[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?]
As if NBC was giving studio notes (and I don’t have any information this happened), Journeyman’s third episode gets down to basics.
I suppose it’s impossible to have a show about time travel (especially one where the traveler explicitly changes the past) and not deal with the question of why the traveler cannot travel to his own past and change some things he personally regrets. To the show’s credit (and also Dan’s), it never attempts the question, “Why doesn’t Dan use time travel to hang on to Livia?” They’ve already neatly sidestepped this question by having Livia be alive, and another time traveler– there’s really nothing Dan could do to stop her from flashing away, as far as we know. And to even consider it would negate the established love Dan has for his new family. As painful as some things in our past may be, they are often important milestones that take us to a point in our lives we would never risk changing.
If there’s a theme to the episode, it’s that not only are some parts of our past Jenga pieces that, if pulled, would nullify the present we would never want to give up– but more than that, sometimes we must go through something horrible in order for us to find happiness and wholeness in our lives. As Dan explains to Livia about his marriage, “You were dead. Katie was there for me when no one else was.” As tragic as that experience was for Dan, there would be no marriage to Katie without it. Without Dan going through horror, Katie wouldn’t have reached out to him. This is more than just taking one road or another and having that change your life’s path, it’s about “the slings and arrows of outrageous Fortune” actually causing the later happiness to occur. Or in the parlance of the show– sometimes, you need to have a house fall on you.
Instead of trying to fix his own past, Dan is faced with returning over and over to the day of the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989, and tries in vain to warn someone that the tragedy is going to occur. Of course, no one believes him. This is almost so rote I wish they hadn’t wasted one of our precious 13 episodes on it. Shifting his focus to just saving his boss’s sister Charlotte (Virginia Williams), doesn’t help, as he isn’t successful there either.
There is someone in 1989 who needs help. Gambling addict Alan Pratt (played by Enterprise’s Dr. Phlox, John Billingsley!) is in desperate need of a wakeup call. He’s tried everything from therapy to medication, but he can’t shake the gambling monkey off his back. Now he’s trying to flame out spectacularly so that he will have the courage to commit suicide.
This Wrong of the Week is much more direct than the previous two. Instead of helping 14 other people in a Rube Goldberg device to get around to Alan, he just helps Alan. (This feels like a studio note, or it may be because Dan wastes so much time trying to save people from the quake that they needed to streamline the WOW.) Skipping ahead to the end, the rescue of Alan from himself leads him to start something like the Innocence Project, so in the present Dan helps save the wrongly convicted from execution, but meh. He helps Alan, and maybe because I like John Billingsley so much (and he did such great character work) that’s enough for me. (In fact, I couldn’t resist a few extra clips because his scenes are so good.)
It’s also more direct because Dan has a gambling problem, too, but one that he’s kicked. So who better to send to Alan than Dan, who functions as a sponsor as well as a time traveller? This gives us insight into Dan’s past as well, as he looks with desperate longing at the empty chair at the poker table. From now on, if they only mention this in passing, the blanks are filled in, mostly with that one pained look.
In keeping with this week’s theme, to make Alan’s life better, Dan needs to make it worse. “Following his instincts”, as instructed by Livia, he takes Alan to a poker game that gets him into even more trouble– and in a house that will be nearly leveled by the quake.
What therapy and medication could not do, having a house fall on him accomplishes– Alan’s brush with death is (somehow?) enough to turn his whole life around. I guess that makes sense, but from the way Alan described his attempts to quit before, I have trouble buying that the Wicked Witch solution takes hold. Again, Billingsley sells it, so it works, but it seems the writers were favoring their theme more than logic here.
While I often find the WOWs feel disconnected from the main story (and I don’t know if that’s good or bad, really), this one only feels like a distraction (it even irritates Dan– why does he have to deal with this loser when he could be saving people?). But like Alan, Dan had to have the House of Livia’s Death fall on him to find love with Katie, and Dan’s boss Hugh had to have the House of His Sister Charlotte’s Death fall on him to stop drinking.
By the end of the episode, we’ve answered the question of why Dan can’t use time travel to solve the problems he wants to solve: because sometimes good people need to have bad things happen to them.
It also takes Dan to a new understanding with his “traveling job”: he is not in charge of deciding what’s important. Without directly saying it, the show implies through NewLivia’s counsel that these WOWs are on the top of somebody’s List of Important Events, and Dan had better get on board and stop trying to second-guess the assignment and just do the job.
Because of the quick cancellation, I don’t believe we ever find out who that somebody is (or general Cosmic Justice of the Universe, perhaps?). I honestly can’t remember how much we do find out, but it seems like those inner layers of the onion would surely have been planned for Season 2 at least. There’s a lot more world-building to do, and at this point the writers did not see the cancellation coming.
But “Game Three” (so named for Game Three of the World Series, which happened the day of the quake) does a fair job of getting a lot of the timey-wimey stuff out of the way, and shifting Dan out of “My god, how do I deal with this?” and into “OK, what do I need to do?” And by extension, it shifts our perspective too. As rote as the “you can’t change what you want to” trope is for these kinds of shows, getting it all out of the way in this one episode is probably necessary for us to accept the world Dan lives in and “get on board” with the WOWs as well. And it does it with a very interesting premise to the age-old question regarding bad things and good people.
So, now it’s time to pull at some threads.
Metaphors of the Week: As I’ve said, all kinds of metaphors are applied to Dan’s time travel, so each week we’ll take a look at what we get.
First, gambling. Jack thinks Dan’s oddball behavior is because Dan’s fallen off the wagon, or pulled up to the table, or whatever the phrase is for gambling addiction. “Working on a story” was apparently his go-to cover back in his gambling days, and he’s using it again now. Katie is also making up cover stories to their son and to Hugh, and covering for Dan’s job (more on this later) while not really knowing where Dan is or what he’s up to. Dan is chastised by Hugh for mucking things up. Dan is called upon to confess to his own addiction more than once in the episode (even though he’d kicked it long ago).
Second, traveling for work. The terms “job” and “assignment” pop up time and again (Dan finally gives in to The Powers That Be when he exclaims, “If this is the job, just let me do it!”), and Dan’s taken to referring to his experiences as “traveling” and “trips”.
Dan and NewLivia: Dan is staring to realize how little he knew or understood Livia when they were together, and Livia is grasping the widening gap between them since she left.
Livia explains she had time traveled (possibly a lot) before meeting Dan, but it stopped when they met. Hoping it was gone for good, she allowed herself to get attached to Dan. (Since we know that she finally flashed when he needed “a house to fall on him”, and we suspect she’s currently following Dan as her assignment, could it be that all of the time they had together was a “job”, too? It would explain why it stopped long enough for them to get attached and for him to then lose her, and in that way keeps with this week’s theme.) His realization of the disconnect between them due to Livia’s secret makes a lovely contrast to his connection and honesty with Katie.
And Livia catches up on the latest news, namely than Dan married “Jack’s Katie”. She’s known since she saw him again for the first time that he was married, but being filled in on what she’s missed shows her how far apart they’ve become. Moon Bloodgood is devastating in her subtle portrayal of pain and acceptance.
And so the issue of Dan and NewLivia as a couple is (for them and for us), put to rest. (Not so much for Katie, more on this next week.)
Jack and Katie: Gloat much, Jack? Katie meets Jack for lunch, ostensibly because he’s concerned with his brother’s apparent misbehavior. He wants to warn her that he thinks Dan is gambling again. But it’s pretty clear that this is not brotherly concern, it’s ex-boyfriend trolling. “Remember when you said I shouldn’t be your first phone call, Jack? That was smart. Let’s stay smart,” Katie replies. (She gets all the best lines, honestly.)
Katie Had A Job!: We finally find out more about Katie! She was a reporter on the local TV news, and apparently quite popular (she’s recognized) and talented (Hugh jokes that he’s dying to hire her, she jokes that he can’t afford her). And when Dan needs someone to interview his source, he turns to Katie, who does a brilliant job. (Except for one stumble that made me laugh, “I understand the worry, it’s… worrying.”) So I guess that four-alarm fire she responded to back in 1994 was a story she was assigned.
Dan and Katie: Ups and downs this week as all this begins to take its toll. First, some ups: a lovely scene involving the toilet seat, and Katie bringing Dan his shoes to the office. Generally, the idea of “spouse as your backup” (with the interview as well) really rings true for me. Calling your spouse to bring you clothes to work is either the mark of a good partnership, or perhaps just a milestone most strong couples go through eventually. It’s good to have backup, sometimes just to answer the question, “Has the girl still got it?”
And now, the downs. There is some tension beginning to form around their different responses to this affliction/job. Katie wants to solve it and stop it, and is surprised that Dan is finding it wondrous and important. (This also plays around with the gambling metaphor a bit, as he says he can’t stop yet because he has a “feeling” about it, as he might about a bet.)
Dan lies to Katie about seeing NewLivia (or any of the Past characters). This catches up with him as Katie hears from Jack that Dan saw Livia, and when Katie finds Livia’s watch in Dan’s pocket. (We get a touch of the other-woman metaphor here. I suppose it’s not really metaphor so much as proto-love-triangle storyline, but with Dan disappearing, possibly to see his ex-fiance, it plays very much like he was caught meeting up with his lover while “traveling for work”.) They left this as a cliff-hanger, so I’m sure we’ll be talking about it more next week.
- After taking the trouble to keep fully dressed most of the time, Dan takes off his shoes just before flashing out in the first scene. D’oh! At least he hadn’t made it all the way into the shower. Showing up in 1989 buck naked and wet would have been awkward.
- 15 minutes in the past is three hours in the present. I think this is flexible, but it’s interesting that it goes the opposite direction of the usual “I was gone for a year but it was only five minutes here!” trope.
- Hugh adorably dips Katie. The few tidbits I’ve been able to glean are that Dan has known Hugh for some time, probably through work, but that Katie didn’t know him until later, possibly after she and Dan were married. In any case, with just a few deft moves in the script, it’s clear he’s close with both of them. (And probably ten or so years older.)
- We also find out the gambling lasted into Dan’s marriage with Katie, and that she helped pull him out of it. So they have been through hard times before.
Here’s the entire episode!