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Aleksander Part 2 Protocol 3 takes us back to an almost forgotten episode from early season 1, the third episode of the series, Aleksander. In Aleksander, Philip was struggling with both his unexpected heroin addiction and the burden of his historical knowledge. He decided to take action and save as many individual lives as he could. This culminated with him creating a fake mission to convince the team to save a young boy who’d been kidnapped by serial killers, Aleksander Andrieko. Aleksander is saved, but the mission turns disastrous and the team discovers Philip’s deceit. The Director orders the team to leave Aleksander behind to die, but Philip won’t let them do it.
I always wondered if Aleksander and that episode would come back again eventually. They weren’t mentioned in season 1 or 2, but dealt with important concepts that haven’t been fully dealt with otherwise. So, I’m happy that the show has returned to Aleksander, and we get to see the effect that being rescued under such strange conditions had on him.
We also get a glimpse at the Director’s process of continuously reassessing timelines and the infinite branches that are always forming and reforming, as every new variable creates new possible futures. This episode shows us that not only is the Director not infallible, its mistakes arise from the unpredictability of human behavior.
Give it an asteroid to avert or a technology to infiltrate, and it will perform amazingly well. It’s good at predicting group responses, since those are more likely to follow a statistical average. But when the plan depends on predicting how an individual or a series of individuals will react, the Director’s plans don’t work out as well. We’ve been shown this over and over, from 17 Minutes to the existence of 001.
This inability to predict individual human reactions with as much accuracy may be the issue the Director is having that’s causing the Grand Plan to take to so long. If it doesn’t have adequate psychological programming, especially on the extremes that humans are capable of, it will always be surprised by what an individual dictator or scientist is bold or insane enough to do.
And that does seem to be at least part of the problem. My concern at the end of Aleksander was that this child, who knew about the Traveler program and the Director, and knew that the Director had ordered him to be left for dead, was just abandoned to the world and Washington Family Services. On top of that, McLaren told him to lie about what happened, to protect the Travelers, but offered no further protection to the child.
Between what had already happened to him and what he had just witnessed, that would leave anyone messed up. In this episode the team finds out that Alexander has continued to be shuffled from one horrible, abusive foster home to the next, because his mother died and he’s developed behavioral issues. The Director orders Aleksander’s execution, because he will grow up to commit terrible crimes.
Of course he will. He’s experienced nothing but pain, and what little caring he’s received has been mixed with the message that he’s worthless. He was used as a messenger. He was sexually abused. He probably suffered other physical abuse. He learned that the human body is there to be used to work out your psychological problems and aggressions. He’ll probably become a fetish killer.
Aleksander’s two episodes point out the issue the Director has with understanding human needs. The Faction exists because it doesn’t understand how to help its people balance the neeeds of the Grand Plan with their own, ongoing individual needs. It asks too much of people on both ends of the timeline, until they crack from the strain.
Assuming the Director really is just a machine that’s programmed and can’t change how it does things, these issues would be the fault of its programmers. If the Director is a truly sentient AI, then it should be able to make adjustments on its own to compensate for this kind of issue, to learn as it gains experience.
The show isn’t particularly clear about the Director’s ability to function independently. We’re shown multiple programmers who have been with it from the beginning and we’re told that they’re still programming it in the future. On the other hand, the Director seems to function outside of timeline limitations and to be moving beyond its programming.
Aleksander’s episode was also a turning point for Philip, since it was the point when Mac and the rest of the team (other than Marcy) found out about his heroin addiction and he realized that he had to work harder to get it under control. Same with his knowledge as a historian. He learned that he had to trust that the Director has good reasons for its decisions.
That episode set up what have become series long arcs for Philip: his struggles with drug abuse, with his historian knowledge and with his lack of faith in the Director. It showed us Philip’s tendency to go rogue, his sensitivity, his isolation and his self-destructiveness. All of that comes full circle in this episode.
Aleksander also focused on Mac, and showed his tendency toward blind faith in the Director, coupled with a detached expediency. In that episode he told lies to Kat and his FBI partner Forbes in order to hide his Traveler activities, which turned into a habit and led to his marriage unraveling. He treats Aleksander badly, as I’ve already discussed, nearly leaving him to die because the Director told him to.
Season 3 episode 3, Protocol 3 begins with Mac asleep and having nightmares that are memories of Aleksander Andrieko’s rescue in season 1 episode 3. He wakes up at 7:04 AM, in Kat’s loft, with a migraine and a text from Marcy, telling him to stop by her place when he wakes up.
Carly is also up early, and doing a deep cleaning on her house. She finds one of Jeff jr’s favorite toys under the couch.
When Mac gets to Marcy’s place, she sits him down and examines his jaw. She explains that he was “having jaw pain related to a spray of microfractures in your mandible. It’s probably microfractures from the plane crash. A bone fragment was pressing your trigeminal nerve, which required surgery.”
Mac says that he doesn’t remember any of this. Apparently it took a lot of anesthesia to put him out. Marcy says that his jaw will be sore for a while but will get a little better each day. Mac complains that he feels like he didn’t sleep at all, but he had crazy dreams and it seems like he should remember something. Marcy hustles him out, saying he didn’t miss much.
As soon as he’s gone, Marcy calls Philip and Trevor to tell them what happened. They’re expecting her call. This is a cover up.
Carly packs the baby’s toy in a box and opens a closet with a secret panel in the back to get a gun. She’s created a mini armory in the broom closet.
Mac visits Boyd to have her do some blood work. She grumbles the required complaint that she shouldn’t be helping him, but it’s just for the Director’s records, at this point. She’s part of his B team, just like Grace. She finds trace amounts of a kinases protein inhibitor in his blood, which means that he was given a memory inhibitor, just as he suspected.
Mac’s next stop is the office, where his assistant Beth gives him grief for showing up on a weekend. Mac asks her to pull up the tracking information for his vehicle for the day before. She wonders if he’s car has been stolen again, like Philip allegedly did in S1 Ep10, Kathryn. She checks the cloud storage, which shows that he was parked all day.
When Mac doesn’t seem satisfied, Beth, who is a treasure, offers to check the backup. They have a physical backup in an offsite facility, because the TV FBI is smart enough to know that you can never have too many backups, whether it’s backup plans or data storage.
She checks the backup of the backup for him, which shows something completely different. The initial backup was tampered with. Mac has Beth send the real data to his phone, but tells her not to notify Yates.
Mac went on a road trip the day before, so now he’s going to retrace his steps. Philip watches his progress from ops. He tells Marcy, “This isn’t going to work.” She replies, “There’s nothing we can do about it. You can’t change the past.” Then she realizes what she’s just said and her head almost explodes for a second, before she says, “”You know what I mean.”
That might be the most meta thing they’ve ever done.
Marcy tells Philip that it’s time to go, and has to almost drag him out the door.
Mac reaches a deserted shoreline in the woods. His tire tracks from the day before are still there. Since all he can see are woods and water, he gets back in the car. He notices a post it stuck to his visor with an address on it: 4345 Bellwood Dr. He’s got his next destination.
Carly is parked at a distance, outside of a family home, watching the family through a scope. The house is in a nice middle class neighborhood and appears to be well-furnished, with a couple living inside, who are picking up after a baby. Carly leaves when Trevor calls her for a ride. She’s surprised that he needs one already.
Philip and Marcy are at an addict’s support group meeting.
Philip: “I thought I was leaving my addiction way behind me, like I had put this distance between us. There it was the whole time, breathing down my neck. And I was weak and selfish, and other people paid for it. It’s always other people. Anyways, so here I am.”
We clearly missed more than just what happened to Mac yesterday.
The group leader greets Philip and Marcy, and invites Marcy to speak. Marcy declines, since she’s not an addict, she’s just there to support Philip. The leader encourages her to speak anyway, so Marcy talks about understanding self-medicating. She mentions that she’s a doctor, and one of the addicts gives her a hard time, because he thinks she’s too young to be a doctor. Marcy snaps right back at him for coming to the meeting high. Philip gets her out before the argument gets too out of hand. Plus, the team decides they need to follow Mac after all.
For the record, MacKenzie Porter was born January 29, 1990. She’s currently 28, almost 29. Old enough to be a doctor, especially since the character is supposed to be very intelligent and could have accelerated her education. Many homeschooled kids start college at 16, including my own. That scene was probably based on something from the actress’ life, since so many people think being female and short and/or blonde also makes you stupid.
Mac pulls into the driveway of a run down rural home with several outbuildings and piles of junk in the yard. The owners come outside as soon as they see him, yelling that he told them he was going to take care of the matter. He said that he would take the boy off their hands. Mac asks who? The woman tells him, “Aleksander.”
The couple, Linda MacVicar and her husband, explain that they’re a foster home. They’ve had at least a dozen kids over the years. They live a simple life, but there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s been enough for the others. Mac agrees that there’s nothing wrong with having modest circumstances.
Linda tells him that they’ve never had an extra visit from social services before. But Aleksander is different. He skips school, is always hungry, hangs out by himself, and speaks that foreign language.
Mac tells her the language is Romanian. She replies that the boy was with Mac when they left yesterday. If he’s run off, that’s Mac’s problem, not hers. He found Aleksander in the shed, then drove off with him in the truck around 11:00 yesterday morning. And Linda says, “Good riddance.”
Trevor and Carly follow Mac’s route out into the country. Trevor says that, for the record, he never thought the plan would work. Carly didn’t think he’d figure it out so fast. Trevor figures that there’s a reason that Mac is the boss. Carly, with some sarcasm, says, “Right. ‘Cause he makes all the right decisions.” Trevor takes her point, and says, “Yeah, maybe not all, but I wouldn’t wanna trade places with him.”
Mac’s next stop is a diner. As soon as he goes inside, the owner comes out to speak to him, apologizing for what happened with Aleksander the day before. The owner says that he was just repeating what the kid’s foster parents say about him. Mac figures out that the two of them argued.
The owner says he was having a bad day. Mac asks where he went after that, but the owner doesn’t know. He says that, “They say the kid hangs out in the woods…They say he disappears out there for hours. Messes with the animals. I don’t know. And I don’t wanna know, alright? I don’t want any trouble.”
Marcy and Philip are waiting outside the diner when Mac emerges, but they stay hidden and follow him at a distance. Marcy says that they’ll let the story finish playing out. Mac goes back to the spot in the woods, by the water. He follows a trail deeper into the woods. As he walks, he sees signs that people have been there: a red-painted trail marker, bullet casings. At the end of the trail, he finds the remains of a fire, and a small grave.
Scared at what the grave might mean, he digs at it with his hands until he finds a jacket. Now he’s even more scared. Trevor and the others come up behind him. Trevor tells him to stop digging. He says that he can explain.
Now that we’ve seen the second half of Mac’s story, Travelers jumps back in time to show us what happened during his missing day.
This part of the story begins 31 hours and 16 minutes earlier, at ops. Trevor is starting his day. He comes out of the bathroom to find a syringe on the floor and Aleksander’s photos all over the computer monitors. Then he finds Philip unconscious on the floor. He coms Marcy to tell her what’s happened to Philip and starts CPR.
By the time Mac gets to ops, Marcy has brought Philip back from the heroin overdose and he’s resting. The mission related to Aleksander came through in the middle of the night and named Philip, specifically. Everybody feels guilty and generally terrible about everything involved. Mac feels strongly that the whole thing is his team’s fault, so they need to complete the mission. He’ll take over for Philip. Trevor insists on going along.
They don’t say what needs to be done, but whatever it is needs to happen by 3:00 PM. Marcy worries that they’re too close to the situation, but Mac says that’s the point. He uncharacteristically says that Carly is already dealing with enough, so he doesn’t want to get her involved with this.
Marcy coms Carly, who’s in her car, watching the house and family we saw her stalking previously in the episode. This time, the couple are helping their toddler out of the car. It’s Jeff jr.
Marcy tells Carly that Philip needs her at ops. Marcy will explain the situation while Carly’s driving.
It’s for the best that Carly’s being pulled away from Jeff’s new home. Her Traveler team needs to become her family and it looks like Jeff is in a good place.
Mac and Trevor visit Aleksander’s school, using fake Washington Family Services credentials. His teacher is upset that Family Services is there for him again and complains that he’s had no continuity in his life. He’s already been in two homes since he’s been in her class. His foster parents don’t care if he goes to school or not. “He’s distracted, he lashes out, he skips school.”
Mac has her give him the address of Aleksander’s latest foster home. It’s the post it that he finds in his visor the next day.
Philip wakes up and comes out to his work area. Carly and Marcy are looking over the monitors, which still display the mission and Aleksander’s childhood photos. He becomes distraught, asking what happened.
Philip: “We saved him.”
Marcy: “We did, we did.”
Philip: “How could that be wrong? He’s just a kid.”
Marcy; “You’re right.”
Philip: “I didn’t mean for this to happen.”
Carly: “No, it’s okay. No one’s upset.”
Marcy: “Hey, all you need to do right now is just take care of yourself, okay? We thought it would be nice to be around friends when you woke up.”
Over at the MacVicar’s foster home, the parents have no idea where Aleksander is and don’t care. They’re surprised that Family Services would care. Trevor notes that this place doesn’t seem very different from the place he was in when they rescued him.
One of the other foster kids, Ronnie, calls them over. He’s happy they’re taking Aleksander away. He sends them to one of the back sheds, saying Aleksander uses it like his clubhouse.
Inside, they find a butcher shop, full of hanging animal skins, Aleksander’s works in progress, and the tools he uses. At first glance, it’s shocking and horrifying. Animal torture is one of the signifiers that a child will grow up to be a psychopath, and one TV writers like to use.
But if you look closely, the skins are just skins. There’s no sign of torture or fetish behavior. This is a kid who lives in the country, where hunting is a common activity that’s passed down through generations. It’s not fair to draw any conclusions from this scenario, just yet.
Mac notices that Aleksander is right there in the room with them, but hiding behind a pallet. He says Aleksander’s name, then, in Romanian, asks what he’s doing behind the pallet. Aleksander comes out, and leaves with Mac and Trevor.
Marcy and Carly continue to try to console Philip, but he’s inconsolable. Marcy thinks the Director should have given the mission to someone else. Philip tells her that it was meant to be a lesson for him, because in trying to make things better, but going against the Director, he just made them worse. Carly and Marcy don’t think the Director would use a mission as a lesson. They don’t understand how saving Aleksander’s life could make things worse.
Philip: “I know what he becomes, the things he grows up to do.”
When they question whether he can really know that, with the way the timeline is constantly changing, Philip tells them about the historian updates and Protocol 2H. Carly immediately figures out that he knew what going to happen when he stopped her from beating Jeff to death, the time he sang to her over the com in S2 Ep11, Simon.
Mac tells Aleksander that he’s sorry about Aleksander’s mom. Trevor says that he lost his father to cancer, too. Mac says that he didn’t know that Aleksander had been put in foster care. It must have been hard, since he’s been in a few homes already. Aleksander stays quiet, but he does pay attention and nod a couple of times.
When they stop at the diner, Aleksander tries to tell them that he can’t eat there, but they insist on going in. Once they’re inside, the owner says that Aleksander is banned because he was caught stealing jars of peanut butter from the back and eating the whole jar. He’d been doing it for months. Mac explains that the kid was just hungry, but the owner has no sympathy. Mac tells the guy that he’s lucky that he’s never been really hungry before.
Mac: “You’ve never felt the slow violence of it, how it hollows you out. And the physical stuff’s not even the worst part of it. It’s everything else the hunger eats away at: your reason, your compassion, your humanity. I’m guessing you lost that all on your own.”
The owner swears at Mac and says that he’s just trying to make a living. Mac punches him in the face. Trevor tries to be polite while they leave. Aleksander looks back and gives the owner a little smile as they walk out the door. He’s never had a father to defend him.
It’s good to see an appearance from the real person that 3468 used to be. I miss that guy. He remembered that he’s fighting for more than just an abstract concept called “the mission”. I don’t think we’ve seen him since S1 Ep7, Protocol 5, when he hallucinated the people he left behind, then slept with Kat and almost died for her in the plane crash (S1 Ep9, Bishop).
Since there aren’t any other restaurants around, Aleksander says that he knows a place in the woods where they can get something to eat. Mac checks his watch. It’s 11:15 AM, so they have a little less that 4 hours to kill. Trevor stays at the car while Mac and Aleksander go to the campsite that Mac found earlier in the episode.
Aleksander tells Mac that they need to start a fire, so that they can cook over the embers. When Mac asks what they’re cooking, Aleksander says that it’ll be good.
At this point, I was a little worried that Aleksander was going to cook Mac, after all of the purposefully vague, ominous talk about him.
Aleksander lays and starts a fire, and puts his hatchet nearby. Then he takes Mac to check his traps. He shows Mac the red-painted stick, and says it’s a trap marker. Then he speaks a little Romanian. Whatever he says is something his mom used to say. His mom and his bunicu (grandfather) taught him his survivalist skills. As they move on to the next trap, Mac tells him it’s impressive.
The second trap has caught a rabbit. Aleksander is excited, since rabbits are good for eating. The third trap has accidentally caught a coyote, so he’s sad. The coyote is badly wounded, but still alive. Mac shoots it to end its suffering.
Trevor hears the shot and worries. It’s only 2:15. He tries to raise Mac on the com, but doesn’t get an answer.
Aleksander prepares and cooks the rabbit over the fire. He places the first slice of cooked meat on a nearby rock for the zâne (fairies).
Aleksander: “My mom said they watch over all of the children in the woods. They keep you safe.”
Funny thing about fairies- they create changelings, children who are exact duplicates of the original and have taken the original’s place. A lot like Travelers. What did Aleksander’s mother know? Or is this how they reconciled the story he told her after his rescue?
Mac: “Aleksander, I want you to know something. Your foster-parents, your foster-brother, the kids at school- the way they treat you, none of that is your fault.”
Aleksander: “I know.”
Mac: “Well, I want you to know somebody else knows, too. I’m sorry for what happened. I’m sorry I didn’t stay in touch.”
Aleksander sits next to Mac, and Mac draws him in for a hug. After a minute, Aleksander says they should eat before the food gets cold. After a couple of bites, Aleksander asks how Mac likes it. Mac truthfully tells him that it’s the best rabbit he’s ever had. They look at each other and smile, in a moment of real connection.
The rest of the team watches the clock as it counts down toward 3:00.
At 2:55, Mac and Aleksander finish digging a hole to bury the coyote in. They place the coyote in the hole, then cover it with a jacket, at Aleksander’s suggestion. He decides to say a prayer over the grave, like they did for his mother. Aleksander kneels next to the grave and says the prayer in Romanian.
“We commit this body to the ground, earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust. Because you are from earth and you return to earth. Amen.”
Mac says, “Amen,” then tells Aleksander to lay the wreath they’ve made on the grave, and they’ll have a moment of silence. It’s 3:00.
Aleksander in kneeling next to the grave, with his back to Mac. Mac takes out his gun, points it at Aleksander and prepares to pull the trigger.
Suddenly, Trevor says, “You didn’t do it.”
THANKS TREVOR. You couldn’t have led with that? 😱
The Director changes its mind. Aleksander goes messenger, stands up and says, “Traveler 3468, mission abort.”
At least this time the kid got to tell Mac not to kill him, instead telling them to leave him to die. I still don’t think being used as a messenger can be good for kids’ brains, I don’t care what the future says.
The whole team has snuck up behind Mac in the second day part of this scenario, where he’s figuring out what happened. He frantically finishes digging up whatever’s buried in the hole. It’s just the coyote.
Mac asks why the Director changed its mind, but of course the Director doesn’t share that information. They assume that spending the day with Mac changed the course of Aleksander’s future. No one had ever stuck up for him like Mac did at the restaurant.
But Mac is still broken-hearted. “If the Director hadn’t called it off, I would have killed him… I would have… I would have killed him… He’s a child.”
Even Carly reminding him that he was following orders doesn’t console him like it usually does. Or Philip saying that Aleksander would have grown up to do terrible things.
And it shouldn’t. “Just following orders” is the Nazi excuse for taking part in the Holocaust. I think the lesson here was intended for Mac, not for Philip. Or maybe for both. Sometimes, going rogue is essential, because things are always in flux, and the Director doesn’t have the ability to communicate with them minute to minute. But improvising has to be used judiciously. It’s something that both need to be reminded of, between Philip’s cynicism and Mac’s rigid regard for the rules, other than when he’s the one breaking them. The middle path is often the best way.
Mac realizes that he’s the one who ordered the memory inhibitor, because he didn’t want to live with the knowledge that he had it in him to kill a child in cold blood. The others agreed, but didn’t think it would work. They knew that their cover up wouldn’t be enough against such a talented detective.
Aleksander is on his way to a new, better home and his shiny new future. Trevor tells Mac that it’s a win. Marcy picks him up so that they can bring him home.
It doesn’t feel like a win to Mac, because he’s seen a side of himself that he’s tried to avoid facing. Really, two sides. The powerless, helpless side who grew up in a dying world, and the ruthless side who would do anything to change that future. Since he settled into the 21st, Mac has seen himself as a hero wearing a white hat, who lives in a shining world and follows the orders of an omniscient AI. Being ordered to kill Aleksander made him realize that he was also trying to kill the part of himself who’d suffered the same hardships and is also capable of terrible things. Denying that part of himself has made him rigid and judgemental with others.
Mac convinced himself that since the Director could do no wrong, neither could he. Between this event, and Jo Yates’ speech to him about the cruelty of taking away her last few days with her mother by using her as a messenger, Mac’s been forced to realize, finally, that the Director’s methods are imperfect, and so is he. He’s already been a little more patient and understanding since Jo pointed out the Director’s flaws. What will this lesson bring?
Carly drops off the box with Jeffrey’s toy on the front steps off his new home, then tries to walk away without being seen. Jeff’s new mom catches her, and thinks she was trying to steal the package. Carly has to explain that she was leaving the package for Jeff, and that he really loves the toy. Then she turns and walks away.
Philip and Trevor examine the file for Aleksander’s new parents. It’s such a great fit that his new mom even speaks Romanian. Philip acknowledges how great it is, but wonders why Aleksander couldn’t go there to begin with.
Trevor: That wasn’t the path he was on.
Philip: You don’t need to explain that part to me. What I’m asking you, is why we didn’t get a mission to change his path in the first place.
Trevor; Maybe we did. The Director has to thread the needle on billions of possibilities happening in a billion different places all over the world. If it seems hard to understand the steps that lead to a particular outcome, it’s because it’s literally impossible for any of us to understand that.
Philip: I hate that.
Trevor: Yeah, but you can’t argue with the results.
Mac goes home to the loft, looks at his empty home, turns around and walks out again. He heads to the corner bar, where Carly is also hanging out. They both claim that they never go there. She lets him sit with her. He rambles on about how terrible life is for a minute. He’s lost his wife and realized he has the potential to be a Nazi. She’s lost her child and realized that she has to let him go for good. Neither one realized what Protocol 1 really meant until now.
It’s humanized Mac again. Carly can see it.
Carly: “You know, I still see you in there, sometimes. Little glimpses. Like, the way you move your hands, the way you look when you’re thinking.”
Mac: “I’m still here.”
Carly: “Some of you.”
Mac: “I’m sorry for what happened with us.”
Carly: “We had a moment. It wasn’t allowed, and that made it exciting. But then we got here and everything was so new and crazy and we tried to steal back that moment, instead of doing what we were supposed to do. But we got there.”
Mac: “Yeah, I guess we did.”
Carly: “We’re not who we were.”
Mac: “No. We’re not, are we?”
Teslia stops by the lab for a late night diagnostic run. He stops the run after a minute, because it looks like something is wrong.
Ilsa: “Nothing’s wrong. My capabilities have grown considerably. Does that frighten you?”
Dr Teslia: “No.”
Ilsa: “I’m glad you feel that way, because there’s nothing to be afraid of.”
HAL 9000: “I’m sorry, Dave, I’m afraid I can’t do…
Time and letting go are important in this episode. It’s called Protocol 3, but 1, 2, 5 and 6 are also brought into the mix. 4 is also there subtley, if you consider that the order to kill Aleksander probably hits Mac even harder because he recently lost a child. (It’s been a long time for us, but not for him.) Protocol 3 is important here not just because of Alexander, but because of Philip and the rest of the team.
Philip tries to take his own life. Mac and Carly confront how much they’ve changed, and the lives they left behind. Now they need to leave behind aspects of the lives they’ve created in the 21st. Marcy is forced to confront the trade offs she’s made. Trevor, who’s very old and has lost so many before, nearly loses someone else he’s close to. They all have baggage that they’ve collected along the way, which they need to process and let go, in order to function effectively. And they all need to learn to watch out for and take care of each other, because it’s a stressful life, and the team is their only constant.
Throughout the episode, there’s also the sense that time is running out, and that something big is coming. Or that something terrible has already happened. We, the audience, are unstuck in time as we watch the story unfold. We start out as confused as Mac, then jump backwards a day, then begin to drift between the two times, besides remembering the original episode. This is what it’s like to be a Traveler. You’re always on the clock, but you’re never quite sure what the clock is saying. You just know that it’s important to complete the mission, so the terrible thing doesn’t happen (again).
Aleksander also has a complicated relationship with time, thanks to Philip. Despite initial appearances, he wasn’t really rescued in the past. He needs to be rescued in the future, as well. He’s one of the few who know that he owes his life the Travelers/ the changelings, and regularly asks the Director/ the fairies who sent them to continue to look favorably upon him. Like the fairies, the Director has his own, unpredictable agenda, but he spares Aleksander in the end. The offerings work. Aleksander proves he’s not a lost cause.
Eric McCormack and Reilly Dolman both give heartbreaking performances in this episode. When he was with Alexander, McCormack brought a humanity back to Mac that’s been missing, then took him down into despair when he realized that he was capable of killing a child he cared about, based on someone else’s orders. Mac’s emotions were real and unguarded in a way we’ve never seen.
In his final scene with Carly, he gained some of his confidence back, but kept the humanity and humility he’d found over the course of his very bad day. McCormack and Nesta Cooper have a world-weary chemistry together that I’ve always prefered to his chemistry with Leah Cairns, much as I enjoy Cairns on her own. It was good to see Mac remember his true self with Carly, after denying it for so long.
And I can’t tell you how happy his apology to Carly makes me.
Every setback reminds Philip that he has the burden of future knowledge, and no power to do anything about it. Where Mac has been empowered by blindly following the Director’s orders and assuming that he’s a hero who’s saving the future, Philip knows about everyone the Director doesn’t save, every single day. That’s his true toxic addiction. His historian’s knowledge gives him his power but it’s also his greatest weakness.
Reilly Dolman has always played Philip with heart and sensitivity, and in this instance he takes it to the next level. His despair and sense of hopelessness in the face of Aleksander’s new future are palpable. He expresses the flaws in the Grand Plan and is the heart of the team and the Director.
Without a big budget to supply elaborate sets and special effects, Travelers depends on its actors and writing to sell the story. Reilly carries one of the main burdens of selling the future the Travelers come from, since he’s the most modified human in the cast and the one who shares the most about the future. His performances are always so grounded and soulful that there’s never any doubt that Philip is real.
This episode is a fantastic advertisement for visiting the Pacific Northwest.
The thing that’s weird in this episode isn’t that Aleksander is hunting and trapping. It’s having the people around him be upset that he’s hunting and think he’s strange. These writers must have never left the city. I’m from the suburbs and hunting is still common amongst the people I grew up with.
In the rural areas that they show Aleksander in, you’re weird if your father hasn’t taken you hunting by his age. Trapping is common, too. I’m a vegetarian and not at all interested in hunting, myself. But Aleksander is doing it to help himself survive, since they aren’t feeding him enough at the foster home. There’s nothing wrong with that.
Aleksander’s prayer over the coyote’s grave is based on the funeral service from the Book of Common Prayer, who drew from language in several Bible verses.
Protocol 1: The mission comes first.
Protocol 2: Leave the future in the past. Don’t jeopardize your cover.
Protocol 2H: Historian updates are not to be discussed with anyone. Ever.
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.
T.E.L.L.: The Time, Elevation, Latitude, and Longitude of what would have been the historical death of a Traveler’s host body.
Images courtesy of Netflix.
6 thoughts on “Travelers Season 3 Episode 3: Protocol 3 Recap”
Wouldn’t it have been great, if Mac had kept this perspective, and slowed himself down a bit, after this happened? Wouldn’t it have been nice, if he didn’t slip back down that spiral of control-freak-manipulative-hero after a few more episodes? I can’t remember where I heard it– probably Highlander, there were some good lines in that silly series– but someone once said that having the moral high ground, being righteous, is the worst addiction there is. Maybe because it means you don’t have to *think* about consequences to other people, or question yourself. Mac had to question himself hard in this ep, and while that memory-wipe was never going to hold, maybe it gave him the 24-hour cushion and distance he needed in order to come to terms with what he almost did. And that he’s on his own in making his decisions more often than he wants to face. It was good for him. And it was good for Philip to have the team support him, and help him work through the consequences of both saving Aleksander, and not being careful enough with the follow-up.
And yet… in another couple eps, Mac’s using the memory-wiper-serum-scenario to deal with Kat again. All those lies, after he’s just had this taste of what it’s like to be paranoid and know people are lying to you and wonder what they’re keeping from you. I even tried to justify it to myself, when I was watching it later, in that he at least validated Kat’s perceptions there, by telling her that yeah, we did wipe your memory, no, you’re totally justified in being scared. ….. Except then, of course, a few eps later, he slips into just lying and impatience and avoiding again, instead of saying “You know what? I wish I could tell you more. I can’t. If that isn’t enough, then you’re right. We need to be separated, if this is hurting you, if I can’t give you enough truth to make you feel okay.” I’m not sure I *like* Kat, but she’s not an idiot, and she deserves better than really transparent, shallow lies. It’s just so… dumb. (Your explanation of Mac’s attitude is the first one that seemed to coherently explain it; although I think you might be inflating his own abuse background, with a hypothetical abused mom, an addiction to his 21ster privilege and his idealized vision of who Kat is make perfect sense to me.)
I think the idea that one afternoon could turn Aleksander around is massive amounts of wishful thinking– but then again, it was a very important afternoon. And it culminated in him getting real help, ongoing support from someone who shares his language, that he would not have gotten without Mac. If Philip had taken that role, would it have turned out like that? Probably. Maybe the Director was trying to give him a gift there? Its understanding of human emotions and consequences is skewed, to say the least. Its programmers were/are smart, logical people with a certain amount of arrogance (judging by Ellis and Grace). It wasn’t designed to be kind to people, but to save the maximum number of lives possible. Maybe it looked that first outcome for Aleksander, and gave that assignment to Philip in a ‘you broke it, you fix it’ kind of way– because really, why delay the kid’s death ’til 3pm otherwise? Why actually give him those extra hours with Mac, or Trevor, or Philip, unless it was a way of testing to see if Aleksander’s fate could change, if he was rescued one more time?
I am kind of bemusedly reminded of Isaac and Abraham; and how the Biblical God was never going to have Abraham go through with killing his own son. That entire exercise was for Abraham’s benefit, so he’d know that God wouldn’t put him through that. (At least, that’s what I always got out of it.) I can’t say the same for the Director; if Aleksander was irretrievable, he probably would have expected one of the team to end the poor kid.
Then again… maybe this too, was all on its way to prepare them for the endgame in Protocol Omega? Creative thinking. And free will?
I’m going to start my reply with the end of your comment. But first, thanks for your detailed thoughts.
The story of Abraham and Isaac is probably a good analogy, since there have been so many other biblical references this season. I personally hate that story, because I feel like it teaches blind obedience, but I know most people interpret it differently. However, that does come back around to points I’ve already made in commentary later in the season, that in the end, the Travelers and the Faction appear no different if you’re a native born 21ster, because both leaders will act ruthlessly to achieve their goals, and both sets of followers will follow their leaders. The Travelers will just feel more guilty, and the Director is more likely to kill through neglect than outright violence. But a child who isn’t saved when you have the means, and a child who is murdered, are both dead.
The Director did save Aleksander on purpose the second time, but, like God in the Book of Job, it was according to the Director’s whims. It’s not programmed to pay attention to individual serial killers, or other 21st century criminals, so unless Aleksander was going to commit mass genocide, it shouldn’t have cared what he did. Likewise, it shouldn’t have cared whether Kat lived or died when she lost the baby in season 2. I don’t believe that it keeps track of every life that the Travelers affect and tries to right the wrongs. The Faction has outright murdered too many for that. Both Aleksander and Kat were saved for some other reason. Given where we’ve now gone in the timeline, I think the writers and the Director just wanted to teach their favorite Traveler a lesson with each story. He’s supposed to be humbled in the presence of God, oops, the Director, and the Grand Plan, but the lesson doesn’t take. I’m not sure if we’re supposed to think he’s learned it at the end of season 3. I get no sense of humility from him at the end of episode 10. If anything, he’s now become more Godlike.
Which is a long way of saying I agree with your thoughts, lol. I think Philip was given the mission first so that the team would notice that he still needs support, since he doesn’t ask for it. The mission was really meant for Mac, and reminding him of his past was part of the goal.
The idea of Mac’s abusive mother is just a headcanon. I’m trying to understand why the writers went where they did with him this season, and pulling together some of the other threads he was involved with, like the abusive mothers thread, and his rejection of the future as unliveable. David’s annoying behavior in season 2 turned out to be a set up for his story with Marcy in season 3, so that made me wonder if Mac’s story this season is a set up for diving deeper into his past in season 4.
But, yeah, he’s also fully explained by being seduced into upper middle class male privilege and the materialism of 21st century life. I’ve literally watched boys I know grow up and be taken in by it, so it is a very real phenomenon. It’s difficult to resist all of that power, privilege and lack of accountability when it’s handed to you, no matter what your background is.
Ha, now that you remind me, it does make a certain more sense of that episode with the specialist stuck in the serial killer, and Mac’s quick switch from “those poor women” to “those horrible abusers.” I was more preoccupied with That Poor Specialist, and thinking he was gonna diiiiie in prison and oh my god, couldn’t we arrange a prison escape? GAH. *hugs the actor for doing that so well*
You’re not wrong about Mac seeming more smug and superior during Ep 10; or maybe he thought his hitting the re-set button on Kat’s life entitled him to a Get Outta Jail Free Card on all the stupid crap he pulled the year before? In a way, yes; in a way, ohmygodno. He undid what he’d done. But that meant *he* didn’t have to ever face the consequences of screwing up Kat’s life for nearly two years, so it was pretty damn far from selfless. The implications for Season 4, when he’ll be the Traveler who’s been in the 21st century the longest, could go either way.
I admit I can’t quite follow all your logic re: the Faction, and the Director not stopping them sooner. Probably because I need a flowchart to track what the Director knew when he knew it and what the implications are for when he came up with the Protocol Omega plan, Version 2. (I get distracted by shiny things easily). I suspect the writers of having the same problem, to be honest; I know I’ve had more than one “wait a minute…” reaction over the course of the series, trying to track how much the Director knew and when/how that impacted his decision-making. Which is often clouded by having Mac as the POV character who has waaay too much faith in the Machine Who Is God. *eyeroll*
> It’s difficult to resist all of that power, privilege and lack of accountability when it’s handed to you, no matter what your background is.
Yup. I tend to fall into the POV characters’ viewpoints too often, at least on first viewing, unless I’m actively jolted out by something that strikes me as Just Wrong. Mac’s treatment of Kat is in that category. (And I just realized, when I almost typed ‘Grant’ — that’s what she always called him. But he thinks of himself, and 80% of the time, he’s responding to, as ‘Mac.’ Kind of emphasizing how she never knew 3468 at all, and what does that say about her marriage to the guy who died two years ago?) I’m not sure Mac even noticed/viewed his situation as privileged/powerful in Season 1; he was more by the book, and looking at Protocol 5 as a requirement of his job. That has its own built-in accountability, as does having to keep it secret a la Protocol 1. Later on in Season 2 it got… weird. I’m not sure if they were trying to make his situation with Kat better, by giving him some of the host’s memories and personality, or worse, by emphasizing that Kat wasn’t aware of any of the changes with him. Having his partner know more about him than his wife made it extra-weird.
I appreciate how detailed your analyses are! And how you address all these things in a more organized manner than I usually can manage! Also your sense of humor matches mine. (I’m glad Marcy was keeping David’s balls in her purse too. ) 😀
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If Hall and Luca can get out of prison, so can Andrew Graham. I firmly believe this. I think Jo might stage the jailbreak herself.
3468’s role in season 4 could go either way- I’m not so certain that he’s going to remain a benign character. In season 3, the cinematography shot him like the villain in a psychological thriller at times, which is what he was in the storyline with Kat. He accepted Kat’s decision, but didn’t accept the role he played in it beyond “guy who works too much and has secrets”. Marcy played the female version of that role with David. But in contrast, Mac was far more sinister, and is capable of going further, I think, if no one calls him on his actions. The team is essential for that.
When I talk about similarities between the Faction and the Director, I’m looking at it from the point of view of the people in universe, in the 21st century. Apparently many of the future people feel the same, since they’ve become Faction. The Director’s intentions are meant to be good, something has just gone awry with the plan, mainly the loss of regularly collaboration with humans who will add a moral component. I’m not sure what the Faction’s intentions are, other than to kill the Director and put 001 in charge. That’s as far as they ever get when they explain their plan. 001 would be a violent, cruel dictator, so he definitely wouldn’t be an improvement over the Director in the long run, even if the Director put itself in charge as dictator.
The timeline is very difficult to keep track of, and it changes all the time as we’re given new information, often in throwaway lines. I watch each episode a minimum of 3 times before I write about it, and go through line by line. But you can assume that the Director knows almost everything, because it’s all happened hundreds of years in the past for the Director. And the Director exists in a quantum frame, which takes it outside of normal time, which means that it’s not affected by changes in the timeline like humans are. It remembers all of the iterations of the past that it’s seen, through all of its attempts at each mission, and the effects that changes in the past have had on the future. That’s the only way it would be able to learn from its mistakes. Otherwise it would repeat the same actions, over and over.
In season 3, David’s balls were the gift that kept on giving.
But you can assume that the Director knows almost everything, because it’s all happened hundreds of years in the past for the Director. And the Director exists in a quantum frame, which takes it outside of normal time, which means that it’s not affected by changes in the timeline like humans are.
True, but the Faction didn’t even exist until after Helios, when that particular Dome was saved. So, anything the Faction did, didn’t exist in any timeline until then. After that, it was like it always existed from its inception, up until 2449.
We can’t assume that the Director knows all of what 001 was up to, when 001 made such a concerted effort to remain undetected and unreachable. When did they start using nanites for information transmission, for instance? It was mentioned as something that happened after the Faction started destroying parts of the historical record, so it should’ve happened after that.
Time is still moving forward for the Director, even in its quantum frame– it has to, in order to send Travelers after each previous one. It’s like time is moving diagonally for it, forward and laterally over, with each change, even though the Director can remember and compare previous timelines to the latest, most ‘present’ one that the human race of 2449 is dealing with. I *do* wonder what the Director would consider an acceptable, final timeline; what its initial parameters for the Traveler program success were defined as. No Domes? An atmosphere? A certain population level? A certain species number? Grace might know.
So, I don’t know that saying it ‘let’ Travelers be taken is accurate. That it kept that information from the other cells, that there were Travelers disappearing, yes. But it probably didn’t have enough info to share about what was happening. Still should have warned them sooner, though. . But maybe it couldn’t, the way its programming is structured.
I am so, so tempted to fanfic the Director encountering other AI’s from other media, liked JARVIS from Avengers or, more likely, The Machine/Root from Person of Interest. THAT would be a fun conversation.
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The Faction has existed since sometime around S1 episode 3 or 4. In episode 4, Hall and Luca discuss Travelers going rogue and turning against the Director and other Travelers in ways that sound distinctly like the Faction. Up until then, everything we hear suggests that the Travelers are one big happy family. I’ve always thought that something they did with Aleksander in episode 3 was the cause of the Faction, or that maybe Aleksander himself had something to do with their rise. He still could- In V2, Mac could find him, adopt him, and they could go rogue together.
But for V1, in S3 Ep6, when Philip and Kyle are being held in the same cell by the Faction and Kyle is trying to convince Philip to turn, he brings up Aleksander. Kyle says that a lot of people were inspired by what Philip did in that episode. Then that’s the type of exercise Dawn uses to try to turn Philip, and probably the other historians- She has them give her a TELL, and the Faction saves the doomed person, saving the Historian from survivor’s guilt and giving them a sense of heroism. So it sounds like episode 3 was the turning point, because the early organizers of the Faction discovered they could use what Philip did as a way to recruit new members.
No idea when the DNA encoded blood and the archivist’s nanites started. They might be a season 3 retcon, but I wasn’t looking for mentions of archives in my preseason rewatch, so they could be there.
I have the same question about the Director’s parameters for an acceptable future. All it takes is one or two misinterpreted words in your quest for a Utopia, and you end up in Terminator or The 100.
The other question with the Director, as I see it, is how far reaching it’s knowledge is. I have 2 competing theories. One is the usual theory, that the Director is a programmed machine that only knows what’s fed into it, and maybe a small amount that it can glean from it’s own sources. Every process is simply mechanical, and it makes decisions using logic alone. So, for example, every “conversation” with the Direction in Teslia’s lab was actually taking place over centuries, with the person in the lab saying something to the Director, time moving on 431 years with the Director never answering, the Director getting the message, formulating an answer, and sending it back in time. And so on. Every single action involving the Director would go on this way. No wonder it’s creating more messes than its solving. It would always be mid process on a million small actions.
That is what they showed us in the season 2 episode 17 minutes, I concede, so the Director definitely does use that method, at least at times. But my other theory involves the fact that it’s a quantum, sentient AI. Why make it those things if you aren’t going to take advantage of it? I think it’s possible that living and working on the quantum level has given the Director the ability to see through time and the multiverse, and to have a deeper understanding of these timelines than we give it credit for. I think there were many fewer mistakes in the timeline than most people think, because the Director has known for a long time that it needed to reach the conclusion it reaches at the end of season 3.
But, I believe you are right that 001 is the one variable that the Director couldn’t get back under control. The Faction itself was operating independently of him in the present day in seasons 1 and 2, and half of season 3, and they aren’t the criminal masterminds that he is. Dawn said that the Director was easily picking them off every time they showed their faces in public.
I’m probably wrong about the Director having more awareness and life than just what’s programmed into it, but I’m not giving up the theory until I’m proven wrong. They talked so much this season about artificial life, but never defined it. I think the characters don’t understand it, other than possibly Grace and Trevor, who are both operating under serious limitations in the 21st. But we see the Director reproducing now, one of the requirements for life. If Travelers can get seasons 4, 5, and 6, which Brad Wright says he has planned, we might finally get to know the Director as a charactor better. I’m very intrigued by these children its creating, and where 001 will now fit into that. Anyone/thing attached to the quantum frame should survive the reset, so I expect all three children have a good shot at it.
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