Monday, 28 September 2009

First Flash

I sat down to watch the first episode of Flash Forward tonight (spoilers are coming, peeps and peepesess), having consciously learned absolutely nothing about the show in advance. In fact, I knew so little about it I spent the first two minutes thinking "That dude looks an awful lot like Joseph Fiennes". All I knew is that everyone seems convinced that it is The Best Thing Ever, so I was prepared to hate it.

I... don't hate it. I mean Alex Kingston is still the most irritating woman working in television today, blue filters are so 2004, and all things being equal I'd rather have kept watching Charlie's cartoon (which apparently chronicles the adventures of a mentally unbalanced beaver and a shark in a goldfish-bowl reverse diving suit), but generally speaking it was pretty enjoyable.

For the uninitiated, the story revolves around a period of two minutes and seventeen seconds during which the entire population of the planet blacks out. Most of them experience flashes of themselves six months in the future.

This unlocks two crises. The most immediate one is the massive damage caused by such widespread unconsciousness; cars crash, planes crash much harder, operations are suddenly abandoned, and so on. Cue lots of shots of broken bodies, men on fire, and a genuinely unnerving image of a rubbery oil-slick of drowned surfers. Also the obligatory CGI effects of exploding oil-tankers, of course, which I am prepared to forgive, and an escaped kangaroo, which is either a fairly baffling clue or just someone having a preemptive laugh at devoted fans' expense (I fully intend to pooh-pooh any fan theory I see on the grounds that it fails to explain the marsupial).

The second crisis is more slow-burning, but with an obvious time limit; how do we work out how this happened, and make sure this never happens again? FBI Agent Mark Benford (as played by a bloke who looks like Joseph Fiennes, as played by Joseph Fiennes) saw himself investigating that very thing, which leads to him getting the gig in the present, but it doesn't look like things were going well, since his wall is full of random leads and his office is full of hostile men wearing black clothes and baby masks and sporting automatic weapons.

The way the flashes are used are very clever. A suicidal man is so delighted to learn that he will in fact be alive in six months that he immediately feels his life has meaning again (though since he tells a woman who killed her patient during an incident that cost the life of thousands of people that the flashes were a gift from God, it appears his life is meant to involve him being an insensitive fuck). An alcoholic watches himself relapse, which in itself would be likely to trigger that very thing. Mileage is gotten out of Benford's partner Dmitri receiving no flash and hence believing he will be dead within the next six months, I'm glad Dmitri (as played by Sulu, as not played by George Takei) worked this out fairly quickly, since it's an obvious conclusion, but whether this is going to set a pattern of actually getting answers or not remains to be seen.

Because anyone with any experience of genre TV knows where this could end. The first episode did nothing to alleviate my fears that one of three things could happen. Firstly, the flash might prove to be the only sci-fi aspect to the show, which the writers eventually run out of ways to make hay out of. You might be able to manage a low-key show for a while with that conceit, but it wouldn't last forever, and when you start of with the blood and the smoke and the exploding, you've really got to be careful about putting on the brakes too much. The second possibility is that more and more weird shit gets added to the mix (known round these parts as the "Twin Peaks Method"), hoping that new mysteries will work as a substitute to any actual answers, until everyone who watches the show literally chews their own fingers off and uses the bleeding stumps to punch Brannon Braga to fucking death. The third possibility is halfway between the first two, and involves allowing revelations to occur, but only at a snail's pace, and with each one leading to new mysteries, and interspersed with character scenes that involve everyone acting as stupidly as possible in order to justify no-one being able to work out what's going on (see Lost for a textbook example of allegedly smart people steadfastly refusing to ask even the most obvious question). That will end in bloodshed too, though at least I'll still have my fingernails so as to gouge out the eyes of my enemies.

Maybe not. It's impossible to tell for now, and I'm certainly intrigued enough to continue watching. Setting up a mystery is not the same thing as either maintaining nor resolving a mystery, though, so I refuse point-blank to get my hopes up in any way. I guess I'm learning.

16 comments:

Chemie said...

I too fear the Lost snails pace of incredibly stupid people not talking to each other. However, mostly it was fun and I think I shall enjoy guessing how some events will occur.

I would like to nominate FBI man for being the most thoughtless person ever. Upon waking up and finding massive devastation and many many people in his immediate vicinity in need of his training, his response is to run off and check on his wife - who will have fallen unconscious in a hospital. Yup. The best possible place in the world to fall unconscious and recover.

Not to mention that said wife on a day that will bring huge casualties to her hospital following a massive disaster appears to have finished her shift at the hospital and trotted home for a chat. Rather than crawling home in a state of exhaustion after spending 3 days sleeping on camp beds in-between surgeries on the unexpected hordes.

Have these people no sense of duty?

SpaceSquid said...

In fairness, all he knew at the time was that he'd blacked out, and there was a fuck-off huge disaster going on. You're right about wasting time himself, but checking up on his wife makes sense beyond that.

I take the point regarding how easily his wife managed to get out of the hospital, but I still think
"All these deaths notwithstanding, isn't this great for me!" guy wins the award hands down.

Chemie said...

Doesn't matter what caused or the nature of a disaster. The hospital is probably the safest place for his wife to be. Except maybe a bunker. I say he is a moron in dereliction of his duty! (Like his wife). Self absorbed happy suicidal man still helped other people!

I told Tomsk that in the eventuality of a national disaster whilst I was in a hospital, where he should find himself in a situation where his molecular modelling skills could save the lives of multiple strangers he was to do that, rather than come and rescue me from...one of the safest, best equipped and manned places in the area. Should I be alone in a knife factory instead of a hospital he was permitted to dither.

SpaceSquid said...

I still think you're analysis of a hospital as "safest place to be" is conditional on information you had and Benford didn't. I'd also point out that even with the phone call that went nowhere, I'm not sure he got into the action any slower than suicide guy, who spent far too much time staring at the sea and a whole bunch of dead bodies.

As regards our Lost fears, Gooder told me last night that the show is built on an assumption of three years, in order to use up all the material of the novel on which the show is based. Whether this turns out to make a difference or not, we shall see.

It finally dawned on me what this show reminded me of, too: Odyssey 5. Which means Lost-esque endless nonsense is far less likely than a few intriguing ideas and good character drama, which is then cancelled for no reason. Here's hoping...

Chemie said...

'I still think you're analysis of a hospital as "safest place to be" is conditional on information you had and Benford didn't.'

Not really. Name a disaster (except the dead coming back to life) where a hospital isn't a great, if not the best location to be. Built to survive with back up generators, basements, excellent fire and evacuation systems, medical staff, equipment, survival gear, emergency services, food, security, priority communications, treated as a priority by anyone attempting a relief effort and neutral by a (human)invading force. Even if the hospital receives a direct hit from something, the best people to help are normally the survivors or standing just outside it. Second best civilian location would probably be a police station, fire station or school.

Yes, I am a nightmare to watch disaster movies with. I learned it on my mother's knee as she abused the idiots on the Poseiden.

SpaceSquid said...

"Not really. Name a disaster (except the dead coming back to life) where a hospital isn't a great, if not the best location to be."

A terrorist attack on a hospital.

Clearly in this case the hospital couldn't be the only target, but that's a different issue.

I'm not saying the odds are in favour of it, of course, just that I don't think "she's safest where she is" is so axiomatically true he was dumb to check.

This is to say nothing of the fact that "safer" is a relative term. Just because her odds of being wounded/in distress are lower than anyone else's, it doesn't make his concern irrational.

Chemie said...

> A terrorist attack on a hospital.

Then what is *he* going to do about it? She would be lying wounded within the immediate vicinity of the people who could actually help her. Or cowering under a table (he has no idea how to find) whilst the on site security people trained to deal with the situation - deal with it.

> I'm not saying the odds are in >favour of it, of course, just that >I don't think "she's safest where >she is" is so axiomatically true >he was dumb to check.

Dumb? Selfish, thoughtless and in dereliction of his duty. People were dying and injured all around him; they actually looked to him for leadership, he told them to keep calm and do what they could to find and help the wounded and then RAN OFF. He was one of the best qualified person there to find and help wounded people and keep people calm. Concern for a loved one is always irrational and understandable but acting on it (especially when you are trained to assess risk and handle emergencies and therefore know that your loved one should be in safer place) at the cost to other people's lives is not. An FBI agent shouldn't be irrational in an emergency, he should protect the public.

So he was moron for giving advice and then ignoring it and a treacherous toad for leaving people dying so he could check on one person who very probably wasn't dying. Also, totally massive risk to him as he ran through the city to check on wife-in-safest-place. Why wasn't he thinking of their daughter? Mr Fienes has a long way to go before he earns my support. Although 75 episodes may be enough time. 75 still being a very long time for people to irritate me by failing to ask questions or approach a problem logically.

Tomsk said...

75 episodes is a very long time if they're going to show that excruciating Blackberry advert after every single break. Apart from that it was pretty good!

Pause said...

See, I couldn't be bothered with this: the all too likely prospect of yet another mind-numbingly drawn out bollocks-fest in the vein of Lost put me right off. If discussion of it remains favourable, perhaps I'll do what I almost never do in such circumstances and read the book instead.

On the other hand, I did have the misfortune to catch ten minutes of Being Erica, which also started last night. It appears to be a poor riff off of Quantum Leap, as imagined by a neurotic, self-absorbed Dido who's overdosed on ITV's incessant repeats of Bridget Jones' Diary.

It was every bit as bad as that sounds, and worse.

SpaceSquid said...

"Then what is *he* going to do about it? She would be lying wounded within the immediate vicinity of the people who could actually help her. Or cowering under a table (he has no idea how to find) whilst the on site security people trained to deal with the situation - deal with it."

So, to summarise, in any attack she's either safe or not? Glad we cleared that up.

He was looking for reassurance that she was alright. Again, being surrounded by doctors does not make one invulnerable. And despite your insistence that you are happy for Tomsk to use his (admittedly impressive) chemistry skills to aid all mankind during the Apocalypse, one can't help feeling that this is a much easier position to maintain pre-clusterfuck. Furthermore, since as you say emotional turmoil is unavoidable, it's at least arguable that finding out his wife was OK (a process that would take all of 30 seconds) would lead to him more effectively focussing on the crisis around him.

"Selfish, thoughtless and in dereliction of his duty."

Deriliction of duty? You remember he's an FBI agent, right? The "I" does not stand for "directing triage during a massive car pile-up". In fairness, you could argue that he should have located the car he was tailing first, but that's not the angle you've taken. It does not follow that because people look to him for support it makes it his duty to provide it. It might make him a dick for denying it, granted, but working for the FBI does not make you the go-to guy for any given emergency.

Having said that, this discussion started over him making a phone call. The fact that he ran off to find his wife, rather than helping for longer or heading for his daughter, makes more sense as a criticism. Of course, the most obvious counter to the latter is that his wife was within range on foot and his daughter, back home in the suburbs, was not.

Chemie said...

> So, to summarise, in any attack she's either safe or not? Glad we cleared that up.

I was trying to say that in an attack, him rushing off to her side in no way improves her already very good chances of survival (Unless he was Batman or Superman).

> He was looking for reassurance that she was alright.

At the cost of other people's lives. He had no idea how long it would take him to check on her. He is trained to deal with emotional turmoil and should be making better decisions. I could forgive Joe Blogs for making the dicky decision but not the man who attended workshops on hazard assessment and minimising civilian casualties. The scriptwriter just needed a reason for him to run heroicly past some TV screens, looters and a kangaroo so that it looked cool.

> Deriliction of duty?

He is trained in first aid, handling violent, emotional, unstable people and in building relationships with people quickly so a situation is handled efficiently and painlessly. Excellent skills for 'helping the wounded' and 'calming down'. Not to mention being trained to recognise the language, methods and requirements of the emergency services. Also being fit, unwounded, capable of lugging people about and a recognisable authority figure. He was also 'on duty'.

>The fact that he ran off to find his wife, rather than helping for longer or heading for his daughter, makes more sense as a criticism.

The decision to run off and check on a person with excellent survival prospects, who he can't help anyway at the cost of people he left without helping is exactly what I am criticising.

SpaceSquid said...

"I was trying to say that in an attack, him rushing off to her side in no way improves her already very good chances of survival (Unless he was Batman or Superman)."

I can grant that it doesn't improve her chances by any great amount, but that isn't the same thing. Even a fractional increase is worth pursuing if you care enough. Again, I can't argue that this is selfish thinking, only that it isn't ridiculous thinking.

"The decision to run off and check on a person with excellent survival prospects, who he can't help anyway at the cost of people he left without helping is exactly what I am criticising."

Good point; I misremembered your original post. I thought we were discussing him attempting to reach her by phone. But your own argument still works against you. His duty was to accompany his partner to drop of their prisoner. If he'd been focussed on that, he still wouldn't have done what you wanted him to do.

Chemie said...

I have no problem with him trying to call her, as long as it was after 911 and his FBI base and before his accident claim lawyer.

>His duty was to accompany his partner to drop of their prisoner. If he'd been focussed on that, he still wouldn't have done what you wanted him to do.

His job was to detain the prisoner, which he did. His duty (both as a government agent and as a human being) is another thing. Besides too-thin-blonde-mystery-lady was pretty much debunked of being responsible the moment she was caught. Her delayed detention at an HQ (which might not exist anymore) instead of being handcuffed dazed to a burning vehicle would be a reasonable price to pay for saving US citizens. If he had beaten the location of the dirty bomb out of her and run off to defuse it, he would have Chemie forgiveness - although a pencil mark would have been made next to his name wrt the whole torture thing.

SpaceSquid said...

"His duty (both as a government agent and as a human being) is another thing."

I think the "duty as a human being angle" is covered by agreeing he was selfish; I was objecting to the "deriliction of duty" comment, and trying to fudge that to "deriliction of his human duty" feels like a cheat.

"Besides too-thin-blonde-mystery-lady was pretty much debunked of being responsible the moment she was caught."

Yes, it is literally impossible that she was lying. Being caught in the disaster makes that unlikely, granted, but not impossible.

"Her delayed detention at an HQ (which might not exist anymore) instead of being handcuffed dazed to a burning vehicle would be a reasonable price to pay for saving US citizens."

This is the crux of this, I think. Returning blonde to base is what his duty requires. Your argument that given the situation he could interpret his duty in some other way is entirely logical, I'm not arguing with that. My problem is that while it seems clear that there are two alternatives (return woman, stay and help) which both could be considered his "duty", you're convinced that unless he picks the one you have determined takes precedence (and to be fair, I agree with your assessment) he is in deriliction of his duty. Unless you can point to some FBI reg that says "Standard procedure ceases to apply during a catastrophe, at which point just help whoever's next to you", I don't see how you can argue that one option is dereliction and one not, as oppose to two alternate interpretations.

It's also worth pointing out that Benford might be more use back at base, where he can be used as part of a concerted, organised relief force, rather than just running from car to car. Sure, the HQ might not exist; it might also be the only place still standing, and the centre of the attempts to help the city. Either of us can come up with possibilities that support one decision or the other, which is why I think its unwise to argue that one decision is obviously wrong, and a derelition of duty.

Chemie said...

>My problem is that while it seems clear that there are two alternatives (return woman, stay and help) which both could be considered his "duty", you're convinced that unless he picks the one you have determined takes precedence (and to be fair, I agree with your assessment) he is in deriliction of his duty.

But he did neither! (Although Mr Sulu apparently made that decision). Meaning he was in dereliction of duty. He did nothing that was in line with his job or his duty and instead did something irrational and selfish that probably cost lives. Ergo he is on the naughty list.

I'd go easier on him if he returned the anorexic to base instead of running off. A waste of time perhaps and at the cost of the people on the road, but you're right he *might* be more help on a phone at the office. I'm pretty sure the FBI is trained to neutralise a threat and then help the wounded. Not neutralise a threat, walk it to the prison and then return to apply CPR to the bystanders. In fact as there were two FBI agents they could have done both.

Senior Spielbergo said...

I feel I'm now going to have to watch this show in order to get in on this argument.

Having no idea what has transpired as of yet I can’t exactly take a side… However Chemie does seem to be picking on this poor FBI guy (whoever he is) slightly unfairly, but then without anything to go on I always tend to side with the person being picked on and against the person doing the picking so probably unfair.

Will speak more after the rerun.