FlashForward: Better Angels

It’s kind of depressing to think how, just two weeks ago, I was optimistic about FlashForward’s return and remarking how the show finally seemed to be back on the right path. I’m not optimistic anymore. In fact, between this episode and the last, I’m now resigned to just watching the sand run out of the hourglass.

In Nicole and Bryce news: Nicole decides to go to medical school, and Bryce finally tells her about his cancer. That’s really all that happens with them. Nothing about Nicole’s flash forward of being murdered, nothing further on Bryce’s mystery dream girl from his own future vision. Really, they’re both just in this episode to remind viewers they’re still part of the show, however tangentially. I shall consider myself duly reminded. I shall also offer up my best wishes that, upon the inevitable news of cancellation, Peyton List and Zachary Knighton manage to get themselves cast in projects that give them a better chance to flourish. They’re both likeable and attractive actors, but they haven’t been used to the best of their abilities.

In Mark and Olivia news: Olivia decides they should move out of Los Angeles to escape the dire events of their flash forwards. Being Olivia, she’s already picked out a nice three-bedroom Colonial house for them in Denver. Mark, on the trail of D. Gibbons/Dyson Frost, decides to (finally, finally) grill their daughter Charlie on her “D. Gibbons is a bad man” statement, which is something he should have done about ten episodes ago. I vented about my frustrations with this plot development plenty last week, so now I’m just going to set it aside and move on. With relatively little prodding, Charlie finally describes her flash forward: She saw Lloyd on the couch talking on the phone (to Mark, as we now know) about how D. Gibbons lied to them. Liars are bad; ergo, “D. Gibbons is a bad man.” Charlie also overheard two unidentified men in suits standing at the back door. One of them tells the other, “Mark Benford is dead.” Hence, Charlie’s trauma about this.

…I don’t know. It’s a little weak. I totally get that Charlie would be shell-shocked after hearing news about her dad’s death. No problem there. But we haven’t seen any indication that Charlie’s been worried her dad’s going to die, and the whole “D. Gibbons is a bad man” clue now seems like a giant fake-out. It seems like the idea for Charlie’s flash forward got changed pretty drastically somewhere along the line.

Disguised as a Red Panda humanitarian aid mission, Demetri, Janis, Simon and Vogel (hi, Vogel!) arrive in the Ganwar region of Somalia to investigate the mysterious tower. Gunmen promptly open fire on them from rooftops. Chaos erupts, and it’s all too Black Hawk Down for words. They get captured by a Somali warlord named Adbikalif (Owiso Odera), who murders their translator, their pilot, and their private security guards. Just to prove he’s bad stuff, he also murders a couple of his own henchmen for being insufficiently competent after Demetri et al make a botched escape attempt. He’s bad. Bad, bad, bad.

Abdikalif explains about the five towers: They were built by an unnamed humanitarian group to provide electricity to the region. Abdikalif was away from the village on the day of the 1991 blackouts; he returned to find his mother and everyone else unconscious in the streets. He thought they were dead (he saw a black camel, which is a bad omen), so he ran away. When he returned years later, four of the towers were gone, and the village was empty.

In his own flash forward during the more recent blackouts, Abdikalif saw himself as a great leader, making a speech to a huge crowd about “better angels.” Janis recognizes this as Abraham Lincoln’s inaugural address. She goes online to the Mosaic site and, by searching for “better angels,” finds a number of accounts from people who saw themselves attending Abdikalif’s speech in their own flash forwards: He was addressing the Assembly of the African Union, and he was talking about stopping war in Somalia.

This is enough to convince Janis, Demetri, Vogel and Simon that Abdikalif is a good guy, even though he just murdered their translator and their pilot in front of them for no particular reason.

The whole group investigates the sole remaining tower. We’re reminded that it was inexplicably built in 1991 from Simon’s 1992 design. Weirder still, the technology for the towers still doesn’t exist. So that’s all very curious. They find a chess board in the tower (earlier, Mark discovered that Dyson Frost is a chess fiend) and a VHS tape. They pop it into a handy-dandy VCR and watch Frost interview the villagers, including Abdikalif’s mother, about what they saw during the 1991 blackouts, in which they all witnessed events from two weeks in the future.

Vogel finds a huge room filled with the bullet-riddled skeletons of the villages, who were evidently massacred en masse by Dyson Frost after the experiments were completed. Recognizing Simon from his televised press conference where he and Lloyd took responsibility for the blackouts, Abdikalif decides to kill him in vengeance… but Vogel shoots and kills Abdikalif instead. Ergo, his “better angels” vision will never happen.

Huh. Yes, they’ve established that the flash forwards can be changed. But in regard to Abdikalif’s death, there’s no reason it should have changed. Al Gough deliberately altered his fate to avoid the events he saw in his future by jumping off a building. Fair enough. With this, though, Abdikalif’s future vision of himself as a great leader would have only come to pass if he’d had his encounter with Janis and had seen the skeletons inside the tower (he finds his mother’s beaded necklace, which he’s wearing in the flash forward). So his flash forward was on track at least to that point, and no one in this scene was working actively to prevent it from taking place… so why shouldn’t the rest of his vision play out just as he saw it? There might be an explanation -- maybe we’ll find that Simon was never supposed to be in Somalia, and thus Vogel was never supposed to kill Abdikalif -- but with the way things are getting increasingly sloppier and more ragged, I sort of doubt it. Time will tell.

Later, Janis complains to Demetri that her window for getting pregnant to match up with the timeline in her flash forward is closing. Demetri helpfully offers to impregnate her (which is a theory I floated back in episode two, before learning that Janis is a lesbian). It says something about these two characters that the offer actually seems pretty goofy and casual and sincere, and not skeezy in any way.

Demetri watches some more of the VHS tape from 1991, in which Dyson Frost addresses him directly.

And we get a little bit of Vogel’s flash forward: He saw himself standing at the back patio door at the Benford house, saying “Mark Benford is dead” to someone while little Charlie watches him through the door.

Frustrating. Unsatisfying. Not much fun to watch.

Comments

Elizabeth said…
You're right. The writing is just horribly sloppy on this show.

I can understand the team working with Abdi in investigating the tower, even though he'd just murdered a bunch of their co-workers, because they still had a job to do. But I had real trouble with the writers expecting me to believe that the guy who'd just shot like ten people without blinking could ever turn around and become Mr. Peace Man - and everyone would go along with that to the point of putting him on a stage at a peace conference.

Now if, after getting his vision, Abdi had listened to his own words (in his Flash Forward) and turned away from violence, he might have been in a place where he would have cooperated fully with the team, found the grave and his mother and moved forward from there.

So really, you could make the point that whatever choices Abdi had were made long before the team got to Somlia - which is interesting and would make for an interesting story - but that's not the story they told last night. This is all my conjecture on the story they could have told. Instead they went with violence and shouting and accomplished what exactly?
Patrick said…
Just re-read your post from episode two - well done on predicting the Demetri-Janis hook up. levitatethis was also thinking along those lines.

I have so little faith in the writers I'm not so sure they had it planned though!

So much dialogue in this episode made me cringe. Especially between Bryce and Nicole. That whole thing about the most important part of being a doctor is getting the name right was excruciating. What was his witty name - Goathead or something? It is too painful to to back and check.

The Charlie reveal was a con.

I was one of people who urged Morgan to recap this show. The premise was so good and I thought it would be Lost and Heroes rolled into one. Instead it reminds me of all the worst bits of Heroes condensed into one season, but without most of the good bits!
Patrick said…
I hated the Somalia section. It was completely obvious that most of the team were just there to be killed every so often to make it look like the team was in danger. But, of course, they were not.

And since the warlord was killed that means that the FF of hundreds (thousands) of people has been changed. This should send out ripples changing everyone's future. But of course that won't happen. The Mosaic website is therefore not such a useful asset as all the 'better angels' posts have been invalidated, and so presumably has so much else.
Patrick said…
I suppose my theory about the tower is that Dyson Frost somehow managed to have a FF around 1990 - say to 2020, and there he learned about the technology, the design of the tower, and the importance of Simon. Which is why his group immediately began looking after the young Simon.

Maybe Dyson Frost has been having FFs all his life. It explains why he was able to leave the message for Demetri. He would have known in 1991 about where the investigation would have gone in 2009 if he had a FF to that time.

Bet you anything the rest of the tape will reveal nothing. The dramatic ending was all they were looking for.
Morgan Richter said…
Hi, Elizabeth. Yeah, this was the first episode of FlashForward that I hated, just because the writing was so sloppy, bordering on nonsensical. Heck, it took me into mid-Season Four of stinky old Heroes before I hated that show, and in general I'd say the writing on FF has been far superior to Heroes.

(By the way: Patrick, I don't have any way to get in contact with you other than this, but if you want the totally super-awesome true story about why I stopped recapping Heroes -- and trust me, you do want to hear this story -- email me: me_richter at yahoo dot com. I've filled in most of the regular Heroes commenting crowd already. It borders on unbelievable.)

There was an astute comment from someone a couple episodes back -- he disliked the Ricky Jay scenes because of the over-the-top nature of the bad guys: They cut off Simon's finger and killed his dad and kidnapped his sister! I didn't mind it so much -- I liked that episode -- but I had much the same problem with the Somalia scenes here. After seeing the translator murdered, and the pilot, and the security guy, and a handful of other people, I flat out wasn't going to accept the Somali warlord as a good guy/possible ally. It just didn't work for me.

Patrick, I think you're probably exactly right about how Dyson Frost got the technology to build the towers. And sadly, I think you're also probably right that there will be nothing more to his message to Demetri. In fact, we'll probably start next episode with everyone already safely back in L.A. Sigh.
vallikat said…
I am really at a loss as to why Abdi had to be killed. I agree with Patrick that it invalidates too many peoples FFs now. It's Chaos Theory run amok at this point. Who is to say whether anyone's FF's will come true now?

Sadly, I'm not sure if we're going to know and I'm really starting to feel now that the whole show is a cheat. However, I'm going to keep watching until the bitter end because I want to see it through.

I guess I'm the Mark Benford of TV viewing. :)
Elizabeth said…
If I had any faith that they'd follow up Abdi's death up it might be different, but the writing never really took a good look at what Gough did when that happened...

What if all those people still went to the conference, because that's what they saw in their vision and they don't know that Abdi is dead. Would they just have an empty stage to look at? Are the conference organizers looking for him, or do they just figure he'll show up whenever and not to worry about it?
Morgan Richter said…
Sadly, I'm not sure if we're going to know and I'm really starting to feel now that the whole show is a cheat.

Vallikat, I feel the same way. I hope we're wrong -- it'd be great if it turned out there was a firm plan in place and that most of the bumpy areas will be neatly explained in the next few episodes... but I'm really starting to doubt it. I think they're making stuff up as they go along, or changing their minds (I highly doubt Charlie's flash forward as revealed was what the writers had originally intended back in episode two), and the show is suffering badly as a result.
Morgan Richter said…
What if all those people still went to the conference, because that's what they saw in their vision and they don't know that Abdi is dead. Would they just have an empty stage to look at?

There's so much about the show that has the potential to be really interesting -- what will happen to all those people who saw Abdi in their flash forwards? -- and it doesn't seem like any of it will ever be addressed. It's a shame. At the start of the season, I thought the premise had a lot of promise.

If we make it to the end of the season before ABC yanks it from the schedule for poor ratings, it'll be interesting to see how the day of the flash forwards is handled -- how many of the flash forwards will match up, and how many will be completely invalidated. If for no other reason, I'll stick it out to the end for that, at least.
Anna said…
I shall also offer up my best wishes that, upon the inevitable news of cancellation, Peyton List and Zachary Knighton manage to get themselves cast in projects that give them a better chance to flourish.

Funnily, Zachary Knighton has just been cast in an ABC pilot, "Happy Endings". I guess the cast is getting ready for the very possible cancellation, because the actors who play Janis and Dylan have also taken roles in pilots... and who knows who else has been at least auditioning...

... and good for them, Flash Forward has no future, and does not deserve one.
Morgan Richter said…
Good to hear the actors are getting other work already. This episode hit a series low, ratings-wise. And... it should have. It was a sloppy episode. Whatever the early potential, it's turned into a bad show with terrible ratings, and bad shows shouldn't be renewed.
levitatethis said…
I think my pvr is trying to tell me something. I didn’t realize I hadn’t seen the full episode until I read the recap. I missed everything that happened after they stumbled upon the skeletons. Given my reaction to the parts of the episode I did see, and taking into account the recap and comments here, it’s safe to say I’m firmly in the “just hanging in there until this season is over for the hell of it.”

Patrick – this show does feel like all the bad parts of “Heroes” rolled into one. It started off with such promise and then slowly went downhill with only the occasional bright spot here or there. BTW you totally want to hear Morgan’s story about why she stopped recapping “Heroes”. Email her asap.

Morgan – I’m with you in thinking the version of Charlie’s FF we saw in this episode is not what was originally intended...b/c if it was, then that’s a cheat. What she saw/heard doesn’t connect with her behaviour earlier on in the season. It’s things like this (and some of the retconning of FFs) that gives me this uneasy feeling a la “Heroes”. I can appreciate writers actively reassessing how they move from point A to point B, but when it starts feeling like random shots in the dark I can see what should be carefully sewn patchwork start to pull apart and fray...and as a viewer it’s incredibly frustrating.
Morgan Richter said…
Levitatethis -- Yeah. I know the writers need to give themselves some room to change their minds if an idea doesn't work out or if something better comes along, and there's no sense in being inflexible, but they've been sloppy, and the show is starting to fall apart. Since so much importance was originally placed on Charlie's flash forward ("D. Gibbons is a bad man"), it's inexcusable that it was then ignored for ten or so episodes before being resolved in a way that didn't match up to how it was established. Frustrating.
Patrick said…
Have emailed Morgan - dying to hear the story. The only news from Europe is that Doctor Who returns tonight - and I'm expecting great things from the Moffat-Smith team.

I have this theory about American shows - and I think J.J. Abrams is the biggest culprit here and the many writers he has influenced.

These writers spend much of their time building up to a big 'reveal' at the end of an episode. This is the hook to get people to return the following week (and no different from the old Flash Gordon serials of the past). But when these reveals are written I am pretty sure that the writer has NO IDEA what comes next. Which is why we never learn anything additional the following week.

So an episode will end with: 'It's time I told you everything. It's time you knew the truth'.

But the next episode will begin with a journey they have to go on before the truth can be revealed, and by that stage we learn nothing or something equally enigmatic.

It is writing by numbers. Lost succeeds most of the time in pulling off the trick. FF fails every single time.
Patrick said…
Mark has done no detective work that does not involve following up on something from his FF. I would have preferred if he had been able to demonstrate his skills, rather than merely relying on work he did the first time round, if you see what I mean.

If Mark did go with Olivia to Denver then the whole investigation would collapse into a paradox as Mark would have based everything on things he had seen which he would now never be able to see, and he would have built up his wall on the basis of a FF which has been changed. This should destroy the entire universe and the show could end with a bang. I like this option.

What happens when the next FF takes place? We will see all the characters in danger or doing something intriguing. But so what? We know these things can be changed, so they are nothing more than glimpses of a possible future.
Morgan Richter said…
Sometime during the first couple of seasons of Lost, I drifted away from the show and never returned. So recently I've been going through the entire show on DVD from the beginning. The differences between Lost and FlashForward or Heroes are startling. Yes, Lost loves doing a big dramatic reveal at the end of each episode, but they also follow through. With Lost, I'm feeling pretty confident that the dangling plot threads will indeed be resolved at some point -- and resolved in a pretty satisfactory way. I don't have that sense at all with FlashForward. There was no logical reason to keep Charlie's flash forward a secret for so long, and the revelation was terribly anticlimactic.

If Lost was more like FlashForward, they would've opened the hatch at the end of season one, and then season two would've started with someone explaining that the hatch was filled with sand so they couldn't use it, but they've found a new, bigger hatch on another part of the island that they're going to spend all their time trying to open now. From a storytelling perspective, everything that happens on FlashForward ends up being vaguely unsatisfying.

(As to Lost: On season one, Jesse Alexander was one of the writer/producers. On season two, Jeph Loeb was one of the writer/producers. Loeb and Alexander both moved over to Heroes, where they wrote and produced episodes for the first couple of seasons, and then were both fired at the same time due to bad ratings/budget cuts. Hey, Heroes: Maybe you shouldn't have fired the writers who'd actually written for a show that gets consistently praised for the quality of its writing?)
Dan said…
If Lost was more like FlashForward, they would've opened the hatch at the end of season one, and then season two would've started with someone explaining that the hatch was filled with sand so they couldn't use it, but they've found a new, bigger hatch on another part of the island that they're going to spend all their time trying to open now.

Also, they would have flashed back to John Locke pounding on the hatch and the light that suddenly beamed out of it and 'explained' that the light was just reflected moonlight all along and expected us to be happy with that answer.

Having said that, I didn't despise this episode quite as much as y'all seemed to. Which is damning with the faintest of praise, I know. But there you are. It wasn't good, but, engh. Whatever.

I think the writer's biggest problem now is that they've eroded all faith in them. To continue with the Salute To Lost, if the writers of Lost had pulled all the nonsense of this episode, I would have gone along with it without a second thought. (Okay, maybe a minor second thought, but nothing more). I would have assumed the shooting of Abdi would be paid off at a later point and that the ramifications of all the people seeing him when he obviously wasn't there would be explained... somehow.

Needless to say, I don't believe this at all with the FlashForward writers.

(And, having said that, the Lost writers were able to establish this trust while answering really a rather small percentage of their early mysteries. How? By simply writing awesome stories and coming up with cool twists. If you prove you're a smart storyteller, people will go along for the ride for a very, very long way.)
Morgan Richter said…
I think the writer's biggest problem now is that they've eroded all faith in them.

Yup. Not to spoil anything for you, Dan, but in last night's episode, the writers actually nicely paid off something they set up a few episodes back. In my recap a few weeks ago, I utterly failed to give them any benefit of the doubt that what seemed on the surface to be a dumb and nonsensical plot twist would be paid off. And they actually turned out to be smarter than I gave them credit for. But the problem is, I'm still unwilling to give them much credit, because it feels like they've strung the audience along for almost an entire season with far too little payoff.

Gah. Makes me crabby.

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