SABR Matt and I discovered this program late the other night and immediately agreed that our blog should pick it up. We hope to be completely caught up by next week at the latest.
Overall: 8 – A truly compelling, suspenseful pilot based on a profoundly interesting premise.
Cut for spoilers.
It is a perfectly ordinary day in Los Angeles: FBI agents Mark Benford and Demetri Noh are pursuing suspected terrorists in a high speed chase; Olivia Benford, Mark’s wife, is prepping for surgery; the Benfords’ babysitter, Nicole, is having sex with her boyfriend while the Benfords’ daughter, Charlie, sleeps upstairs; Mark’s friend and AA sponsor, Aaron Stark, climbs up a telephone pole to do a little electrical work; and Bryce Varley, Olivia’s intern, is contemplating shooting himself on the pier. An ordinary day - until, suddenly, everyone blacks out for two minutes and seventeen seconds. EVERYONE.
Mark comes to in his overturned car. Dazed, he climbs out and takes in the scene: littering the road are mangled and burning cars; in the background, people are screaming; one victim stumbles out of his car engulfed in flame. Mark mounts a vehicle and sees that the skyscrapers in the distance are also smoking; he watches, stunned, as a plummeting helicopter scrapes down the side of a building generating fireballs as it falls. Mark meets up with Demetri and they try to take stock; Demetri finds and apprehends their one surviving terror suspect and tells Mark to go check on his family. On the way to Olivia’s hospital, Mark catches a glimpse of the news footage: the blackout was global.
When Mark finally returns to FBI headquarters after confirming that his wife and child are okay, he is eager to get to work investigating why the global blackout occurred. Why? Because during his own blackout, he caught a glimpse of himself trying to sort out the clues to the source of the disaster six months in the future. Over the course of this first episode, others reveal that they too saw themselves on that same day – April 29, 2010. The reactions to these flashforwards are as various as the flashforwards themselves. Bryce is invigorated; he saw himself alive and believes that this is fate’s way of telling him that his suicide is not meant to happen. Janis, a colleague of Demetri and Mark, is bemused; she saw herself getting a prenatal sonogram and doesn’t know quite what to make of that, seeing as she doesn’t even have a boyfriend. Aaron saw his daughter alive in Afghanistan and is both fearful and hopeful. Among the regulars, perhaps the most frightened is Demetri, who saw nothing at all and concludes that this means he will be dead by April 29. Mark and Olivia, meanwhile, are also deeply disturbed by their own visions: Mark saw himself drinking again, while Olivia saw herself involved with another man.
At FBI headquarters, Mark and the others start the Mosaic website to assemble clues from the accounts of the world’s flashforwards. As the investigation gets off the ground, Janis makes a promising – and creepy – discovery while surveying surveillance camera footage: in a baseball stadium in Detroit, one man was awake during the blackout.
Now this is an effective pilot! A lot happens here, but unlike with the pilot for Stargate: Universe, I walked away from the opening episode of FlashForward with a working knowledge of all the regular characters. Instead of feeling confused and alienated, I was invested.
In particular, the establishment of the lead relationship between Mark and Olivia is well handled and, importantly, unique enough to hold my interest. Their tongue-in-cheek “I hate you, and I hope I never see you again” barbs are cute; the love is clearly there and it is clearly adult. On the other hand, this episode also very subtly establishes an element of dysfunctionality that will surely broaden as the storyline progresses: while Olivia is open with Mark regarding her flashforward, Mark holds back.
There is the occasional moment of clunky exposition, but most of the time, the premise and backstories are established in a smooth and unobtrusive manner. The introduction of Aaron Stark at an AA meeting is especially inspired, as such a context is perfectly suited to the unpeeling of life stories.
Of course, the most critical thing the writers master right away is the art of suspense. The manner in which the scope and nature of the disaster is revealed – through snippets of news footage sprinkled throughout the episode – is absolutely fantastic. Demetri’s revelation, meanwhile, is suitably chilling, as is the maddening cliffhanger of an ending.
The principal goal of an opening episode is to jog a viewer’s fascination enough to keep them watching. The first episode of FlashForward does precisely that. Both my co-author and I watched this episode on a whim late one night and immediately felt the urge to watch the other two episodes that were then available. If your viewer loses sleep over your pilot, I think we can declare it a complete success.
Overall, the performances were solid, but there were some flat areas. For example, I don’t quite feel the emotional conflict in Brian F. O’Byrne’s character when he tells Mark about his daughter being alive in his flashforward. Also, while the words are spine-tingling, John Cho’s delivery of his most important line (“In six months, I might be dead.”) seems a little too matter-of-fact.
Any premise that deals with prophecy is in danger of denying free will and slipping into determinism, but I am not seeing that yet here. As long as the show keeps open the possibility that the flashforwards are a warning rather than an absolute certainty – a potential future that can be changed – it will continue to be a very philosophically compelling program.