Inevitably when you have a character who was ex-special forces, military down to the bedrock of their life experiences, and living on in the wake of a dead spouse, you have a fractured, damaged, alpha man who is equal parts unstable and controlling. This is the rule of television when it comes to writing men. They cannot exist in such a way to suggest they are balanced, kind, or willing to listen to others, especially if they have been hurt in the past. They are not allowed therapy or the ability to talk things out in a healthy way. This is toxic masculinity as we see it so often in action adventure, crime, and superhero shows.
With this in mind, I wasn’t expecting much when Wyatt was introduced in Timeless. They described his background and my mind had already been made up about what arc he would have and how he would treat the others. I had seen it often enough. I knew for sure that he would be a cardboard cutout of a character. There’d be no real depth outside of him allowing the others into his inner sanctum of man pain. He’d be a man whose only purpose was to rescue the weaker characters and be there for Lucy to fall in love as he flexes fetchingly.
I’ve never been happier to be wrong.
The most dramatic and unprecedented thing that they’ve done to Wyatt is to have him talk. I don’t know what wacky writer decided to do such an outrageous thing as actually have him hold conversations about things happening in his life, but boy howdy is it noticeable. Wyatt communicates. He expects this dialog in order to work as a team with Lucy and Rufus. When Rufus and Lucy carry their lies, and keep things that impact the success of the mission and everyone’s safety, he’s mad. He calls them out. He explains that they are a team foremost. That it’s not him alone leading the pack.
Each and every one of them has a part to play, and that part cannot be played if secrets about the mission are being kept. He doesn’t expect them to tell him everything, just the things that matter to the team, to trust, to ensuring that everyone gets home alive. When there is a conversation that needs to be had, he doesn’t brush it off or act like he’s above them because he fought in battles. He digs into it like a mature adult would. He confides his problems, his fears, and his hopes. He’s honest about what he needs from the others, and it creates a stronger dynamic with them in turn.
It’s almost like healthy communication builds stronger relationships that are more interesting to watch or something.
Another thing that Wyatt does that seems outrageously strange for a white guy who can kill people with his kneecap is that he trusts. You might argue that many superheroes go around trusting people, as they never seem to be able to keep their identities a secret, or that cops trust their partners, but this is different. It’s deeper. It’s not written for drama or for silly tensions of, “How dare you not tell me you were beating people up in spandex?!” ad nauseam. It comes from a place of respect for the other people in his life. Probably because he talks to them instead of trusting in manly grunting to convey his point. It comes from understanding that he’s not a hero looking for appreciation and adoration. He’s not asking for respect from his back up, and then giving none in return. He doesn’t place himself in the middle of bullets simply because he thinks the others not capable.
He looks at Rufus and Lucy and he sees two smart, capable people who do what’s necessary to win. He sees two people who don’t give up and are willing to risk everything. He sees his equals. Sure, he wants to protect them and keep them safe, but there have been multiple times where he’s shrugged and pretty much said, “You guys got this. Take care of it. I’ll be over here taking care of this thing. We’ll meet up later and I’ll have eye sex with Lucy and resist cuddling Rufus because of his cuteness.”
I’m paraphrasing of course, but it’s a reality that Wyatt feels more dynamic and human because he doesn’t take on a brooding mantle of isolation and that old, familiar narcissistic belief many characters of his ilk take on where he acts like he is the only one who can make the play that saves the day. The respect he carries coalesces in a way that creates an interesting dynamic between all of them, where they all get to be the hero. No one feels isolated in the story or like they are a hanger on meant to fill air time. All three are allowed to see each other as equals, to have development with one another, because the writers aren’t too busy trying to make Wyatt look like he’s the perfect male specimen of what men want from men.
Making Wyatt realistic gives everyone else the chance to feel realistic too, because they aren’t consistently having to dumb themselves down to make him look good.
The third way that Wyatt surpasses the alpha male bullshit that dominates most TV shows these days is that Wyatt is allowed to feel things. He gets all the classic symptoms of PTSD when he goes into an area that reminds him of his traumatic service overseas. He is allowed to mourn his wife, and, yes, not really want to talk about it sometimes because it’s too much grief. He’s allowed to show fear, to be funny, and to worry about other people without the stoicism that is supposed to lead us to believe that he’s an onion with all the feelings buried beneath his brooding brow of doom.
While peeling those layers might be fun for a while, the more interesting characters show what they’re feeling and try to work through those feelings in order to become better people. We get to experience it with them. They can keep things buried, sure, because we all have those boxes that we label for later perusal, or even never, ever perusal, but in allowing him to show when he’s uncomfortable and happy and whatever, it helps him feel like someone we want to get to know and root for even when he’s messing up and stealing time machines.
The most important thing that the above mentioned methods of writing Wyatt does for the show is that it allows the viewer to enjoy Lucy and Rufus as well-rounded characters. The African American man and the woman aren’t footnotes. They are there as much as Wyatt is, because the focus isn’t always on trying to make Wyatt as inhuman and inaccessible as possible.
It takes more effort to write bullshit drama than it does to write characters who communicate, and taking this route means I’ve gotten to know them all a little better. Because they haven’t gone the traditional route with him, I can enjoy Lucy falling through the window trying to rescue him – I still giggle about that scene and their reactions – and Rufus emotionally talking down a Chieftess from killing his friends. I get to see them all save each other and become wonderful friends along the way.
When you allow your male characters to be human beings a wonderful thing happens to everyone else. They get to be human beings right alongside him, and it’s a dynamic of writing that Timeless gets absolutely right.
Write all men, but particularly white men, to be like Wyatt. Write them to be respectful of all, to have equality as a root part of their personalities, to see the people in their lives as capable and worthy of talking things out with on a consistent basis. Have men see emotion as normal, human, and part of growing. Have dialog be an ever changing thing that takes work and effort. Write characters like Wyatt to be stronger for the people in their lives.
When this becomes a standard bearer of our male characters, when this surpasses the gross need to portray men in such a toxic light, all of TV will be better for it.