Editor’s note: The below contains spoilers for Kindred.
In the world of science fiction, there are many ways to travel through time. Some, like the kids and adults in Dark, use tunnels connecting different time periods, while others, such as the Doctor, use a time machine to jump from past to present to future. And then there’s FX’s new series, Kindred.
Adapted by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins from the 1979 novel of the same name by Octavia Butler, Kindred takes a whole new approach to time traveling. Its protagonist, Dana (Mallori Johnson), moves through time, not with the help of any secret passageways or fantastical devices. Instead, she is pulled to the past and back to the present through emotions. Namely, she travels through time with the help of fear — though calling it “help” might not be the most accurate description, all things considered. But how exactly does it all work? Here’s everything you need to know about how time travel works in Kindred, from the basic mechanics to the smallest details, and a couple of questions the show still needs to address.
What Is ‘Kindred’ About?
Kindred tells the story of Dana James, an aspiring screenwriter living in 2016 L.A. whose life is turned upside down when she’s suddenly dislocated through time. For reasons initially unknown, Dana is transported from her home to a child’s bedroom in 19th-century Maryland. There, she finds a baby boy about to suffocate in his sleep and saves his life. However, when she tells the boy’s mother and another woman about what she did, they run toward her, and she’s immediately brought back to her own time.
As the days pass, however, Dana is thrown from one time period to the other over and over again, arriving in the 1800s always in the nick of time to save that same young boy from some terrible danger. Little by little, she learns more about her surroundings and starts to put the pieces of the puzzle together: the boy is Rufus Weylin (David Alexander Kaplan), the son of a plantation owner and likely one of Dana’s ancestors. After doing some digging, Dana comes to the conclusion that Rufus is destined to father the children of an enslaved girl on his family’s property, whom she believes to be young Carrie (Lindsey Blackwell). Convinced that she has a mission to fulfill in the past by keeping the two children together, Dana accepts her fate, even though coming back to the Weylins’ farm poses a risk to her own life as a Black woman.
How Does Dana Travel Through Time in ‘Kindred’?
There isn’t much Dana can do besides resign herself to being dragged back to the past as she has no control over her time-traveling abilities. Due to her familial bond with Rufus, she is ripped from her reality whenever the boy believes his life to be at risk. And though Dana has barely a few hours to rest between one trip and the other, time in the 19th century seems to pass faster, and, as Rufus grows up, he gets himself into more and more perilous situations every day. The first season of Kindred covers about two days of Dana’s life and 12 years of Rufus’. In this time span, Dana saves Rufus from suffocating in bed, drowning in a river, a fire he started himself, a tree fall, food poisoning, and a beating from his dad.
Dana also has no control over how she returns to her own time period — at least, not at first. While Dana’s pulled to the 1800s whenever Rufus is afraid of dying, she is brought back to the 21st century whenever she feels her own life might be in danger. The first time she comes back happens because one of the women she meets outside Rufus’ bedroom comes running towards her, and she isn’t sure what’s going on. The last time, she disappears from the farm in the middle of being whipped by Tom Weylin (Ryan Kwanten), Rufus’ vicious father. Between these two awful experiences, she learns that she can force herself to feel afraid when Olivia (Sheria Irving) poisons her – or pretends to poison her — in order to help her get back. However, so far, Dana hasn’t used this knowledge to return home on her own terms.
Can Dana Take Others With Her When She Time Travels?
In the first episode of Kindred, Dana goes out for dinner with her aunt and uncle and ends up forming a connection with their waiter for the night, a former musician named Kevin (Micah Stock). The two later match on Tinder and go out on what is possibly the worst first date ever — not because of anything any of them do, mind you, but because Kevin is the first person to witness Dana disappear to the past and then come back screaming in fear. This long night gets even longer when Dana accidentally takes Kevin to the past with her. The two make the journey back together, but, when it happens for a second time, Kevin ends up getting stranded in the 1800s. Season 1 of Kindred ends with Dana returning to the present, and Kevin trying to learn how to live like a white man in 19th-century Maryland without letting himself be corrupted by the racist, slave-owning zeitgeist.
But Dana does bring someone back to the 2010s with her when she makes her final journey back: Olivia. Dana first met Olivia on that fateful night when she saved Rufus in his crib, but she didn’t realize who the woman really was at the time. It turns out that the free Black woman that serves as a medic to the slaves at the Weylin plantation is actually Dana’s mother, who was said to have passed away in a car accident when her daughter was only two. When Dana is getting beaten by Tom Weylin, Olivia throws herself over her daughter, and the two are pulled through time together. Though Dana wakes up alone in her home, a couple of scenes later, her aunt Denise (Elsa Davis) receives a call from her husband telling her that the police have found Olivia after 24 years presumed dead.
Olivia isn’t the only person to disappear from the past with Dana. In Episode 1, after saving Rufus from a fire, Dana is attacked by a patroller who believes her to be a runaway. Fearing for her life, Dana makes the trip back home seemingly alone. However, when she returns to the past, Olivia informs her that the patroller disappeared alongside her. Could it be that, just like Olivia, he was brought to the 2010s, but woke up somewhere else? Well, that certainly is a possibility, but there is a catch. When Dana and Kevin first travel to the past together, they are given clothes by the Weylins that they can’t take to the future with them. When the two of them pop up back at Dana’s home, they are wearing nothing but their 21st-century underwear. However, Kevin manages to bring along with him the wedding ring that Olivia had given him as proof of her existence. It seems that, while objects from the present can be taken to the past and back again – Kevin even manages to snap some pictures of the farmhouse with his phone -, things from the 1800s cannot make the trip to the 2010s. Is it possible that this rule also applies to people? And, if so, what happened to the patroller? Is he lost somewhere in the space-time continuum? This is definitely a question that needs to be addressed in a second season.
What Happened to Olivia?
Another question that a so far unconfirmed Season 2 of Kindred would have to answer is what exactly happened with Olivia. Season 1 tells us that she was taken back in time while driving with her husband, Dana’s father. Their car fell into the ocean, and Olivia’s body disappeared. The police assumed that she had tried to swim away and got lost in the water. But, as she explains, she actually left the car before it even hit the water and woke up somewhere near the Weylin plantation.
So far, all that we know is that Olivia has the same time-traveling “ability” as her daughter, but what motivated her trip to the past hasn’t yet been brought up. Was it her own fear of dying? Or is she bound to someone else, since Rufus hadn’t yet been born when she made the trip? And why didn’t she return to her own time period before Dana came around? Considering that she was a Black woman in early 1800s Maryland, it is very unlikely that she never felt afraid for her life. Are the rules different for her somehow? Here’s hoping the show will have the time it needs to give us the answer to these questions.
All episodes of Kindred are available to stream on Hulu.