Season 1 of Timeless ends tonight, and Sakina Jaffrey joined me to talk about playing Agent Denise Christopher, reflect on the first season, and tease the finale. Read our chat below, and watch “The Red Scare” tonight at 10pm ET/PT on Global TV in Canada, and at 10/9c on NBC in the U.S.
In “Public Enemy No. 1,” Agent Christopher appeared to have some trouble adjusting to not following the rules. Does that continue to be a challenge for her?
One of the things I find so interesting about Agent Christopher is she believes in these institutions that have helped hold up America. She believes in the military, in law and order, and the police process. Like Wyatt, she’s a rules person. The ground underneath her has shaken, and she’s sucked into this situation where she’s told she’s being reassigned, but it makes her question who’s in charge, and whether these institutions are actually worthy of trust. She was regaining her grounding in that episode.
My husband covered politics for Rolling Stone when Clinton was in office. I remember when — and it seems so minor now — the Lewinsky scandal was happening. We had some friends who wrote for the President, speech writers. When they were faced with this dilemma — this was a person they believed in, that they’ve been fighting for — and suddenly they felt betrayed by the system. Timeless made me think of that, when you have to regroup. That’s what Denise Christopher does in “Public Enemy No. 1.” She regroups and moves forward, but her belief system has definitely been rocked.
The grey area on Timeless got so much bigger as the season unfolded. Initially, Garcia Flynn was painted as the villain, but as the story progressed, we started to understand some of his motivations, and learned about these larger forces at work like Rittenhouse. Now that we’re at the finale, Flynn doesn’t seem quite as bad.
Let’s look at his death count, his victims. [Viewers start to] believe in him and feel he has such a heart, and don’t really think that he’s killed people. It’s kind of shocking that we dismiss that. That’s what’s so great about Shawn [Ryan] and Eric [Kripke] and the team of writers. They have created such deep and complex characters that you feel all of it, and you should. Even at the beginning with Agent Christopher, you may not like her or trust her. You think she’s just an establishment person, but she obviously has a huge heart and feels a tremendous sense of protection of these heroes. Garcia Flynn also has this huge heart, and like all of our characters, has suffered such a tremendous loss that it makes you wonder what you would do. Would you go crazy if your family was killed? Would you act out of character? Would you find and bring back the people you love? It makes you question how you would function under those circumstances.
This show deals with loss: Rufus’s potential loss of Jiya and his family, Agent Christopher’s potential loss, Lucy’s mom and sister, and Wyatt’s wife. When you look at that loss and how we deal with it as metaphors, these characters and the historical periods that they go back to, this whole concept and genre is fascinating to me. Also, we haven’t had a moment with so much civil unrest in our country since the Civil War. When your institutions are rocked, it makes people be leaders in a way that they didn’t know they could be, and I find that a very fascinating aspect of Timeless as it’s happening in real time in the U.S. Whatever your politics are, it’s fascinating to watch.
One of the reasons I love TV as a medium is because it can hold a mirror up to society and world events, and encourage people to see things in a different light.
It can also disguise a point of view or a concept and make it more digestible because it’s shown in a way that you don’t realize it [is happening]. It makes issues and the idea that you can question things more palatable.
It’s been established that Lucy is part of this Rittenhouse legacy whether she likes it or not. It’s part of her history and who she is. I really want to know Agent Christopher’s backstory. How did she became involved in this world, what she was like when she was younger, and is she somehow connected to Rittenhouse in a larger way? Have you pondered whether or not Christopher — or perhaps another member of the team — is tied to Rittenhouse in a similar way as Lucy?
I don’t think I have, but we’ve had some historical characters that I wonder whether or not they could have been part of that world. I wrote a full, fleshed-out backstory which has not really shown up on the page, and maybe will one day. I actually didn’t think about other characters being associated with Rittenhouse. One is bad enough. We definitely delve into that history in a fascinating way in the finale with the Rittenhouse Summit happening. Rittenhouse’s connections are definitely explored in that episode.
When a Season 2 happens, do you hope Agent Christopher finally gets to do time travel?
I knew it wasn’t going to happen first season, but I sneak into those sets all the time. I want to meet those people, and see how Christopher would function in that situation. I don’t think it’s in the cards yet, but you never know. I’ve certainly put it on my wish list and made it known to Eric and Shawn.
What time period do you want to visit?
Part of me would put myself in a time machine and go to the future where women make equal pay for equal work, but that’s my sappy futuristic answer. The past? I’m fascinated by the time of Native Americans in this country when they really ruled the land. On a totally silly note, I’d love to go back to Desilu Studios when Lucille Ball was creating sitcoms.
I think the Desilu storyline would be perfect. There’s so much rich material to explore there. Speaking of comedy, I love your recurring role as Sonu Lahiri on The Mindy Project.
I love it so much. It’s funny that I play characters like Linda Vasquez [on House of Cards] and Denise Christopher because I am so not that person. Comedy is my true love, and I get to do that here and there. We have a very funny set [on Timeless]. Actually there have been some jokes that they gave Agent Christopher that ended up on the cutting room floor. It’s hilarious to me that she barely smiles because I usually can’t wipe a grin off my face. If you ask who is the least like their character, it’s me.
One role that I’m always keeping tabs on is Nayar on Mr. Robot. I’m really hoping you pop up again during Season 3.
Any final words about the Timeless finale?
I think you’re going to love it!
Photos Courtesy of NBC