Time After Time regularly likes to prove to its viewing audience that it has “zero chill,” so this week’s episode opens with YouTube footage of World War I. Their reason? Jane and Wells want to know why John would choose to go to Paris 1918, and WWI is as good a starting point as any. They quickly use the key piece of the show’s mythology - Wells and John were once very close friends - to narrow things down. Wells’ memory of John’s conquest in Paris, Pauline Ayers, allows Jane to look up her genealogy and put the pieces of the puzzle together: Henry Ayers’ birth certificate includes John as the father. Of course, when faced with the question of how John would’ve figured this out, Jane is quick to point out to Wells that “you can find anything on the internet today” - effectively placing John on an even more accelerated understanding of 2017 technology, as Wells is the exception to the “you” in that statement. Putting two and two together, they realize that John has gone back to 1918 “to save his son’s life.”
Because 1893 and 1918 aren’t as different as 1893 and 2017, John easily acclimates himself. Translation: He immediately kills some guy and then steals his money, clothing, and papers. One touch that you can’t quite discount is how the episode addresses something as small as Vanessa providing era-appropriate currency and garb on the Wells side of things. And speaking of Wells side of things, this week, we learn that Jane is an expert in French culture because she spent a semester there. The very fact that we witness her speaking French at least puts this knowledge a step above her “historian” expertise on “the 80s” from last week. It’s here we’re reminded that H.G. Wells, pacifist and enlightened optimist, is still a man from 1893 (or a “sexist pig,” as Jane calls him, channeling her inner Jessie Spano), as he puts his foot down and tells her she’s not coming. He’s actually surprised Jane thought she was going to 1918 with him, which is strange because Vanessa’s entrance into the scene literally has her mention getting a dress for Jane for this trip.
Wells goes alone to 1918, but let’s be honest: H.G. Wells is bad at time traveling, even when it’s something closer to his own time. The beginning of this episode has him flabbergasted by World War I, which doesn’t leave a lot of hope for a cool and confident and competent Wells. He should always have a buddy with him anyway, even if it’s not Jane.
Meanwhile, John can’t help but smoothly infiltrate any and all possible time travel scenarios. Gee, imagine if he’d actually use his diabolical powers for good. Although if he truly abandoned the dark side, he’d probably have to give up his powers of deduction and ability to blend in seamlessly. Exhibit A: H.G. Wells. John immediately befriends Henry’s French bartender girlfriend (straight from that WWII episode of Boy Meets World), Margot, who points him in the direction of Henry, who becomes just as fast a friend to John.
Before the two ever interact, it’s obvious that, naturally, the biggest reason John would even care to save Henry’s life is for the possibility of having someone blood-related to him who could emotionally and mentally relate to him. But here comes the wrinkle: Henry is a fundamentally good person. He’s a military medic, and while John fishes for a sort of connection when it comes to the power that comes with choosing who lives and who dies - the type of connection he formed with Brooke, actually - Henry shoots that down pretty quickly. He’s 100 percent committed to saving lives, not taking them, and he sees no blurred lines like John does, either. In fact, much like Wells (who soon shows up to rain on John’s parade), he sees things pretty black and white (and not sepia tone like the rest of 1918 Paris). “We either reject the darkness, or we let it destroy us,” says Henry. Just picture John’s clenched jaw here.
That’s on top of Henry talking crap about his father, unaware that John is that very man. He talks about how the man abandoned his mother without a care in the world. Clenched jaw all day. But despite John’s selfish reasons for wanting Henry alive, these disparaging remarks (though Henry doesn’t even know he’s truly being disparaging) don’t deter John from completing his own personal mission. As Brooke mentioned last week, this is the day Henry died, on an ambushed transport vehicle. John’s plan is simple - don’t let Henry get on that vehicle. But Wells’ mission is, of course, at odds with that, as he needs to allow time to happen the way it’s supposed to. (Earlier, Vanessa mentions something about John messing with “time ripples,” and it’s always funny to hear this show’s time travel mythology.)
Wells’ attempt to stop John features a callback to the pilot, with Wells pointing a gun (which Vanessa insisted he take) at John’s femoral artery, but of course it doesn’t go well. Not even talking about John’s groan-worthy comment about “the war of the worlds.” He literally says the phrase, “I can’t let you save your son, John,” with a straight face. Then John knocks their table over, causing Wells to point the gun at him in plain view, Margot to point a gun at him for threatening her new friend, and John to use his brain and call Wells a “spy” before he runs off to save Henry. Now our time-traveling hero is held up at a French cafe because he can’t come up with anything better than, “You have to take my word for it.”
You don’t want to call the man stupid, but then moments like this happen. It’s really hard to root for Wells (and Jane) because of them. Even Vanessa is being duped by the man she loves, but she shows a regular degree of competence and preparation, as evidenced by the conclusion to her plot in this episode. If anything, she should be Wells’ partner in crime on these missions, though, depending on the era, that could also be disastrous. Freddie Stroma can be very compelling, but one of the show’s weakest aspects is just how little he’s given to work with other than the obvious “Wells looks confused” or “Wells looks charmed by Jane.” Wells doesn’t even get out of this predicament; he’s saved by the Paris Gun, then by Jane and John. He’s supposed to be brilliant.
NEXT: Destination finale
John makes it to the transport just in time to stop Henry, who’s pretty darn ready to go off to war. But John has the ace up his sleeve, which is bringing up that he knows Henry’s dad and that he sent John to find him. Of course, Henry is still very anti-bio dad and doesn’t care... so John has to do things the old Ripper way and choke him out. Henry wakes up, tied to a chair - that’s just tough love from daddy dearest. As is John’s entire speech about how “misunderstood” (his word) he is, as the entire world has put him on trial. You. Are. A. Serial. Killer. Unfortunately, Henry doesn’t say that; he’s too busy being stunned by the fact that John is his father and that he also just saved his life. He won’t stick around for father-son bonding the way John wants him too though, so as John removes his ropes, Henry makes clear he never wants to see him again. Still pleased with himself for fighting history, he just tells Henry to go be with Margot back at the cafe.
So obviously, Jane was always going to come to 1893, but the catalyst is the realization that the records were wrong and Henry was never even on the transport (time paradox!). Instead, he dies that day at the cafe. And in the same newspaper article, she sees the body of Wells, so of course she goes. (Though, disappointingly enough, Wells really just kind of passes out after the Paris Gun blast. He ends up having worse brain conditions, but besides the ear blood, they barely sell it.) In true “we’ve got to stop meeting like this” fashion, Jane immediately runs into a gloating John - he literally says “I won” - as she arrives in 1918, and he’s able to snatch the printed article from her (something she really shouldn’t have brought to 1918... because time ripples) and find out that he didn’t really win. And while he reaches the cafe with a still-living Henry post-Paris Gun, it soon becomes clear what really killed Henry: the fact that he’s nothing like John, as he goes into the cafe to save people. Then... kaboom. Jane thinks she’s helping the situation by telling John it was Henry’s “time,” so it’s kind of funny to hear him say the same thing back to her when she begs him to save Wells. Of course, as mentioned before, he does. Because Jane says “please” a lot and reminds him he’s a doctor. Sure. So Wells is fine, and John is now a prisoner in Vanessa’s basement.
Sidebar: This episode addresses the obvious - to everyone but Jane, apparently - fact that that Wells’ endgame is to return home to 1893. If he doesn’t, then the annoying references to his future works will mean absolutely nothing, right? Also, Jane has apparently been calling in “sick” to the museum these days. Hopefully Vanessa has no problem putting Jane on the payroll soon, because that woman’s “just to pay the rent” job is toast.
As for Vanessa’s plot, she’s on Project Utopia duty this week: specifically, figuring out what it is. (Jane’s document person is never mentioned this episode, so there goes that use.) Griffin is on Worst Spy Ever duty, but no one seems too suspicious of the fact that any conversation they have with the man is 90 percent questions about H.G. Wells and time travel. This week, Griffin pumps both Vanessa and Jane for information before going to Brooke to debrief, and two big things happen for him. First of all, he learns that Brooke’s work with their dad’s research is absolutely mind-blowing, like her work with Nick (Jonathan Mielec), the Batman Forever Bane John got trucked by last week, who now has the strength of six men. He’s actually kind of a sweetheart, too.
There’s a twist to this Monroe plot, though: Griffin’s feeling guilty about what they’re doing and wants to just turn back. Sorry, Griffin Monroe. The fact that you’re having second thoughts about this nefarious family revenge plot drags you back down to boring level. At least we’ll always have the fact that your name is “Griffin Monroe.” Brooke, however, is unrepentant in her quest for revenge against the Anders empire. That’s why she has no problem sending Nick to fix the situation once Griffin gets intel from Vanessa that the one living person who might know anything about Project Utopia is Dr. Cedric Myers, her father’s old second-in-command. (Vanessa also learns from Myers that her father had stolen research, which will probably make Wells and Jane’s lie to her come back to haunt them.) Nick ends up using some of Brooke’s fun tech to give the man a heart attack, but since she didn’t give him the brain of six men, he doesn’t snag Myers’ Project Utopia file or computer... but Vanessa does.
Guess who the first test subject was for Project Utopia? Remember, this is research initially from 1980 (at the latest). The answer is John Stevenson. The twists never stop, do they, Time After Time?