Travelers is such a fascinating series for the way it lives on the periphery of Netflix. It’s one of the streaming network’s most binged series, but it’s also one of the least talked about. The first two seasons were co-produced by Netflix and Canada’s Showcase, and while I have no idea how well the show performed in Canada, clearly it performs well enough on Netflix that the streaming service decided to take it on solo. That’s actually great news for the future of the series, because Netflix decidedly favors originals they produce themselves (rather than those by outside studios, like the Marvel series), and with very little global star power (Eric McCormick is the series’ only well-known star in America) and what looks like relatively inexpensive production values, this show could theoretically run for years.
That’s only valuable, however, if the show continues to be good television, and this third season is arguably its best. It reminds me so much of the Tennant years on Doctor Who for the way it plays with time and other sci-fi tropes, but it never loses sight of the characters and their humanity. The stakes grow exponentially in season three, but the focus remains grounded — nuclear bombs go off in major cities, but our hearts are still with characters like David Mailer, the Rose Tyler of Travelers — a constant reminder of why the Travelers continue to pursue their agenda. They want to save the planet for people like David.
What was so fun about the first season of Travelers was witnessing characters from the post-apocalyptic future take over 21st-century host bodies and try to acclimate themselves not only to the present but in families with which they had little knowledge. It was fish-out-of-water sci-fi: These characters who had spent their lives drinking recycled water and chemically-engineered food got to taste real hamburgers for the first time, but they also had to maintain their covers by learning how to be husbands and wives and sons and girlfriends to people they didn’t know, all the while completing missions designed to save the future of the planet.
The second season, admittedly, lost its way a little, but it found the track again in the third, even as it dug deeper into the mythology of the series. The biggest threat to the Travelers in the third season is the Faction, another set of Travelers who reject the goals of the Director, who is basically an AI computer that devises missions based on algorithms and percentages. The Director believes that if it stops this and this and this from happening in the past, that the future will become a better place. The Faction, however, is made up of Travelers who have come from a future where they have realized that nothing that the Travelers have accomplished has managed to change anything. It’s futile. So, while our sympathies obviously lie with the Travelers, it’s fair to note, at least, that the Faction has a point. The Travelers program has not worked because, as David notes, the only way to save the planet for the future is to convince those in the present to takes steps to preserve it for future generations instead of trying to do it for them.
There’s a lot of infighting among the Travelers and the Faction in the third season — and several present-day authorities who are now aware of the Travelers’ work, including Joanne Yates (Kimberly Sustad), an FBI Agent who also acts as Grant’s partner/handler. I won’t go so far as to say that all the infighting is “noise,” but it’s also not what season three is really about. The focus remains on the characters. The marriage of Grant MacLaren (Eric McCormack) and Kathryn (Leah Cairns) is still on the rocks because Kathryn suspects that Grant is not who he says he is (he’s not). Trevor (Jared Abrahamson) is a very old man living inside a very young body, but he’s having to deal with the mortality of his soul. Carly Shannon (Nesta Cooper) is still dealing with her abusive ex-husband, but that takes an unexpected twist several episodes into season three, leaving her with a new set of circumstances with which to grapple. The drug dependency of Phillip’s host body also wreaks havoc on Phillip, who also has to contend with visions of other timelines.
This season is wise, however, to keep much of the focus on the heart and soul of Travelers, Marcy (MacKenzie Porter) and David (Patrick Gilmore), the latter of whom tries to pick up some super-spy kills after his abduction last year, which eventually leads him into the middle of a mission. I won’t spoil anything except to say that episodes 7-10 reminded me so much of the best episodes of the 10th Doctor and Rose — the love the two have for each other takes center stage even as the world (literally) blows up around them.
Ultimately, some of the sci-fi logistics of The Travelers stumble near the end of the season as things go to hell, but creator Brad Wright papers over those problems with some truly heartfelt moments that keeps the series firmly focused on the humanity of these characters.
And what about that ending? Oh boy.
OK, so, well: Yes. That ending. Like Doctor Who, it was also very Deus ex Moffat — Grant undoes the entire series with a single email. David’s dead, Marcy’s dead, Grant’s wife has left him, Trevor’s about to die, nuclear bombs have gone off in four cities, and everything has gone to complete hell. So, Phillip (Reilly Dolman) devises a plan to send Grant back to Grant’s body years before the Traveler program has even begun, and from the past, Grant sends an email to the Director in the distant future essentially telling him that the Travelers program doesn’t work and to abort it. The Director does so, which means that nothing that happened in the first three seasons ever happened. The timeline has been completely erased, although we clearly see glimpses of the new timeline in Phillip’s visions of alt-timelines (and one of those timelines sees Marcy and David marry!).
The Director, however, does reboot the Travelers Program, Version 2, which means that if the series returns for a season four — and I suspect it will — it can do so with the same characters, or a completely different cast, or a combination of the two (Eric McCormick, who is doing 18 episodes of Will & Grace a year, doesn’t need to do this anymore, and I can imagine a fourth season in which Joanne Yates is the team leader).
It’s a complete reset — the Director is basically doing what Ted Danson does on The Good Place when things go awry — he just starts all over again from the beginning. In some ways, it gives the show the freedom to do anything it wants in season 4. In other ways, it renders it all meaningless, because to the Director, it’s all basically a computer simulation and he can keep trying until he finally gets it right. That would be a lot more frustrating, however, if the show weren’t so good about getting the characters right.
And as for that David and Marcy tag at the end? That at least shows, if season four were to return, that Marcy and David hopefully meet again in Version 2.0. (As some commenters have pointed out, that could be either Host Marcy or Original Marcy, although it being Original Marcy would be slightly upsetting, if only because it illustrates that David was interested in the body instead of the person inside). So, in The Good Place parlance, Marcy and David are the Chidi and Eleanor of The Travelers: Destined to be together no matter what, and as long as they continue as characters on The Travelers, this show can count me in as a viewer.
Header Image Source: Netflix