A look at the key mysteries -- EW breaks down the ABC series for newbies and fans alike

Even before FlashForward aired its first episode Sept. 24, the rookie ABC drama had its hardcore fans — plugged-in geeks who had caught wind of a new sci-fi series by Batman Begins co-writer David S. Goyer and longtime Star Trek producer Brannon Braga, and were blogging about it, sight unseen. But it wasn’t until Goyer saw a fan-created YouTube wrestling video that he knew he had created an obsession. ”Someone took a WWE fight and looped in dialogue from our show — it was actually pretty genius,” says Goyer. ”I realized we had captured some imaginations.”

Of course, there are also those among the drama’s 11.2 million viewers who choose to express their fandom by constructing intricate theories inspired by the show’s coy nods to philosophy, quantum physics, and pop culture. FlashForward‘s premise is spelled out in its opening preamble: ”On October 6, the planet blacked out for two minutes and seventeen seconds. The whole world saw the future.” At the saga’s center is FBI agent Mark Benford (Joseph Fiennes), who, during his leap, saw himself investigating an elaborate conspiracy behind mankind’s perplexing power nap. The day glimpsed in all the flashes was Thursday, April 29, 2010 — and yep, a new episode airs that night. Will Mark’s faithful wife, Olivia (Lost‘s Sonya Walger), find herself in bed with another man? Will vaguely sinister scientist Simon Campos (Dominic Monaghan, another ex-Lostie) strangle a dude to death? And will FBI agent Demetri Noh (Star Trek‘s John Cho), who saw only darkness during his flash, be (gulp) dead? ”The high-concept pitch is simply this: If you were given a glimpse of your future, what would you do with it?” says Goyer. ”If you see something bad, can you change it? If it’s good, how do you make it come true?”

Goyer says the winter finale, airing Dec. 3, brings the season to a crossroad: ”With this episode, the game really starts to change.” The show then returns in January with three episodes that Goyer says are equally momentous but will also serve as access points for newbies. Still, why wait to become hooked? Here are the five defining questions of FlashForward, as well as this Flash fanatic’s Big Crazy Theory about what it all means and where it’s all headed.

Did mad scientists hack into the quantum infrastructure of reality? Did spell-casting mystics tap into our collective subconscious? Did God have a brain fart? For now, let’s stick to the facts: FlashForward‘s world appears to have experienced a temporal shift in global consciousness. But which way did the consciousness shift: from Oct. 6 to April 29, or vice versa? Unclear. Agent Benford’s team recently learned that a region in Somalia, surrounded by towering power stations, may have been used to beta test Operation: Earth Snooze back in 1991. Says Goyer: ”You’re going to get a pretty major info dump in the Dec. 3 episode about this very question, and the question gets explored even further in the January episodes.” In episode 12, viewers will meet some astronauts who were in orbit during the blackout — and weren’t affected by it. And look for the agents to finally make their long-thwarted investigative trip to Somalia by episode 14.

Viewers met one certifiable villain in the Nov. 12 episode, when a bearded mystery man (actor/magician Ricky Jay) quoted nuclear physicist Kenneth Bainbridge and killed a man over a briefcase filled with engraved rings. There’s also Monaghan’s Simon and the man from Olivia’s adulterous flash, Lloyd Simcoe (Jack Davenport), who’ve spoken about causing the blackout — but they could merely be pawns of a larger conspiracy. ”What we’ve hinted at with Simon and Lloyd isn’t the whole story,” says Goyer. ”But by season’s end, you’ll definitely have met some of our villains.”

In the season’s best hour so far, FBI agent Al Gough (Lee Thompson Young), who saw himself alive in his flash, committed suicide to prove that the future seen in the visions can be altered. That’s sad news for Agent Janis Hawk (Christine Woods), who saw herself pregnant on April 29, but good news for Agent Noh, who’s been warned that he’ll be murdered before then. (”In the next couple weeks, there will be a major development in my murder,” says Cho.) Goyer confirms that characters are capable of changing their fates — ”but with great difficulty.” And even if they’re successful, Goyer warns that the general thrust of the flashes may still come true. (Call this the It’s-Kinda-Like-What-Happened-to-Charlie-on-Lost Effect.)

Benford was drunk in his clue-packed flash, so his recollection is maddeningly hazy. But in January, the agent will find a way to view all of his vision, ”and it completely subverts what we’ve seen so far,” says Goyer. ”We’re never going to show something that didn’t happen. That said, sometimes characters will radically misinterpret what they saw, and sometimes we are restricting what you’re seeing.” Case in point: Benford’s boss, Stanford Wedeck (Courtney B. Vance). In his flashforward, Wedeck saw himself…going to the bathroom. ”That’s been something we’ve played for a laugh,” says Goyer. ”But I’d be lying if I said there isn’t more to his flash than we’ve revealed.”

During the pilot, Agent Benford encountered a kangaroo hopping through the streets on the day of the blackout. He saw the animal again in his neighborhood during the show’s Halloween episode. Fans are definitely obsessed: Is the kangaroo a living, breathing clue, or is this that rare case where a kangaroo is just a kangaroo? ”By the end of the season,” Goyer says, ”we will explain the significance of the kangaroo.”

My convoluted explanation hinges on quantum entanglement, which, according to Wikipedia, is one of the fundamental concepts involved in the science of teleportation. Translation: Campos and Simcoe were working on a way to make all of our ”Beam me up, Scotty” sci-fi dreams come true. Alas, what they found out is that their invention was better at moving brain waves through time rather than people through space. Even worse, bad guys bent on obtaining knowledge about the future stole their technology. Only a few conspirators were supposed to experience the quantum leap — but instead, the whole world got their psyches scrambled. Oops! Big Twist No. 1: Not everyone was affected in the same way. Yes, some people got glimpses of the future. But many time-traveling minds were actually uploaded into other people?meaning what they saw in their flash was actually someone else’s future. Big Twist No. 2: If Oct. 6 minds were briefly transported into April 29 heads, then what happened to the April 29 minds that should have been in there too? Answer: They got temporarily displaced and moved…to the future. Which means that when each mind returned to its proper point in time, it too brought back a flash-forward. And that, my friends, is what you call ”season 2.”

Goyer’s response: hearty laughter. ”It’s possible that quantum entanglement can play a role in our mythology,” he concedes. As for what FlashForward‘s second season will really be about, the producer will only hint that while the first 25 episodes are moving mostly in real time, next season may not. Of course, what FlashForward fans want to know is when the series will begin answering all these other questions. Goyer says the January episodes will accelerate the story — both by design and in response to criticisms about the show’s deliberate pacing. Without getting specific, the producer says a major revelation slated for the season finale has been moved into episode 13. (”I think people will be shocked by how many really big questions we’re about to answer.”) He adds that the pivotal April 29 episode will actually be a three-part event that will stretch into May sweeps. Says Goyer: ”As we began plotting it out, we all realized there’s just way too much going on in this show.” Really? We hadn’t noticed. — Additional reporting by Chau Tu

Careful viewers may have noticed that during FlashForward‘s barely there title sequence, a different, fleeting image appears in the logo each week — a sneak peek at a crucial moment from later in the episode. ”Our clever intention was that the title itself was a flash-forward,” says exec producer David S. Goyer. Beginning in January, the flashes will start mixing in quick shots from future episodes. Looks like that pause button on our DVRs is going to get quite the workout.

Pop Culture Flashes
Each episode of FlashForward is peppered with entertainment-related clues for the savvy viewer. Here are a few of our favorites.

“Across the Universe”
In one of FF‘s many thematically loaded musical cues, Rufus Wainwright’s cover of the Beatles tune played in episode 6. In the 1999 Robert J. Sawyer novel that inspired the series, the blackout/flash-forwards are caused, in part, by an anomaly in deep space — e.g., ”across the universe.”

D. Gibbons
The ”bad man” is a nod to Dave Gibbons, coauthor of the subversive superhero saga Watchmen, whose intricate mystery plot concerns (spoiler alert!) a conspiracy to encourage world peace by staging a fake alien invasion.

Exec producer David S. Goyer slipped a billboard for Oceanic Airlines into the pilot, inspiring fans to wonder if both shows exist in the same universe.

Ghost in the Machine by the Police
Agent Benford sported a T-shirt for the album, which, according to band lore, was inspired by Sting’s fixation with author Arthur Koestler, who postulated that people, events, and time are psychically linked.

Julius Caesar
In Shakespeare’s play, a seer tells the Roman leader to ”beware the Ides of March,” i.e., March 15 — the same date of Agent Noh’s predestined murder. Will Noh will be betrayed by a Brutus-like colleague too?

A Christmas Carol
Goyer says Charles Dickens’ classic novel — about a grinch who’s shown a vision of his (possible) future — looms large in the Dec. 3 episode.

Deceased FBI agent Al Gough was named after former Smallville exec producer Alfred Gough, a neighbor to FF co-creator Brannon Braga. Despite the fictional Gough’s death, ”I will continue to watch,” says the real-life Gough, ”but now I let my dogs crap freely on Braga’s lawn.”

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