Rufus Carlin is a brilliant engineer and programmer sent with Lucy Preston and Wyatt Logan on their mission to prevent Garcia Flynn from damaging America's timeline. Rufus is introduced as the pilot of the time machine. He also helped Connor Mason and Anthony Bruhl build the ships.
Rufus grew up very poor on the west side of Chicago. Connor Mason met him at a science fair and was so impressed with his monorail project and his dedication to his family, that he decided to invest in his future. Later he comes to work for Mason. Anthony Bruhl, who built the Mothership and Lifeboat time machines for Mason Industries is a close friend and mentor to Rufus.
Rufus cares for Jiya, another programmer and tech at Mason Industries. He has a hard time taking action on this, though he is prompted to by Anthony and others.
When assigned to pilot the Lifeboat, Rufus is given a recorder by Connor Mason to record his fellow team mates, Lucy and Wyatt. When Rufus resists, Connor tells him he and his family may be in danger from a mysterious group called Rittenhouse. After coming back from the World Columbian Exposition, Rufus refuses to work for Rittenhouse any longer.
In the US at the end of the Civil War, Rufus meets newly freed men who fought on the side of the Union. Rufus, disguised as Sergeant Denzel Washington starts writing up a notice to be published in the newspaper for freed man Nicholas Biddle before he is found out to be a fake soldier. He and Wyatt argue with Lucy about allowing President Abraham Lincoln to be killed, since that will destroy so many lives. Rufus treats Wyatt's bullet wound after Wyatt gets shot in a shoot out against Flynn and Karl who were arming conspirators John Wilkes Booth, George Atzerodt, and Lewis Powell with modern hand guns. Posing as a sergeant, Rufus saves Vice President Andrew Johnson from being assassinated by Atzerodt. (“The Assassination of Abraham Lincoln”)
At the Sands Casino, Rufus sees Anthony Bruhl and tries to rescue him from Flynn. He learns that Anthony has not been abducted, but is working with Garcia Flynn.
Rufus meets one of his scientific heroes, Wernher von Braun, after the team "rescues" von Braun from both the Germans, the Russians and Flynn. He asks von Braun if he thinks about the destructive consequences of his life's work, since helping with the time machine has caused Rufus so much guilt. Von Braun says no, and challenges Carlin--if he had thought about the consequences while they were building it, it never would have been completed.
At the Alamo, Rufus saves the women and children of the Alamo, who were unintentionally endangered by Flynn's actions to to change the timeline. With the use of Wyatt's grenades and Davy Crockett's sagely advice Rufus blows a hole in the aqueduct allowing the women and children of the Alamo and Lucy's version of William B. Travis' "Victory or Death" letter to escape and inspire the nation to remember the Alamo.
Rufus saves the Time Team from being stranded in the French and Indian war. First by saving the lives of Wyatt and Lucy when they are captured by the Shawnee chieftainess Nonhelema. Then by crafting a capacitor at a forge at a French outpost they break into. He uses "The Protocol," and buries a message for Mason Industries to dig up in 2016. The message is damaged and only Jiya is able to decode its meaning. She helps him pilot back to present day by catching the Lifeboat like the Death Star did with the Millennium Falcon.
While facing possible death in 1754, Rufus wishes he had told Jiya how he feels. When they come back to the present day Jiya kisses Rufus.
Rufus and Lucy help the legendary mathematician Katherine Johnson save the moon launch by cracking the first computer virus, of course introduced by Garcia Flynn. Rufus kills Jay, one of Flynn's men, in self defense.
Rufus is interrogated by Texas Ranger Frank Hamer about suspected connections with Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow. Using a fake driver's licence, Rufus convinces Hamer of his innocence. Hamer later interrogates Henry Methvin, who not only further proves Rufus' innocence, but betrays Bonnie and Clyde by telling Hamer where they are. Rufus meets back up with Wyatt and Lucy, but Bonnie and Clyde find Rufus' arrival very suspicious. Rufus uses the audio he recorded of Methvin betraying Bonnie and Clyde to prove Methvin's guilt. After the time team returns to 2016, Rufus reveals all he knows about Rittenhouse to Agent Denise Christopher.
- Rufus is in a relationship with Jiya.
- He is often not enthusiastic about traveling back in time as a black man, as he has to succumb to racism.
- Only Rufus, Anthony Bruhl, Jiya and Emma Whitmore know how to pilot the time machine.
- His name appears to be a nod to the late George Carlin, who played 'Rufus' in Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure, a movie about time travel.
- He is the second member of the team to be killed, the first being Dave Baumgardner.