FlashForward: The Negotiation

Repeat as necessary:

Just two more episodes. Just two more episodes. Just two more episodes.

Dead show walking, folks: Per unofficial reports, FlashForward has been canceled, to the surprise of precisely no one. Considering the joyless and charmless muddle into which this once-promising show devolved, the news is a relief.

It’s April 28th, the day before the events revealed in the flash forwards are supposed to take place. New footage of Suspect Zero -- Simon -- wandering around awake and aware during the blackouts at the Detroit Oxide Stadium is leaked to a local news channel, which has Stan and the rest of the FBI gang spitting tacks. Figuratively, of course. The footage was anonymously delivered to the station via messenger; Demetri tries to track down the source, but he’s distracted by Zoey, who wants him to drop everything and take off with her to Hawaii so he’ll be safely out of the city on April 29th.

In other Demetri news, he’s decided he wants to be a part of Janis’s baby’s life. Janis thinks this is a perfectly awful idea.

In Afghanistan, Aaron and Khamir spy on the Jericho base. Aaron sends photographs to Stan, who warns him not to try to rescue Tracy without help. Aaron ignores Stan. He and Khamir ambush the base and rescue a badly-injured Tracy. Aaron, by the way, shoots a whole bunch of people with an assault rifle in the process. Remember the early days when Aaron was just a mild-mannered electrician/recovering alcoholic? And then he sort of magically transformed into a ruthless one-man Black Ops squad? There’s an interesting and evocative idea about a father who’d venture into hell to save his damaged daughter buried somewhere in Aaron’s quagmire of a plotline, but, like pretty much every other story on this show, it’s been botched and diluted. Aaron’s adventure in Afghanistan to save her, which should be a stirring climax, seems slipshod and improbable.

Stan looks over Aaron’s photos of Jericho, then gives President Peter Coyote a call. They have a conversation laden with menace and double meaning. When President Coyote hangs up on him, Stan calls his arch-nemesis, Vice President Clemente. Stan and his shady Washington ties is another interesting plotline that sputtered out early.

While pretending to be an American, an incognito Simon is approached in a bar by Lita, the woman who recruited Janis to the dark side. Here, Dominic Monaghan gets to test-drive an American accent, and all I can say is, join the club: Joseph Fiennes, Sonya Walger, Brian F. O’Byrne and James Callis are all charter members of FlashForward’s Fake American Accent group.

Anyway, Simon and Lita go back to a seamy motel and roll around in bed together. They’re interrupted by the arrival of the main bad guy… who turns out to be that random blond guy, Hellinger, who made sporadic and non-vital appearances in a couple of earlier episodes. Really? Him? Anyway, Hellinger wants Simon to work for him again, as Simon is the only person who can properly calibrate the particle accelerator and thus plunge the world into chaos once more. I’m sad to report that the nice actress from Mystic Pizza and Shag is forced to spend this scene parading around in Simon’s fedora, a leather jacket, and no pants. Sorry, Annabeth Gish.

At the FBI office, Baltar rearranges Mark’s stupid evidence wall to fit the visions in his own flash forwards. Baltar claims he’s been in Mark’s office before, with Dyson Frost, examining the wall. Baltar shows Mark and Olivia a sketch he made of Hellinger, whom he identifies as the big boss. It also turns out that both Nhadra, the mysterious woman in Hong Kong, and the homeless man Dyson Frost murdered at the shelter were test subjects at Raven River. When Demetri walks in, Baltar freaks out, because in all the thousands of possible futures he’s seen, Demetri is supposed to be dead.

Janis meets with Vogel in a bar and tells him the bad guys have ordered her to kill Mark. Vogel advises her to play along with them. Vogel doesn’t seem overly concerned whether Mark lives or dies. Vogel and I share this in common. I wish this show had been all about Vogel instead of about Mark. So Janis meets her contact, Carline, in a Laundromat and tells her she’ll kill Mark in good time. She also tells her that Baltar is in the clutches of the FBI. He’s being moved to a safe house; Janis promises she’ll tip off the bad guys to the location.

And there’s some long, glum scene where Demetri frets to Mark that the universe is trying to kill him and Mark displays his customary monstrous indifference. Do these two even like each other?

Sidebar: I’m always far more likely to assign credit or blame to writers instead of actors, because gauging the quality of acting is a far, far more subjective process than gauging the quality of writing. It still boils down to a matter of opinion, of course, but there’s plenty of specific criteria separating good writing from bad: Are the characters consistent? Does the plot proceed in a logical fashion? Do the characters have clear, identifiable goals and do they move toward those goals? It’s much more difficult to pinpoint whether an actor is effective in his or her role, and opinions are much more likely to vary. For my own purposes, I use two separate and highly subjective criteria: Is the actor believable as his or her character, and does his or her performance evoke an appropriate emotional response in me? Joseph Fiennes -- who has done plenty of good work in other projects -- is believable enough as a straight-laced FBI agent, but he’s less successful at the second half of my criteria. From the start, I’ve found Mark relentlessly unsympathetic and unlikable. I’m not convinced that’s the reaction I’m supposed to have.

(If the scripts consistently portrayed Mark as flat and dour, is there anything Fiennes could have done to give the character more layers? Damned if I know. This is why I'm not an actor, and this is why, even in a case like this, I'm far more likely to point fingers at the writing staff.)

As Vreede and Demetri drive Baltar to the safehouse, their van is ambushed by armed men, who’ve been tipped off by Janis. There’s a huge gunfight. The armed men raid the van… and discover that Baltar is actually Mark in disguise. Mark forces the gunmen to take him to Hellinger’s lair, which turns out to be a big, roomy building with white walls and lots of empty space. Upon the arrival of the FBI, Hellinger runs through the building shouting at everyone, “Burn it all!” All his accomplices start deleting files on their computers. As is always the case, the phrase “DELETING FILES” shows up across the monitors in huge red letters, and the computers start emitting sparks and short-circuiting. This is exactly why I haven’t cleaned up the old files on my computer in months. The resulting electrical fire always sets off my smoke alarm.

Mark confronts Janis in the parking lot and demands to know who she’s working for. Points to Mark for figuring out she’s been up to some shady business, at least. She tells him she’s been working for Vogel and the CIA for the past three years. Janis warns Mark about her orders to kill him. This is kind of what I’m talking about with Fiennes: In this scene, Mark has every reason to be justly pissed off -- he’s just discovered someone he’s been working with for several years has been deceiving him the whole time -- and yet Janis seems a whole lot more sympathetic. Mark just kind of seems like a self-righteous dick.

There’s an interesting undercurrent to this scene, with Janis explaining how she’s been forced to lead a double life for too long and how she hasn’t been able to make friends or form any permanent bonds. It gives her sudden baby wish more resonance -- she doesn’t want to have a baby just because she saw herself pregnant in her flash forward and thought gee, that’d be neat, but because she thinks it might end her self-imposed isolation and loneliness. It would have been nice if they’d introduced this idea much earlier in her character arc. For the entire first half of the season, Janis was defined strictly in terms of the status of her womb; it did her character a disservice not to give viewers a concrete reason why having a baby would be important to her.

Janis returns to her apartment and finds Simon holding a gun and asking for her help.

Comments

vallikat said…
Here's a first: I actually watched the show when it aired last night.

Sadly, it wasn't worth it.

I'm not even sure where to begin with expressing my disappointment.

Here we are coming down to the wire and where are we really?

Huge gaping hole: Why on earth was the GBO orchestrated in the first place and why on earth do they want to do it again????

We should really at least have some inkling of what the bad guys are up to by now. With only 2 episodes less can it be possible that the writers never had an answer for that??? Shouldn't the motivation of the bad guys have been part of the initial plan for the show??

I don't understand how or why I'm supposed to care about this on any level. Why should I care if the bad guys are stopped if I don't know what their purpose is?

Allow me to go into my own sidebar here: I once compared the writing on this show to bad soap opera writing. Now I'm going to confess that one of my guilty pleasures is watching All My Children. AMC is a fine example of bad soap opera writing so I know from wence I speak. Just like in AMC, FF features inconsistant and uneven characterizations, poorly executed storylines, gaping plot holes, and a disregard for the show's history.

In defense of AMC though, daytime writers have to come up with a new hour of drama 5 days a week. Their timeframes are extremely limited. They don't have as much time to devote to writing, researching, and proper editing. They also don't have the budget of their nighttime counterparts. So from that perspective I don't expect the quality is going to be there. Also quite frankly I don't need anything all that substantial on my lunch hour.

However, FlashForward should not suffer from the same issues that plague daytime. They were given a second chance. They were given 4 months to fix their show and get it back to where it started as an interesting and thought-provoking drama. Instead they return with a show that is a mess and quite frankly I'm glad that there were no fan campaigns (that I was aware of) to save it. This is a show that does not deserve to be saved.

Now, returning to last night: I thought we had the perfect opportunity for Mark to call Janis out for lying to him about the mysterious blackout and stolen blueprints. Yet instead of having him call her out on that, they show us a 'flashback' to a scene that didn't exist before he said it (perfect example of a contrived and over used soap opera device, BTW). Why not have him point out the obvious fact that her story did not match the professor's story about the missing blueprints? (and didn't anyone ever find the little device she plugged into the wall)?

Why are both Mark and Demetri both so nonchallant about Janis' confession? Neither of their reactions made any sense to me. Mark finds out she was ordered to kill him and he all but brushes it off. Doesn't it strike him as odd that the CIA wants him dead? Does it not occur to him at any point that perhaps there is a third party at work here? I mean clearly it was Hellinger's group of goons that was tipped off to Baltar. So Mark just accepts that the people pulling Janis' strings are CIA? No thoughts about a possible third party?

Same thing with Demetri. I mean I'm used to Mark being a dolt, but Dem? Have you been drinking from Mark's flask, Dem? And now that you know Janis' whole deal (or as much as she's willing to say), do you really think that it's a good time to ruin your life for her in order to be a stand-up guy? Seriously, Dem. You screwed up enough by sleeping with her. You really just need to let this one go now.

Two more weeks. I'm making a call right now that the show ends with a whole bunch of loose ends.
Morgan Richter said…
That's one of the thing that drives me crazy: They had that long, leisurely break specifically to retool the show, and yet the writing is still sloppy. I'd be interested (inasmuchas the word "interested" can describe my feelings toward anything pertaining to FlashForward these days) to find out what creative changes took place after the original showrunners were replaced. My suspicion is that the new showrunners brought in a whole bunch of new ideas, but did nothing to improve the quality of the show (the uneven characterizations, the dangling plot threads, etcetera).

For instance, the reference to Nhadra being at Raven River seemed incredibly random, and I can't believe that was the original intention for that character. Yes, it would explain why she knew Demetri was supposed to die, but when we met Nhadra in Hong Kong, she was cool and elegant and compentent and well-connected. Was there anything about her that suggested she'd spent time in a hospital for savants and schizophrenics, being subjected to repeated flash forwards? I suspect they ditched whatever the original plan for Nhadra was (if there was a plan at all) and just crudely shoehorned her into their new idea.

So they've got a bunch of new ideas, all of which have been poorly executed, and the characters are so inconsistent and their actions/responses are so unfathomable that I really can't care about any of them.

Two more episodes.
vallikat said…
Yeah, the Nhadia thing was so random I almost forgot about it.

Yet she said that in her Flashforward she was reading a report on Demetri's death. Clearly that's not going to happen now, even if he gets killed on the next show.

Just like clearly there won't be a memorial for him in Hawaii.

Clearly there won't be a Somalian peace rally.

Clearly Bryce isn't going to meet Keiko in a restaurant.

Clearly a whole lot of other things are not going to happen.

So the universe doesn't push back.

You want to know something? You know what I think would have been good and I was really expecting to see? I think it would have been good if Aaron had looked at Tracey in his arms to tell her it was going to be alright only to discover that she had died along the way. Not that I have anything against him or her. Just that I don't care about her character and more importantly I think that would have been a powerful moment. Clear proof that they are not walking headlong into a pre-determined destiny.

This is a message that I think Mark, Olivia, Lloyd, and Demetri really need to hear.
Morgan Richter said…
I think that would have been very effective, had Tracy died in Aaron's arms. This whole business about the universe pushing back... it's weak. As you point out, so damn many things have already changed -- people are dead who weren't supposed to be dead, so is the universe planning on resurrecting them? It makes as much sense as the universe killing off people who were originally destined to die.

Tracy and Aaron... you know, there's a germ there of an interesting story, but it's not developed enough yet, and it never will be. I like the idea of Tracy's character -- someone who has essentially returned from the grave, but who's so badly damaged, physically and mentally, by what she's been through, that she's unable to resume a normal life. But like so many things on this show, the execution has been way off -- the saga of Aaron and Tracy isn't that compelling. Aaron wanders around Afghanistan killing a lot of people to try to get her back, and it's sort of... boring.

(Are we going to find out who drowned Nicole in her flash forward and why? Because in the past twenty-some episodes, we haven't seen anything to suggest that: a) someone would want to kill Nicole, and b) Nicole would feel she had done something awful enough to deserve to be murdered. At this stage, not enough groundwork has been laid to lead to any kind of satisfying payoff.)
Patrick said…
I don't really have anything to add as I don't want to start repeating myself (and everyone else) by pointing out why so many things don't make sense.

But what about this. Mark seemed philosophically resigned to what is going to happen - he didn't seem that put out by seeing Lloyd and Olivia together, and his conversation with Janis also seemed to confirm this. My feeling is that Mark has accepted that the FF is the way things are meant to be, and he's fine once Olivia is happy.

So my final prediction - bearing in mind that EVERY other one has been wrong - is that Mark will start drinking deliberately to push Olivia into Lloyd's arms (and Lloyd into Olivia's bed). He may even repurchase the same lingerie that Olivia discarded (although technically he wouldn't know it appeared in the FF). In this way he will heroically (and crazily) set out to restore order to the universe (and solve the puzzle) by embracing his destiny.

Or, to put it another way, it's the final attempt by the writers to make sense of everything that has happened so far.
Patrick said…
I am actually strangely excited about the final two episodes. I am dying to see how Lloyd and Dylan will move into Olivia's house (so that Charlie can tell Dylan it's his house now as well). And while Charlie and Dylan are playing, Olivia and Lloyd will be upstairs, with Lloyd writing things in red lipstick on Olivia's mirror, then he will get a phone call from drunken Mark and will head downstairs to take it - even though he is shirtless and Dylan and Charlie and playing downstairs. And then Olivia will come out in her lingerie, lean over the stairs, and stare lovingly at him. Think of the children Olivia and Lloyd! Especially as you know Charlie is soon to discover that her father has been killed.

Ah writers - in snooker that is called a snooker.
Morgan Richter said…
I get the feeling the creative meetings for this last cluster of episodes have been pretty bleak affairs. I'm picturing the writing staff sitting around a conference table with vaguely panicked and/or resigned expressions, knowing full well they've written themselves into too many corners and now, in this last stretch of episodes, everything is completely falling apart.

If Lloyd and Dylan are going to move into the Benford home, and if Lloyd and Olivia are going to be on casually intimate terms with each other, and if Mark is going to start drinking again... by gum, they'd better get cracking! And is Janis going to schedule tomorrow's ultrasound appointment, as seen in her flash forward, for before or after she tries to kill Mark/conspires with Vogel to pretent to kill Mark? She's got a busy day ahead of her!

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