Much to its credit, “Timeless” does not assume its audience’s knowledge of its various historical subjects. From better-known events like Lincoln’s assassination to the only recently familiar figures like Katherine Johnson, the show finds ways for its characters to quickly dispense the crucial info so we can sit back and enjoy the trip.
Rather than merely hearing Lucy’s (Abigail Spencer) latest encyclopedic recitation of facts, this week’s introduction to Josephine Baker (Tiffany Daniels) is co-delivered by Rufus (Malcolm Bennett). It is Rufus who first recognizes her as the bombshell on the cover of his mother’s vintage vinyl. Lucy then interjects to let him (and us) know that Baker was not just a sex symbol, but the international celebrity of her time — “think Beyonce 1927” — a woman who would also go on to become an undercover spy for the Allies in World War 2.
This quick bit of exposition sets us up to meet the badass herself, but also perfectly encapsulates how Baker is remembered to history — first, as a sex symbol; then, as a legendary performer; and finally, in footnotes, as a daring Resistance spy and lauded military veteran. Nearly a century after Josephine Baker took Paris by storm, we’re in a time when the coexistence of scathing political commentary and fun fashion tips in the same periodical is seen by some as so unexpected as to inspire riffs on the same joke, hour after hour, on social media. Yet in three short scenes with Josephine Baker, “Timeless” shows us how easy it is to be simultaneously a glamorous midriff-baring showgirl, a badass spy, and a thoughtful confidante.