From Modern Mythcraft to Magical Surrealism

Flash Forward: “White to Play”

The second episode of Flash Forward opens with a chilling scene that looks like another flash forward, this time with Benford’s (Joseph Fiennes) kid awake with a host of other children all passed out. Just before I had the chance to pull out my stupid-o-meter to see how high that would have rated, it was revealed that it’s just children playing blackout. Of course they would. That moment is another extremely honest detail the writers have put into the show (the first being the initial reactions to the blackout in the first episode) and was a bit of a relief. Of course the children would play blackout. I wish I played blackout when I was a kid.

The rest of the introductory aspect of “White to Play” features people struggling with how to live knowing that the future is coming. While we see less of this with the main characters, the support / addiction group rings true. It is easy to imagine that a vision of the future would be awesome, but even if that vision is positive, it’s got to be difficult to live up to when you know what is coming. And then imagine that the vision is really bad. Why bother? That’s the sort of thing that Flash Forward asks its viewers to think about.

The primary storyline of the episode has Benford becoming obsessed with his vision. Every action is an attempt to re-create what he saw in the vision and everything from the vision that comes true only serves to reinforce that obsession. It causes him to lash out at his wife (Sonya Walger) (likely driving her into the arms of the man from her vision). His obsession and new distrust of his wife make him something of an ass.

There’s a potential answer to Benford’s behavior near the end of the episode, but that’s just a single moment that even in the second episode, I don’t trust. The narrative drive and tension comes from Benford’s obsession with the future. In the first two episodes it is Benford’s single mindedness that is bringing the greatest visible leaps to that flash forwarded future. Or, at least, that is the perception the viewer has from the first two episodes. This isn’t to say that the writers can’t develop the character in a different way. Good writers will flip our understanding of a character while staying true to the character, and it is perhaps too early to expect that any one character will be locked into a set behavior-role, but where does this leave Benford? Not actively pursuing the future?

Which is to say that this is a series with a seriously unlikeable lead character. Fortunately we have John Cho, an actor who brings life, humor, personality, and charm into his role. It’s too early to say that he brings a breath of fresh air to the show, and he is far more than comic relief, but Flash Forward is stronger when Cho is on screen. The less said about Benford’s wife and the potential cheating partner, the better.

There’s a great question as to whether knowing the future causes the future to happen. Does the relentless pursuit of figuring out the blackout help that particular future come about? It is only through Shakespeare’s deliberate actions that he is in place to take that photograph. He’s trying to recreate the scene from the vision.

Or, if the blackouts were orchestrated, are the conductors trying to bring about a particular future? Do they have knowledge of the future? Have they done limited/localized blackouts to test future-vision? That would be one of the few ways I can come up with that would explain how they might know to bring about a particular future. There are goals and there are visions. This is more than a goal.

Does knowing the future lock in that particular future?

There’s some good stuff here, but these first two episodes of Flash Forward feel choppy. There is more focus in “White to Play” on a narrower storyline (more or less) than the wide open premiere. Whether this means that the show will veer off into other character storylines remains to be seen. The show still has potential, and it is just interesting enough to keep watching, but there is something missing. Despite the writers’ attempts to the contrary, the human interest aspect of Flash Forward is lacking.

I expect there will be disagreement on this point, and that some (many?) will find that the marital drama is a strong part of the show. It doesn’t work for me. Why can’t we have a solid and healthy relationship? It comes across as false/forced drama. As this is one of the major storylines of Flash Forward and because we have not yet delved into the story arcs of the other characters, the core of Flash Forward is missing.

And yes, I just admitted that the characters and not the blackout is the core of the show. If I’m wrong, and we are given cardboard characters trying to solve the central mystery, Flash Forward will die a quick death. But, if like Lost, the characters are strong, Flash Forward will be able to hook viewers for the long haul.

Am I expecting too much from the first two episodes of a brand new show? Am I suffering hype-withdrawal?

Joe Sherry lives near Minneapolis. He blogs at Adventures in Reading.