‘Timeless’ Has a Need for Speed in “The Darlington 500”

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Photo by Justin Lubin/NBC

TIMELESS: 2.02 “The Darlington 500”

Timeless went racing back to 1955 in another high-powered episode, this time chasing a Rittenhouse sleeper agent that has already changed history: Ryan Millerson.

While the show has done a relatively good job so far avoiding head-scratching time-paradox moments, this is really the first episode where we need to step back and understand what’s happened. We already knew that Rittenhouse was sending agents back in time, so they could influence history. In this particular case, we have race car hero Ryan Millerson, who Wyatt idolized as a child. Except he didn’t. Ryan was placed in 1946 only a few weeks ago and his impact there made such an impression that it rewrote history. Wyatt’s memories are not from when he was six years old. They’re actually new.

If that makes you get a headache and a panic attack at the same time, let’s take this a step further to try to understand Rittenhouse’s plan. Given that Emma and her lackeys then went back in time to meet up with Ryan in 1955, this means that it’s not simple enough for Rittenhouse to simply place someone in time and say, “Ok, when you get to the Darlington 500 in 1955, place a bomb in your car and kill the important auto executives.” Clearly, they need to see what effect their sleeper had on time, in order to then go back and execute their plan. After all, what if Ryan crashed his car in his first race, destroying any chance to be a famous race car driver? What if he was good, but never good enough to make it to Darlington? They need to know what could really happen. Which means, they essentially told Ryan, “We’re placing you in 1946. At some point, we’ll be back so you can take on this suicide mission, but in the meantime, become as successful as a race car driver as possible.”

This seems a little convenient for the show—otherwise, what’s the point of having anyone go back in time? We’d never know what Rittenhouse did or didn’t plan in our dark times of history—and a little overly complicated for Rittenhouse. And since good ol’ grandpappy Nicolas was the one who came up with this plan way back in the early 20th century, I think we’re starting to see exactly how crazy and/or brilliant he really is. And that was long before he painted a manifesto mural on a wall.

Is your head spinning? Because mine is a little. But let’s focus on a few other things that happened in this episode, beyond these big picture, world-changing, history-changing sleepers.

In true Timeless fashion, we didn’t just spend time with our fictional sleeper. Lucy, Wyatt, and Rufus also met a true racing icon: Wendell Scott. What I especially loved about this particular figure is, of course, his resonance as a black man in the sport (especially in the 1950s south), but also that it wasn’t just Lucy or even Rufus who were head over heels for our hero. Wyatt got to play fan boy, which was, quite frankly, a lot of fun to watch.

But within this, we did get to find out a little dark history from Wyatt’s own past. Wyatt had an abusive father, who would hit him when he “mouthed off,” toss him in the back of a car, and drive him around in the dark to scare him to death. When the car broke, he’d drink and smoke and laugh while forcing Wyatt to fix it. He confided these things to Wendell, not realizing that his own Time Teamers overheard as well.

Wyatt’s never really been an open book, which is an interesting contrast to Lucy, who the rest of the team knows pretty well. And it was nice to see the juxtaposition of how they look back at their parents. Lucy revered her mother growing up, only to discover she was a monster and everything she told her was lies. She’s still struggling with this realization and how to make sense of it. Wyatt knew his father was terrible, but at the same time, some part of him admired him. But maybe it was driving his prized car in a lake that make him finally give up that link and move on to what he really wanted to become.

I’m not sure the plot really drew me in as much as some previous ones did. While I understood Rittenhouse’s goal to kill the major leaders in the auto industry in Detroit and plan a takeover, it felt a little blah. But everything else in this episode truly entertained. Every new fact we heard about Wendell Scott was interesting. The cars were gorgeous. The one-liners and side gags were great. And, hey, there was even a car chase. Plus, somehow the show was able to tuck Lucy and Wyatt into a teeny enclosed space for all the Lyatt shippers (kudos, by the way, for bringing up Lucy’s claustrophobia, something we learned of back in “The World’s Colombian Exposition.”) It was an enjoyable hour, and I can’t wait for the next episode.

Elsewhere in the episode…

  • We’re starting to get a better idea of what exactly Jiya is seeing in her visions. In another mind-scrambling discovery, we’re sort-of seeing Jiya see the future…in the past. Rufus’ arm burned, but it happened when he was in 1955. I’ll be curious to see how this develops and whether this becomes a useful tool in the Time Team’s bag or whether this could lead to dark things for Jiya.
  • Any sympathy you had for Connor Mason in the last episode is likely gone after this week’s. Unable to sit still for even a few months, he risks exposing the entire operation by giving a talk. I enjoyed seeing him face off with Agent Christopher (possibly more because Christopher won), but it does make me wonder where he’s heading this season if his role is so limited.
  • What happened to Lucy when she was with Rittenhouse for six weeks? I’m absolutely dying to know. She’s not willing to talk about it. And there’s that distant stare she has from time to time—and that’s not even what Jiya sees when Lucy’s lying awake at night. Is it simply her disillusionment of the mother and life she knew that leaves those empty stares, or is it something else that Rittenhouse put there? I’m nervous to find out.
  • Kudos, again, to the writing team for spotlighting a historic figure that few know about but most should. Wendell Scott was certainly someone I hadn’t heard of before (like Rufus, NASCAR is not my sport). And the head nod jokes were just icing on the cake.
  • The team went back to 1955, and there wasn’t one Back to the Future reference? What a missed opportunity for some great one-liners.
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