FlashForward: "The Garden of Forking Paths"
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FlashForward: "The Garden of Forking Paths"

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FlashForward

"The Garden of Forking Paths"

Season 1, Episode 17

Hey, everybody who's checked out of FlashForward for all time. We finally have a large collection of answers in addition to just "THE FUTURE IS AVOIDABLE." Also, Gaius Baltar showed up in a trucker hat (or was it a seed corn cap?). If you're going to get on board to watch the show sail into the distance, a flaming wreck plunging toward the bottom of the sea, NOW IS THE TIME. And, actually, tonight's episode was pretty good. I could see where if I actually liked the show, I would be sitting there slack-jawed, saying, "Holy shit!" over and over. Since I mostly just feel a weird pity for the show, I'm going to overrate it. FlashForward is mostly enjoyable when it's providing answers, and this episode was a big answers episode. Also, Mark Benford spit gasoline in a guy's face, then acted like he was a real badass. Mark. We know the truth.

All right. All of the answers to the FlashForward master plot shit you really care about follow. If, for some reason, you haven't seen the episode and still care what's happening, go somewhere else. If you are just reading these things to see what's going on without having to watch the show, I assume this is the paragraph that will most speak to you, and I say, "Welcome."

So, anyway, Dyson Frost was the first man to have a flash forward in the 1980s. His experiments with consciousness shifting led to him trying out his methods on other people, who gave him other visions of the future (eventually trying all of this out on a whole village in Somalia). The longer he kept at this, the more he realized that there wasn't, necessarily, a set-in-stone future. There were just many possible futures, and using a giant black wall on an abandoned army base (no, really), he was able to chart out the many possible paths the world could take, creating the titular "Garden of Forking Paths." And now, I'm going to freestyle just a bit.

The more Dyson jumped into the future, the more he apparently saw the people who are our cast. They're not important so much as they're people who are in the future, perhaps trying to stop the conspiracy, perhaps not. For example, Demetri became important to Dyson's plans only because the more Dyson tried to jump forward, the more he realized that March 15, 2010 was the day when either he or Demetri would be killed - usually because Demetri (trying to arrest him, presumably) would shoot him. On a better show, on a show where we gave a shit about Demetri as a character instead of just as a John Cho performance that's doing everything it can to make us care, this revelation would have been heartbreaking. Demetri, weirdly convinced of his centrality and importance by all of this talk of fate, has to learn that he's only important insofar as he randomly ended up trying to arrest Dyson Frost in what was likely the first, unaltered timeline. Indeed, most of this episode featured people realizing they were just lackeys, but that didn't stop them from TRYING REALLY HARD. (Incidentally, I want a poster of Joseph Fiennes hanging from a rope that says, "Just hang in there, baby.")

Anyway, what's the big reason the conspiracy is trying to push for more and more visions of the future, a better picture of what's to come? The show tries to leave the answer obscured in mystery, but it's deeply obvious by episode's end. The world is going to end on Dec. 12, 2016, and no matter what Dyson tries to do, everything leads to the same place, every time. Every new path he's tried, every new step he takes, he finds himself still facing the end of all things. Therefore, he needs to get more and more visions, to try to figure out where things go bad and try to stop them. (Viewed in this light, the Jericho stuff is obviously the first step in the end of the world.) To do that, he needs to recruit more and more people to his cause, but many of them are going to be in it for their own ends, instead of in it to help Dyson get a better picture of the future. And all of this leads to a giant conspiracy to make the entire world black out, much of it run by nefarious men who don't terribly care about who they kill to make this all happen. And that reduces nearly all of our major players to pawns. (Hey, this reminds me of another show ... I think it might even be on the same network ... hmmmm ...) Now that Frost is out to stop that conspiracy, the conspiracy is out to stop him, which leads to his death by blonde terrorist. Thanks, Gabrielle Union!

Anyway, I was actually pretty impressed by this revelation. It hangs together, it makes sense with everything we've seen before, it doesn't really bother to make the show's every-men grandly important in the scheme of things, and it's not terribly embarrassing. Even better, it incorporates some of the show's hints about the multiverse but doesn't drop them in out of nowhere. Hey, it even manages to be delivered as exposition in the midst of an episode that has quite a few nicely plotted moments and sequences. Mark's race to find Demetri is hampered by the fact that we care about neither character, but the plotting and pacing of it were very well done.

I mean, look. It's stupid that Frost washes off the garden of forking paths as soon as Demetri stands from the chair, and it's stupid that he leaves all of his clues buried in ancient pieces of art and/or quotes from Dr. Seuss. But, honestly, this is that kind of show. We wouldn't be noticing how dumb it was until hours later if we were on the edges of our seats. Since we're not, it's easier to pick on some of these plotting ideas, but I mostly bought them tonight. Cryptic characters who bury their secrets in cultural references are a dime a dozen on shows like this, sure, but sometimes you get a Ben Linus and sometimes you get a Dyson Frost.

Sure, the plot where Agent Gruff Black Man takes Olivia along to investigate the murder of a homeless man (FOR NO APPARENT REASON OTHER THAN THE FACT THAT APPARENTLY SHE'S THE ONLY DOCTOR IN LOS ANGELES) is mostly terrible, though it does allow for James Callis to turn up and create a weirdly irritating character. And, yeah, that scene where Mark saves Demetri from certain death would have been much better if any of this made any sense on a character level or if Frost's "this gun will shoot you" contraption were any less stupid. But there's something at the center of "Garden of Forking Paths," and it mostly just serves to remind us that if this show had been even half the show it promised to be, this episode of TV would have been one of the best episodes of the year, a sign that the show was really getting going (like the first season finale of Fringe). Instead, it's like a sad testament to how little the show has realized itself, a half-episode, a wraith of things that might have been.

Stray observations:

  • Tonight's wit and wisdom of Mark Benford: "Why a carnival? Why Dr. Seuss? Why Oedipus?" Indeed.
  • Really, there's no good reason for Dyson to deliver his messages via riddles and an unreliable six-year-old girl. I mean, yeah, it's that kind of show, but it also seems to be trying to argue that all logic goes out the window because it's that kind of show.
  • Yet again, we see an awesome show FlashForward could have been. Make Dyson Frost - a man who knows the end of the world is coming and is using pseudo-science and increasingly unstable means and cohorts to try to prevent it - the center of this series and stick it on AMC with Ron Moore or somebody in charge, and this is an all-time TV sci-fi great.

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