[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?]
This week Journeyman backs me up on last week’s statement that it’s good to have backup, and it gets real lousy real quick when you don’t.
Unlike every other episode until this point (they’ve tended to begin and end with Katie), “The Year of the Rabbit” begins at Dan’s first flash to the past to 1994. He’s carrying a wrench. Before we get into the Wrong of the Week, though, let’s talk about that wrench. Dan was fixing a broken water pipe in 2007, and when he gets back, Katie is desperately holding up a pan and trying to catch what is now rain in their kitchen (coming from the upstairs bathroom). It’s very cute– to watch, but not for Katie.
Katie is the Miles O’Brien of Journeyman— you DS9 viewers know what I mean, Miles just gets dumped on repeatedly in the series, and grumbles but stalwartly presses on. I’ve talked about the strain time travel has put on Dan and Katie’s marriage, but this episode really brings home that the person who’s bearing the brunt of all this disruption is Katie, and nothing sums that up better than her holding that pan over her head as the water pours on her, looking like a drowned rat.
We learned last week that Katie is an accomplished TV reporter. We don’t know why that ended, but it seems like she went on the “Mommy track”, deciding to stay home while their son is small (rather than be on-call for a hot story as she was in the 1990s). That hasn’t kept her at home, though– tonight she is hosting a formal gala (I’m guessing her local fame is why she has the gig) and she really needs Dan, today of all days. She’s nervous, with a head full of details and worries. And Dan’s traveling again.
Let’s get back to the Wrong of the Week, because for once it’s a real metaphor, an amplified version of what Dan and Katie are going through. (I don’t usually get into these with much detail, but the details here are thematic, for once.)
It begins with a bit of a red herring in 1994– Dan ends up at Cafe Luna again, meets a young lady waiting on a blind date, and breaks up what could be a physical altercation with her ex-boyfriend, enabling her to meet her date. Case closed, right? No, of course not. By 1997, the young lady Melissa (Brittany Ishibashi) and her date William (Josh Dougherty) are engaged, and have started an internet business (etrade.com with a fictional name) with his software and her money. (For you time-travel sightseers, this is of course the iconic tech boom and bust of the late 1990s.) Dan witnesses William buy a gun on the street, and then have a cute meet-up with Melissa. Dan warns Melissa about the gun. He also runs into that ex again, who turns out to be a cop named Greg (Matthew Humphreys) who is sort-of stalking Melissa (Dan talks him out of this).
I say sort-of stalking because it looks kind of creepy in the moment, but this is mostly a red herring too– by the end we’ll see him more as a love-lorn nice guy who was just trying to keep an eye on her and make sure she was all right, but right now he’s being painted as the potential problem. In the present, Dan learns Melissa was murdered in 1998 and her cop-ex Greg was the lead suspect, but was cleared due to lack of evidence. The show likes to keep us in the dark on the WOWs until the last possible moment, so it takes us a while to get to Greg being a good guy, and that’s problematic– by the end, it’s a little hard to swallow that he’s the hero when they obviously broke up for a reason (even though we don’t know what that was), and he used his official position to pretty much stalk her for a year. (If you’ve seen Season Four of Misfits, you know what I mean– Finn was introduced in such a morally compromised way that it was hard to go along with the show’s insistence he was one of the good guys.)
By 1998, it’s more clear Greg isn’t the problem. William and Melissa are married now, and started that company, but everything has gone south. She’s changed the locks and they’re arguing in the hall over a disk that has the company’s financial records. It’s not entirely clear what’s gone wrong (investors are mad, she needs to go over all the books again and try to make things right), but the reason behind it is– William has let her down. Whatever’s going on, it’s because of him, and he’s acting crazed and desperate, threatening her with a gun to get that disk. Dan stops him (and ends up with the gun, which becomes important later). Here is where we get to the amplified theme– they’re married, but we’re already watching a strained marriage– the company is the real partnership (his software and her money, remember) and William has betrayed Melissa, and left her all alone to bear the brunt of the problems. She has no backup.
In the present, Dan learns she has murdered William instead and is in jail. Oops. “Can’t anyone help you back there?” Katie asks, and when Dan returns to 1998, this gives him an idea. Realizing this is the night that the lights will go out for William, Dan recruits Greg off his beat (“Call the police.” “You are the police!” “I’m not the Melissa police.”) to help Dan stop the tragedy. They burst in as Melissa shoots William, and Dan places William’s gun back in his hand to make it self-defense, while Greg runs to Melissa, holds her, and assures her he’ll be there for her. So Greg literally becomes “backup” in the cop sense, as well as in the couple sense, driving home that metaphor. (Apparently, NBC didn’t want us to have to work so hard to piece the theme together.)
Katie doesn’t fare so well. Already seething over Dan seeing Livia in the past and not telling her, Dan’s promises that he will “definitely be there” for the gala are for naught. Dressed and ready, Dan manages to scrawl SORRY on the mirror in lipstick before flashing out. Sinking onto the bedside, Egolf as Katie shows us how devastated she is without saying a word. If the pan image was cute, this is utterly painful to watch.
And just as in our WOW, cop-ex Jack comes to the rescue and drives her to the gala. (They are not “staying smart”.) Dan manages to arrive as the party is kicking up, but he’s bruised and sweaty from his fight with William, and Katie feels the gun in his pocket (“and I’m not in the mood for a punchline”). He may be here, but with the police chasing a man in a tux with a gun, he’s scaring Katie pretty good, and making her night worse. (This week’s metaphor for time travel seems to be “being in the mob”.) And he vanishes again, leaving her and Jack to pick up the pieces. (Jack covers for Dan with the cops.) Jack and Katie share a wistful moment about the “good times” as their old song plays, the sort of moment that two not-smart people might turn into an affair, but Katie wisely turns down a dance, as well as defends Dan. (“You’ve always got his back,” Jack marvels, in case you missed the theme.) When Dan returns, she gives him the cold shoulder too (expertly shown by having her cold shoulders so prominent in that amazing dress as she brushes past him). While they end up making out in the coat room, Katie points out (in an echo of Dan’s constant refrain), “It doesn’t fix anything,” and Dan agrees, but it’s pretty clear the love and passion between them will carry them through, even though they have a lot of work ahead to sort out the details of their new life.
While that’s the thematic part of the story, there is one major leap (pardon the pun) in the mythology of Journeyman that is quite exciting: Tachyons and Deep Throat! I really thought we were going to get all of our mythos from NewLivia, I’d completely forgotten about Dan’s secret science contact. It’s only three short scenes but it’s quite thrilling. Dan asks the science editor at the paper whom to talk to about tachyons (“Is this cosmic phenomena or hard science?” “I’d say it falls under cosmic phenomena,”), and the editor sets up a call with Elliot Langley at Livermore Labs. Langley at first seems to ramble a bit (“I’ve been a subscriber for over 40 years,”) but it quickly becomes clear he’s trying to find a gentle way to reveal that he and Dan’s father, the reporter Frank Vassar who also worked at the Register, “go way back”. They met when Langley worked at NASA. I don’t know if Dan’s father is still alive (or around), but Dan acts like a son who’s in awe that someone knew his deceased father, maybe has stories about him, that sort of thing. (Langley never says anything like, “Sorry to hear he passed away,” however, and in the brief mentions of Frank, arguably speaks of him in the present tense.)
This is just my guess– not a spoiler, just a guess, because I’ve forgotten all of this– that Frank might have time traveled too, and contacted Langley at NASA back in the day for help, much as Dan is doing now. It’s possible Langley knows a lot about this affliction/job from going through it with Frank (as Katie is going through it with Dan). Is it possible that Dan’s father “left them” but really just flashed away for good? There hasn’t been a mention of Frank at all before now, and nothing is said in the episode, it’s just the feeling I got from the way the actors played the moments.
Langley currently works at Livermore Labs, which apparently is a security-restricted company, because Dan doesn’t have the clearance to meet Langley at his office. Instead, Langley promises to call back with an appropriate location.
And here’s where things get really exciting. Dan has just finished his fight with William and is walking down the street when his phone rings. He answers it distractedly, and it’s Langley. It takes both Dan and us a second to realize– that’s his 1998 phone in his hand. This is still 1998, he hasn’t flashed back to 2007 yet.
Now, what the fresh hell was that?! I can see a few scenarios, and I’ll save the most likely for last. First, it’s possible that was 1998 Langley calling. Nothing in the dialogue gives us a clue. I don’t know why Langley would be calling, possibly because Frank asked him to (was Frank around in 1998?) or maybe he was returning Dan’s now-forgotten for-a-story call from 1998. (The theory here would be that Dan put out a call to Langley, but never heard back because NewDan intercepted the call, and then PastDan forgot all about it.) It’s also possible that Langley himself can travel through time, and got confused and returned the call to NewDan as he said he would, but accidentally did it while he was in 1998 without thinking. (Much as Dan distractedly answered the phone without realizing it shouldn’t be ringing– or that he shouldn’t answer it, see “Tiny Threads”, below.) We still don’t know what Langley’s credentials are, or what his relationship with Frank was, so it’s possible he’s the genius behind all of this time-traveling, or found a way to control it (ala Quantum Leap as Al and Ziggy were using science and math to try to keep up).
The most likely scenario to me, based on how everyone played it, was that 2007 Langley called Dan’s cell phone, just returning his call as he said he would, and the call was cosmically routed to 1998. (It’s technically possible that Dan still has the same cell number, even though keeping your number wasn’t allowed until 2003.) This shocks Langley, who can tell what’s happened from Dan’s reaction (“Elliot Langley? From Livermore Labs?” he asks, as if testing him), and he gets off the phone as quickly as possible. With all the plates Dan’s spinning in the episode, there’s no time to ponder what the hell just happened there, so I guess we’ll find out more next week!
Time for threads–
Jack and His New Lady: Jack has a really cute not-quite-first-date with a doctor. We’ll see her again, and thank goodness, because the Jack/Katie thing really needs to be put to bed. Their interactions in this episode were perfect (and funny looking back on the football party scene, Jack was not very good backup for Katie then, which led to them breaking up, but he’s here for her now) and all made sense, but we’re already four episodes in and I’m already tired of it. Let her go, Jack, and stop being a troll. On the other hand, Jack and Doctor Lady are adorable– Jack wins Best Line when he says with clear awe, “You’re five pounds of trouble on a two-pound line, aren’t ya?”
Dan and NewLivia: Well, I thought we’d put this to rest already, but NewLivia still has questions about Katie. Perhaps the show thought we did too, because it has Dan clearly state, “Katie was with my brother then. I was with you. I was totally with you,” and it draws a clearer line on how Katie could go from one brother to another who’s so different. We also got some clarification where things stand with Katie regarding Livia at the start of this episode: she knows Dan saw Livia in the past one time, and Katie is none to keen on this. She particularly would have a problem with Dan seeing NewLivia on a regular basis. “I wouldn’t want that. I liked Katie…” Livia says, wistfully. It’s always interesting to think how this is all playing out in the context of her life. When has she been? Does she, like Doctor Who, collect friends and have to give them up on a regular basis? Or was this a unique situation?
“Livia does what I do”: Dan once again is open with Katie, although once again he doesn’t get it all out in this episode. Katie does learn that Livia is also a time traveler, and that Dan sees her “all the time”. It’s not clarified for Katie exactly what this means (that NewLivia is coming from whenever she is to follow/help Dan) but it’s a step forward in this storyline. Her head does begin to explode, as Dan predicted, but he reassures her and it’s all quickly dropped when she feels the gun in his pocket. Later, she asks, “Does Livia know about us?” and Egolf expertly lays in Katie’s underlying guilt about taking Livia’s man.
That layer intrigues me– for Katie this is all so much more complicated than Dan seeing another woman, for in the back of her mind she’s still the other woman who lives in the shadow of the “great love” of Dan and Livia.
Rules for Time Travelers: Apparently time travel is a license to kill. “In the present, you follow the rules. In the past, it’s the Wild West.” In the timey-wimey world of Journeyman, you can’t change what you want, only what The Powers That Be want (whoever they are, if they exist), and that you must do at all costs. Everything else seems to get smoothed out. It doesn’t matter that Dan took a seat on a trolley that then couldn’t be taken by someone else, who was then late, changing all of history. Those kinds of things just work out, unless they are part of the particular Rube-Goldberg device of the WOW, and then every little thing changes everything. It seems rather extreme to say he can go around killing people, but I don’t remember that coming up again. It’s more about declaring that Dan can do whatever he needs to in the past to right the Wrong of the Week, and setting the boundaries so far out in the horizon that you can’t see them anymore. (“So stop asking questions, ok?” the show seems to say.)
- Dan wakes up in a church pew in 1994, and the priest says, “Oh boy…”, which of course was Sam’s catchphrase in Quantum Leap. Very cute!
- The Spin Doctors’ song “Two Princes” has been whored out to every film and tv show that either needs to say something about two lovers or signal it’s 1994. Those guys must be rich off of just that.
- The next song, “There She Was”, however, was very on-the-nose for spotting NewLivia across the room. They did the same with the final song, “At Last (My Love Has Come Along)”, first making it Jack and Katie’s song, but playing it behind Dan and Katie’s cloakroom makeout session (reaffirming that Dan is her true love, like we didn’t know that.)
- Hugh’s on Dan’s case about not getting his work done, and decides Dan must be writing a novel on the side, and tells him to knock it off. Honestly, I wish Dan would try being a novelist or long-form non-fiction writer. The pragmatic side of me thinks this would be better than holding down a job– he could continue to muddle over his story while he was traveling and work on it whenever he’s home, then support the family on his royalties while he’s away. I thought of this earlier and was quite tickled when Hugh mentioned it.
- A little Time Travel Tango, as Dan nearly runs into PastKatie doing a story in Chinatown, while NewLivia steps in and distracts her so he can get away. Had a good laugh over Katie commenting that she liked NewLivia’s new look, “you seem more mature…” It does make you wonder how often the Livia one ran into back then was really NewLivia…
- About Dan answering the phone– the movie Primer didn’t come out for another two years after this, so I’ll forgive the show for not considering what is an important plot point in that movie: when a call is placed in 1998 to Dan’s cell phone, and there are two Dan’s cell phones in the past, which one gets the call? Both of them? The nearest one the cell phone tower finds? What if NewDan intercepts a call for PastDan? Dan should never answer his old phone. He should assume all incoming calls are for PastDan. Now, in his defense, he was distracted, and for the purposes of suspense he doesn’t have that “Why is my phone ringing?!” moment, but rather answers it out of habit. I’m going to chalk it up to Primer that I can’t help but be a wee bit obsessed with this whole cell phone issue. (Why doesn’t PastDan see the weird calls on his bill?!
And here’s the entire episode, enjoy!