When we left TIME AFTER TIME, John had jumped into the time machine and traveled back to Paris in the 1800s to find the son he never knew he had. What we find out very quickly in this episode is that he went to a specific date in 1818 because that’s the day that John’s son, Henry Ayers, supposedly dies in an explosion on his way to war. When H.G. questions Jane as to how John could possibly know that, she’s like, everything is on the Internet. True enough, but I’m hard-pressed to believe that John has somehow in the few weeks he’s been in the twenty-first century figured out the computer skills generally only possessed by people who spend all of their free time putzing around with genealogy — not to mention that very specific information, like specifically where and when and how Henry was being transferred when he died, generally doesn’t exist… but since John has to time travel in order to use this information, I guess being dubious about their research tactics is a little silly.
H.G. and Jane prepare to follow John to Paris, but when Jane asks if her outfit will be appropriate, H.G. shouts at her that she’s not allowed to come because it’s not safe. He’s not wrong, but it’s an irritating way to block Jane out of a chunk of the episode which, in a show centered around two dudes, cuts pretty heavily into the women’s screen time which is irritating. It’s also irritating that Jane needs to be told by Griffin that H.G. probably didn’t want her to come because he loves her, and nobody wants to put somebody they love in danger. Since H.G. is constantly putting Jane in danger by, I don’t know, introducing Jack the Ripper into her life, this seems a little misplaced. This realization for Jane is maybe supposed to be touching, but it feels too soon to even heavily imply that H.G. and Jane are in love, and there’s still that lingering annoyance that Jane is continually shuffled out of the action.
Meanwhile, Vanessa connects with a scientist who used to work with her parents who might have some information about the still mysterious project Utopia. Although he’s reluctant to help her — he tells her that he doesn’t want her to be disappointed in her parents, whom he suspects stole their research, but the audience already knew that they stole the research, so it’s not a wholly useful scene — he promises to look through his old files and see what he can dig up.
In Paris, John finds Henry and says he knew Henry’s mother, and talks to Henry under that pretense. Turns out, Jack the Ripper’s son is a wholly moral, standup guy, and although John briefly tries to tempt Henry into talking about how much he loves murderin’, Henry is really just an ace dude. John is weirdly pleased by this. In a(nother) throwaway scene between Brooke and Griffin where Brooke heals an injury Griffin has with some kind of magic slash science from their parents’ research, Griffin asks the question I’ve had from the word go — why would John, who doesn’t care about anybody, care about a son he’d never met? Brooke says it’s because he’s a narcissist, and now he knows there’s someone created in his image.
That leads to what is basically a breakdown for John when he drags Henry into a shed and ties him up so he can’t go to his death. John proclaims that Henry is the only good thing he’s ever done, and claims his life is dark and misunderstood and it’s just — wow, it’s just so tone deaf. It’s not that John doesn’t have the potential to be a compelling character. It’s not that a serial killer who travels forward in time to see his legacy and has a crisis about it, or something, isn’t a potentially interesting philosophical-slash-ethical debate. It’s just that John up until this episode is still actively killing and attacking people, and whenever the show chooses to linger on his emotional turmoil after murdering a half dozen virtually identity-less women, it gets a bit hard to watch. John’s conflict about what kind of person he might want to become doesn’t negate the person he has been and continues to prove to be. The show isn’t ignorant of that fact, and at the very least Vanessa points it out at the end, but the last thing the world needs is another hot, troubled white guy being forgiven absolutely irredeemable actions because he’s constitutionally above consequence.
Jane, back in the present, realizes through her spectacularly improbable research that Henry doesn’t actually die being transported to war, but later, in an explosion in a café. She rushes to the time machine to go to warn H.G., and immediately runs into John, fresh off of the high of thinking he’s saved his son. He snatches the picture out of Jane’s hands that shows the explosion and the news article that foretells Henry Ayers’ death, and so John and Jane rush off to the café — Jane to ensure that Henry dies and save H.G., who’s pictured injured in the article, and John to save Henry.
Vanessa meanwhile gets a call from the scientist that he’s found the files, and goes to get them. Overhearing, Griffin calls Brooke and tells her about the scientist. Somehow, even though Brooke would have to look up this guy and figure out where he lives and then send her experimental ragemonster man out and Vanessa left before any of this, the ragemonster gets there first, and kills the scientist before Vanessa arrives. Luckily, Vanessa gets the files and gets out.
This is also a conflict I take issue with, but for different reasons — there’s something deeply interesting in both Time After Time and even Timeless in that it puts the good guys in the position of often ensuring that people die to preserve timelines. So in situations where the protagonists are there to cause death, basically, and the antagonist is there to stop it, there’s a lot of really juicy moral material to be mined. But Time After Time, other than a brief conversation before H.G. leaves in the first place to confirm the necessity, doesn’t bother to delve into it. It seems like a total waste to ignore this and instead choose to augment the emotional turmoil of a serial killer.
Jane and John arrive just as the explosion happens, and Henry survives just long enough to run back in the building to save somebody and die in an explosion after the fact. H.G. is injured, and Jane appeals to John’s episodes-prior claim that he’s a doctor more than a killer in order to get him to help save H.G.
He agrees — honestly, the fact that after being taken hostage by John Jane is willing to go anywhere near him and at all pretend he’s a human being and not a terrible lizard monster is a stunning choice on part of the writing staff, and I do not mean that in a good way — and John and Jane get H.G. back to the time machine. John is then taken hostage by Vanessa, and H.G. and Jane have an uncomfortable moment where they realize that they’re eventually going to be separated.
We end on Vanessa opening the file and discovering that one of the Project Utopia test subjects was John Stevenson, which makes this time line even loopier than originally thought. While certainly this means John survives for the foreseeable future since he must then spend considerable time in the past, it’s a little confusing that now that John is in their custody they don’t just… kill him. If the whole impetus of this show, originally, was to find and stop John from assimilating into the present and wreaking havoc, they’ve caught him now. They’ve achieved their goal, and they can’t possibly just put him back on the street so what’s the option? And what’s the purpose going forward? Short term, it’s to get to the bottom of Project Utopia, but I’m not sure why we’re doing that anymore. If as much consideration were given to the show’s drive as was given to John’s, it might be less frustrating to watch.
Season 1, Episode 5 (S01E05)
Time After Time airs Sundays at 9PM on ABC
Alyssa Thorne | Contributor