Continuum: Sympathy Switch

I find myself conflicted and confused after watching this week’s Continuum episode, “Seconds.” Not in a bad way, but a way that challenges my preconceptions of “good guys” and “bad guys” and their looks, actions, and backgrounds.

Julian and Alec are stepbrothers. While Alec is a blond, innocent technical genius who spends most of his time holed up in a secret lab, Julian is a dark haired, malevolent looking boy who spends time with his family and a group of individuals who want to change the world.

Looking at them side by side, I know most of us would choose Alec as the “good guy.” He’s sweet, funny, smart, and idealistic. Julian, on the other hand, looks like the classic “bad guy” complete with a dour outlook and a sneer.

But who’s to say someone’s looks and personality make them a hero or villain? Throughout television history, we’ve managed to create simplistic character stereotypes that help us keep the good and bad easily separate. I think Continuum is doing a great job of turning those simple tropes on their heads.

Looking back, I can’t believe I bought Alec’s goodness hook, line, and sinker. He separates himself from people. He has more knowledge than anyone else. He has a secret lab. And while those are parts of a classic “villain” set up, he appears to be an honest, hardworking farm boy who likes to tinker with technology in hopes of making the world a better place. But knowledge is power, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Julian, on the other hand, is loyal and a protector of his family. He seems to prefer working with others to achieve an end and appears to be learning from his mistakes. These are aspects of the personality a hero might possess, and yet we dismiss Julian because he “looks” evil.

We’re also only seeing the story through Kiera’s eyes and Kiera is part of the problem, although she isn’t aware. Kiera doesn’t have all the information, and though she begins to question what her side is doing, she has been trained her entire life to fear Liber8 and Theseus, the person responsible for it.

Continuum’s “Seconds” showed us the reality of the issues surrounding the two brothers’ older selves. Alec’s rise to power (via his special knowledge) has created a new state of affairs, where individual freedoms are no more, where everyone is watched at all times, and repeated infractions like debt are punished by implanting a chip that essentially kills the person while making them useful as factory drones.

Julian, on the other hand, inspired Liber8, a force that despite the violence of their methods, is attempting to bring freedom back to the people. But freedom comes with a price and that price, oftentimes, is violence. Think of other times and places where people have sought freedom; they had to fight for it. The American Revolution, the French Revolution, the Civil Rights movement; riots, skirmishes, battles, and wars have been used to gain back what has been lost.

So who are the bad guys here? All along, we’ve assumed Liber8 were a bunch of terrorists, murdering thousands of people to take down the corporate government. Now that we’ve seen the other side, the side where they are rescuing millions of lives by destroying technology, how are we supposed to feel?

I am not condoning violence. Nor am I suggesting that Liber8 and its constituents are the heroes, or good guys, or paragons of virtue. It is interesting to note, however, that we have only been fed information by one source and that source is now suspect. Do we even know the truth behind other Liber8 actions?

We had not been given both sides of the story in Continuum until “Seconds.” We’ve believed that Julian is an evil young man, bent on destroying the world as we know it to either get back at his brother or register disgust at corporate government mandates.

Meanwhile, we’ve believed Alec to be an innocent victim or, at worst, a misguided tech wizard who just wanted to provide people with a wealth of innovative technical wonders. Is it because we’ve seen everything so far through Kiera and Alec’s eyes?

This also brings into question a theme from last week’s episode: “change.” Can people change? Alec has always preferred to be apart, to wield his power from his throne, as it were, and he does believe himself (often with good reason) more intelligent than the rest of the population. Unfortunately, these seem to be leading him toward the shadowy future of SadTech, where an older Alec Sadler maintains these traits the Young Alec possesses.

Julian, on the other hand, does not want to lead or have power, especially not with the violent Travis Verta. He seems to have learned his lesson by partnering with Kagame and almost getting sentenced. While others are pulling the strings to ensure he plays his part, Julian is determined, so it seems at this point, to avoid another violent and dangerous situation.

Having seen “Seconds,” I’m not sure which side I’m on anymore. I’m kind of with Julian on this. If the only way to prevent millions of deaths is to blow up a facility where the people are already dead, what would I do? As much as I hate the idea of violence, what other way is there to prevent the loss of a people’s freedom?

Over the next few episodes, I’m curious to see if Kiera will realize the brothers are not so easily placed in the “good guy” and “bad guy” categories. They’re both young, they’ll make mistakes, and they’ll use the lessons learned from the mistakes in shaping the rest of their lives, for good or ill.

I’m not sure what Continuum’s final say on the matter will be. I’m curious, however, about what they’re doing with subverting the typical hero/villain paradigm and choosing instead to explore the murky, complex underpinnings that make us who we are.

K.M. Cone

K.M. Cone

K.M. Cone is a story nerd, particularly for the episodic stories told via the medium of television. When not parked in front of the TV, K.M. Cone can be found writing kooky urban fantasy on her personal site, attempting to learn German, or making a huge pot of soup for her friends, who are probably coming over to join her in her latest TV or animated film obsession.
K.M. Cone

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