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Time Travel rules
- How does time travel work in this show? What are the "rules"?
- So far, the following rules are shown to be in effect, based on things explicitly said, shown, or reasonably implied:
- 1.) San Dimas Time applies. For example, if a time traveler spends two hours in the past, he will return to the present two hours after the time he departed.
- 2.) A time traveler cannot travel to a time in which he already exists, which is why Mason Industries cannot send someone back to the moment when Flynn stole the time machine and stop him. Likewise, they can only travel back to a particular point in history once, so there are no "do-overs" if they mess up their mission. Note: The exact parameters of this rule are not known, since in the episode "Space race" one of the older characters traveled back to a time in which he almost certainly existed as a child somewhere. It has not been explained how he was able to do this, so it may just be a goof on the part of the writers (in which case, please recite the MST3K Mantra ).
- As this rule is emphasized by Mason in "The Day Reagan Was Shoot," a writers' goof seems to be the best explanation.
- 3.) All people and objects inside a time machine are shielded from the effects of changes made to the timeline. Documents and photographs inside the vehicle will remained unchanged, and the occupants will still remember the original version of events, and will not gain an altered set of memories after exiting. Everybody and everything outside the vehicle is subject to change, however, and a time traveler may find that his or her life circumstances have changed considerably (or not) from what they remember. This suggests the show uses the multiverse interpretation of time travel.
- 4.) While the Butterfly Effect is treated as a serious threat in the show and actually kicks in in the very first episode, from then onward it's more like a Rubber-Band History - regardless of what the time travellers do, apart from the actual imprint they left on history, the present is nigh-identical as a rule. While it helps that the actions of the team usually cancel out the activities of their adversaries, all the numerous smaller changes to the past (like the considerable body count the time travellers leave in their wake) don't leave a lasting impression as a rule. It is unclear if this is more because of the actions of the protagonists, or if there is some sort of chronological inertia at work. The events of the episode "Karma Chameleon" seem to support the idea that there is at least some degree of inertia at work, but not enough to prevent the past from changing entirely. However, there is one very persistent indicator that the time can only change within some very narrowly defined parameters: every timeline the team returns back to, they were expected by their homebase. Which means at the very least that time travel was discovered and that it was (at least so far) done by the people involved. So even if an infinte number of potential parallel timelines existed, the only ones that are open to the team (at least as far as we know so far) are those that include Mason and Rufus inventing the time machine.
- 5.) There are two known time machines. Flynn and his gang stole the more advanced version (nicknamed 'The Mother Ship'), which is larger and can carry more passengers and cargo than the prototype version ('The Lifeboat') used by Rufus, Wyatt, and Lucy. It is also later modified with a power source that makes it harder to track. There are only a few characters able to pilot the machines, Rufus and Anthony being the most noteworthy.
- 6.) Both machines leave behind an energy signature trail, which is why the people in headquarters at Mason Industries can track where Flynn takes his machine. This method is delayed and inexact, however, providing them with only an approximate time and place. This is why the protagonists cannot just arrive within seconds of Flynn and stop him in his tracks. It's possible there may also be a kind of San Dimas Time - like concept in relation to the two time machines arriving in the past, although this is not clearly established.
Disposing of the Bomb
- In the pilot, why did Wyatt and the rest take the ridiculously easy way out — not by trying to disarm the bomb, but by breaking a window and throwing said bomb out onto the empty and soggy airfield? The Hindenburg would have easily gotten far enough, and high enough, away in the ensuing five minutes that the bomb would pose no threat to it, and the empty airfield would gain a small smoking crater. Given that there was a window in the damn kitchen, the only possible explanation is that Time made the entire team grab the Idiot Ball hard.
- Actually, the airfield wasn't empty, as plenty of people were on the ground below when they hijacked it. If they'd thrown the bomb outside, anyone else could've easily died along with those who were supposed to. The absence of a single person changed the history they knew when they returned - repeat, a single person - so throwing it out the window wasn't an option, not when faced with such a risk to the timeline.
- Also, while throwing the bomb out the window might have solved the immediate problem at hand, it would've likely resulted in them getting arrested a second time. Since they had already escaped once and would then be also wanted for being "anarchist terrorists", they would have a much harder time escaping again and could be detained in the past for quite some time.
Stealing the core and history
- Why did Flynn stealing a nuclear bomb core cause virtually no change in history? With anti-Communist paranoia as it was in the fifties and sixties, and the "new driver" of Judith's being coincidentally present at nearly the same time as the keys go missing from the general's office, along with JFK being nearby, it could easily have set off a chain of dominoes among the FBI and CIA as they go all out to find out if the President himself was being led astray by a Communist Mata Hari.
- Likely, any investigation would have exposed the mistress so JFK would have wanted it kept quiet fast. As only a few people knew at all, it would have been easy to keep silent on national security reasons and let it die down.
- It is interesting to note that Judith Campbell died of cancer in the new timeline as well as history as we know it. Could her exposure to the plutonium pit, given the casual way in which it was handled, have accelerated the cancer so she died in (for example) 1979 as opposed to 1999 (as actually happened)?
- Did anyone from the base actually try to search for the core? No one from the Army, the AEC, or the FBI tried to search along the roads into and out of the base, looking (for example) for skidmarks on the road, spent bullet casings, wrecked cars, or freshly-dug ground? Even if they wanted to keep the investigation quiet, recovering the plutonium is still a major priority as it is both a radiation and a severe chemical hazard. The Manhattan Project recommended immediate amputation of the affected limb for anyone contaminated with plutonium; this isn't the stuff you just shrug your shoulders and say 'oh well!' about.
- Given how one person dying should have implications, how big a deal can it be when the team end up killing a few dozen German soldiers during their adventure in World War II?
- Given the chaos of the war, a good chance most (if not all) of those soldiers would have ended up killed in action anyway so the effects on history would be minimal.
- Indeed, the Battle of the Bulge would take place less than a week after the events of the episode. It was Germany's last major offensive, and cost them as many as 125,000 casualties. Given that the 101st Airborne Division (including Wyatt's grandfather) was less than 200 miles away from Castle Varlar, it's likely that all of the German soldiers at the castle would have been thrown into the battle and very likely most of them would have been killed anyway.
- Related: The alterations at The Alamo should have had knock-on effects as well, yet all that appears to have changed is the date of the battle and the contents of the inspirational letter that convinced Americans to hang onto Texas and run Santa Ana out of there.
- We haven't seen the full effects. Plus, it showcases an old adage of time travel stories in that you can change details but the general thrust of history remains the same.
- There may have been significant changes, given the survival of dozens of Texans and the deaths of hundreds of Mexicans, but the changes probably aren't general knowledge to the average viewer. The addition of several Texas independence fighters into local Texas politics where they figured prominently throughout the 19th century wouldn't register to an audience outside of Texas. Different governors or Senators, or a few cities with name changes, is a big change but not one the average viewer would key into. They may have influenced state or national policy to a great extent but there's only so much story you can tell in an hour. The changes to Mexican history would be even less transparent to the average American viewer. Sometimes things in the narrative have to be sacrificed for the sake of storytelling.
- How is Lucy going to return to her job? The more trips they take the more history changes. She's going to become less and less updated on history unless she's constantly studying what's changed, because we've been shown that the simple changes they make have big consequences. (Loss of Lucy's sister, a new Bond movie, the Alamo being even more of a massacre.) Now take that back to the originating events - how much does Von Braun change the effects of WWII now that he's with the Allies earlier? What happened when terrorists crashed the Hindenberg? Was it a reaction like 9/11? She spent an entire career becoming a premier historian and professor and she is literally unraveling history. All these things spiral out and connect to history (like, for instance, small things like JFK's mistress being hooked up with the mob, that most people literally had no idea about) and those connections are Lucy's sole purpose and the more she works with these people, the more she's destroying her own livelihood. Realistically, how going to adjust to keeping up with all of the ramifications of what they are doing because they go far and wider that most people realize, especially in history and politics?
- The first thing the team do when they return to the present is to check the Internet to see what has changed. Given that she's basically "on sabbatical" to work with the team full time, Lucy doesn't have to worry too much about her job as it is. She's more concerned with stopping Flynn and preventing more damage to figure out the effects on her career.
- So far the team has been successful in keeping most of the events that were altered "close enough" to what really happened to keep the butterfly effect to a minimum as far as later events being affected are concerned. For example, the nation's reaction to the Lincoln assassination is presumably no different in the altered timeline than it was in ours, because in the altered timeline Booth didn't kill Lincoln but still was charged as the one behind the plot. i.e., in both versions Lincoln dies at the same time and place, and in both versions Booth and his fellow conspirators are held responsible for it. The biggest change so far is probably the Hindenberg disaster, but even then terrorist bombings by anarchist groups were not uncommon in the news at that time. The altered version might actually be less newsworthy, since fewer people died. The biggest historical problem there is the continued existence of the people who died in the original timeline, which we've seen some of the results of.
- Same way any professional who works in a changing field does. She's gonna hit the books and research, research, research. Study of history is not a totally static field, history is always being reevaluated and new discoveries are always coming to light, so she'd be doing career study to keep up with her field anyway. She just has to hit the books each time they come back and track the changes. She still has the basic grounding, so unless something incredibly radical happens it is not much more than she'd be doing to keep up in her career anyway. There is a reason so many professionals say that getting your degree is just the start of your studies.
Rittenhouse and the doc
- In the 1970s, Flynn, Wyatt and Rufus stumble upon someone who could be critical to finding out how deep Rittenhouse's hooks are sunk into the governmental apparatus in the USA. Yet they don't make any effort to get any names - even just the upper echelons, if nothing else.
- Mark Felt was already taking a huge risk by talking to Woodward and Bernstein. Alienating not only Nixon but also Nixon's even more powerful enemies would have been fatal. And removing Deep Throat from the timeline also removes not only Watergate but an entire generation of activist media—making it easier for Rittenhouse to do whatever it is they're doing without interference.
- But the team didn't remove Deep Throat from the timeline- Lucy and Rufus explicitly told him to keep talking to Woodward and Bernstein. Unless Felt was too spooked by Lucy and Rufus's knowledge of his identity to continue to provide information to the press, but that isn't stated.
- The above headscratcher was about the doc that the team locate and spirit to safety. That person has Rittenhouse's entire hierarchy memorized (current as of the 1970s, but with human life expectancies in the USA many of them would still be alive in 2016), yet Lucy, Wyatt and Rufus did not get from that person any concrete info. Unfortunately this appears to have been motivated for plot convenience, because the team knowing the names of the high echelons of Rittenhouse would immediately make her realize who her father truly is.
- Isn't it weird that Flynn never questions the diary? He has been following it since beginning but not a single one of his plans succeeded. If Future!Lucy (or whoever wrote it) wanted him to achieve his goal, the diary would contain some sort of warning how to counter the teams actions. It's blatantly obvious the author of the diary needs everyone to carry on for some reason and Flynn doesn't seem to care he might have been getting sabotaged all along. But the fact that anything in the diary may be made up is obviously lost on everyone involved.
- Flynn is probably so obsessed with "fixing" time so his family lives that he ignores this possibility. Also, we don't know yet the full relationship of himself and Future!Lucy who may have her own reasons for letting Flynn go on this trip.
- A key problem with Katherine Johnson being at NASA to help the team save Apollo 11: It's an established fact Johnson wasn't at Mission Control but watching it on TV like everyone else.
- Given how Flynn has been shown as altering history already, it's possible the "butterfly effect" could have shifted things so Johnson was there on that day after all.
- The conference Johnson was at during the Moon landing was for her college sorority, not a NASA function. It's possible that she could have either opted out of meeting with her sorority, or had her leave to attend cancelled, because of the landing. This isn't a huge change and it's one that could have easily happened anyway.
- If Rittenhouse's goal is to stop and silence Garcia Flynn, why don't they send someone to Flynn's personal past before he discovered Rittenhouse and arrange an unfortunate accident? Since Never the Selves Shall Meet, he couldn't save himself.
- There are still questions about their motives, not to mention how time travel works. It's quite possible that killing Flynn earlier in his timeline wouldn't actually stop him—things from erased timelines survive in the time machine, so he'd be fine, but all the non-time travelers would be very confused as to what is happening. Their man could return to find that the team has no memory of the machine being stolen, but Flynn is still around doing his thing. Maybe Rittenhouse is worried about the effect of twisting time into knots like that.
- Rittenhouse does try to coerce the team into killing Flynn's mother in the past. Lucy and Rufus incapacitate the man they sent to do the job, then take the Lifeboat back to 1931 to continue their pursuit of Flynn.
Wyatt's Unauthorized Mission
- Wyatt enters into a Deal with the Devil with Flynn to prevent his wife's killer from being born. He accomplishes the mission, albeit by accident, but Jessica still dies anyway. Some questions arise from these events:
- 1) Wyatt is now implicated in three crimes in 1983: manslaughter, aggravated assault, and assault on a police officer. His fingerprints are all over the bar. When this incident is investigated, a set of unknown fingerprints is going to be implicated. Additionally, several witnesses including a state trooper can provide a physical description of Wyatt and Rufus (who is also implicated) even assuming the bar didn't have a security camera (within the realm of possibility in 1983). What happens to Wyatt when (for example) he gets his driver's license or a passport or joins the Army in the new timeline and his fingerprints are run against a national database? Unlike their previous trips to the past, 1983 is close enough to the modern day that modern forensic techniques begin to apply.
- 2) Was Flynn telling Wyatt the truth, or running a Batman Gambit to get Wyatt to do some dirty work he couldn't do himself? Were the killer's parents connected to Rittenhouse, and Flynn couldn't return to 1983 because he was already running another mission there? A personal agenda? Did the killer also kill someone close to Flynn?
- 3) Perhaps most important to the story and to Wyatt's character arc specifically, who really killed Jessica, and why?
- Wyatt and Rufus weren't yet born at the time. By the time their younger selves would have been fingerprinted, the crime would have been at least 16-18 years old. If a red flag was raised, the investigators would assume that the original evidence was collected incorrectly. No one would take it seriously unless they were specifically were looking for time travel anomalies.
- On the other hand, that may have been part of Rittenhouse's plan with the Lifeboat: they would have the ability to communicate with a Rittenhouse meeting in 1954 or 1979 and tip off their predecessors to look out for time travel anomalies. As deeply entrenched as Rittenhouse is with nearly every major institution in American life, locating the younger selves of the team and doing something about them would be fairly easy.
- There appears to be minor ripple proofing of those back at HQ, as no-one is ever surprised to see a time machine missing/arrive back in the present, but generally they have the "new" history in their memories. When Wyatt and Rufus get back from 1983 and trying to save Wyatt's wife, why doesn't Lucy get "reset" to the new history? After missing a time travel mission, she should have been rippled away to a Lucy who never had a sister. Right?
- We know from "The Watergate Tapes" that Rittenhouse has abandoned racial discrimination in its ranks probably earlier than mainstream society ("The Doc" is supposedly part of an established Rittenhouse family; she was most likely born sometime in the 1940's which means her grandparents would have been born in the latter part of the 19th century). Given how strongly racist David Rittenhouse was shown to be in this timeline, at what point was it decided to integrate the organization? For that matter, how are new families brought in at all? Lucy is told she is "good Rittenhouse stock" implying that there are families who are less established in the organization. It's not like they can advertise for new members, and Real Life secret societies like the Freemasons and college fraternities do have some visibility to the general public (it's only their internal workings which are closed off). Rittenhouse relies on absolute secrecy to carry out its plans, and can't take the risk that someone would spill the beans if they weren't accepted or decide to leave. So, how are they getting new members?
- I had the idea that they were highly inbred, to explain how Lucy looks like her great-grandmother, either that, or a My Own Grampa situation, with a distance of one more generation than usual. ... I guess, if you use eugenics, they bred out the negative traits that popped up... But, we haven't seen any siblings in Rittenhouse, so the membership increase by reproduction idea might not work? ... Perhaps some people just married in, and they also have spies everywhere to find sympathetics to recruit??
- After the Civil War ended, Rittenhouse's highest echelons might have spotted a golden opportunity to increase their ranks: recruit the best and brightest of the newly freed slaves, co-opting them into a secret hierarchy that would also prevent Reconstruction from proving too successful.
- Why Lucy, an high level historian, didn't know the existence of the real David Rittenhouse? Nobody of the team simply tried to Google the name "Rittenhouse"?
- The whole show is set in an alternate timeline, their Rittenhouse is very different from ours.
- Had they ever seen "Rittenhouse" spelled out in the show before this point? As a secret society, it doesn't appear to keep a lot of records, after all. Perhaps they were unsure of whether it was intended to be "Written House" or something else. And if they were thinking of the name as it's spelled, David Rittenhouse isn't exactly the only Rittenhouse to ever exist. It hadn't even occurred to them that Rittenhouse might've been, at one point, a single person, so perhaps it never occurred to them to connect it to the name. Also, googling it might've caught Rittenhouse's attention and they were still trying to stay on the down-low before that point.
The fundamental flaw in Flynn's plan
- There are many problems with Flynn's plans to "wipe Rittenhouse from history" by altering American history, but the biggest one is not even addressed on the show. Flynn believes that once he wipes Rittenhouse from history, his family will be alive when he gets back. But given the massive butterfly effect that would result from any of his missions to the past, if successfully affected, hasn't it occurred to him that he might just inadvertently wipe out his family from history rather than saving them! Consider the fact that the alterations to the fate of the Hindenburg resulted in Lucy's sister getting wiped from history - and those alterations were relatively minor compared to most of the changes Flynn wants to enact. Hasn't it occurred to Flynn that this is a very real and probable risk? And why hasn't it occurred to Lucy to tell him about her own experience with her sister in a bid to dissuade Flynn from enacting his plan? It would actually make for a more compelling logical argument than the moral ones she's been throwing his way.
- Probably not. Flynn isn't exactly the most stable guy, you know. As for Lucy, I guess we'll just have to wait and see what happens in the 2nd Season.
Jesse James and the M- 4
- How did Jesse James figure out how to work the rifle he got from Flynn? The most advanced rifle he'd have used was a Winchester lever-action.
John F. Kennedy and the Future
- John F. Kennedy is the only historical figure who's seen detailed information about the future. Even assuming he never tells anyone else what he saw, having foreknowledge of the fates of his siblings and children, and of his own legacy, is bound to change his decisions between 1934 and 1963. We already know that he took Rufus seriously and avoided Dallas on November 22, 1963—only to be shot in Austin on the same day. What other actions did he take as a result of his exposure to the future? How was his life in general, and his presidency in particular, changed as a result? Did he avoid the Japanese destroyer that sunk PT-109 when he was in command, ensuring that two sailors survive the war (or at least that particular engagement)? Did he avoid his numerous extramarital affairs (or at least be more discreet about them) to keep his legacy from being tainted? Was he more ambitious during his presidency and avoid some of the mistakes he made? Even if Kennedy tells no one else, having this knowledge will influence his decision-making for better and for worse.
- This also raises the question of whether his presence at the atomic testing site in 1962 was a consequence of his foreknowledge by keeping his affairs more discreet (with Sammy Davis performing at the local hotel, and the weekly atomic testing being a major tourist draw, both would have been distractions from anyone being curious as to why JFK was at a Nevada hotel without his wife).
Alice Paul's Assassination
- Women's suffrage activist Alice Paul is killed by a Rittenhouse operative while in police custody to prevent her from giving a major speech. While the impact of that speech is debatable (momentum in favor of granting women the right to vote had already been building for the past yearnote ) this is entirely the wrong strategy for Rittenhouse to pursue. Killing Paul, who had already endured a brutal prison sentence for the cause, only serves to make her an Inspirational Martyr for the women's rights movement—arguably making her even more effective than in the original timeline. In the original timeline Alice Paul would live to be 92 years old and continue to be influential in the women's rights movement, and the larger civil rights movement, until her death in 1977. Rittenhouse's strategy may have diminished her direct impact in these areas but she's still going to have an impact nonetheless. It would have made more sense to eliminate Paul the same way they tried to eliminate JFK—by targeting her as a child or young adult. Given the number of ways children could die early in the 1880's it wouldn't have been hard to do either.
- Rittenhouse isn't much more than Nicholas Keynes and his tools at this point, so it not actually working could be said to be 'cause Keynes didn't think that?
- Good point, but when was this particular operation started? Most of the other sleeper agents have had years to work on their assignments. While getting deep into the women's suffrage movement probably wasn't as hard as becoming a top producer under the Hollywood studio system, an elite NASCAR driver, or an English teacher at a prestigious private school, it does require getting to know the right people and their habits. Was this something Nicholas came up with on the fly, or was this something that had been in the works for a while?
Jessica's original killer?
- So in the first part of the finale, Flynn kills a Rittenhouse agent who is about to meet Jessica, then kills Jessica, too. Who was her killer in the original timeline?