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Warning: Spoilers ahead from the first two seasons of Travelers. Please only read if you're willing to be gently spoiled.
Welcome to the 21st! Travelers is low-key the best sci-fi show on Netflix. I say low-key because this time travel series from Stargate co-creator Brad Wright still feels like an underdog going into its third season. The world goes nuts for Stranger Things, but I had to find out Travelers Season 3 was starting this Friday, December 14 by accidentally having Live With Kelly and Ryan on in the background when star/producer Eric McCormack was a guest. He mentioned Travelers was returning this week, and I was pleasantly surprised.
Why aren't more people watching and talking about this show? I know there are loyal fans who LOVE the show, and apparently there are many if Netflix is willing to give it three seasons. Maybe if even more fans join us we can get a Season 4. On that note, here's my pitch for why newbies should make time for Travelers.
The sci-fi market is flooded with hit-and-miss content. We all have our favorites for different reasons, and I stumbled on Travelers when I was just doing my usual "I need something new to watch on Netflix" scroll. The Canadian-American series grabbed me immediately, despite having a pretty well-worn concept -- people traveling through time to try to change the past to save the future.
The storytelling of Travelers is one of its strengths, with the first episode immediately dropping us into the action as we meet each new Traveler. That means we meet them as their hosts are just about to die, with a countdown to their exact recorded time of death. That death comes with a massive migraine-level headache, then the Traveler from the future takes over that host's body.
The Pacing Is Perfect
Each episode is structured to hold your attention and seamlessly lead into the next episode -- a perfect match for the Netflix format. There are 12 episodes each in the first two seasons, and the stories are well balanced, giving each character an interesting personal arc while also continuing the team's increasingly complicated mission.
One of the most exciting episodes is Season 2's skydiving "17 Minutes." It perfectly encapsulates the urgency of the missions, the structure of this mythology, and the fantastic acting (especially from guest actress Melissa Roxburgh, now of Manifest) -- all while continuing character development for our core team.
It Just Keeps Getting Better And Deeper
Travelers Season 1 had me at hello, but Season 2 was even better. The 2017 season started with the introduction of the very first Traveler, Vincent Ingram, played by the great Enrico Colantoni. His story was a clever and welcome surprise. The actor explained to Global News why he decided to sign on for this show:
I was reminded [recently] how complacent actors can become when they are offered the same guest-star roles. TV can be a little mundane and predictable. They sent me the pilot just so I could figure out what the f**k was going on, and I binged Season 1. I thought... wow. This was not what I expected from a sci-fi show. It's layered, the spiritual elements of it, the prophetic elements of it, the human aspects of it... how human it was. Sci-fi is probably the last element that intrigued me. I fell in love with it, the idea of Vincent in this world. It's hard to walk away from that.
Yes. If Season 3 continues the steady rise in story quality, we are in for a treat.
The Characters Are All Worth Following
The first episode introduces our five main Travelers one by one, right away -- FBI Agent Grant MacLaren (Traveler 3468), the team leader, played by Eric McCormack; Marcy Warton (Traveler 3569), the team medic, played by MacKenzie Porter. Carly Shannon (Traveler 3465), the tactician, played by Nesta Cooper; Trevor Holden (Traveler 0115), the engineer and my personal favorite, played by Jared Abrahamson; and Philip Pearson (Traveler 3326), the historian, played by Reilly Dolman.
The Travelers' very different individual personalities shine through the hosts, helping us get to know the people from the future even though we aren't seeing their true faces. It's also fun that we the viewers slowly learn more about who their hosts were at the same time as the Travelers. Everyone is fully developed and flawed, but likable. Not all characters need to be likable, but it certainly helps you stay invested in their stories. Plus, the supporting cast is fantastic -- from Ian Tracey as scene-stealing lawyer Ray to Philip's turtle Poppy.
No One Is Two-Dimensional
There are so many clever levels to these characters and their storylines. Like having the host body of teen Trevor be filled by one of the oldest humans to ever live. Or having Marcy's Traveler accidentally sent back into the body of a woman who was mentally challenged, and having her bond with her truly wonderful social worker David (Patrick Gilmore).
Even the characters you'd consider villains are allowed some depth, including single mom Carly's abusive ex-boyfriend cop Jeff (J. Alex Brinson). One of my favorite characters is Grace Day (Jennifer Spence), who started as Trevor's high school guidance counselor and became Traveler 0027, the grumpy, arrogant, sarcastic, hilarious, lonely, fascinating programmer. There are so many ways that putting Trevor and Grace together would be wrong ... but I'd still love to see it happen.
The Rules Are Clear, With Fascinating Complications
I'm not one to go deep on mythology, but I like a clear set of rules. Every time travel show has a different set up, and Travelers establishes how things work without getting bogged down in exposition. The Travelers are sent back in time by the Director, which we eventually learn is a computer. A very flawed computer. The Director decides which hosts to use based on recorded news from the past. So if someone lied on social media, or had a not-quite-true obituary, the Traveler taking over that host's body would be surprised by the changes. Obviously, that happens more than once.
Travelers can only be sent back as far as the time of the most recent Traveler. So you can't just keep going back further and further to revise history, which is good because that would pretty much defeat the urgency of the story. Also, the Travelers must follow the six Protocols -- 1) the mission comes first; 2) leave the future in the past; 3) don't take a life, don't save a life, do not interfere; 4) do not reproduce; 5) maintain your host's life; and 6) no inter-team communication except in extreme emergencies or when sanctioned. But all of those Protocols are challenged across the series, with varying consequences.
The Future Is Teased But Not Shown
Travelers takes place in the 21st Century, and we don't actually see the world of the distant future, we just hear about the apocalypse horrors slowly over time. This seems like the smart move, to me. I like the tease of seeing the future through unexpected things like Simon's Season 2 artwork, and Grace's post-trial meeting with the Director, rather than trying to tell the story from two different timelines. There are already so many stereotypical "future" and "apocalypse" sets. Skip it.
We learn about the future through our core team of five Travelers, and get updates from the future when things change. For example, due to our team successfully saving some people in the 21st, a group in the future that would originally have died end up living and forming the Faction, which goes against the Director. So that changes the mission in the past. Also, Philip the team historian has memorized just about every detail of the future, but the longer they stay in the 21st, the more things change, and his knowledge becomes outdated.
When you get invested in the characters, you get invested in what happens to them. Death is an easy way to wring tears, but Travelers is more creative than that. I'm thinking of the David and Marcy storyline, and the many twists that takes. I'm thinking of the MacLarens trying to break Protocol 4.
And there are beautiful little moments, like Philip knowing just when to start randomly singing to distract Carly -- with such a great voice! -- because he knows the future well enough to know exactly when Carly is about to do something she'll regret forever. There's real human emotion amid the action. Expect to care deeply about everyone.
The Cliffhangers Are Insane
More than anything, I'm excited for Travelers Season 3 because Season 2 ended on a slap. Literally on Kat MacLaren slapping her husband in the face outside, surrounded by the other Travelers and their closest loved ones. The secrets are out. Or so we think. Who will believe what they were told about these people from the future taking over the bodies of their departed loved ones, and who will think it's too crazy to be true?
The Season 2 finale was one of the best season enders I've ever seen. Season 1 also ended on a fascinating cliffhanger. If they keep up this tradition of balls-to-the-wall finales, Netflix will have no choice but to give us a Season 4.
Season 3 Has A Great Trailer
Netflix released the Travelers Season 3 trailer on December 3. It's extremely spoilery for anyone who isn't caught up, and seems to add some new characters -- like a new FBI boss for Grant MacLaren. I'm just trusting that Season 3 will live up to the high bar of the first two seasons. Eric McCormack revealed he'll be directing the Season 3 premiere himself. Based on the trailer, it looks like David doesn't believe that Marcy is from the future, but Kat knows that this Grant is not her real husband.
Here's the Season 3 trailer: