A review of tonight’s Timeless coming up just as soon as I’m Agent Mulder…
As both an Apollo program nerd and a NASA movie nerd (to the point where I could easily recognize a snippet of The Martian score used as temp music on the screener for the scene where Mission Control reconnects with Neil and Buzz), “Space Race” should have been catnip to me. But perhaps because of my obsessiveness, it felt skimpier than some of the show’s other recent historical adventures that didn’t travel to eras about which I’ve read a couple of dozen books, seen as many movies — and will be there opening weekend to see Hidden Figures, the Oscar buzzworthy movie(*) starring Taraji P. Henson as NASA math genius Katherine Johnson, played here by Nadine Ellis — and rewatched From the Earth to the Moon over and over and over again. The design of Timeless means that every Mission of the Week is going to offer a Cliff’s Notes of a particular historical event or figure; it was just more glaring this week for me, though your mileage will obviously vary depending on how many Grumman engineers you can name who worked on the lunar module.
(*) Hidden Figures, like any other major studio release, didn’t appear out of thin air, so at some point in the development of this episode, the creative team had to know that the line about how Rufus and Lucy’s adventure resulted in a movie being made about Johnson would play as an in-joke. And I imagine Johnson’s story will be told far more exhaustively there than it could have been here.
“Space Race” also felt like an episode where the meddling in the past would have had more far-reaching consequences than previous missions. A near-tragic moon mission would have either scuttled the rest of Apollo altogether (under the heading of, “We won — barely — so let’s not risk any more lives going back there”) or, given the cover story about Soviet spies interfering, could just as easily have redoubled our efforts in space, with even more lunar missions and other plans more ambitious than what NASA began doing by the mid-70s — which, given how many incidental technologies were developed by the program, means Team Lifeboat would have returned to a far more futuristic world. For that matter, the Cold War could have very easily turned hot if Nixon believed the Soviets had committed so brazen and potentially devastating an act of sabotage.