Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

FlashForward: "Countdown"

Illustration for article titled FlashForward: "Countdown"

I've finally figured it out.

FlashForward is a show about a bunch of people who are constantly being jerked around by TV writers. I realized this in a scene where Mark Benford, having lost EVERYTHING, was wandering around the Los Angeles Flash Forward Day party - which, what? - and just generally being despondent about having lost his job and wife and blah, blah, blah, when some random guy came up to him and said that he'd seen in his flash forward that he'd just stopped drinking and Mark looked like someone who could use a drink. Then he handed Mark a flask, and when Mark tried to give it back, he'd disappeared. (Nothing mystical here, actually. Mark just stared at the flash for, like, five minutes.) Mark, perhaps impressed by the vagaries of fate or perhaps finally realizing that he was a character in a TV show and his writers just weren't going to let him win, gave a bitter laugh and unscrewed the cap of the flask to down its contents.

FlashForward has been canceled. It is a dead show walking, playing out the string in hopes that it can pull enough of itself together that there will be that one guy in every comment thread on the Internet about great shows canceled too soon who will say, "HEY, YOU GUYS REMEMBER FLASHFORWARD? THAT WAS A GREAT SHOW, AND THE NETWORK TREATED IT SO BADLY, AND IT WOULD HAVE BEEN GREAT." And, eventually, the number of people who are capable of successfully arguing with this guy that, no, FlashForward wasn't all that great, and it received a gigantic marketing push from a network that gave it one of its best timeslots, and it debuted to an audience of some 12 million who mostly left because it WASN'T VERY GOOD, even with a mostly enjoyable pilot, will dwindle to nothing, but that ONE GUY, that ONE VOICE OF PASSION and LACK OF REASON, will be able to convince some poor souls that it IS worth checking out, and they'll head on down to the Best Buy (or the post-apocalyptic variant thereof) and go all the way to the back of the TV on DVD section and find a DVD set on the bottom shelf of the last stand, covered in dust, and they'll take it home, and they'll pop it in the DVD player, and they'll realize that guy was a fucking idiot.

You guys know I think FlashForward has had its moments. I even think it had some moments in this episode, which was marginally less awful than last week's (though not up to the level of those two episodes a few weeks ago that made me think the show was going to turn good out of nowhere). And you guys know I kept giving this thing chances, even when it made no sense to do so. I could see a world where this show pulls enough of its conceits together for the finale for me to think I haven't wholly wasted my time here. But, I mean, in the multiverse, there are worlds where every possible thing is true, and you eventually have to just take the evidence in front of you and guess what's going to happen next. FlashForward has mostly sucked all this time. Chances are, it will suck next week too, but it's not like I have anything better to do.

Anyway, back to my thesis ("As if you HAD a thesis!" cracks Mark Benford as he twists open his flask and then gets in a fight with another drunk). I actually think the end of this episode - a series of shots of the characters in sadness and pain as they face the fact that their flash forwards seem to be coming true, even as they did basically everything they could to avoid them - was sort of powerful on a FlashForward scale. There was a real sense of there being nothing that any of these people could have done to avoid what had happened, and the one situation where everything HAD changed - as Aaron had to watch his daughter die (barring a last-minute resurrection in the finale) - was well played by Brian F. O'Byrne. And why was Jericho after her? She stayed awake during a blackout test. Another nice little revelation from the show, which seems to be something it's increasingly good at. (Making the pieces fit together in the master plot is something the series has always been able to do, perhaps because the master plot was all the show had when it began.)

But the problem here is that none of these revelations really make sense. Basically, everyone on the show is doing things because the writers need them to do them. For example, I don't find it believable at all that Mark would just go along with Olivia drifting into the arms of Lloyd (nor do I find it believable that that would happen, but that's another issue). But he seems really kind of OK with it throughout the episode, mostly because he needs to lose his family AND his job for him to get to the point where the magical writer angel can give him the flask. He doesn't feel like a man who's being pushed back to the bottle. He feels like a man who's being held down while his mouth is cracked open and the contents of the flask are poured down his throat, blood of Kali style.


I actually rather liked Mark in this episode, which is a big step for the show, as it's always had trouble getting anyone invested in its main character. He's still not a character I think the show particularly needs, but his scene with his daughter was rather nice, and I liked the fact that he made Demetri a mix CD. It was a preposterous notion that this man who's been so messed up by the blackout would be making mix CDs at all, but, what the hell! The show could use a little more preposterousness. I was particularly taken with every scene he shared with the guy who knew everything about the blackout. Watching him slowly get under Mark's skin was a purely enjoyable storyline, and having him sketch out all of the many paths that could lead to Mark's death - even as I know the show would never kill Mark - was nicely ominous.

But the problem here - with the whole show, really - is that no one on the show is doing anything because they feel like they should be doing it. I'd like someone to explain to me exactly why Demetri throws in with Simon and Janis in terms that make sense with who the character has been before and aren't just the mostly superficial reasons he gives in the episode. I'd like someone to explain to me why sexy babysitter has her change of heart and tells Bryce all about Keiko, leading him to abandon her (and why he would do this when he knows her flash forward showed her BEING KILLED). It's easy to say that FlashForward is a show where things happen for no reason. But that's not exactly true. FlashForward is a show where things happen because the writers want them to happen, but they can't figure out organic ways to make them happen. So someone wanders by and hands Mark a flask, and we're supposed to be OK with it. At the very least, that one guy will be.


Stray observations:

  • The wit and wisdom of Mark Benford: "The Dutch say leave me alone."
  • Things that do not improve with technobabble and/or saying the word "tachyon" a lot: Scenes between two men battling for the same woman on an overwrought science fiction soap opera.
  • I went to an event featuring the creators of Lost this evening, and I think they said something that really drives home just why their show works and every other show like it hasn't. They always try, whenever possible, to take "what" questions and make them into "who" questions. "What is the Smoke Monster?" becomes "Who is the Smoke Monster?" and the question grows more interesting to answer. Now, granted, FlashForward couldn't really ask "Who is the blackout?" but it does speak to the fact that the show has never really thought about its central concerns in terms of recognizable human beings.
  • Add another character to the "This show should have been about THIS guy" file: That British dude who gets under Mark's skin is pretty great.