FlashForward: “The Gift”


“The Gift”
ABC, Thursday, 8
Written by Lisa Zwerling & Ian Goldberg
Directed by Nick Gomez

“The future is unwritten.” —Al Gough

I have been waiting for this. Ever since the Flashforward incident that started off this series, I’ve been waiting for the falsification of this theory. The idea behind the novel and the TV series is that almost everyone on Earth saw the same future, and that many of those visions cross-reference one another, thereby “ensuring” that they are going to come true. This episode of FlashForward shows just how deeply everyone has bought into this inevitability idea. Even those who reject their future visions, like Olivia and (to an extent) Mark Benford, are acting as if they believe them with all their heart and soul. In tonight’s episode, FBI Agent Al Gough (Lee Thompson Young, Scrubs) even played Russian Roulette as casually as some people answer a phone, because he “knew” that he was not going to die, that he was going to be alive on April 29, 2010.

What was inevitable was that at some point, somewhere on this planet, someone was going to ask: what happens if a person who had a vision dies before April 29, 2010? What does that imply about the “certainty” of the worldwide phenomenon we have all experienced? Most importantly, what does that mean about the way we structure our lives from here on out?

One of the fundamental ideas behind scientific inquiry is falsification: the idea that in order to test a theory, you try to disprove it, rather than prove it. This may sound counterintuitive to some, but bear with me. The classic formulation of this theory is the statement: “all swans are white.” In order to prove this statement true, you would have to gather positive evidence; i.e., you would have to look at each and every swan that ever existed, past, present, and future. But in order to prove it false, you only have to produce one negative example. One black swan “falsifies” the theory. That’s why many scientific theories are tested by trying to disprove them; if the theory can be disproved by even one experiment, it means there is no need to waste time and energy gathering supporting “positive” evidence. In the same vein, one falsification derails most of the angst associated with the Flashforward that we’ve been watching build over the past few weeks. If even one person is dead who was seen to be alive on April 29, 2010, the entire event’s foundation is called into question.

The FBI continues to investigate the attacks on their agents two weeks ago. Demetri, Al, and Mark are back in the morgue, trying to identify three bodies with blue hands found in a deserted house. Their investigation is aided by the Internet (what a handy invention for crime writers that has become!), where a website devoted to those who did not have a flashforward vision calls itself “alreadyghosts” and directs them to a death club. The agents go there, deceiving themselves that they look like anything other than undercover cops, and find that the entry fee includes a suicide ritual with a loaded gun. This is where Al steps in and pulls the trigger on a gun he “knows” will not kill him. Seems to me this would be a ploy to weed out fakes, because only those who had a vision of themselves alive in 2010 would have the self-confidence to play the game, but why start using logic now? The name given to whoever is running the Blue Hands Club at the moment is “Raynaud”; as Callum Keith Rennie later explains, it’s a pseudonym he adopted after the Flashforward event. Named for discoverer Maurice Raynaud, Raynaud’s syndrome is a vasoconstrictive disorder resulting in decreased blood flow to the extremities, resulting in very cold—”blue”—hands. I don’t get the connection between blue hands and a lack of Flashforward visions, but at least it looks arresting onscreen.

The club appears to be a combination of Fight Club and underground rave, with various tattooed and pierced patrons indulging in all sorts of self-tortures. Apparently this is supposed to signify nihilistic despair, although one suspects this may be a slow night at some Los Angeles clubs—in the suburbs. When “Raynaud” steps out to meet the throng, he brandishes a gun and displays blue hands, which some dreamy-eyed zombie informs the agents symbolizes a “gateway”. What I got out of this entire setup was not so much a mystical insight into the phenomenon of the Flashforward, as confirmation that humans will invest mystery (and hence meaning) into anything. Sidelined by the greatest event in history, these bereft souls find that their lives have been trivialized, and hence struggle to re-inject some kind of significance into them, even if it is only the pathetic drama of fight clubs.

The investigation brings in MI6 agent Fiona Banks (Alex Kingston, ER), whose vision included Al Gough (and vice versa). Al is increasingly troubled by his flashbacks to his flashforward, as it were. He remembers meeting with Banks, but he also remembers the cell phone call that interrupted them, the news that an innocent woman had died as a result of his actions, and he remembers his crushing grief and guilt. All this over something that has not yet even happened!

Other characters who have experienced visions they do not want to see come true have reacted in various ways: denial, flight, feverish attempts to anticipate and forestall future events. Al Gough is apparently the first one with the vision, the courage, and the wisdom to see that there is one surefire way to guarantee that his future does not come true. He writes notes to the woman he will never see, whose life he is now (he believes) saving, and then he throws himself off a building. Of all the gestures I’ve seen on this show, that is the most truly heroic. His is not an act of despair as much as an act of self-sacrifice. He is saving the lives not only of the woman he is “supposed” to kill in the future, but the lives of countless others worldwide who may, like the “already ghosts” of the Blue Hand clubs, believe that they are doomed. His death should make headlines world-wide, and inspire new hope in the desperate.

The central philosophical question raised by the Flashforward is summarized in Al’s farewell letter to Celia, the woman he will not now accidentally kill: the future is unwritten. Al’s deliberate act has falsified the theory that the events of the Flashforward are inevitable. By doing so, he has hit the “reset” button on the entire premise of the show. If the future is not written, does this not put us all back where we were before the Flashforward? Doesn’t this mean people don’t have to struggle any longer to make those visions come true, or not? Doesn’t this mean we can all go back to normal? Al’s death means Game Over for 90% of this show. Now Demetri knows he doesn’t have to die. Mark knows he doesn’t have to drink again. Olivia will know she need never see Lloyd Simcoe again.

The one single question remaining, the only one holding any interest at all for me, is the question of HOW. This is the one question that characters like Alda Herzog, the terrorist Mark and Demetri were pursuing in the pilot, have been insisting that we ignore and dodge. Most of the episodes have been focused on when and what and who was affected, but all this hand-waving does not obscure the fundamental, vital question of how this Flashforward happened. The implications of that answer are, apparently, to be reserved for April, 2010. And since it is the only really interesting question left, I have to wonder (and dread) how the writers are going to fill the time until then.

This episode, coming up against a new Grey’s Anatomy episode, brought in 8.4 million viewers. This is down from last week’s 9 million. Although ABC won Thursday night overall, FlashForward fell 4% in adults 18-49, its lowest rating ever, and came in third in its timeslot. Without distractions from baseball or football to explain audience slippage, I have to wonder if viewers have lost interest in this floundering show.