FlashForward: “A561984”

Exit, Guns Blazing

Thursdays, ABC, 8
Written by David S. Goyer & Scott M. Gimple
Directed by Michael Nankin

The so-called “Fall Finale” of FlashForward ends with ambulances, guns, panic, and screaming—pretty much where it started. In the intervening ten episodes, we’ve had a world-wide shared consciousness event, two million deaths, a fundamental shift in our understanding of the future—and then a re-shift back to where it was. The only news we got out of this final episode was that Mark and Olivia probably met and married in another universe. Otherwise, we still don’t know anything more than we did in September—we don’t know who caused the “blackout”, or how, or why. We don’t know if there have been any earlier blackouts, or if one will happen again. What we do have is a host of red herrings.

The chief red herring is the belief shared by Simon Campos and Lloyd Simcoe, that their work on the National Linear Accelerator Project in Palo Alto caused the blackout. As sincere as these two are in their belief, that does not make them right. Ultimately, the only “proof” that they caused the blackout is their belief that they did. They claimed to have been trying to replicate the energy levels present at the Big Bang. They obviously believe that they did just that, and somehow inadvertently triggered the blackout. They don’t actually present any proof that they succeeded in their original experiment, much less that the blackout is an unintended consequence of that experiment. Where’s the peer review, guys? Lloyd and Simon make the oldest mistake in science: they make assumptions. Then they make the second oldest mistake: they call a press conference, prematurely. They’re not ready to answer the questions raised by the hysterical press, let alone agree on who or whether to take responsibility for the blackout. Lloyd and Simon are acting not like scientists, but like those nut cases who come out of the woodwork to confess to crimes they didn’t commit.

Simon starts to get a clue, when he shows up at Wedeck’s office asking for a peek at the Mosaic data. His reasoning is that since Lloyd has taken responsibility for the blackout, the FBI will wind down its investigation. Simon just wants to look at the data. He is shocked to find D. Gibbons awake during the blackout. He is intrigued by the Somalian towers, which he says are specialized pulse lasers for a plasma afterburner. He designed them, but not the laser. Someone as smart as Simon has stolen a march on him, and now Simon is very intrigued. Apparently the one challenge he won’t tolerate is an intellectual one. Slimy as he is, as amoral as he seems to be, I still have to respect Simon for one thing—he was working the problem in this episode.

The other story being followed in this episode is Demetri and Mark’s attempt to find the woman who warned Demetri of his impending death. Against Wedeck’s direct orders they fly to Hong Kong, find her, wine her and dine her, and get confirmation that not only will Demetri die, but Mark will shoot him. If Demetri thought like his former colleague Al Gough, he would have whipped out his gun at that point and shot Mark dead. So much for the Flashforward prophecy, no? Alas, Demetri is too good a guy to relieve us of the tedium of Mark Benford’s continued presence in the show, and we have to settle for Demetri and Mark getting tossed into a USA-bound plane. Followed shortly by that timeworn Handing-in-the-Badge scene that every third cop drama on TV seems to use. All of this following a complete freakout on Mark’s part—he takes a woman hostage, brandishes a gun, and otherwise acts like a candidate for the loony bin. Meanwhile, Olivia witnesses the kidnapping of Dylan and Lloyd, accompanying the aforementioned guns, masks, ambulances, and panic.

No closure is reached in the stories involving Aaron or Bryce or Nicole.

The only aspect of this episode that interested me was the bare hint that what may be happening here is not the fulfillment of prophecy, but world-traveling. In a conversation with Olivia, Lloyd reiterates the multiple-universes theory we heard earlier, in which all possible scenarios are eventually acted out. Some incidents that at first appear to be continuity errors might actually be clues to this: Simon, having told Lloyd point blank in an earlier episode that the two of them caused the blackout, now tells people that they didn’t. Earlier, we saw Mark throw his daughter’s friendship bracelet into a fire, yet tonight he is wearing it when he checks on her in her bedroom. Despite many statements in earlier episodes that the FBI has no idea what “D. Gibbons” looks like, they produce a sketch of him for Simon, and a “D. Gibbons” turns up in Hong Kong at Mark and Demetri’s table. Are the writers setting us up for a reveal, in which we discover that some of these people are moving back and forth between parallel universes? It’s hard to believe that’s the case—not because of the physics, but because that would be shoddy writing. In which case, these have to be continuity errors, which is also shoddy writing. Confusing the audience will not persuade us to come back next March.

If the show is not, in fact, going to trump its “wow” opening with a “wow” follow-up like universe traveling, then I have to wonder where it thinks it is going. Having started off with one of the great premises in recent science fiction, it squandered any lingering sense of wonder in a host of banal soap-opera threads and routine police drama. The producers may be trying to recalibrate the show, to re-inject something of wonder and awe into the show by implying that some characters are, even inadvertently, slipping back and forth between universes. Perhaps the blackout did not reveal the future so much as open a multitude of portals between parallel universes. If that’s the case, the writers had better hurry up and develop it fast, because my interest in this show is fading quickly. There have been too few revelations, over too long a time span, to maintain my attention. The series “fall finale”, the last episode before it returns in March 2010, saw its audience disappearing: the show raked in under 7.3 million viewers and a 2.2 rating in the 18-49 demographic. This is 8 percent lower than last week, and a new low for the series.

As noted, this is the last show for 2009. Previously, ABC had announced that the show would return in January. Thursday night, however, ABC ended the show with an announcement that it would return three months later, in March. I can only hope that this signals a major effort on ABC’s part to rescue a floundering show. The only downside I can see to this is that it gives the writers very few episodes to tie together all of their plot lines before the show’s self-imposed deadline of April 29.

Good luck to them.