FlashForward Episode Seven: The Gift

Well, this is tricky. See, this episode kicks off with a bit of misdirection, which I can’t describe in too much detail without giving a clue to the ending. So I’m leaving a key point out of this description of the opening scene, in which a woman named Celia (remember, that’s the name Al searched for on the Mosaic website a couple episodes back) finds a flyer stamped with a blue hand tucked into the windshield of her car. It instructs her to go to www.alreadyghosts.com (don’t bother -- it just redirects to ABC’s official FlashForward site) with the phrase, “You are one of us.”

Zoe tries to interest Demetri in a heated discussion about wedding invitations, but his attention is distracted by the alreadyghosts website. At the Benford home, things are still frosty after last episode’s revelations: Olivia tells Mark she’ll be working late, and he barely responds.

Al, Demetri and Mark examine the three corpses found at the empty house on Halloween. All have blue-painted hands, and all are dead from self-inflicted gunshot wounds. One of the corpses has been identified as a Scottish national named Ian Rutherford. Al has advance knowledge of the Rutherford case from his flash forward, in which he was in London discussing the case with MI-6 agent Fiona Banks (Alex Kingston).

Corporal Mike Willingham, who served overseas with Aaron’s dead daughter Tracy, drops by Aaron’s workplace to give him Tracy’s pocketknife. Aaron remembers his flash forward, in which he returns the knife to a still-living Tracy. Overwhelmed at this suggestion that his flash forward might come true, Aaron cries and hugs Mike. I gotta tell you, Aaron might not be the most interesting character, and he sure doesn’t have the most interesting plotline, but he sells his scenes.

Fiona Banks drops by FBI headquarters to follow up on Ian Rutherford’s death. According to Demetri, Rutherford and the other two corpses were “ghosts” on the Mosaic site -- i.e. none of them had a flash forward. Demetri, Mark and Al go visit the almostghosts site and find a message from a Dr. Maurice Raynaud, inviting all ghosts to a meeting in downtown Los Angeles that night.

Al and Fiona discuss their mutual flash forward in London. Fiona remembers a bird hitting the windows and dying while Al took a phone call from his attorney. We see Al’s side of the flash forward: While Fiona is occupied with the bird, a visibly-upset Al tells his attorney, “I killed her.”

Zoe gets upset with Demetri because he blew off their scheduled appointment to pick out wedding invitations. He explains that he was busy with a case, and she points out that she had a busy court schedule, and yet, “Somehow I made it to the printers anyway.” Hmm. While getting stood up undeniably sucks, I’m going to have to side with Demetri on this: They’re just wedding invitations, he’d already made it clear that he was happy with whichever one she chose, and an FBI case probably should take priority. She yells at him for a while about how she feels like he’s been ignoring her, so he gets nasty and says, “The more you jump down my throat, the less I want to be here,” then storms out.

(You know the moment I knew I was going to love the new Doctor Who series? It was in the premiere episode, when Rose and Mickey start squabbling and Christopher Eccleston’s Doctor orders them to take the domestics outside. This is my feeling exactly: I can’t stand watching relationship squabbles on television.)

Nicole, still wanting to make amends for whatever she’s done that she feels so guilty about in her flash forward, volunteers at the hospital. Olivia foists her off on Bryce, who is charmed and impressed when Nicole speaks fluent Japanese to soothe an upset patient. Hey, Nicole has layers!

Mark, Demetri and Al follow a trail of blue hands to the ghost meeting in a downtown warehouse. An old duffer in a fedora whips out a revolver and orders them to play Russian roulette. While Mark and Demetri look flabbergasted, Al promptly takes him up on it and fires on an empty chamber. The old man removes the bullet from the gun and gives it to Al, telling him it’s their ticket inside. On the bullet is written, “Not today.” Demetri and Mark chide Al for his death wish, but Al replies, in reference to his flash forward, “There’s no way I’m going to die tonight.”

The bullet gains them entry to what seems like a pretty standard warehouse party. Mark asks the sexy bartender if she can point out Raynaud, but she tells him the identity of Raynaud changes at each gathering. He finds the matchbook with “BLUE HAND” scrawled on it that was pinned to his evidence wall in his flash forward.

Lloyd drops by Olivia’s office and assures her he would never do anything to come between her and Mark.

Bryce shows Nicole a drawing of a girl he saw in his flash forward. In the background of the drawing is an unfinished kanji character. Nicole completes the strokes and tells him it means Believe.

Mike, worried that he gave Aaron false hope by returning Tracy’s knife, visits him again and confirms that he was with Tracy when their Humvee was attacked. We see a flashback to the attack, in which Mike and Tracy express panicked surprise that their black-garbed attackers, who do not look especially middle eastern, are firing Jericho missiles. I know exactly squat about missiles, but according to our ever-reliable friend Wikipedia, that’s a weapon that comes out of Israel, whereas Tracy was killed in Afghanistan. Mike confirms that he saw Tracy blown apart by the attack.

Mark and the boys find a back room at the blue hand party where horrible tortures are (voluntarily) taking place. All the flash forward-free partygoers are encouraged to act out their sickest fantasies. Raynaud, with his hands painted blue, finally shows himself, and hey! It’s Leoben the Cylon, just as creepy as ever. Demetri, Mark and Al identify themselves as FBI agents and start making arrests.

Back at FBI headquarters, Raynaud is revealed to be Jeff, a creepy and twerpy teacher at Fairfax High School. Question: Has Callum Keith Rennie ever played a character who wasn’t creepy and twerpy? Jeff claims he finds people to invite to the blue hand gatherings from the Mosaic site. Demetri wants to know the connection between Jeff and the guy with the blue hand stamp who tried to kill Janis. Jeff replies, twerpily, “The script for this conversation has already been written.”

Al invites Fiona to his place for some dirty rice. Claiming jetlag, she nicely turns him down. Al suggests she try taping her window when she returns to London, to prevent the bird from flying into it in her flash forward.

Mark and Olivia watch cartoons with Charlie. It seems as though tensions are easing between them.

Al makes his dirty rice, alone in his apartment.

Demetri brings Zoe a peace offering of cinnamon rolls and finally tells her about his upcoming murder. Zoe confirms again that he was alive in her flash forward, on their wedding day on a sunny beach.

Aaron meets with Mike, thanks him for giving him some peace about Tracy’s death, and offers him a job at the Department of Water and Power.

Bryce shows Nicole his paintings of the woman in his flash forward, who seems to be in Japan. Nicole encourages him to put his story up on Mosaic to find her.

Al leaves an envelope on Demetri’s desk. During a meeting, Demetri opens it and finds a letter addressed to Celia and a Post-It for Demetri: “There is always a way out.” Demetri reads the letter. In the opening sequence, by the way, Al reads this letter aloud in a voice-over, and they deliberately try to connect it to the flyer we see Celia receive from the Blue Hand people. Misdirection! Unnecessary misdirection, perhaps: I spent the first half of the episode puzzling about cute Al’s connection to the twerps in Raynaud’s group.

We see the phone call in Al’s flash forward in full: Al’s lawyer tells him Celia was taken off of life support an hour ago, and her two twin boys were placed in foster care. The lawyer reassures a devastated Al that it was all a terrible, random accident.

In the present, Al stands on the edge of the roof. Demetri charges up to the rooftop and pleads with Al not to jump. Al tells him if he can kill himself, it means the future can be changed: Celia will live, and maybe that means Demetri can live, too.

With that, Al dives off the building. I, uh, cried at this. Kind of a lot.

Back in London, Fiona tapes up the window to protect the bird. Somewhere, Simon toys with a bracelet that spells out “ANNABELLE.”

And Aaron returns home to find his daughter Tracy in his living room. She greets him with, “Hi, daddy.”


Jason Gilman said…
It wasn't perfect, but definitely the best episode yet in terms of revelation and moving me on an emotional level. I was liking Al more and more so I got a little choked up too when I realized what he was doing at the end of the episode.

So now we know. The FlashForwards are not set in stone. In fact at this point I would speculate that actually seeing one's FlashForward prevents it from happening exactly as seen. I just wish that they could have figured this out without Al sacrificing himself.

The Aaron subplot with Michael wasn't super exciting, but it looked to me like his daughter did have her leg(s) blown off in the Hummer explosion (as I speculated a few eps back). Also you're right Morgan, I think that looked more like an RPG-7 shoulder-launched rocket- a Jericho is an Israeli ballistic missile. Anyway not sure what to think of his daughter's appearance at the end.
Morgan Richter said…
The episode got to me emotionally a couple of times: Al's sacrifice, and Aaron's joy when Mike gives him the pocket knife. Nice moments, like Al making his rice alone in his kitchen.

Anyway not sure what to think of his daughter's appearance at the end.

Very strange. It doesn't seem to match with his flash forward (which, we now know, can be altered), and I thought there was something a little odd about her demeanor when she greeted him. It was a fast moment, so I could be wrong, but I thought she seemed a little... smug? sinister? I'm not sure. Especially since Mike's flashback sure seemed to indicate she got torn in half (I notice they were pretty clear about having Mike say he saw her "dying" not "dead", though).

Pretty strong episode. Not perfect (Raynaud and the Blue Hand partygoers seemed to be aiming for "creepy evil-doers," but hitting more in the range of "malicious twerps"), but pretty good, and even characters whose plots I don't care all that much about (Bryce and Nicole) had good moments.
levitatethis said…
I cried too!

Even though this episode had some problems it was also probably one of the strongest ones so far. I’ve been increasingly annoyed by those who accepted their visions as set in stone and therefore felt the need to make sure everything they did would lead towards keeping them the same.

As much as I hate losing Al (and I didn’t realize how invested I was in him until I this episode) I love that we saw a character refuse to accept his flashforward as gospel and actively (try to) change it.

But my god, did I cry when he actually jumped. I found his storyline very moving, when the pieces started to come together, and in one episode he became far more fleshed out and real to me.

Has Callum Keith Rennie ever played a character who wasn’t creepy and twerpy?

I can answer this :-) I first fell in love with him back when I was in high school and he was in two movies that I adored. He played the twerpy but adorable Mark in Double Happiness, in which he falls in love with Sandra Oh who has to hide their relationship from her parents because he’s not Chinese (really good movie if you ever get the chance to see it.

He also played the awesome (not creepy or twerpy, but damn cool) Billy Talent, who was the bassist to Hugh Dillon of Flashpoint's destructive lead singer, in the fantastic movie Hard Core Logo. Another film I'd highly recommend (it's shot like a faux documentary about a Canadian punk band reuniting and going on the road).
Morgan Richter said…
Al's suicide could have seemed contrived, but by gum, they sure sold it. It was really effective. Though damn, I suppose this ruins our awesome crossover spinoff idea.

Heh -- good to know about Callum Keith Rennie. Nothing against CKR as an actor, but Leoben was always my least-favorite Cylon, thanks to his new-agey ramblings, and when Raynaud launched into his whole “The script for this conversation has already been written” speech, I started having bad Battlestar Galactica flashbacks.
levitatethis said…
After I stopped being a crying mess over Al's death the next thought that hit me was, "there goes the spin-off with Mohinder".

I agree that Al's death should have been contrived but somehow it hit a lot of the right notes for me and really worked.

I think CKR used to play more diverse characters when he was first moving into acting...
Morgan Richter said…
(I probably shouldn't think too much on this, and I know we saw the scene in an earlier episode where Al tried to search for Celia on Mosaic and got frustrated by the number of results, but... It's obvious Celia did write about her flash forward on Mosaic, since the Blue Hand folks were able to track her down and leave a flyer on her car in the opening scene, so Al should've been able to narrow down all the Celias in Los Angeles who were "ghosts" on Mosaic. Easy enough to explain away, of course: Maybe she didn't make her Mosaic entry until after Al had tried looking for her. I don't want to try to poke holes in what was, really, a very well-executed plot.)

I think it's just that CKR is so good at playing creepy and twerpy. He's become the go-to guy when casting directors need an enigmatic butthead.

Hell, Mohinder's dead, too. As long as we're having a crossover, Hiro can travel back in time and save Al, too. (Just like when he talked that ass-xeroxing guy off the rooftop in that episode we're all trying hard to forget!)
Patrick said…
An interesting episode. The bullet with 'Not Today' flashed up for a split second during the opening credits so from the beginning I thought this was going to be a bit different.

This episode followed directly from Simon's discussion of the FF last week which Dan and I discussed on this blog. Dan explained it better than me. What Al's sacrifice showed was that these things can be changed, but I still have a few questions.

Al's death changed the FF for a number of people (and in addition may have saved a woman's life and a bird's life).

On April 29 it will be different for these people:

1. Alex Kingston.
2. Al's lawyer, who would have seen himself talking to Al.
3. Celia's children, who would have seen a world where they were orphaned.
4. Anyone connected with any of the people above.

If, as it seems, two things can exist at the same time, then the whole idea of the Mosaic seems flawed. Because Al's death has meant that the mosaic is unravelling, or rather that it will turn out in many different ways and it won't be one fixed picture. Rather it seems that clusters will come true as seen on the FF but other bits will unravel and reform around a new picture.

I'm completely with Morgan about the tediousness of relationship fights on tv. I did not like the Demetri stuff either - and like Morgan I thought that he should have been cut some slack for being an FBI agent investigating major cases. He was even criticised for closing his laptop when she was around - but surely FBI agents are meant to do that when looking at confidential case files? Zoe does seem a little unreasonable.

In Demetri's FF he sees nothing.
In Zoe's FF she sees their wedding.

But even if Demetri survives the events of March and April surely he should be looking after Mark on April 29 and not on the beach somewhere? Which creates a third version of the future.

Since we have now established that the FF future is not fixed this lessens the dramatic tension when we see the next FF at the end of season one (or whenever). For example, that FF might show us all the major characters pointing guns at each other and about to start firing, but now we now this version of the future can be avoided so it doesn't really make us excited to see how they get to that point.
Patrick said…
My only criticism of the jumping was that it copied from 'Open your Eyes', the excellent Spanishm film later remade as the vastly inferior 'Vanilla Sky'. It was dramatic but still a little too alike.

Animals seem to be important in this show. We have the crows, the kangaroo, the bird and so on.
Morgan Richter said…
This episode gave my faith that the show knows what it's doing a bit of a boost -- but at the same time, as Patrick notes, it deflates the tension about the flash forwards a bit, since they obviously can be altered (unless Al comes back as a zombie, kills Celia, and keeps his meeting with Alex Kingston in London as scheduled. Hey, it can happen!)

I figure my intolerance for relationship squabbles probably points toward some deep-seated character flaw I possess, much like my dislike for jazz. Eh. I don't lose much sleep over either, really.
Dan said…
I agree, Morgan. This episode made me far more confident they know what they're doing. Which is a relief.

Also, jazz is self-indulgent noise.

On the disagreement front, I don't believe the idea that the FFs can be changed necessarily ruins the dramatic tension. It could, but in the wrong hands, so could a predestined future.

Also, I don't mind a good televised domestic squabble.

I make that 2-2.
Dan said…
Also, re: Aaron's daughter returning from the dead. Maybe Aaron's just going crazy?
Morgan Richter said…
Aaron going crazy makes more sense than most explanations I can think of. I'm hoping and assuming they've got something cool lined up to explain her sudden appearance -- both why she's alive and why showing up in Aaron's living room all casual-like doesn't mesh with his flash forward.

There was a Kids in the Hall episode where Bruce referred to jazz as musical vomit. I don't know that I'd go that far -- I'll just say I have no ear for jazz and leave it at that.
Dan said…
Because Al's death has meant that the mosaic is unravelling, or rather that it will turn out in many different ways and it won't be one fixed picture

I don't think I agree with this, Patrick. The Mosaic can still be a consistent picture of a future. Just because Al died, I don't think that means the visions of the people affected by that will be retrospectively altered to remove him from them.

So Mosaic will still paint a consistent version of a future, just not the future that at least some people will experience.

What I'd really like to see now would be an exploration of the people whose future doesn't match Mosaic. Al can't be the first person to defy the FFs. Maybe those people awake in the pilot blackout were those whose future changed from the Tanzanian (?) FF, ie, once you slip out of a foreseen future, you become immune to any future blackouts.

Aaron going crazy makes more sense than most explanations I can think of.

It does. But I'd still feel a little ripped off if that's all it was. After Baltar and House and Matt Parkman and who knows who else, I'm getting a bit tired of imaginary people running around television shows.

(BTW, nice new profile pic, Morgan.)
Morgan Richter said…
...I was composing a reply about alternate futures, etcetera, but my sinuses have exploded into exquisite pain, so I think I'm going to abandon all attempts to be coherent in favor of weeping softly in a corner until it goes away.

(BTW, nice new profile pic, Morgan.)

It was time to get the hair (mostly) out of my eyes.
Dan said…
my sinuses have exploded into exquisite pain

Ugh. Know what that feels like. Hope it goes away soon.
Morgan Richter said…
Thank you. Did a couple of sessions of double-strength sinus rinses, and the worst seems to be over. (There are a limited number of name-brand products that I willingly hype every chance I get; NeilMed's sinus rinse is one such product. Sure, it's sort of gross, getting up close and personal with your sinuses, but it's the difference between sinus pain/no sinus pain. Also: cool gross-out party trick! Impress your friends!)

Maybe those people awake in the pilot blackout were those whose future changed from the Tanzanian (?) FF, ie, once you slip out of a foreseen future, you become immune to any future blackouts.

Somalia, but yeah, that's an interesting speculation. That would be extremely cool if that turns out to be the case. I suppose it depends upon what ultimately turns out to be the cause of the flash forwards (yes, they've pointed us in the general direction of "It's quantum physics! Look, big smoke stacks!", but I need a bit more of an answer than that -- which, presumably, we'll be given at some point).
Dan said…

Somalia, right. Y'know I could have checked this but I figured people generally don't mind if we mix their countries up and claim they live somewhere they don't. Heck, I know for a fact that New Zealanders love being mistaken for Australians.

Gives them hope, y'see.

On slightly more related matters, was I the only person who, just for a second, thought the old guy at the torture party was the Nazi from the earlier episode?

I was? Okay, then.
Morgan Richter said…
New Zealanders love being mistaken for Australians.

Gives them hope, y'see.

Somewhere, there's a New Zealander reading this blog, raising his fist to the sky and shouting, "LIEBKE!"

Actually, no, there's not. I just checked my stats, and it seems my New Zealand readership is minimal at best (six hits in the past month, from Auckland, Christchurch, and Lower Hutt).

On slightly more related matters, was I the only person who, just for a second, thought the old guy at the torture party was the Nazi from the earlier episode?

Yes. Yes, you were. I was just trying to figure out when we wandered into one of David Lynch's earlier, more narratively coherent movies. Because the old guy would have fit in just fine, especially if he had started talking backwards or something.
Patrick said…
Hi Dan,

Some very good points. I don't think the visions of people will now be altered because of what Al did. What I am trying to get at is that the fundamental premise behind Mosaic (to find out what the world is like on 29 April 2010) is flawed. Remember - apparently Moasic costs loads of money to run. But now we see that the consistent picture which has emerged through Mosaic for what will happen on 29 April is only true in places. Some parts of it will come true, other parts will not, so it is really only offering a possible outline of the future.

I'm not explaining this very well, but I do wonder if the writers really have worked this out in advance or if they are just trying to get from point A to point B without a clear map.

Why in the FF did Al go to London to discuss the Rutherford case? Rutherford was a minor suicide from 5 months previously, hardly meriting a trip to London in April 2010.

Other thoughts. Tracy was attacked by non-Arabs so there seems to be something big happening out there - maybe connected to the FF. The Tracy we saw may be a government double to throw him off the trail (a la Alias), or if it is the real Tracy she might still end up in a cave in 5 months time.

PS. Why did the FBI decide to make Mosaic an open access website? Surely it would have been better to welcome the information in, but not let people read other stuff. Instead they've created a giant Facebook for the future. Facebook should sue.
Dan said…
I understand what you're saying better now, Patrick. And you're right. Despite those enthralling scenes of senate hearings, I'd forgotten about the hullaballoo of the vast expense of Mosaic. One of the logical ramifications of Al's death should certainly be Vice-President Strident demanding its closure. "If it's not showing the future, what's the point of it?"

To which the FBI would logically counterargue that, so far at least, there are only a handful of known anomalies to the Mosaic future and that a 99%+ success rate should validate its continued existence.

Whether or not those scenes will take place remains to be seen.

As for the Rutherford case - well, the fact it triggered a demonstration that the future was alterable probably automatically magnifies its scope. Of course, by that logic, the only reason it's a big enough case to warrant Al's trip to London is because Al's no longer in a position to go to London. Which tickles me paradoxically, but isn't a proper explanation.

I still have no explanation for Tracy other than the (extremely dull) one of her being a symptom of Aaron going crazy.

But I'm not sure the FBI had much choice but to make Mosaic reasonably open. If the US government had a web site that asked me to type in what I saw in the future but offered me nothing in return, I'm rather sure I wouldn't take the time to bother.

I don't want to come across as a blind defender of the writing and plotting of the show. I think there have been some large missteps. But they're at a point now where I can see how they could write themselves into someplace cool. I'm not convinced they will (as I became with Lost), but I'm also not convinced they won't (see Heroes).

As long as it remains a possibility, I'm happy enough to keep watching.

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