Let’s talk for a second about suspension of disbelief, shall we?
Suspension of disbelief is absolutely critical to a show like FlashForward. If you’re not willing to buy that nearly everyone in the world blacked out and had a vision of the future, this is not going to be the show for you. But I AM willing to go along with that. I’m willing to go along with the idea that absolutely every vision of the future somehow involves Mark Benford somehow. I’m also willing to go along with the idea that absolutely every vision of the future introduces questions of free will vs. fate and the idea that every vision of the future creates some sort of self-sustaining loop, where information contained in the flash forward must be sought out in the present to make sure the flash forward either does or doesn’t come true. But there’s quite a bit that I’m just not quite buying on FlashForward, and all of those things are perfectly mundane considerations of how people would actually act in this situation.
Here’s the major thing I’m just not buying at this point: Is it really possible that only one tiny team of FBI agents would be investigating the blackout? Because that’s sure how the show is making it seem at present. Our heroes are the ones who turn up all the leads, they’re the ones who do all the work, and they seem to be the only people on Earth concerned about just why this all happened in the first place. I get that they’re our point-of-view characters. I get that Mark’s the guy who saw the giant bulletin board full of clues. But that they don’t seem to be coordinating their investigations with anyone at a national or international level just sort of beggars belief at this point.
The series still also doesn’t feel like it’s taking place in the wake of a giant catastrophe, though it makes a few nice gestures in this general direction this evening. In particular, the memorial service for the dead FBI agents was a little hackneyed. (Must every ABC funeral sequence be accompanied by weepy singer-songwriter music? and "I can't think of a prophet that God didn't love"? C'mon!) But it still managed to convey something of the sense of how monumental the loss of the blackout day was. Similarly, the airline executive gulping as he embarks on one of the first flights since the blackout was a nice touch. I still wish the series were spending more time focusing on just how dire everything around the world has gotten in the wake of the blackout, but it seems so wedded to advancing its plot that I’m not sure we’ll ever get this. So every time the show at least nods in that general direction is better than its utter devotion to acting like nothing had happened in the last two episodes.
All that said, though, tonight’s FlashForward was a step up from last week’s. Most of what the characters say is still embarrassingly on the nose (though there are finally a few nicely understated lines in this one), but the plot feels like it has momentum and isn’t just repeating the pilot for once. The episode is also a good example of how good acting can elevate something like this. With a lesser actor, the central plot of the episode – the story of how a Nazi cons the United States government into releasing him from prison thanks to a lucky break in his flash forward – might have felt infuriating. Instead, the show got German pro Curt Lowens, and the guy managed to make every scene he was in an example of casual malevolence. You could see that he knew he was not in power in any way, shape or form but he was going to make the most of the slight information he knew anyway.
The ethical dilemmas raised by the storyline – should we pardon a monster? – weren’t very well built up and were the sorts of things you’ve seen before. On the other hand, just watching the Nazi screw with Mark and Janis almost made up for some of the stupidity in the plotting. When he successfully bought his freedom and then revealed that all he knew was that a bunch of crows died on the day of the blackout or when he suggested Janis might be a lesbian from what finger she wore her ring on, it was a master class in an old guy just messing with people. Again, I don’t know that this material was particularly well-written, but Lowens got his teeth into it and ran with it. Similarly, the part of a woman who discovers that she’s going to have a new adoptive son (apparently) in her flash forward was greatly enlivened by being filled by Gina Torres, who brought a spark to the material.
I don’t want to oversell this episode as some sort of all time great television episode. It still had a lot of the creakiness in the dialogue that previous episodes had (when Janis abruptly started asking Germans about their shameful past, I laughed out loud), and the characters remain little more than ciphers. It’s telling, I think, that the show just introduces a handful of new flash forwards every week, because that’s its form of introducing new characters. The characters on the show are only interesting to it insofar as what they saw in their flash forwards, so once that gets played out (two episodes appears to be the extent of how long they’ll be vaguely interesting), the series needs to introduce new characters with new flash forwards. It’s distressingly similar to how Heroes tried to keep the plot spinning along, but we won’t talk too much about that, OK?
That said, there was some positive movement on the character front with Demetri tonight. We finally met his fiancée, played by Gabrielle Union, and the two have a nicely believable pairing that instantly humanizes both characters in a way that most of the other characters on the show just haven’t been humanized. For once, also, it makes sense why someone is withholding the details of their flash forward from their beloved. If the fiancée saw her wedding, then she saw a wedding to someone other than Demetri, who’s going to die, and that’s something neither probably wants to think on. Similarly, the relationship between Aaron and his ex made a lot of sense, especially as it gave the great Kim Dickens something to do. It’s also nice to see that the show isn’t going to try to shoehorn every character into every episode, and the increased focus on just a handful of the characters is welcome.
The other big thing FlashForward has in common with Heroes is that it can occasionally seem like a story is going nowhere only to have the last two or three minutes of the episode make you completely interested in seeing the next episode. That pattern held again tonight, as the closing cliffhanger – all of this has happened before (in Somalia!) and all of this will happen again – was worth sitting through the entire episode, regardless of what you thought of it, particularly for the haunting image of hundreds of crows plunging to Earth. It’s hard to stick with shows that start shakily nowadays with so much else to watch on TV, but if FlashForward isn’t up to par just yet, I feel slightly more confident in its general direction after this episode.
- The episode has a better handle on tone than the last one too. The stuff that’s clearly meant to be humorous isn’t shoehorned into the episode out of nowhere like the toilet vignette from last week. While seeing a fat man dancing in his underwear is a cheap laugh, at least it doesn’t drop in from another series entirely.
- I love that Smashing Pumpkins song!
- That line about the Earth farting was funny but, even better, something similar actually happened at one point in time.