FlashForward: Goodbye Yellow Brick Road

Well, what do you know? After a string of stinkers, FlashForward goes and pulls off a pretty decent episode. It’s far too late in the game for it to count towards longevity -- this show is still doomed -- but it raises my hopes they’ll be able to wrap up this season gracefully.

Olivia finds Baltar in her kitchen, doing his finest Howling Mad Murdoch impression. He babbles about how he’s seen her at various events all throughout her life: a Pixies concert, a wedding… He informs her that she made a mistake by marrying Mark instead of Lloyd (yeesh, no kidding. Mark is a dud). For good measure, he howls, “Don’t buy coffee today from the man who looks like Mr. Clean!”

A little freaked out, Olivia drives to work. There’s been a terrible car accident in front of the hospital, and the coffee cart vendor -- who has a bald pate like Mr. Clean -- is lying in a bloody heap. So that’s weird. You know what’s also weird? Nobody on the scene, including trained surgeon Olivia, is doing a damn thing to help the man, who appears to be gravely wounded but still alive. If I were to make a list of all the things wrong with FlashForward, this would rank pretty high: It does not want the viewers to value lives apart from those of our main cluster of characters. Ergo, Marcie can open fire in a conference room full of FBI agents and murder six of them, and we’re never given any indication that Mark and Demetri et al. are disturbed by the slaughter of their friends and coworkers. Ergo, Olivia sees a man dying on the sidewalk, and clearly we’re not meant to think anything deeper about this scene than, “Wow, it’s weird Baltar knew that would happen.”

You know what? Instead of harping any further on all the basic structural errors in FlashForward, I’m just going to post a link to my essay, “Ten Common-Sense Ways to Fix Heroes.” Just substitute “FlashForward” for “Heroes” throughout, and it more or less fits. Both shows make the same fundamental script mistakes, and both shows are dead in the water as a result.

Back at home, Olivia flips through a photo album and notices that, yep, Baltar has indeed been present at key events in her life: There he is in the background of the wedding photos, and there he is hovering behind Olivia at a Pixies concert. Does Olivia seem like the type to have ever gone to a Pixies concert in her life? Really?

(Baltar’s character name is actually Gabriel McDow, but he’s going to be Baltar from here on out. Here’s the thing: I thought James Callis was great on Battlestar Galactica. He deftly pulled off a character who was: a) brilliant, b) insane, c) despicable, and d) sleazy… and he made him pretty darn likeable and even a bit sympathetic. But I’m not feeling him here. Gabriel is composed of a bunch of highly mannered tics and repetitive speech patterns, and thus I’m experiencing the detached sensation of watching an actor play someone who is mentally ill, instead of feeling like I’m genuinely observing someone with mental problems.)

Olivia compares notes with Vreede about Baltar and this Raven River business he keeps yammering about. Vreede, who has been following up on the Raven River lead for Mark, has discovered it was a psychiatric hospital specializing in treating autistics, savants and schizophrenics. It’s been closed since the late 1980s.

Vreede and Olivia explore the abandoned hospital. Once again, it seems odd that Olivia would be involved in Vreede’s investigation this closely, but at least it gets her more closely involved in the plot. Inside the hospital, Baltar pops up and accosts Olivia again. He shows her a room where he claims Dyson Frost did experiments with flash forwards on him and the other patients. They’d put him to sleep, and he’d wake up… elsewhere. Olivia muses that Frost probably used savants in his experiments for their eidetic (photographic) memories. After the experiments were concluded, Baltar claims, the patients were supposed to be killed so they wouldn’t tell anyone what was going on.

Baltar again insists Olivia’s life is going the wrong way: She was supposed to go to Harvard, not UCLA, and she was supposed to be with Lloyd, not stinky old Mark.

In Kandahar, Afghanistan, Aaron drinks tea in a café and tries (poorly) to blend with the locals. He’s approached by a man named Malik, who has been sent by Stan to help him. Hey, it’s Ravi Kapoor, who played Young Chandra Suresh on a couple of fairly execrable episodes of Heroes! Ah, memories. Aaron and Malik head off to look for Khamir Dejan, the man who helped Aaron find Tracy in his flash forward. As they head south into the mountains, their vehicle is surrounded by gunmen, who open fire. Malik gets shot, another group of gunmen move in and start attacking the first group, stuff blows up, and Aaron gets captured by an armed group led by… Khamir Dejan.

Two years ago: Recent Quantico graduate Janis chats with a flirty lady named Lita (Annabeth Gish) in a bar. Lita, who turns out to be a headhunter, makes a shady-sounding offer for Janis to supplement her income while still keeping her FBI gig. Following Lita’s tip, Janis goes to an aquarium and meets her new secret spy contact, Carline, who asks her to pass along super-secret FBI information to her on a regular basis. Janis says okay to this.

Present day: During an FBI briefing, Mark brings up Dyson Frost’s words about how Mark will be saved by the lady he sees every day. He thinks the blueprints and photos they found on Frost might turn out to be important. Smarmy Vogel, who is sulky that Frost got killed by Alda before he could turn himself in to the FBI, puts forth the convincing argument that Frost was crazy and not to be trusted. Saith Mark, “He was always true to his word.” Was he? I mean, Mark knows Frost slaughtered all those Somali villagers after conducting experiments with flash forwards on them. He knows Frost faked his own death and stayed in deep hiding for years. This all kinda points to a long-standing pattern of deceit and betrayal, so I’m not sure why Mark is assuming everything Frost told him is the truth.

Mark is a terrible FBI agent. I’ve probably pointed that out before, but it bears repeating.

Janis gives Mark the scoop on Frost’s photos -- they’re old, taken early in the prior century. Lab analysis discovered traces of soil exclusively found in the Kunar region in Afghanistan on them. That’s mighty specific and convenient.

Janis takes Frost’s blueprints to a professor to analyze. He thinks they show plans for a variation of the Antikythera mechanism: a sophisticated bronze artifact found in Greece and dating from the second century BC, used to calculate solar eclipses.

Janis also brings a copy of the blueprints to Carline. Carline orders her to give her the originals and all existing copies. So Janis breaks into the professor’s office and steals back the copy she left with him. She also sneaks into the FBI building after hours and steals the copy pinned to Mark’s evidence wall. Mark catches her in the act, but she bluffs her way through it well enough.

In pregnancy news, Janis has an ultrasound that shows that her fetus might be endangered by her stressful life and vigorous workload. Perhaps her bullet-scarred uterus might have something to do with that, too. Mark calls mid-ultrasound to order her to come over to his office right away.

The professor who was analyzing the blueprints is in Mark’s office. He’d managed to take photos of the blueprints before Janis swiped them from him; from his photos, he’s concluded that the device shown on them is a mechanical clock designed to calculate dates. The first date is October 6, 2009 -- the day of the blackouts.

On the day of the blackouts: Janis passes out while retrieving information for Mark and Demetri, who are hot on the trail of Alda Herzog. She has her flash forward of being pregnant. When she wakes up, she heads to the ladies’ room to have herself a good puking/sobbing session. Knowing the information she’s been providing to the shadowy organization was somehow responsible for the blackouts, she confronts Carline at the aquarium and insists she wants out of their arrangement. They have the obligatory I-want-out/you’re-in-too-deep scene, and Janis flounces out in a huff.

Present day: Mark asks Janis what her deal is -- she’s been distracted and sort of incompetent lately. She tells him about her pregnancy. All this sort of clumsily leads into a discussion of Dyson Frost and the whole “saved by the lady you see every day” business, whereupon Mark smashes open the chess Queen on his evidence board that he found during the raid on Frost’s hideout in Pigeon, Utah, and finds one of the blackout-shielding rings hidden inside it.

Mark shows the ring to Stan, Lloyd and Simon. Neglecting to divulge his own close and personal experience with the effects of such a ring, Simon identifies it as a Quantum Entangling Device (QED) and explains that it can anchor the wearer’s consciousness to the present during a flash forward. Mark thinks the armed men in his flash forward might’ve been coming to steal the ring, not to kill him.

Two years before the blackout: Quantico graduate Janis meets with Vogel in a coffee shop. He tells her the CIA has pegged her as a likely candidate for recruitment by hostile forces. He reassures her, rather nicely, that he knows she’ll remain loyal to the FBI. Nonetheless, he wants her to allow herself to be recruited and to act as a double agent.

Once again: I’m glad they’re making Vogel a more important part of things. He’s a good character, and he adds a refreshing dose of smarm to this show. But: The CIA and the FBI are still two separate and unrelated organizations, and it’s still unclear why a Company man has so much pull over FBI employees. I do like this business of Janis turning out to be a double agent (triple agent, really: she’s a Fed who’s secretly working for a shadowy evil organization and secretly working for the CIA); it seems much more in character for her than just having her turn out to be working for the bad guys.

Janis tells Carline about the discovery of the ring. Carline, naturally, orders Janis to steal it from Mark and give it to her. She also orders Janis to kill Mark.

Okay. Better. This show still has huge problems, and it’s still doomed, but there were actually some interesting ideas floated in this episode. Here’s hoping it all manages to build to a decently satisfying conclusion.

Comments

vallikat said…
Again commenting before watching, but a thought ocurred to me.

Perhaps Dylan is the key to this whole thing.

I'm not quite sure what that means exactly in the case of Flashforward because the whole plot has been such a mess that I really can't get my mind around it. However...

Homeless man was a savant.

Baltar I'm guessing by the autism-like symptoms (not wanting to be touched and repetitive speach patterns)is also a savant.

Perhaps Dylan is a savant as well? I'm not sure if that has been specifically stated and I know the 2 don't always go hand in hand. However, it seems to me likely that Dylan is a savant.

I'm guessing the same can be said of one Mr. Frost.

So I'm forced to wonder if Dylan doesn't know more than he has said simply because no one has questioned him.

I'm not really quite sure where I'm going with this and what Dylan might know or how he might know it. But something tells me there will be a connection.
Morgan Richter said…
Vallikat, you're right -- it seems like too big a coincidence to have Dylan be autistic and to have all the flash forwards somehow hinge around experiments conducted upon people with autism. That's not saying it won't turn out to be a coincidence, but there should be some connection.

Anyway, I know you haven't seen the episode yet, but I appreciate that finally Olivia is somehow relevant to the plot (in some as-yet unspecified way) above and beyond her marital problems with Mark. Maybe Dylan will turn out to be somehow important, too.
Patrick said…
Agree with Morgan that this was one of the better episodes. Enjoyed watching it. Some faults as Morgan has said - I especially hated what Morgan rightly describes as the obligatory 'I want out' conversation. Too much of a cliche and everyone knows how that conversation goes.

I also agree with vallikat that Dylan is v. important. That occured to me as well. But I'll take it one step further. How much do we know about Dylan's mother? She may not be dead and she may yet return in a significant way, as some kind of villain.

All my predictions so far have been wrong though...

Sending this on a train to Belfast. Hurrah for technology.
vallikat said…
I think I'm going to have to watch tonight. Maybe, just maybe, they're going to pull off a decent ending for this thing.
vallikat said…
You may be on to something there with the mom, Patrick.

If I recall from the beginning, Lloyd hadn't been involved in Dylan's life for a good while prior to the blackout. So it could be if Dylan was involved in FF experiments that Lloyd was not aware of it. However, perhaps his mother was in on it. She may yet be alive and be a "bad guy". Hmm...
Morgan Richter said…
How much do we know about Dylan's mother? She may not be dead and she may yet return in a significant way, as some kind of villain.

Could be. Hadn't thought of that. Could be sort of interesting...

Maybe, just maybe, they're going to pull off a decent ending for this thing.

I hope they do. The surges and dips in quality have been frustrating, and I wonder what's been going on behind the scenes to cause them. The past few episodes have seemed haphazard and careless, and then this episode, while flawed, had some definite thought behind it. It even paid off some of the weaker setups, like the abrupt revelation a few episodes back that Janis was the mole. (If this Janis-heavy episode had come immediately after that one, it might have made for a smoother transition. As it is, we got the big, clunky Janis revelation, and then nothing further about her for a few weeks.)
Patrick said…
I liked the way the CIA guy expressed the feelings of the audience at the start. His anger about how implausible it was that Frost should be found at last only to be killed by someone who had just escaped their custody made me think that it was one of the writers expressing his frustration.

Accepting that Frost was insane, just how clever was he really?

He knew that there was a 78% chance he would be killed on March 15 as that was how it normally played out. So he played a chess game in the early 1990s so he could send a telephone number through to Mark Benford in 2009-10, he then recorded a video for Demetri around the same time, but he was foolish enough to meet Mark in a wide open space and then get all surprised when he discovers that Mark had been followed. Surely he should know even more than Morgan just how bad an FBI agent Mark is. And surely Mark should have been a bit more suspicious of Janis given that she was stealing evidence from the Mosaic wall dressed in some kind of all-black special forces outfit. She never dresses like that!
Morgan Richter said…
I'm hoping we'll later discover that Mark is on to Janis. Because, yeah, he caught her in his office in the middle of the night, dressed like a ninja, taking the blueprint from the wall. And then the next day he hears that the professor's copy of the blueprint mysteriously vanished following a power outage at his office. Granted, it is well established that Mark does not investigate/may not be capable of investigating any piece of evidence that he didn't see in his flash forward, but he's got to know something's up with Janis. I hope.

As to Dyson Frost... here's where the carelessness of the writing on this show really came through. They wanted to establish him as a fiendishly clever if insane genius, but they didn't want to go to the effort to think of fiendishly clever ways to do this. Thus, we got a bunch of nonsense like the chess games and the taped message to Demetri, all of which were more gimmicky than clever, and all of which ultimately hurt the characterization of Frost more than they helped it.
vallikat said…
Alright, I've watched it now.

First comment:

Mark Benford is quite possibly the worst agent in the history of the FBI.

Janis isn't just distracted. She hasn't just lost her edge. She lied to you Mark! Lied!! To your face! About something really important!! And you're going to just let that go because she's pregnant?????

Wow. Just, wow.

Now that I've gotten that off my chest, I really hope that Mark is just playing along and that he's really on to her. Otherwise he deserves to be killed.

Ok, now, I saw other issues with this episode as well. The abandoned hospital for one. Controversy or not. Really bad, bad guys conducting experiments or not. When a hospital gets shut down they down just board it up and walk away. I can guarantee though, if they did, every single inch of that place would have been picked clean by looters long ago. However, considering that things actually happened in this episode, I can give that a pass.

I'm also willing to give a pass to no one noticing the new little electrical device plugged into the outlet at the professor's office. And...maybe it is just coincidence that the doctor has a reference to an Antikythera mechanism a keystroke away on his computer. No problem.

Because outside of those things and maybe a few other things here or there (more bad dialog. I don't play chess and even I didn't have to be told when Mark took the queen down from his board that the queen is called "the lady"), we had a largely very good episode.

I'm glad that we got to see more of Janis' story and that she's a double agent. I'm glad Vogel is in on it. It gives me something to work with in so far as some explanation for why a CIA agent is allowed to work so closely with the FBI (clearly higher powers at the CIA knew something of extreme magnitude was going to happen).

I also have a theory that Janis ultimately saves Mark. As we know, in his FlashForward Vogel is saying that Mark is dead. I think that's false info (maybe given him by Janis) so that her handlers will think she's killed Mark. When in all actuality she saves him.

We'll see. What we know is that Mark sees people supposedly coming to kill him in his FF, but he doesn't see himself getting killed. So when Vogel gets his message that Mark is dead, clearly that call was meant as misdirection.

As to Aaron I was sorry to see him drinking again. However, I can appreciate that this is probably necessary under the circumstances. Since the timeframe of the show jumped from November to March a couple weeks ago, I can't recall if Aaron embarked on this journey a few months ago or a few weeks ago. However, at least he's making some clear progress towards finding his daughter. I was afraid that he, she, and Jericho (and their connection to any of this), were going to be left by the wayside. As a subplot though I really hope that this one makes sense and connects to the rest of the story in the end.

So for the first time in a long time I'm looking forward to the next episode. Call me cautiously optimistic. :)
Morgan Richter said…
I think my opinion of Mark's investigative prowess is so negative that it's actually wrapped around the other side, and I'm actually starting to enjoy watching him. His scenes with Janis were pretty jaw-dropping ("You're pregnant? Well, hey, I guess that explains everything!") I sure hope it turns out he at least has some suspicions about what's going on with her.

And I bet you're right -- I bet somehow Janis and Mark fake Mark's death, which is what Charlie sees Vogel talking about in her flash forward. That would make a lot of sense.

I wish the last cluster of three or so episodes had been at least up to this level of quality -- this one sure had its problems, but it was mostly enjoyable, and it held my interest. I'd be feeling a lot more optimistic about the remaining three? four? episodes in the season.
Dan said…
About two months behind now, but I just watched this last night. I was expecting to come here and be a lone voice claiming that I quite enjoyed this particular episode. But nope. Although, I take it from further correspondence that it doesn't maintain this standard to the end.

Still, Janis isn't just distracted. She hasn't just lost her edge. She lied to you Mark! Lied!! To your face! About something really important!! And you're going to just let that go because she's pregnant?????

Of course he is. Men have no idea what goes through pregnant women's minds. For all we know dressing up as a ninja and stealing blueprints is as healthy and normal a part of pregnancy as craving pickles.
Dan said…
Oh, also? Why is Baltar doing an Evil Bert impression?
Morgan Richter said…
Why is Baltar doing an Evil Bert impression?

Aha! You're right! That's exactly what he's doing.

I'm adding "misused Baltar" to my list of FlashForward's sins. It's kind of a lengthy list. On the plus side, Pregnant Ninja Janis is not on that list.

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