Friday, 6 November 2009

Mosaic: Fragments in Search of the Bigger Picture in FlashForward

We're delighted to welcome our second guest blogger to the site. Today's guest is Mark Jancovich (Film and Television Studies, University of East Anglia) who is currently working on a history of the 1940s horror film. Below, he takes time out to discuss some recent TV.

In FlashForward, the whole world experiences an unexpected and unprecedented event – everyone appears to lose consciousness for 2 minutes and 17 seconds. The event causes devastation and loss of life and, it soon transpires, that each person did not lose consciousness but rather had their consciousness shifted six months into the future. In other words, the world has seen its own future, if only a decontextualized 2 minutes and 17 seconds of that future. For some, this future offers hope and for others despair, and soon the Los Angeles FBI are trying to make sense of the event by piecing things together – literally. They set up a website called MOSAIC on which people can post their visions of the future and verify their experiences by cross-referencing them with the visions of others.

In this way, the series continually plays with the notion of fragments that are meaningless in themselves but form part of a larger picture – like most network television in the US, it follows a series of characters whose different narratives form a complex multi-layered broader narrative arc. More importantly, the larger arc is explicitly global.

In many ways, then, the series creators hope to emulate the global themes of Heroes and its frequent narrative globetrotting, but with the exception of one Asian-American character, Demetri Noh (John Cho), the series lacks the multi-national cast of characters that distinguishes Heroes, and remains firmly centred in the US. However, where it fails to replicate certain aspects of Heroes, the ways in which it borrows from other shows are rather more successful. Indeed, what is odd about FlashForward is how familiar and fresh it feels.

On the one hand, the series borrows heavily from the fan favorites of post-X-Files television in ways that are often surprisingly blatant but, on the other, it does so without seeming to be derivative. The show features FBI officers searching into an inexplicable and possibly paranormal event in ways that are clearly reminiscent of The X-Files. It is also features Brannon Braga as an executive producer, a figure whose presence is highly significant. Braga was not only a key figure behind Star Trek: The Next Generation, Star Trek: Voyager, and Star Trek: Enterprise, but also, while Enterprise wandered off into a rather misguided post-9/11 storyline (see a forthcoming blog entry on this topic), he has since become associated with another key series to which FlashForward is greatly indebted. After Enterprise folded in 2005, Braga was hired to work on the post-9/11 counter-terrorism series, 24, and he had just finished working on season seven (the last episode of which aired on 18 May 2009 in the US) when he began working on FlashForward (the first episode of which aired on 24 September 2009 in the US).

Much like the Jack Bauer and his associates in 24, the FBI of FlashForward whizz around trying to explain the mysterious event and counter an increasingly bizarre conspiracy. Furthermore, the event itself is clearly likened to 9/11. While it is clearly presented as a global event, it is largely visualized in terms of urban devastation in which smoking skyscrapers figure prominently. Even the Mosaic website is strongly reminiscent of the numerous 9/11 memorials, with they collages of fragmentary photographs and testimonies that are supposedly unified by a common trauma. From these disparate details, it is hoped a pattern will emerge, and an enemy will be identified that can account for things.

Of course, another feature that is central to 24 is its use of time but, while 24 unfolds in ‘real time’ as Jack Bauer and his associates race against the clock, Flashforward’s use of time draws upon yet another key show, Lost. In its early seasons, Lost (which told the story of the survivors of Flight 815 after their plane had crashed on a mysterious island) dedicated each episode to a different character and not only told the story of their present but also features flashbacks to their previous lives before they arrived on the island. In later seasons, however, the time-line became increasingly complicated, with flash-forwards, and with the character’s literally jumping between different time periods. It is hardly any surprise then that by the end of episode four of FlashForward, Dominic Monaghan (who played the drug addicted musician, Charlie, in Lost) turns up as Simon, a character that seems to be central to the conspiracy behind the event.

In other words, while FlashForward imagines a world trying to make meaning and coherence out of fragmented experiences, the show itself tries to bring together bits and pieces from a range of other shows and, at least so far, has fashioned something fresh and coherent out of its raw materials. Of course, there is a very real question about what will happen once time catches up with the series itself, and its character’s visions of the future have become visions of the past.

(Photo credit: qbix08. Permissions)

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