Tag Archives: Great Man Theory

Continuum, Time Travel and The Grandfather Paradox

The last episode to Continuum’s second season (“Second Time”) sees a grief stricken Alec Sadler (Erik Knudsen use the time travel device to go back in time to save the life of Emily (Magda Apanowicz). A shocked and distraught Keira (Rachel Nichols) looks on as Alec disappears from the time line in a flash of light. What is everyone’s favorite Protector to do now that the time travel device no longer exists? Is she forever trapped in the present unable to do anything about Alec’s betrayal?

If you were hoping to find out what Kiera would do now that she is stuck in the present then don’t hold your breath. Alec reemerges in the past–one week in the past to be exact–to create a new timeline while Kiera is captured by the Freelancers. The original timeline, as explained by Head Freelancer Catherine (Rachael Crawford) no longer exists. The intense roller-coaster ride and the jaw-dropping events of the last season, from the pinning of Agent Gardiner’s (Nicholas Lea) murder on Kiera to Carlos Fonnegra (Victor Webster) leaving the Vancouver Police Department to join Julian (Richard Harmon) and Liber8 never happened.

So what are Continuum fans to do? Are we simply to ignore the last episodes of Season Two as if they never happened? That remains an open question.
The Season Three premier certainly continues with the same action packed intensity from which the last season ended but it does something else–it explains the time travel rules upon which the show is based. It also appears that the show’s writers have put a lot of thought and effort into ensuring that these rules are as consistent as possible, especially where the issues of paradoxes are concerned.

The Paradoxes of Time Lines

Continuum Time Travel

Head Freelancer Catherine explains that time travel is not immutable and is like a brancing tree that needs to be pruned.

“Destiny is not set. Time is not immutable. The continuum is like a tree. It can grow wild or it can be cultivated.”

In the premier episode, head Freelancer Catherine explains the concept of timelines and the physics of time travel to Kiera. While there is only one timeline, it can be changed. Go back far enough in time and you can change everything to create an entirely new and different timeline.

This answers some of the paradoxial questions of the last two seasons, if Maddie (Olivia Ryan-Stern) was really Kellog’s (Stephen Lobo) grandmother, then why didn’t he pop out of existence in the current timeline. One idea put forward by Alec was that she may not have been Matthew’s grandmother. It turns out she could have been and to understand why, we must look into how Continuum’s physics of time travel resolves the Grandfather Paradox.

The Grandfather Paradox


The grandfather paradox is one of the more well-known time travel paradoxes and was first described by the science fiction writer René Barjavel in his 1943 book “Le Voyageur Imprudent(Future Times Three). In this scenario, our time traveler goes back in time before his grandfather is married and kills him. The paradox is that the time traveler is never born and can not go back in time to kill his grandfather. His grandfather is free to meet the grandmother, get married, have kids and our time traveler is eventually born. When the time traveler gets older, he steps into his time-machine and goes back in time to kill his grandfather. This cycle continues ad infinitum and without resolution.

Recognizing this vulnerability, in the Season One episode “A Test of Time”, Kagame (Tony Amendola) decides to test this paradox and possibly get rid of their “Protector problem” once and for all. Liber8 start by killing young women with Kiera’s grandmother’s name–“Lily Jones”. During the course of the episode Liber8 take additional insurance by planning to kill Kellog’s grandmother; revenge against Kellog for helping Kiera. Travis (Roger Cross) shoots Kellog’s grandmother and everyone sees that Kellog does not disappear–the grandfather paradox does not apply to them. Or does it?

According to Catherine’s explanation of time travel, killing Maddie creates a new time line. In this new timeline Kellog will not be born and many of the events in Kellog’s life, from his meeting Kiera to his part in Liber8 will never happen. In a sense the very timeline that Kiera so desperately tries to protect no longer exists but this doesn’t mean that Kellog’s absence changes things so completely that the future Kiera and the Freelancers are trying to protect never happens. Kiera’s primary concern is her family but everything can still go according to plan even though Kellog no longer exists in the new timeline.

Catherine and the Freelancers appear to subscribe to the Great Man Theory, a 19th-century idea in which history can be explained by the impact of “great men”, or heroes. As Kellog is not one of these supposed “great men” then many key events, such as Alec’s rise to power and discovery of time travel, will still happen. This means that Kiera’s family will still exist in the future. As they don’t know who Kellog is, they will also be completely unchanged by the ripple effect of Maddie’s death. The reason Catherine and the Freelancers aren’t too concerned of Maddie’s death is because her impact on the future is negligible–her life or death changes nothing. Talk about a major blow to one’s ego.

Resolving the Grandfather Paradox

Continuum’s time-travel physics provides a logically consistent way to resolve the Grandfather Paradox. A time traveler who kills his own ancestor or whose ancestor is murdered won’t vanish from existence. Rather, the timeline he came from will disappear to be replaced by a new timeline in which he will never be born. As our time traveler is a refugee from the previous timeline that no longer exists, he won’t pop out of existence and is safe from the ramifications of the Grandfather Paradox.

This single and mutable timeline idea not only overcomes the logical paradox and inconsistencies of the Grandfather Paradox but others as well , such as the Bootstrap and Predestination Paradoxes–something we will examine in future blog posts. It also highlights how dangerous time travel is in the series. As time is not immutable, a nefarious time traveler can use a time machine as a weapon to mold the future to achieve for personal gain. Jason has hinted that the Freelancers have meddled with humanity’s history before. The extent of this meddling remains to be seen.

The Freelancers have the power to monitor the continuum and stop people from making these changes to the timeline but this doesn’t mean they are the good guys. Catherine has admitted they see themselves as guardians to the continuum, in essence, the ones who “prune” the tree. This makes you wonder whose interests they represent and whether those interests are the best for everyone. This is interesting because the series has yet to really identify who the good guys and bad guys really are.

While we may at times root for Kiera, as the series progresses we may discover we never should have. We have two Alecs in this timeline. In the last timeline we have seen hints that Alec could be turning to the “dark side” and become the man to usher in a totalitarian and dystopian future of 2077. All that may have been changed with Emily’s death. It is amazing the difference a week makes. Could we see Alec Sadler fight on both sides of this temporal war? Your guess is as good as mine.