Writers on NBC’s Timeless could have easily allowed Agent Christopher, a senior Homeland Security field agent, to become a one-dimensional character. It’s something we’ve seen a hundred times: a brazenly confident leader, capable of making the tough calls until it comes to his own wife and kids. [Here’s looking at you Oliver Queen]. Agent Christopher is just one power pose away from falling prey to classic stoic white male trope…except she’s an Indian-American woman.
The show’s boss is a middle aged lesbian of color who is in a loving, interracial marriage with a black woman, Michelle, and has two children: Mark and Olivia.
Since the show’s conception, this time traveling drama has been intent on highlighting voices that are frequently overlooked in the history books. To rectify this problem, the show’s second season intentionally placed a strong emphasis on telling the stories of people of color and women. Co-creator, Shawn Ryan, addressed their desire to spotlight these hidden figures by saying, “so much of history as it’s taught revolves around powerful white men, and one of the things that was of great interest to us this year was to see if there was a way to explore history beyond that.”
In addition to learning about Wendell Scott, who became the first African American NASCAR driver to win a Grand National race in 1961, and Grace Humiston, a celebrated lawyer and famous New York detective who solved one of the highest profile disappearance cases in 1917, Timeless created a modern, beautiful queer storyline.
Typically, LGBTQ characters on TV are portrayed as young, white and unattached. In fact, according to the most recent data available on GLAAD’s 2016 and 2017 “Where Are We on TV” reports, 77% of queer characters on streaming originals were white and 72% of queer characters on broadcast and cable were also white. Focusing solely on the stories of queer white individuals is just as detrimental to societal progress as white feminism. It completely overlooks the difficulties unique to people of color and that’s a massive problem.
Luckily, Agent Denise Christopher is the solution.
Not only is she a woman of color in a white male dominated field but she wasn’t forced to sacrifice her career in order to have a family. Agent Christopher was able to get the girl, the job and the respect of her employees. Essentially, she is the pinnacle of success for women, people of color and the LGBTQ community.
However, Timeless is careful not to gloss over the challenges that Agent Christopher was forced to overcome in order to earn her life.
It expertly explores the delicate issue of coming out to a Hindu family in “The Day Reagan Was Shot” (2×08). The episode opens with Agent Christopher and her wife in the midst of the morning rush. They’re getting ready for work, coordinating their schedules and making sure their kids eat breakfast. It’s the typical, wholesome American morning.
Until her mother calls.
Agent Christopher ignores the call which prompts her daughter to ask why they’ve never met “Grandma Ananya”. Sadly, it’s revealed that Agent Christopher barely has a relationship with her mother because she doesn’t even know that Agent Christopher is a lesbian (let alone married with two children). The pair have a very tense relationship and only speak about superficial matters on an infrequent basis.
As the episode progresses, Agent Christopher’s reluctance to live openly is fiercely challenged by the show’s main female characters: Lucy and Jiya. In order to prevent Rittenhouse, a mysterious organization that is the show’s main antagonist, from killing a young Agent Christopher, the team travels back to (can you guess?!) the day President Reagan was shot (March 30, 1981).
After narrowly escaping an assassination attempt, Agent Christopher, whose real name is Dhriti Srivastava, is admitted to the hospital with minor injuries. Within moments, her mother Ananya arrives and pleads with her to abandon her dangerous career and get married to a family friend, Sunil.
Aware of the ramifications of Agent Christopher denying her sexuality and leaving police work, Lucy and Jiya immediately begin encouraging her to come out. They even pretend to be lovers in a hilarious attempt to connect with the young Agent Christopher.
Unfortunately, the young Agent Christopher insists that living authentically is just not an option for her. She explains that her family is traditional and that being a lesbian is simply unacceptable. Instead, the young Agent Christopher intends on repressing her homosexuality, marrying Sunil and learning to enjoy being a stay at home mother. Lucy, realizing the gravity of the situation, abandons protocol and tells Agent Christopher about the future.
She explains that in a few years Agent Christopher will be recruited by the FBI and eventually appointed to a senior field agent for Homeland Security. She details the lives that Agent Christopher will save and praises her integral role in routinely saving the world.
However, it isn’t until Lucy shows the young Agent Christopher photographs of her future wife and children that she finally decides to come out to her mother.
And it doesn’t go well.
Devastated by the revelation of her daughter’s secret, Ananya becomes visibly upset and violent. However, Lucy and Jiya are forced to leave without knowing what happens to the young Agent Christopher.
Luckily, the team is able to span 37 years in a matter of minutes and arrive in the present to find a happy, healthy and openly gay Agent Christopher. She thanks the team immensely for saving her family and casually mentions that she’s leaving early because her mother is coming over for dinner.
Shocked, Lucy and Jiya ask how Agent Christopher was able to repair her relationship with Ananya.
“It wasn’t an easy road but she came around eventually,” replies Agent Christopher. “We still have our moments…but she sure can cook, and she loves my kids. I can’t imagine my life without her.”
This transformation is incredibly powerful to watch. Coming out actually brought Agent Christopher closer to her mother while being closeted forced them apart. By pretending to be straight, in a misguided attempt to preserve their relationship, Agent Christopher never even gave her mother a chance to become accepting. Instead, she hid herself away and their relationship suffered.
However, by Agent Christopher choosing to come out and live openly, Ananya was given the ability to process, grieve and ultimately overcome her homophobic views. The pair went from exchanging awkward phone calls a few times a year to having family meals together and enjoying a close, loving relationship.
How amazing is that?
This episode of Timeless is revolutionary because the fate of society literally rests on a lesbian embracing her sexuality. It’s rare that being openly gay is portrayed not only as good for the individual but good for the world. If Agent Christopher never acknowledged her homosexuality and resigned herself to a quiet and repressed life, then she would have never assembled a team that saves humanity on a weekly basis. In fact, her decision to come out as a lesbian was literally essential to her ability to protect the world.
Tragically, Agent Christopher’s storyline was cut short by NBC’s decision to cancel Timeless on June 22. Instead of saving this thoughtful, creative and empowering show, the network decided to renew less progressive programs.
Agent Denise Christopher deserved better and I sincerely hope that her storyline goes on to inspire other networks to include queer women of color in their programming. Timeless may be over, but let’s make sure Agent Christopher’s groundbreaking storyline will live on forever.