FlashForward: “Playing Cards with Coyote”

A Foul and Awesome Display

“Playing Cards with Coyote”
ABC, Thursday, 8
Written by Marc Guggenheim & Barbara Nance
Directed by Nick Gomez

I don’t know what I’m supposed to do. Do I lean in to what I saw? Do I fight against it?” —Janis Hawk

Janis Hawk (Christine Woods), a closeted lesbian, had a flashforward of herself nearly six months pregnant. This disturbed her considerably, as she has no plans to have children, no lover with whom to raise one, and no interest in men to conceive one. She would prefer that that vision not come true, and the more people said the flashforwards were inevitable, the more unhappy she was. She was shot, nearly died, and recovered only at the expense of her future fertility. Now, returning to work in the wake of her co-agent Al Gough’s deliberate suicide, she asks her boss, “What am I supposed to do?” and wonders if this is a “sign”.

People like Janis Hawk make me crazy, they really do. This woman, along with the rest of humanity, has just been handed (back) the greatest gift of all, free will, and all she can do is whine because there’s no “sign” to tell her what to do? She is on the verge of tears because, gosh, the future is unwritten (again) and she might have to take responsibility for her own life? Someone please explain to me how her choices are now different from what they were before the Flashforward. Apart from her injured uterus, she’s the same person with the same job and the same choices before her, only now she knows that they are real choices, not imaginary ones.

I said in my last review that Al Gough’s suicide should make worldwide headlines, and in the beginning of this episode, they do. Gough recognized that the only way to guarantee that his future flash—witnessed by several people—would never happen was if he was not around to even accidentally make it come true. He jumped off a building to prevent the future he had seen; if it now comes true, and Al Gough shows up at a meeting in London in April of 2010, it will be a bigger miracle than the Flashforward. Recognizing that their futures are not fixed, humanity rejoices. Mark and Olivia take a vacation to re-connect with one another; as Mark says, they have a second chance. Which is facile—if he has free will, he has as many chances as he wants to start over—but I’ll take what I can get from this confused worldview. At any rate, it appears to be universally recognized that yes, the future is unwritten, and the visions glimpsed by so many may be as tenuous as soap bubbles.

Which puts the writers of this show in a terrible bind. What now? The tension generated in the previous seven episodes was based on the question everyone was asking: do we have free will, or is the future inevitable? That question has been definitively settled, so where do the writers go now for dramatic tension? Of course there is the question “How did this happen?”, and that finally gets foregrounded in the story between Lloyd Simcoe and his former science partner, Simon Campos (Dominic Monaghan, Lost). Simon walks in on Lloyd doing sleight-of-hand card tricks with his son Dylan (who has been in the hospital now longer than some staff physicians). They argue about Lloyd’s decision to “go public” with his involvement in the Flashforward. Simon wants to stay undercover, but Lloyd’s conscience is bothering him. They decide to settle the question with a massive game of Texas Hold ‘Em. Lloyd wins by cheating—he used his sleight-of-hand talents to conceal critical cards, and his straight flush beat Simon’s four kings.

Meanwhile, Aaron is re-connecting with his daughter Tracy, who was supposed to have died two years ago. She re-appears in his house, minus one leg, with no explanation and not much to do other than sleep. When she reveals a flashback to her incident in Afghanistan, it is to bring in a new set of bad guys—Jericho. Supposedly, they are a mercenary group working with coalition forces in Afghanistan; she witnessed them massacring a village and they targeted her. Now she is on the run, fearing for her life. When Aaron asks Mark for help, Tracy explodes in anger. Aaron recounts more of his flashforward, which she shared. He describes a young Afghan man to her, and Tracy recognizes the man who saved her life, and who now may be targeted by Jericho.

At the same time, a witness to a local shooting comes to Demetri’s attention because her cell phone video of the shooter reveals a three star tattoo. Knowing that this tattoo showed up on the arm of one of the would-be killers in Mark’s vision, he calls Mark back to work. They set up a trap for 3 Star Man, he walks into it, and Mark shoots him. Demetri wonders, in a totally non-judgemental way, if Mark shot the perp to keep him from shooting Mark five months from now. Good question, and one that raises the question: does Mark now believe more in his “future” after Gough’s suicide?

Mark is troubled by Demetri’s hints that his professional (not to say personal) integrity has been compromised by his killing of 3 Star Man. He reassures Olivia to reassure himself: it’s all over. Naturally, being the experienced TV viewers we are, we know that this will almost immediately be negated, and we’re right: we cut to a shot of many men in black uniforms with three stars tattooed on their arms, unloading stuff in a clandestine but highly military manner. One man carries a case, one which was featured in the murder Demetri and Mark investigated, into a warehouse. It is delivered to Ricky Jay (one of the world’s most renowned experts in sleight-of-hand and cards), who reveals that it contains six rings instead of the requested seven (for the dwarf lords?). The rings match those Janis has recently identified on the hand of the mystery man known as Suspect Zero. He shoots the carrier and walks away.

So there is plenty of drama, plenty of action, but at this point it feels like it’s all spinning wheels and shiny streamers to distract us. There is very little sense of wonder left in this show, other than “How did Simon and Lloyd do it?” And I don’t have much faith in Simon’s brains, as he keeps insisting, in the teeth of both evidence and logic, that the future is completely deterministic and unchangeable. He sticks to this even after he declares that he will win every hand of his match with Lloyd, even after Lloyd beats him. This leads me to suspect that Simon is not playing with a full deck, so how could he possibly have caused the Flashforward?

Everything else in this episode could have happened on NCIS or CSI or any other police procedural.

Wedeck: If Al’s death proved anything, it’s that our choices still matter.

This is the heart of the show, the real mystery, and it’s been solved. Period. No amount of back fill or hand-waving can obscure the fact that Al Gough was right, that the future can be changed, that it is not written, so there’s no real reason to worry about the flashforwards. Could the flashforwards still come true? Of course they can. People can choose to work to make them come true. Coincidences can happen. Some things are so certain to occur, like sunrise, that they are virtually inevitable. But that doesn’t negate Al’s sacrifice. An absolute is an absolute. Either we have free will or we do not. One cannot have a little free will, any more than one can be a little bit dead. One can give it up, as Janis seems to want to do, or misuse it, but it is still there. Al’s death falsified the idea that the future is totally determined, and from that there is no retreat. The writers have written themselves into one heck of a corner.

FlashForward‘s ratings held steady from last week at 8.3 million viewers, rating a 2.6 for adults in the 18-49 demo. That puts it on the borderline of cancellation, given ABC’s past history. However, I doubt the network will cancel it before they get their full 13 episodes, so it looks like there’s a chance we may find out what caused the Flashforward.