FlashForward: “Scary Monsters and Super Creeps”

Hands of Blue

“Scary Monsters and Super Creeps”
ABC, Thursday, 8
Written by Seth Hoffman & Quinton Peeples
Directed by Bobby Roth

Mark: Don’t condemn me for something I haven’t done yet.

Olivia: Do you even hear what you just said?

In the old days, as my grandpa used to tell me, Apaches would “hide” themselves in plain sight of an enemy who had been warned of their coming, knowing that the enemy would focus on the distant horizon and ignore what was directly in front of them until it was too late. Olivia, discussing the Flashforward with Mark, tries to make the same point: that everyone is concentrating on the future (the far horizon) and ignoring the present (the foreground). It’s a good observation; too bad Mark isn’t listening. While the FBI is concentrating its resources on trying to solve something out of its league, some criminal mastermind might be taking advantage of that distraction to empty Fort Knox. Maybe that was the original intent of the Flashforward?

This episode began with a bang (heh) and ended in a bigger bang, making more progress towards solving the mystery of the Flashforward than we’ve seen in all the episodes so far. I love sweeps month, when we get actual progress in these puzzle shows. Nevertheless, the show is threatening to buckle under the weight of its overloaded marital melodrama, and needs some refocusing very quickly.

We start off promisingly, with Dominic Monaghan’s (Lost) Simon making up to a girl on a train (Ashley Jones, True Blood). He manages to make the mind-experiment of Schrödinger’s Cat, coupled with a bit of many-worlds interpretation theory, into a seduction (neat trick), and we get scenes of their sex talk weirdly intercut with Dr. Olivia Benford’s desperate battle to save Agent Janis Hawk’s life. I get it that the editors were trying to make a statement tying the Heisenberg uncertainty principle to Janis’s precarious state, but the editing was so fast, and the concepts Simon was explaining are so complex, that I’m afraid all we got was a stylishly cut mess.

However, I give full props to any writers brave enough to serve up several dishes of quantum theory as a first course. I was delighted to see hints that Simon was even going to bring in the many-minds interpretation of quantum mechanics, which proposes that the distinction between worlds should be made at the level of the mind of an individual observer. This might actually turn out to be a viable explanation for the Flashforward: people saw unexplainable things in their futures because they were happening to different versions of themselves in different worlds. The many minds theory suggests that a conscious being who observes the outcome of an experiment will “split” into two successors in two observer states, effectively creating an infinitude of observer states or universes over time.

With a rich and wildly imaginative premise like this, then, why on earth is this show so damned boring? Answer: Mark and Olivia Benford. The Benford family melodrama is killing this show for me. It’s nothing but bout after bout of whining and accusing and tears and sullen anger. Olivia is trying to hold it together and behave like a normal human being, despite the fact that Mark has emotionally abandoned her. But Mark Benford… why is this man our lead? Why is he positioned as the hero in this story? Maybe the long arc is supposed to show how he redeems himself, so the writers are letting him fall into this emotional death spiral. I can understand that strategy, but that long-term plan risks alienating me permanently from this character. I don’t want him to be perfect, far from it, but I do want him to be likable. But then, I never liked Tony Soprano, either, so maybe there’s a species of hero I just don’t get. If so, Mark is the paradigm: manipulative, suspicious, jealous. He can’t even see that he is driving his wife into the arms of a man infinitely more gentle, more polite, more respectful. Olivia is an idiot if she doesn’t drop this morose whiner and hitch up with Lloyd.

In-joke: Benford’s address is 25696 Sawyer Court. As in… Sawyer on Lost? Or Flash Forward the novel author Robert J. Sawyer? Either way, cute.

I will admit that the one redeeming scene of the entire Benford family drama was the living room confrontation scene, and most of the credit for that goes to Jack Davenport (Swingtown). His Lloyd’s stunned recognition of the living room as the one from his flashforward, his instant grasp of the implications, and his sensitive reaction to it made him by far the most sympathetic character in the room. He handled it like a gentleman, leaving Mark to recapitulate James Dean in his most brooding bad-boy aspect. While the three adults are having circle-and-hiss games, the two children, Charlie and Dylan, are having some amazing interactions. They behave as though they’d grown up together, as if they’ve known each other forever. Yet they only “met” a few days before, and then only distantly. None of the grownups pick up on this. What kind of investigator is Benford, if he can’t even interrogate two witnesses under his own roof?

Fortunately, the FBI still has a couple of competent investigators left. Demetri (John Cho) continues to rule every scene he’s in. Teamed up with Al Gough (Lee Thompson Young, Scrubs), he pursues an actual criminal investigation with actual ties to the actual Flashforward: the attack on his team and Janis. He picks up a clue at the autopsy of Janis’s assailants: a blue hand figure stamped on the dead man’s hand. Although he does not want to believe the flashforwards are going to come true, he grudgingly remembers Mark’s future investigation board (the one Mark seems to have forgotten about) contained a mention of “Baltimore” and “blue hand”. He goes to Baltimore Street with Gough, they see a blue hand, they follow other blue hand graffiti to a haunted, er, mystery house and several corpses. Now that was creepy, guys. Secret signals, graffiti clues in plain sight, and a call-out to Firefly: what more could a SF geek ask for?

This show doesn’t seem to be about the Flashforward any more; it’s about whether Janis will have a baby, Demetri will die, and the Benfords paper over the cracks in their marriage. I don’t care. I would like more quantum physics, less hobbit sex, and a whole lot more mystery. The blue hand gang holds promise, but right now it’s just not enough. Even the final scene, which implies once again that Lloyd is more than an innocent victim of the Flashforward, is not enough to balance out the dreadful histrionics of the dysfunctional Benfords.

FlashForward hit a new ratings low on Thursday night, posting 9 million viewers, 2.7 preliminary adults in the 18-49 demo. Maybe more people were interested in Game 2 of the World Series and will be back when it’s over; I fear, however, more people are leaving because this show has not lived up to the promise of its premise.