Friday, April 30, 2010

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 cafĂ© 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.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Fringe: The Man From the Other Side


My recap of last week's Fringe is now up at TVgasm.com.

Hey, April is almost over. Are we due for a new keywords post? We might just be. I'll see what I can throw together.

Friday, April 23, 2010

FlashForward: The Garden of Forking Paths

It’s the Ides of March, 2010, the day of Demetri’s supposed murder. Zoey talks to her client, Alda Herzog, trying to get her to spill the beans about Demetri’s death. Alda demands an emergency hearing before she’ll say anything. Remember Alda’s early appearances on this show when she was spooky and interesting, what with her Sufi parables and ominous threats about dark, powerful forces beyond everyone’s comprehension? All that has been stripped away from her. Now, she’s just an irritating butthead.

We see a flashback to six months before the blackout: Alda meets with that impeccably-suited blonde Englishman who was one of Flosso’s henchmen (I think he probably died when Mark raided the warehouse and saved Lloyd and Simon, but I don’t care enough to go back and check). His name, apparently, was Hellinger. Hellinger takes Alda to meet Dyson Frost, who has black and white dominos set up in elaborate patterns inside a warehouse (Frost explains that this represents the titular garden of forking paths). Frost assures Hellinger that, provided Lloyd and Simon discover dark matter (which seems like a mighty big provision, actually), the blackouts will go off as scheduled.

Zoey arranges Alda’s emergency hearing, so Alda tells Zoey what she knows about Demetri’s death: In her flash forward, she overheard that Demetri’s body was found in Building Seven, though she doesn’t know what that means.

As Alda’s being transferred to a holding cell post-hearing, there’s a big explosion. Alda dives out a window and escapes.

Demetri is tied to a chair, positioned in front of a huge blackboard with an enormous timeline drawn on it. There are wires all around him, and Mark’s gun, rigged up inside some elaborate contraption, is pointed at his chest. Dyson Frost talks to him: In the 1980s, at some place called Raven River, Frost and his cohorts saw hundreds of possible futures in hundreds of miniature flash forwards. The timeline he saw is recorded on the blackboard. In all of the possible futures, March 15th is a significant day, as usually --though not always -- both Frost and Demetri die.

At FBI headquarters, Mark and Janis question Charlie about her encounter with Dyson Frost at the carnival. It’s an uphill battle, because Charlie is simultaneously the world’s least observant and most unconcerned witness. Finally, they get some details out of her: Frost talked to her about Dr. Seuss -- One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish in particular -- then gave her a print of Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres’s painting of Oedipus and the Sphinx. On the back of the print is a scrawled message asking Mark to meet him at Union Station.

Vreede stops by the hospital to talk to Olivia about the homeless man who was shot with Mark’s gun. The man had a disposable cell phone in his possession, which contained the mysterious text message sent to Olivia back in October: “Mark was drinking in his flash forward.” Vreede asks her to come down to the morgue to identify the man; Olivia insists that this doesn’t involve her in any way, but grumpily agrees to accompany him anyway. What is with the Benfords? Why do they all suck so damn much? Seriously, Charlie could hardly be bothered to talk about her encounter with Dyson Frost, and now Olivia is acting exasperated and disgruntled about having to help Vreede follow up a very important lead about the kidnapping and imminent murder of her husband’s partner and close friend. There’s nothing about her words, actions, or body language that suggests she’s in any way concerned about Demetri’s fate. This is the problem I’ve been having with this recent cluster of episodes since the show returned from its long winter break: Nobody acts like a real human being.

Olivia doesn’t recognize the man in the morgue. The autopsy showed he had an enlarged hippocampus, which might be a sign he was a savant. Among his possessions, he had an address book belonging to a doctor who works with patients with eidetic memories. Olivia accompanies Vreede while he talks to the doctor. Considering how reluctant she was to come down to the morgue in the first place, I have no idea why Olivia is still hanging around at this point; Vreede can probably take it on his own from here. Anyway, the doctor has no idea who the dead man was.

Olivia and Vreede stop at an outdoor coffee cart, where Gaius Baltar, of all people, ends up in line behind them. Baltar says Olivia’s coffee order at the exact same time as she does, then informs her that he’s seen her in this line ordering coffee hundreds of time before, thanks to the Raven River experiments. When Baltar starts babbling about the blackouts, Vreede suggests he come down to FBI headquarters and talk with them. Baltar gets weird and squirrelly and wanders off. Er… Vreede, you are in fact a federal agent. Maybe you should go after the strange man who just walked up to you and delivered a very important clue.

Mark loiters in Union Station and waits for Frost while Janis and Stan keep him under surveillance. A kid wanders up to Mark and hands him a Superman backpack, telling him some guy paid him fifty bucks to do it. Superman, huh? We’re not expected to subconsciously equate Mark with Superman, are we? Inside the backpack is a Polaroid of Demetri bound to a chair. “423” is written on the back. Frost calls Mark and informs him he wants to turn himself in to the FBI, but he doesn’t want the people he works for to kill him. Knowing the FBI is listening to Mark’s side of the conversation, Frost cautions Mark not to say anything except the word “Figueroa” if he understands. Mark complies. Stan, listening in, says aloud for the benefit of non-Angeleno viewers, “It could be Figueroa Street in downtown L.A.” Yes, Stan. You all work in downtown Los Angeles, and Figueroa is a huge, well-known street, so that was not terribly insightful. It’d be like in Law & Order: SVU if Benson told Stabler, “Central Park: That’s the big park in the middle of Manhattan.”

Frost tells Mark to set his watch to count back from four hours and twenty-three minutes: That’s how much time Demetri has left. By this point, the characterization of Frost has become so senselessly gimmicky -- the Morse code messages through chess games, the secret clues in Dr. Seuss books and Ingres paintings -- that he’s been stripped of all menace.

Mark starts running. Following Frost’s instructions, he throws away his phone and his gun in the mens room, then finds an access card to something called a Zoomcar. Zoomcar appears to be totally made-up, but let’s assume it’s something along the lines of a Zipcar. Mark finds the Zoomcar and zooms off to Antelope Valley, then, armed with a compass and a water bottle, sets off on foot across a barren stretch of the desert.

Frost meets Mark out in the middle of nowhere. He pulls a gun, tosses him a pair of handcuffs, and orders him to put them on. Mark takes a swig from his water bottle and spits it in Frost’s face. It turns out he’s replaced the water with gas siphoned from his tank, which is pretty clever. What’s not clever is the way the writers chose to explain this to viewers: by having Frost shout, “Gasoline! It burns!”

So Mark gets the drop on Frost, but it all comes to naught, because Alda Herzog pops up, shoots and kills Frost, and hops on a motorcycle and drives off.





In recent episodes, we’ve now had two improbable sequences where the plot has been moved along by someone hopping on a magically-appearing motorcycle and driving off (first Marcie, now Alda). Believe me, one such sequence would have been more than enough.

Mark rifles through Frost’s briefcase and finds a series of photos and a chart, all of which were on his evidence wall in his flash forward. He’s out of cell phone range, so he hops in Frost’s car and looks through his GPS settings to see where Frost has been recently (Mark very helpfully carries on a running monologue to clue viewers in to his actions: “Frost’s vehicle!” “Where have you been, Frost?” It’s pretty clunky and awful, but it can’t top the wretched poetry of “Gasoline! It burns!”).

GPS has a record of an address on Ingres street, which Mark figures is tied to the Ingres print Frost gave Charlie. He speeds off to the address. With four minutes left before Demetri’s scheduled death, he finds a cluster of abandoned army barracks. He runs around like a lunatic shouting Demetri’s name, then calls the FBI for help. They clue him in to Alda’s “Building Seven” tip.

Mark bursts into Building Seven and finds Demetri wired to Frost’s death trap. Demetri cautions him to be careful not to trigger the mechanism. “If you try to put anything between me and the gun, it fires,” he says. Yes, but since something will be between you and the gun, it won’t really matter if it fires, will it?

Anyway, Mark discovers that One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish is a clue to the order in which the wires should be pulled (sigh). He disables the mechanism, and Demetri isn’t killed. When Mark pulls Demetri out of the chair, water comes down and washes Frost’s timeline off of the blackboard. In the midst of all of Frost’s ridiculous gimmickry, that’s a genuinely clever touch

Mark only remembered one detail from the board: All timelines break off on December 12, 2016, which is labeled as “The End.”

Er… No one involved with FlashForward really thinks this show has a shot at being around until 2016, right?

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Fringe: White Tulip

I got all ranty about the most recent episode of Fringe, which, despite some fine use of Gary Numan songs (no, not "Cars"), was sort of annoying. My recap is now posted at TVgasm.

Friday, April 16, 2010

FlashForward: Let No Man Put Asunder

We open with a flashback to Mark welcoming a fresh new crop of agents, including Demetri, Janis, and cute dead Al (hi, Al!), to the FBI. Marcie -- the agent who was revealed as the non-Janis mole last episode -- is there as well, in a clumsy attempt to shoehorn her into the FlashForward backstory where she didn’t exist before. Gah, I hate this sort of thing. Call it the Nikki and Paulo syndrome. Or worse, HRG’s partner Lauren on the dismal last season of Heroes, who apparently was his partner/love interest all throughout the prior seasons as well, even though we never saw her. Or heard anyone mention her, ever. It’s vaguely insulting. If Marcie was such an integral part of things, we should have seen her before last episode, period. Trying to convince us of her importance in retrospect isn’t going to work.

Present day: It’s March 12th, three days before Demetri is supposed to be shot and killed with Mark’s missing gun. Demetri and Mark grill Marcie about her motives and her employers, but she’s not forthcoming, other than to say she was recruited by her anonymous employer three months before the blackouts. Marcie reveals that in her flash forward she saw herself in jail, but that she felt happy and important for the first time since joining the FBI, because they needed vital information about her employers from her. Yeah, she’s loveable. Feds from Washington swoop in and whisk Marcie off into their custody.

Little Charlie and little Dylan scheme to meet in a park for a playdate, which unintentionally brings Olivia and Lloyd closer together. Olivia and Lloyd share some tender moments while watching over their kids. Later, Olivia swings by Lloyd’s house to discuss their mutual attraction, and they kiss. It’s all very romantic and dreary.

Stan’s nemesis, Vice President Clemente, meets with him in secret. “It’s been quite a while,” she says, perhaps as a nod to the fact that it’s been eleven episodes since the Stan/President Peter Coyote/Senator-turned-VP Clemente plotline was last mentioned. I swear, FlashForward, I’ve tried to be on your side, but you’re just all over the place. She asks Stan about the contractor Jericho -- her records show Mark had been asking about them. Stan knows nothing about this. Poor Stan really doesn’t have his finger on the pulse of his department, does he? Clemente recently learned the CEO of Jericho tripled the security around his Malibu compound, which seems like a strange fact to show up in her morning briefing, but whatever. At least she has her finger on the pulse of something. She reveals her interest in Jericho: In her flash forward, in which she saw herself as President, she knew Jericho had somehow threatened national security.

At the office, Stan grills Mark about Jericho. Mark admits he looked into them as a favor for Aaron. Stan asks to talk to Aaron, who, per Mark, is “off the grid” -- Mark hasn’t been able to find him lately. Mark seems monstrously unconcerned about his close friend’s disappearance, to the point of being kind of annoyed that Stan is bothering him with such minutiae. Oh, Mark. Never change, you callous bastard.

Aaron returns to his cheap hotel room to find Stan there. He draws a gun. Stan calms him down and introduces himself. Aaron tells Stan all about Tracy. Stan offers to help get Aaron to Afghanistan to find his daughter, provided Tracy gives the FBI the necessary information to bring Jericho down. Stan gets Aaron the proper security clearance, loads him up with weapons and cameras, and sends him on his merry way.

Mark’s missing gun -- which they determine Marcie smuggled out of the evidence locker -- is used to kill a middle-aged man sleeping on a cot in a downtown mission. A man is seen speeding away from the crime scene in a late-1970s blue sedan. Demetri and Mark investigate. A man driving a similar vehicle gets into a high-speed chase with the LAPD, which culminates with him running into an office building, killing a bunch of people, and taking a woman hostage. Mark and Demetri enter the building, and Demetri confronts the man, Ross Webber, who turns out to be a garden-variety conspiracy nut who wants to talk to Macho Man Randy Savage. Which I guess we're supposed to find zany, but since there are a couple of dead bodies lying around this scene, I'm having a hard time finding the funny in it.

Holy crap, this scene is shot in the Bradbury Building. It’s this strange, gorgeous, architecturally weird historical building in downtown Los Angeles -- it shows up in films a lot, most notably in Blade Runner. Why are they using it in this throwaway scene? It’s such a great set, and it feels like it’s been squandered on this scene, which could have been set in any old office building.

Anyway, Demetri and Mark end up shooting Webber, but then discover Webber’s gun isn’t Mark’s gun -- he’s not the guy who killed the homeless man in the mission. Thus, they’re no closer to finding Demetri’s future killer.

Demetri decides to run away to escape his fate. He asks Zoey to get married immediately, so they can scamper off to Hawaii before March 15th to keep him safe and non-murdered.

Mark, Vreede and Janis take Demetri out and get him drunk, pre-wedding. As Janis bundles him into a taxi, Demetri makes fumbling, drunken apologies about whatever happened between them in Somalia. Janis says, “I’m pregnant,” then the cab speeds away before Demetri can reply. Wait, what?

Vreede shows the gang surveillance footage from a convenience store, where Dyson Frost is seen getting into a 1970s blue sedan. Ergo, he’s probably the one who shot the man at the mission. Ergo, he’s probably the one who murders Demetri in a couple of days.

While getting ready for his wedding, Demetri gets knocked out by Dyson Frost. Dyson stows an unconscious Demetri in the back of his car, then goes to a carnival, where Olivia is improbably manning a booth. For a surgeon, Olivia seems to have a lot of free time on her hands.

When Demetri doesn’t show up at the wedding, Mark calls Olivia and tells her to keep a close eye on Charlie. I’m really not sure of his logic -- how does danger to Demetri automatically translate into danger to Olivia and Charlie? -- but in any case, the warning turns out to be warranted: Dyson Frost approaches Charlie, who is running around the carnival by himself, and sits down beside her.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Fringe: Olivia. In the Lab. With a Revolver.


My recap of last week's thorougly okayish episode of Fringe is now up at TVgasm.com.


Life Beyond Thunderdome: Night of the Comet

My montly column at Forces of Geek is now up. It's a look at the totally awesome 1984 cult classic Night of the Comet, starring Catherine Mary Stewart and Kelli Maroney as a couple of adorable gun-toting teens battling it out with zombies in comet-devastated Los Angeles. So, yeah, it's a documentary.

Friday, April 9, 2010

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.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Fringe: Peter

So, Fringe. Ever wonder how, exactly, Peter died and how Walter ended up kidnapping some other Peter from a parallel universe to replace his dead kid? This episode answers all your questions.

Also: It's 1985! There are zeppelins! And Back to the Future sight gags!

My recap is up at TVgasm.

Friday, April 2, 2010

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.