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Binge Mode: ‘Continuum’

Back in 2012, I was writing for a small science fiction website, and was assigned to cover a new series from Simon Berry (best known at the time for co-writing the Wesley Snipes picture The Art of War), Continuum, imported from Canada to air on the SyFy Network. It featured a fascinating premise, focused on the story of Kiera Cameron (Rachel Nichols), a police officer working for the future Corporate Congress of America, time travels from 2077 to 2012 when a splinter cell group called Liber8 enacts a plan to change time, and prevent corporations from taking over the world. I covered the show for two seasons (which were unfortunately lost when the site shut down), and was equally fascinated and maddened by the show’s interesting explorations on destiny, the power of corporations, and one of television’s most intriguing flawed protagonists: a badass woman torn between her desire to return to her family in 2077, and a person realizing they may inadvertently be on the wrong side of human history. Frustratingly, the show’s formulaic brand of storytelling, and unwillingness to push its story and characters forward in meaningful ways, held the series back, and I stopped covering the show in 2014.

“Turns out I left Continuum just when it was beginning to realize its potential.”

Recently, I revisited Continuum on Netflix, and completed the final two seasons of the series: turns out I left Continuum just when it was beginning to realize its potential. A time-altering event at the end of season two left the show in a strange, complicated place I didn’t think it was equipped to handle: turns out plot complexity was just what the doctor ordered, because season three of Continuum is one of the more powerful, ambitious seasons of science fiction I’ve seen in a long time, thirteen episodes full of moving ruminations on purpose, sacrifice, and power, bringing into focus the sharp questions the first two seasons of the series only tangentially engaged with.

The central relationship of Continuum is between Kiera Cameron and Alec Sadler (Eric Knudsen), the most influential mind of the 21st century – and in Kiera’s time of 2077, one of the most wealthy, powerful men in the world. When she lands in 2012, Alec is just a nerdy kid hacking away at government systems from his family’s barn, and struggles most of the series to come to terms with his inherent destiny, trying to figure out a path to avoid the mistakes he’ll inevitably make. He becomes the Oracle to Kiera’s Batwoman; constantly connected to her future cop suit, he communicates with her through missions, explains all the convoluted fake science, and grapples with his own issues, like a brother with a dark future, a father with a dark past, and the constant pressure to not become the man he is destined to be.

In season three, Kiera and Alec find themselves at odds with their own goals, and each other: this series of internal and external conflicts ignites the engine of the series, throwing a wrench into the central relationships and mysteries, of Continuum. This tension spreads across the entire cast: from Carlos, Kiera’s partner at the Vancouver police department, to Jason, Alec’s adult son who was accidentally sent back to 1992 during the events of 2077, and to each member of Liber8, who have to contend with the idea that maybe their leader Kagame was not pulling the strings all along.

Continuum remains one of the decade’s premiere science fiction series

Quickly, Continuum shifts from being a show about how to prevent the future, into a series exploring why changing the future is so hard: after all, people can only be defined by the actions they’ve committed, not decisions they’ve yet to make, or may never have the chance to make at all. Strip away the show’s many, many running subplots, and the core of Continuum‘s third season is a very nuanced look at what it means to make the “right” decision, and how that impacts both an individual, and a world as a whole. Where the first two seasons married themselves to the rhythms and plot devices of traditional investigative series, season three throws the rules out the window for a 13-episode extravaganza of complex ideas, remarkably well handled time travel logic, and impressive personal stakes the show had previously shown no aptitude for capturing.


Unfortunately, a truncated fourth and final season stifles much of the boundless creativity seen in season three: large stories that are hinted at never come to fruition, and Continuum quickly pivots to telling a much more direct, contained story for the short six-episode season. But in the few moments, it is able to slow things down to tie up loose thematic ends from season three, Continuum‘s ability to challenge its characters in compelling ways continues to be quite impressive. The problem is there’s just too much to do to get the pieces together for the season finale for season four to be very consistent; and because of that, much of the emotional impact of the final two episodes is strangely muted, after reaching a fever pitch in the closing hours of season three.

Despite this, Continuum is a series worth watching, and one that fits nicely into the Binge Mode model; it’s laughably trite character work early on is easy to disregard, with a much clearer, concise thoroughline to the show’s more important, meaningful stories surfaces when watching multiple episodes together. Although it is definitely a show that doesn’t reach its full potential until its basically too late, Continuum is a rather fascinating science fiction series, an underrated entry in the anti-hero genre that dominated the post-Sopranos TV landscape – one of the only entries in the genre that focuses on a female protagonist, I might add. With a diverse cast (albeit one where the minority characters die a lot),  an absolutely fascinating central antagonist, and an impressively realized vision of where the future is probably heading, Continuum remains one of the decade’s premiere science fiction series, one I highly recommend seeing to its muted-yet-poignant conclusion.

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