Who Shot the Sheriff? ‘Timeless’ Season 2, Episode 8, Recapped

The Time Team travels to D.C. to prevent a presidential assassination, but instead runs into a new old friend

Karen David as Young Denise
(Left to Right): Karen David as Young Denise Christopher, Claudia Doumit as Jiya, Abigail Spencer as Lucy Preston Ron Batzdorff/NBC

As we careen towards the end of the season, the show takes a break from heavy history for some important character development. As such, there's not much for us to talk about this week, but we'll do our best.

This episode takes the team to March 30, 1981, in Washington, D.C., on the day that John Hinckley, Jr., attempted to assassinate President Reagan (The actor? Then who’s vice president, Jerry Lewis?). In the real-world timeline, Reagan of course lives, and the team concludes that Rittenhouse's goal is to make sure that changes and Hinckley succeeds, but they're dead wrong. Rittenhouse's target is instead a young Denise Christopher, who's just started her job as a D.C. police officer. If Christopher dies—or doesn’t stay with her job with the police—she’ll never be recruited by the FBI, won’t start to work for Homeland Security, and will never recruit the Time Team. Not only will that create a trippy paradox in which the very fabric of the Time Team’s reality might cease to exist, it’ll also give Rittenhouse control of the Lifeboat time machine.

We also learn in this episode that Christopher, who in the present is married to a woman named Michelle, is closeted in 1981, unsuccessfully trying to balance her desires with those of her conservative Indian-American family, who just want her to settle down with a nice (male) doctor in an arranged marriage. Most of the episode centers around Jiya and Lucy attempting to break up the engagement celebration, which they finally do by showing a young Christopher a flash drive full of her family photos, which Lucy’s been hanging onto since last season. She agrees to come out to her mom in order to save her future children, and I’M NOT CRYING YOU’RE CRYING.

As this story unfolds, we also get a little history, and some truly fabulous hair (rock it, Jiya). As you may remember from history class, Hinckley's reasons for the assassination attempt were a little unusual. Did he have a problem with Reaganomics? No. (Actually, Hinckley seemed happy when Reagan was elected President just a few months earlier, journalist Del Quentin Wilber wrote. He told his parents, “Maybe there is hope for the country yet.”) Maybe he just really hated Bedtime for Bonzo? Also incorrect. In fact, Hinckley had become obsessed with the actress Jodie Foster, then just 18 years old, and believed that killing the President would impress her. He was supposedly attempting to reenact a pivotal scene from the 1976 film Taxi Driver, which features Foster and includes an attempted assassination of a presidential candidate.

In a letter he wrote before the attempt (which “Timeless” cribs from in the episode’s opening scene), Hinckley Jr. said:

I will admit to you that the reason I'm going ahead with this attempt now is because I just cannot wait any longer to impress you. I've got to do something now to make you understand in no uncertain terms that I am doing all of this for your sake. By sacrificing my freedom and possibly my life I hope to change your mind about me.

Hinckley approached Reagan and his entourage as they was leaving the Washington Hilton. (Incidentally, the set for the “Hinckley Hilton” (the never-quite-but-almost-official nickname for the hotel where the assassination attempt took place) looks pretty solid. For reference, here’s how the space looks and here are some historical photos of the event.) He fired all six shots in his revolver, hitting White House Press Secretary Jim Brady, D.C. police officer Thomas Delahanty, Secret Service agent Tim McCarthy, and Reagan. The bullet that struck Reagan, the President later said, had flattened and shot through his lung, stopping less than an inch from his heart. “Someone was looking out for me that day,” he wrote in his autobiography.

Reagan underwent emergency surgery at George Washington University Hospital, as did McCarthy and Brady. (Delahanty had to wait a few days; he was originally told that the bullet did not need to be removed until FBI experts found that the bullets Hinckley Jr. had used were a special type that were meant to explode, so Delahanty was essentially a walking bomb.) Reagan and McCarthy made a full recovery, but Brady, who had been hit in the head, suffered brain damage and would use a wheelchair for the rest of his life. The Brady Bill, which requires background checks for gun purchasers in the U.S. (a law to which there are numerous loopholes), is named for Brady.

Foster wouldn’t speak publicly about the ordeal for years, telling “60 Minutes” in the ’90s that “I don't like to dwell on it too much...I never wanted to be the actress who was remembered for that event. Because it didn't have anything to do with me.” She added that the press frenzy had been difficult: "Then of course came the glare of all the cameras...trying to find me, and hiding places, and press conferences and paparazzis....It was a really hard time for somebody who was 18."

Hinckley Jr., meanwhile, was found not guilty by reason of insanity and sent to St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in D.C. He was released in 2016 and lives with his mother.

Other quick items:

  • Jiya and Lucy take as aliases “Cagney” and “Lacey.” “Cagney and Lacey” was a television show about two female police detectives that aired for seven seasons and won several Emmys. Supposedly, a reboot is in the works.

  • Rufus and Wyatt interrogate a sleeper, who has been hanging out in D.C. since 1969. He lets slip that not all Rittenhouse sleeper agents believe in the mission--some are just being blackmailed or threatened. The unnamed sleeper is in the latter category, but his brother, also in 1981, is in the former. Wyatt and Rufus dispatch the brainwashed brother with their car and decide to free the threatened one, but he hangs himself before they can.

  • Something’s up with Jessica. Her brother, who in Wyatt’s timeline died as a baby of leukemia, is alive and well. And when Wyatt asks Jessica what’s up with that, a clue to the audience that his recovery may be courtesy of Rittenhouse, she changes the subject and drops a bomb: She’s pregnant.

Next week it looks like two episodes—including the season finale—will air. If our calculations are correct, when that happens, you’re going to see some serious….er, stuff.

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