From Modern Mythcraft to Magical Surrealism

Flash Forward: Episodes 3 and 4

Flash Forward: “137 Sekunden”

Perhaps playing off the chess-themed title from the previous episode, “137 Sekunden” features an abbreviated chess match between an imprisoned Nazi and Agent Benford. Old Nazi claims to have information regarding the blackout, but will not provide the information unless Benford arranges Old Nazi’s release from a German prison. Is the information worth the release of an unrepentant Nazi? Benford is asked if there is a line that shouldn’t be crossed.

This is also an episode about faith. Benford’s friend, an AA sponsor, believes he saw his daughter in his blackout. Benford himself believes that trying to work towards his vision of the future is a “leap of faith.” A friend of Benford’s wife has faith that she will adopt a child in the next six months whom she hasn’t met yet. Olivia and Benford are working to strengthen their marriage and eliminate the hint of what she saw in her vision. It’s faith that they can prevent Olivia’s vision.

What “123 Sekunden” does quite well is open up the central mystery in an authentic manner. Benford’s FBI boss tells Benford that they haven’t made any progress in finding anything about the two individuals who were awake during the blackout, and while that’s true, the closing minutes of the episode has an interesting reveal. One of the fears of the United States government is “what if it happens again?” but in working off of the clue Old Nazi gave him, Benford realizes that the real question should be: “what if this wasn’t the first time it happened?”

This is where Flash Forward may prove to have some legs. Investigating the 1991 event may provide viable leads into investigating the 2009 event. It’s also a way to look at what occurred with the blackout without jumping the gun in resolving the central mystery of the show.

This is a solid episode. The Benford / Nazi stuff is tense without action. We get to meet Dmetri’s fiancé (Gabrielle Union) and question if she saw him in her vision, if the foreign lady was telling the truth, and if not seeing anything really means death.

The question that will not be answered until the end of this season, but is one that should be at the forefront of the viewer’s mind, is about whether or not the future is set in stone or if having that glimpse of the future is causing the characters to act in such a way as to make it come true. Olivia’s friend would probably not be moved to adopt the child from the funeral if she didn’t already see in her vision that she did so. Which came first, the vision or the action?

Finding out the answer should be an interesting ride.

Flash Forward: “Black Swan”

“I was rocking leather pants. I’ve never rocked leather pants.” The fourth episode of Flash Forward opens with a sequence presumably in some sort of urban park. People all collapse while some jaunty music plays. A bus glides from the road and into a small lake (or pond). We learn later that the white bus driver (Mr. Ned) had a flash forward in which he was confident, at a club, was rocking leather pants, and was black. We see Mr. Ned in a mirror and yes, he is black. Well, he looks like he has a bad case of blackface makeup, but he’s black. In terms of story-arc, it’s a minor part of the episode, but it is also intensely obnoxious. Mr. Ned himself is overly chipper and excited about his future in April (being a confident black man and all) and this helps to reaffirm Suicidal Doctor’s renaissance as a man who believes in the awesomeness of life. As much as Suicidal Doctor annoys Olivia Benford, he probably annoys the audience just as much.

That’s just my perspective and my growing annoyance of all things Happy-Fate in this show. What I appreciate is Olivia’s anger and testiness about Suicidal Doctor’s obsession about the positivity and the reality of the visions. She didn’t like her vision, given that it was about cheating on her husband. Watching characters actively resist and fight the future is much more intriguing than the ones who are so sure that everything will work out in the future that they are blasé about the present.

I’m also a grump.

The other side of “Black Swan” is that Benford wants to go to Somalia to follow up on the lead from “137 Sekunden.” Benford’s boss doesn’t feel that dying birds almost twenty years prior is an expeditious use of FBI resources, and despite the deep conspiracy aspect of the show, any boss worth his or her salt should shut down the excursion without more concrete evidence. Benford will probably get to Africa soon enough, though. Why else would the writers introduce the dead-bird evidence.

Benford is also facing some friction from his partner, Dmetri. Dmetri is not dealing well with his lack of a vision or the phone call which revealed he would be murdered in March. His response this episode is to focus on concrete actions he can take as an FBI agent today, to deal with local leads and catch bad guys. But, in the process of Dmetri interrogating the terrorist lady from the pilot episode and the subsequent Benford interrogation of the same, the viewer learns that there are possibly several conspiracies going on. There may be little to tie Terrorist Lady to the Blackout, but she now seems to be a player in something larger than the dirty bomb she was arrested for.

“Do you know what a Black Swan is? It’s a metaphor, used to describe a high impact event, something so rare it’s beyond the normal realm of human expectation. It comes from the seventeenth century when scientists assumed that all swan were white. They were wrong.”

That’s part of Terrorist Lady’s big speech to Benford, and it suggests that big things are afoot and that nobody has a clue. It probably also suggests things that I’m not thinking of–which is just the way these things work.

Finally, the man from Olivia’s vision turns out to be involved in the global blackouts. Of course he is. He can’t be just a guy, can he? Benford is working on the case of the blackouts. Benford’s wife sees a vision of herself in a relationship with another man. The other man shows up at hospital with a sick kid. The other man turns out to be part of the cause of the blackouts.

Coincidence alley would like their coincidences back.

It’s a bit much, no?

Yes, Flash Forward is a show predicated about a global blackout and visions of the future and presumably some sort of conspiracy masterminding all this. So, yes, there will be “coincidences” with major characters all knowing each other and having their storylines intertwine. Sometimes the coincidences seem to be a bit much. Sometimes it feels like forced drama. OMG, Benford’s wife is going to cheat with a man who he is ultimately going to try to catch! This is television and this is drama, but sometimes the reveal just makes a viewer want to sigh.

Oh, one theory that has popped in mind is that Cheating Man (I’ve got to come up with a better name for Jack Davenport’s character) was looking at his cell phone / blackberry thingy during the vision. Since he has been revealed as part of the conspiracy, he may have been given instructions that would only have been known in the future that he would remember in the past when he woke up. Not exactly like a sleeper agent, but it’s a mechanism to communicate back in time to conspiracy members and aid in the conspiracy. I don’t know if that works, but it’s possible.

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

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