[EDIT, May 2014: Journeyman is no longer streaming on any sites, and my embedded clips from Hulu in the review are no longer functioning. Hopefully someday?]
Journeyman uses metaphor with a light touch, by which I mean the show invokes the feeling from a bit of metaphor, but doesn’t take it all the way into a Grand Statement.
Some aspects of the show are quite clearly metaphorical bits, as the first scene of “Friendly Skies”– Katie looks on worriedly as Dan has an MRI, which is clearly using Dan’s time travel affliction as a metaphor for a major illness. A friend of mine woke up recently completely blind, because he has a brain tumor. I talked to his wife (who in this sense reminds me of Katie), and she was matter-of-factly running me through the tests and procedures he had gone through, his chances of recovery, and whether or not they will need to permanently adapt to his blindness. He’s an actor by night, and a programmer by day, who is active on Facebook. I can’t imagine how many ways his life will have to change now to accommodate his blindness.
Like my friend, Dan learns a lot this week about what he can no longer do (and in some cases, must do) in light of his sudden disappearances to the past. Airline travel is right out, since he has flashed out of a plane in mid-air, as are planning dinner parties and driving a car. On the other end of things, he needs his old cell phone (and its charger!), old currency, and an old ID to get around in the past. (“And don’t travel with citrus. I don’t know why, but it explodes,” NewLivia explains in one of my favorite lines of the show.) I mentioned in my last review how much I appreciate this pragmatic streak of the show. Mysteries abound on Journeyman, but they have much more to do with the characters (looking at you, NewLivia, but also Katie, why did you get called to a four-alarm fire?) while the practical things that I would normally be obsessing about are all addressed.
The metaphor of a major illness doesn’t completely line up with the wondrous (but healthy) nature of Dan’s troubles– his MRI comes out clean– but it’s not the only metaphor in play, either. As the short series progresses, Dan’s time travel is also compared to blacking out drunk, traveling too much on business, getting a new and Very Important job, working undercover, and seeing another woman on the side, among other things. The show uses the flexibility of Dan’s time travel affliction to touch on all kinds of serious issues that would bring stress to a marriage. I’ll continue to point these metaphorical bits out as the series progresses, but understand I’m not saying “The show is saying it’s completely like this one thing,” because as the infomercial line says, “It’s all those things, AND MORE!”
While much of the story this week centers around How Things Are Different Now That Dan Has This Thing, tied into that is Dan and Katie’s major storyline about having a second child. The plane trip Dan and Katie first attempt (from which he flashes out) is to go away and, as Katie informs the TSA agent, “Have lots and lots of sex.” They had planned this trip weeks ago, timed with Katie’s cycle, to try to have a second child. Katie first voices some reservations on the flight– is this really a good idea, with everything that’s happening? But as Dan points out, nothing has happened for a week, and might never happen again. He’s confident that they can keep their planned life going, as Katie sees warning signs up ahead. (Again, the sort of conversation you might have if one of you was in denial about his health situation.) But when Dan disappears, leaving Katie holding the bag, Katie’s worries are becoming realized.
The plane diverts back to the airport, and Katie’s in pretty big trouble with the TSA. She leaves a message for Dan (which I thought was weird at first, but when he returns and immediately checks his messages, hearing about his disappearance from her point of view, it suddenly seemed like an excellent plan) and texts Jack the Cop for a rescue. Katie is as nimble as Dan at coming up with a plausible cover story and handling her interrogation, but everything is quickly wrapped up when Dan returns (waking up in the airport on the floor next to a sleeping family) and Jack arrives and vouches for them.
When Dan and Katie get home the subject of the second child comes up again. As Katie points out, “This changes everything.” This leads to a miscommunication– Dan feels like she’s pulling back from the marriage as a whole, that he might lose her, while Katie is saying that his constant disappearances are going to make it pretty difficult to have a baby on their hands. That they are talking about two different things is finally settled by the end of the episode (after a string of near-fights over the misunderstanding) but I’m leading with the answer because I immediately understood what Katie meant, and was puzzled by why Dan reacted the way he did. (This may have happened for you, as well.) Dan’s reaction came off as denial (possibly part of the illness metaphor) and rather selfish. It wasn’t until the end when it’s solved by Dan coming to understand her point of view that I realized we were supposed to be seeing things through his eyes. Perhaps it’s because I’m a mom that I sided with Katie from the start, and understood that she loves him and will of course stand by him, but isn’t too keen on going through a pregnancy, infancy, and handling two children while he keeps literally disappearing.
But Dan doesn’t get it, and this week’s WOW (Wrong of the Week) seems to open his eyes to the importance of a father’s presence in a child’s life.
It’s another Rube-Goldberg-esque sequence (I can’t remember if that’s a feature of the early episodes, or if this trick continues). To eventually save people in Darfur, Dan: helps a woman give birth on a plane in the 1970s; convinces the woman to reveal the father’s identity to the daughter in the 1980s; helps the now-young-adult daughter as she tries to meet her biological father in the early 90’s; learns that the father (who rejected her) has cancer and needs her bone marrow; brings her to the hospital to make up with and help the father in the late 90’s; meets a young man in that hospital who also needs bone marrow; and in the present meets the daughter again to learn that she was not a match for her father, but was able to donate marrow to the young man, who went off to help in Darfur.
Dan never explicitly links his experiences in the past to his newfound understanding that it’s not fair to have another child but never be around for her– while he’s open with Katie about his travels (mostly), they don’t waste screen time with him filling her in on everything– but it seems that it’s the time he spends with the workaholic distant father and the pained daughter that brings him around. As usual (so far), the people he tracks and interacts with aren’t exactly the people who are helped in the end, so it would seem the story purpose of following the father/daughter pair rather than the young man directly is to have an effect on Dan’s point of view, creating an arc that lands him in that last scene with Katie.
So that’s the WOW and the marriage storylines. The third major storyline in this episode is airline travel, past and present. The bacchanal of the 1970s smoke- and booze-filled cabin with its perkily under-dressed stewardesses is lined up against the TSA and snippy male airline attendants in suits in the post-9/11 world.
In 2007 we were still getting used to the ever-more draconian ways of airline travel, and it would be a missed opportunity not to mention it. But that’s all the episode does, really. Yes, the TSA may be a pain in the butt, but it seems completely fair to me that they would freak out just a little bit when Dan disappears mid-flight, and I think the show agrees with me. The Vassars end up on a no-fly list, but the show doesn’t seem to blame anyone for that. Since we know he’s no security threat, but it’s perfectly reasonable for them to think he might be, it doesn’t come off as a condemnation of our current system. The show simply says that flying in the past was different than it is now (Pros of the 70’s: more drinking and fun, Cons: flying seems risky at best, and smoke-filled cabins; Pros of the 00’s: safe, quiet flying, Cons: nosy, prickly flight attendants and TSA badgering) and leaves it at that.
It’s part of the show’s gimmick to show us the past so we can chuckle over it, wacky plane flights and giant cell phones and shoulder-pads and grunge music. So perhaps like Quantum Leap, these comparisons of the past to the present are just there for the sightseeing factor, and not so much for thematic reasons. The only way I can see this linking to a greater theme is that “travel is different now” both in the way we all do it (1970s vs. 2007), and for Dan specifically, as he and Katie end the show taking their romantic getaway trip by car, with Katie driving.
As always, a lot happens in this episode that gradually unfolds some larger stories. So let’s see what other threads can be pulled at.
First, the Background of The Four Main Characters. In a nice scene of Dan, Livia, Katie, and Jack getting together to watch football in the 90’s, we see that the foursome is quite happy. Katie and Livia, who didn’t know each other before that engagement brunch last week, are BFFs. (Livia calls Katie “babe”.) I confess I’m a bit confused about this, as I’m pretty sure that engagement brunch was in 1997, and this seems to be 1994. Also, Dan and Livia don’t seem engaged, though they are living together (Livia says she worried during a recent pregnancy scare that Dan would want to get married all of a sudden “and it would be for the wrong reasons”). It could be that I misunderstood the previous episode, in which I could have sworn Katie’s toast to the couple said something to the effect that Livia seemed very nice and she could see why Dan kept her to himself all this time. Whether I misunderstood or it’s a gentle retcon, this is the story now.
Dan and Livia are over the moon, much to NewDan’s sorrow at having to watch his own past play out in front of him. Jack and Katie are basically happy, but there are a couple of iffy moments in which you can see cracks where the eventual fault-lines will be.
This catches up to our characters in the present when Jack and Katie meet up so she can thank him for responding to her text from the airport. “I don’t want to be your first phone call anymore when you have marital problems,” he says. (“Wow, it’s good I came in person, it must be so much more gratifying saying that to my face,” she replies.) They broke up eight years ago, but it doesn’t get any easier. “You married my brother, Kate! I can’t just shrug it off and carve the Christmas turkey.” “I didn’t leave you for him, and I’m not the reason Livia died!” she blurts out, exasperated. The past never really goes away, even without time travel.
The next thread to pull at is Dan and NewLivia. She suddenly appears when Dan wakes up in the past, and it’s hard not to feel all of Dan’s feelings upon seeing her. It’s not a matter of Livia vs. Katie, that’s much too simplistic. I had a boyfriend who died in 1993, and I can tell you my current (happy) life would not even factor into my thoughts for one second if I laid eyes on him again. Just seeing Livia, you can tell all the old love that he’s carefully laid to rest comes flooding back. If choosing and comparing were to happen, it would be a long time down the road. For now, it’s no knock on his marriage that he’s bowled over by seeing Livia, but simply the wondrous impossibility of wish fulfillment.
This time NewLivia is a better Fount of Important Information. I’ve gone over it already, but it’s from her that he gets his new rules about phones and currency and citrus. But she’s gone very quickly.
He sees her one other time, in a brief run-in in the cabin of yet another plane. In this scene the show pulls an “anti-LOST”– instead of people not asking each other the obvious questions, NewDan and NewLivia pepper each other with ALL of the obvious questions, leaving no time for either to answer any of them! It’s a neat trick, because it leaves you having learned very little while making you feel like everything is being brought into the open. We learn a couple of little things, such as NewLivia not knowing about Dan’s present and his marriage to Katie (so she’s not “magical” or watching over him), and they sort of work out that NewLivia’s task might be following NewDan. She also says she didn’t want to leave him, so she apparently has as little control over her time travelling as he does.
But there’s another neat trick under that. By asking but not answering, the scene points us to the next mystery the show wants us to be thinking about– where did Livia flash to when she left that plane before it crashed years ago, and where and when does she live now?
- Things Dan Learns This Week About His Travelling: Katie refers to this as his “No Can Do List”, and second on the list after no flying is definitely no driving. He goes to pick up the car he wrecked last week (“Do you remember why it’s in the shop, Dan?”) saying he’ll take surface streets and go slow, but sure enough he flashes out again (this time after parking safely and calling his wife). Seriously, dude, give up your keys.
- The running problem of finding his old cell phone and getting his old charger for it reminds me of the novel Blackout by Connie Willis, another time travel story. The time traveler needs a certain type of black skirt to fit in, and can’t find one for oh, several hundred pages. While the story unfolds around her beautifully, her chief concern is the skirt, which adds a realistic undercurrent of urgency– aren’t we often distracted by some seemingly minor quest?
- The headache that precedes his flashes times out differently depending on the needs of the scene, as best I can figure. In this episode he has a few seconds to get out of the office or park the car, but at other times it will be only a fraction of a second before he’s gone, or several minutes.
- Going back to the show’s commentary on travel, in most of the WOW time shifting Dan is in some kind of transportation– on a plane in the 1970s, on a trolley in the 1980s, another plane in the 90s, and flashing out of a plane and a car in the present. (“Friendly Skies” could have been called “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles”.) I don’t know what that adds up to, but there it is.
- Livia says in 199-whatever that she doesn’t think she’s “cut out to be a mom”. There’s a lot we don’t know about Livia… yet. Was she flashing around through time before this? Is that why she doesn’t think she should be a mom? It was also sad watching Dan hear this for the first time.
- While the metaphors in the show have a light touch, the lyrics of the songs that play in the background do not. As NewDan leaves PastDan and PastLivia making out in their apartment, the song sings, “Do you want me now? Do you want me now?” (The songs are a good way of evoking time periods, of course, and that was a hit of its day, but man, is that on the nose.) The show ends with them driving off to the tune, “We don’t care about the young folks talking ’bout the young style, and we don’t care about the old folks, talking ’bout the old style too…” which just brings home my point about them being a middle-aged couple.
- 2007-watch: Dan’s in some trouble with work. As was mentioned earlier, the paper is struggling and there isn’t any room for error. His boss smells a story behind how Dan was able to work a loophole in security at the airport, and assigns a — gasp!– blogger to it. (I can’t remember if this becomes a problem for Dan later, but it sure sounds like it. For now, it’s a nod to the changing journalism business.)
- Why is Katie called to a four-alarm fire? Is she a firefighter? TELL US ABOUT KATIE.
- PastJack is shown as a beat cop in the 1990’s, chasing NewDan who tried to pass off a 2007 $20 bill which the cabbie assumes is counterfeit. It’s a good thing Dan managed to grab some cash from his old apartment later on. On the other hand, won’t his probably-not-unlimited cell phone bill show that he’s using extra minutes when NewDan is in the past using his old phone? Show, your pragmatism is slipping!
And here is the entire episode, for your viewing convenience!