Friday, January 13, 2017

Netflix's Travelers

Travelers is a Netflix sci-fi series based on the concept of limited time travel from a future dystopia to the present day. I recently watched the first season.
I've watched and read a lot of time-travel-based science fiction in my time. One thing I've learned is that the fewer restrictions placed on the ability to time-travel, the harder it is to take the story seriously. Travelers addresses this problem by giving the five main characters no control over their travel through time. Nothing physical has moved through time, just their personalities and memories. Each traveler takes over the body of a person seconds before they died, taking immediate action to save themselves, then continuing that person's life. Other travelers and orders from the future show up on a regular basis, but various restrictions in the process require travelers to appear in sequential order, so no going back multiple times to influence the same events.

The show follows a team of five travelers who arrive together in present-day Seattle. They're each expected to maintain their host bodies' previous lives as well as carry out missions from the future, which leads to all the problems that you'd expect from trying to lead two separate lives. It doesn't help that each of those hosts had their own problems to deal with, from addiction to disabilities to relationship issues. The conflicts that arise as the story unfolds are split pretty evenly between dealing with strictly 21st century issues and trying to obey instructions from the future.

The best part of Travelers is the conflicts within the characters themselves, in my opinion. Supposedly they're all dedicated first and foremost to completing missions for the future, at any cost, as well as leaving behind everything about their future lives other than the mission. It doesn't take long to realize that neither of those is really the case. No matter how much lip service is paid to that ideal, the choices they make repeatedly show that they have other priorities. Several supporting characters play a large role in this - wives, friends, parents, children, etc. In theory the travelers should be willing to sacrifice any of their relationships for the sake of the future, but it's never that simple.

Travelers has its fair share of shortcomings, largely related to what I consider to be unimaginative writing. After watching the first three episodes, I already had a pretty good idea where the overall story arc was headed. Indeed, in terms of broad strokes, the season end was pretty much exactly what I'd expected. Also, there are several instances (most notably in the big mid-season climax of episode six) where the characters strictly obey the future's rules of conduct in situations where it makes no sense. That would be fine if they always did so, but most of the time they're more than willing to bend the rules, so those situations come across as the writers relying using those future rules as a crutch to increase suspense. For me (and several other people I know) it had the opposite effect.

This first season of Travelers was good enough that I'll watch another, if Netflix decides to continue the series. And it's worth recommending to fans of the sci-fi time-travel genre. Just be aware that you're likely come across some cringe-worthy moments where the writing doesn't make a lot of sense.

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