"Better Angels" S1 / E14
- C+ Community Grade
Late in the episode "Better Angels," there was a whole scene where two characters interacted like people who'd seen their future and were now rapidly realizing it might not come true (or, even worse, might actually come true) might interact. The scene was between Demetri and Janis, and it involved Janis' new-found fear that she wouldn't conceive the baby she saw herself carrying in her flash forward. The whole thing started out rather stupidly - Janis was freaking out about the baby thing immediately after seeing a MASS GRAVE - but the show called itself out on these grounds (by having Janis admit it was dumb of her to be thinking this way) and then wandered into a far more interesting scene about a gay woman with unexpected baby yearning and a man convinced he's marked for death talking about making a tentative arrangement to pass on their genes.
Now, somewhere in the second or third episode, I predicted that Demetri was going to end up being Janis' baby daddy, so I don't know that any of this should be marked as a "surprise," but something about the scene kept it from being as heavy-handed as it might have been. There was a lightness to the touch in the scene, and it seemed as though the show's writers had actually spent time thinking about how these two might approach the question of whether to have a baby with each other or not. Janis saying, "I'm gay" and Demetri following it up with "I'll make you gayer" felt like things two friends in this exact situation might say to each other. And the actors played the scene well, not feeling forced to lean too heavily on the emotions in the subtext, just letting it breath easily. If you can ignore the fact that the show has done very little to explain why Janis has suddenly started to long for a baby and the fact that Demetri's fear of death has been portrayed, at the least, inconsistently, it's really a nice scene.
Hell, I'll even give it up to some of the other scenes in the Somalia plotline tonight. The final twist - with the doctor on the DHARM ... er ... 1991 Somalia experiment tape addressing Demetri directly - was well-executed, and it was the first cliffhanger the show's done in a long while that made me even the slightest bit intrigued to see what will happen next week. I liked the scenes where the warlord gradually realized that the conference he was addressing in the future was a peace conference, even as I found the way Janis talked him into this to be sort of stupid. (He's really going to be convinced by this just because she tells him he's quoting Abraham Lincoln?) And I liked most of the scenes set in and around the tower, particularly the ones in the mass grave room, which were nicely creepy. And, also, I always like when the show proves these flash forwards aren't necessarily destiny and can, indeed, be rather suddenly negated.
Sure, a lot of the Somalia stuff was just rankly stupid. I could accept the convenience necessary to get the one kid who witnessed the Somalia experiment to be the guy who was the captor of our heroes on a better show, but I have a lot of trouble accepting it on this one, where it just feels like a frantic attempt to make sure everything fits together. And the less said about the show's treatment of Somalian politics, the better. Yes, the country is torn apart by warlords and is basically lawless. But that doesn't mean we need to hear heavy-handed lectures about it when everyone else could be solving time travel puzzles. I also quickly grew weary of the ever-expanding flashback to that 1991 experiment from our captor in chief. Has this show never met a flashback or flash-forward it couldn't turn into some sort of Russian nesting doll storytelling device?
But the Somalia stuff, as it was, didn't bother me nearly as much as everything happening back in Los Angeles. Here, Olivia presents Mark with a fairly smart idea: Move to Denver. The two of them can pursue their chosen careers in Denver, but they will also be away from the global conspiracy (though said conspiracy is also apparently based in Los Angeles) that seems to have as its sole aim destroying their lives. Plus, their daughter, Charlie (whom, honestly, I'd forgotten about), won't have to worry about D. Gibbons being a bad man or having had a flash-forward where she learned her father died (from Michael Ealy). If you're doing a show about how fate is always going to catch up to you, I'm more impressed the more objects the protagonists throw in fate's path. Fate, here, is the slasher right behind the main character, and the more the main character tries to stay one step ahead of the slasher, the more we respect them in the end. Here, I'm not entirely sure these people want to avoid their fates, even though they say they do. It's just another damn thing they're putting up with, ultimately. Move the Benfords to Denver, yet still have fate conspiring to pull them back toward their flash-forwards, and that would be a show I could really get into. Instead, we just get the sense that the characters are doing things because they have to for the scripts to make sense.
(All of this is to say nothing of the really bizarre scene where Olivia drags the full story of Charlie's flash-forward out of the poor girl after a long conversation about a cartoon I'm pretty sure is completely made up that stars a squirrel named Squirrelio. Look, I can get wanting to let your kid process all of this on her own, but if you do think she's carrying a vital piece of the puzzle, then wouldn't you make sure you got it out of her a lot sooner than the Benfords do? It also doesn't help that what's in Charlie's flash-forward is ultimately of very little consequence. "Oh, she just thought you were going to die, honey!" Olivia may as well tell her husband. "So it's no big deal!")
Also, doctor and babysitter had a lot of romantic dialogue that wasn't anything approaching "romantic" or even "cute" and, indeed, was mostly just "nauseating." Does anyone in Hollywood know how to fall in love anymore? Does anyone understand that these two probably don't have a ton of 'shippers out there just waiting to see them fall in love?
While "Better Angels" wasn't as bad as last week's episode and, indeed, had some pretty cool little scenes and sequences, it was still a pretty big misfire. It's fine to rally for a scene or two, particularly if it seems like those scenes are eventually going to be stitched together into something approaching momentum. But all of the scenes here may as well just occur in a vacuum, since it seems unlikely we'll hear about them again until the fifth episode of season two. Everybody on FlashForward knows the psycho killer's right behind them, but they insist on strolling through the park and whistling all the while.
- While writing up this piece, I Googled "Save FlashForward" to see if there was a huge fan effort to get the show back for season two. I couldn't find one. Sad.
- I will never understand why more people on this show haven't done EVERYTHING POSSIBLE to make sure the flash-forwards they insist they don't want to happen DON'T HAPPEN. My understanding is that in the original book, there's a scene where a man who's always wanted to be a writer kills himself immediately after seeing that he won't be a writer in his flash-forward. Knowledge in a show like this is only good insofar as it's used by the characters to do things or further their own goals. On FlashForward, knowledge is often just another bargaining chip.
- I also don't get why everyone in the world, seemingly, has a flash-forward that has huge portent. Can't more people just see themselves hanging out and eating Milk Duds or something?
- Some quotes I wrote down for no reason: "You want some cookies to go with that milk?" "I just saw a mass grave, and all I can think about is a mythical baby." (I actually thought that last one was kind of clever.)