October 15th, 2009
All I can hear is the clock ticking.
Yeah, well, all I can hear is the crickets, FlashForward.
“Black Swan” is yet another example of the ways in which FlashForward seems fundamentally unwilling to engage with its most interesting elements and choosing, instead, to continue to ponderously engage with small-scale stories that feel like note cards on a bulletin board rather than something that’s part of a mosaic.
What’s interesting is that, if the show had ignored the notions of global conspiracy and the worldwide destruction, I actually think this would be an interesting hour of television. If the show had ignored the chaos of the pilot, and had instead had everyone experience a vision of their future without any time passing, then “Black Swan” would be an interesting investigation into a patient whose flash forward is inexplicable, or a young babysitter who wonders how she can atone for a sin she has yet to commit. Those questions are on their own a decent structure for an almost procedural series, a world like our own but where alternate futures dominate everyday conversation.
The problem with the show hasn’t been sold as anything close to that, but rather as a show rife with conspiracy theories and exciting serialized elements. And in an episode like this one, we understand the show’s central dilemma: when the show spends time with the mundane, we’re left wondering what’s going on with the big picture, but when they do spend time with the big picture we wonder why we were spending time with the mundane at all. And as long as both sides of the show’s storylines have some pretty serious execution problems, I don’t know how long the dichotomy is going to hold.
The central thesis of this episode is the intersection of FlashForwards with the everyday employment of our set of characters. Dmitri and Mark both believe strongly that their FlashForwards mean something, but while Mark wants to follow random leads that could relate to the big picture Dmitri wants to follow leads that relate to actually working as FBI agents. I think there’s some value to reminding us that these are, in fact, FBI agents, and the storyline with the detainee related to the weapons sale is something that the show needs to return to. However, there’s a point where the storyline becomes about grasping at straws, and the end purpose of it all gets fundamentally lost. Dmitri and Mark’s fight in the trailer park is the example of a scene that hops up emotional reactions for no other reason than to create conflict: there’s no reason Mark should be so dead set on traveling to Somalia when there are certainly other leads to follow, and while there is reason for Dmitri to be upset that particular moment felt entirely contrived. The presence of the stupidest drug dealer of all time, with a strain of Weed that HAPPENS to be the same as nuclear materials, was the exact opposite of natural character development or anything similar.
The other side of the storyline was no better off, as Olivia turned into the eternal non-believer when she drew a line in the sand between medicine (in other words, science) and the flash forwards (or, again, religion). There was a really interesting undercurrent to the episode where the babysitter goes to religion in an effort to explain her flash forward but is largely rebuffed, but the connection is never made between the two stories. Olivia has reason to be a non-believer in flash forwards, but that she would ignore legitimate medical advice that was based only partially on the flash forward (the diagnosis explaining his blackout heroics as well) is ludicrous, just as is her decision to transfer her future beau’s son in order to try to avoid forming any sort of connection. It’s an enormously unlikeable and, more importantly, sudden character shift that I don’t particularly understand. The entire episode felt like a test of what either an FBI or a medical procedural would be like if they involved flash forwards, and unfortunately for the show the answer is really uninteresting.
It’s also the first episode to entirely ignore the central premise, giving us no real moments of seriality until the very end where we get our first look at Dominic Monaghan as he tells the one character whose flash forward is apparently worthless (Mr. Simco) that he’s responsible for the most catastrophic moment in the world, or something like that. It’s like that final cliffhanger is supposed to make us forget that the rest of the episode was pedestrian to a fault, that the episode ending on a serialized note was in some capacity living up to its premise. However, a show’s premise can’t just pop in during exciting cliffhangers, as that became Heroes’ less than satisfying calling card beyond its first season. A show can go far on a solid premise that is poorly executed, but so long as FlashForward’s actual episode structure seems to actively ignore the larger mythology of its premise it’s not going to keep anyone’s attention.
The image of the Black Swan was supposed to be something meaningful, I think, but in the end it had no relevance to 90% of the episode, so how are we supposed to claim it was important? The show needs to work
- Mark’s plan of getting a hacker to hack into the CIA for satellite photos is maybe the dumbest thing the show has suggested thus far. Unless they showed us a more compelling version of the CIA/FBI conflict, it’s a ludicrous development.
- Also, the Reverend with crickets in his desk was the kind of comic moment that makes no sense, especially when it draws attention to the crickets that I heard throughout the episode.
- Show also gets negative comedy points for the none too subtle nod to Fiennes’ Shakespeare in Love role following his epic performance as Eggbert.
- Also weird: how does someone in custody know about the Mosaic site, or about Dmitri’s lack of a flash forward? It implies that this is really the most incompetent FBI bureau of all time.