After spending a good portion of the second season being threatened in jail, Julian (Richard Harmon) pops up to stand trial in an episode that isn’t as strong as it could be.
Let’s bitch it out…As far as episodes go, ‘Second Degree’ is okay. It’s a significantly weaker outing than recent episodes. In some respects it’s a bit reminiscent of S1 episodes when Continuum was still working out the kinks in its plotting and pacing. The result: several prominent elements feel undercooked, even obvious, but the few elements that do work bode well for the future.
Let’s address what doesn’t work quite as well first: Julian’s trial and the compromised juror. My main issue with the trial is that it seemingly comes out of nowhere. Oh sure, we knew that Julian would eventually stand trial, but as we saw in the “previously on…” intro, it’s been quite some time since there’s been any mention of this. We last saw Julian in episode four, but the conversation between he and Travis took place back in episode two. So when the episode opens and it’s trial time, it feels ill-timed and sudden. Considering how big of a deal the trial is and how important Julian is meant to be in the series’ future mythology, it would have been nice to have laid more ground-work. Even something as simple as simply having the trial mentioned on TV in the background or raised as a casual aside by Alec (Erik Knudsen) or Carlos (Victor Webster).
So that’s a missed opportunity. As for what actually happens? Well, the majority of the episode revolves around a tainted jury storyline. Let’s be honest: we’ve seen this a million times and Continuum doesn’t do anything new to differentiate it. Add in the fact that it’s very obvious that Sonya (Lexa Doig) and Jim Martin (Tahmoh Penikett) are working an angle on the case – why else would Jim be there in full “campaign” mode? – and the outcome is fairly apparent from the get-go. It’s not necessarily poorly done, but it’s not the most thrilling episode ever. It’s hard to care about the missing family of some guy who doesn’t even get a line.
If anything the court case and the search for the juror’s family allows ‘Second Degree’ to do other things. It allows Continuum to remind us that Sonya and Travis (Roger Cross) are feuding and working at cross-purposes. It also provides ample opportunity to catch Carlos up on what Kiera (Rachel Nichols) can do. It’s forty-two minutes of “Alec is Section 6!” and “Kiera’s magic suit can become invisible!” Could this have occurred through any other case, though? Absolutely, which reinforces how inconsequential the whole thing is.
As I mentioned last week, I had high hopes that we would spend a good chunk of time exploring how Carlos adjusts to the new information he has about Kiera. While this is addressed, it’s essentially/problematically conflict free. Carlos mentions how long Kiera has been lying to him, but it’s in the context of how hard it must have been for her. He doesn’t question why she couldn’t have told him earlier, or explore whether he can still trust her, he simply accepts things and moves on. It’s clear that Continuum has no interest in exploring how damaging her lies have been when Carlos questioning time travel paradoxes and Kiera scolds him like a child (“Don’t make me regret telling you?” Seriously?! That’s how this is going to play out???).
I accept that the show wants to move forward now that Carlos is in on Kiera’s secret and not spend an onerous time on him coming to grips with it, but his immediate acceptance feels especially unrealistic and artificial. It’s disappointing that the show would prefer to maintain the status quo rather than explore the messy consequences of such a revelation.
This shouldn’t suggest that ‘Second Degree’ is a write-off, though. Despite a few issues, there are some surprisingly satisfying pay-offs in the episode. The most noteworthy is the evolution of Gardiner (Nicholas Lea) and Kiera’s tension-filled relationship. In the episode’s most intriguing subplot we learn that time travelers’ bodies are being stolen. Instead of managing the case herself, Kiera delegates the investigation to Gardiner and by episode’s end he’s identified the mysterious body snatcher and the pair set off to investigate together.
In my opinion, this is the best case scenario for this character. For much of the second season the writers have done Nicholas Lea no favours with the way this character has been written. It’s as though they wanted to purposely alienate viewers to Gardiner – a kind of character assassination so that we would instinctively hiss and groan whenever he showed up on-screen. In recent years I’ve noticed the conflation of “characters we love to hate” and “characters we hate”, with Gardiner falling into the latter camp. I can’t say that I’ve ever liked the character, but – more problematically – I never saw any value to his being on the show. It may be a bit early to break out the champagne, but if this marks the start of his redemption, then I’m all for it. The tension between the two characters can (and should) continue, but for now I’m definitely championing this development as a sign of good things to come.
- The other cool reveal is far less unexpected: Emily (Magda Apanowicz) is working for Escher (an unseen Hugh Dillon). After witnessing her cryptic phone conversation last week, the only explanation that made any sense was that she was reporting to Escher. But who knew that she had Alias-style secret agent moves? With a minimum of effort she takes down a thug with futuristic (Travis-provided?) weaponry. We still don’t know anything about her agenda, but this latest twist makes me excited to learn more
- Side Note: why is Apanowicz’s hair so atrocious? It’s like a limp rodent on her head. And seeing how perfectly administered Nichols’ hair always is, we can’t even blame the show’s hairstylist. Is this a deliberate decision, like some kind of insight on who this character is?
- As much as I love Penikett, his character is snooze-worthy. Perhaps it’s because he seems so rudderless – simply drifting between the two forces driving the Liber8 agenda – but I hate how malleable he is. Given the choice between agency-driven characters and spineless ones, I’ll always go for the former
- I have a similar issue with Julian. There’s always been a clear indication that Theseus is a key figure in the future (as indicated by his impressive rap sheet in the future), but he’s clearly more of a symbol for the disenfranchised to rise up in support of than an actual character. We have no idea what Julian thinks of the events surrounding his incarceration. Is he remorseful for his part in the attacks? Does he still believe in Liber8’s cause? Currently we’re at a loss for determining his motivations and while this may have something to do with his lack of screentime, as an actor Harmon’s contributing very little to the character. He’s too much of a blank slate, which isn’t very interesting
- While it’s easy to understand why Ann Sadler (Janet Kidder) lies on the stand, I’m going to have to call BS on her rationale. She’s lost her husband and feels like she’s lost Alec, so she’s latched on to her juvenile delinquent son? Barf…
- Finally, I love that Alec is patient enough to wait sixty-five years to bring his brother to justice. Old Alec (William B. Davis) couldn’t have taken him down earlier? Talk about holding a grudge!
- Kiera (when Carlos asks what’s happening): “Dead time travelers, mysterious body snatchers – you know, the usual.”
- Kiera (when Carlos asks what kind of mileage her suit gets): “65 years apparently.”
- Jennifer Spence’s Betty (following Julian’s not guilty verdict): “We getting drunk?”
I’ll toss it back to you: do you agree that the plotting and pacing for this episode didn’t do itself any favours? Do you wish we had more insight into Julian? Were you expecting something more from Carlos? Is Jim a boring character? And why are bodies being snatched? Comment away below
Continuum airs Fridays at 10pm EST on Syfy