Following a monumental explosion, a surge of protective energy from a futuristic suit, and the successful execution of a terrorist organization's plot towards message-driven terror, the end of Continuum's premiere season poses a direct possibility to accidental time-traveler Kiera Cameron (Rachel Nichols): that her presence in the year 2012 might be part of a grand design, instead of her being in the wrong place at the wrong time in 2077. The answer doesn't come easily during the show's second season, instead looming as an underlying mystery that responds to the show's transformation following those cataclysmic events, revolving around the fate of the time-tampering radical group Liber8 and the impending discovery of Cameron's true identity. Creator/writer Simon Barry flirts with answers to those questions while sustaining the flawed-yet-successful formula that powered the first season's surprising level of quality -- convincing police drama, sly humor, dashes of futuristic tech for quick fixes, and a complicated perspective on heroes and villains -- as it guides Continuum into even darker, more sobering territory amid a conflict between fate and the paradox of altering history.
At first, though, the show seems interested in reinventing itself in the wake of the first season's climax (which should be viewed before continuing with this review), where Kiera has separated from the Vancouver Police Department as an independent "vigilante", doing her own work towards stopping the Liber8 threat and getting back to her family in 2077. The writers even throw in a Batman joke as if they know how she appears at this point: her hyper-advanced tech and distance from the department -- and from her noble, chiseled-jaw partner, Carlos (Victor Webster) -- carries a distinctive "superhero" vibe that doesn't exactly jibe with the series' strengths. On top of that, brilliant computer whiz Alec (the future tech mogul and police-force leader in Kiera's future, played by Erik Knudsen) also lands himself in a situation with a fraction of his previous gear and less-than-enthusiastic cooperation towards Kiera's efforts, where he's intentionally separating himself from his family and past connections, landing himself a computer-store gig to pay the bills. Sure, everything has that vibe that it'll eventually get back to business as usual (Keira folds back in with the VPD; Alec gets a better, beefed-up lab), but the first cluster of episodes struggle because of it.
Continuum makes the most of its alterations by exploring some of the complexities of Kiera and Alec's character traits during a period where Liber8's ranks adjust the death of their leader, Kogame, resulting in an idealistic conflict (and some old-fashioned bad blood) among its members. The show continues to tap into the blurry gray-area morality of the terrorist organization's agenda against corporate control -- several of their attacks involve hijacked CEOs, oil distribution, and a city-wide cyber-attack not unlike what happens in Live Free or Die Hard -- and Liber8's volatility furthers that perception as the show delves into a bleaker outlook on the future they're attempting to shape. They're not the only ones interested in this past now, though. An unexpected new threat comes in the form of "freelancers", which, in a roundabout way, are Continuum's equivalent of the Observers from Fringe: secretive, identity-less individuals with a vested interest in the integrity of history's timeline. The show also delves deeper into the presence of Escher, the mysterious individual behind some of Kiera's closer calls with having her identity revealed. Simon Baker and his writing staff keep close tabs on all the moving pieces in this transition period, though, never letting any crossing agendas become too confusing as they intrude on Kiera's work.
Despite the new tweaks and complications to the plot that one can expect from a science-fiction show entering its second season, Continuum sticks to its strengths as a hybrid of police procedure and serialized dramatic action, where Kiera's knowledge of the future and high-tech gadgetry stay instrumental. The show still reveals some weaknesses by relying on advanced technology as a crutch -- Kiera's suit and bio-engineered CMR chip either resolve key details in crimes or malfunction where needed -- but the writing also uses this futuristic tech as a controlled source of excitement in each episode's pace, while staying relatively consistent with its capabilities. Probably the most frustrating and intriguing example of this comes in how a slice of the time-travel device gets used for different computational purposes as the plot demands, where the themes introduced by its capabilities outweigh the contrivance of its usage. The cases themselves, thankfully, don't suffer from becoming too outlandish for the sake of shock value, though it comes close when it involves hacking organic lifeforms and futuristic super-suits getting passed around. Considering its origin around a super-computing orb as a time-travel conduit, Continuum keeps its tech-savvy feet mostly on the ground.
Rachel Nichols continues to shoulder Continuum's emotional weight as the temporally-transplanted Keira Cameron, whose unrelenting longing to return back to her family -- especially her son -- visibly takes shape in her character's obsessive, on-edge energy and her rapport with Victor Webster's reliably strong performance as Carlos. This also carries over into the series' frequent action beats, where Nichols capable tackles the gun-firing and hand-to-hand combat as an extension of the character's immediacy. But this season has another thought-provoking dramatic angle to absorb: Alec Sadler's awareness of his future and how he handles the present. Erik Knudsen gracefully transitions the character into a weathered individual with some excruciatingly heavy stuff on his mind, from awareness of the empire he'll build and the attention he garners from now-billionaire Matthew Kellog (Stephen Lobo) to the knowledge of his step-brother Julian's (Richard Harmon) involvement with Liber8. Top that off with the evolving, if a bit predictable romantic angle with Emily (Caprica's Magda Apanowicz), a girl with her own secrets, and the content built around Sadler's future legacy firing off in present-Alec's mind becomes rather involving.
There's more to the prospect of this SadTech-led future than the mental integrity of its would-be king, though: as Continuum's second season progresses, the origins of what make up the pre-existing, yet evolving version of 2077 begin to eerily take shape, from the early rudiments of corporate-run City Protective Services (CPS) to the events that shape the future leaders of the Liber8 movement. The show has a complicated attitude towards time paradoxes and the effects of past events on the future, where brief, systematic flashes to 2077 and Kiera's memories serve as the main barometers to the evolving landscape of the terrorist organization's impact in 2012. It begs a question that, in one of the season's most intense moments, Continuum addresses: is it possible that these events taking place in 2012 are actually causing this corporation-dominated future, or is there such a thing as an overarching, unavoidable fate? The series doesn't get overtly philosophical about this enigmatic idea, really, merely using it as an evocative backbone for the events that unfold, but it adds a welcome layer of complexity to Kiera's actions and her immediacy towards getting home.
With beefed-up production design and harder-hitting action, Continuum delivers another exhilarating batch of addictive episodes that attempts to fill the void left by similar science-fiction procedurals over the years, building momentum towards some answers about Kiera's purpose, Alec's decisions, and what can be done with the fragmented time-travel orb once it's back together. What's discovered about these things in the season finale are pretty shocking, as the episode leaves just about everything -- allegiances, impacts of actions, the possibility of returning to future time periods -- in a somber unknown space, undoubtedly reliant on a future episode for clarity and resolution. Thankfully, as of this writing, several episodes of Continuum's third season have aired that alleviate some of the impact, clearing out a bit of the bleakness left hanging in the air at the end of this second season. Just don't get too comfortable with the state of this timeline, because the reverberations felt from this finale's impact continue to shake Kiera's world at its foundation.
With the uptick in the number of episodes (thirteen!) and the inclusion of special features, Universal Home Entertainment needed some more room for Continuum: The Complete Second Season to breathe, thus presenting all the episodes on three silver-topped discs instead of last year's two-disc arrangement. Everything else aside from that operates about the same as it did before: an episode guide appears on the inlay artwork, while the standard Universal "curve" menus play the show's theme music alongside a static image of Rachel Nichols that mirrors the cover artwork.
Video and Audio:
Continuum has a superb visual style for its brand of show, shifting between steely, sparse blues and grays during the modern-era procedure thrills and more colorful, elaborate visual tones during futuristic sequences (and in Alec's neon blue-tinted lab). The digital presence of the show's cinematography has its share of exceptional high-points and mediocre flat moments, presented rather well in Universal's 1.78:1-framed 1080p AVC transfers. During its lower-octane moments, the range of detail and pop of color can be more easily appreciated, seen in the textures of Kiera's clothing and CPS suit as well as the ornate elements in the digital effects (skyscrapers, futuristic aircraft, graphical HUDs). While the show leans on the dark side at times, the contrast levels are careful with elements shrouded in shadows, while the range of motion during brisker sequences -- a sequence in torrential rain fall, the rendering of a fast-paced train, hand-to-hand brawls and gunfights -- exhibit no digital hiccups or pixels out of place. Glossy metal reveals impressive levels of gradation, the radiance of orange and blue lights display a solid grasp on the palette, and skin tones and textures stay incredibly reactive to lighting. In short, the show continues to look great on Blu-ray.
The audio quality of the show's 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio tracks stays at about the suitable, yet flawed level as the previous season, but with a few noticeable improvements that take it up a notch. In general, the series still has the limited fidelity of a television broadcast on Blu-ray, with slightly muffled dialogue and suppressed gunfire that makes only marginal usage of the surround channels. However, several instances of explosions and future-tech effects are cleaner and carry more punch than they did with last year's offering: Kiera's CMR-chip blips and scans are notably crisp, the fury of a moving train carries some mid-range weight that I wasn't expecting, and the sound of bullets hitting CPS suits and energy blasts from the future artillery are rather engaging. Aside from that, Continuum has very few moments where dialogue is difficult to discern and a small handful of pitch issues with background noise. They're decent, bright tracks that capture the volatile present and future atmospheres well enough. Only English subs and language options are available.
The premiere season of Continuum arrived with less than twenty minutes of supplemental material, encapsulated in a somewhat stiff conversation with the creators and cast about the show and its purposes. Therefore, it's great to see the second season arrive with a plentiful arrangement of more relaxed supplements, featuring Audio Commentaries for most of the episodes during this season; only two, "Second Thoughts" and "Second Wave", didn't receive audio tracks. Creator Simon Barry and his cast and crew take relaxed, conversational tones, where the quality of the track -- and the lack of energy and gaps in dialogue -- totally depends on the mood and the episode. Fans of the series will enjoy hearing some of their insights about the visual/production design and hearing the actors reflect on their times during the shoots, interchanging frequently between scene-specific discussion and all-encompassing chats about their experiences with Continuum.
Along with the episode-specific commentaries, the second season also arrives with a little over seventy minutes of Behind the Scenes (1:13:52) material, broken into set chapters with clear divisions between each. It's pretty clear that the folks involved with the show's production wanted to make up for the lack of special features included in the previous season, because the content occasionally tiptoes between covering both seasons. Candid interviews with the cast are the highlight from this reel, revealing how legitimately invested and passionate the actors are about their characters and the material itself, where they discuss the morality balance between the terrorist group and CPS and their methods for getting into character. Simon Barry reveals quite a bit about his creative process, namely how he decided on the series direction while filming -- not writing -- the first season's finale. It's great to see the open, close rapport that the cast members have with one another, because their closeness allows for the bonus material to shed more light on their experiences with the show.
After the content centers on vitalizing the series for its second season, it systematically jumps between topics: the action scene involving a prison break, a tunnel, and a few planes and trains; stories about auditioning for the roles and how certain actors read for different parts, accompanied by a few displays of raw audition footage; as well as how the production veered in different directions and pushed the actors to their limits, notably how Kiera Cameron was almost a male character and how Nichols really struggled with a potent scene involving her on-screen son (despite now having any children herself). There's also an excerpt from a Q&A session for the show at FanExpo, where the actors's positions are only briefly repeated from what's already been said in the behind-the-scenes stuff, as well as some core visual effects material around finding the right studio and seeing Artifex Studios' initial concepts (which have been included as raw footage in "Creating the Future"). The momentum tapers off into casual territory as Omari Newton (Lucas) introduces us to the production crew and the male actors get together for a fishing trip, but the collection of supplements here is candid, honest, and absolutely absorbing for fans of the show. It's great to see enthusiasm like this for Continuum. Here's a breakdown of the timecodes for each chapter:
Continuum is a surprisingly great series that's been just shy of excellence for two seasons now, blending case-by-case procedure with capable serial drama and moral ambiguity in its sci-fi-laced setting. That's largely because it understands several of the fundamental components of good science-fiction material, especially time-travel stories, treading the line between rational and outlandish technology and justifying any leaps in logic with themes to back 'em up. The second season merely builds on the chaos caused by the previous season's finale, upping the action through a combination of Liber8's escalating tactics and a cluster of new threats, while also reaching deeper into the characters' thought-processes about the projected future. Creator Simon Barry and his writers cleverly answer certain questions while outright avoiding others, as Kiera Cameron's thrust to get back to 2077 takes complicated turn after complicated turn up until the tempestuous finale. It's nearly as addictive as the first season, and suggests that the addiction will continue well into the next season. Universal's Blu-ray sports fine visuals and slightly-improved audio tracks, but the big seller this time out is a wealth of commentaries and seventy minutes of behind-the-scenes content. Highly Recommended.