It’s here, in this sixth episode of FlashForward, the prelude to what will surely be a big sweeps month starting next week, that the series reveals just some of the ways it’s letting down its really cool central ideas with poor character development. Every week seems like the comments section here is filled with some way cooler character ideas that the show could pursue – like last week’s suggestion that Demetri’s knowledge that he won’t die until March might turn him into an indestructible super FBI agent until then – but it’s not exactly like the show is lacking for cool ideas. It’s just completely lacking in the sort of character development that might make the show’s circular plotting more tragic than heavy-handed.
Let’s look at the central device here. Lloyd Simcoe’s young son, Dylan, has escaped from the hospital while out trick or treating through its halls dressed as some weird mash-up of a variety of ‘80s rappers (and/or what the show’s costume department thinks a generic “rapper” might look like). Because of knowledge from his flash forward, the kid is able to find the home of Mark and Olivia Benford, where he will apparently be living in the future (“This is your house too!” it seems like everybody says at some point). Once he gets there, Mark tries to figure out who he is, and when Lloyd shows up, everything explodes in a heated confrontation between the three adults, who are all trying to cope with the knowledge that in Olivia’s flash forward, she saw herself shacking up with Lloyd and with the fact that Mark was drinking in his flash forward – the sort of thing that would cause Olivia to walk out – and that he hasn’t told Olivia, but she knows.
Look. This isn’t Shakespeare. But it’s the making of pretty potent sci-fi/action drama if you choose a way to play it. There’s even a scene where Olivia talks about how the past – when Mark was a stinking drunk who nearly destroyed their marriage – informs her fears about what he might become at any given moment. But something in the show is just not making this click like it might. The show keeps hinting that Mark was kind of a happy-time guy back before the flash forward – he always wore a costume on Halloween, and the pilot hints that he and Olivia had a joke-y kind of love – and that the flash forwards have thrown him for such a loop about the demons that might rise back up out of his past to swallow him whole that he’s slowly losing himself regardless. That’s compelling stuff! But, primarily because Joseph Fiennes plays Mark as Mr. Glower all of the time, none of it lands with any of the weight it probably could.
Similarly, the idea that Olivia and Mark will separate so Olivia can be with Lloyd could have way more power than it does. The show has always played the idea of a marriage falling apart as something of an understood tragedy, but it’s never done the legwork to get us invested in why it would be a tragedy. I’d tend to agree that any marriage crumbling is a sad thing, but the show has done so little to set up Olivia and Mark as characters beyond what they saw in their flash forwards that it’s hard to be terribly moved by scenes where their marriage seems on the rocks. What if the marriage was already a little in trouble? What if the marriage was so ridiculously happy that it seemed shocking it could fall apart that fast (I think this is what they’re going for here, but it’s never played)? Or what if the marriage was a pretty good one, but something about Lloyd made Olivia realize a marriage with him could be a GREAT one? These are all directions the show could go, but by seemingly choosing none of them, it cheats both itself and the audience.
I’m sure a lot of people will criticize this episode for having next-to-no plot development, when the plot development was the one thing the show was executing fairly well in the past, but I can understand that the series needs to have these breather episodes every once in a while. The reason an episode of this show with no plot development feels so foot-draggy is because the characters are ciphers, only resolved through their relation to what’s going on at any given moment in any given episode. While this one seemed devoted to showing how spooked Mark has been by the flash forwards – including him chasing after some teenagers in masks similar to those worn by the guys in his flash forward – and to showing how much everyone was worried about Janis’ stay in the hospital, all of that stuff ended up feeling painfully generic. So, instead, we were left to focus on how Dominic Monaghan’s character – now given the name of Simon – was on the train to LA and coming to meet up with Lloyd, something he did in the final scene of the episode. Considering this was practically the exact same cliffhanger from a few weeks ago, I’ll forgive you if you felt disappointed.
But even if the Simon stuff felt like a weird framing device for the rest of the episode, it was more lively than most of the things this show has attempted. Say what you will about Monaghan – his Charlie was probably my least favorite Lost character ever for a while there – but he gets how to play this material, and he understands that there’s something a little goofy to it. He’s having a delicious time playing a baddie, and his seduction of the beautiful woman on the train with the story of Schrodinger’s cat, while the sort of monologue you’ve seen scientists give in things like this time and again, but Monaghan sunk his teeth into being kind of a jerk. It worked well for him. Similarly, the Demetri plot, where he and another agent tracked down a lead involving blue hands, closed on a really eerie image of a man with a hand dyed blue. But it was too little, too late.
As angry as I sound at this show, I’m not really. There are brief flashes of the show I’d rather be watching in every episode, and that makes me continue to think they can pull this together. Particularly as they head into November sweeps – a good time for plot-heavy shows – I’m thinking that maybe things will pull themselves around. But after last week’s episode did a better job of making everything seem like it might be heading in a direction, this episode just failed at almost everything it set out to do. And that all comes down to something that may be unfixable at this point: Too many of the characters are unknowable ciphers, and the show doesn’t seem to know how to make them anyone else.
- I just have trouble believing that everyone would be celebrating Halloween in an all-out fashion just a few weeks after 20 million people died. Sure, they’d do it for the kids (as I recall, the Halloween after Sept. 11 was relatively normal), but the fact that most of the adults got dressed up too, especially when they have BIG, IMPORTANT, FLASH FORWARD RELATED JOBS strikes me as a little bizarre. It’s only 25 days later!
- Music choices continue to be simultaneously really obvious and really, really strange.
- Another big, emotional moment that felt flat: Janis’ sadness over realizing she could never have a baby. Ten-to-one says she gets that miracle!