When something gets invented that can make people’s lives better, it will also be used to make people’s lives worse. The road to Hell is paved with good intentions and time travel only helps you get there quicker.
Travellers is a fun series airing on Netflix, focused on people from the future who come back to the present via other people’s bodies. By the end of its first season, it winds up being, among other things, a sharp allegory about the politicised uses of technology.
I finished watching the entirety of Travellers after writing about the show’s first five episodes last week, moving into a second half that ramps up things considerably. The ethical concerns of Travellers expand exponentially in the show’s second half. Initially, we saw the consequences of the show’s body-takeover style of time travel affecting individual lives. Led by the man who took over the life of FBI agent Grant MacLaren, the time travel operatives had to deal with living with drug addiction, children that aren’t theirs and parents who thought they were teenage screw-ups.
The back end of season one spools out a series of events and revelations that massively complicates the main characters’ lives. The midpoint of the principal story arc sees the central Travellers squad successfully completing their main mission, firing a laser that will deflect an asteroid whose impact ushers in a new dark age for humanity. They have been told that the existence of their own future selves would likely get erased as a result of their actions. But, contrary to that, Grant, Trevor, Philip, Marcy and Carly are all still alive, and new Travellers keep coming back in the 21st Century, working toward mysterious ends.
As things roll on, we learn that the Director constantly referenced by Travellers isn’t a person at all. It’s a future-tech algorithmic AI that makes decisions to keep humanity alive and two of the people who come back in the last batch of episodes are programmers who helped create it. Shortly after their arrival, the programmers tell MacLaren’s team that a splinter faction of mankind’s remnants want humans to govern their own destiny and is rebelling against the Director’s silicon rule. The coders have brought back another version of the AI for safekeeping and an eventual reboot. The faction managed to send back their own agents to try and kill MacLaren’s team, who must protect the programmers and the massive device meant to house the Director.
So the future isn’t quite as saved as they’d hoped and, by the end of Travellers season one, Grant MacLaren and his team of time-displaced agents can hardly trust their individual selves or their own teammates. Every romance in the show turns antagonistic and the core belief of mucking with the present to better the future has become a philosophical battleground. In the end, the Director and the time travel technology it enables is no different than electric current, atomic bombs or smartphones. These advances initially held the promise of revolutionary change for good, but humanity’s very nature turned them all into tools of threat and oppression. Season one of Travellers ends up in a very dark place, with MacLaren and his team looking down the gun barrels of enemies and former allies from both the future and the present. There’s no word yet of a greenlight for season two, but let’s all hope that the co-producing powers that be at Showcase Canada and Netflix will decide to deliver more Travellers to our bodies very soon.