Exclusive: Simon Barry Talks Time Travel & Season 3 of Continuum

Exclusive Interview with Simon Barry for Continuum
Interview by Jamie Ruby
Written by Jamie Ruby

Simon BarryThe hit series Continuum returns Friday to Syfy. The series focuses on Kiera Cameron (Rachel Nichols), a detective of 2077, who was inadvertently brought back to 2012 with a group of terrorists who call themselves Liber8, and has been trying to return to her own time and family.

At the end of last season, Alec Sadler (Erik Knudsen) was devastated by the death of his girlfriend Emily (Magda Apanowicz), and rather than let Kiera return to her own time (and thus assumingly preventing it from ever happening anyway), Alec grabs the time travel device and travels back in time himself to alter his future. As with time travel so far on Continuum, that could very well screw things up from the way they were meant to be, and it's up to Kiera to stop him and fix whatever problems he may create.

Creator and executive producer of Continuum, Simon Barry, recently sat down with Jamie Ruby of SciFi Vision for an exclusive interview to talk about season three.

ContinuumThere are generally two principles of time travel theory: that the past can be changed, and that it cannot be. Then there are also those that believe in alternate universes. From the beginning, Continuum has walked the line of not really subscribing to any of these theories. Barry explained that they continue with this balance heading into season three. "What we realized, is the idea that the end point can be the product of multiple decisions from any timeline. So even if you travel to a different timeline, it doesn't exclude you from getting back to the point you left, because the same set of circumstances can be created to create those exact circumstances you might have left, depending on what those specifics are, whether it be your family and the people you left behind.

"So we loved the idea, we were actually were always subscribing to that notion; that's why Kellog (Stephen Lobo) didn't die when his grandmother was killed. We've always sort of embraced the idea, but we were kind of holding that back from the audience, because we wanted our characters to be in the same position as our audience was, which is, which one is this, which one are we subscribing to?

"And because there's a sixty-five year gap between our time and Kiera's future that she left, we loved the idea that there're all these potential futures available now, and additional timelines. She could now literally know that she has control or the choice to push one future ahead of another future, knowing that it was malleable.

"Because at the end of the day, if we were locked into a time loop, then you don't really have to do anything; you can just relax, and we didn't like that idea very much. We wanted there to be "here you have the tools to actually shape a future, one of many," and so that was really appealing to us, and we didn't have to necessarily throw out the stakes, because regardless of which timeline you're on, you can still steer it back to the one you left."

Morality is a very interesting part of the series, and it's often very difficult to tell which version of the future is the correct one: the future Kiera comes from or the one that Liber8 is trying to bring about. "We've always been playing with the idea that perspectives are owned in the show by various groups and various points of view. And that even though the freelancers may say one is correct, that is really just their perspective on things. And like everything in the world, the truth of perspective is dependent on who you ask.

"So we never felt that we were contradicting anything else we said. If one group thinks A is the best choice, then they think A is the best choice. We don't need to say that it's necessarily the point of view of the authors of the show; that's just those characters' point of view, because Liber8 has a very different point of view, and Kiera may have a different point of view.

"So for us it was really about embracing the idea that when it comes to power and the use of power, your system of beliefs and your perspective defines what's right and wrong, not necessarily the objective of right and wrong, more specifically what you believe is. And we've always been dancing that dance on this series because everyone's perspective is defined by their experience."

Fans often wonder if eventually Kiera may start to realize that maybe some of the freedoms that Liber8 is so desperate to achieve may actually result in good changes to the timeline. "We love the idea that she comes to terms with that choice, that the idea exists that choosing to shape an alt future might be something she wants in one way, but also something she doesn't want in another way, because it would eliminate her chance to get home.

"And we're much more interested in the situation where that choice presents itself, rather than necessarily defining that choice in the immediate future. I mean, we just like that we can write this very, very tough choice for her of 'is this something where I should be pursuing what's good for me, or should I be pursuing what's good for everyone?' And I think that that's a valid and not an easy thing to necessarily land on immediately; it takes time to get there."

Is it possible that those who want to change the future like Liber8 may be open to changing their views as well? "One of the things I like about Liber8, is they're not in the business of necessarily just being slaves to one point of view based on one vision of the future. I think that their argument is a valid argument in their minds, no matter what the circumstances, that in their view, big corporations succeed in a way that dehumanizes people or takes away from people's freedoms.

"That's something they believe in, and I think it's easy for us to assume that that's only connected to their endgame of a future they know, but when you really look at people's motivations and politics, when they're against something, they're against it not simply because of where it ends up, they're against it because they philosophically and morally and spiritually are sometimes just against those precepts and those structures.

Continuum"And I think with Liber8 we have an opportunity to have both of them. They come from a future where they see the damage that was done, but that doesn't exclude for example the people of today's world, like the Occupy Movement, or any movement for that matter that has an argument to make. You don't need to know how the future turns out to still make your case. And I think that Liber8 is as much a movement based on what's going on in the now, as the knowledge that they have of the future. And I think that's why fans have kind of aligned themselves in some ways with Liber8's point of view, which I think is great."

When talking about which side is the right one, one of the people who it's unclear whose side he is actually on is Kiera's husband, Greg (John Reardon). It sounds like accordingto Barry, however, fans may have to wait to more clearly understand his motives. "That's how most people are: they're not one thing; they're complicated. And what we've tried to do on Continuum is take every character and try and expose their flaws and their good points. A lot of people feel the same about Old Alec; a lot of people feel the same about Kiera in some cases, and that's exactly what we want. We don't want cookie cutter people; we don't want simple prototypes or stereotypes of relationships. We love the complexity of the human condition, and we know that that's closer to the truth than what television normally shows.

"So as far as Greg's story goes, I think that we told a chapter of that in season two so that we understood he was caught between a rock and a hard place in regards to what his wife did and where he worked, and that there was a risk in telling his boss, Old Alec (William B. Davis), about what she was doing. I think it's the kind of argument you could say that people might fall on a line of 60-40, where some people may want to protect their situation as much as they want to protect anything, not realizing what the consequences are. I don't think anyone would say that Greg was absolutely 100% aware that the consequences would be what they were, but he still made a choice.

"We don't want to weigh down necessarily Kiera's experience in the present with this rhetoric about her marriage in the past, because as time goes on those things become less relevant to her struggle, which is really her own now personal and spiritual and emotional struggle with her situation. We've been trying to wean the audience off that storyline a little bit so that it becomes less relevant. I think like anyone who's been stranded, you can romanticize getting home for all the reasons, but that doesn't mean you can exclude the truth of what you left behind, and we just didn't want to make it simple; we wanted to make it complex."

Also, when it comes to sides, it's hard to tell exactly where the elder Alec Sadler fits sometimes, because it is unclear whether Old Alec sent Kiera and Liber8 back to change something he did to change the future, to ensure the future doesn't change, or even if he is possibly sending them back to fix a mistake he already made by changing something previously. "The mystery exists basically as, is he fulfilling a time loop that he experienced, or is he trying to change something from a perspective of someone who has regret and thinks this is like the Hail Mary? And we've never really been absolutely 100% clear about that, because it leaves room for the idea that regardless of multiple timelines, that journeys can curve back to other places. If you look at time like a river with many different estuaries, rivulets that split off it, that sometimes those little streams can loop back to the big river.

"And so we loved the idea that Old Alec made this choice which would have an impact on the past, but was that choice driven by some position where he had no connection to time travel previously, or was it part of something that he was completing and fulfilling of the cycle? And we've really just been preserving that mystery of his intentions. His choice is specific; it's to send people back to change the way things play out, but is that to ensure his position, or is that to change his position? That's a little bit unclear I think."

This season will obviously be Kiera dealing with the repercussions of whatever Alec changes in order to save his girlfriend. "And that's the choice. I mean, we've personified Kiera's decisions in the two Alecs that exist now in this timeline, and I think that's kind of a nice way to package what she perceives to be the right decision to make."

In most science fiction shows that have two versions of the same character in the same timeline, having them cross paths is often very dangerous. Will they address this in this season on Continuum? Barry simply teased, "We're going to address that at a point in the season, yes, absolutely."

Something that fans love about Continuum is all the cool gear and future technology. The repercussions of what Alec does could possibly create new tech. "I think conceptually, the fact that two Alecs now exist in this timeline, means that each Alec represents a possible future. And we loved the idea that because of that paradigm, there may be a domino effect of this situation that results in technology, some of that alternative future finding its way to the present."

ContinuumWill what Alec did be wrapped up soon or continue throughout the season? Barry just teased, "I'd say we're going to devote an appropriate amount of real estate to it."

Much of Continuum's complex storyline was thought out from the beginning of the series, but when planning out where the story would go originally, there had to be room to add the details. "We had big ideas. We had big arcs that were not necessarily specific at the level of the show, but that were big broad stroke notions about where the characters would go, how their journey through the past would affect their perspectives, and what the end result would be at the end of the show.

"So we mapped out in general terms the intentions for the show, but we never felt like we were going to corner ourselves by being so specific that we couldn't tell those side stories or the details that really make a show evolve, and that we'd have the opportunity to bring in new ideas and new thoughts and new notions that carried those big ideas forward.

"So it's a twofold thing. It's knowing how much to have planned ahead that doesn't restrict you from evolving. And we found I think a comfortable balance of knowing the direction we wanted to head to and where the journey would end, but not necessarily knowing which roads we were going to take to get there."

This season we will get to see many of the pivotal moments that set the characters on their respective paths they are now on. "I think for a lot of the characters in the show, well not all of them, but for many of the characters, we're going to have very pivotal moments that I think set in motion characters that we've seen in the future, where they end up, and also characters in the show that have come from the future, of how they became the way they are through flashbacks.

"So we are definitely embracing that idea that we can in the journey of the present and the stories of the past, meaning the future; we can show how things happened and why."

Three seasons in, one of the challenges Barry faces is keeping the show fresh. "The challenge is always to make the show structurally, and from an experience, very much the show that we've always been making, but at the same time shuffle the deck enough that we are able to tell new stories with all our characters in a way that makes the storytelling better.

"So for us it's this push-pull of keeping the show familiar, but making it a new show every year and a new chapter of a bigger story. And we want to have each season in a way stand on its own, as a book almost, as a chapter in a bigger volume. So we're always looking at ways that we can set each season now apart, but still connect to all of the other stories and all of the other episodes and still feel like part of a whole."

Continuum is a fairly serialized show rather than episodic, or "mystery of the week." Lately networks seem to shy away from serialized television, because although it can make the story much more rich by threading through a continual story, it can sometimes lower viewership because viewers can't just drop in in the middle of a season and understand what's going on. Continuum was lucky with this. "We had an interesting experience when we first started the show in season one. Our primary broadcaster, which is in Cananda, was, I think in terms of their philosophy, not really in the mindset to embrace full serialized television, and liked that Continuum had a procedural component to it, and that we were open as a show for viewers to kind of understand the concept and drop in.

"The funny thing is, that since that day, which was more than two years ago, because of the case of television viewers and because of the success of other serialized shows, the network has been more and more promoting the idea that we could have more of a serialized structure.

"So it's been interesting, because we at a certain point embraced sort of this episodic model as well as a serialized model, and for us to completely divorce ourselves of the episodic model would feel a little strange. So we've been weaning ourselves slowly, I think, away from the episodic model. But when we do do an episodic story, which I think is perfectly fine – I grew up on episodic television like Star Trek - I don't mind it. I don't have an aversion to it, but I do like when we can combine the episodic with the serialized together, and really merge them, and build, and allow those episodic stories to enhance the mythology.

"And sometimes those shows take on a life of their own. You don't plan them necessarily to be more episodic or less episodic; it's just the demands of the story that really push you in one direction or another.

"And so this year I think that when you see an episodic storyline, we're using it to move the serialized storyline ahead. And we're trying to always use that as a yard marker on the field and help move that ball towards the goal line, but at the same time some stories are just more interesting as episodic, and so we give them the real estate they need. And there's certainly this season plenty of opportunities for those episodic moments to happen, but it's more our choice now, which is great."

ContinuumIn the end, one of their main goals is to keep people guessing. "It would be awful if suddenly something was completely black and white and you were like, 'Oh well that's it, I don't need to think about that anymore.'

"We are trying to tell our audience always that we think they are much smarter than a lot of shows give them credit for, and that there's a participation component in watching some tv shows that is half the fun. That you get to speculate instead of be spoon-fed. That you get to debate instead of being told what the opinion is, what your opinion should be. I'm a fan of television, movies, and books that do that, and so we're trying to replicate that as writers whenever possible."

Barry is extremely happy that the science fiction community has embraced Continuum and its complexities. "I'm really thrilled that the sci-fi community has embraced the show and talked about it internally. I mean we're now in 133 countries, I think, which I think has as much to do with the science fiction community as with the exchange of information that allows for a show like ours, which is very small on the radar, doesn't have a big budget, and that is out of Canada, not out of the US. And that we can be in so many different countries across the world is really a testament to the loyalty of sci-fi fans, and I think also the culture of science fiction fans. Because regardless of the country or part of the world they're in, they tend to conglomerate, and they tend to exchange information which has been very beneficial to us."

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