No, guys, really. What the fuck is going on?
I enjoyed - I mean thoroughly enjoyed! - roughly 75 percent of tonight's FlashForward. Sure, the other 25 percent was abysmal, but I don't think the show's had that good of a quality-to-suck ratio in ages and ages. I say I grade these shows against themselves, but I have to hedge my bets here with that B. Because, graded against all other episodes, this is pretty clearly an A episode of FlashForward all the way. This, of course, is why you never grade on a curve and why I should never be a public school teacher. Because there was some rock-bottom stupid stuff in tonight's FlashForward. But there was just as much that I actually rather liked and at least one scene I thought stepped up to being genuinely worthy of the show's cool premise. Is FlashForward course-correcting? Is it finally casting off the problems it had early on? Is there anyone who still cares?
Let's start with my favorite scene, which came in the first section of the episode. If you just want to see it, you can probably watch the first seven or eight minutes on Hulu and then go away, still very sad that the show is not the show it could have been. Olivia - the still trying and still game Sonya Walger - comes home to find trucker capped Gaius Baltar sitting in her living room. At which point he proceeds to tell her how often the two of them have been bumping into each other, how he once had a handler named Barry who accompanied him to a wedding Olivia also attended. And then he told her she was SUPPOSED TO BE WITH LLOYD. So … James Callis is playing Desmond now? That's kind of cool!
Writing it out now - or writing it out when I tried to explain it to my wife - it sounds kinda stupid, and it's definitely hampered by the fact that FlashForward is inadvertently doing the exact same thing Lost has been doing for the last couple of weeks. But, honestly, this moment was pretty powerful in the moment, and James Callis and Walger both played the hell out of it. I really respond to the idea of a sad savant who kept getting beamed into variations on the future by a mad scientist who desperately wanted to stop the end of the world, and had the show just left Callis at that point, left us able to draw our own conclusions, it might have been a really cool moment, enough to convince me that the series was finally learning about showing, not telling. But we'll get to why I was proved wrong in a moment.
Naturally, Walger runs from her home as Callis spouts increasingly crazy proclamations, though at least his make a vague sort of sense and aren't Dyson Frost-esque collection of cultural references. When Olivia sees that she really SHOULDN'T have bought coffee from the man who looks like Mr. Clean and Callis has saved her, she embarks on a journey to find out just who he is. Now, at first, this just involves looking through her photos and seeing him in the background of them, bugging his eyes out, as though this is the face James Callis makes when the photographer has come to the end of a long shoot, and he says, "OK, everyone, let's take a fun one, now!" But there's something nicely unsettling about the moment, something that walks the line between creepy and hilarious that FlashForward has mostly missed so far. The series has always been so filled with portent that it's never learned to relax and be a little silly, and Callis' character - whose name is Gabriel, I may as well admit - is both very goofy and well-conceived, a man who's walked in so many realities that he no longer knows which ones to trust.
That said, the biggest failure of this series has always been that it just doesn't trust its audience. It does this lots of times tonight, even when it's being pretty good, like when Mark yells at Janis, "IT LOOKS LIKE YOUR FLASH FORWARD IS COMING TRUE" or something when she tells him she's pregnant. But this, in particular, is very poorly handled. When Olivia sees the dead bald man, the show flashes to Gabriel's warning, even though it happened LESS THAN FIVE MINUTES before. But it gets even worse. Olivia and Agent Gruff Black Man go to Arizona to track down this hospital that did these crazy things to Gabriel, and he shows up there to tell them exactly what we all figured out hours ago. The show doesn't even bother to drag this out or create suspense. It just tells us. Oh well, right? I wish the series had just left even a little sense of mystery here. I get the need to explain SOME of it, but why go out of your way to explain all of it? It ended up ruining a pretty good storyline.
But, y'know what? It wasn't just the first half of the Olivia/Gabriel storyline that was working for me tonight. I also really enjoyed the Janis storyline, which got a little deeper into who she is and what makes her tick. I think the series thought it was being clever by reversing the fact that she was a mole with a scene where it turned out she was a double agent (mostly, I think, because Christine Woods has created a sympathetic character out of the role), but I really liked everything else that preceded it, from Janis' increasing sense of being unhinged and trying to protect her baby to the scene where she realized just what she was involved in as Los Angeles burned around her. The writers of this episode - Nicole Yorkin and Dawn Prestwich - tend to write episodes that manage to key in on these nice little character moments among all of the other hubbub. They're always able to find a human moment, and I kind of wish that ABC had turned the show over to them when David Goyer left.
Hell, even Mark got some good moments tonight, as he successfully kept Janis from making off with the blueprints of the Antikythera mechanism (which the professor turned into 3-D models using photos he TOOK WITH HIS CAMERA PHONE) and as he figured out that Frost had left him the QED ring - and there's another answer, no less! - in his chess figure. Granted, this plot had this week's Wit and Wisdom of Mark Benford moment - "IN CHESS, THE QUEEN'S KNOWN AS THE LADY, RIGHT?!" - but I like the way the writers have just decided to force the plot to move forward, damn the consequences.
Now, this wasn't all wine and roses - sending Aaron to Afghanistan wreaks of the writers having to deal with a plot they'd really just rather be rid of, and the episode was plagued with terrible exposition throughout - but I've reached a point where I'm vaguely invested in FlashForward. I'm not going to be upset when it's canceled, and I haven't reached a point where I look forward to it even in the guilty pleasure sense, but something in the show doesn't totally suck anymore. Whether or not that's cause for celebration for you - the many who do not get paid to watch this show - is up to you, but a small part of me is interested to see how this all turns out.
- I swear to God I haven't lost my mind, people. There was a surprising amount of good stuff in this one.
- But, really, it was still FlashForward. I mean, you're going to watch this and say, "Well, VanDerWerff said it was good," and you're going to REALIZE that it's still FlashForward. But still.
- OK, so we can fix this show yet. Now we're going to recruit Christine Woods and Sonya Walger as series regulars, to add to our cast of Ricky Jay, Dyson Frost, Dominic Monaghan, John Cho, and Shohreh Aghdashloo. Add to that James Callis as the man Frost fricasseed the brain of, and you might have something! (And, yes, I will do this every week until the show randomly evolves into the show I'd rather be watching. A little bit closer every week!)
- Oh, and another thing. I liked Michael Ealy pointing out the implausibility of Frost's death.