By Heather Cee
As you’ve probably heard by now, Journeyman is teetering on the brink of cancellation. With fellow NBC shows Life and Chuck receiving reprieves at the guillotine, Kevin Falls’ increasingly smart, dynamic, and just damn good show has yet to be renewed, and rumors of its fate resting on this two-part episode’s ratings have continued to circulate over a week after it aired. All that’s known for sure is that we’ll see Dan Vasser’s journey continue for three more episodes before – potentially – NBC pulls the plug. And to that I say: fie.
2007′s fall season hasn’t done much for me overall. I love the fruit-loopy charm of Pushing Daisies and am – slowly, inevitably – being roped into the Harlequin melodrama of Moonlight, but neither instills quite the level of anticipation in me that Journeyman does week to week. Here’s a show that came out of the gate with Quantum Leap and The Time Traveler’s Wife comparisons weighing it down, yet has managed to build a solid, first-rate sci-fi drama on a well-trod concept. The last time I watched a program that balanced its heart and genre conceits this deftly, it involved a troubled girl trained for assassination, a bitter space captain with uncompromising loyalty, and a ship named Serenity.
Journeyman travels a more subtle road than Firefly, but the time invested is paying off in wonderful ways, as with the back-to-back episodes of “Emily” and “Blowback.” “Emily” sees Dan taking time and karma into his own hands when he changes the fate of the titular character, a long-gone victim of an unsolved kidnapping in the present, and his subsequent hunt of the perpetrator echoes his futile attempts to warn an ’89 San Francisco that a devastating earthquake was imminent. Though Livia once again tells Dan that any sidetrack from his designated task is inviting dangerous personal consequences – obviously speaking from as-yet-unknown experience – Dan’s determined to save the life of a second girl, whose kidnapping/murder is too similar to Emily’s to be coincidence.
And so Dan makes Aeden Bennett – a present day realtor, and the manager of the building where Emily was held prisoner – his mission, just as the FBI is making Dan theirs. Special Agent Hard Ass drops in at the Register to grill Hugh on the specifics of Dan’s research into the Dylan McCleen case, but the editor-in-chief tells the agent where to stick it. Jack, in the meantime, has Dr. Girlfriend making general diagnoses on Dan’s “condition” and recommending he take Dan into custody to force him into treatment. When Dan asks Jack to swing by Bennett’s office for an information shakedown, big brother once again asks younger brother to get help. An indignant Dan calls Jack’s bluff: “You’re afraid I might be telling the truth!”
Then Jack asks Dan about the 1995 cabbie incident, only he doesn’t mention the cab. Dan does. A light bulb switches on for Jack. Bingo. It’s a fantastic moment, underplayed and pitch-perfect. He agrees to question Aeden Bennett, who seems nervous that a decade-old case has surfaced again.
Meanwhile, an older Emily has fallen off the Social Services radar, is homeless and is dealing drugs in a local park, where Livia and Dan rescue her from a beating. They take her back to Dan’s old apartment and quickly recognize that she’s never recovered from her traumatic kidnapping, and she’s never told the police the identity of the man who took her. Dan swears he will find and punish Bennett while Livia looks on disapprovingly. She warns Dan that he is there to help Emily, not to chase a vendetta. “What happens if I don’t stick to plan?” Dan asks. “It never ends well,” Livia replies cryptically, and Dan shoots back with more than a bit of attitude, “What does that mean?”
What does it mean? We learn soon enough. But first Dan spots Bennett stroking a young girl’s hair in the street, and then discovers the realtor is using the new novelty of internet chat rooms to lure the young girls her prefers. Dan can’t contain his disgust when he and Bennett finally come face to face, but disappears just as Bennett makes a run for it.
Back in the present, he arrives to find a frantic Katie searching for Zack, who has vanished mid-conversation after complaining of a headache. Dan finds the boy hiding in a cupboard, but Katie’s panic betrays how close to the surface her stress really is. Add the toll Dan’s traveling is having on Zack – which is manifesting itself in misbehavior and aggression – and it’s no wonder she sends a cup hurtling against the wall when Dan once again disappears without warning.
Dan asks Jack for chat logs from the nineties, but Jack tells him it’s impossible. It soon comes to light that Emily’s foster parents were software developers at the time of her kidnapping, and that Emily was busted for drug-dealing soon after Livia and Dan helped her in the park. Dan and Livia appear in 2001, where they intervene just before the arrest that will send Emily to prison. Emily admits that she met Aeden on a 976 line, and Dan’s determination to take Bennett out is reinforced by time – 2001 is the year another girl vanishes and dies. Once again Livia tells Dan not to go off the rails, and Dan snaps into a rant about order and chaos, but Livia’s not having any of it. Your guilt over Katie and Zack is clouding your judgment, she tells him, and you’re taking it out on Bennett.
Dan doesn’t listen, and he tracks Bennett to the place he’d hiding the kidnapped girl. The realtor catches Dan unawares, the two scrap, and all seemingly ends well as the girl is saved and Bennett is led away in handcuffs to a 6 to 10 year prison sentence. Dan even calls Hugh to hand him the sensational story on a silver platter for the Register. Back in the present, Hugh tells Dan that the Bennett case was the biggest story of his career, and that Bennett has since been released from prison and moved to Thailand. The once-troubled Emily is running a kids’ haircut shop.
And Jack? After coming ‘round to the truth, Dan has now altered time and erased any progress the brothers have made. Jack begs Dan to get help; Dan agrees to think about it, but goes home to Katie and Zack. Unbeknownst to any of them, Aeden Bennett is waiting outside, watching.
“Blowback” begins with a casual morning conversation in the Vasser household as Katie heads out the door and Dan settles in for a day of work catch-up. His plans change abruptly, and violently, as Aeden Bennett walks in the door and shoots him by way of greeting. Surprised? Yeah, me too. Bullets before credits. I’ll be the first to admit that after catching the previews for this episode, I was expecting something far more contrived than what the hour delivered – which was one of Journeyman‘s finest episode to date.
And, unfortunately, it’s a tough episode to recap because its greatness lies in Kevin McKidd’s performance and the subtle, breathless moments of revelation we’ve been waiting for. But it’s a wounded Dan’s deterioration and desperation that propels events to an entirely new level. He jumps immediately after being shot and lands in Bennett’s timeline circa 1980, where the man who’s trying to kill him in the present is just a boy, and an abused one at that. It’s a scenario that could have been exploited to schmaltzy, feel-good effect, with an ending of rainbows and marshmallows, but thankfully Journeyman is much smarter than that.
Because Dan knows the monster this boy will become, knows that every second he’s away from the present puts his family in mortal danger. And let’s not forget that he’s severely injured and bleeding as he tries to negotiate the psychological minefield of Aeden Bennett’s childhood, and that his own willfulness has created the scenario he finds himself in. Was saving one girl’s life worth the risk to his own, his family’s?
And could he prevent it all by killing Aeden as a child?
While Dan is bleeding to death in Aeden’s childhood home, ex-convict Aeden is turning the Vasser house upside down in search of the man who ruined his life and should be lying on the kitchen floor. He speaks to empty air, convinced Dan is still in the house. He spots a note on the calendar for an appointment with the plumber and decides to smoke Dan out by drawing Katie back home.
In the past, Dan attempts to build a rapport with young Aeden, who lives in perpetual fear of his abusive police officer father. Trying to make the kid lunch is a tortuous task in and of itself, but Dan must resolve something in Aeden’s timeline before he can jump back to the present, where the adult Aedan has lured Katie into the house by posing as the plumber. She sees blood on the kitchen floor just before Aeden lets up the game by pointing a gun. The resulting scenes between Aeden and Katie are scorchingly good, and cement Gretchen Egolf as the most underrated actress currently working on television. Her fear nearly paralyzes her, but her instinct for survival is sharp, and the resulting tension is electric as she attempts to hang with Aeden’s paranoia.
In the meantime, Dan’s condition finally lands him in the hospital, where Livia swoops in just in time to snag his iPhone from a crew of hovering nurses. The two duck out before the cops arrive to question Dan about his gunshot, but Dan still can’t manage a jump back to the present until a breakthrough happens. When it does finally happen – soon after he tells the young Aeden that his older self shot him – he lands in a present day alley, his wound severely infected. It’s up to Livia to get Dan the help he needs, and that leaves one person to find him – Jack.
To say the long-awaited meeting between Livia and Jack in the Register’s elevator is mind-blowing is overselling it, but it’s a fantastic scene that illustrates the acting chops of this cast. It’s brief, but stunning. Livia’s appearance and her plea to help Dan shell-shocks Jack into action, and big brother steps up in a big, big way, FBI be damned. Ends up Dan’s got a nasty staph infection courtesy of inferior 1980s antibiotics, and a phone call reveals Aeden indeed has Katie captive in the Vasser home.
The ending susses out as you’d expect, but with one notable exception: FBI guy. He knows what Dan Vasser can do, and his fascination leads him to the wrong place at the wrong time. Aeden kills him, leaving Dan to use his knowledge of Aeden’s past to talk the pervert down and Katie to safety.
What I love about this episode is that Aeden’s backstory isn’t presented to elicit sympathy from the viewer, or Dan for that matter. It’s presented to give Dan scope to the consequences of stepping beyond the parameters of what his job is as a traveler; to give him that taste of god-like power, then to show him why it’s important to stick to the plan. One wrong decision can lead to another, creating a domino effect through time that he will not be able to stop. There are forces at work that are bigger than any one single man and his ideals and ethics. It’s an absolute Livia’s chosen not to question much, but Dan’s fine-honed reporter instincts – along with the return of Elliot Langley – are bound to break through that barrier soon enough.
Let’s hope the show lasts that long.
Heather Cee has been writing for music sites for several years but genre media is her original fandom. She’s a History major dropout, loves music, Batman, and the color green, and thinks Laura Roslin is the most kick ass woman on television. She currently works as a website editor in Tucson, Arizona, where she lives with her husband and a ridiculous amount of CDs, records, books, and DVDs. One day she hopes to own grown-up furniture and pants other than jeans.