Down the Rabbit Hole
Mondays on NBC
“Year of the Rabbit”
Written by Joan B. Weiss
Directed by Laura Innes
Pop quiz: you’re a hard-nosed, realpolitik type of cop in San Francisco, whose brother keeps claiming he is time traveling. Naturally, you don’t believe him, until one night you lock both of you in a men’s room to hammer out a little family business, and when you turn your back for one moment, guarding the ONLY exit from the room, your brother disappears. What do you do? If you’re a realistically written character, you’re going to reconsider your own skepticism. But if you’re a badly written TV character, you’ll shrug it off. Which makes you look like either a plot device or an idiot–either way, not a person we believe in. That’s the problem with Jack Vasser (Reed Diamond, Homicide: Life on the Streets) in this week’s episode of Journeyman. He’s becoming a soap opera character: he pines after his brother’s wife, dismisses the evidence of his own eyes when Dan time-jumps, is conveniently on-scene when someone needs to deflect a cop from searching his brother. When does he get to be an actual character?
Dan Vasser gets hauled back to the past in order to make sure that Melissa (Brittany Ishibashi,Veronica Mars) meets William (Josh Daugherty, Supernatural), and in subsequent jumps discovers that they marry, found an Internet company, William loses/embezzles the money, Melissa calls him on it and either she shoots him or he shoots her, depending on when Dan jumps and what he does. Blah blah blah. The resolution of the story didn’t even affect Dan’s present timeline, as previous stories have. It had “filler” stamped all over it in huge red letters; obviously the focus of the effort on this show was on the relationship of Dan and Katie.
And frankly, I no longer care much for that relationship. All the “drama” in this show revolves around Dan’s relationship with his family and co-workers, yet their reaction is exactly the sameas if their worst fears were realized and Dan was gambling/drinking/having an affair. Neither Jack nor Katie shows the slightest human curiosity about Dan’s time-traveling, or shows any normal human fascination with the past, the mechanism by which he jumps, etc. In other words, take the science fictional element out of this show, and the relationship drama would be exactly the same. Do I have to say “soap opera” again?
Most fiction, especially on television, revolves around the intersection of character and setting. But science fiction always adds one more element to the mix: the Idea. There’s always some twist, some element beyond simply substituting ray-guns for six-shooters, that elevates good science fiction beyond the level of pulp. But even when the writers drop buzzwords like “tachyon” into Journeyman, they’re still writing a conventional soap opera. They don’t really believe it. The only nod to the “sense of wonder” we look for in science fiction came near the end of the episode, when Dan receives a phone call in 1998 from a man he called in 2007. That was the first — and only — moment when I sat up and paid attention. That was a cool moment; so far, it’s the only really cool SF moment in the series. Gotta wonder what ATT charges for a cross-time phone call.
I’m not abandoning the show just yet. I’m still here for Kevin McKidd’s excellent acting, for the character Dan’s quick-thinking and resourceful handling of his time-traveling dilemmas, and for the beautiful city of San Francisco. I’m mildly — but only mildly — intrigued by the character of Livia, who seems to be an involuntary time traveler with something to hide. And if Dr. Tachyon of Livermore –the cross-time phone caller — turns out to be part of a science fictional puzzle on this show, I’ll be here with bells on (providing he doesn’t turn out to be Dr. Who). I’ll hang on a bit longer, hoping for less melodrama and more mystery.