FlashForward: “Revelation Zero” Part 1 & Part 2

Bootstraps R Us


Thursdays, 8 PM ABC

“Revelation Zero: Parts One and Two”
Part 1 written by Seth Hoffman & Marc Guggenheim
Part 2 written by Quinton Peeples
Part 1 directed by John Polson
Part 2 directed by Constantine Makris & John Polson

Warning: this review contains some spoilers. If you’d rather not know what the episode is going to include, bookmark this page and read it after viewing.

“I have a hallucination every day. Nobody gives a damn.” —Mom Kirby

This two-hour episode of FlashForward, coming a good four months after the last episode, attempts to bootstrap this show out of the mess it had become. Some storylines are tightened, the emphasis on different characters shifts, and a new architecture for the series premise is introduced. I’m not sure it worked, but I may give it another week. A lot will depend on how the writers handle the delicate problem of getting themselves out of the corner they painted themselves into when FBI Agent Al Gough stepped off a building several episodes back.

The two-hour reboot starts with a recap of the Flashforward—horrific wrecks, plane crashes, accidents. Under a rambling philosophical voiceover, a window washer (Gil Bellows, Smallville) faints like everyone else, triggers an accident on his platform, and nearly plunges to his death from many stories up. He’s saved at the last minute by what he thinks is the hand of God—that same hand of God which presumably is not saving all those plane and auto crash victims he can see around him—and therefore he feels called to found a new cult. Naturally. God forbid he could just quietly go home and mind his own beeswax.

Mark Benford is suspended, justifiably, and is ordered to see a shrink. Demetri gets paired up with FBI Agent Vogel (Michael Ealy, Hawthorne). Bryce and Nicole are growing closer. Simon, whom I would have pegged for a Person Of Intense Interest in this investigation, is instead welcomed as a consultant on the case. He spends half the episode trying to get into Lloyd’s encrypted computer, the other half being tortured in one way or another. The FBI loses him, gets him back, loses him again. I love the Keystone Kops aspects of the FBI that we keep seeing in this episode: three agents accompany/guard Simon when he goes to Lloyd’s house, and stand by when he’s kidnapped. He gets tortured, loses part of a finger (while I sat there flashing back on hobbits with powerful rings losing fingers in another epic altogether…), gets rescued, and is being taken back to FBI headquarters by one agent. If I truly wanted to protect this guy, I’d put fifty agents on him and embed a tracking device in his scalp. But then, this is the same FBI that thinks it can solve a science mystery by doing background checks on people.

The main changes I can see in this retcon attempt are that Mark Benford’s character is being played down, Simon and Lloyd are being brought more into the foreground, and a Shadowy Conspiracy is being introduced as the power behind the blackout. There are repeated hints that there is going to be another blackout, which is more or less inevitable if this show wants to have an audience after April 29. I guess the conspiracy was inevitable. Ever since The X-Files, it’s been the fallback position every time writers are confronted with a scientific mystery: if we (the writers) can’t figure it out, the audience sure can’t, so we’ll just explain it away with demons, er, mad scientists/bad guys.

Mark is still a troubled soul, but the writers try to warm him up a little. There are a couple of nice scenes with his wife, and a very sweet one with his little girl. Of course, neither he nor Olivia have yet bothered to ask Charlie what she saw during her flashforward, but then until this show they’ve been as wrapped up in themselves as a couple of boa constrictors with cramps. Now that he’s off the agency’s leash, Mark may actually prove to be a more effective investigator. I liked the scenes of him reproducing his Mosaic board at home and then doggedly hunting down each “clue”. In the course of his shrinkage, we get an expanded view of his flashforward with more clues. Between the board and his new “memories”, he rescues the kidnapped Lloyd and Simon. I appreciate that there was more action in this episode; Mark is at his best as a character when he’s not supposed to be thinking. Because if the man could think, then that Mosaic board in his future would have huge signs on it like Lloyd and Simon are at the Abandoned Cheese Steak Cafe!instead of a bunch of cryptic “clues”.

The real triumph of this episode, however, was the elevation of Simon Campos (Dominic Monaghan, Lost) to a major player. If this is the writers’ idea of a reboot, it’s excellent. Simon is feisty, clever, sarcastic, pathetic, and brave. He may be the most layered character on the show now. In two hours, we get a complicated backstory, a creepy mom and creepier “uncle”, two hands-on murders, and two plot twists, one of which I saw coming a mile away. His flashforward turns out to be a hoax, as we learn that he is Suspect Zero. He’s part of the shadowy conspiracy to force Lloyd to reveal the secret of the blackout. He is ruthless in his treatment of others, snarky in his treatment of FBI Agent Janis Hawk, and slicker than goose grease in conning Vogel into letting him into the case. But he’s also a pawn, a frightened man, a loyal brother, and a loving son. If the producers want to trade Simon for Mark as the center of this story, I’m all for it.

Another brilliant retcon is Janis Hawk (Christine Woods, In Plain Sight). Assigned the unhappy task of keeping tabs on Simon, she engages in a brilliant cat and mouse game. Every time he slips away, she’s right there behind him. Every time he tries to pull a fast one, she’s a step ahead. When he tries to bully her, she snarks right back. Every conversation had layers of annoyance, amusement, admiration, and hostility. The only time I didn’t like her character was when Janis fell for Simon’s “anaphylactic shock” attack and ran off for help, allowing him to get away. She puts a tracking device on him, he finds a way to short-circuit it, and she uses her investigative skills to find him and get to his destination ahead of him. From being the whiny victim of earlier in the season, Janis has been rewritten as a tough, smart, compassionate yet no-nonsense law enforcement officer. Simon has gone from exasperating mosquito to devilishly subtle conspirator. I could watch this all day.

None of the character tweaking, however, can get us past the essential problem raised by Al Gough: the “future” everyone saw is not fixed, it’s malleable, so why is everyone angsting about it? Nicole, in search of answers, attends a session of Rev. Window-Washer’s little Sanctuary group. Afterward, she asks him about the role of God and free will in all of this.

“It’s not fate versus free will. It’s fate and free will.”

Yeah, right. This stereotypical Hollywood fuzzy thinking drives me nuts. It’s hand-waving and misdirection of a high order, and it does not work for me. There are absolutes in the world, and the concept of free will is one of them. If the future is determined (fate) then you can’t have any, and pious mumblings about how one “chooses” to carry out a program that leads to that future is on the order of the Wizard of Oz, commanding Dorothy not to look behind the curtain. It’s misdirection. And for this viewer, it just does not work.

If the tweaking of FlashForward is intended to get us past the question of whether the flashforwards are “true”, to the question of “how did it happen” and “who is responsible”, then I’m all for it. For now, it looks as though that’s the direction we’re headed. It may be just me and the cat next week, however, as the audience is disappearing like fog on a hot day. Coming in at 6.5 million viewers, with a 1.9 rating/8 share among the 18-49 group, the show actually lost half a million viewers from its last broadcast three and a half months ago. The show lost 43% of its initial viewers over the course of last fall, even before the extended hiatus. Loyal fans may blame the slide on the episode’s position against the NCAA tourney, but I’m not sure that’s enough to account for long-term leakage. And I don’t know that any retconning will halt this slide. ABC has not yet announced whether there will be a second season; at this point I’m not betting on it.