When I tell people I cover FlashForward, they often seem fairly sympathetic. "Oh, it's too bad you have to cover that," they say. But, here's the thing. I don't necessarily HAVE to. I could drop out of this show if I wanted. (And, indeed, declining readership numbers may force my hand before the season is out.) I don't particularly need the money I get from watching it and writing it up or anything. But I know that I would still be watching the show even if I were working in some other profession entirely. I'm just that much of a sucker for world-spanning, conspiracy-oriented, vaguely sci-fi shows. And, what's more, I'll often like individual elements of an episode of a show, even an episode I really dislike. I keep expecting this show to pull it together, all evidence to the contrary, and when I hear some bit of casting news, like the fact that James Callis is joining the show at some point, I think, "Well, I'll probably really like the show by that point, so that's awesome!"
Now, I'm an eternal optimist. I believe that things are always going to turn around. I want to think the best of just about everyone and everything. I really believe that old Roger Ebert philosophy that a work of art should be graded on the scale of what it's trying to do (which has led to me giving some pretty good grades to some things that weren't necessarily my cup of tea). In general, I have more trouble writing bad reviews than good ones, and if I'm covering a show for a full season, I'm going to look for the positive. I'm a sunny guy, kind of naive about things, and genuinely hoping that everything works out for the best.
So when I say that this episode of FlashForward is making me doubt that even I would stick with the show were I not getting paid for it, you should know that this is a point I didn't really think I would come to. I still have high hopes that the episodes done entirely under the new showrunners might salvage something out of this intriguing concept and this generally strong cast, might find ways to write episodes that play to those actors' strengths. I still hope that when Callis shows up, he blows the roof off the place and takes this show to some new level of interest and consistency. I still hope that the show will come up with episodes that combine some of the cool things the series has tried and make those cool things all seem like they belong in the same show.
Because this episode of FlashForward felt like a giant mish-mash of things that just sort of happened because the actors needed to be given something to do. The best episodes of the show - like "Believe" and last week's second hour - work because they take a strong character focus and aim to fill in one of the many ciphers that populate this show's universe. I know that the show and its fans bristle at those Lost comparisons, but I do think that the episodes where the show has stolen the Lost flashback structure have been some of the show's finest hours. So, actually, when this episode opened with a flashback to 15 years ago, when Aaron was in prison, I thought maybe we were going to see another really fine episode of the show.
See, I like Brian F. O'Byrne. I've liked his work on this show quite a bit. I think that if this show crumbles and burns, ABC (or another network) could do worse than to pick up O'Byrne as the lead on the next renegade cop drama TV attempts to foist on us. There's a scene where he's threatening to break the arm of the kid he suspects tipped off Jericho as to the existence of his daughter, and he makes the whole thing feel unhinged and savage in the way that gives the scene an emotional rawness that it needs, really making you feel Aaron's rage and powerlessness. Had this episode been better structured around Aaron's search for his daughter, it might have been something pretty good, something worth watching. Instead, the episode spent way too much time cramming in a bunch of other subplots that mostly consisted of the characters reminding us those plots exist.
Everybody on the Internet, I think, read David Mamet's all-caps memo to the writers of The Unit. Now, I don't necessarily think that every scene on TV can be a subtext-laden visual feast that minimizes exposition in favor of straight-up drama. I think it's a great goal to aspire to, but you do need to sometimes have a scene where one character just point-blank says what they're up to and what they know about what's going on. But the writers of FlashForward could definitely learn most of the lessons that the memo teaches. This is a show filled almost entirely with characters just talking about other characters or about things they've seen, just sharing information with each other. Mamet suggests that information is the enemy of drama, and FlashForward has always been a show that was almost purely information, a show that never figured out how to evolve past that.
Here's some sample dialogue from an early scene between Demetri and his fiancee: "It was your memorial. I figured it out, Dem. What was happening on the beach? It wasn't our wedding that I saw. Baby, it was your memorial." Now, this line is there mostly to remind the audience that she did, indeed, figure it out a few episodes ago. And it's also there to let us know just why the character spends the entire episode doing ill-advised things to help Demetri figure out who his killer is (since he keeps insisting it won't be Mark). But it's a clumsy piece of writing, deeply redundant and fairly needless, and it takes an already inert plot and sucks the life out of it. A man and his lover investigating his death before it actually happens seems like it should work much better than it is, and I think it's because the plot has basically just turned into Demetri collecting information.
Even scenes that should have felt more momentous - like Mark and Lloyd finally starting to work together - just fell flat because the entirety of the scene didn't bother leaving the fact that both men rather love Olivia in the subtext (indeed, it just popped up in the text and then mostly disappeared). This is a show that felt like it had everything going for it and sometimes still does, a show that will have two interesting scenes in a row but two interesting scenes in a row that feel like they belong to two different series entirely. FlashForward can probably still fix itself (and, again, I'll be around since hope springs eternal), but it's going to need to finally learn that lesson about the difference between characters telling each other things and characters striving to achieve uncertain goals, resorting to all sorts of desperate tactics to pull them off. Sometimes, a TV show fails because the audience just isn't ready for it. Sometimes, it fails because it's poorly promoted. FlashForward is failing (creatively and in the ratings) because for too long now, it just hasn't been very good. I've been giving it the benefit of the doubt all this time, but if you haven't figured it out by episode 13, you don't really deserve further coddling.