Long gone are the days when, if you wanted Jennifer to do something… you told her not to it. For better or worse, joining the fight against time, instead of always being on the periphery, has significantly helped Jennifer to focus her insanity. The relational component between Cole and Jennifer that unfolded in Guardians is highly rewarding from a character development standpoint and one that, unequivocally, draws me in week-to-week.
Cole’s sensitivity to humanity seems to be in flux between where he was in season 1 and season 2, and yet he still manages to reorient himself totally to the greater good versus saving the woman he loves. I think back to the standoff at Raritan toward the end of season 2 when, for the umpteenth time, Ramse tells Cole that he can’t possibly understand his motivation to find the Witness because he (Cole) is not a father. While I can appreciate for the purposes of storytelling why it’s necessary for Ramse to take such an extreme stance, that argument (that justification) is worn out. It will be super interesting to see how Ramse’s attitude and approach changes now that Sam is dead. In spite of understanding Ramse’s pain, and how he manages to somehow come down on a different side of every issue with Cole, I’m still more impressed by the way Cole is written. Cole feels like the rare and oft overlooked characterization of the principle of duty and purpose. For a man in his position (the fated man, but also the man who has experienced love) to take such a big step to the side from what he wants to do in order to do what is necessary, that takes a different kind of love.
And in the most relatable way, we get a story in this episode that reveals just how far we can move forward when we step away to focus on something else. Countering creative, technical or logistical blockers with a forceful attempt to push through it hardly ever yields the best results; it’s when we step away, focus on another task, that the solutions typically come.
In one of the most entertaining sequences to date, Jennifer takes matters into her own hands back in the post-WWI era in order to capture the attention of her friends in the future. Under the stage name J.H. Bond (keeping her Hargrove roots, it seems), which she adopts to evade discovery from the Horsemen, she performs a number of (seemingly) well-received plays or acts. Everything from Charlie Chaplin to E.T. to… Jaws, was it? She wrote an album! Délivrez-moi de France, Toujours en 1921… and everyone’s favorite: “Jones! Pourqoui est-ce si long!”
All this in an effort to make enough noise for her secret messages to echo throughout time and reach the ears of Grandma Time in 2046. Even though Katarina cannot appreciate Jennifer’s brilliance, we sure can. And Cole seems to be catching on as well. They’ve been through enough together, at this point, for her antics to not be those of a raving lunatic… but those of a genuinely distressed friend.
At the end of Mother, when Jennifer has the vision of the Horsemen, she says that it all starts here. In science fiction, overall, statements like that by a more prophetic character are a little abused and overused, usually requiring a greater payoff than is ever intended to make. (For example, Fringe re-purposing the phrase “the boy is important” between season 2 and season 5, did less to satisfy the story in season 5 than it did to take away from when it was originally utilized.)
The payoff, in this case, didn’t feel as in-your-face as I was expecting/hoping for, but it did bring about something I feel will be hugely important moving forward. It all starts here may be a sort of red-herring, but I think it was more intended to draw focus to where the chase for the Witness begins, both in knowing what exactly they’re chasing and what they are up against.
So, let’s break it down. Jennifer is launched back in time, to Paris in 1917, and has a premonition about the Horseman. She becomes a prisoner of war, but ultimately survives and spends her time writing messages to the future while hiding from the Horsemen. Her discovery by Cole and Katarina coincides with her discovery by the Horsemen. It’s a little hard to tell whether the Horseman happened upon her or if he sought her out, but both say to the other: you’re not supposed to be here.
Enter Cole and Katarina stage left. Their arrival is impeccable as they take out the Guardian just as the man is about to take out Jennifer. Their intention on coming to 1917 is solely to retrieve Jennifer, they have no idea about the Guardians’ presence in this time, nor who they are or what precious cargo they carry. But upon finding the man’s identification, pursue the line of investigation back to the hotel where the other guardians are keeping watch over the Witness. The bloodbath that ensues prompts Magdalena to return to a moment earlier in her timestream and warn of their imminent discovery (and thus change course).
And the chase begins.
Magdalena made a similar sacrifice in the previous episode, in order to undo what Cassie did. And the more I think about it, the more impressed I am with this paradigm. Magdalena was raised to be a mother. That was her sole purpose. And because that was her sole purpose, she can make these huge sacrifices so as to ensure the ultimate outcome. But the other important factor is that through the use of these splinter vests, they’ve found a stellar way to play Jenga. By always going back in time far enough to alter course rather than alter an event, they’ve managed to isolate the butterfly effect of the change. Not just alter course, but effectively end the future Magdalena’s continuum so as to avoid muddling up her own timeline. Sacrifice. Cole and Katarina were always going to go to 1917 to retrieve Jennifer, so the course correction resets them back to just before their encounter with the Guardian at the theater.
This is a refined and committed paradigm of utilizing time travel that the Splinter team has long lost sight of. Perhaps the last time they really thought they had a clear plan to alter course was that first mission when Cole was sent back to take out Leland Frost. But even that is only based off a recording from Cassie which, we well know by now, she recorded way outside of the linear timestream.
We’ve long known that undos and redos have no impact on the mind of Jennifer Goines. “I didn’t see you yester-today!” (One of the reasons season 2’s Lullaby is one of my favorite episodes.) But after the reset, Cole and Katarina retain knowledge of their erased future. Is this because they’ve been taking injections? I wasn’t able to discern from context, but the nose bleeding seems important to indicate it isn’t natural for them to remember.
Paradox In a Box
The Witness, your son, is a child, a man, a word, our savior. Present now, yet also in the past. He’s all of this simultaneously.
Horsemen, no horses. The Horsemen of the Apocalypse are the Guardians of the Witness, transporting him throughout time to safeguard him. Ironically, the biggest threat (perhaps just in the mind of the Guardians) appears to be his own parents, little do either Cole or Cassie realize. The trauma, though, of watching your newborn son be put into a box and then disappear before your eyes… It is so difficult to gauge what Cassie should be feeling right now.
It’s not surprising that, of all the mementos belonging to the Witness, Cassie decides to swipe the time piece. Her own watch bearing such a passive, yet pivotal, role in the whole story, it makes sense that a pocket watch belonging to her son may be important.
It’s this other fellow, Mallick, who is intriguing to me right now. He expresses better than anyone yet why the Witness is such a paradox. In spite of sound reasoning, the nature of the Witness is completely contradictory. But the careful weaving of the Witness’s story arc throughout the first two seasons makes the explanation of him appear sound. And as we all watched Cassie’s pregnancy, accelerated as it was from a storytelling perspective, we know that the existence of the child is true.
Perhaps the true definition of paradox in the case of the Witness is circular definition rather than self-contradictory. As far as we know right now, he is timeless. He brought about his own birth, he is a symbol and a rallying point, and yet right now… at this moment in time, he is just a newborn baby. As innocent as they come, yet denied a tabula rasa.
The trip Ramse and Olivia take cross-country to find Sam was interesting, but the true drama in that relationship is almost overlooked as it is so easy for me to forget about how long the two worked side-by-side. Unlike the tensions between other characters, which we’ve seen develop and morph over the first two seasons, we really only got a passing glimpse at the relationship between Ramse and Olivia when he was feeding the proverbial apocalyptic beast back in season one.
When Ramse finally finds Sam, the kid is in his early 30s, probably, and near death. It’s an interesting parallel between Ramse and Cassie, where Ramse loses his son to death, Cassie loses her son to life. Between looking out for Cole since they were kids and obsessing over his son for the better part of a half-century, Ramse was never in this game for the greater good. But both Cole and Cassie were/are, even at the expense of their own relationship or, in Cassie’s case, her own life.
When Pallid Man commissions Magdalena to raise and guard the Witness, he also readies his followers: “As we prepare for the Witness’s return to us, the end, the story of the child begins. His cycle. And the child, like the man, shall be raised through time so he knows the world in its entirety and may return to us one day to lead us to salvation. The Forest of Red.” Leaving this episode, then, with Jennifer alluding to the fact that she can feel everyone in the sands of time, there is this sad sort of ache in my mind that leans more toward the dread of sins of the father rather than any truly redemptive salvation from an alleged savior.
Next: Season 3 Episode 3 Enemy