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Intersection of Life and Faith

Flash Forward: Fight the Future

  • Gary D. Robinson theFish.com Contributing Writer
  • 2009 8 Oct
<i>Flash Forward</i>: Fight the Future

When I was a boy, my grandmother died suddenly.  Several months later, my widowed grandfather was visiting with us.  Somehow or other, I got on the subject of death.  In my childish insensitivity, I said to Papaw, "If you knew you when you were going to die, you'd go crazy."  My dad was in the room and, fortunately, he hushed me.   Interestingly, I see now that I'd hit on the fundamental conflict in ABC's new drama, Flash Forward.   The problem:  the future.  The question:  what do we do about it? 

Brought to us by the men who gave Batman and Jack Bauer new leases on life, David Goyer and Brannon Braga, FF opens with a glimpse of apocalypse.  A bruised and bloody FBI agent named Mark crawls from the wreckage of his rolled SUV.  He staggers to his feet, blinking in confusion.  Cars are smashed, people are injured, buildings are on fire.  There's death and destruction everywhere.  What has happened? 

The scene shifts to several hours earlier.  Through a series of quick cuts, we meet the characters that will inhabit this strange, new universe:  Mark; his wife, Olivia, a doctor; their little girl.  We see a doctor who's about to take his own life, then a young couple having illicit sex.  A bearded worker climbs a power pole.  We cut back to FBI guy Mark and his partner, Demitri, as their stakeout on suspected terrorists turns into a violent chase.  The cuts come faster as the characters engage in their activities good, bad, and indifferent.  The scenes welter, creating intensity, a microcosm of humanity at work, play, and sin.  Then, suddenly it comes—the Blackout. 

It lasts a little over two minutes.  Most awake to chaos; many don't wake up at all.  Slowly, the survivors learn that the whole world had fallen asleep.  Much more disturbing, however, are their memories of visions.   Some are bad:  Mark, a recovering alcoholic, sees himself drinking again.  His devoted wife, Olivia, sees herself in bed with another man.  Others are good:  FBI agent Christine Woods is filled with joy at an unplanned pregnancy.  Dr. Bryce Varley, who'd almost committed suicide, has a vision (as yet undisclosed) that gives him fresh hope.  Eventually, they realize that everybody on the planet has seen six months into his own future.   Almost everybody, that is.   Demetri can't remember seeing anything—leading him to believe that, within six months, he'll be dead.  

The FBI seeks  to ferret out the cause of the Blackout.  They set up a website, "Mosaic," to which people send their stories.   Clues begin to trickle in—notably the video-recorded presence of a man who didn't pass out.  As the bureau begins its search, they sniff the trail of the conspiracy to end all conspiracies.  Meanwhile, events begin occurring in our heroes' lives that seem to be leading them slowly, inexorably toward destinies they fear and dread. 

Though it set up an intriguing premise, the first episode seemed rather choppy.  The number of main characters in the hour-long show lent itself to an unwieldy, and at times, confusing introduction.  As with most of these over-hyped premieres, everything was taken so deadly seriously, I couldn't help but think of the desperation of the declining networks:  we've gotta hook ‘em, we've gotta reel in an audience!  Now!  The second episode, however, provided a bit more balance and offered flashes of humor.  Not everybody saw himself dying or giving birth or seeing God.   At least one saw himself on the toilet.  Another had passed out face down in a place where you don't want your face!  

Thoughts of humor aside, the premise of the show cries out for some theological reflection.  Perhaps that's forthcoming.  So far, though, all we've heard have been flippant remarks like, "What about the Pope?  Has he chimed in yet?"  In the destruction caused by suddenly unmanned aircraft, automobiles and the like, we see echoes of the Left Behind series.    Yet, save for a brief, disdainful mention of the Rapture and a line from Dr. Varley, who believes he must've been spared for a reason, the notion of God has been absent.   

This is ironic, given pop culture's recent interest in determinism, even predestination.  These are the only words I can use to describe the work of such diverse individuals as Larry McMurtry and the producers of Lost.  In McMurtry's novel, Streets of Laredo, we find out what happened to Woodrow Call after the death of his life-long partner, Gus, who'd died in the previous book, Lonesome Dove.   In the third novel in the series, we go all the way back to when Call and Gus were fresh, green rangers.   Then McMurtry fast-forwards us ten years into their future.   From a certain perspective, then, Lonesome Dove can be seen as a version of Flash Forward.   Similarly, the characters in Lost bounce around in time.  We know where they've been.  We know where they're going.  The characters are given a predetermined fate.  The only question is how do they get there?  Therein lays a tale of two series.     

This raises a further question, one which C.S. Lewis asked as a boy:  Is the future a line we can't see or a line yet to be drawn?  To put it in movie terms, was Back to the Future's Doc Brown right when he told Marty, "Your future hasn't been made yet.  No one's has.  So make it a good one!"  Upon this question rest our greatest hopes and writhe our worst fears; in this way Flash Forward has the potential to connect deeply with its audience.

Though hyper-Calvinism claims to answer the question both positive and negatively, to wit, we are damned or saved whether we do or don't, a more balanced, but no less sobering, interpretation of salvation beckons.  Ebenezer Scrooge spoke truth when, in his own frightening vision, he saw a bleak stone engraved with his name:  "I know that the deeds of men foreshadow certain ends, but if the deeds be departed from, surely the ends will change!"  As a pastor, I've seen far too many self-fulfilling prophecies.  Engrained habits die hard.  We choose the bad and choose the bad until, sadly, we lose the power to choose the good—as though we had no choice to start with.   As Moses said, "The secret things belong to the LORD, our God.  But the things revealed belong to us…"  Our future is a mystery, but our choices are clear enough.     

Flash Forward airs Thursday nights at 8:00 on ABC. Check your local listings. Episodes also available on hulu.com

Posted on October 8, 2009.

Gary D. Robinson is a preacher, writer, and Superman fan living in Xenia, Ohio.  Check out his website, "Look!  Up in the Sky!" (www.garydrobinson.com).