FlashForward: “Believe”

Flash Light

ABC, Thursday, 8
Written by Nicole Yorkin & Dawn Prestwich
Directed by Michael Nankin

This episode of FlashForward went back to one of the strengths of the show: the exploration of the effects of the Flashforward on ordinary people. The FBI search for the perpetrators of the Flashforward has serious conceptual flaws, but the dissection of its effects on individuals is a rich vein to mine. I am glad to see that the show is now opening up these stories. Tonight’s focus was on Dr. Bryce Varley (Zachary Knighton,Bones), the handsome young surgeon who was on the brink of suicide at the moment the visions hit everyone on Earth. Whatever he saw, it made him put down the gun, and gave him a new lease on life.

We start with a flashback which shows us why Bryce had a gun to his head to start with: he is dying of Terminal TV Cancer (the kind that leaves its victims still handsome, healthy looking, and with a full head of hair). Having decided to End It All, he is startled by a view of a future filled with love and hope and happiness. How can this be? All he knows is that a Japanese woman smiles at him, and he knows she’s The One.

Unfortunately, that’s about all he knew until last week, when Nicole’s knowledge of Japanese came in handy. Seeing his sketch of the woman of his dreams, she reads a character in the sketch: Believe.

Meanwhile, in Tokyo, we finally see the girl herself. Keiko Arihada (Yuko Takeuchi, Nakumonka) is about to interview for a job at Japan’s top robotics corporation. She’s nervous, rehearsing her smile in the mirror. She’s eager, and says too much. She wanted to be a rock guitarist when she was young, she tells this unsmiling panel; she loves salsa dancing. She’s smart enough to know she’s saying too much, but can’t stop herself. She is utterly charming, one of the best characters introduced on the show to date. I found myself rooting for this shy, smart young woman with a free spirit hindered by her family’s and culture’s expectations.

I also found myself rooting for Bryce, who has been given a new reason to live just when he had resigned himself to a loveless and short existence. While he learns Japanese, Keiko struggles to earn the respect of her co-workers, who consistently cast her as a secretary rather than the robotics engineer she has trained herself to be. Bryce relaxes by filling his apartment with sketches of Keiko, while she zones out at her desk watching Bob Dylan concerts. Matters deteriorate for both: Bryce’s health is affecting his work, and he breaks down and confides in Olivia. Keiko’s matchmaking mom and indifferent co-workers drive her to a tattoo parlor to get an ideograph on her wrist—the same one Bryce saw in his flashforward. Bryce even goes to Japan looking for her, to no avail. He flies home—on the same plane that brings Keiko to America. As it turns out, the restaurant they both saw in their flashforwards was not in Tokyo, but in Los Angeles.

It’s a small world, after all.

This warm little romance was the highlight of the series, for me. It was refreshing watching the parallels build between these two would-be lovebirds. Both of them are lonely, even in the midst of family, friends, and co-workers. Both of them have reason to keep secrets from their families. Both of them have trained for high-pressure, high-tech careers, but find their true self-expression in the arts. These are two completely sympathetic characters, who are not out to manipulate anyone or lie to anyone or solve any mystery other than the oldest one of all. While this sort of story, taken to extremes, could devolve into a sentimental tearjerker of the week, it works really well against the background of anxiety and paranoia against which it played. No one was building a case or threatening murder or trying to blackmail anyone. It was sweet.

The B-story, on the other hand, had nothing going for it at all. This one was all about Aaron and his daughter Tracy, the one who was supposed to have died in Afghanistan but who turned up missing a leg a couple of weeks ago. She is restless, scared, angry, and depressed, drinking herself to sleep every night. Aaron turns to Mark Benford for support; not a great idea considering that Mark is obsessing over the question of who betrayed to his wife the “fact” that Mark was drinking in his flashforward. Frankly, unless Tracy’s story somehow links back to the workings of the Flashforward, I don’t really care about it. Aaron and Tracy would make a fine story for The Unit or NCIS, but in a science fiction thriller, it’s too pedestrian to be very entertaining.

And that may well sum up the season so far: pedestrian. FlashForward opened with one of the most breathless and dazzling concepts for a TV show: mass clairvoyance. Immediately, it focused attention on large questions (free will versus predestination) and small (Olivia/Mark, Demetri, Bryce). The scope was as large and bold as any science fiction drama has a right to ask. What cut the foundation out from under it, however, was a series of baffling creative decisions: why make the “hero” a whiny, unsympathetic drunk who lies to those who trust him? Why put the investigation of a science puzzle into the hands of street cops? Why drag in so much soap opera? Maybe the people behind this show don’t trust us to be interested in intellectual questions like free will, or maybe they don’t understand science fiction. For whatever reason, despite the occasional winner like tonight’s episode, I’d have to call FlashForward, so far, a disappointment.

This episode finished third in its timeslot, garnering 8 million viewers for a 5.2/8 share. This is a lot fewer than the 12 million who tuned in a few weeks ago for the debut. Worse, the ratings of the shows that follow it, Grey’s Anatomy and Private Practice, declined as well, implying that viewers not only avoidedFlashForward, but deserted ABC altogether. However, FlashForward still looks strong in the coveted 18-49 demographic, so it will probably hang on a while.

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