While “Travelers” first debuted on Netflix last year right before Christmas, it returns for its second season the day after, timed perfectly for the lull between Christmas and New Year’s. While the show has evolved some since the beginning, it still maintains its most satisfying qualities: an exploration of the human condition in all of its messy glory, and depictions of the most ingenious, yet disturbing means of time travel on screen.
A quick recap before diving into the new season: Operatives called Travelers from the future have been sent back to the 21st century in order to carry out various missions set out by the Director in order to hopefully prevent the future calamities that are endangering the human race. The operative takes over the contemporary host body just seconds before that person is supposed to die and then takes over their life as a cover.
Grant “Mac” McLaren (Eric McCormack) leads a team that consists of Marcy (MacKenzie Porter), Carly (Nesta Cooper), Trevor (Jared Abrahamsson), and Philip Pearson (Reilly Dolman). When Season 1 ended, Trevor had been shot, the team was dealing with two Factions in the future sending Travelers back to kill each other, and the FBI had just busted the Travelers. When Season 2 eventually gets down to the business of picking up with that cliffhanger, all of those issues will be addressed directly, but we can’t say much more than that.
Judging by the first two episodes given to critics for review, “Travelers” is doubling-down on the focus given to each individual team member. Mac and his wife are still having marital issues, Carly’s custody of her son is in jeopardy, Marcy must deal with her friend David’s (Patrick Gilmore) PTSD after last season’s hostage situation, Philip is working on his host body’s heroin addiction, and Trevor is fighting for his life after the gunshot wound.
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While Season 1 dealt a bit with the Travelers getting seduced by the lives they’ve taken on for their mission — a conundrum for any operative, much less one that time-travels to an era that is far more attractive than one’s own — this year, the dilemma has deepened. Now they’re faced with newer, more complex emotions that come from dealing with a life that is far more complicated than their solely mission-focused existence before.
Marcy’s story is particularly fascinating because, on top of whatever her relationship is with David, she was “rebooted” last season and has forgotten most of her experiences up to a few days ago. While everyone engages with her in a familiar way, she’s floundering with being several steps behind her team developmentally.
As for the rest of the team, depending on who the character is and how they’re addressing their issues, viewer engagement may vary. Philip and Trevor both have new dynamics to explore with people outside their teams that keep their stories fresh. Thus far, Carly’s and Mac’s plots seem to be the most mundane (read: not really dealing with the time travel or mission aspect), and thus feels disconnected from the bigger story. Frankly, these are the moments in which we’d be happy for the team to just work together as a unit again. There’s a tantalizing sequence in the first episode that feels revitalized when they work in concert, and it’s to be hoped that dynamic returns later in the season.
While the show has always been a bit vague on the science behind the consciousness transfer and other aspects of the future’s advances (everything can be fixed or accomplished through catch-all “coding,” never mind the metaphysics), it’s at its best when it remembers the bigger mythology at play. Fortunately, Season 2 goes even deeper than just the rival factions that were introduced at the end of last season, and the Travelers begin to play fast and loose with time travel. The scenes where Travelers “arrive” and violently take over host bodies are amped up creatively and become grim yet riveting television.
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In addition, the show introduces one of its more compelling stories yet with a new character, Vincent, played by Enrico Colantoni. For now, we can only say that he’s another Traveler, one whose story has major repercussions for everyone, and the level of backstory that he’s given and how deeply embedded he is into the Travelers mythology makes him instantly far more intriguing than the rest of the team so far.
It’s still too early to tell how this season will fare from just the first two episodes. There appear to be too many disparate plots, some without appealing characters. But based on the promise of Vincent, and what havoc his story can wreak on the others, we’re willing to be cautiously optimistic about what’s to come. For now, we’re in.