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Credit: Darren Michaels/Sony/NBC

Timeless' Shawn Ryan expounds on the series finale and answers some burning questions

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Dec 19, 2018, 1:54 PM EST (Updated)

The clock is ticking down for Timeless... in more ways than one.

NBC originally canceled the series after only one season, reversed the decision a few days later after an outpouring of fan support, and axed it again after Season 2. Following its second cancellation, another outcry from fans, dubbed "Clockblockers" resulted in the network greenlighting a two-hour movie to wrap up loose ends.

The Time Team's mission in this film, premiering Dec. 20, is to save their colleague Rufus, who perished in last season's finale. However, that wasn't the only mind-blowing shocker. Future versions of Wyatt and Lucy showed up to ask the question in the first place: "You guys want to get Rufus back, or what?"

Showrunner Shawn Ryan recently spoke with SYFY WIRE about Timeless' final undertaking, paying off those cliffhangers, breaking time-travel rules, and the possibility of more adventures.

Let's rewind a bit. How did you land on Future Wyatt and Lucy showing up in the Season 2 finale?

Shawn Ryan: I wish I could claim that was my idea. I remember coming into the writers' room one day and that was something the writers had come up with. If you look at the whole series, there have been some breadcrumbs laid for some of our characters hopping around different times. We are always interested in what's the big moment, big twist, big reveal in a show like that. This is very much an adventure show. We always liked the idea that we would end big. The idea of introducing Future Wyatt, Future Lucy into this environment, seemed like a great hook to us for what we hoped and anticipated for Season 3.

When Season 3 didn't materialize, it became a big chunk of this movie. Within the first five minutes of the show, the importance of Future Wyatt and Future Lucy… you'll see what their purpose is. That's part of the fun of time-travel shows. You can mess with things in a way you can't with straight-ahead, linear shows. You can investigate different possibilities. Seeing this version of Future Wyatt and Future Lucy, and how they are different than our current Wyatt and Lucy, was of great interest to us.

Even before the two-hour was announced, the actors' contracts had expired. Did that cause you to worry about them coming back or did you keep in contact?

We did keep in contact with them. We were trying to figure out some extension of the show, via Season 3, somewhere else. Pretty quickly, we were having discussions with NBC about a possible two-hour movie. But we didn't know if it would happen or not. A lot of logistics had to be handled and budget issues sorted out. All I can say is with this show having survived the first cancellation, always in the back of my mind, I felt like we were going to get an opportunity to end the show in some way.

I never truly believed that was the end of the show. I didn't know if it would happen right away at some other network, whether it would happen with a movie at NBC, or it would be five years from now where it would be a GoFundMe sort of thing, where we would do it the way Veronica Mars did. I always felt we would get to continue this story and wrap it up in some way.

We kept in contact with the actors and we let them know, "Hey, we are having these conversations with NBC." As we got closer, and it started looking more and more real, we gave them a general time frame in which we would have to film things. We just said, "You are on your own. You are obviously free to do what you want, but just be aware that we are talking with NBC about filming something on these dates to air something around Christmas."

Fortunately, whether it was luck or their own beliefs that they wanted to finish the show, no one took any jobs that prevented them from doing the movie.

The writers had already mapped out some of the major beats for Season 3. For the movie, did you start from scratch? Did you take anything from Season 3?

We certainly had some things in mind. Obviously, that was going to be over a longer arc. Also, you're planning a Season 3, hoping you will have a Season 4 and 5, so some things weren't necessarily being concluded.

We did port some of those ideas over for the movie. I have to give a lot of credit to Arika Lisanne Mittman and Lauren Greer, who wrote the two separate episodes that are airing as the two-hour event. I have to give them a lot of credit because they did come up with a lot of new stuff. They were working full-time in the room and then they would mail in the day's ideas to me and Eric Kripke... and they just kept plucking away.

A lot of the stuff from the two-hour was original stuff that they came up with that wasn't part of our Season 3 pitch. So, it was a combination of certain things we wanted to do and places we wanted to go. Doing the two-hour, those things got accelerated as opposed to doing a 10 or 15-episode Season 3, where it would have dragged out more. In a way, it worked out perfectly. I feel like the story we had to tell fits in very nicely into these two hours.

When you were looking at the movie, were there certain things that just had to happen?

Absolutely. Rufus died in the finale for Season 2. That was the big hook at the end of Season 2. "Do you want to save Rufus or what?" Will our heroes be able to do that? If so, what form will it take? As we saw with the Jessica character, just because she came back, doesn't mean she was the same person. So, the Rufus of it all was something we wanted to deal with.

There was a nice triangle building in Season 2 between Lucy and Wyatt, and Lucy and Flynn. We knew we wanted to have some progression on those two fronts and establish what becomes of these characters. The other thing Eric wanted to make sure we addressed in this finale was Lucy's journal that has played a big part of the show from the pilot episode. We always hinted about where it came from, how it was used and how it came to be. Eric wanted the audience to have clarity about the journal. The journal plays a real big role in this movie.


Credit: NBC

As you mentioned, Rufus is dead. Is this mission more personal than ever or is the fate of the timeline still at stake?

Both. It's safe to say that our heroes will have a choice between trying to save Rufus and trying to protect the timeline. That's a very difficult decision to make. It's a classic case of there's no right answer and what do you do? There might be one way to go off and save Rufus, but if the timeline is in jeopardy somewhere else, which fork in the road do you take? That's a big part of the first hour of the finale.

At this point, is Rufus' life more important? How prepared are they to break the rules of time travel?

I think they still care about the rules of time travel. That was something we hit over the second season. In the first season, Lucy was very concerned in preserving history exactly as it was. In the second season, she began to care a little bit more about doing the right thing, even if it had some butterfly effects on history.

I would say that progression with Lucy goes even further in this finale. She is someone trying to stop Rittenhouse, trying to do the right thing, but maybe is a little less concerned with saving the worst parts of history.

How did you zero in on which time periods to visit?

There was a lot of discussion over that one. Once again, a lot of credit goes to Arika and Lauren, who pitched two different time periods in this finale. We go to the 1840s California and then 1950 during the Korean War. We are always looking for a personal connection to one or more of our characters in the time periods we go to. That's something Eric always taught me. Eric has a lot more experience in science fiction and genre than I do. There's the idea of making sure that you are thematically linked into the story you are telling with the characters' journey. The story we go to in California definitely has some personal resonance for one of our characters. Then, when we go to Korea, it really encompasses the difference between preserving history as it was and maybe allowing history to change because you do the right thing.

Then, we have the added burden that turned out to be very fortuitous, when NBC picked up the two-hour finale, they had one request and that was, "We think this is going to air around Christmas time and we would love this to have a Christmas theme to it."

We spent a lot of time looking for historic events around Christmas time. We had George Washington crossing the Delaware and that kind of stuff. Arika and Lauren really came across an amazing story that I had never heard, and I don't think most of our viewers will know about. It's the centerpiece of the Korean portion of the story. So finding these stories, and finding the characters that play within them… the guest-star historic people… is always important to us, but it always has to tie in and connect to one or more of your main characters.

How important was it to give the Time Team closure? Or did you want to leave things open to some interpretation?

I've had the fortune, or misfortune, of doing a few shows where, as we were writing the final episodes, we knew it would be the final episode. I am a believer that you don't have to give the audience every single detail, but I do believe in some clarity when it comes to closure. We wanted the audience to have a real good sense of the fate that is going to affect all of the main characters on the show. That was important.

At the same time, we perhaps overly optimistically, because of the fact that we've been resurrected twice, also wanted to make sure if down the line, whether it's NBC or somewhere else or a movie of some kind, if there is a desire to continue Timeless, that not every avenue was closed off. What I would say is once again, Arika and Lauren did a pretty brilliant job of giving a very complete NBC finale, a finale to the story that we've told on NBC over the last couple of years, and, yet, has enough wiggle room that if down the line, there's a desire to see more of that universe, then that would be possible, too.