[Timeless] Recap • 202 Darlington 500

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By Rose Maura Lorre for Vulture.com

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Remember back in season one when Emma briefly teamed up with Flynn in the present day to take down Rittenhouse? That episode featured an otherwise throwaway scene that began with Emma telling Flynn and Anthony (aww, pour one out for Anthony!) everything she knew about that sinister syndicate. By the time we saw the confab, though, she was done with her explanation: The first thing we heard was her wrapping it up by blithely saying, “… and that’s Rittenhouse’s dirty little secret.”

As I wrote at the time, Timeless’s wobbly approach to divulging the full story behind Rittenhouse can be frustrating — and that cheap-laugh editing gag was probably my A-1 most frustrated heretofore. As snort-worthy and vexing (and, granted, minor) as it was, however, it’s nothing like the way I’m feeling about the end of tonight’s episode.

Did you buy anything about this ending? I did not. I did not buy that Keynes’s hand-painted “map” (my bad, Keynes, it’s not a map) somehow elucidated Rittenhouse’s mission so powerfully that everyone standing in that room at Rittenhouse HQ was instantly taken in by it. With its muddy tones, faux-calligraphy cursive and faux-Renaissance aura, I didn’t buy his composition at all. (It looked like a ‘90s girly folk-pop album cover.) I didn’t buy the office drones who looked like they’d set aside their TPS reports to blankly gaze upon Keynes’s painting. I didn’t buy that Keynes himself has the makings of a quasi-cult leader. I especially didn’t buy how his map affected Emma and Lucy’s mom so differently. Emma trolls Keynes and his “pickled eggs” one minute, then falls head over heels for his map the next. Meanwhile, Lucy’s mom, who’s just passionately defended Keynes to Emma, appears deeply worried as soon as she casts her eyes on the very same map that Emma found so captivating. Lady, you effectively disowned your daughter because you’re so in the tank for Rittenhouse. How is it possible that this map is what finally makes you feel doubt?

With that rant out of the way (don’t worry, I otherwise enjoyed this ep!), let’s shift gears to talk about someone else poring over another map. “The Darlington 500” opens with Ryan Millerson studying the track’s layout in his idyllic 1950s-era home, complete with a devoted wife and a bun in the oven. In retrospect, I wonder if Millerson reviewed that map so intently because of his dedication to his Rittenhouse suicide mission to blow up a grandstand full of car-company execs … or because he had become so personally invested in his NASCAR persona that he really cared about winning the race. It felt more to me like the latter, which, of course, would violate Rittenhouse’s code of ethics: The mission is always what’s most important. But the fact that Millerson is wavering on his commitment to that mission has become something of a theme, given Lucy’s mom’s reaction to Keynes’s map and Emma’s reaction to the news that Millerson’s cover includes a pregnant wife who she’ll seemingly (and reluctantly) have to kill. If there’s a deeper idea at play in “The Darlington 500” — and I think there is — it’s the idea of the personal vs. the political. How does one influence the other, and how do you decide which to act on when it counts?

Seeing that Rittenhouse has taken the Mothership to South Carolina circa 1955, Lucy and Agent Christopher pay a visit to Flynn in prison to find out why. (Agent Christopher protests this decision on the grounds that Flynn is “unhinged,” which made me feel bad for him because it’s a plainly inaccurate assessment of the man. No need to kick Flynn when he’s down, Agent Wet Blanket!) As Lucy feints to leave, Flynn miraculously remembers Millerson’s home address, then tells her, “This one’s free. Next one will cost you.” Yay! #FreeFlynn!

Just as the Scooby Gang is about to take off, Wyatt hears the name “Ryan Millerson” and starts gushing about his NASCAR career. It’s fun seeing Wyatt geek out when they arrive at the race, and not just for us: Rufus tells him, “I didn’t realize you were such a stone-cold nerd.” As they strive to find Ryan before Rittenhouse does (not yet realizing that Ryan is Rittenhouse), Wyatt gets to meet another one of his heroes: Wendell Scott, one of the first black NASCAR champions. (He’s a real guy, by the way, and I found myself mooning over him as much as Wyatt.) I’ve long believed that Timeless lives or dies by its guest casting, especially when it comes to historical figures. I’d never heard of Scott before, but now I not only want to read up on him, I also totes want to be his BFF. Guest star Joseph Lee Anderson, I know I sound like a menschy agent when I say this, but what a face! And what a sunshine-y performance as a good-hearted guy with a mischievous streak and an alluring twinkle in his eye. It’s no wonder Wyatt feels so comfortable opening up to him with his sad-dad stories, or that the Scooby Gang relies on him time and again for help out of a jam. (Like when, oh, I dunno, Wyatt shoots Millerson dead.)

In a sense, Wendell is basically the opposite of Keynes because I buy everything he does. I buy that he’s put off by Rufus’s brother-recognizing-brother “nod” even as he cheerfully accepts that the white folks of the South will try to railroad his racing career. I even buy that he’s willing to stick his neck out time and again for three strangers spend the whole hour finding reasons to leave and then go back to the racetrack, all while yanking his chain about what they’re up to (lol, commie hunters). Heck, if Wendell made a pit stop for pickled eggs in the middle of one of his bootlegging runs, I wouldn’t even think twice about it. In the end, the Scooby Gang’s back-and-forth hijinks culminate with a fun dirt-road police chase that’s so Dukes of Hazzard–esque, I half-expected Waylon Jennings to start narrating the thing.

Meanwhile, back in 2018, Mason is acting dumb again by breaking out of the team’s bunker to deliver a keynote at some tech-y TED talk against Agent Christopher’s orders. Unless this story line is meant to portend Mason going dangerously rogue at some point in the near future, it feels like unneeded filler and another example of Mason being not only useless to the Scooby Gang, but a narratively insignificant character. (Sorry, I know that’s harsh.) A story line with much more tantalizing potential, if rolled out well, is Jiya’s time-jumping visions. While last week’s season premiere paid some perfunctory nods to that development by having her faint a few times, this week she literally foresees the burns that Rufus sustains on his arm as he’s trying to help fix Wendell’s engine.

That reminds me, if you’ll forgive one last gripe about something I didn’t buy: Rufus and Jiya aren’t sleeping in the same bed? After Jiya sees the actual burn on Rufus’s arm, he giddily suggests making breakfast for their bunker-mates in the morning — you know, after they go to sleep in separate quarters, as grown boyfriends and girlfriends do. Sheesh, kids! You’re actually making me wish the show would speed up #Lyatt’s romance, even though I think Timeless has done a great job slow-cooking that sexual chemistry with a few near-kisses here and there.

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