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FlashForward: "The Gift"

Illustration for article titled FlashForward: "The Gift"
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“The Gift” is the first FlashForward since the pilot where the stuff that makes me nod my head in appreciation outweighs the stuff that makes me want to throw things at the TV. There’s still enough clumsy stuff in it to make me unable to give anything higher than a B to it, but the things that work, particularly a surprisingly ballsy mirror image pair of endings, put me in mind of the show I hoped would exist after the pilot, rather than the one that fumbled along on the way to this episode. Had this episode been the second episode or the third episode or even the fourth, you wouldn’t have so many people who were skeptical of the show or bailing on it. It’s not perfect, but it’s solid TV, and FlashForward needs to show it can do solid before it tries too much else.

Character deaths are a dime a dozen on shows like this now, to the point where one almost cannot come to a sweeps period without having one or two. And while it’s not exactly shocking that Agent Al Gough offed himself by jumping from the Los Angeles FBI headquarters, what’s great is the way that it introduces a note of uncertainty into the proceedings and also manages to diffuse some of the tension that’s been building up in the show from all of the characters constantly freaking out about what they saw in their flash forwards.

One of the things that the show has had trouble with is the constant barrage of people sharing what they saw in their flash forwards and the need to always accompany those monologues with video footage. I get that if I caught a glimpse of my future (which would almost certainly just involve me sitting in a chair, drinking a soda or something), I might think about it an inordinate amount of the time, but FlashForward has done so little with the idea that these people are so haunted they’ve been changed by just catching a glimpse of the people they become that the huge amounts of time spent on the central gimmick always end up feeling like the series doesn’t know where to go from here.

Al’s suicide changes all of that. For one thing, the structure of this storyline actually approaches clever, what with the opening where we hear Al’s voice reading to the woman we’ve never met before, a letter she will apparently receive at some point or another. The episode then doesn’t bother returning to that plot point until the very end, asking us to shuffle it to the back of the deck (to be honest, I didn’t even remember the name of the woman in question when she came up in footage of Al’s phone call), so when we learn just why Al is about to jump, it’s all the more shocking that it ties in so neatly with the episode’s beginning. (It shouldn’t be shocking, but structural integrity of individual episodes hasn’t been FlashForward’s strong suit.)

Even better, though, is the way Al’s death frees up the show to stop what has felt like a relentless march toward seeing what was in the flash forwards up until this point. It’s hard to tell a story where fate is a major player, because it robs the characters of agency. Gough’s death very much proves that at least one of the flash forwards will not happen as it appeared to happen, and that opens up the show somewhat. It’s no surprise that the series followed Al’s suicide with Demetri reading his letter to Celia over footage of all of the characters celebrating the fact that they were once again in control of their futures (no matter how faulty that perception is). It’s a nasty little twist that a suicide is the thing that frees these people up to feel something other than oppressed by knowledge of their own futures, but it’s a good one and a surprisingly daring one for the show.

I also liked almost the entire blue hands subplot, which for once created a scenario where it felt like people were reacting to the events of the blackout in a way that made some sort of sense. The people who had no flash forwards are getting together to celebrate the fact that they know they’re going to die sometime in the next six months, referring to themselves as ghosts and following the tutelage of a floating identity known as “Reynaud,” taken on by a new person at every meeting. The ad hoc, cult-y feel of these sequences was nicely done, and I liked the twist of the Russian roulette game and the bullet marked with “Not Today.” In addition, it got Battlestar Galactica vet Callum Keith Rennie involved in the proceedings, and he once again proved that he needs to be the lead on one of these kinds of shows. His growl is the perfect thing to make preposterous genre bullshit sound believable.

I was less enthused by Aaron seeking out the story of his dead daughter after the army guy gave him the object he hands to her when he meets up with her again in his flash forward (and this is probably just the TV I had to watch on, but I couldn’t make out what it was). Or, more accurately, the army guy just keeps seeking Aaron out, which makes the whole storyline feel oddly paced. One of the other problems with FlashForward has been that the characters tend to have information GIVEN to them, rather than seeking that information out, and this storyline was more of that, even if I’ve generally enjoyed Brian F. O’Byrne in this part. That said, the final twist of his daughter being at his house and much earlier than expected? Well, that was just nicely done, especially if it’s another sign that foreknowledge of the future (in this case Tracy’s) means that that future can be changed.

Also, the other doctor and the babysitter sat around the hospital and talked about the Japanese woman he saw in his flash forward while she revealed she spent part of her childhood in Okinawa. Much as I’d like to be invested in this storyline, these two are easily the least-developed characters in the ensemble, so it mostly just ended up boring.

FlashForward is still not quite appointment TV, but of the last three episodes, I’ve really enjoyed two and appreciated what the third was going for, even if I didn’t think it quite hit the mark. There were still really embarrassing scenes in this episode – Demetri’s argument with his fiancée that ended in the “Choose hope” quote was about as on-the-nose as the Benford marriage dissolution argument from last week – but for the most part, it was pretty smartly about how knowledge of the future was tearing these people apart and how an unlikely gift from one person led to a renewed sense of determination and hope. At this point, I don’t know that FlashForward can ever be the next Lost or the next Battlestar Galactica, but it could sure as hell be the next Invasion, and that’s not so bad. I loved Invasion, and I gobble this genre stuff up. In those first few episodes, the show was trying to do way too much, but in these last three, a renewed focus has managed to make it much improved. Here’s hoping the show can continue its journey to solid, compelling TV.

Stray observations:

  • Or maybe Other Doctor and Babysitter are going to end up being a couple and this weird, Japanese obsession is going to fade into the background.
  • I will say this. I do hate when a show is going to kill off a character, and their entire storyline is about how happy they are and how good of a time they’re having and then they die, which is kind of how Al’s storyline was tonight. He’s cracking wise with Alex Kingston and flirting with her and then he’s suddenly heading for the roof.
  • How much did they have to shell out for that random shot of Dominic Monaghan in the closing montage?
  • If this really happened, I would just spend all of my time on Mosaic.com or whatever that site is. Especially if everyone's flash forward was disproportionately interesting, as all flash forwards seem to be on this show.
  • As much as I enjoyed this one, I’m not terribly hopeful about next week. A poker episode? Seriously?

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