.) They all want a future living somewhere that’s green. It’s the method of achieving that future that’s at stake. At the very least, there will be a power struggle in the future to see whose Grand Plan will be implemented from here on out. There had to be competing philosophies before the director’s decision-making parameters were programmed. The faction or factions are revisiting those alternate philosophies, to see if changing the program’s if>then protocols will achieve better results. We could be in for experimentation and a rapidly changing future, a reign of terror as the faction tries to secure its hold on the director, or civil war as future society fights it out to decide who will be in charge of the director’s decision-making process, or if the director will be making the decisions at all. Another option is for a faction to steer the changes by human reasoning alone.

The Director

The director is an unfeeling machine that makes decisions without taking their human toll into account. It doesn’t appear to have been programmed to consider how working or living conditions affect people. It considers travelers disposable. The future people assume their present is terrible because of an unavoidable lack of resources, but, could things be made better? What is the directive that it’s been given? Does the directive say anything about preserving and valuing individual human lives and providing everyone with a decent standard of living, with resources distributed as equally as possible? Or is it all about ruthlessly working toward the future, with all sacrifices that are deemed necessary being acceptable?

Traveler society has taken on the values of the emotionless machine that’s running it. Grace says: “Humans make decisions based on greed, desire, hate. It’s been proven.” But humans also make decisions based on generosity, love, compassion, and selflessness. The director is amoral, which is its own form of evil. It doesn’t care who lives or dies, or how many lives are lost, all it cares about is accomplishing the mission objective. If someone is in the way, it uses the most expedient method available to remove them, usually death. When it’s done with an operative, it disposes of them through death. The protocols are meant to discourage loyalty to anything but the mission, but a team functions better when they have some affection and loyalty for each other. The travelers might well function better without protocol 6, so that they could have a network to communicate through beyond the deep web, to help newbies transition and to spot operatives who are going rogue. Fewer would go rogue if they were supported rather than abandoned by the director so easily.

The Timeline Change

The travelers who had already left the future kept their memories of the original future timeline intact when the timeline changed, while those memories were lost by everyone who was in the future at the time of the change, as is traditional in time travel stories. If the director has knowledge of older timelines, it hasn’t shared that knowledge. The timeline seems to have changed sometime between the pilot, when the team transferred, and Room 101, when most of the team was held hostage by the Faction. It wasn’t the Helios event that created the Faction. Something else allowed Shelter 41 to survive, either because the structure was better built, or the ice wasn’t there to collapse it. Either way, the timelines branch off somewhere in between episodes 1 and 5. The first big change we see is the avoidance of the anti-matter explosion in episode 2 that saves 11,000 lives. That was the director’s plan, so it should have been able to predict the outcome. But the plan didn’t go off without mistakes, which could have ultimately led to the Faction. Or maybe something they did in Aleksander? Or some other change made when Philip was giving the FBI tips from his Guilt Wall of Host Candidate Death Dates? Aleksander in particular saw and heard things he shouldn’t have, and may have been moved to change the world himself later on.

That also means that anyone could have been a Faction traveler since episode 2 on, and messages could have come from the Faction instead of the director, though it doesn’t seem like the team got false messages until at least episode 11, maybe 12. Boyd’s message to kill 3468 was likely from the Faction. My speculation is that the Faction thinks he’s too loyal to the director to be turned (he’s a true believer), but it’s possible with the rest of the team.

There could also be multiple other branching timelines that haven’t been discovered yet, and the timeline will continue to change. The historians will need to find a way to track the changes to program them into the director AIs (Faction and original), or figure out if the AIs are immune to memory resets when the timeline resets, and already have the information.

Since the timeline change came in episode 2,3 or 4, I’m speculating it happened in episode 3, since all of the travelers we met were rule-oriented and loyal to the director in the first three episodes. In episode 3, Aleksander, Philip creates his Guilt Wall of Host Candidate Death Dates, and saves people by giving tips to the FBI that allow them to prevent certain deaths. Eventually that leads them to the kidnappers’ house, where Aleksander is being held hostage. McLaren tells the child that they are going to help him, then the director speaks through Aleksander, telling McLaren to abort the mission. McLaren doesn’t try to smooth things over in any way, he just tells the team they’re leaving. Everyone in the house starts to argue. Philip ends up shot because he was protecting Aleksander, and the two kidnappers end up dead. The rest of the team race to get Philip out and clean up his blood. McLaren tells Aleksandr to lie and say that McLaren rescued him single-handedly.

In the next episode, #4, Hall, we find out that the 21st is full of travelers who can’t be trusted. There are criminal travelers, rogue travelers, deserter travelers, and travelers who are supposedly loyal to the director, but who disregard protocol and complete missions however they see fit. There was no evidence of any of this existing in previous episodes, and it all sounds perilously close to the Faction.

So, what was the event that changed the timeline? My pet theory is that it was the rescue of Aleksander, particularly the way the team and the director botched it. First McLaren told the child they would help him. Then the director takes over his body to relay the message that the team was off task and they should abort the mission now. McLaren then jumps up and tries to leave, with no explanation to the child for his sudden change. Philip throws out information from the future, that Aleksander is meant to die, along with 3 more kids, and adds that 2 others have already died. Then the gunfight, with Aleksander literally in the middle, the team rushing out, and McLaren telling him to lie. Aleksander’s impressions of that scene, along with the kidnapping and whatever was done to him while he was held hostage, probably led to years of therapy. Therapy in which he may have remembered the director using his brain, and what the message was, through memory recall techniques like hypnosis.

What would Aleksander take away from that day? The travelers are governed by an entity that doesn’t care when children die, and will use them to hand out their own death sentences. The agents of the director are liars who make promises they don’t intend to keep. Only other people can be trusted to make decisions about who lives or dies in the future. Sound familiar? Aleksander may have found a way to pass his story and philosophy down through the generations as a legend or prophecy, or grown up Aleksander may have found a way to communicate with travelers in the future. The episode is named after him, even though he’s only on screen for a few minutes. That could mean he’ll come up again in the future. It could be a situation with some similarity to John Connor in the Terminator movies, where he researches the travelers, and prepares a group of survivalists, since he’s the only civilian who knows what’s coming. (Though that will have to be shown in the spin-off series, after he grows up.)

Sexuality, Feminism, and Other Societal Issues

Are they trying to make McLaren so unlikable and racist? He was involved with a blonde white woman in the future, and said he’d always loved her. Now that she’s in the body of an underprivileged, black, abused, unwed mother, and he has the choice to be with an upper middle class white woman instead, he throws over the woman he’s always loved for the white woman? And snaps at the black woman for the inconvenience of being bothered at work by her abusive baby daddy, rather than using his position of authority to make the guy go away, something that would only take a few minutes of his time? Carly did not create the abusive situation she finds herself in, or the societal conditions that make the abuse difficult to escape. The director put her into that situation. How did it think she was going to get out? Jeff wants her and the baby, not just her. Handing over custody doesn’t seem like it will solve the problem. McLaren comes off as a complete racist asshole for stringing her along, then tossing her aside and showing no compassion for her situation.

This show is rapidly developing two types of female characters. The cold, unfeeling, lacking compassion, but professionally competent type, like Delaney, Boyd, Blue, Beth, Trevor’s mother and girlfriend, the CPS case worker, New Marcy, and traveler Grace. And the type who is emotionally fragile, easily overwhelmed and thrown off her game, and minimally professionally competent. She frequently needs a male to step in and make the save at the last moment. Carly, old traveler Marcy, original Marcy and Kathryn fit this type. Original Grace is the only woman I can think of who was an exception. She was filled out and a well-balanced personality to accentuate her martyrdom for Trevor’s manpain and to differentiate her personality from traveler Grace’s.

Add Officer Boyd, traveler Grace, child assassin Charlotte and original Charlotte to the list of physically victimized female characters. By my count that leaves the CPS case worker and McLaren’s assistant Beth as the only two regular or recurring female characters who have avoided victimization. The male characters have avoided being victimized to the same degree. There have been no male druggings or kidnappings outside of Room 101. No stalking or physical abuse of men. No major decisions have been made for the male characters “for their own good,” except for Trevor’s parents, who have the legal responsibility to make decisions for him, and who are portrayed as being wrong. No one has taken a male character’s body and done something to it against his will because that person had decided what was best. (Marcy’s overwrite, Grace’s drugging and kidnapping, Kathryn’s memory inhibitor. I haven’t even brought up the fact that McLaren essentially raped Kathryn. Etc.)

I do have to commend the series for having female directors for three episodes and at least one female writer on the majority of the episodes (seven), with five episodes written solely by women. They are definitely trying to be feminist-friendly. Helen Shaver, who directed Helios-685 and Protocol 5, is an Emmy-nominated director. Brad Wright gave Amanda Tapping, who directed Grace, her start as a director when she was on Stargate SG-1, but she’s gone on to direct episodes of many other series.

Much as the misogyny, classism and racism bug me, I also think they are being used to make a point some of the time. The characters have been seduced by the temptations of the 21st century. Sometimes it’s brought out the best in them, like Marcy, Trevor and Philip’s compassion. Sometimes it’s brought out the worst, like McLaren’s rejection of Carly and his refusal to do anything to help her that might interfere with his comfortable middle class lifestyle. McLaren let his team unravel so that he could live his fantasy suburban life. He, in particular, is the character that’s used to show how too much of an attachment to a comfortable material lifestyle can lead to ignoring the pain of others, even when one thinks one cares about other people. Trevor, in particular, has been shown purposely avoiding material attachments. Marcy, Carly, and Philip have been too busy fighting battles to become materialistic, though you could argue that Philip used heroin as an attachment and escape for a while. The others have accused Carly of using her host’s son as an inappropriate attachment, but there’s a moral aspect to her need to take care of Jeff Jr that can’t be ignored. If Carly walks away from the baby, he ends up with an abuser who was violent enough to murder his mother. On a mission to save the world, starting with the child that’s right in front of you seems reasonable.

Most of the main characters appear to be straight. The show hasn’t addressed Philip’s sexuality terribly directly, but he said neither was a priority when Ray suggested he needed a girlfriend or a boyfriend. Philip could be asexual, bi or gay. Trevor has shown no sexual interest in original Trevor’s girlfriend, though he has mentioned becoming aroused at other times. He could be gay, or uninterested in a high school girl. It’s not clear if he was interested in Grace for more than her personality. I’ve considered whether the show could be hinting at a relationship between Trevor and Philip, since Trevor often shows up at headquarters at night to hang out and even sleep there, and the two appear close. Philip was frozen in place after Trevor got shot. But putting those two in a relationship with each other would leave all of the main characters unavailable for romantic storylines with guest stars of the week. I doubt the writers would do that, so they’ll probably just keep them as close friends (who possibly sleep together). Occasional fan service scenes will keep that possibility open, or at least gifable.

Body Jumping and Similarities to Joss Whedon’s Dollhouse

Speaking of older characters who may have been through a few transfers, how much body jumping has been happening in the future? Why did 3465 have her number tattooed on her neck, where she couldn’t see it? Prisoners sometimes have numbers tattooed on them. In the Dollhouse episodes Epitaph One and Epitaph Twocharacters are also subject to jumping bodies. Forced overwriting has gotten so out of hand that it’s led to a dystopia where almost no one is in their own body any more, and overwritten soldiers have been created to fight wars. The creator of the transfer process lost control of it when he figured out how to transfer personalities using telephone signals. People start having their own names tattooed on their backs so that others will be able to tell if they are still themselves or not. I couldn’t help but think of Dollhouse when I combined the memory of seeing 3465’s number tattooed on her neck with Grace’s transfer of Marcy’s consciousness and breakthrough in sending data back to the future.  Then Grace gave access to the director to the rebel faction, and everything was set up for the situation to unravel, both in the future and in the 21st. We’re already seeing conflicting messages coming through, with the characters unable to tell which are real and which aren’t, and transfers that don’t follow the usual procedure, so are therefore suspect.

The Whedons’ vision for this reality was so dark that FOX cancelled the show. That was a different era in TV, and Netflix/Showcase are different networks, but I don’t think they’ll go as dark as Epitaph One and Two did. If the present goes that dark, the future would be obliterated, and  our characters would cease to exist. The director will be able to retain a certain amount of control, and the number of factions will be limited. The factions won’t become overly powerful, and/or, they won’t be excessively nihilistic.

In Dollhouse, the series explores the use of the technology to transfer the consciousness of the wealthy and important to new, younger bodies so that they can keep themselves alive indefinitely. The “dolls” whose bodies they are transferred into don’t give consent for their bodies to be taken from them. They expect to have their original personalities reinstalled when their dollhouse contracts expire. This is the first step in the power struggles that become the wars that lead to the apocalypse.

Numbers, Age, and the Use of Transfers as a Way of Keeping Important Future People Alive Indefinitely

It’s never been stated straight out (unless I missed it, in which case, send me the reference), but it’s strongly implied that the older travelers are being kept alive by transferring bodies when necessary. (They showed us that future medicine is good, but not good enough to keep people alive indefinitely in their original aging bodies. The nanites were too limited.) How are those ethical decisions made? Were the common people okay with it? Did they know? The low numbered travelers were all kept protected and more or less secret from other travelers outside their immediate groups. Grace didn’t even give Ellis Trevor’s number, which I took to be an insult at first, but could have been for his own protection, as well. Maybe anyone with a number below 1000 or 2000 is in constant danger of assassination because of the resentment toward them.

Have we ever seen someone with a number between 1000 and 2000? Maybe some disaster wiped that entire age cohort out. Perhaps Shelter 41 in the original timeline?

Philip has been talking as if he’s significantly older than everyone on the team except for Trevor lately. He’s taken on a certain world-weariness. He and Trevor have always gravitated together, maybe as the two oldest. Philip said at one point that Trevor was at least 100 years older than him. His number starts with 33, while Marcy’s starts with 35, and McLaren and Carly’s start with 34. That suggests he’s older than them, but not ancient. Unless the historian designations are different, the way the Doctor Derek’s was. Philip could have been given the memories of other historians, or historians could be given a new number with every transfer, to hide their identities. Or he could just be intelligent and wise. We have seen several characters with numbers in the 2000s, so Phillip’s 3326 wouldn’t seem to automatically make him the oldest person in the room, the way Trevor’s 0115 usually does.

Meanwhile, both personalities that jumped into Donner, 4022 and 4024, seemed very young and easily fooled, perhaps the reason why the director chose them for those particular assignments. They had the low numbers that I’m assuming go along with youth. 4024 also seemed naive and overly enthusiastic.

Grace and Trevor

Grace and Trevor tend to stick together and protect each other, despite their outward animosity. She made sure to wait to transfer into a host who had reasons to be near him, even though there was another host available. She worked on the early transfer program, and he was in the program, so they’ve likely at least met before. They tend to stand next to each other, and he’s become her bodyguard and chauffeur. Grace is often in his personal space, and they look each other in the eyes to communicate silently more than strangers who don’t like or know each other should. Grace literally jumped in front of Trevor to take a bullet for him. But they vaguely acted like they hadn’t met before in front of Ellis. Otherwise it wasn’t brought up. Maybe she remembers him, but he didn’t remember her, at least at first? Or they knew each other, but parted on negative terms, so he pretends not to know her and ignores her as much as possible?

Implications of the Repackaging and Reupload of Marcy’s Consciousness

Throughout season 1 we’ve been led to believe that the travelers’ consciousnesses couldn’t be stored, and that a misfire equals death. No one ever suggested that the misfired historian from the traveler family in Room 101 would show up at a later time when the next host became available. It was understood that they were going to have to go on without her. So where did Grace get Marcy’s profile from? How long has she had this capability and kept it hidden? How many other people does she have stored somewhere? Is there actually a backup for everyone? How old are all of the travelers, and how real are their memories, if Grace can store personalities and change them at will? This opens up another potential story direction, where their personalities are essentially all clones who are wiped and redeployed over and over.

Marcy is so different now that it seems like Grace purposely left some aspects of her character out that she might have seen as flaws. Marcy’s humanity and compassion were almost non-existent right after the overwrite, much like Grace’s, though Marcy had softened some by the end of the episode. Grace waved off the idea that some information would be lost in duplicating Marcy’s consciousness. Were the losses greater than she realized, or did she tamper with Marcy? Given Grace’s personality, tampering seems more likely. This is the woman who shut down the director without consulting anyone else to see what other plans they might be implementing. Marcy is also a ruthless sharpshooter now, when she would barely touch a gun before. Is this a skill Grace added? I feel like I’m watching the Matrix, where they load and unload skills from their minds at will.

McLaren having original McLaren’s memories and Grace reconstructing Marcy’s profile opens up a whole new world of plot lines. Can we have 2 personalities inhabiting the same body, short or long term, eventually? Like Quirrell and Voldemort? Could Grace’s method be expanded to bring people back from the dead? How did Grace reconstruct Marcy’s consciousness? Could this be done with non-travelers? (Yeah, I’m stretching it, but let’s have a little fun and imagine Abraham Lincoln living in McLaren’s head, as he tries to choose between Carly and Kathryn. I WANT THAT SHOW) They could start hiding people like 0114 in their heads instead of on farms. Imagine the running commentary. Could an original host eventually reassert themselves? Could two people in the same head fall in love, and search for a second body to host one of them?

Speculation for Season 2:

Everything is so wide open now that I’m not even going to pretend to have any idea of where they’re going to go. I’m just going to make some logical guesses about which direction they might go, heavily skewed toward where I want them to go. I have a feeling this is going to be like the changes between season 1 and season 2 of shows like Fringe and Agents of Shield, where the first season set up the universe, only to have the last few episodes of the season tear that world apart and open it up into something much more creative and exciting.

The director isn’t exclusively in charge anymore, and travel isn’t one way. It may take a while for the show to have the characters figure that out. Who knows, maybe the writers haven’t taken the idea to its logical conclusion yet. But, if you can send data in both directions on the quantum bridge that transfers consciousness, the capability for two-way time travel is only a matter of time. 😇

There are presumably two director-type AIs, one in the future and one in the present, one running itself, and one controlled by the Faction. The Faction says they want people to be in charge because people are better than machines, but they are as murderous and ruthless as the director. The AI in the quantum frame almost has to be the Faction AI, and Forbes is a Faction operative there to take control of it. With two-way future/present communication, the AI doesn’t have to be in the future to run things. The director knew this, since it was ready to send itself back.

Grace and Trevor can be easily saved with Future Medicine. The team won’t let Trevor die. Trevor won’t let Grace die. I’d like to think the director would keep Grace alive, as its lead programmer, but it doesn’t seem that smart, and it’s definitely not compassionate. They might kill Grace for the drama and manpain of Trevor losing her again, and the team having to figure out how to take care of the director without her. I like Grace though, so I want her to live. I’d like to think that they won’t fridge the middle-aged Asian woman a second time, when she’s a delightful and useful character. The show needs a cantankerous mad scientist. And Mclaren needs a strong voice on the team to stand up to him.

The missions will now be about fighting a civil war as often as they are about creating a better future. As Grace noted, Room 101 came before Helios 685, so they’ve actually already been dealing with the Faction for most of the season. It also means the timeline changes weren’t caused by diverting the asteroid. Part of the season will be spent exploring the reasons for the rise of the Faction, and comparing the old and new timelines for other differences, and the branching off point.

The entire team’s loyalties will continue to be tested. Carly will defect to the Faction, but continue to work with the team. Philip will stay with the team for now, but only out of loyalty to the team members, not out of belief in their cause. Trevor will also begin to question the director’s methods, as he realizes how ruthless the director is, and that there could be another way. Trevor, Philip and others could start a group with a third, more peaceful, philosophy.

Kathryn may or may not be a Faction traveler now. We all know I tend to think everyone is a Faction traveler, so I could be wrong on this one. There was just something about the way she pressed McLaren for answers in the restaurant, and then called Forbes to tip him off, that made me wonder. I was wrong about Jeff and Trevor being in on the conspiracy, but I was right that there was an opposing faction all along. Maybe Kathryn and Forbes are suspicious of McLaren’s activity all on their own. He has been acting very suspiciously.

With two-way time travel possible, maybe we’ll get to go back to the future sometimes. (YES, I SAID IT.) Body swaps could be developed where a traveler from the future and one from the 21st switch bodies at the same time so no one has to die for the trips to happen. Or, the consciousness storage technology that rebooted Marcy could be explored further to allow body sharing. We need to see more of the future than the tiny glimpses we’ve been given for the show to really fulfill its potential. They’ve introduced the concepts to make it possible, now they just need to make good on the promise.

 

Travelers Protocols:

Protocol 1: The mission comes first.

Protocol 2: Leave the future in the past. Don’t jeopardize your cover.

Protocol 3: Don’t take a life. Don’t save a life. Unless otherwise directed.

Protocol 4: Do not reproduce.

Protocol 5: In the absence of direction, resume your host’s life.

Protocol 6: Traveler teams should stay apart unless instructed otherwise.

Traveler numbers:
McLaren-3468  Marcy-3569  Trevor-o115  Phillip-3326  Carly-3465

 

 

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2 thoughts on “Travelers Season 1 Analysis and Speculation

  1. Why do any of the 5 main travelers *have* to be gay, bi or whatever? Only 5% of the population is thought to be gay, so there is a huge chance that 5 single people in a room are ALL STRAIGHT???

    Like

  2. You have a lot of awesome ideas and thoughts here. Great job. With just 12 episodes each season, I hate to say it, but I doubt all of your ideas will come to fruition, but maybe the series will last several years and all will be explored.

    Like

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