Looking back to the first episode of this season, the time travel aspect is baby steps, compared to the timeline of the last episode. Creators Terry Matalas and Travis Fickett seem to take an unholy joy in creating convoluted timelines and challenging the audience to follow along on their trip. Especially with this last one, you get the sense that the writers have been easing us into following different time streams, patiently waiting to really amp up the time travel aspects of the show. They are revving the engine just because they can, prepared us for the race ahead, and Christopher Monfette keeps the pacing seamless, smoothly transitioning the show from the present to not only one, but now two futures.
At the end of the previous episode, the Pallid Man kidnaps Cassie just as Cole splinters back to 2043. However, it isn’t the future we are familiar with, the facility is now run by the West 7 and Jones is a woman who’s life’s work never came to fruition. Ramse is now leader of the West 7 and there’s an entertaining scene as Cole recites facts about him to make him believe that this man with the face of his dead friend is that actual friend from an alternate time. I was on tenterhooks waiting for a mention of Ramse’s shoe size (eleven) but alas, it only takes Cole mentioning the woman Ramse loved for him to believe. Whitley too makes an appearance but, true to what we’ve previously seen of his character, he turned traitor to Jones and joined the West 7. Always self-serving, he shoots Jones in order to stop her from using their remaining power to send Cole back to stop Cassie’s death. Confirming that in any timeline, Ramse is a darling and Whitley is just the worst.
I would like to point out how refreshing it was to have an alternate timeline storyline that did not skew character’s we have grown to love beyond definition. Jones is a husk of her commanding presence in the usual timeline, but her steel core of determination and committal to the cause, regardless of the sacrifice remains. The show never shies away from the lengths Jones and Cole are willing to go to save their past but it is heartbreaking to watch Jones’ dying moments as she clings to the machine that is her life’s work.
Once back in 2015, the episode is essentially another self-contained episode, a vehicle to carry some key facts and character development moving forward in the season. We learn in the alternate 2043 that after Cassie’s kidnap and subsequent murder, the virus is released a year earlier, in Chechnya, as part of something known as Operation Troy. To rescue her, Cole enlists a very skeptical Aaron, who still doesn’t believe in time travel. Slowly and realistically, to the credit of Christopher Monfette, the story chips away at Aaron’s disbelief. Moving forward it’ll be interesting to see how Cassie and Aaron’s relationship is affected by his conversion to their cause.
One thing I really appreciated about this episode was the shift in ton from the previous half season. Still expertly plotted, instead of an action packed ticking clock episode, we got a more hauntingly atmospheric tension. The Pallid Man and his even creepier superior (Alisen Down) give Cassie the same powdered drug Deacon forced into Cole in “Atari.” Matched with the eerie intonation of, “You are walking through a red forest and the grass is tall,” Cassie is transported into a hallucinatory state in the eponymous red forest where a house gets built and unbuilt and the shadowy figure of The Witness tries to contact Cassie. It is strong imagery and though unlike anything we’ve seen from the show previously, the introduction it provides to the mythology surrounding the Army adds another layer to the story. The only weak point comes with Cassie’s escape. It is a little unrealistic that Cassie was essentially just able to run away from her armed captors while drugged. I want a greater sense of permeating power from the Army, not a group that allows drugged captives to just up and leave. Though maybe with Sen. Royce’s seemingly involved with project Troy, we’ll start learning more about this spider’s web of conspiracy.
Another shadowy group is named as the Brotherhood, and though the timeline where the virus is released in Chechnya is averted, that is clearly the next battleground for our heroes. In what seems like a throwaway moment early in the episode, Adam Wexler, a digital whistleblower speaking from a hidden compound in Chechnya, says, “America keeps its secrets in a glass case with a sign that says ‘Do not break.’ But I have a hammer. And I will set you free.” Is he supposed to be evoking an image of enclosed contagions or am I a conspiracy theorist? In this case, I expect we’ll be hearing more from Adam Wexler soon.
The episode ends on an ominous note, with Jones reminding Cole of the sacrifice demanded of them to complete this mission. Cole’s body and mind is breaking down around him each time he splinters, and soon he won’t be able to put himself back. Once again, the length to which these characters will go to avert their current state does more to impart a sense of the world post apocalypse than any amount of world building episodes could. No doubt, the stakes will continue to be raised next week, as we find out what is really going on in Chechnya.
EPISODE RATING: 8.5/10