Boxset Friday: Travelers (season 3) (Netflix)

Limited by design

Travelers - Season 3

Available on Netflix

I foresee a future where ultimately, only Netflix makes TV. All TV you want to watch will be on Netflix and that will be the only TV you get to watch.

How can we stop this? More importantly, should we stop this or is the alternative future so much worse?

Gosh, what a smooth segue into this review of season 3 of Travelers. You barely noticed the bump, did you?

When Travelers started, it was a surprisingly decent, low-key Canadian series on that country’s Showcase channel. Yes, it had some funding from Netflix, but as the show’s star and producer Eric McCormack (Will & Grace) pointed out when interviewed at the time, it was still a show that was proudly Canadian and “Canadian first”. Sure, the rest of the world would get to watch it on Netflix sooner or later, but everyone in Canada would get the chance to watch it first.

However, here we are hitting season 3 and it’s now Netflix-only. No initial Canadian airing first any more. Netflix has assimilated Travelers and made it a true original, rather than a ‘Netflix Original’.

Soon, all TV will be like this. But should this future be avoided? Is season 3 of Travelers any different or worse from the previous two seasons?

Travelers - season 3

Well traveled

Season 3 of Travelers picks up where the previous season left off, more or less. There’s a bit of a time jump but not a huge one and the gaps are filled in pretty quickly.

If you recall, when last we left Travelers, our gang of time travellers had been outed by the very first of their number, Traveler 001: they had been forced to confess to camera that their consciousnesses had been sent back in time by an AI called ‘The Director’ to replace those of present day people who were about to die, in order to prevent the terrible future they’d all come from. Yes, they themselves were about to do what they’d tried to avoid for two seasons and expose their mission to the world – and their new, present-day loved ones. What would happen next, could they stop it and how would it affect their mission? And how would being on Netflix affect the storytelling?

Well, there’s more swearing…

Spoilers after this trailer and the jump.


Body swapping

For the most part, season 3 of Travelers is more of the same. The same is, of course, really good, and its strengths have always been in its characters and some surprisingly hard sci-fi ideas. But the show does feel a little less innovative and there are fewer ‘so cool’ moments.

Much of the season is playing around with the format and ideas already introduced rather than creating anything new. Old characters and storylines return, the Faction returns, Traveler 001 returns (in various guises). There’s lots of nods to the fans, but there’s nothing too radical.

We do, of course, have to deal with the ramifications of the season 2 finale and the first couple of episodes do initially look like they’re going to create a somewhat different format, as our Travelers have to learn to work with the present-day authorities to save the future. Sure, all the Loved Ones get a healthy does of RetCon to ensure they can be reset back to zero, but added to the mix is a new partner for McCormack, Yates (Kimberley Sustad), who supposedly has a degree of oversight over the Travelers to ensure they’re not up to anything malevolent.

However, it’s not long before she simply becomes a niggly anchor on the action who must be avoided, rather than anything too intrinsic to the storyline. She does provide some philosophical counterpoints to the Travelers’ actions, such as whether their entire modus operandi is ethical, but nothing that really gives them pause to think or changes the show in any real way.

For the most part, the season is then the same as before: individual missions to try to prevent the future, while having to deal with ‘The Faction’ and Traveler 001’s plans against the Director. Against these A-plots, we get the character-based B-plots. McCormack has to try to quell his wife’s growing RetCon-induced concerns; Jeff the alcoholic turns out to be immune to RetCon, causing Carly problems; David the social worker thinks he was kidnapped by a serial killer so wants to learn martial arts and to use a gun; and Trevor, the world’s old man, is starting to have a consciousness-swapping induced brain disease.


It’s all about character

To complain about this would be a little churlish, since character-focused sci-fi is what makes Travelers so interesting. It also provides a useful launchpad for various science-fiction ideas about the nature of consciousness and moral philosophy: if, for example, you’re about to kill someone but don’t because a Traveler is consequently able to enter that person’s mind before they did, have you actually killed that person nevertheless? If a Traveler does enter the body of a serial killer and consequently saves the world and is entirely innocent of any bad deeds and you know it, are you morally culpable if you send him to jail?

There’s also some hard SF sitting in the corner as usual, with quantum entanglement between quantum computers allowing for temporal messaging, DNA being used for data storage, and more. All of which provides some of the trademark ‘so cool’ moments that have made previous seasons of Travelers so good.

The other reason not to complain is that ‘limitations’ is the theme of the season. The Travelers seem to have fewer and fewer options, more and more things go wrong, more and more people end up dead and ultimately, they don’t appear to be fixing the future, no matter what they do. Indeed, the show’s final episode gives us the paradox that by interfering in the way they have without sufficient information, they’ve actually brought about the end of the world sooner than expected.


The end?

The ending does, of course, open up the show to all manner of possibilities. It could simply stop here, open endedly. We could assume that stopping the asteroid Helios even sooner, preventing Traveler 001 turning up and the whole Traveler programme starting, and letting the present day get on with solving its own messes is a suitable moral for the show: let’s fix our own problems, because expecting help from anyone else is not going to solve anything in the long run. The Travelers even brought about a nuclear war through trying to help. We certainly get a happy looking David and Marcy meeting for the first time as normal people on a bus, rather than in the future we know.

Equally, we could get a season 4. We do of course see Traveler programme version 2 initiated and McCormack’s character is at ground zero for 9/11 but for some reason can’t see any aeroplanes with only 10 or so minutes to go – he seems perplexed. Has time already been altered somehow? And if we do get this version 2.0 Travelers, freed from the constraining parameters of season 3, how many of the cast will be back? And will all the rules of Traveling have been changed? Anyone for shared consciousnesses?


Fellow Traveler

There’s a lot to commend in season 3 and I certainly managed to tear through the whole 10 episodes in less than a week, putting aside all other programming so I could have a clean run at it. However, while there are some great ideas and variety – I particularly liked the casting against type of Christopher Heyerdahl – and some lovely variety, there was a certain déjà vu to proceedings. McCormack’s wife is distrustful again? Jeff’s all alcoholic and aggressive again? David’s trying to man up and failing again? Having to deal with Aleksander again? Hall again?

Meanwhile, things that should have given the show a welcome pep quickly petered away, to be replaced with more of what we’re used to.

If the show doesn’t get renewed, I wouldn’t be deeply upset because the ending is satisfying enough. If it does come back, though, the fact it’s going to have to be radically different is welcome, too, since the initial batch of ideas seem to have hit its limit and I firmly believe that everyone involved could easily come up with some great new ideas with a different set of Traveling rules.

So I, for one, look forward to our Netflix-dominated future. How about you?


  • Rob Buckley

    I’m Rob Buckley, a journalist who writes for UK media magazines that most people have never heard of although you might have heard me on the podcast Lockdown Land or Radio 5 Live’s Saturday Edition or Afternoon Edition. I’ve edited Dreamwatch, Sprocket and Cambridge Film Festival Daily; been technical editor for TV producers magazine Televisual; reviewed films for the short-lived newspaper Cambridge Insider; written features for the even shorter-lived newspaper Soho Independent; and was regularly sarcastic about television on the blink-and-you-missed-it “web site for urban hedonists” The Tribe. Since going freelance, I've contributed to the likes of Broadcast, Total Content + Media, Action TV, Off The Telly, Action Network, TV Scoop and The Custard TV.

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