Netflix 'Travelers' review: A flawed but surprisingly entertaining time-traveler show
Netflix's original show Travelers was a surprisingly entertaining, albeit entirely redundant series. Set in the 21st century, the tale centers on a team of Travelers from hundreds of years in the future whose consciousnesses have been sent back in time to save the world.
It's a relatively tired premise, but does a good job of leaving behind most of the overused tropes commonly found in time-traveling premises — continuums, paradoxes and alternate timelines and realities. Instead, Travelers focuses on the here and now, addressing the issues the characters face in present day as they try to leave their past in the future.
Travelers opens with a scene of Marcy Warton, a mentally impaired woman who works at a library, as she is attacked by a group of men. A series of glyphs appears on the screen, and as the characters transcribe themselves, we see it's a countdown to her time of death. Marcy dies that night, but moments later her body is inhabited by the consciousness of a future Traveler — a seemingly excruciating process punctuated by jittery shots of Marcy gripping her head as she screams in agony.
Moments later she's back on her feet. Her mental impairment is gone and she's now a crime-fighting badass who takes down the gang of thugs with a few swift throat punches and what appears to be a Krav Maga-inspired fight sequence. It's a good scene that outlines the premise of the show in a few short minutes, but just to make sure you get the point, Travelers repeats the process four more times in a row as the remainder of the team finds their way into their host bodies — each of which have been determined by the Director, a mysterious figure who lives in the future and presides over the past.
Travelers gets off to a rocky start, but makes up for it with an interesting enough story, decent acting, a passable script and relatable characters.
The characters in crisis
Marcy, the team's medic, is a stickler for the rules, but quickly softens as she develops feelings for David, a social worker who took care of the former, mentally impaired Marcy. Grant MacLaren is an FBI agent and the team leader who struggles to balance the mission with his new family life. Carly Shannon is a weapons specialist and tactician, and also a single mother of an infant who must contend with her violent police officer ex-boyfriend. Philip Pearson is the team historian who inherited his host's heroin addiction. Trevor Holden is an experienced technician and troubled high school student who suddenly turns his life around after being overtaken by a calm and calculated traveler with a steely sangfroid. Together they form a well-rounded and capable team.
While we're still getting to know the characters, a crisis arises — an unstable antimatter device is set to detonate, with a blast radius large enough to kill over 11,000 people. It's a recorded event from the 21st century, one that transpired in the Traveler's past, but our future. Therefore, the Director knows all of its details, and tasks our heroic team with stopping the explosion before it happens. Thanks to their training and a little bit of knowledge from the future, the team gets it done.
But the mission isn't without its hiccups. Although they successfully stabilize and contain the antimatter, it nearly detonates before they can return the power source to its rightful facility. It's just one of many harrowing missions handed down by the Director throughout the series, but each one carries with it quick pacing and suspenseful scenes that makes Travelers feel more like an action-packed type of 24, instead of a pure time-traveler series like Continuum — and that's a good thing.
Travelers does an excellent job splitting its time between focusing on the Travelers' mission to save the world and the main characters themselves, fleshing out their flaws in order to make them relatable and interesting. The world, by the way, is on a collision course with asteroid Helios 685 — an impending catastrophe that will take place in 18 months and wipe out a vast majority of Earth's population. That, we learn more than halfway through the series, is why the Travelers have gone back in time. They're successful in pushing Helios 685 off course, but while they have saved the world from an apocalyptic ending, they have also created a new future even worse than the one they left.
It's a midseason mix-up — where the show takes a radically different direction — and it serves Travelers well, keeping the plot interesting just as it was starting to fizzle. Now, instead of saving the world from an asteroid, the Travelers must save it from the new and futuristic Faction intent on dismantling the efforts of the Director.
As the season closes out, our modern-day Travelers increasingly find themselves in peril, with waves of Faction Travelers sending themselves back to assassinate the original Travelers. Ultimately, we're left with a cliffhanger: Our beloved Travelers are in FBI custody, along with a quantum computer capable of housing the Director, who it turns out is not a person but an artificially intelligent program. Is it the work of the Faction, or is there something even more insidious lurking around the next turn?
Travelers is a fun, lighthearted series that doesn't take its own premise too seriously and leaves out most of the confusing hypothetical consequences of time travel that so often muddle up the plot of these types of sci-fi shows.
The characters are interesting, and their development throughout the series keeps the viewer hooked. The fact the entire team is severely flawed makes them feel less like superheroes and more like real people. Their imperfectness serves to raise the stakes; when they fail they do so spectacularly, and the consequences are severe.
Unlike most time-traveler series, Travelers doesn't give their characters access to all of the advanced tech from the future, forcing them to use their wit and knowledge to piece together the technology of the 21st century to complete their missions. This feels like a fresh take on the genre.
The plot isn't groundbreaking or revolutionary, but it's unique enough to make for a binge-worthy series.
While Travelers did a fantastic job with their midseason mixup, the overall pacing suffers from redundancy. We see this in the first episode after the same scene of a Traveler entering their new host body is repeated four times, consecutively. The next several episodes are filled with new plot revelations, but after Travelers shows its hand, the redundancy resumes in the replaying of each of the characters' various personal plights over and over again with only slight variations. The issues the characters have in the beginning of the series are, for better or worse, pretty much the same ones they have at the end.
The two big reveals in Travelers are a little lackluster. We know Earth has suffered a devastating catastrophe that pushes humanity to the brink of extinction, and are led to believe it's from some diabolical villain. However, as mentioned above, it's actually asteroid Helios 685, which just feels sort of blah.
Then, an increasing amount of importance is placed on the Director and his or her grand plan. The anticipation mounts near the end of the season as the show teases a reveal of the Director's identity, but when we discover it's just a computer program it feels like a major letdown and missed opportunity for adding a new and exciting character.
Travelers is not an award-winning show, but is worth a watch for those who enjoy sci-fi, particularly plots that center around time travel.
If you're looking for a new show to binge on and want to unwind and relax, Travelers will get the job done.