A great episode of Continuum explores the fragility of memoryS

At first blush, last night's Continuum didn't seem like it was going to be anything special: a clichéd "designer drug" storyline wrapped in with some gang warfare. But instead, it warped into a really fascinating look at the ways in which your memory can play tricks on you — and how time travel can screw up your memory.

Spoilers ahead...

The theme of memory came up in some really interesting ways throughout the storyline of "Second Thoughts":

1) There's a new street drug called "Flash," which is actually a major drug in 2077. Originally developed to help Alzheimer's Disease patients, it allows you to re-experience a particular memory with perfect clarity. (Pretty much exactly like the drug in Pagan Kennedy's superb novel Confessions of a Memory Eater.) Kiera's kid sister was hooked on this drug, and basically died because of it, and when Alec's friends take it, they're caught in a nasty car accident. But later, when Alec decides he's still interested in trying "Flash" so he can re-experience his father's death and remember what his father was trying to tell him, his friend warns that the drug might not actually present your real memories — instead, it might give you idealized versions of your memory, or the version you wish were real. (And then Alec uses it anyway, and apparently sees that his mother was talking to Jason, the weird savant guy from the future. And maybe this means Jason is actually Alec's dad?)

A great episode of Continuum explores the fragility of memoryS

2) Meanwhile, the aforementioned Jason catches up with Kiera and gives her maddeningly vague warnings about "freelancers" from the future, who can travel back and forth and are either preserving the timeline or screwing it up. (And the mysterious "Escher," who vouched for Kiera with the feds and is connected to the mega corporation called Piron, is a freelancer "of a different stripe.") But most interestingly, Jason also warns Kiera that the longer she stays in the past, the harder it gets for her to return to the future — because her presence in the past is apparently helping to change the timeline to the point where the world she came from will never come into existence. And Jason seems to hint that eventually Kiera will wake up one morning and her memories of her life in the future will no longer seem real to her. "One day you're going to wake up and just wonder if any of it ever happened," he says.

(To quote the Doctor, "A man is the sum of his memories, a Time Lord even more so.")

3) And then there's the "gang war," which is really a power struggle between the former lovers Travis and Sonya. And, as a series of scenes between Sonya and Lucas makes clear, what's really at stake here is everybody's memories of Kagame, their dead leader. What did Kagame really stand for, and what did he want them to do after his death? Sonya's only been Kagame's chosen successor for a short time, but she already seems unsure — she made an alliance with one of the street gangs, but now she seems to feel like that was a bad decision. She's using violence to achieve her goals (much like Kagame did, on several occasions) but now she's rewriting history to say that Kagame believed in the power of ideas and shunned the use of force. It's actually kind of jarring in a few of those scenes to see how much denial Sonya seems to be in about Liber8's past actions, and I'm not entirely sure I buy that she would be that naïve. Lucas has to keep reminding her of how much death they've inflicted thus far, and how badly things turned out for Kagame when he tried to be pacifist — something Lucas says Travis has understood all along. Meanwhile, Travis casually slaughters a ton of gangsters, heating up the gang war, and then ends it by cutting off the gangs at their heads. Literally. The episode ends with Sonya having chosen to dissociate herself from the criminal element, while Travis has become the leader of a new unified Vancouver mob — showing that the two of them have taken very different lessons from Kagame's legacy.

A great episode of Continuum explores the fragility of memoryS

Oh, and in the middle of all this gang fighting, Kiera proves she's really the worst cop ever. They find the drug lab where Sonya is meeting with her gangster friends, and Kiera refuses to wait for backup, lest Sonya get away. Thus setting off a huge shoot-out between her and Carlos, on one side, and a ton of gangbangers on the other. It's sort of a miracle that Carlos doesn't get perforated or blown up, due to Kiera's insane hot-headedness.

And meanwhile, the two half-brothers, Alec and Julian, keep lurching towards becoming the people they are in 2077, and neither of them seems entirely sure they want to fulfill those destinies. (I guess Julian still doesn't know he's been dealing with time travelers.) Both of them are surrounded by people who want something from them, and they both seem to feel like pawns instead of the kings they're supposed to become.

A great episode of Continuum explores the fragility of memoryS

In one of the episode's most fascinating scenes, Julian gets a visit from their mom, who seems pretty stoked about the bombing that Julian ostensibly took part in — because the bombing had the effect of uncovering a shady deal the major pharmaceutical companies were making, to suppress cures for major diseases to boost their profits.* The heads of the big pharma companies were all there, a fact which the companies kept denying until the executives' life insurance policies were paid out. Of course, a lot of innocent people had to die to reveal and thwart that scam.

Julian says he's going to figure all of this out, and seems kind of happy to be isolated in prison where he can do lots of thinking — but meanwhile, different scary gang people keep coming up to him and announcing that they're his new guardian angels, courtesy of Sonya or Travis.

And Alec still hasn't decided whether he's going to sign up with Kellog, who tells Kiera he doesn't actually want to change Alec's massive destiny — he just wants a ringside seat. Kiera and Alec have a debate over the ethics of screwing up an 18-year-old's life, when that same guy screwed up their lives as an 80-year-old. But it's Alec himself who gets to the heart of the issue: Kiera may know how Alec is supposed to turn out, based on the future she comes from, but Alec still might want to take some detours along the way. And if Alec does wind up changing the future, then at least he's exercising his free will — and if they don't have free will, then what's the point of any of this?

Free will, of course, only matters if you have something worth choosing. And that, in turn, requires being able to count on your memories of the past — or in Kiera's case, the future. If Alec exerts his free will too much, then Kiera's whole life could be changed.

* Yes, I know this makes almost no sense. Cures for major diseases would be super profitable, even if you only get to cure people once.