Doc Jensen geeks out on 'FlashForward': Follow the clues; crack the mystery! (maybe)

In the new issue of Entertainment Weekly now on newsstands, you’ll find a story written by yours truly in which I geek out on my new TV obsession, the ABC sci-fi drama FlashForward. If you’re new to the show, here’s what you need to know: On Oct. 6, the planet blacked out and for 2 minutes and 17 seconds, and everyone on earth saw a brief vision of their respective futures. The saga’s center is FBI agent Mark Benford (Shakespeare In Love’s Joseph Fiennes), who during his brief quantum leap saw himself investigating an elaborate conspiracy behind mankind’s perplexing power nap. The day glimpsed in all the flashes: Thursday, April 29, 2010. (Yep, the show will air that night.) Will Mark’s faithful wife Olivia (Lost’s Sonja Walger) find herself in bed with another man? Will vaguely sinister scientist Simon Campos (Dominic Monaghan, another ex-Lostie) strangle a dude to death? And will FBI agent Demetri Noh (Star Trek’s John Cho), who saw only darkness during his flash, be (gulp) dead? “The high concept pitch is simply this: if you were given a glimpse of your future, what would you do with it?” says FF’s exec producer David S. Goyer. “If you see something bad, can you change it? If it’s good, how do you make it come true?”

One of the things I love best about the series is the explicit and implicit references to science, literature, philosophy, and pop culture. When investigated, these references suggest all sorts of possibilities about what’s really going on in the saga, or at the very least add some cool or ironic shading to the story. For example: we’ve been told that that Agent Noh will be killed on March 15. That also happens to be the date of Julius Caesar’s murder. More on the nose with FlashForward: Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, in which a seer tells the Roman leader to “beware the Ides of March,” i.e. March 15. Is that just the writers having some smarty-pants fun—or are they planting a cue that a Brutus-like colleague will betray Agent Noh?

Here’s another example—a little more tenuous, but if you follow my Doc Jensen work on Lost, you know that making pseudo-intellectual leaps are part of what I’m all about. In FlashForward’s third episode, Agent Benford traveled to Germany to interview a Nazi war criminal who claimed to know something about the true nature of the global blackout. The old Nazi was being held at Quale Prison, and as it happens, the word quale is directly linked to a philosophical term dealing with—in wikipedia’s words—“the subjective quality of conscious experience.” (The fact that FlashForward would name a prison after such a heady concept is pretty provocative. Is the show trying to suggest that objective reality is unknowable and mankind is fundamentally at odds with each other because we are locked into our unique, idiosyncratic perspectives of the external world?)

Are you with me?! I hope so, because in the weeks to come, I plan on doing even more obsessing about FlashForward here at EW.com, beginning with a complete TV Watch recap of the next episode, airing Dec. 3. Until then, here’s are some additional references (legit and perceived my crazy eyes) that FlashForward has made during its first nine episodes—and some theories about what they could mean.

Lost
Of course, Dominic Monaghan (Charlie) and Sonya Walger (Penelope) are living, breathing embodiments of Lost. Both actors played characters linked to Desmond Hume. During the show’s third season, the ex-Hatchman became super-charged with The Island’s electromagnetic energy and began having flash-forwards of Charlie’s death. He also went back in time and tried to change his destiny. David Goyer—a big Lost fan—slipped a billboard for Oceanic Airlines into the pilot, inspiring fans to wonder if both shows exist in the same universe. At the very least, they may share a similar philosophical idea: that no matter how much you try to change predestined events, fate will get what it wants.

“Across The Universe” by Rufus Wainwright

Like Lost, Cold Case and so many other shows, FF has a penchant for episode-ending slow-motion montages, set to rousing score or a thematically loaded pop song. One of my faves was Wainwright’s cover of this classic tune by The Beatles, heard in the Oct. 29 episode “Scary Monsters and Super Creeps.” In the 1999 Robert J. Sawyer novel that inspired the series, the blackout/flash-forwards are caused, in part, by an anomaly in deep space—literally “across the universe.” Coincidence? Nay! I say: Synchronicity! As in…

“Ghost In The Machine” by The Police
Agent Benford is a fan of the band and wore a T-shirt featuring this album’s artwork to an undercover operation—infiltrating an underground club catering to “ghosts,” people in the FF universe who didn’t see anything in their flash forward and thus believe they are destined to die before that date. According to band lore, the album was inspired by Sting’s fixation with Arthur Koestler, an egghead who postulated that people, events, and time are psychically linked via the concept of Synchronicity described by Carl Jung. (The Police song “Synchronicity,” from the album of the same (also inspired by Koestler), is a FlashForward theory unto itself; check out the lyrics here.) Koestler’s books include The Ghost In The Machine, The Roots of Coincidence (a book that has had a big influence on sci-fi, fantasy, and comic book writers), and Janus: A Summing Up, an exploration of systems theory that says that a larger whole or “holarchy” is make up of individual components called “holons” that also contain systems within themselves, or something like that, or maybe nothing at all like that, and yes, I don’t have any clue what any of this means. Bookmark that Janus name—we’ll be coming back to it in a minute.

Jericho
In FlashForward, Jericho is a military contractor that provides private armies to the highest bidder. Their soldiers apparently played a role in the attempted killing of Aaron Stark’s daughter, Tracy, in Afghanistan. I also suspect they are providing goons to the conspiracy that perpetrated the global blackout. Of course, Jericho was also the title of the short-lived, intensely loved cult drama that imagined the aftermath of a cataclysmic nuclear attack on the United States.

David Baldacci
Trying to make sense of Jericho’s treacherous attack on his daughter, Aaron likened the situation to a “Baldacci novel.” David Baldacci is the best-selling author of hugely successful books like The Collectors and Absolute Power, political potboilers that usually involve elaborate government conspiracies. Application to FlashForward: I’m thinking President Segovia (played by Peter Coyote)—who is (or was) tight with Assistant Director Wedeck (Courtney B. Vance)—knows much more about the global blackout than he’s telling. And remember Senator Clemente (Barbara Williams), the congresswoman who was leading the subcommittee investigation into the flash-forward event? She was no friend to Segovia and Wedeck, yet the president made her his new vice president—presumably to stifle her persecution of Wedeck’s Mosaic team. No, it’s not very realistic that a president would appoint a hated political rival as his No. 2—unless, of course, Segovia and Clemente aren’t the bitter enemies they appeared to be. I’m thinking that yes, Senator Clemente is in on the conspiracy, too. So what’s the conspiracy? Here’s the clue that sketches the big picture:

“D. Gibbons”
The “bad man” from little Charlie Benford’s spooky vision and one of many cryptic clues gleaned from Agent Benford’s flash forward. The name undoubtedly refers to Dave Gibbons, co-author of the subversive superhero saga Watchmen, whose intricate mystery plot concerns (SPOILER ALERT!) a conspiracy to encourage world peace by staging a fake alien invasion. And like FF, Watchmen stuffed coded clues and tell-tale non-sequiturs in the margins of its story. I’m thinking that the power players behind the global blackout were attempting to do something similar—usher in a new era of world peace by staging a global cataclysm designed to cause everyone to rethink their lives, the way they live their lives and the political, religious, and philosophical barriers that divide us. The bipartisan union of President Segovia and Senator Clemente is symbolic and representative of the narrative the conspiracy was/is trying to promote throughout the world. The two-faced, double-edged nature of this scheme to engineer planetary rebirth via planetary catastrophe is reflected in our next clue…

Janice/Janus
Janice is the name of the FlashForward character who saw herself having a baby on April 29… even though she’s a lesbian who is currently not in relationship and had been deeply ambivalent about even having kids until recently. Janice sounds exactly like Janus, the two-faced Roman deity of open gates and closed doors, of beginnings and endings. Janus is a deeply ironic, very paradoxical dude—both hopeful and ominous. That’s very Janice. Speaking of double-sided clues…

Beilby Porteus
Mosaic’s search for “D. Gibbons” led him to Pigeon, Utah, where he encountered a mystery man, coined “The Chess Player” by fans, in an abandoned doll factory. Before escaping, the chess player said, “He who foresees calamities, suffers them twice over.” That’s a famous quote from Porteus, an 18th-century English clergyman and noted abolitionist. His other major claim to fame was introducing something called “The Sunday Observance Act,” a “blue law” that regulated the ways people in England could spend their recreational time on Sunday. This is could be a double-faced clue. On one hand, we have an ostensible bad guy, quoting a guy linked to a righteous cause (ending slavery) and famous for forcing a righteous way of life on society (the Sunday Observance Act)—another possible proof on the aforementioned world peace conspiracy. But is The Chess Player part of The Blackout Conspiracy—or working to subvert it? The Porteus quote is darkly ironic. And coming from The Chess Player, it sounds like a warning or threat. Possibilities: If The Chess Player is trying to promote the conspiracy, he might have been trying to tell Benford that trying to solve the mystery of the blackout calamity will only produce another calamity—the ruin of its peace-promoting effect. But if The Chess Player is trying to fight the conspiracy, he might have been trying to tell Benford that flash-forward event had backfired—or will backfire when it reaches its fulfillment on April 29. FYI: Porteus is associated with another ironic quote that could be applied to FlashForward and my “Conspiracy of Peace” conspiracy theory: “War its thousands slays; peace its ten thousands.”

White Queen
The Chess Player left behind some clues for Mosaic, including a chess piece—the white queen, which provocatively intersects with all sorts of fantasy and geek pop. The White Queen is a character from Through The Looking Glass—a scatter-brained figure that lives her life backwards and struggles to live in the present. (“Jam-yesterday or Jam-tomorrow, but never Jam-today.”) That’s fitting for a show whose people got mind-scrambled during the global blackout and are now playing out futures that may have already come to pass—who are constantly being reminded and challenged to bravely defy fate by “living in the now.” However, “White Queen” is the handle of several prominent characters in comic book land, including the morally ambiguous X-Men foil Emma Frost (who can see into other people’s heads) and another baddie, Sat-Yr-9, an unhinged femme fatale from an alternate reality Earth. Yes, it is unlikely FlashForward was deliberately trying to forge a connection to the latter character. But she does embody a high concept theory in quantum physics that was explicitly referenced by Dominic Monaghan’s Simon Campos character: the idea that all possible realities actually exist. (See: the Schrödinger’s Cat thought experiment, used by Campos to seduce the blonde lady on the train.) I won’t beat this dead (Schrödinger’s) cat further by bringing this full circle and explicating the link between Alice In Wonderland and quantum mechanics, or how the whole notion of white and black chess pieces illustrate the binary either/or dynamics of alternate reality logic. However, and fittingly, I will ask you to entertain at least two possibilities: 1. That what everyone saw in their flash-forward was actually a peek into an alternate reality; and 2. That per the implications of Schrödinger’s Cat, which says that reality isn’t created until directly observed by the viewer, that the future sketched by the flash-forwards is now locked into place as a result of being directly observed by everyone in the past via the global blackout. Got that? Thought so. Also see: A Christmas Carol SPOILER ALERT! David Goyer says Charles Dickens’ classic novel—about a grinch who’s shown a vision of his (possible) future—looms large in the Dec. 3 episode.

Photo Credit: Bob D’Amico/ABC

Comments (34 total) Add your comment
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  • Sina

    Olivia/Lloyd. Please. Love this show.

  • bb

    Ah, great to have you on the case, Doc! I’m really digging this show (a bit inconsistent though it’s been) and your brand of speculation over this whacked-out plot will be fun…

  • jordan

    why are u starting to write recaps of a show just now thats been on for two months already? if ur obsessed with this show then ur alone. lost is a great show and this show is no better then ok at its best. im very surprised u like this show so much. just bc its sci fi doc doesn’t make it automatically great. i know u think lost is the greatest show ever and i agree with u there so im very surprised u think this show is so great. i think ur definitely alone in this one.

    • Pete

      Well you are wrong jordan. He’s not alone on this one. I love Lost and I think Flash Forward is a great show, so I’m on board. Bring on the recaps we need more Doc!!

  • kaci

    jeff jensen, you are made of awesome for posting this. my geeky side just went haywire. :)

    • KRibbons

      you know, Jeff, it’s because of you that I read Foucault’s Pendulum. Fantastic.

  • Ablair

    I suggested on my FrontRow survey that you write this very column…and it rocks just as I knew it would! I love pseudo-intellectual analysis, and I am going to pretend that it’s inception is due to my brilliant suggestion ; D

  • ashley

    Liked this show at first but it’s losing steam for me. Some stuff just doesn’t seem logical or necessary. And characters sometimes focus on one thing too much and don’t even question other issues that seem ripe for further investigation. For me, it’s no Lost.

  • Steph

    Clearly I didn’t want to sound like an idiot asking this question but since someone beat me to it — why are you about to recap a show that started back in September? A show whose ratings have tumbled nearly to the point of no return, and to which you literally need a companion guide with which to view the show?

    I watched up until last week, but couldn’t continue with a program that made my head hurt by 9:30pm. I appreciate intelligent programs, but have come to the conclusion Flash Forward doesn’t cut the mustard.

  • roundabout

    Way to bury this story late on a Friday afternoon ew.com…
    I’m really enjoying this show and the article in this week’s mag alleviated any apprehensions i had (it’s been a bit iffy in character vs. story and plot) with Goyer saying that beginning in the new year the pace is going to be fast and furious. I enjoy your LOST coverage, Jeff. Glad you’re on top of this.

  • Pop Culture Savant

    Another great column from the Doc. One note on the Janice/Janus front. According to IMDB the character’s name is spelled “Janis” which makes it even closer to ‘Janus’

  • Carrie

    I have really enjoyed every episode of the show thus far– until this week. It was seemingly only a few minutes long, much like some of Lost’s episodes, where the writers become SO focused on a “cool” plot point and character development that there is absolutely no action. The writers last night wanted Bryce to go to Tokyo, fail to find Keiko, only to come home almost-suicidal (again) ON THE SAME PLANE as her. Oh snap. I can’t believe I didn’t see that one coming. But they spent the WHOLE episode on this, mostly to focus in on her life and who she is. My point: it would be great to learn more about Keiko, but only when she’s actually relevant to the story.

  • Carrie

    They should have focused on something else this week, and next week shown who she is and how she ended up in LA. Rather than be on the same plane, have her get there as he is leaving for Houston. Then show HER looking for HIM with all those flashbacks about her life, ending the episode with her flying back home emptyhanded/hearted, and him deciding to go straight from Houston, with new hope about his life, straight to Tokyo. They meet leaving the airport or something. In my opinion, this would have been a much tighter episode and Keiko would have been part of the show instead of some random character.

  • Carrie

    ANYWAY– Doc I loved your Lost recaps– when writers put so much into a show it’s great to get more than just “this happened and then that happened.” FlashForward deserves the same treatment, no matter how long the show lasts (BETTER last until April 29th!)

  • clover

    Way to add even more depth tot this show. That was a great column. I fell in lov with Keiko instantly, exactly as you said and I still have hope the two will meet sooner. I can’t wait!

    Thinking of the characters, I got a strong vibe that Mark will fall off the wagon very soon. Two clues: 1.He’s getting a little crazy, investigating one text message. 2. He lost his sponsor, the one person who had to see him through this. But hey, Aaron also has some big issues of his own.

    I’m thinking the text came from someone who was in the building in the flashforward and saw him.

    • econruth

      I was the thinking the same thing about the text. It was frustrating that I could guess that someone else saw him in the office and an FBI agent couldn’t make that leap. “Who else SAW me drinking?” was the next logical question and he couldn’t make it…ugggg!

      • Babs (Original Flavor)

        Well, he also couldn’t make the leap that more than one guy might have a three-star tattoo. That was mighty frustrating for me.

  • Stephanie

    I love this show and was thrilled to read about your insights and tidbits into this wonderful show. This show is still new and fresh for me and I look forward to it each week. Great article!

  • Annie

    Not “loving” this show yet. Just doesn’t do it for me; however, I do like your ideas/theories. Will be very interesting to watch.

    I do have one criticism though – Do you NOT have an editor? Or someone to look over your posts before you send them out there? Some very bad grammatical mistakes in this piece.

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