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'FlashForward' recap: Setting Things in Motion

Jeff Jensen takes on the new series’ fall finale and its time-travel/parallel-universe themes

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FlashForward | Demitri felt the only way to try to change a future had him dying in a few months was to find out everything he could…
Ron Tom/ABC

FlashForward

type:
TV Show
Current Status:
In Season
broadcaster:
ABC
genre:
Sci-fi and Fantasy

Mark lost his job, his gun, and maybe his soul. Demetri learned the (alleged) identity of his (possible) killer. Simcoe got abducted by those most ruthless of scourges — killer paramedic goons! And the whole world was thrown into hair-pulling outrage when they learned that two super-geeks with a literal Big Bang Theory may have been responsible for the October 6 global power-nap that killed 20 million people. Last night’s fall finale of FlashForward was an eventful thriller that brought the season’s protracted first act to a close. The episode made use of Hugh Everett’s Many Worlds Interpretation of Quantum Physics (FlashForward application: might the flash-forward visions actually be peeks into parallel worlds?) and was bracketed by references to perhaps the greatest time-traveling/flash-forwarding/alternate reality-peeking story ever told, Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol (specifically, the 1977 BBC adaptation starring Michael Hordern). In one of the featured clips, we heard a ghost say to Scrooge, ”I am here to tell you tonight that there is still a chance and a hope of you escaping my fate” — pretty much FlashForward in nutshell. It was the show’s very special holiday episode, complete with a lovely young woman plotting her own immaculate conception. (That would be Janis, who flatly declared herself ”super gay,” embraced her baby-making flash-forward future, and delivered one of the best lines of the TV season: ”The whole penis thing is a problem for me ‘cuz because I… don’t… like them.” How about that for TMI in the family hour!) Without being overt, offensive, or polemical about it, FlashForward used its Christmas-timed story to remind us that our real world believes in some pretty far-out stuff, from the power of Japanese cat lucky charms (the Maneki Neko!) and Catholic prayer beads, to the possibilities of particle physics and theoretical science, to the annual make-believe fantasy of Santa Claus. In such a world, would a temporal shift in global consciousness really be all that far-fetched? If your answer is yes, then Bah Humbug to you, too. Enjoy that steaming lump in your stocking exactly three weeks from now.

Furrowed Brow and Kumar Go To Hong Kong

Benford and Noh were never going to get away with their unsanctioned overseas covert op, and sure enough, they got busted for it right away. Upon landing in Hong Kong to go hunting for the mysterious Nhadra, aka The Lady Who Knows Too Much About Noh’s Death, aka The Lady Who Poisoned Her Son To Death In Season Four Of 24 (one of my fave cold blooded shockers from that twisty series), Mark and Demetri were confronted by a smug secret agent man who pretended to be FBI but was really CIA. ”Marshall Vogel” told the Mosaic Men that their clandestine mission became not-so-clandestine the second customs scanned their passports. His advice: wing it back home, ASAP. A very pissed Boss Wedeck seconded the motion when Mark finally took his call. But Benford was defiant with both Vogel and Wedeck. He also covered for Noh, telling Wedeck: ”By the way, I lied to Demetri. I told him you changed your mind about us coming out here. Merry Christmas.” Mark’s reasoning? ”If things go south here,” he told Noh, ”you’re definitely going to still want to be carrying a gun.” Alas, things did go south, and then some.

I always like it when detective stories go out of their way to show their detectives using their detective brains and being all detective smart. So I liked the scene where Benford and Noh were ambling down the street (kudos on the quite-credible Hollywood backlot approximation of Hong Kong) and brainstorming ways to solve a needle-in-a-haystack problem — tracking down an English-educated Iranian woman living in an Asian country. Noh — who decided to dub the husky voiced mystery lady ”Eartha” after Eartha Kitt, aka Catwoman from the Adam West Batman TV series (which is why henceforth, we shall be referring to her as Catwoman) — suggested finding and then staking out a newspaper stand that sold both Persian media and Persian cancer sticks. Mark suggested they find a Persian restaurant run by Persian people and asked them if they could recognize Catwoman by their recording of her Purrrrr-sianesque voice. (Kitt represented the show’s coyest Christmas reference: She was famous for her 1953 recording of ”Santa Baby,” and she died last year on, yes, Christmas day.) (On another note, I briefly considered a 1000 word tangent that explored the episode’s implied linkage of ”Catwoman,” ”a cat has nine lives,” ”Schrödinger’s Cat,” and ”Many Possible Worlds Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics,” but then decided an awkwardly placed parenthetical would work just as well.)

NEXT: Mark goes down a dark and lonely road

Mark’s plan won, but it had to be executed the next day; the joint was closed. This momentary obstacle was totally random — it did nothing to advance the story — but I really liked it anyway. I love how FlashForward often goes out of its way to stretch a scene to include a plausible if extraneous beat or equally credible yet no less quirky tidbit. For me, these extra inches of scenic texture make the whole of FlashForward more distinctive and believable. Anyway, the next day, they went to the restaurant, ate some chow and played Catwoman’s voice for the Iranian Restaurant Guy (IRG), who smiled politely and said no, he didn’t know the sexy sounding lady, but boy, he sure wished he did — which was a lie, because the dude totally knew the sexy sounding lady, and you got the sense he was scared of her enough to wish he didn’t. Super-agents Benford and Noh saw through his charade. They detected some tell in his face that totally eluded me. (Perhaps newly unemployed Mark can now support his family as the next Chris Moneymaker.) Furrowed Brow shooed Demetri outside while he interrogated IRG alone — all part of his ”if someone’s gonna get their hands dirty let it be me” martyrdom mindset. Noh stood up and walked out. A motion activated mechanical Santa Claus suddenly Ho Ho Ho’d to five-and-dime animatronic life. Check that: a robot Santa Claus in a Persian restaurant in post-English communist Hong Kong. So random. Probably perfect. Loved it.

The unsettling scene that followed was maybe the best stuff the show has yet given Benford and his portrayer, Joseph Fiennes. With chilling calm, Mark invited the IRG to take seat while he wrapped up his lunch. In between bites of dessert, Benford put his badge on the table and told IRG that he knew he was lying and then relayed the story of an Iranian man who was kidnapped from his home in Bangkok in the middle of the night and taken to a off-the-grid black site and ”interrogated” for two years. ”My government has gotten very good at that sort of thing,” he said threateningly. Benford just laid the story out there and let the IRG make of it what he wanted. And what he wanted was to get away from this scary American man ASAP, so he coughed up his Catwoman 411. It was pretty intense watching Benford screw on his Jack Bauer. Joseph Fiennes has caught some flack from the message board set for his performance. Not everyone buys his articulation of Mark’s angst and indignation, nor do they buy the English thesp’s Americanese. I’ve never had any major objections to Fiennes’ work, but the restaurant scene did make me wonder if the actor feels more at ease or more confident when playing in the gray and dark zones of his character. All to say: I liked the scene, it worked for me, and it made me worry about the creeping darkness that’s starting to shade more and more of Mark’s character, even as I liked how it looked on him.

The lead that Mark spooked out of IRG led to a dim sum joint where Nhadra was dining with… a small army of goons. (Can’t this sad-eyed Eartha score a proper date?!) They all stood and fumbled for their weapons when Benford and Noh walked into the room. Catwoman told her henchmen to stand down and reluctantly invited the agents to sit. What’s the deal with this woman? The trappings suggested mobster or arms dealer, and her obvious sophistication was befitting a sci-fi super-villain. But she radiated a melancholy, even a despair that felt more victimish than mastermindish. She told the agents they shouldn’t have come. She told Noh that she really didn’t want to tell him any specifics about his forthcoming murder on the Ides of March. She believed telling him anything risked making everything she knew about the future actually come true — a variation of the aforementioned Schrödinger’s Cat, cited by Simon a few episodes back, the theory that perception shapes reality. Nhadra’s gloss: Foreknowledge isn’t forewarned — it only leads to foregone conclusion. Go, she insisted. By even coming to Hong Kong, Nhadra told Noh, ”you’ve set things in motion that will end very badly for you.”

But the agents stayed, and so she spilled some stuff. She had to, or else I think 8-11 million people would have collectively pulled a Wedeck and thrown something at their TVs last night. She told Noh that his death will be ”the first in a long line of dominos that I would rather not see fall down” — hence, her attempt to warn him of his murder. She told Noh that he would be shot three times at close range. She told Noh that the shooter was sitting at their table — and then she turned to Benford and said that he was that shooter. She said the bullets would come from his service revolver and she rattled off the serial number on his pistol to prove it: ”A561984” Why would Benford ever deliberately shoot his partner? ”Presumably,” she explained, ”in the next few months, a reason will present itself.” The thought I had: She’s lying. Benford isn’t the shooter she saw in her flash-forward. It’s in her self-interest to subvert Mosaic and she’s trying to do that by rattling their lead agents with her spooky predestination claptrap. Or: Yes, she did see Noh get shot, and yes, the gun is Benford’s gun — but it isn’t Benford who’s pulling the trigger. But might she have been telling the truth when she said the Judas was supping among them? Maybe the shooter is one of her goons? Maybe herself? Maybe even Noh, pursuing a suicide solution?

NEXT: Demitri’s fiancé finally understands her flash-forward

Once these mysterious morsels were imparted, it was all over except for Benford’s furious shouting… and the overturning of the table, the drawing of the guns, and the brief taking of Catwoman hostage before it all ended in a Mexican stand-off in the street. It was Mark and Noh versus Nhadra’s heavies and a small squadron of Hong Kong’s most heavily armed cops. FBI-faking Vogel showed up and seemed to know Nhadra well and secured her release and shut down Benford-and-Noh’s big adventure. I’m not exactly sure what Mad Mark thought he was trying to accomplish — you know, besides provide the episode with some gratuitous action. It bugged me, especially in an episode that heard Benford make this crack: ”Can we skip over all the histrionic action movie clichés? Because I’m way too jetlagged to deal with any of that right now.” (Guess he caught a second wind.) That’s the downside when you take pains to make your smart characters look smart: it conversely over-accentuates all the stupid things they do.

Vogel took Benford and Noh to the airport. Benford confronted Vogel about really being CIA. Vogel snarked and shrugged and called Mark and all of Mosaic ”a tiny speck… a flake of dandruff on the nape of this thing’s neck.” Clearly the season 1 climax will include some interagency showdown. Wedeck — irate over the international incident (or ”amazing pooch-screw” in Wedeck’s words) caused by Benford’s ill-considered alleyway melee — called Mark and fired him, although I feel duty bound to point out that the show cut away from Wedeck right after we saw him sarcastically congratulate Mark on finally changing his future but before we saw and heard him go Trump on his butt. All we saw was Benford hand his gun and badge to Noh and say he was no longer FBI. I’m open to being convinced this was all theater, just as I am convinced that Wedeck’s conspicuous reference to Kabuki pantomime back in episode 4 (”Gimme Some Truth”) was intended to be a cue to the audience to question everything we see. But for now, I’ll play it safe and say it was all legit — Mark was canned. We left him and Noh in the Hong Kong airport, listening to John Lennon’s ironic carol ”So This Is Christmas (War Is Over)” and watching A Christmas Carol on TV. Mark looked forlorn as he heard Scrooge yearning to change his damned destiny by rehabbing his wretched character. Benford’s Christmas gifts to Noh: a vow to never shoot him and a promise to keep him alive. One wonders what the cost will be to Mark in keeping those oaths. Happy holidays, fellas.

Meanwhile…

The post-script to the Benford/Noh affair revealed that Nhadra was harboring our old friend The Chess Player, or D. Gibbons, or ”Deacon Gibbons” per his FBI case file. I can’t write or read the word Deacon without hearing that darn Steely Dan song in my head, and hey, didn’t we see Gibbons sitting on Nhadra’s apartment worrying a clutch of prayer beads? Looks like ”Deacon Blues” incarnate to me. (A Doc Jensen No Prize for anyone who wants to examine those Steely Dan lyrics for FF resonance. I’ve checked! It’s possible! Do it! Now!) Slowly, the disparate elements of the FF conspiracy are beginning to connect: Suspect Zero to The Chess Player to Nhadra. But I found it interesting that Catwoman had her own version of Benford’s clue wall taped to the window of her skyscraper suite. (Guess she doesn’t have much use for the view.) Is she also puzzling together the mystery of the global blackout? And if she, too, is searching for answers, does that mean she’s not involved in the conspiracy? Our message boards want to hear your theories. (PS: If you’re one of those fanatics that posts screen grabs of Easter Egg shots on your fansite, send me a link when you get Catwoman’s clue wall up and going.)

Elsewhere…

Zoey — Demetri Noh’s fiancée — was dealt a nice little arc in the episode. We learned that Demetri had a strained relationship with his parents because of culture clash conflict: presumably, they could not accept that their son wanted to marry an African American woman. Zoey left a message with Noh’s mother and made a personal plea to at least talk it out with them. She wanted reconciliation — and she wanted to make sure that her wedding day flash-forward, which included Noh’s parents, came true. But while attending the memorial service of a colleague’s wife, Zoey had a revelation about her flash-forward: She wasn’t glimpsing her wedding — she was peeking at Noh’s funeral. An in-person visit to Demetri’s mother confirmed it. Mama Noh’s distance and chilliness really hadn’t had anything to do with disapproval, but her despair over knowing her son would soon be dead. In fact, she indicted that her flash-forward horror had helped her get past whatever differences she may have once had with their wedding. ”Maybe before this, we would have difficulties with you marrying our son, but what I saw that day, that moment, the love you had for Demetri, I want you to know we see things differently now. We would be proud for you to be part of our family. We wish that was the future. We wish that more than anything.” Zoey wished for that too, and vowed to change the future. Good stuff — a small, poignant example of how FlashForward works its high-concept sci-fi premise for poignant, character-oriented drama. Also see: Janis, who resolved to make her baby-making flash-forward come true and asked Bryce for a fertility clinic referral. Fun Fact! The name of the fertility clinic was ”Cubit,” as in the standard of measurement used in Old Testament times — but the word can also be spelled ”Qubit,” which is a unit of quantum information. As in: Perhaps all the flash-forwards are qubits of information downloaded from the future — or maybe one of Hugh Everett’s ”Many Worlds.”

NEXT: The geeks feel the heat

Concurrently…

Lloyd Simcoe and (with great reluctance) Simon Campos held their long-awaited global press conference to announce their belief that their experiments may have caused the global blackout. We learned stuff from these two. We learned they were employed by the National Linear Accelerator Project, an American analog for CERN. We learned that they specialized in ”proton-driven plasma-wakefield acceleration” (which is totally legit science; go ahead and Google it) that aspired to ”produce the kind of energy levels that existed right after the big bang but on a much more controllable scale.” In other words: they were trying to smash atoms together and watch them make pretty sparks. We learned that at the exact moment of their experiment, the blackout occurred. Conclusion: Their Angels and Demons-esque cosmos-rattling particle smashing produced the catastrophic temporal shift in global consciousness. For all of you who’ve read or at least Wikipedia’d the Robert J. Sawyer’s 1999 book that inspired this series, then you know the significance: In the novel, the global blackout was indeed caused, in part, by a particle-smashing experiment, conducted by a character named Lloyd Simcoe. (An outer space anomaly was also involved.) Still, I’m with Simon Campos on this one: I think the blackout was caused by something else, and that the timing of the global blackout could be coincidence. A pretty amazing coincidence, but a coincidence, nonetheless. I’m not saying Simcoe was wrong for assuming he was responsible for the GBO. I’d draw that conclusion, too, if everyone in the world fainted and time traveled the very second I attempted to play God with a super-collider. Still, there must be something more to it — because this early in a series’ life, there always is.

Honestly, I thought the press conference imbroglio was pretty phony, what with all that trumped up hysteria, Simon and Simcoe and Dr. Gordon Myhill (the Christmas episode’s three wisemen equivalent?) goofily elbowing each other aside to alternately offer apologies and caveats and excuses, the shell-shocked reporter who grabbed the cop’s gun and took some shots at the stage. Truth is, the Simcoe/Campos/NLAR public disclosure would have been carefully scripted and meticulously managed by crisis PR experts and never would have played out like this. In general, these kind of panic-rippling-through-a-crowd scenes never work for me, no matter what the story. The murmurs and the shocked faces and the ”This is an outrage!” bluster and all the variations thereof have become such clichés that it all plays like parody. What bugged me the most about the sequence was the climactic argument between Campos and Simcoe. Campos got up in his fellow egghead’s grill and said: ”I do not think we were to blame for this — you do. And if you will not see my line of reasoning it’s all out war between us.” Waitaminute! If Simon so philosophically opposed to coming clean, why did he participate in the press conference at all?! (Would he really stick to the terms of that card-game bet that he lost if he were so opposed?)

In general, I’ve felt that Dominic Monaghan’s geeky-sexy rogue has lost some of his dangerous, morally ambiguous edge in recent weeks. But he got some of that mojo back in his scenes with Wedeck. After going underground following the press conference fiasco, Campos came out of the cold, throwing in with the FBI in hopes of finding the real GBO conspirators and vindicating himself. Wedeck and Janis showed him the surveillance photos of the strange power towers in Somalia. Campos recognized them as products of his design — a ”specialized pulsed laser for a plasma afterburner,” which he came up with back in 1992. But he arrogantly dismissed the photos as computer generated hoaxes; his ”plasma afterburners” were still purely theoretical and had never been built. Wedeck said nope, the photos were legit. Even trippier: the photos were snapped in 1991, which means those towers shouldn’t technically exist, since Campos had not yet invented them. Campos whizzed around in his swivel chair looking gobsmacked. What the what?! If I was tracking the scene correctly, Wedeck and Janis advocated the theory that The Chess Player beat Campos to his Nobel-worthy invention. (Campos: ”I’d like to give his testicles a squeeze for shocking my plasma afterburner design.”) But might there be another explanation for the inexplicably early realization of Campos’ work? Does a flash-backward time travel twist loom on the horizon?

NEXT: Simcoe and Olivia really start to connect

While Campos ran to the FBI, Simcoe just tried to run away. He wanted to transfer his autistic son Dylan to an off-the-grid medical facility, and he wanted the world to just leave him alone, never mind that he had just confessed to being at least indirectly responsible for — to borrow Campos’ oh-so modest assessment — ”the greatest global catastrophe in human history.” (In a week that saw Tiger Woods learn the hard way what public scrutiny really looks like, I found Simcoe’s ”Leave Us Alone!” hopes laughable, especially since he all but invited the world to hound and persecute him by volunteering his GBO culpability.)

In bidding adieu to the man of her please-don’t-come-true dreams, Olivia gushed over his ”brave” decision to step forward and take responsibility for the GBO. Also, having learned from the TV that Simcoe had attended Harvard, she told Simcoe she had been planning to go to Harvard, but didn’t because of Mark’s FBI job, and as she revealed more of her what-could-have-been past, Simcoe realized that had Olivia gone to Harvard, she would had lived in the apartment that was taken by his now-dead wife. He then laid the Many Worlds Interpretation on her. ”Basically the idea is that anything that could have happened in our past actually did happen in some other universe, so all those alternate choices and decisions you made are still playing themselves out.” Your point, Dr. Simcoe? ”In some other universe, you did go to Harvard, and we did meet.” Olivia listened and literally giggled and blushed at what Simcoe was describing. For the first time, I felt some romantic heat between these two characters — and I also for the first time found myself almost rooting for them. (The episode certainly didn’t make it hard to want to see Olivia with anyone different, not after watching Mark grow ethically shady in Hong Kong — a far cry from super-responsible Simcoe.) Then the Fake Paramedic Bad Guys came and kidnapped Simcoe and left Dylan with Olivia. Is that why Dylan saw himself living the Benford home in his flash-forward? Is Olivia about to take Dylan into her home — and drive away Mark in the process?

Lots of questions — and I’d love to hear your answers. I’d also like to hear your thoughts on the 3-minute preview of the rest of the season. Did you think it looked promising? And did you catch the flash-forward embedded in the opening title? It was an ad for ”CHINATOWN CHESE STEAK,” with the words ”HELP US” scrawled on it. Unless I just missed it, I didn’t see it in the episode last night, so it could be example of how FF plans to begin teasing future episodes with its title flash. I hope you all have a happy holiday season — and we’ll continue the FlashForward journey in the new year.

UPDATE: Sorry friends for missing this, but ABC did announce last night that FlashForward would return in March, not January. So I look forward to reconvening with you then.