FlashForward: “137 Sekunden”

Sloppy Seconds

“137 Sekunden”
ABC, Thursday, 8
Teleplay by David S. Goyer & Marc Guggenheim
Directed by Michael Rymer

The world’s changed. Some of us… all of us… are making decisions based on what will happen, not what could. Makes us do things we would not ordinarily do. You’d think knowing the future would make us less concerned about it. But just the opposite has happened. The future is what all of us are living for now. It’s what we’re living by.” —Wedeck

My first reaction to this episode was, “People are still writing stories about Nazis?” This is 2009. The Nazi Party ended with the fall of Nazi Germany in 1945, 64 years ago. But according to this episode, Rudolf Geyer (Curt Lowens, Angels & Demons) was an actual member of the Party. Even if he had joined the student branch of the Party at the youngest possible age, 16, he would be 80 years old today. Which I thought would rule out the hale and hearty looking Lowens—until I looked him up. Lowens himself is 83. Talk about acting your age. So we have an imprisoned Nazi claiming to know what caused the 137-second blackout (137 sekunden in German), and asking for Mark Benford by name.

It so happens that this German phrase was written on Mark’s conveniently apt bulletin board in his vision. Wary but willing to follow this strange clue, Benford flies to Munich to confront Geyer. Cagily, Geyer persuades him to agree to a deal wherein he is released from prison, in exchange for his information. To prove his bona fides, he tosses in mystical references to the Kabbalah, to numerology, and for all we know to water dowsing. Over the objections of the German police, his own colleagues, and the shades of twelve million victims of the Holocaust, Mark Benford agrees.

Whereupon Geyer cries “Sucker!” and reveals that it was all a hoax. All he saw in his flashforward was a courtyard littered with crows. An honorable Roman at this point would have fallen on his sword to avoid the shame of freeing such a loathsome man. Mark tries to save face by investigating this crow thing, and comes up with hints that in Somalia in 1991, flocks of crows suddenly fell dead from the sky. The episode wraps with a flashback to a young shepherd in Somalia in 1991, watching dead crows fall out of the sky, pulling back to show a very tall tower in the distance.

That wasn’t all that happened in this episode, of course, but it was the important points. And it disturbed me, because now I don’t know how far Mark Benford is willing to go to confirm a future he fears and does not want. What next, a pardon for Osama Bin Laden? Shall we let Charlie Manson out of jail if he claims to have a clue about the blackout? How often is Mark going to let himself be duped like this? This was so unprofessional, not to mention morally indefensible, that a real life FBI agent would have been defending his career to his superiors, the German government, and world opinion. I don’t want the hero of this show to be letting bad guys out of jail and then letting them stay free even when it turns out they lied—it makes him look stupid and gullible.

My only slender thread of hope right now is that Geyer’s “vision” of himself going through Customs as he is repatriated to the US is actually staged in the future by the FBI, which creates this self-fulfilling prophecy based on Geyer’s own vision. The fact that the Customs official Geyer names is not yet even in training for Customs (although he saw Geyer in his vision) tells me this may be the setup. If so, it really hurts my head to figure out that paradox—a vision comes true because the US Customs and Immigration and Germany collaborate in a hoax based on the vision? Okay, I’ll confess—this is the sort of interesting wrinkle I was hoping to see.

I’m still only marginally interested in how all these more or less interchangeable characters are reacting to this marvelous and strange event. I’m far more interested in how it happened, and who (if anyone) made it happen. Since it would be far less interesting or dramatic if this whole story turned on a natural phenomenon, I am willing to believe it is of human origin. Which means the involvement of the FBI makes marginally more sense—but only marginally. I sat scratching my head as Mark searched government databases for information about the incident in Somalia; why didn’t he just go directly to the National Science Foundation or some other think tank? Why is he pursuing this as if it were a case he could take into court? It is as if he were planning to fingerprint a whirlwind.

Apparently, the gift of foreknowledge is turning everyone into liars. Demetri lies to his fiancée, claiming that he saw a vision that matched hers, of their wedding day. He also hides the phone call telling him he’s going to be murdered. Mark continues to lie to Olivia about seeing himself drinking in the future, even as Aaron warns him that this will backfire. I’m not sure whether my problem with Mark Benford is the character or the actor. Mark seems unreasonably stupid—did it not occur to him that the reason Geyer’s picture and name were on the Future Board was because he was warning his future self not to trust Geyer? And then he suborns his partner into breaking all kinds of rules to exhume his friend’s daughter, despite a judge’s refusal. Earlier, he browbeats his wife into sharing her flash, then makes her feel guilty about something that has not even happened yet. And why has he not followed up on his own daughter’s vision? But then there’s Fiennes himself: he scowls all the time. His default expression is a stare. There’s hardly any animation in his face. I confess it would take a great actor to convey warmth or humanity through some of the lines he’s gotten, but I still think he can do better than I’m seeing.

Some really great moments in this episode: the downed planes at the SEATAC airport were shocking. The tower at the end (in front of a mushroom cloud?) was intriguing. The CEO reluctantly flying in his own company’s planes in a PR effort to reassure passengers was very funny. As was Demetri’s bemused reaction to Jerome Murphy’s bong (yeah, the star of Harold and Kumar recognized a bong). And the final image of a mushroom cloud expanding over a landscape of dead crows? Fabulous. And any scene with Gina Torres in it is memorable.

On the other hand, if I see Olivia’s flashforward one more time, I may throw something. I really, really,really don’t care about her marital problems next April, compared to, say, the end of the world or the attack on Mark we saw in his flashforward.

I want to like this show. I liked the book a lot. I think this show has good potential, but I think it’s riddled with mistakes that are going to sink it, like Mark’s continued jerkitude, the involvement of the FBI at all, and the soap-opera aspects of every female character’s vision. I need more grandeur, to match the matchless premise. I need more apocalypse in this apocalyptic vision. I need more mystery—not more confusion. I’ll stick around, because it takes a lot for science fiction to bore me, but I’m still hoping for better. FlashForward drew 9 million viewers for its third episode for 3.0 rating/9 share, making it second in its timeslot. It was up against some heavy-hitting baseball, so this may not accurately reflect viewer interest; we’ll see how it stacks up next week.