We're still reeling from all the twists and turns during the series finale of Continuum, but luckily creator Simon Barry has opened up to break down everything from the mechanics of time travel to when they mapped out that awe-inspiring final scene.
The series, which aired on Syfy (Corporate owner of Blastr -Ed.) over the past four years, followed future cop Kiera Cameron (Rachel Nichols) as she was sent back to the present to stop a group of time-traveling terrorists. From that simple pitch, Barry and the creative staff managed to weave one heck of an ambitious sci-fi story that dug deep into gray areas between good and evil. Then it kept digging until it hit the rocks underneath.
Friday night's series finale found officer Cameron finally transported back to the future, where she learned that the work put in to "fix" the future paid off. The only problem? She's now become an anomaly from an aborted timeline, so there's already a version of her in this future — meaning she can never actually speak to her son or family again.
We asked Barry about everything from the decision to send Kiera back to a future she helped build (but doesn't belong in) to what he hopes the show's legacy will be for current and future fans. Let's get started.
Let's start at the end: The final scene that found the world changed for the better, and Kiera back in a future where she doesn't exactly belong. Can you walk us through the decision to end the series on that somewhat bittersweet note, with Kiera looking at her long-lost son from afar but unable to interact with him? How early did you have that mapped out, and what does it say about the series' message as a whole?
We knew from the beginning of Season 1 that Kiera was going to go back to 2077 at the end, and that it would be a better future than the one she left. What we didn’t know was how exactly that would happen and what it would look like.
Breaking Season 4, there were a lot of ideas about how to get Kiera back. We were folding a lot of ideas into a shortened Season 4, and so things had to be adjusted to fit what we were planning. At first there was a discussion about using the Traveler to "merge" Kiera with the one that was born into the new timeline, but it didn’t have the gut punch of complication we are always looking for in the show.
We finally settled on the ending we used before any scripts were written. It seemed to fit what the show had been about all along. Sacrifice for an idea that is bigger than you are. We knew it would be bittersweet, but the writers and myself have always been striving to find the complicated way out of a problem, because that tends to reveal more about the truth of who we are and what Continuum had been attempting all along.
How exactly did the shortened episode order for the final season affect the narrative? Were there any stories you wanted to explore in more depth but were unable due to the smaller episode count?
We definitely had to get off the side roads and jump on the freeway for the last season. There were pros and cons to this.
On the positive side, we could dispense of the episodic storytelling that tends to infect a longer 13-episode season. We treated Season 4 like a limited series or miniseries, with one story and no closed-ended episodic stories. This allowed us to use the maximum real estate to close out character arcs and focus on Kiera, Alec, Carlos and Kellog as our primary interests.
The negative was there was never going to be enough time to deal with all the threads we had set up. Emily, Julian, the Traveler were all supposed to get larger stories. We had also discussed an entire season set in 2077 to really get to know each member of Liber8 and how they eventually got signed up with the cause.
All of these ideas had to be tossed in order to close out what was happening with our main characters and Kiera’s drive to return home. But I’d take six episodes any day over being canceled mid-story without the chance to finish. I feel genuinely lucky to have had the opportunity to have an ending when so many shows never do. No complaints here.
Continuum has arguably had one of the smartest takes on time travel in modern television. From the humble beginnings of the pilot episode, how did you map out your "rules" for time travel in the writers' room? Was that an asset, liability (or both?) as far as a storytelling tool?
In Season 1, I addressed the writers' room with a simple set of guidelines.
1. Time travel could not exist in a closed loop, because it would remove stakes from the show if everything was simply preordained to happen and our characters were fighting windmills.
2. We needed to preserve the stakes of guideline #1 for as long as possible to keep the characters and audience wondering what the consequences were of changing history.
3. Kiera was going to be able to change history and return to a better future as a result.
It became obvious once we dispensed with paradoxical time travel that anything was possible with multiple timelines. The only way to not get lost in this was to limit the number of time-travel events in the show. This way you couldn’t just hit reset with your characters to fix things. And even if you thought you could, as Alec did at the end of Season 2, there had to be unforeseen consequences to these choices that made you wish you hadn’t.
By making time travel as rare an event as possible, by making it difficult, we could minimize the impact of this technology. It’s also about perspective. Time travel is a purely relative process. It means nothing to those that aren’t themselves traveling, so we had to ensure that the only characters who would have access to the technology were characters whose perspectives were relevant in the show. Kiera and Alec are therefore the only perspectives we wanted to experience, because it’s really their journey.
The lines between good and evil seemed to blur as the series wore on, and it became obvious both Liber8 and Kiera had some valid points in fighting for their respective futures. From corporate greed to freedom, destiny and everything in between, Continuum touched on all of it. What do you feel the show's legacy will be going forward?
I hope the legacy will be that you shouldn’t really debate any argument until you make an effort to understand both sides of it. I was always hoping that the twist of having a hero "corporate police officer" from a dystopian future would open people’s minds to alternate perspectives. Having seen how fear and ignorance is used to paint those with alternate viewpoints, I realized that audiences could be trusted to be smart enough to make up their own minds about who was right and wrong. There was no point in editorializing it if some thought Liber8 was right and others thought Kiera was right.
When I saw that audiences were adopting the show as their own, pro-Kiera and pro-Liber8, I knew we were onto something. The only way that happens is if you don’t pass judgment on the characters. You allow them to see the world and their battle through their eyes, not mine.
In this way, everyone is right in their own mind. And this goes a long way to understanding there is no such thing as good and bad, only what this character believes and what another believes in opposition. This is much better for dramatic purposes, because characters (and the actors portraying them) can easily find a part of themselves that understands and believes this point of view.
Also it keeps the audience wondering where their allegiance should land. The best part of Season 1 was reading comments from people who couldn’t figure out who the "good guys" were in the show. I loved this more than anything.
Any chance we might see these characters again, be it in a TV movie, comic or other medium?
Yes, I would love to explore what happens to these characters after Continuum in other mediums. It’s too early to say how that may happen, or what medium it might happen in, but the ability to build on the Continuum universe and mythology is not something that has to happen necessarily in TV or film form, but it might. I would also love to see the fans speculate on the possibilities for these characters and the larger universe of Continuum, be that simply forum debate or fan fiction.
Personally I would love to write about Kellog in his new "situation" -- that would be a fun book or graphic novel to write. I would also like to explore the story of the Traveler and the larger time-travel mythology myself and the other writers came up with but were unable to execute this season.
There are some great ideas that never made it to the screen. Perhaps those concepts can see the light of day down the road in other storytelling mediums.