FlashForward: Queen Sacrifice

Well, ugh. This makes three Flash Forward episodes in a row I’ve sort of hated. My inclination is to take a three-strikes-it’s-out approach -- I don’t like squandering my time on TV shows that are tedious to watch and aren’t likely to improve. But we’re getting close to the end of the season -- which, barring a miracle, will also be the end of the series -- and I’ve invested enough energy that I’d prefer to see it through to the end.

I’ll start with the plotline I liked the most, which, oddly, was Keiko and Bryce. It still seems like an unnecessary diversion from the main plot, seeing as it has nothing at all to do with the causes of the blackouts or with any of the other FBI-related intrigue going on, but it worked this week, sort of, mainly because Yuko Takeuchi, who plays Keiko, is lovely and charming and fun to watch.

Keiko is still in Los Angeles. She spends her days (and nights) hanging out in the sushi restaurant she saw in her flash forward, hoping to meet Bryce. While out wandering around the city, she encounters a man named Emil. With her crackerjack mechanical skills (it’s been months and months since we last saw Keiko, but remember how she was a mechanical engineer in Tokyo?), she effortlessly helps him fix his car.

Emil, by the way, made a fleeting appearance waaaay back in Episode Six (he was a passenger on the bus when Dylan escaped from the hospital on Halloween). Why do I remember this? Because the actor who plays Emil, Vinicius Machado, is… well, he’s certainly not Orlando Bloom’s doppelganger, but he’s got a distinctly Bloomesque quality to him -- so much so that, since his first appearance on the show, I’ve had literally hundreds and possibly thousands of visitors who’ve found this site after Googling the specific phrase “Orlando Bloom Flash Forward.” I suspect the tremendous response to his brief appearance got back to ABC as well, which probably explains his return in this episode. Well, good. He and Keiko are cute and fun together, and did I mention he sort of looks like Orlando Bloom?

Anyway, Emil gives Keiko an off-the-books job working in his repair shop. They also start hanging out at the sushi restaurant, drinking vast amounts of sake and flirting and being adorable together. Bryce and Nicole, having a night on the town in between Bryce’s chemotherapy sessions, show up at the restaurant while Emil and Keiko are inside, but Bryce impulsively kisses Nicole outside the door, which derails their evening plans. Thus, Bryce and Keiko never see each other.

And then Immigration agents raid Emil’s garage and haul Emil and Keiko off in chains. Which is sort of a sucky end to this cute, cheerful plotline.

In the dumb main plot: Wanting to protect Olivia and Charlie from possible harm, Mark moves out of his home. Olivia and Charlie get tailed by a man who may or may not have been sent by Mark to protect them, and Lloyd and Olivia talk about the formula written on the bedroom mirror in lipstick in their flash forwards. Lloyd realizes it’s a formula for neutralizing the effects of the blackouts.

Demetri watches the VHS tape D. Gibbons/Dyson Frost (Michael Massee) left for him back in 1991. Frost tells him he’s had hundreds of flash forwards: In all of them, he sees himself die on March 15th, just like Demetri. Well, if it’s good enough for Julius Caesar…

Remembering that Dyson Frost was a Grandmaster, Mark looks through his chess club records. He discovers Dyson played several matches against a man in San Francisco named Ian McKinnon. By examining their games, Mark discovers Dyson sent out messages in Morse code based upon how many seconds he took to make each chess move. The code for each game spells out a phone number for a pre-paid cell phone. Mark calls the number and leaves a message for Dyson, explaining that he wants to meet with him.

Yes. You’re right. This Morse code/chess move business is far-fetched and silly.

Mark and Demetri go to San Francisco to talk to McKinnon and find he’s been murdered. They figure this was the work of the still-unidentified mole in their department. So the rest of the episode concerns Mark and Vogel conducting an intensive search for the mole. All the agents get corralled into a conference room, Vogel sings “Sunshine of My Life,” and they find a bug in Mark’s office.

Suspicion falls on some totally random agent named Marcie. Janis has been secretly keeping tabs on Marcie, who has received large anonymous sums of money deposited into her bank account. Vogel and Mark examine surveillance footage of Marcie and discover she’s been sending messages to an unnamed contact by, um, putting sugar in her coffee during her coffee break. Which is lamer: Morse code through chess moves or secret messages through sugar packets? Discuss.

Realizing she’s been found out, Marcie opens fire in the conference room and shoots about eight agents, including Special Agent Seth MacFarlane, a new transfer from the FBI’s Comic Relief division.

Marcie scampers out of the building and hops on the back of a passing speeding motorcycle, which has been luckily waiting outside for just such an eventuality. Janis shoots the hell out of the motorcyclist, then beats up Marcie. Marcie is hauled into custody, Stan makes some tortured metaphor about chess, everyone’s happy they caught the mole, and nobody seems at all concerned about the eight or so federal agents lying dead in the conference room.

Dyson Frost calls Mark and tells him he’s looking forward to meeting him.

And here’s the kicker: After work, Simon tries to schmooze with Janis, who informs him that she knows he deliberately killed his Uncle Teddy under the guise of delivering CPR. She figures he did it to send a message to Teddy’s handlers. Message received, she tells him.

So Janis is the real mole. Interesting. On the surface, it’s not a bad plot twist. It’s certainly more effective to have the mole turn out to be a character we’ve followed from the start than some random person like Marcie, so why not Janis?

Problem is, it doesn’t work from a story perspective. From the pilot, Janis’s attempts to get pregnant have been the primary focus of her character. I haven’t been thrilled with that, but that’s what we were given. Now that we know Janis is a villain, personally responsible for numerous deaths -- millions of deaths, in fact, if it turns out she was involved in this scheme prior to the blackouts -- how interested are viewers going to be in her attempts to get pregnant? So we’ve spent the entire season invested in a plotline which will now have zero payoff. It’s sloppy.

Here’s my guess: I don’t think Janis was intended to be the mole from the start. (It’s curious that this episode barely touches at all on Agent Vreede, who drew the most suspicion early on and then kind of dropped out of the picture -- it still seems bizarre that he claims to have seen himself in the FBI building during his flash forward, yet was unaware of Mark getting attacked by armed gunmen.) I think this was a late development, probably decided upon during the extended break for retooling. Like an increasing number of plot developments, it seems… kind of dumb, and a little nonsensical.

It’s a shame. This started out as a pretty good show, but it’s gone off the rails.

Comments

levitatethis said…
It’s funny…at one of the other sites people seemed thrilled with this episode and I wasn’t sure if it was just me that has been increasingly underwhelmed. Then I read your recap and knew I wasn’t alone.



Keiko and Bryce were also my favourite parts of last night’s episode, particularly Keiko/Emil. I’ve decided I want these two to run off together. The actors have a nice chemistry which makes their interactions believable and holds my attention…much more than a lot of other things on this show. Going by Vinicius’ imdb profile, I think I know him from “Sleeper Cell”…Nice memory for him being on the bus. And I love the idea of people searching for him as Orlando Bloom!



The whole chess moves/Morse code/sugar packet thing felt like some attempt at being covert but hitting “bad fanfic” instead.



I liked the Janis/Marcie fight but finding out Janis was the real mole? Would have been fine if the whole season hadn’t felt like it was about her wanting to get pregnant. This feels tacked on and I get why it was done, but it doesn’t necessarily work at this moment. Retconning within one season is leaving a bad taste in my mouth and at this point I’m only hanging in there because I’ve invested time in this show and there likely will not be another season. Still, this show should have been a whole lot better than what it turned out to be.
Morgan Richter said…
The ratings were up a bit this week, though still not enough to get it renewed. Yeah, I've seen some positive reviews of this episode online today. I'm glad other people enjoyed it, but for me, I'm just over this show.

Emil and Keiko were great together. I would have been satisfied if their plotline had been wrapped up in this episode, with Keiko realizing it doesn't matter if she never meets Bryce.

It's weird. I can see places where, post-break, the producers backtracked or switched course on some plot ideas. In some places it's fine -- for example, I doubt there was any plan to involve Emil in Keiko's plotline when he first appeared in the Halloween episode, but it turned out to be a good call. Same with Michael Ealy as Vogel: I suspect he was just supposed to show up in that one Hong Kong episode as an enigmatic CIA agent (the Felix Leiter to Mark's Bond, perhaps) and then never be seen again, but the character got a good response, so they brought him back and made him much more integral to the plot (he's even in little Charlie's flash forward, for crying out loud). It does raise the question, though: Why was a CIA agent running the FBI's investigation of their mole? I know they establed an inter-agency task force to investigate the blackouts, but his involvement still seems improbable.

As to Janis... I refuse to believe the producers knew she was a mole in the first half of the season, just because it invalidates her whole pregnancy plotline. It's bad storytelling. I bet the mole was originally supposed to be Agent Vreede, who's been increasingly marginalized ever since the show came back from its break (I think this was the first post-break episode he's even appeared in).

I don't think anyone involved with this show plays much chess. The whole "Morse code based on the number of seconds it takes per chess move" business made me cringe, as did the tortured queen's-sacrifice metaphor.
Dan said…
I believe we're finally getting new eps of FlashForward this week. I take it from the opening paragraphs of the last three eps that, no matter how much I enjoy the return episode, I should not get too carried away.
Morgan Richter said…
Dan, it's... well, it's not good. I know I got my hopes raised by the double-length episode after the break, which was fast-paced and interesting and (mostly) logical and cohesive... and the three episodes since then have been a mess. Seven episodes left -- I don't think it'll be able to recover from the tailspin.
vallikat said…
I didn't hate this episode as much as I expected. So that's a good thing. It may be in part because I kind of liked this one thing that you didn't:

"Yes. You’re right. This Morse code/chess move business is far-fetched and silly."

Under ordinary circumstances I would agree with you. However, one of my other current interests is a game currently under development called The Secret World. The game developer, Funcom, has chosen in part to market this game via puzzles. The chess move/morse code stuff reminded me a lot of that. In fact I had to wonder if someone on the writing staff isn't a follower of TSW as well.

Anyway possible shout-outs to gaming aside (and no I don't play World of Fantasy Ferries or whatever nonsense that agent dude copped to) I did kind of like the rest of the episode as well. While I will agree that the whole sugar in her coffee thing was one of the most lame plot devices I've ever seen, it was almost forgivable to me. I really just want things to progress at this point and try to make it through to the end before ABC pulls the plug. So if they have to cut corners with sugar (and even morse code) I'm willing to allow that.

My favorite parts were also of Keiko and Emil. I feel that this is a couple that has chemistry in spades and I really wanted to see more of them. I suppose I would be hurt for Bryce, but I think he'd be just fine with Nicole.

I don't believe for one second that Mark sent that guy to protect Olivia and Charlie. If he had, she wouldn't have had to leave him a message. The fact that he's not going to find out about it until later makes it clear to me that this guy is full of it. I'm sure Mark will be there at the last second to save the day.

I was intrigued by the idea of making Janis the mole. I actually think she makes a more convincing mole than she does a lesbian. Being a mole doesn't make her any less human. Maybe she simply wasn't prepared for what she saw in her flashforward and seeing herself pregnant gave her a new perspective. Not enough to blow her cover, of course. I mean the guys she works for are some pretty bad baddies. However, that doesn't mean that it might not have affected her on a personal level.

I am curious now to see what happens between her and Simon.

BTW have the writers forgotten about Aaron going off the deep end? Are we supposed to just forget about this?
Morgan Richter said…
My problem with the Morse code/chess move idea is that it's something that could potentially be fun and clever, but the way it was explained made no sense.

First up: Why did Mark call Ian McKinnon to ask him about Dyson Frost? Because Frost, a chess grandmaster, beat McKinnon in a tournament in 1987, which led to Frost being ranked third in their chess club. Okay. He's a grandmaster. This means he played in a lot of tournaments and won a lot of games to earn that ranking -- why on earth is Mark zooming in on one chess club tournament in 1987?

Second: In the tournament, Frost played three games of exactly fifty moves apiece, in which each move took exactly either two or four seconds, which Mark figures is Morse code: two-second moves equal dots, four-second moves equal dashes. So at the very most, Frost is using less than three and a half minutes of his allowed playing time on his chess clock per game (unless it's blitz chess, usually one to three hours are allowed per player), and yet he also managed to send messages in Morse code at the same time.

I've rewatched the scene where Mark and Demetri discuss this about eight times by now, and it's just a confusing mess. They establish that Dyson defeated McKinnon by sacrificing his queen, but Mark also says Dyson resigned those three games after fifty moves each. So... were those games not against McKinnon, and if not, why did Mark focus in on them? If they were against McKinnon, and Dyson managed to lose three games to him and still win the tournament, that means they played at least... seven games against each other in a single tournament? McKinnon was apparently in on it somehow, seeing as how he got murdered immediately after Mark called him, but how? From everything we see in this episode, he's just some guy Frost defeated in a chess tournament 23 years ago.

My problem with Janis as the mole isn't that it makes her less human, it's that everything we've learned about her character up to this point is now dwarfed by this new revelation. After fifteen episodes where the aspect of Janis's story that has received the most buildup is her future pregnancy (she thinks it's ridiculous she'll be pregnant in the future, then she gets shot in the uterus and finds she can't get pregnant, then she decides she wants to get pregnant), now we've discovered this huge revelation that has absolutely nothing to do with her character arc to this point. I'm sure they'll resolve it some way -- she'll either get pregnant or she won't -- but now that she's been revealed as the mole, that's obviously going to get the thrust of the attention. It's jarring. It'd be like if Mark suddenly decided he didn't want to be an FBI agent anymore and spent the remaining seven episodes of the season working at Starbucks. It's not the story arc we've been following for Mark, and thus it would seem like a cheat. Which is what the Janis revelation seems like to me.
vallikat said…
I guess I don't know enough about chess (i.e., next to nothing) to have known how far fetched that really was. I just assumed that Mark had spent a whole lot of time looking into this before sharing it with Demetri. But as soon as he said about the 2-4-2 thing I knew it was going to be a code and since it was that simple morse code seemed the obvious conclusion. Since Mark already seemed to have this all worked out when Dem walked in, I just figured he'd been working on it and Dem just happened to have the fortuitous timing of walking in just as he was putting the final bit of the puzzle together.

I think I've already accepted the fact that a lot of what we're seeing since the break is a deviation from what we were shown before it. I'm not happy or even satisfied with that. I do feel cheated by it. Yet I'm willing to just accept it and move on because I know that we're watching the final episodes for this show (which, BTW, is the exact same mindset that is getting me through '24').

It's like when I read a book that starts off good and then starts getting boring towards the middle. I will keep on reading it, seeing it through to the end, because I keep telling myself that it just has to get better. That's my mindset now with FlashForward.
vallikat said…
BTW - an off topic comment:

I found this blog when I had a question about the FF timeline and I wanted to see if there was a forum out there or some place where people were discussing it. I have to say that I really enjoy your writing style, Morgan and the way you interact with your readers.

I don't watch very much TV, so I think I will miss your blog when FF finally comes to an end. However, I will keep an eye on it to see if something else comes along that catches my interest. :)
Morgan Richter said…
I think there's kind of a cool idea floating in there somewhere with sending Morse code messages through chess moves, and they laid enough groundwork that D. Gibbons/Dyson Frost is super-smart, so they could have pulled it off with a little more care... but it ended up kind of botched. Still, it was better than Marcie sending secret messages through adding sugar to her coffee.

I had such high hopes for this show in those first few episodes. I'm probably a little harsher on it now than I need to be, just because of the disappointment factor.

Thanks for your nice words, Vallikat. I like discussing the episodes with people more than I like recapping them, so I've been very lucky that this site has drawn a bunch of smart, insightful, funny people who have been willing to add their thoughts. I'm glad to have you on board.
Patrick said…
Hi guys! Sending a message through the chess game was hilarious. It means that Dyson decided that the best way of contacting Mark was to send a message from about twenty years in the past, assuming that Mark would study that exact game - realise there was a code - and then call the number. It also meant that Dyson had to ensure he actually secured a phone with that number in the future.

Alternatively he could have just said the number in the video in Somalia, or he could have just called Mark himself. But why do anything that easy!

Given that Dyson has had hundreds of FF - and the same thing doesn't always happen - then how could he have been so sure that Demetri would have found the tape?

If Janis was the key mole why did the bad guys shoot her? Some joined-up thinking is needed in bad guy HQ.

Some ridiculous plotting!
Patrick said…
You'd have to feel sorry for Janis. She wants a baby because she saw it in her FF. However the big obstacle is the damage done to her system when she was shot by her own side!

It's hard enough holding down one job - but she wants to be a single mother, work for the FBI, and keep her secret job with the bad guys. Fair play to her, I'm not trying to judgmental, but maybe the bad guys won't be as generous about maternity leave. And maybe they'll be a bit upset that she's off having baby scans on April 29 even though that's the date everyone knows important stuff is going to happen. No wonder they shot her!
Morgan Richter said…
Patrick, I can't remember -- did they ever figure it out for certain that Janis getting shot had something to do about the flash forwards? My memory is really hazy on all of the events around there, but I remember she got shot because Mark(?) called her and asked her to do a (still-unspecified, I think) favor for him while he was in DC with Stan and Demetri and Vreede, running afoul of President Dave.

(I'm reading my recap of that episode right now. So much of this seems wholly unfamiliar... Maya gave Janis a whimsical moving alarm clock? What? Okay, so apparently one of Janis's attackers was affiliated with the Blue Hand Gang... did anything ever come of that plotline? I mean, they went to some lame kinky club and arrested Leoben from Battlestar Galactica, but did they ever link it back to the blackouts?)

So I guess it's possible Janis got riddled with bullets by nonspecific evildoers unrelated to whichever nonspecific evildoers she's currently working for, right? I don't know. This show confuses me, but not in a good way.
Dan said…
Which is lamer: Morse code through chess moves or secret messages through sugar packets? Discuss.

Getting busted by immigration on the second day of your illegal job. Bad luck, Keiko.

I dunno. Bryce and Keiko bore me to tears, so I kinda hated their subplot. I just fail to see the point of it.

Double Agent Sugarpacket sure cut a swathe through the other agents, didn't she? It's a good thing Janis knows how to aim a gun because nobody else seemed to have a clue. Maybe only double agents get trained on how to shoot people in the FlashForward FBI.

Favourite part of the episode? The FBI dude confessing to his RPG sins. Actually made me mildly LOL.

Honourable mention: the smooth, silky sounds of Agent Vogel.

how interested are viewers going to be in her attempts to get pregnant

Fortunately, I was never interested in this in the first place.

But I do see your point.

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