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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

FlashForward: A561984

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Here's the thing about FlashForward. This would have been a pretty awesome episode of television if it were not an episode of FlashForward. If it were an episode of a show that had taken the time to slowly unravel its main character or an episode of a show that had slowly built up an attraction between the hero's wife and the man she saw in her vision and an episode who had made that man something other than the guy she saw herself with in her vision, then the long series of cliffhangers at the end of it (it being the "fall finale" and all) would have popped with all of the excitement they were obviously intended to make us feel. Instead, they just kind of happened, as though they were yet more points checked off of a long list of things that the plot needed to get in there.

I think I've said here in the past that the comprehensive series bible David S. Goyer and Brannon Braga came up with when pitching the series might be one of the things holding it back. Ideally, a serialized TV show has a vague idea of where it's heading and has answers to all of its big questions. But any TV series needs a little wiggle room, a way to move toward what's working and away from what's not working. When you've got a series of plot points that are set in stone, you can often end up trapped by them, unable to adjust to the new demands of the show. FlashForward has been sort of veering in the right direction from time to time, but it never quite can escape its rigid plotting.

And it's too bad because this episode had some pretty enjoyable scenes interspersed amidst the stupid ones. As an example, that press conference that Lloyd and Simon held to announce that they believed themselves to be responsible for the blackout (well, Lloyd did) was one of the few scenes in this show's run that felt like it took place in a world where 20 million people died after a strange event where everyone seemed to see their futures. There was an undercurrent of hostility in the audience that then burst out in a woman taking shots at Lloyd, and the whole thing actually felt sort of dangerous and exciting in a way that the scenes where people talk about the global toll of the blackout don't feel.

Similarly, while it's become popular to rag on Joseph Fiennes for making Mark Benford the least interesting lead of a network drama ever (or whatever the kids are on his case about nowadays), I kind of enjoy the notes of goofiness he's bringing to his portrayal, the way he's making it seem like if the blackout hadn't happened, Mark would have been like some character out of a sitcom or something. Look at how he says "Merry Christmas!" and "Yahtzee!" like some sort of dadaist punchlines at the end of two scenes tonight. He's putting such a bizarre spin on this that it makes me wish he'd bring the same sort of off-kilter energy to his more dramatic moments, which continue to be pretty bland. I also like the way the show is slowly making him more and more nuts, like how he threatened the guy with being secreted away to a hidden torture prison. It was a surprisingly gutsy scene on a show that doesn't do gutsy too well.

At the same time, I kind of liked everything involving Shohreh Aghdashloo as the show's latest mysterious bigwig who knows something but isn't telling anything. I liked her faith that the very act of telling Demetri and Mark what happened would set those events in motion. I liked the way she was actually in cahoots with D. Gibbons (even if it was eminently predictable). I liked the way she seemed capable of pushing anyone and everyone's buttons at any given time. As a matter of fact, I think I'd much rather be watching a show about the conspirators behind the blackout than anything else, if these scenes and the appearance of Ricky Jay in the "next time on" montage are any indication. Watching those two, D. Gibbons and Simon try to destroy the world, one blackout at a time? I'd probably be addicted to that show.

Though, actually, as it turns out, Simon's one of the good guys, it would seem, thanks to his turning up at FBI headquarters to kibitz with the folks there (though Mark and Demetri are away, of course). He's also finally turning up a little information on the giant towers in Somalia that it seems the show has forgotten about for episodes on end. (I get that in the real world, a trip to Somalia to chase a crazy lead would probably be turned down in these recession-ridden times, but in a fictional world, the second I figure out there were crazy, ominous towers in Somalia, I don't want to have to wait weeks on end to figure out what happened.) Turns out it's one of Simon's designs. It also turns out that he didn't design those particular towers, which means that someone's piggybacking off of whatever Simon and Lloyd are doing for their own nefarious ends.

Another thing FlashForward has been missing is ambiguity. Part of the fun of Lost back in the early days was trying to answer very basic questions at the heart of the show. What was the Island? What was the monster? The character stuff was better  done than FlashForward's has been, but that ambiguity kept people coming back, I think. FlashForward has been missing that, since we know, or at least think we know, that everyone saw the future. The only question has really been whether or not those visions would come true, whether the future was changeable or not. While I doubt this is actually where the show is going, the whole concept of the many-worlds hypothesis introduced a nice suggestion that perhaps there was an element of these people seeing parallel universes or something like that, ones that dovetailed just enough with our own to seem like the future of ours, but ones where key things were different (like whom Olivia was married to).

From all of the above, this sounds like kind of an awesome episode, doesn't it? But large portions of it were kind of flat, like Gabrielle Union realizing that her flash forward wedding was actually Demetri's funeral (and shouldn't she have felt sad in her flash and realized that long ago?). And there would just be random moments of anger (like the director destroying the TV). And the hospital was apparently listening to the world's worst Christmas CD on an endless loop. At the same time, I'm oddly invested in this show now. Maybe it's Stockholm syndrome, since I've been sticking with it when plenty of you haven't been (if sagging ratings numbers are any indication), but there's a momentum to the show, at least, a sense that it's heading somewhere. I'll take what I can get.

Stray observations:

  • See you in March, I guess. I will say that the next year on promo made this, again, look like a show well worth watching. Who knows if that will prove to be the case?
  • I like the way Dominic Monaghan is spouting all of the ridiculous techno-babble. He seems to be having a really good time with it.
  • Also, this show looks really impressive in HD. That series of shots in Hong Kong was really gorgeous.
  • Finally, the show, of course, used A Christmas Carol as a reference point, but not in a particularly unexpected way. "Are these the shadows of things that will be?" You don't say!