At this point, the most frustrating thing about FlashForward is that the show completely, completely works if you pretty much just ignore its central premise. Sans the fact that the entire world blacked out and mass chaos resulted, the series is a highly competent sci-fi actioner that’s starting to figure out how to write character beats and such. But once you consider the fact that this is, essentially, a tale of people who face what seems like the end of the world and keep on moving, the series loses a little something because virtually no one is behaving as though they’ve a.) seen their futures or b.) seen millions upon billions of people die. Hell, I think in the promo for next week, a bunch of people were in Halloween costumes. I love a Halloween episode as much as the next guy, but unless it’s a storyline about the Benfords trying to get their daughter to forget her troubles and trick or treat again, I’m not sure I’ll buy it.
It’s a shame to say that, too, after what was easily FlashForward’s best post-pilot episode. Everyone behaved like a recognizable human being, there was less on-the-nose dialogue than usual, and the story moved forward in a few interesting ways. The only concern I’d have is that it seems a little early to do the serialized thing where you have to do an episode where the characters testify before a Senate subcommittee so you can catch up all the viewers who’ve joined late to let them know what’s going on. (My favorite example of this is still the episode they did like this on Alias, which must have been crushingly boring for fans but was the first episode of that show I ever saw. It somehow managed to catch everybody up on what was going on AND offer a few new twists and turns.) Still, this episode ended up being less about the committee and more about how the characters reacted to dealing with the political intrigue the series has mostly swept under the rug so far.
FlashForward has been so focused on all of the boring personal reactions to the flash forwards that it’s pretty much been ignoring the big picture story here. We learned that the vice president died in the pilot, but then the series mostly seemed to lose interest in that idea. Similarly, Internet fans have been speculating that the Chinese, who had the benefit of being asleep during the blackout, might have a leg up on the geopolitical front in the wake of the blackout. With the trip to Washington, D.C., this evening, both questions got addressed, as the president – revealed to be, somewhat improbably, a middle-aged white guy – pondered whom to appoint to the job and one of the witnesses before the committee said that he thought China had caused the blackout, solely to give them a leg up over the U.S. on the global stage. I don’t necessarily want the show to go all big picture all the time, but when it gives us a hint that, yeah, it’s trying to figure out the ways society is dealing with these questions, it’s preferable to when the series seems intent on focusing on, again, boring personal drama.
And yet, most of the personal drama was a cut above what the show’s been doing for most of its run tonight. Yeah, there were the usual ridiculous moments (Mark suddenly bursting out with “I WAS LOADED!” at karaoke being the foremost example), but most of the characters felt like they were behaving as people investigating what are, essentially, future crimes might behave. There’s a ton of exposition, yeah, but most of that exposition is no longer of the “Gee, do you remember what happened in MY flash forward?” variety, and the little bit that is either involves new characters whose flash forwards are interesting to the audience (the president!) or new takes on previously seen footage (like how Mark’s flash forward is so hazy when everyone else’s is crystal clear – though, to be fair, the direction could have made this clearer).
The show still has the irritating habit of sending a different group of characters off-screen week after week (after some big steps forward in a few characters’ storylines last week, they were nowhere to be seen), but it feels like it’s finally starting to define these people as people and not as walking plot devices. Hanging out with Janis at her martial arts class, seeing her reject a guy’s offer of a date and then meeting her girlfriend (the hot but not terribly talented Navi Rawat, who will always be a villain to me since I watched the final season of Project Greenlight) ended up doing more to delineate who she was than just having her constantly express shock at the fact that she was pregnant in her flash forward. Is this character drama at the level of something like The Wire? Of course not. But if we’re ever going to be invested in the overplot here, we need to get a sense that there are actual things at stake for these characters beyond the things they tell us are at stake. There’s a difference between Janis saying, “I can’t believe I’m going to have a baby!” and just showing us why that would seem to be such an odd possibility for her. The latter is preferred, and outside of a few scenes in tonight’s episode, the show was doing this. (Also welcome? Further development for Stanford, who managed to not be the show’s worst-written character tonight in his scenes where we learned he was close friends with the president.)
“Gimme Some Truth” may be the first episode I’ve genuinely enjoyed since the pilot, but it still had some issues. As mentioned, there were scenes that danced right up on the edge of clumsiness (that conversation between Olivia and Mark’s alcoholics anonymous buddy for one), and the central plot here wasn’t as well-executed as last week’s, even if it was cool to see the events that will land Senator Clemente in the presidency. The show still has that problem with the fact that, well, the whole world exploded a few weeks ago and everyone on the series is acting like it was a really bad car accident. But FlashForward is starting to move like a show that’s figured out where it’s heading and wants to go there with something approaching confidence. Finally, it feels like there’s an actual, watchable TV show inside of FlashForward, and that’s worth celebrating.
- One of the things I like about FlashForward is that it has some of the biggest balls on TV for sweeping action sequences and things like that. Sure, a parking garage firefight between our heroes and some thugs is something you’ve seen before. But scored to what sounded like a karaoke version of “Like a Rolling Stone” as a callback to an earlier moment in the episode (though it shifted to a singer-songwriter version)? That’s kind of awesome, even if it’s also kind of ridiculous. I like that the series is so ballsy, but I’m not sure its, er, balls are in the right place some of the time.
- Yeah, Joseph Fiennes American accent really is as bad as everyone says it is, isn’t it? My wife suggests he sounds like Liam Neeson in the Family Guy cutaway gag where he plays a cowboy.
- Another cool, ballsy image: Janis’ alarm clock tracking circles of blood around on the pavement as she bled out. (I should note that at one point, I thought the show had just decided to kill off most of its regulars and start over, and I was less shaken by this than I probably should have been.)
- Random mythology points I’m sure you diehard fans will want to talk about: satellite views of the Somalia towers, the president’s flash forward involving something happening, the idea that everyone’s Mosaic visions are easily searchable (this seems like a terrible idea, by the way).