Episode 9 - Believe
23 November 2009
Synopsis: We see that Bryce was diagnosed with liver cancer and that led to his suicide attempt. He then saw a strange meeting with a Japanese girl. In the present he is getting sicker and learning Japanese. Olivia arranges for him to join a medical trial but instead he flies to Japan to look for the girl. The girl, Keiko, quits her office job and leaves her controlling mother behind to travel to LA where she saw herself meeting Bryce. Meanwhile Aaron becomes concerned that Tracy is turning into an alcoholic. Mark discovers the text to Olivia about his drinking and seeks out its source. The NSA have a recording of the call Demetri received warning him of his murder.
The Good: All credit to the producers of Flashforward for this episode. They changed their established formula in several ways to create a memorable episode focussed on the characters and not on the investigation.
The explanation for Bryce’s suicide was a good one. Most suicide attempts must come from a psychological issue and Bryce has seemed so well adjusted since the blackouts that I worried his back-story would be flimsy. But his own cancer combined with the fact that his father died from a long bout with it too, was enough to make it seem plausible. Now in the present he is suffering from the illness and that makes him seem vulnerable. So far he has seemed so Zen about everything. So convinced that because his flashforward gave him hope, every problem could be overcome.
But now that we see him sick and chasing hopelessly after a mysterious girl he begins to look less Zen and more naïve. Olivia almost yells at him when he refuses to take part in a medical trial which may save him. “Maybe the reason you’re alive in your flashforward is because you’re going to take this drug and get better” she points out. His calmness is coming from a place of faith and that faith can be shaken. So instead of going to Houston he flies to Japan. He can’t wait anymore to see the love that saved his life. It makes him seem so foolish and admirable at the same time.
The scenes with him in Tokyo were excellent. He knew just enough Japanese to make himself understood but thankfully most people didn’t comprehend what he really wanted. It made his tearful conversation with Nicole quite powerful. He had come all this way, sacrificed a lot to be there, all for something that might not come true. The writing really drew out the tragedy in the situation and Bryce’s performance was gentle and likeable.
The emotional highpoint hit right at the end of the episode when Keiko’s flashforward shows her meeting Bryce in Los Angeles as she heads there. So we know Bryce is heading for the happy ending he has been seeking. Her story too worked solidly enough as she faced a hostile Japanese world which was boxing in her ambitions. Although a little clichéd, I actually liked the scene where she was asked to pour tea for her senior colleagues. I thought the explanation that in these tough economic times they didn’t want to hire another woman to pour tea was believable.
Another character who this episode gives life to is Aaron. Like Bryce he has seemed so well adjusted that it was a surprise and a relief to see him showing his flaws. The scene where he told Tracy not to put a bottle of wine in front of him was really good. He came across as a little unreasonable and distracted. It was as if he couldn’t ask her anymore about her ordeal and so had fixated on his own addiction. As if the stress were pushing that to the front of his mind.
Of course that scene became much clearer later on when he spelled out for Mark that she was becoming an alcoholic just like him and it was stirring up bitter anger inside him. I thought he played that anger really well. You could suddenly see how he had turned to the bottle in the first place and what it had done to him. The way he slapped Mark on the cheek and smashed some chairs up made it clear the stress and anger boiling underneath. Finally Aaron seemed like a real person.
Even Mark had a good episode. He too has paranoia and anger issues in him and I thought he brought up the issue of the text about as well as he could have done. As Aaron and Olivia spend time in each other’s company, Mark naturally went to him first just to check he hadn’t sent the text. It was a completely understandable thing to do. But realising that Aaron hadn’t, he went to Wedeck already knowing that he was innocent. But he still had to ask just in case and when Wedeck told him to get out he smiled. I liked that smile, it made him seem normal. He knew Stanford hadn’t done it but he had to ask or he would be a fool. Mark’s decision to go to Hong Kong with Demetri was another nice moment, for friendship and his own life’s sake, he wasn’t going to let anyone stand in his way.
A few other points I liked were the fact that Tracy is drinking herself to sleep. After what she has been through it seems fair enough and as she can’t leave the house what else is she to do? I liked Olivia pointing out that just because Bryce was alive in his flash didn’t mean he should stop seeking treatment. It would be a doctors reaction to the situation. Finally the NSA agent’s explanation for why the ring could be analysed and not the face of the Detroit man was excellent. It made sense and made the investigation seem more real. I like the way these leads are taking several episodes to pan out rather than being instantly solved too.
The Bad: However as soon as that good bit of writing happened, a bad bit did too. The NSA agent claims she is uncomfortable talking about the investigation when Demetri was red flagged by the NSA for receiving an untraceable call. If she is “uncomfortable” that must mean that she suspects Demetri of doing something illegal and hence receiving a coded call. If that is the case then why isn’t NSA investigating Demetri? Surely she shouldn’t be bringing it up casually in a meeting like this? Now his explanation might well clear him of any suspicion. But it’s not as if he calmly told her all the details. He blurted out that it was a call about his murder and she immediately handed over the recording. Why? His explanation should have made no sense. Plus I doubt NSA just hands over evidence to the FBI because they claim they have a perfectly reasonable explanation. It was a clumsily written development.
I also don’t like Mark and Demetri disobeying Wedeck’s order and going to Hong Kong. We have already seen Mark break the law to bring in a hacker and get Tracy’s “remains” exhumed. It sets a bad precedent for any show when constraints on our characters can be broken so easily. It feels lazy and convenient.
I didn’t quite buy the vehicular anger which Bryce displayed early on. Unlike Mark and Aaron he doesn’t seem like he has rivers of anger running below the surface, so to see him ramming another man’s car felt odd. We also still don’t know a huge amount about Bryce’s family or hobbies or romantic history which might help. Similarly Keiko’s story had a little generic feel to it with plenty of Japanese stereotypes thrown in. It should of course be pointed out the debt which this plot owes to Lost. The flashbacks, the Asian character with subtitles, the switch in perspective on a character’s life all seem very familiar for a reason. Bryce’s cancer is no wheelchair I think it is fair to say.
The Unknown: Has Bryce thrown away the chance to be in the medical trial? Is Nicole developing feelings for Bryce? Who are the Foundation for International Peace and how are they connected to Jericho?
The existential mystery here is whether Bryce and Keiko are meeting for the first time in their flashforward. That certainly seems to be the case, with him checking out her tattoo, as if he has seen it before but not in person. If true of course it means that he only stopped killing himself because of his vision and his vision is what led him to his vision if you see what I mean. If true it makes it plain that people in their flashforwards should have been reacting as if they had lived this moment before. Which clearly isn’t the case for many of the people whose visions we have seen. I suspect it is a contradiction which won’t get addressed but I don’t know that for sure.
Best Moment: Bryce crying in Japan. For the first time in the whole of Flashforward it made me feel something. Bravo.
Epilogue: A really strong effort all round. If Flashforward can focus on its characters like this, there is hope for the show.
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