It’s a given that a time travel show will eventually go to the World War 2 era and everyone’s favorite go-to villains - Nazis. NBC’s new show Timeless wasted no time (pun not intended) in going there. But instead of a “Let’s kill Hitler” story, the show posed an ethical question about someone else.
One of the central themes of Timeless is that the past can be changed and there are unintended consequences when that happens.
The team has managed to prevent major changes - Lincoln was still shot in the head at Ford’s Theater and the Hindenburg still crashed and burned in New Jersey - but relatively minor things were changed. Due to those changes one of the main characters, Lucy, has had her sister erased from the timeline and finds herself engaged to a total stranger.
Here’s the quick and dirty recap of this week’s episode:
Lucy, Wyatt, and Rufus travel back to 1944 Germany on the trail of Flynn, who may be giving the Nazis and an atomic bomb. They meet an undercover British agent named Ian Fleming. They learn that Flynn is actually there to snatch Wernher von Braun and give him to the Russians. With Fleming’s help they thwart Flynn’s plan and get von Braun to the Allies where he’ll be instrumental in NASA and the Apollo program.
Wyatt isn’t as into the “don’t meddle with things” guidance as Lucy. He almost kills von Braun as collateral damage when he has a shot at Flynn. This sparks an interesting ethical debate.
Wernher von Braun was no saint. His rocketry work for Nazi Germany resulted in thousands of deaths both from V-2 attacks and the slave labor used at his facility. But he was too valuable to the U.S. so he was never really punished for his wartime activities, something that doesn’t sit well with Wyatt. Lucy and Rufus know von Braun’s significance to the U.S. space program so they understand that his death in 1944 would seriously alter history.
I’m firmly on the “don’t kill Hitler” side of that hypothetical question because of the unintended consequences so I’m with Lucy. Even if the immediate result of a change will be positive there are too many unknowns to be changing things willy-nilly. But I get where Wyatt was coming from though at the end he chooses to trust Lucy’s judgement when it looks like killing von Braun is the only way to prevent him from falling into the Russians’ hands.
Timeless is still a bit clunky (that’s something I can forgive a new show still finding its footing). They are asking some interesting questions though and that’s one reason I keep watching. That and since I’m a black man I also like watching Rufus having to deal with being a black man in the past.