The Travelers season 1 finale left the show set up with several crises waiting for season 2. Marcy had been rebooted and we weren’t sure how she was. The Director had been rebooted and was under attack. We weren’t sure how it was, and there was the possibility that it wouldn’t win against the Faction. Grace and Trevor had been shot by Ellis, who’d then been killed by a messenger from either the Director or the Faction. Something was downloading into the quantum frame. There were conflicting messages about whether to kill MacLaren or destroy the quantum frame. Forbes and a strike team were staring at the group in the barn, ready to arrest them all.
It sounds like the set up for an exciting season, but they’d taken care of most of these issues by the end of the first episode, using deus ex machina once again. Everyone who was hurt is okay, thanks to deus ex nanites. Time travel seemed to be working fine. The quantum frame was being dismantled. Most of the FBI agents in MacLaren’s office were now travelers, including Forbes, so everyone was set free and forgiven any crimes.
MacLaren and the team were so relieved to be released that they went along with this without question, except for Phillip. Mac doesn’t question anything Forbes says or does for several more episodes, including some hand wavey magic when Forbes makes the hotel missing persons cases disappear into interagency bureaucracy. It leaves Mac free to play house with Kat, so he’s all for it.
Episode 1 also has the interesting story of how the first traveler arrived and went rogue, ending up a paranoid, wealthy, reclusive single parent in the present day. The mystery of S1 Ep5, Room 101, seems to have been explained by blaming him and his paranoia. His altercations with the team this season eventually felt too threatening, so he packed up his son and left town.
This showdown was also solved by a deus ex machina style intervention, with messengers ordering 3468 and 001 to stand down. We never really understand why he’s torturing travelers all over the world, and why he’s so paranoid, if he’s so easy to find that the Faction, with fewer resources than the Director, can get a message to him within 2 seconds of his son being in range. My guess is that it has something to do with his son, rather than him, but that’s just a guess. The writers didn’t end this story, they used a plot device to stop it when they didn’t want to write it any more. Maybe that’s because it will come up again, maybe not.
Travelers has always had an issue with leaving important explanations until the end of a storyline, then one character will spit out several paragraphs of technical dialogue very quickly. After that, they move on without any further discussion. It won’t be mentioned again until or unless the story is revisited. That’s gotten worse this year, as we spend long stretches of time watching the team’s personal lives, then get these brief, unsatisfying explanations of the science and how the story we’ve been watching happened.
We’re left to sift through clues on our own, and hope we’ve put everything together correctly. I enjoy the mystery as the story is progressing, but when it’s time for the explanation, I want it to be satisfying and understandable, not perfunctory and hand wavey. One of the best things about this show is the depth and consistency of the travelers’ universe, showing that the creators thought through their science, technology, processes, characters, and general world-building before the show started airing. That’s essential to a consistent science fiction or fantasy universe. But now they’re undermining it by failing to fully flesh out the science fiction aspects of their stories.
It’s still a great show, with a depth and complexity few shows can match. But the writing isn’t as tight this season. Each episode is packed with information, but it tends to be given to us through exposition, often in a throwaway conversation.
All of that being said, I have a feeling what we’re seeing is the show clumsily leading us toward more and more consequences from Jenny’s observation in the beginning of episode 6:
Jenny: The Director ordered you to build the [quantum frame]. I mean, how can you not see the irony in that? You just follow it blindly, no matter what. That’s the difference between us.
MacLaren: No, the Faction abducts innocent people and overwrites them. That’s the difference between us.
Marcy: What you do is murder.
Jenny: What you do is opportunism, like taking hosts just before they die is so ethical?
Marcy: Yes, that’s exactly what it is.
Except that most of the team have inserted themselves into their hosts’ family lives and will continue to impersonate their hosts indefinitely. Then they’ll disappear or die when the Director orders them to do so, and the Director will have no concern for how the whole thing affects the people who cared about their hosts. That’s not ethical. Trevor blamed 0027 at first for taking original Grace, and MacLaren was clearly thinking about original Forbes when he was ready to shoot 4112, so they’ve already experienced some of this feeling themselves. They know that the personalities within bodies aren’t interchangeable, but they and the show choose not to address it very deeply most of the time.
Then there’s Jenny’s main point, which the team distracted her from. They follow the Director blindly. The first episode of the season was named Ave Machina, machine worship, after the tendency to turn an AI into a god. The travelers don’t ask questions or do mission follow up of any kind. The Faction exploited this trait to use loyal travelers all over the world for months, and none of them noticed that their orders weren’t coming from the Director. The team wants to make Jenny and the Faction the sole villains in this scenario, but the fact is that there were warning signs all along the way that they ignored, because the Director didn’t tell them to pay attention.
Whenever there was a problem, someone solved it for them, just like they were used to. They didn’t always agree with the solution, but that was normal. They were off the hook and happy to go back to living their dream 21st century lifestyles, which are better than anything they could have imagined in the future. The protocols were practically written for a group like the Faction to exploit.
Will they ever accept their part of the responsibility for what happened, and what could still happen, going forward, since the quantum frame is still out there? It would require some honest self-reflection, which only Trevor and Phillip seem capable of at this point.
Some Nitpicky Questions
What happened to Dr Delaney, the developer of the antimatter? How was the explosion explained, and why wasn’t she blamed? We were told it created an arms race that led to major wars in the original timeline. Has that been averted? How?
Hall and Luka told us there are rogue and orphaned travelers all over. Isn’t their knowledge of the future an issue? Every single team member has enough basic knowledge to do something similar to Vincent, even if it’s not on the same scale.
What happened to that sweet, naive traveler they put into Donner, then exposed to Luka? Are they going to revisit the idea that Luka is Marcy’s brother?
If Phillip could defuse Abby’s bomb from the van in 11:27, couldn’t he also charge it and tell it when to blow? Or couldn’t they have used a simple 3 minute timer on the bomb, giving Abby or Trevor time to plant the bomb and make to the closest emergency exit??
Now there are Faction operatives everywhere. Will the Faction continue to carry out missions to disrupt the Grand Plan and advance their own plan?
Why did Forbes find it so hard to believe that Shelter 41 collapsed in an alternate future? They are in the past to change the future, after all. Saving Shelter 41 probably seemed like a good idea at the time. Maybe there will eventually be a mission to assassinate whoever kept it from collapsing.
And, just how bad is the education in Shelter 41? Have they seceded from the rest of the group and formed their own society and institutions? Are they living in even worse conditions than the people under the Director’s care, who at least seem to have access to medicine and education?
Wouldn’t it make more sense to capture and interrogate Faction travelers than to overwrite them, especially Jenny and Forbes, the two they already had? Jenny had already indicated that she was willing to cut a deal, and they need to find the quantum frame.
We should have realized the Director wasn’t available all season from the way everyone was being left alone to solve their own problems. It was totally out of character for Boyd and Derek to show up at our team’s headquarters looking for help, and against Protocol 6. When will they realize that the protocols are detrimental? If they’d followed the protocols they wouldn’t have figured out that the Director was shut down, and the Faction was taking over, until it was too late.
Are they purposefully showing us that the protocols don’t work, or are we supposed to buy into them, like the travelers have? The travelers quote protocols at each other, but break them as soon as they become inconvenient.
Jenny made some good points, but no one in the room was ready to hear them yet, plus the Faction’s methods are too extreme. There is a middle ground between blindly following the Director and ruthlessly killing everyone who’s in your way. Are we watching the team who will go rogue in a covert way, and take others with them? Will they finally realize the asset they have in Grace, who could be used to subvert the Director’s more heartless plans, if they show her some compassion first?
The team tried very hard to ignore the person who was obviously most likely to come up with a solution for fixing the Director: the creator of the Director, Grace. They still considered pretty little Jenny more trustworthy than Grace, as the team believed every word out of her mouth, despite the fact that she used Phillip to create the plague.
All mean old Grace did was save Marcy’s life and keep the Faction from taking control of the Director, the b*tch.
No wonder Marcy hates her. 🤦🏻♀️ Oh right. She also jumped in front of a bullet meant for Trevor, then shared her medical nanites with him. Of course they don’t trust her. 💩
I’m not sure I like where this could be heading. It looks like it’ll eventually be revealed that Grace left out something essential, like Marcy’s compassion or sensitivity, because Grace thought her affection for David was getting in the way of the mission. I would like to see Grace realize she was wrong and help correct the mistake.
I’m worried that Grace will also have tampered with Trevor’s memories at some point, and/or used a back up consciousness to keep him alive when he should have died. Trevor said he’s cheated death so many times, which probably means he actually lost one of those bets, but Grace can’t bear to lose him.
Carly and MacLaren seem to have forgotten they were ever lovers. Her custody and abuse issues have been hand waved away, while he’s happily playing house. Was their relationship unpopular with viewers, so the writers ditched it?
An abusive alcoholic isn’t rehabilitated that quickly and easily, so I’m wondering where they’re going with this. It’s not okay to decide that Jeff just needed the love of a good woman to cure him. Women get the blame from that stereotype too often in real life.
Phillip should be able to wean himself off of the eye drops now and overcome his addiction. Could medical nanites also help him kick his addiction for good?
Will the Director shut down the independent abilities the team is developing? They are all becoming better investigators and spies, but the Director tends to be a blunt hammer without much finesse.
History has changed enough that our team are becoming anachronisms now. The history they learned was very different from the history that currently exists in the future. If they aren’t updated on the changes and the current situation they’ll become more and more out of touch. That goes both ways, since future people aren’t aware of the changes travelers have made to the timeline until the travelers tell them that they see differences.
There needs to be a regular check-in amongst historians. Does the Director know that changes to the Timeline are occurring, or is it swept along in timeline changes with everyone else? That would seriously affect its ability to make accurate decisions.
There is a transhuman element to the show that is waiting to be explored. If Phillip was modified to have a super-memory, and certain other skills and abilities, and Marcy was modified so that her consciousness could fit in original Marcy’s brain, how have the others been modified and enhanced for their roles?
Cinematography, Themes, and Characterization
This screencap↑ is from the end of episode 6, just before Marcy and Trevor receive the new messenger. Boyd and Grace had been sitting alone together before Marcy came in. Boyd is hoping her two missing teammates will turn up. Marcy asks how Boyd is doing, but not Grace, so Grace takes the opportunity to get in another shot at Marcy. Marcy continues to ignore Grace.
Look at how Grace and Boyd appear to be shot through a film of gauze, while Marcy is clear, but in shadow. (The scene was shot through clouded glass.) We don’t know everything about Boyd and Grace yet. There are still dark times ahead for Marcy, which isn’t a surprise. Despite being behind the gauze, Boyd is surrounded by light. Grace is relegated to the background, with the machines. Despite sitting very close together, each appears to be in her own little zone of light and shadow. They are isolated while together.
This entire season has been shot in so much darkness that I have to lighten virtually every screencap for the images to be easily visible. We’re also seeing a limited, gray to silver color palette this season, with exterior shots including the clouded sky as often as possible. Even Boyd’s hair has become a silvery blonde.
Characters are frequently shot in dark rooms with only enough light to illuminate the people in the conversation. The depth of field is usually limited to the character that’s speaking, rather than everyone in the room or conversation. There are very few group shots, and when there are, they’re shot from weird angles. Two shots often include characters who are across the room from each other, and one will be out of focus. They might have their back to the camera for the classic over the shoulder shot.
The shot above is a group shot, but it uses lighting and an effect to separate the group. This season so far is about isolation, manipulation, paranoia and betrayal, and how those things happen when we stop paying attention to the things that are important.
The screenshot below↓ looks like a two shot of Jenny and Marcy, but Grace and Marcy are the ones having a conversation. They are in the middle of a heated argument over Grace’s decision to use nanites on Jenny without Marcy’s permission, but Marcy refuses to listen to Grace at all, despite Grace’s expertise. Both are acting badly, but Grace knows she could help more if they’d let her, and she’s desperate.
Notice how much larger and more powerful Marcy looks, while Grace is once again small, out of focus, and in the background with the machines. Jenny is placed in front of Marcy, giving her more importance, and the team did listen to every word she said, while they dismissed Grace.
Below↓ is the rare group shot that appears unified. Phillip, Grace and Trevor have cooperated to build this device, and they get along okay while doing so. MacLaren is checking on their progress. Even in this shot, MacLaren is isolating Grace from the group and the conversation by turning his back to her, Grace is buried in the background with a bit of forced perspective to shrink her size even smaller than she would be next to the men, and she’s in front of a different background. She gets the light this time, which, hopefully, means her intentions are honorable, while they aren’t being fair to her.
I don’t know where they’re going with Grace’s storyline, or if they’ll eventually tell us that she’s good or evil, but they are showing us that she’s being unfairly marginalized by her own people right now. Meanwhile, I could go through shot after shot to show the exact opposite with Jenny. She tends to be front and center in scenes and shots, featured in brightly lit scenes, and the center of attention, even when everyone is supposedly mad at her and the magnitude of her betrayal has been exposed.
The treatment of these two characters are typical examples of two tropes: Good Is Not Nice, for Grace, and Affably Evil, for Jenny. Grace is a good person, who is trying to do the right thing, but she doesn’t always follow the rules or have time for social niceties. Jenny is a cute young thing who knows how to make friends and influence people, but she will do whatever it takes to achieve what she thinks is best for HER, no matter who gets hurt. She’s naturally more charismatic than Grace, so people are drawn to her, even when they know she’s the bad guy, and they want to believe that she’s telling them the truth. People are put off by Grace’s bluntness, which we find unacceptable in women, so they are predisposed to dismiss her and everything she says. Her age doesn’t help her any either.
Last season, Carly was the character the creators filmed the way Grace is shot this season. We hardly ever saw her entire face clearly. The visuals kept her on the team margins just as much as MacLaren did. This season, she and MacLaren have come to an understanding, and Carly is frequently in front or next to MacLaren, performing her protective function as the tactical officer.
The women of color have to fight for their place on this team, but it can be done.
Even though Marcy is a relatively small person physically, she is often shot in ways that make her look larger in the frame and more powerful than other characters. That’s true in the screencaps above, and true in the screencap in my Jacob recap, where she’s trying to revive Jacob. She’s automatically given respect by everyone in the traveler world as a doctor, and because of her struggle to overcome her host’s congenital brain issues..
Marcy is letting her power go to her head and developing a manipulative streak. She’s using Dr Barker for medical supplies and to boost her ego. She stringing David along when she knows he cares about her and will wait forever. Marcy threatens to stop Grace’s pathogen treatment in order to wring information from her. That last is something a sociopath would do, but Marcy gets away with it because she’s a very attractive doctor and people don’t want to think that way about her. I’m starting to wonder if there’s still deterioration going on in her brain.
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.