2077, Alex Sadler, Alternate Future, Alternate History, Bill Gates, Charles Koch, Continuum (2012-15), Corporate Congress, Economic Inequality, Erik Knudsen, Firefly (2002), Fringe (2008-13), Kiera Cameron, Liber8, Michael Bloomberg, Oppression, Plutocracy, Rachel Nichols, Resistance, Revolution, Sci-Fi, Simon Barry, SyFy, Time-Travel, William B. Davis
Continuum (2012-15) ended its fourth and final season on SyFy here in the US and Showcase in Canada last month (we can still watch it — eventually all of it — on Netflix, though). Typical of most science-fiction series, Continuum ended with a six-episode arc that cannibalized its main theme, in this case, time-travel. Six episodes about soldiers from the future attempting to prevent the creation of a better-future-alternate-timeline for the year 2077, one that didn’t include corporate plutocratic totalitarianism over the rest of the world. Continuum’s creator Simon Barry could have and should have done better. This ending obscured what Barry attempted to illuminate throughout the series. Despite the problems of a bludgeoned timeline and plot in Season Four, Barry did get the idea of a potential corporate dystopia correct. His Continuum offered up the idea that the twenty-first century world is already at war, between more economic and political freedom on the one hand, and increasing global economic inequality and corporate influence on the other.
Continuum was the Canadian sci-fi show about Kiera Cameron (played by Rachel Nichols), a police officer from 2077 but stuck in the 2010s with a group of time-traveling anti-capitalist terrorists known as Liber8. Continuum, though, is hardly the only show with the theme of a dark near future. FOX’s Fringe (2008-13) and the short-lived yet cult favorite SyFy series Firefly (2002) were both examples of a world in which corporate interests and government power had nearly become one and the same. Yet in those series, whether located on an alternative Earth or the twenty-sixth century, there remained a line between corporate influence and governmental authority.
On this point alone, Continuum succeeded precisely because it didn’t pretend there were better days of capitalism and democracy in the past. From its pilot episode, set in present/alternate future Vancouver, British Columbia, Barry’s vision of a plausible darker future shined through. It was a future in which corporations would eliminate the nation-state entirely as the middleman for its profitability and power interests. The Global Corporate Congress would be the resulting outcome of the failures of governments around the globe to address population growth, climate change, trillions of dollars of debt and a host of other issues. But really, it would also be the outcome of corporations using governments and government tax breaks to corrupt democracy and hoard wealth. Barry realized that this alternative course is one the world is already on.
The biggest question any serious fan of Continuum should have is this. Why didn’t Barry send the terrorist group Liber8 back to 1977, where the path toward the Global Corporate Congress could’ve been destroyed before billionaire social-control advocates like Bill Gates, Michael Bloomberg, and Charles Koch would have been able to build their paternalistic view of the world? After all, it’s really not that much of a leap from Gates’ heavy-handed philanthropic work in public education and the Citizens United decision in the US to a world plutocratic government run by the heads of multi-trillion-dollar corporations.
The saddest aspect about the end of Continuum was the idea that it ultimately took a 83-year-old robber baron with a conscious in Alec Sadler (played by William B. Davis and Erik Knudsen) to change this dark trajectory. That billions of humans didn’t revolt to a future in which corporations controlled every aspect of their lives — that’s just appalling. Yes, Liber8 and other anti-capitalist and anti-Corporate Congress rebels (or terrorists) were around and engaged. But most people apparently allowed themselves to be led like sheep to the slaughterhouse, all for reasons involving food and security. Still, were it not for Sadler and his great time-travel device, this would be a world in which all of us would be plutocratic corporate slaves. Hard to imagine anyone like Sadler willing to change this future, precisely because this is the future real-life plutocrats like Gates, Bloomberg, Koch (and Steve Jobs, and Mark Zuckerberg, and Phil Knight) want.
That a corporation could arbitrarily decide how families could discharge their debts, make works of art of acts of free speech contraband, and insert microchips in humans in order to keep them from rebelling or to force them to work off their debts. As disgusting as that was to see on Continuum, the sad truth is that we’re not very far from this future at all. If anything, we needed more examples of this soul-destroying future, not more muddled attempts to destroy it.
This is the real legacy of Continuum. Not its fancy time-travel motif or cool-looking gadgets. The reminder that freedoms from economic and political oppression are ideals humanity must fight for in every era. That people shouldn’t cede power to corporations over the food supply, water, law enforcement or education out of fear or desperation. That societies shouldn’t blindly trust billionaire robber barons—no matter how well-intentioned—simply because they promise some of their billions to help the poor. We the people need to trust and verify, through governments, through muckraking, protests, and, if necessary, through revolution, against this plausible future.