In Catherine’s only appearance this week, she intimates something of some latent import. Kiera had sought her council. Catherine offers it, but her offerings tend to beget more council. Their walk-and-talk through the Freelancer lair ends at a guarded door. Shadowy, electronic blue flushes through a window that the most secret of prisoners—or imprisoned of things—peers out for hours. What’s no secret is the intention. Wow, we’re supposed to say. Kiera asks for us: “What’s that?” Silly rabbit, if we’re supposed to know, would Catherine have walked us directly here?
This scene encapsulates my relationship with Continuum so far this season. The show’s most consistent sound is blunt. It’s turned it into an identity. It plays its moments big. Listen to the music. Watch the cuts. Its rhythm has always gone for stakes. This can amount to a lot. The key is that such decisions must feel intentional. We can love a show for bypassing subtext in favor of raw entertainment. But if we can’t trust that show, we have to make a choice to instead endure.
Season three of Continuum is over a third of the way in, and it has yet to secure adequate momentum. Direction and focus mask the awkwardness of clue-drops like in the aforementioned scene. It’s like exposition: bury it in character. This glowing-door kernel will serve its purpose, but it exposes a weakness of the season: Kiera’s stagnated. There’s not enough happening to her character in this episode or at this point in the season to spruce up the foreshadowing.
In the vacuum of this, “30 Minutes to Air,” is not that problematic. The writers have pushed her to the background. The show doesn’t often cut out Kiera completely from the cold opens. This week’s belongs to Travis. For the rest of the episode, she’s mostly sneaking around a building, looking for bombs to disarm. Carlos is calling the shots. Dillon is trying to survive. Alec is having a war of selves. It’s good to get more of the characters who often take a backseat to Kiera. Good television doesn’t need to segment its character development, though.
That’s where “30 Minutes to Air” gets iffy. It continues to deal with Carlos’s rejection of Kiera. When Travis holds the cable news station hostage (whose red-headed Megyn Kelly was interviewing Dillon), Carlos dictates the police response. He might as well tell Kiera to leave her suggestions with his secretary. He gets no aid from the corporation who bought the station in order to censor its reporting. Understandably, Carlos is preoccupied. But too much of Kiera’s time of late has been spent waiting for Carlos to come around.
It’s filler. Much like the work “Minute to Win it” (3.03) did with Alec, “30 Minutes to Air” essentially exists for one moment: the confirmation of Dillon’s villainy. His interview had been about his daughter. He’d just had to arrest her for a pro-Liber8 protest. James Kidnie doing Bill O’Reilly persecutes Dillon, atheistic to the inspector’s claims of judicial fairness. He has grounds to doubt, but he’s pumped up on spectacle. Travis has no patience for it. If anyone had a deductive bent in their body, they’d be questioning Dillon’s integrity, not his institutional loyalty. His daughter’s no radical. She’s a plant, a mole, a pawn. His proclamations of “fairness” are a farce indeed. Too bad the whistleblower is a blowhard.
What makes the turn truly compelling is Travis’s flashback. The cold open sets up a scene where love is yet again stabbing Travis in the back. He visits his wife or girlfriend and their daughter, who adores him. CPS comes and his daughter gives him up. Director William Waring haunts the scene a bit with the faint, whistling draft from the open backdoor. But we see that his daughter truly does adore him. Travis is in on the plan. He wants his family protected. Once left alone again, the daughter breaks down, her mother barely possessing the strength to console her. There is no sobbing from or for Dillon.
Brian Markinson delivers the kind of performance that’s thrillingly, halfway authentic. He’s like a younger brother falsely accusing his big sister of something, and redistributing the genuine emotional reaction to his parent’s rejection for some crocodile tears. Louis C.K. has a joke about his younger daughter convincing him to break her sister’s toy out of fairness to the younger daughter’s broken toy. It’s the base of acting: reassign one emotion to another thing. This is what Dillon has done. He’s become the conniver. And he’s good at it. Markinson indifferently wears something that will fester into guilt and eventually need obliteration. Dillon has the ambition for it.
He’s also potentially merciless. These corporations and their lackeys only have power insofar as the people not too far below them say yes. Dillon’s their guy. But is he destined for worse? Kiera spent all of “Second Opinion” (Episode 2.02) persuading a virtual therapist to unlock her CRM. Dillon was in the room for her initial collapse. He knows how wounded she is about her family situation—whatever, in his head, it may be. Kiera this week tries to comfort him after cuffing his daughter. We already know the truth. He glares for a moment, then bruises her: “What do you know about it?” This man is headed for bad things.
—Alec and Emily try to make headway. Mostly, Alec B just shaves off dead skin, which leaves Kellog returning to our Alec as a freeway back to power. If Markinson’s has been the best performance so far, Alec’s storyline represents the most promising narrative payoff. Let’s try to get Kiera back in on that love.
—I find Fox News and MSNBC just as damaging to mainstream politics as the next guy. Travis’s distaste is something else. When “big” feels big, go small. Liber8 grandiosity didn’t fit. With the compelling and personal Travis-Dillon mirroring here, bread was left on the table.
—The patch-working has been less than impressive this season. “30 Minutes” airs a lot of why this is the case. But Continuum has maintained high degrees of mood and promise. If nothing else, the closing beats of these episodes keep me wanting their follow-up.
Kyle Burton is a freelance critic and an inaugural recipient of Indiewire and Sundance’s Roger Ebert Fellowship. You can follow him on Twitter.