Thursday, June 30, 2016

Continuum S1 Ep1: A Stitch In Time

"Where? Where is here?
How do I get back!? How do I get home!?"
-Kiera Cameron-

"You are home."
-Lucas Ingram-

The year is 1980. Heather Locklear. Heather Thomas. Rachel Nichols. Oh wow! (The Sci-Fi Fanatic looks longingly at a poster on his bedroom wall laying back on his pillow with arms folder comfortably behind his head). Well, that's how it would have been once upon a time for Nichols along with the likes of Locklear (Melrose Place, T.J. Hooker) and Thomas (The Fall Guy). The latter two are always confusing to me maybe because they are both doubly hot, but my loyalty is mostly with Thomas. Working with Captain James T. Kirk and The Six Million Dollar Man will get a kid's attention. Now back to the present day.

The time travel sub-genre in science fiction is normally the kind of thing this writer can handle in small doses. This is likely why a standalone episode as a one-off in A TV series utilizing the concept works best for me. And when it's done well it can be surprising even ingenious.

Stargate Universe, S1, Ep8, Time here was an exceptional bit of time travel television.

Predestination (2014) here, based on Robert A. Heinlein's All You Zombies, was an extraordinarily solid time travel film with a quality story.

Many will note Star Trek: The Next Generation, S3, Ep15, Yesterday's Enterprise or the legend that is Star Trek: The Original Series, S1, Ep27, The City On The Edge Of Forever, penned by Harlan Ellison, as quintessentially perfect episodes of space-time continuum storytelling often making the top ten lists of all science fiction fans.

Many would cite Babylon 5's classic two-parter S3, Ep16 and Ep17, War Without End, as an essential bit of excellent sci-fi storytelling.

And here we are as Musings Of A Sci-Fi Fanatic ventured into those rarely uncharted waters, an entire TV series based on time travel. With the exception of the generally solid science fiction series Fringe, I rarely take such risks with the sub-genre when its the central, underlying mechanism of a series science fiction.

To prove my point, SciFiNow magazine posted a Top 10 Time Travelling TV Shows. The list rolled as follows. It's not exactly a science fiction fan's dream.

10. Goodnight Sweetheart (1993-1999).
9. Fringe (2008-2013).
8. Continuum (2012-2015).
7. Samurai Jack (2001-2004).
6. Life On Mars (2008-2009).
5. Outlander (2014-present).
4. Primeval (2007-2011).
3. Sliders (1995-1999).
2. Doctor Who (1963-present).
1. Quantum Leap.

Of that list, apart from the perennial and seemingly unending Doctor Who, only a few have been properly experienced.

Life On Mars always had my interest. Outlander is indeed one to watch. Sliders, well that's something I usually eat not to be cheeky, but many of these have simply not registered because I generally stay away from this sort of thing.

Continuum ranking even higher than Fringe on the aforementioned list merely reinforced my decision to take time to see it. With the series concluded I needed to jump back in time through beloved Blu-Ray to do so.

Upon experiencing the entirety of Continuum, Season One, it was worth drawing attention to this classy sci-fi action adventurer steeped heavily in a number of sci-fi technologies.

We offer a close inspection of Continuum, Season One, Episode 1, A Stitch in Time.

Unlike The X-Files-like leanings of Fringe Season One, Continuum relishes its small-scale, sci-fi underdog status as a Canadian-based production and runs a scrappy, fighting, lean, mean, little sci-fi time machine.

As noted with the fantasy opening, the gorgeous Rachel Nichols anchors the series and is expertly cast as the series lead Kiera Cameron. She is bold, smart and sexy all rolled up into one and lands herself squarely at the center of the long legacy and pantheon of extremely hot sci-fi babes along with the likes of Amanda Tapping (who would direct three episodes of Continuum along with Stargate alum William Waring), Grace Park, Elyse Levesque, Tricia Helfer, Katee Sackhoff, Alaina Huffman, Claudia Black and more.

Continuum, when it's not painting a portrait of the future with its computer enhancements, is generally set on location in Vancouver, British Columbia. Do they have a science fiction tour available there? They should. Despite a location many series film (Stargate SG-1, The X-Files, etc.) it's actually refreshing to see a series just own it and live there. Yes, we're filming in British Columbia and that is the location for our science fiction! What a nice idea. What a pleasure to see the creators so upfront about it. Boy, this series looks a lot like it was filmed in Vancouver. Well yes, because it was.

Continuum opens in white type: Vancouver District, North American Union, 2076.

The series sci-fi themes emphasize time travel and technology.

The socio-political themes are also prominent. Terrorism versus law enforcement. Big government and corporate power. There is a clear representation of traditional values through Kiera's own nuclear family and this is contrasted with the criminal life of those who make demands through violence. The series thematically echoes the many societal ills we face today from Black Lives Matter to the terror siege on law enforcement. And an eradication of guns will not stop the villains in this series either.

There is clearly an anti-corporate, anti-capitalist message here, but that message also rings loud from the mouth of terrorists. "Let the word go forth from this time and place to friend and foe alike that we have passed the torch to a new generation unwilling to permit the undoing of human rights and dignities. And let every corporation know whether it wishes us well or ill that we shall pay any price in order to ensure the survival and success of liberty." And violence will be a means to their ends.

The Liber8 immediately connects to grass roots movements like Occupy Wall Street or Black Lives Matter, and like so many the Liber8 will use any means necessary, however unjust, cruel or disgusting to achieve its ends. For a story set in the future in its debut, its message very much resonates with us in the world we inhabit today.

Meanwhile, justice is represented by Kiera Cameron. Nichol's Cameron is a law enforcer, a hero and represents the thin blue line between order and anarchy.

Continuum doesn't necessarily preach either. Whereby V (2009-2011) awkwardly stumbled with its political message in its first season's opening salvo, A Stitch In Time lays out a number of political realities, but you're never quite certain where the series stands on its messaging and that's a good thing. The viewer is left to dissect and consider information. We are left uncomfortable as we attempt to understand the motivations and the positions of its many characters.

As the Liber8 are rounded up and imprisoned the story opens in Kiera's home in 2076, six months later (2077). Even there the discussion of method and means and the ends achieved through violence are discussed over drinks. It might as well be water cooler conversation today. 30,000 people were killed to reach twenty. Efforts are made to understand method or madness. "Separate their method from their message." Kiera represents a hawkish stance against violence and terrorism, yet the Liber8 allegedly stands for democracy and freedom, but applies terrorism and violence to achieve a goal. How is that justified?

There's no question the creators of the series were looking to infuse the program with current events and big, bold thinking, not unlike Ronald D. Moore's Battlestar Galactica.

As Michael Simpson wrote this is "a microcosm of the complex social and geopolitical issues making real-world headlines" (SciFiNow #81, p.62). The series taps into the anti-capitalist message that has permeated eight years of Barack Obama and that was embodied in the Occupy Movement nourished and supported by Obama's administration from Attorney General Eric Holder on down.

In the future humanity lives under a corporate dictatorship of a sort rather than a true democracy. The villains represent the movements to affect change but are also equally the violent monsters and criminals. How do you support the deplorable?

The message, while anti-corporate, is all about subservience and the loss of freedoms and liberties to a monolithic entity that has consumed our lives. How about the current state of big government? How about a nanny state so large that any sense of drive or motivation is squelched in favor of provisions from womb to tomb? We are in effect becoming those slaves.

So called freedom fighters would choose anarchy over order. To some anarchy is the equivalent of freedom. As a famous hero once noted, "some people just want to watch the world burn."

Continuum wisely reminds us we're not just fighting physical manifestations, replicants or terrorists, but that we are up against ideas like those that fueled the Orlando nightclub massacre. Venomous ideas appeal more than ever to the ideological and the disaffected. Continuum genuinely captures that significant social upheaval working in today's world.

David Nykl's (formerly of Stargate Atlantis) character noted, "We've given up representation, free speech, assembly." Cameron responds, "Seems like your still free to speak your mind" further underscoring what a complex socio-political-economic tightrope we walk in our own world today, where people fall on the economic ladder and how we perceive injustices. It's a slippery slope and a difficult reality to build or achieve consensus. This is the struggle of today. Economic inequality breeds discontent, but the nature of capitalism creates wealth and rewards achievers while others either fall somewhere in the middle or simply lack the drive and give up. I'm not talking about everyone or specifics, but in generalities. It's impossible to achieve a utopia. But today, thanks to technology, we are more divided than ever.

Kiera isn't a creator of wealth but a tech soldier in the war against terrorism. She is what is referred to as a protector for City Protective Services (CPS) and she believes in her cause, her mission as much as the villains, further visualizing that intense divide. She also has a family, a nice life, and appreciates what she has. Of course if we give everything we have away in the name of equality what is left? There are many who would gladly accept that offer and take your place.

The evening of Liber8's planned execution all are transported in time. A stitch in time...saves, well, eight. Kiera inadvertently is whisked away too in an effort to stop them making it nine. All are transported to the year 2012, roughly sixty four years into the past.

The series sports a fantastic cast offering a thoroughly engaging dramatic workout as stories go. William B. Davis (The X-Files), Roger Cross (Dark Matter, The Strain), Erik Knudsen (Jericho), Lexa Doig (Andromeda, Stargate SG-1), Jennifer Spence (Stargate Universe), Tony Amendola (Stargate SG-1) and many others round out a terrific ensemble with relative newcomer Rachel Nichols spearheading the lead role and pulling it off with far more comfortable aplomb than Anna Torv seemed to do for Fringe in the early going. The beautiful Cameron is also a natural.

Despite her displacement in the past, Cameron quickly connects with a young Alec Sadler, played by Knudsen, a computer and technology genius, which is precisely what the tech-friendly Cameron requires in her blast to the past.

Speaking of sci-fi tech. Kiera is fitted with an advanced, high tech, yellow-mustard/gold jump suit. This is where the geek stuff gets exciting. The suit enhances strength, deflects or repels bullets and fire and turns invisible including the person wearing it. It creates a camouflage ability capable of creating a taser-like electrical charge. It can create a magnetic field and is combined with a kind of graphic user interface that allows Cameron to manipulate screens and buttons on her wrists and thighs. Oh those thighs. Sorry.

Next, Kiera is gifted with a set of visual implants or enhanced eyes capable of reading data quickly within her field of vision including heat signatures, targeting information, etc..

She also has a mental implant and memory pack (CMR bio upgrade) allowing her to make audio visual connections to the outside via an experimental frequency when transported back in time.

She has a handgun (and a half). When not utilized it is strictly a handle, but when drawn the gun folds out into a number of parts including a barrel and a holographic projection display. It projects various ammunition types and will reject a foreign handler. Sick!

Finally she has something called a multi-tool which is a bit like the screwdriver used by the good Doctor in Doctor Who.

So the technology gizmos and gadgets, along with flashbacks, are integral to Continuum and where the series lives.

Ironically, one minor quibble about the first season is the editing which is surprising for a show about technology. The breaks between scenes are horrendous in spots. Someone did a shite job and should be sent back in time to make fixes.

Generally, A Stitch In Time plays to all of the strengths one might expect from a fish out of water story and does a splendid job of alternating its action sequences with its quieter character moments.

Technology via Kiera's memory chip is implemented to deliver some terrific back story moments and flashback sequences.

And Continuum takes the gloves off when it portrays these violent criminals through extreme violence. It's not entirely graphic, but it is indeed sharp and vicious.

There is a relentless energy running through Continuum in the spirit of chase and pursuit sci-fi films like The Terminator and The Terminator II: Judgment Day or even a classic like Ridley Scott's Blade Runner (1982). Like Rick Deckard, a Blade Runner, hunting Replicants, in Continuum, Cameron must hunt down terror group Liber8.

One sequence echoes the hyper intense urban sequence found in Michael Mann's Heat (1995) but on a smaller scale, but impressive.

A number of questions cropped up upon a second viewing that are not necessarily noticeable the first go round. There are plenty of breadcrumbs being dropped in Continuum ensuring it had the potential for a fascinating story and one that could last given all of the technology and potential for time jumping. Continuum would culminate in four seasons and forty-two episodes, just a touch longer than the two seasons assigned Stargate Universe.

Initially I paid no mind or notice to Continuum. At first glance it didn't seem appealing. Its world never looked big enough. Yet this writer misjudged it. It really shouldn't be dismissed. As noted, it's much "more than competent." It's a solid science fiction.

Continuum is a superior little sci-fi actioner with a thoughtfully penned story framework by Simon Barry. This may not have the mass market appeal of an edgy, compelling drama like Breaking Bad, but Continuum has a satisfying plan to a story with a beginning, middle and an end. This is a genuinely thrilling genre show for fans of science fiction. It's not exclusive to those fans, but those genre fans who visit Musings Of A Sci-Fi Fanatic will really get it. Quit wasting time---it's time for Continuum.

Now where is that Rachel Nichols poster? She would have been great in the 1980s. Do they even make hot chick posters anymore or has that been erased by the politically correct police of 2016?

Update: As Continuum proceeds through Season One, the elements of the criminal procedural backdrop can grate and wear thin on hardcore science fiction fans, particularly those with no taste for the plethora of crime dramas that dart the television landscape. Though Nichols' time spent on Criminal Minds, Season Six (2010-2011) serves her well.

The overwhelmingly positive news is that Continuum never loses sight of its science fiction and time travel trappings amidst that playing field.

Michael Simpson suggested that Continuum might not have survived without the aforementioned approach as a wedge entry point. Simon Barry noted the approach was important. "I thought about how, as a concept, time travel was affordable, because by bringing mythology into the present you weren't limited by having big sets. I was enjoying Battlestar Galactica, but they were a rare bird.... So I was trying to find a safe place to have mythology that wasn't expensive. Then it dawned on me that I needed to embrace one of the many structures of television that was successful---like legal, medical or cop---to frame it as a pitch, because I'd been unsuccessful in the past by not doing that" (SciFiNow #81, p.63).

So in an economical sense, and by being rather industrious, Barry nailed his concept backed by a good ground game and the good fortune of a staggered approach to Continuum's commercial support internationally. Continuum and Barry's efforts are indeed a rare mix of smart television, smart marketing and a bit of creative genius. Not a bad capital enterprise for fans of the free marketplace!