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Continuum: Season Three

Universal // Unrated // December 23, 2014
List Price: $59.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Thomas Spurlin | posted January 5, 2015 | E-mail the Author
The Season:

Once time travel and alternate realities enter the equation in a sci-fi TV plotline, you can essentially kiss newcomer audiences goodbye. Those drawn to the show's premise or ensemble understandably become lost while trying to follow the numerous interwoven threads and the impacts made on various permutations of the future; hell, it can become tedious for those who were around from the beginning. Continuum not only suffers from this, it's the crux of the series' existence in the first place: a terrorist organization's desire to alter the future into one without the dystopian control of corporations in seats of authority, and the law enforcer, Kiera Cameron, who also unwillingly traveled back to the modern era and thwarts their endeavors to do so. At the end of creator Simon Barry's second season, access to those familiar realities and times get twisted and zapped in a maddening bleak disarray, leaving this third season to dust off and reassemble the pieces. Continuum loses some of its freshness in overdone themes and contrived science-fantasy throughout, but, new audiences be damned, it stays true to the series' complex tone and unruly branching possibilities in its rush towards an unknown future.

It's not difficult to remember the ending of the previous season (which should be viewed before continuing this review): locked in a glass cage along with members of Liber8 by forces known as "Freelancers", Kiera's prospects for returning to her family in 2077 -- let alone her makeshift life in modern Vancouver -- were looking incredibly slim. Despite being considered a dangerous variable in the creation of future time periods, the Freelancers' leader decides to go against some of their better judgments and release Kiera, so she might help them in their preservation of the stability of time following Alec Sadler's decision to use the time-travel device for himself ... to go back a week and prevent certain things from happening. Thus, she must be marked as one of the Freelancers, leaving her allegiances entirely obscured as she jumps back to the period in which Alec traveled. As one can imagine, this introduces certain complications, notably the fact that there are now two Alecs and two Kieras who could create new paradoxes and possibilities in the modern era.

The jump in time doesn't go back very far, that much can be said without giving much away of Continuum's third season (something that's really difficult to do given the events of the first episode), enough to get Kiera back under the good graces of the Vancouver Police Department and for this new Alec to try and right some of the mistakes put in motion. That said, these overlapping timelines have an expected timey-wimey confusion effect at the season's beginning, leaving too many dangling possibilities without a grasp on what's even attainable now for Kiera's perceived reality, which has served as the series' emotional core since the beginning. Moreover, the presence of two versions of Alec Sadler finds a way of splitting his personality into two different versions of himself -- one who's made hard life-altering choices and the other who's responding to this adjusted reality -- essentially leaving Continuum without the Alec we've come to know and appreciate. This, of course, as per the chaotic and harrowing ending of the second season, is by design; creator Simon Barry obviously wanted to shake everything up while also maintaining the series' core procedural framework, and he certainly succeeded, for better and for worse.

Continuum struggles to figure out exactly what to do with these fresh circumstances, though, attempting to stick to the case-by-case formula while also emphasizing the heightened existential chaos of a fractured time-travel narrative. Mostly, the series has already conveyed in its first two seasons much of what it has to say about the gray-area themes of corporate control and liberal extremism, limiting the flipped perspective of Kiera Cameron as the "bad guy" protagonist and Liber8 as the justifiable antagonists into merely part of the expected setting. Instead of exploring those ideas in novel ways so they don't feel as if they've run their course, the writing hammers home the same perceptions in louder, heavier-handed ways, especially when it incorporates some timely commentary on the over-militarization of modern police forces; the presence of a mole in the VPD office does offer one exception to the rule, and a unique twist in the story's dynamics. Kiera continues to resolve Liber8-centric cases with Detective Carlos Fonnegra (Victor Webster) under the gradual corporate-owned leadership of department head Inspector Jack Dillon, and while that comfort zone still delivers the charismatic science-fiction energy we've come to expect, it almost feel anachronistic in comparison to how far everything's progressed thus far.

A mix of by-the-numbers and over-the-top episodes in the first half of Continuum's third season leads to a dip in narrative momentum, muffling some of the dramatic legitimacy behind its time-sprawling authoritative machinations. While the writers build off from the stiff contrivances in their prior storytelling ideas -- for example, Kiera's CPS super-suit doesn't resolve plot complications as easily or frequently as it did before -- they offset those advances with some pretty outlandish pseudo-science, such as mind-controlled suicide bombers and roaches operated by way of cybernetics and a TV remote. Intriguing drama gets overshadowed by these wacky elements, from the return of one of the series' more intriguing regular characters to the complications created by the fate of one of the two Kieras. Moreover, it's hard to understand how Matthew Kellog (Stephen Lobo) can stay involved on such a high level with the events that have transpired, given his checkered history; his presence as a smarmy corporate villain slips further into throwaway one-note territory amid the presence of the two Alecs. Despite still engaging with its charisma and depth, Continuum initially loses some narrative oomph that it needs to fight to get back.

Fortunately, the creative minds behind the show seem to understand those creaks and splinters in the floorboards, because this third season appears to consciously pull back, focus and re-roll what the story's really about at the halfway point, starting with the future-centered episode "Waning Minutes". Driven by the reliably strong-willed and physically-capable performance from Rachel Nichols, Continuum slowly allows Kiera to experience necessary new sensations and realizations through certain plot points: that she truly may never return to her son and family, and that she might have been wrong about the CPS agenda. She also continues to make questionable, self-serving decisions that give her character depth, enriching her nebulous place among the police department, the Freelancers, and Liber8. Alec Sadler's duality and exploration of a new form of technology with corporate backing, one Orwellian in scope, also affords Erik Knudsen opportunities for his weather-beaten demeanor to expand. The show's previous musings about fate and future lose some of their ability to exist following the paths that the series goes down, surrendering its quasi-philosophical ideology for the plot's necessities, but they give way to glimmers of personal drama and bleaker accountability for questioning one's commitment to beliefs and causes.

From tighter action choreography to a willingness to let pivotal characters die under traumatic circumstances, Continuum discovers new energy and immediacy later on in the third season, realizing the potential of the momentous events that occur in the flawed early episodes. While it falls into traditional reinvigoration tactics by introducing an unfamiliar character, a temporary John Doe (Falling Skies' Ryan Robbins), who conveniently adds more than a few kinks to the equation, he's also part and parcel with one of the smartest creative decisions that the show could've made at this fork in the road: with his arrival also comes the streamlining of the chronological branches, ditching the mess of coordinating realities and timelines and rendering a new outlook for the future. The way Continuum handles these parameters certainly isn't easy or unadventurous, either, and some might not like how far Simon Barry takes the fragility of time-travel down the rabbit hole. It's unclear how everything will be wrapped up in the final six episodes of the series, airing sometime in 2015, but here's hoping they deliver the catharsis deserved for Kiera and those influenced by her.

The Blu-ray:

Universal Home Entertainment again accommodates for the expanded episode roster and special features for Continuum: Season Three, dropping five episodes on the first two discs and leaving the special features for the final disc alongside the last three episodes. A semi-matte, semi-shiny slipcover emphasizes Rachel Nichols' presence on the front cover, replicating the front and back cover design. On the inside, Universal's standard-practice silver discs appear in a standard center-tray case,

Video and Audio:

Everything you've come to expect from Universal's Blu-ray presentations of Continuum can be applied to this third season, encapsulated in thirteen 1.78:1-framed, 1080p AVC digital transfers. It wouldn't be inaccurate if I simply copied my comments about season two and pasted 'em here: the show's polished, classy mix of police-procedural visual style and futuristic technology showcases the strengths and negligible weakness of the digital format, hallmarked by robust colors and intermittently crisp details. Although, given Alec's decreased time spent in his work-space and the combat-based nature of the future scenes, there aren't as many opportunities for striking high-definition moments. Instead, the discs impress in more subtle ways, such as in the range of sickly greens in the Freelancers' prison and the brightly-lit stage for a television broadcast stage, while the rest of photography hones in on lower-saturation, steely shades. Detail has its intermittent issues with flatness, while mediocre gradation and heavy grain impacts darker sequences; however, the shine of metals, the slight warmth of skin tones, and the ornate textures of the ... uh, orange-slice device looks quite suitable.

Perhaps I'm dishing out too much credit here, but the sound design encapsulated in these 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio tracks might be slightly more robust and aware of environments than the previous audio treatments for Continuum. Generally, again, it's more of the same: the sounds of Kiera's futuristic weapon taking shape and the sounds of her suit offer snappy, satisfying aural delights, while the rhythmic music delivers deft notes that command most of the surround environment. Dialogue has its moments of limited fidelity, but they seem even fewer than before, and the popping of gunfire and other sharper sounds -- prison cell rattling, keyboard clacking, hand-to-hand combat -- command more lower-end weight. Some smaller atmospheric sounds, however, seem to have more weight to them, and the environmental sprawl to the rear channels seems slightly more frequent. Not enough to get a higher rating, but the clarity and balance for every episode are fairly satisfying across the board. English language and subtitle options are all that's available.

Special Features:

Extras are a little more sparse for Continuum's third season, including far fewer Audio Commentaries this time around: two, in fact, whereas the second season's Blu-ray set only had two episodes that didn't have commentary tracks. Fittingly, the two episodes are the premiere, "Minute by Minute", and the finale, "Last Minute", with energetic and insightful comments from Pat Williams and Simon Barry that spans the extent of the production ... though it gets a tad self-congratulatory at times. Each of the discs also include a nifty series of Webisodes (HD) that are scripted, shot, and produced with a similar caliber of quality as the series itself, though the minor storylines explored in the two-minute bits typically only have tangential association with the plot at large and involve secondary characters. They're entertaining addendums to the lore, though, and they do elaborate on some under-explained elements of the story (including this universe's "cure" for the common death).

The core feature made available, as it was in the last Continuum Blu-ray, is another installment of the Behind The Scenes (30:22, 16x9 HD) series. The first time around with this feature, though, Simon Barry and his crew had a lot to say about the production itself, since they weren't given much of an opportunity to do so with the first season's special features. Therefore, it's somewhat understandable that this particular feature lasts about half as long, since it only really covers progression in the third season and elements that weren't previously addressed. Again, candid and enthusiastic interviews from the entire cast and crew are mixed with clips from the show, where they discuss developments in the overarching plot, the difference in scenes with music and without music, trimming material from episodes (including a few deleted scenes), and some final reflections from Erik Knudsen about tackling different versions of the same character. Like before, the behind-the-scenes content is clearly separated into four distinct chapters: Point of No Return 6:47); How Does That Sound (10:37); Making the Cut (8:35); and Two Alecs (4:34).

Final Thoughts:

The third season of Continuum endures some of the series' very best and most flawed moments to this point. Unfortunately, the weaker storytelling elements occur earlier on in Kiera's jump back to modern-day Vancouver as she attempts to reverse the gears put in motion by a pair of Alec Sadlers. Between the convoluted time-travel possibilities and the wacky stretches of science-fiction implemented in those first episodes, the front-end of this season sags a bit as it struggles to find the proper voice, including some heavier-handed attempts at communicating the series' regular themes. But boy, does it figure things out in the second half, recalibrating its perspective on Kiera Cameron's grasp on her existence and the end-game of Alec Sadler's technological ambitions. Even in its lowest moments, though, it's worth noting that Continuum still possesses a certain brand of sci-fi energy that's sorely lacking in most other productions of its ilk, capably balancing police procedure with complex time-travel drama that builds expectancy through how the future's being shaped ... and how outside of everyone's control it's become. Universal's Blu-ray looks and sounds great, and comes equipped with satisfactory -- albeit less in number -- features. Recommended.

Thomas Spurlin, Staff Reviewer -- DVDTalk Reviews | Personal Blog/Site
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