This show is so close. Series usually hit their grooves during the first couple of seasons. Audiences—and the money men—have to know as soon as possible what they’re in store for. Template, more or less. So after two seasons and the directive of season three’s premiere, Continuum’s clockwork should be visible to us. My fingers remain crossed that the audacity picks up.
This isn’t the first season premiere with which Continuum has had trouble. On its surface, “Minute by Minute” may seem the opposite of season two’s, “Second Chances.” Emerging from the rubble of skyscrapers and victims and political assassinations in the streets, “Second Chances” glossed over the colossal sense of loss on which Continuum’s first season ended. “Minute by Minute,” on the other hand, dwells on some of the logistical questions the series has long dangled in front of us: the rules of navigating time, other transports, etc. As “protectors of history,” the Freelancers don’t approve of that last bunch, either killing or caging anyone who has circumvented space-time integrity.
The why is still unclear. They grandstand about historical purity, but, by their own theories, the entirety of spac-time is an already diluted place. (Scroll to the bottom for a more thorough and likely confusing manifesto of Continuum’s time travel.) Perhaps this is their infinity-old failing. Whatever their reason, which likely has to do with a superior or sensei who likes control, Alec using the time travel orb to save Emily has thrown part of the time continuum out of order. It needs restoration. They recruit Kiera.
She doesn’t buy in immediately, but when the plot contrives for something, by golly it gets it. After much chatter, she’s sent to the new timeline to find Alec, which is a week earlier. The share of the episode devoted to Alec is a blur. But what happens is what mattered: He convinces Emily, who must assume Alec’s a perennial outfit changer, to flee to Thailand. On the fringe of society, they can’t ruin its metaphysical destiny. (Alec must think very little of himself.)
We’ll have to wait until next week to see what Kiera’s opinion on boy genius is. In order to clean up this timeline, Kiera kills the other her and must do the same to one of the Alecs. Thought experiment (anything pertaining to our show is denoted with an “A”): Imagine, since any timeline is a variation of the same universe, that You and I “B” are watching Continuum “B,” and out of nowhere, Kiera “A” shows up and executes Kiera “B;” which Kiera is the alien, the clone, the one that’s not with us? “Minute by Minute” builds to this image. It’s a poignant one. As Alec “A” stands over the lifeless Kiera “B,” he realizes what’s in store for him: Monster “A.” The strange part is that the show’s contradictory nonchalance.
The show’s original timeline collapses, Alec and Kiera its only survivors. Yet there’s no temptation to mourn. Our Carlos, Kellog: gone forever. Unless you believe the show could be retooling Kiera as an antihero (which it’s flirted with only to balk at in the past), Kiera “B” is less than Kiera “A,” whereas it’s no big deal that Jason “A” was swallowed up into imploded oblivion because, hey, Jason “B” is right here. Neither direction is a necessarily poor direction. (Continuum would be that much better if it embraced Kiera’s status, in truth, as a mercenary.) But “Minute by Minute” is inconsistent in its philosophy. We can blame the episode’s troublesome first several acts.
There isn’t a succinct way in fiction to construct the whole of time travel. This episode is a prime example. Kiera spends most of it in a symposium on the phenomena held by the Freelancers. It’s interesting, in the way that the topic of time travel can generally conjure up at least some curiosity. That doesn’t mean it’s dramatic storytelling. The writers plug in a gunfight, a chase, some death so that the episode has consequence, but “Minute by Minutes” lacks dramatic stakes until its final few minutes. The show wants to make sure we’re all on the same page. It’s an understandable impulse. But the execution makes for a dull premiere.
“Minute by Minute” misjudges what’s compelling about Continuum’s version of time-space and its larger narrative. Stories utilize the device most effectively when they enflame the unknowable details with mystery rather than try to lift the veil. The more attention you draw to the mechanics of the impossible, the more we notice why the thing cannot be done. The last way you want a sci-fi show to feel is phony. And really, the lecture for which Kiera is held prisoner reveals very little. It confirms that Kiera and Liber8’s transplantation is not a natural part of history (which was no longer unclear after instances like Kiera solving in 2012 a murder case that was cold in 2077). It confirms that time travelers can get “home.” It aims to address some of the questions audiences automatically bring to this sort of show. What it doesn’t do is complicate or expand the drama. Sometimes, you have to tell the audience no.
—Continuum Time Travel 101: The choice metaphor for Continuum’s time-space is a tree, a new branch sprouting whenever someone leaves their timeline for another. Here’s another: Essentially, there is a single path that can be travelled in an innumerate amount of ways whose destination is determined by the decisions made during travel. These new timelines don’t exist until a time traveler arrives and begins to meddle. Inversely, their former timeline is sustainable until its specific history is changed. Then in it crumbles, presumably due to the paradox. The only butterfly effect is the implosion of that iteration of existence. With the right technology, like that of the Freelancers, you can hop from branch to branch instead of creating a new one with your travels. With less sophisticated technology, you’re copy and pasting.
—The episode’s full of plot holes. Usually, I find that a less than worthy critique because, usually, plot holes are a nit-picky or inconsequential gripe. I’m optimistic that will ultimately redeem this episode, which really just existed to get us to the final image. Between it and the mystery lingering from last season as to how 2077 Kiera was having nightmares of something that, for us, just happened, season three has more than enough to get us started.
Kyle Burton is a freelance critic and an inaugural recipient of Indiewire and Sundance’s Roger Ebert Fellowship. You can follow him on Twitter@KyleBurton9106.