Despite all the hype as a potential successor to ABC’s cult science fiction drama LOST, the infant FlashForward ended up airing its series finale just days after LOST’s own.
Irony’s a bitch.
Like LOST, FlashForward presented viewers with a Byzantine plot, philosophical puzzles, and Dominic Monaghan. Unlike LOST—and the reason why, I’m convinced, FlashForward didn’t get another season—it wasn’t a character-driven show. However engaging the storyline and mysterious the subject matter, a show still has to hook us on an emotional level, something Mark Benford and his lackluster FBI cohorts just didn’t manage to do.
The series did have some high points, however.
Physicists, it seems, are hot in contemporary science fiction (you can make anything plausible with reference to quantum mechanics). Losties got twitchy Daniel Faraday with his endearingly spasmodic hand movements, inevitable skinny tie, and at-times-inaudible science-speak mumbling. FlashForward brought us Lloyd Simcoe and Simon Campos—the first one being as romantic as Faraday but considerably less socially awkward, and the latter being absolutely effing terrifying. The most engaging subplots of the show generally involved these two—Simcoe and his relationship with Olivia, and Campos’s teeter-tottering between sociopathic scheming and genuine inner turmoil.
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that these were the most emotionally fraught storylines, either.
In the penultimate episode The Countdown (1.21), in fact, Lloyd and Olivia have a short phone conversation that might just sum up the entire reason FlashForward failed. When Olivia decides to drive off with Charlie the night of the blackout to get away from Lloyd (who desperately needs her to be with him at her house, mainly so he can solve an important equation he was supposed to write in lipstick on her bedroom mirror), we get this:
Lloyd: Certain conditions have to be met!
Olivia: Don’t make this about fate, don’t make this about free will.
In other words, make it about the characters.
Well alas alack, it’s a trifle late for that now. But since the show has gone the way of other sadly misbegotten science fiction (see Dollhouse and Firefly), at the very least a series recap is in order for FlashForward to rest in peace.
The Countdown brought up an interesting idea that probably would have been expanded upon if the series were to have continued: two people having mutually exclusive flash forwards about each other.
After enduring a lengthy speech from global blackout mastermind and sharp dresser Hellinger, Mark seemed to have resigned himself to his own death. And after being thrown out of the FBI for snapping and beating the crap out of the interrogee turned interrogator, Mark laughs like an hysterial madman when he shows up at a “Flash Forward Day” party (ironic, isn’t it?) and gets a flask pushed on him by another man who’d seen himself quitting drinking. At this point, Mark’s thoroughly frustrated by his own impotence. And yet, he can’t entirely give himself up to The Universe. As Hellinger says:
All of this is so futile, but your faith is admirable. That board in your office—how much time have you spent on it? How much time have you spent looking at it, all on faith. But deep down you must know what that board really is—it’s nothing but a scrapbook of your failures. A freed Nazi, a failed trip to Somalia, dead birds—but you keep believing, you keep fighting, because that’s what you do.
All this in a condescendingly contemptuous tone, naturally, made all the worse by an upper-crust British accent. British accents always make me feel inferior.
So when a stranger in a bar says that his flash forward involved talking to Mark—a major departure from Mark seeing masked men with rifles searching him out in his office—the strain might have been just a little too much. Benford snaps and beats the crap out of his second guy in forty-two minutes. And gets thrown in jail.
As for everyone else—
At the end of the second-to-last episode, some futures are coming true and some have already shattered:
Nicole starts feeling guilty for hiding her information about Keiko’s whereabouts from Bryce (and thus fears getting drowned and liking it), so she confesses; Bryce, naturally, is angry and shocked, and rushes off to find his illegal immigrant lover.
Aaron’s saved his daughter Tracy from Jericho and learned from a captured Jericho interrogator (Aaron can do some serious Jack Bauer strategic finger-jabbing) that the private defense firm hadn’t killed anyone—as Tracy had thought. It had been yet more blackout beta-testing, and Tracy was a target because she’d been in the radius but remained awake. Except, since she did die after all, I guess we’ll never know why she was important (kind of like Walt and the Others…).
Olivia and Charlie are ditching the physicist and his son, the latter two of which are understandably pissed.
Demetri admits to his fiancé that he slept with Janis so she could get pregnant—while he though we was about to get murdered—and then has the gall to ask, “Please marry me.” Zoey stalks off to Hawaii with her parents. There goes one escape from the inevitable. So the once-again-fatalistic Demetri teams up with a guilt-ridden Janis and a vengeful Simon Campos to sneak into the particle accelerator and see if they can figure out whatever crazy system Hellinger used to cause the first blackout—and so stop the next.
End act one.
Future Shock (1.22), the season/series finale, opens with just an hour and eighteen minutes to the time seen in the blackout: April 29th, 10:00 pm.
Let’s start with the good news—Tracy’s alive after all! That was sure unexpected, and it might even be touching… if I actually cared about her and Aaron. Bryce meets Keiko as hoped for, and Nicole, though she was drowning, isn’t actually murdered but saved y the sinister man above the watery abyss. Janis’s baby’s still healthy, and a boy And from Lloyd, another great scientist pick-up line: “You’re part of the equation, and I can’t do it without you.” (That equation on the mirror, by the way, is Dillan’s.)
Meanwhile, in a creepy octagonal (or something) room filled with large computers and flashing panels, Simon tries in vain to find a file on the computer before the time on the clock runs out and the electromagnetism is released from the Swan hatch and—
Sorry, more flashbacks.
In any case, because of Simon’s physicist inside jokes and because Olivia agrees to recreate the circumstances of the flash forward and ends up looking deep into Lloyd Simcoe’s eyes—“I fought it, and resisted it, and… the future happened,” she explains—Lloyd solves his math problem and discovers that the next blackout is… sometime in the next two days. In fact, it’s in twelve minutes. Which is shockingly convenient, considering the episode needs to wrap up the entire series and answer that pressing question of another blackout in, at this point, thirteen minutes too.
But there’s worse—Hellinger’s been messing with Mark the whole time. As it turns out, he has men on the inside (besides Janis), and they’re all ready to shoot up a re-instated Mark Benford just as he figures out the time of the new blackout and channels Jack Bauer in a super intense gunfight.
During all this, Hellinger’s cronies–presumably–activate the accelerator in secret. Remember all those doomsday predictions about the LHC back in September? It’s like that.
And just like that, Simon gets a conscience as he tries to shut down the hackers—“I’m not going to let them do this to me—to use my mind, my machine! Millions of people, Demetri! Millions of people don’t deserve to die,” he says at gunpoint, in an impassioned tone (see image above). It would be redemption for the evil scientist… if it were a little less hurried.
In fact, it’s not even clear whether Simon did turn into a good guy at all. Back a couple episodes, Simon Campos and Hellinger had a major battle of British accents in a seedy hotel room. But while Simon does demonstrate his contempt for the men he’s been unwittingly working for his entire life, we never do actually hear him answer the Big Guy’s ultimatum: Join us and finish your great scientific work, or die in ignominy.
The finale includes a pretty long scene with Simon hacking into the mainframe–and the only assurance that it’s Hellinger’s men comes from… Simon. No corroborating evidence (no wonder Demetri’s so close to shooting him). If he really was not working for the enemy, he failed to stop the blackout with all his rapid keyboard pounding. Personally, I think he wanted to fire that NLAP particle accelerator up again. He warned Demetri to take a seat for his safety, and despite his talk of saving millions of lives, his first words were–“I’m not going to let them do this to me—to use my mind, my machine!” They could be Benford and co. “I,” “me,” and “my” are pretty self-explanatory. He values his mind and his work.
Maybe he was still working for the enemy. Simon Campos has a good track record for lying, anyway.
And so the second blackout does happen, though with ten minutes forewarning to world governments, which, I guess, saved a couple million. The flights that couldn’t be grounded in time, however, might end up on a mysterious island run by the mysterious Hurley and his ambassador Ben.
As for our protagonist—Mark Benford is last scene running toward a window (fourth story at least, I’d guess) in the exploding Los Angeles FBI hq. His daughter, however, comes full circle with her flash forward: while first she saw her father being reported dead, on April 29, 2010 Charlie sees a much older self (in 2015) telling someone, “They found him.”
All in all, FlashForward gave us a neater tying-up of ends than LOST and a pinch of ambiguity in the end, but neither the story the creators intended, nor the depth of its older sibling, nor nearly as much sobbing by fans.
Though, I will miss that kangaroo.