The most formally appealing moments in “Minute to Win It” occur as each Alec is caught between the prospects of changing futures. Can Alec B accept Piron as his inheritance, thinking it would inhibit Kiera’s future? Will Alec A rob Alec B of Emily the way the Freelancers robbed him of her? Directors William Waring and Pat Williams break the episode’s pace for two mirrored shots—either doubling something in frame or recalling something in our memory of prior episodes. They’re the scenes endowed with passion, with emphasis. It’s can be tough to buy into what they’re emphasizing, in a vacuum, because any other moment worthy of emphasis in “Minute to Win It” flickers by.
Alec B and his mom have been brought to Piron for a reading of Escher’s will. The wall of windows behind them overlooks Vancouver. The buildings are stone, regular and rectangular. They don’t reach that high. We’ve seen the exterior of the Piron headquarters. We wouldn’t call it a skyscraper. Yet from this conference room, the view of the city is downward. Alec B may not yet be gazing from the sky’s penthouse, but he’s already in the place that dictates the skyline’s vertical limit. No one can ascend passed him.
If we see this as a sort of foreshadow, the other moment is a ghost. Alec A—our Alec—tells Emily who he is. He reveals his origin, makes the case for them to run away, then disappears, supposedly leaving the power of choice in her hands: him or the other him. As he pleads, Waring and Williams give us a shot that, in the frame, positions a reflection of Emily directly behind Alec. He’s caught between the two, one there physically, one a specter. He tells Emily everything he’s done is for her. Emily’s too caught off-guard to realize that’s false. The shimmering image of her, who’s but an onlooker, is the love for which Alec is fighting. Emily, this person here, is the stand-in. Perhaps she’ll see that, to her, makes him the ghost.
The shots are almost a surprise. The bulk of the episode is dedicated to implosive incinerations and bank heists for something the heisters—Liber8—seem partially unaware of. Even in the dark you can shoot a wall; by episode’s end they’ve gathered up patents and paperwork on eventual lynchpins of the Cooperate Congress. They’ve rarely felt so impotent. Kiera doesn’t stop them completely, but gets ahold of some unidentifiable device that will likely be the only reason this episode exists. Lucas escapes prison. “Turning men into bombs” doesn’t jive with Travis. “Minute to Win It” seems like preparation for preparation.
I don’t think it’s coincidence that “Minute to Win It” flourishes in the scenes that, refreshingly, distance themselves from the episode’s central plot. Williams is a regular and has helmed some of Continuum’s more suggestive and assured episodes. The scenes here with Alec, either one, are broody, concerned more with consequence and desire than foundation. Not all of them work. A couple come too close to yo-yoing Emily. (I guess their death makes it easier to forgive and forget a loved one’s transgressions.) Regardless, they’re significantly more worthwhile than the barren action engulfing them.
It’s the third episode in the season, meaning it’s about that time for the show to indulge more of its procedural leanings. These have usually been among my least favorite outings. There’s enough to harness in Continuum’s longer narratives and character arcs to pack any episode full of contemplation and weighty action. The procedural convention, as it’s usually been deployed on this show, corners that potential for the sake of the isolated but consistent resolution. Continuum strengths cannot be opened and closed in 44 minutes.
Contributing to the disappointment of “Minute to Win It” is Williams’s history with these template episodes of the show. The best execution of it, season two’s “Second Truth,” came by way of his hand. It took the well-worn TV trope of turning the cop into the victim and with it revealed exciting things about these characters. The murderer behind a slew of crimes still unsolved in 2077 kidnaps Kiera when the trail grows as hot as possible. Strapped down and surrounded by shadow, her pending, gruesome death strips Kiera of any pretense of security. She’s saved, of course, but she realizes this world is its own organic thing. She can’t combat that on her own. So she finally brings Carlos into her personal world.
That episode was also thrilling in its mythological disclosure: Yes, the past can be changed. The writers took the standalone plot and roused long-term truths from it; the unsolved case from the future was a clever device. Williams extracted genuine suspense from it. That entertainment value’s for naught without narrative progress. Kiera doesn’t come clean without that device, Carlos and Kiera do not share the relationship they do without that episode, and we do not feel Carlos’s confused pain over losing (but not) his partner without that development. “Second Truths” was essential to Continuum’s story. “Minute to Win It” is miscellaneous.
Kyle Burton is a freelance critic and an inaugural recipient of Indiewire and Sundance’s Roger Ebert Fellowship. You can follow him on Twitter.