Monday, January 2, 2017

Travelers Season 1 Netflix Series Review

Travelers (2016-)
Season 1 - 11 episodes (2016)

Watch Travelers Season 1 on Netflix
Not Available in Canada

Created by: Brad Wright
Starring: Eric McCormack, MacKenzie Porter, Nesta Cooper
Rated: TV-MA

This sci-fi series stars Eric McCormack as FBI Special Agent Grant MacLaren. Technology exists to send a person's consciousness back to the 21st century, where they assume a random person's body and identity at the exact moment they die. Teams work secretly to save the world from a terrible future.

Various teams travel to the past to save the future. This show focuses on one group led by FBI agent Grant Maclaren. My issues with an open loop timeline aside, it does a great job of keeping tensions high as the travelers have to maintain their lives while operating covertly. This is similar to Quantum Leap, as travelers have to lead the life of their host though with orders not to interfere. The difference is they're saving the world, not helping another person.
By focusing on the well developed characters, who at times defy orders to change their hosts lives for the better ,it doesn't get bogged down in science and special effects. This is a character driven drama.
Each episode reveals a little bit more about how teams and their missions work as we hurtle toward their main mission. The future remains an unseen mystery, which is a smart move as trying to show that would unnecessarily complicate the show. The future is left to our imaginations with hints at how bad it is.
With each episode the scope grows, making this feel like a real world. Things go wrong and their missions seem futile. Can the future be altered?
Watch it.

Jumping into this without knowing the premise would help. The show assumes you know nothing, which if you've watched the trailer isn't true. The mystery about what's wrong with the characters is hollow if you know they are possessed by people from the future. The pilot presents a lot of questions that the show answers, as far as what's happening and how it works.

Team Maclaren: Marcy, Philip, Carly, and Trevor.
The travelers from the future rely on social media for research to seamlessly live the charade of their new lives. If they traveled back any earlier they wouldn't know enough, and would be more easily discovered. Though sometimes that research isn't always accurate. The research on Marcy's (MacKenzie Porter) host was quite inaccurate. She's the team doctor who treats Philip (Reilly Dolman). His host is a drug user, so they have to deal with that. Their engineer Trevor (Jared Abrahamson) is a teenager, juggling saving the world and high school. Carly (Nesta Cooper) is a single mom dealing with her ex over custody of her son.

It's a neat premise. Each team has a leader, historian, doctor, tactician, and an engineer. We learn that over the course of a few episodes, as well that not every traveler makes it to the host. Sometimes there is a glitch.

Travelers operate under six basic protocols.
  • 1. The Mission comes first.
  • 2. Never jeopardize your cover.
  • 3. Don't take a life; don't save a life, unless otherwise directed.
  • 4. Do not reproduce.
  • 5. In the absence of direction, maintain your host's life.
  • 6. No inter-team/deep web communication except in extreme emergencies.
This show doesn't spell them out in the first episode. We slowly infer the protocols over the course of the season, and that is what this show does well. It slowly provides information, and it never feels like it's making it up as it goes. It avoids spelling everything out, but also doesn't create such a big mystery that I doubt I'll get answers.

These rules compartmentalize the teams.  How many teams are there? Episode seven gives a hint at just how many travelers are present in the world. Could teams be working against each other?

This is a little bit of 12 Monkeys (1995) with an open loop timeline. The travelers hope that they can fix the future by changing the past. While they do make changes, it doesn't seem to fix anything. I have a gripe with any media that claims time is open and can be manipulated to change events. Time is a closed loop, but the digression works for this show.

Their missions are handed out by the director who we learn more about in the last couple of episodes.

The director is revered, trusted to direct the future by sending teams to the past. The director often sends messengers through kids. A temporary possession would kill an adult, but not a kid.

There is the moral question of taking over bodies. They take over the dead usually, but they can take over anyone. They take the dead presumably to reduce the ethics questions. Taking over someone else is in essence murder, but if the mission calls for it, the director is willing to breach that boundary.

Philip and Trevor enjoying the poison that is fast food.
When they aren't focused on a mission, you also see just how fragile their lives are. Without a mission, faking their host's life is strenuous. What sets this apart is the drama of their hosts lives. The travelers can't fully separate themselves from their lives. This isn't solely focused on time travel, instead giving us characters we care about.
Characters often reference how new Maclaren is. Would the director really make someone new a team leader? Maclaren's team meets another team in episode three who has less regard for protocols. They've been toiling for years and have become jaded. As the season progresses you can't blame the other team. For all the missions they've undertaken, they see no changes. Missions can change on a whim and you begin to doubt the director. In episode nine, Maclaren isn't sure whether his mission is to save or kill a target.

The final few episodes address the director directly. While the future has changed, now it's divided among two factions, those that trust and distrust the director.

Episode six is like a mid season finale with their main mission at hand. All their other missions have been practice. It's a crazy episode that leaves you wondering if it worked. Did they change the future?

Episode seven follows  with free standing story as Maclaren tries to determine if he's dealing with a traveler or a misfire. It's got a great ending.

While they've changed the future, the effects aren't as they hoped. The final episode is equal part answers and surprises. It ends on a cliff hanger, and I can't wait for a second season.


  1. wonderful seeing all the good stuff "not available in Canada" why do i bother?.. what don't you get about WORLD WIDE WEB!

  2. Great review, loved this series! It's my favorite show of 2016. The writing is smart and a good example of "show, don't tell". My favorite is David/Marcy, but the show is rare in that I'm invested in most of the characters. Eagerly awaiting season 2.


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