FlashForward returns March 18, and we just got a glimpse of our own television future. We talked to stars Joseph Fiennes and John Cho, and new showrunner Jessika Borsiczky, and asked some tough questions about time-visualizing and bromance. Spoilers ahead.
So in case you've totally missed it so far, FlashForward is a show in which everyone on Earth blacks out for two minutes and 17 seconds — except for one mysterious character — and has a vision of the future. Mark Benford (Fiennes) sees himself investigating this event, and learns that he's going to relapse into alcoholism, lose his wife to another man, and kill his best friend Demetri (Cho). Other characters see themselves being reunited with long-lost loved ones or finding new relationships.
Oh, and we asked Cho about the next Star Trek movie, of course. He says he ran into co-writer Damon Lindelof just the other day, and Lindelof still didn't have any news to report. They're still working on a story, says Cho.
Television vs. Movies:
Fiennes is playing a character who goes to some very dark places — even if you leave out the fact that he's apparently going to shoot his friend and relapse into alcoholism. Since Fiennes is such a successful movie actor, we wondered if it's more challenging to develop such a dark character over the weeks and months of a television series, instead of just the two-hour arc of a movie, and still keep the audience's sympathy.
This is all about the development [of the character over time]. The difference between TV and movies is that this medium is firmly a writers' medium, so I'm rather subject, as is the character, to the way the stories unfold. We've also set up a premise of Mark, who is dealing with a disease, day to day, which is his addiction to alchohol — [which is] the bedrock of the character, and the other bedrock is his love for his daughter and his wife. And the way the flashforward world is turning out, Mark is under so much pressure we might have to see him crack.
Over time, though, as the character grows, says Fiennes, "you want to get a spectrum of colors" and different sides to the character. Keeping such a troubled character likeable over the long haul means keeping him "colorful,"
and fleshing out all of his relationships with the other characters, so they feel believable to the audience.
How to keep Mark relatable is something the writers talk about a lot, adds Borsiczky. Over the next twelve episodes, we'll open up more areas of Mark's character, and get to know a lot more about him. "He's going to have some victories, and he's going to have some exciting things to play, and that's one of the areas we're opening up a bit more."
Among other things, Mark is going to have some success breaking the case coming up — and he won't stay suspended from the FBI for long, thanks to his breakthroughs. Even as tons of pressure are being piled on Mark, we'll see him pull through, says Fiennes. (As he says this, apparently, John Cho is doing "yoga positions on my shoulder right now.")
Since Fiennes, Cho and Borsiczky have all had great success at the movies, we were wondering if they think it's true that science fiction has a harder time on the small screen than on the big screen. Cho says he's not aware of that notion. And Borsiczky says:
Everything's having a harder time on television. I think serialized shows on television are more challenging, across the board. I also don't think of our show as a strictly science fiction show. It has one very high concept element, which is that everybody blacked out and has these flashforwards... we try to tell the story as grounded as we possibly can, and make it as much about the characters and the day to day drama [as possible].
Fate vs. Free Will:
So this show has already proved that you can change the future, thanks to Al's suicide. So when people see the future, doesn't that automatically mean that future won't come to pass? After all, just knowing the future automatically changes it. Right?
We asked Borsiczky, and she replied that not everybody wants to change the future. "There are people who are going to be looking to make their visions happen." For example, anyone who saw themselves winning the lottery in the future would be eager to make sure that happens. Bryce and Keiko will do anything to be in that sushi restaurant together. Meanwhile, Demetri obviously doesn't want to get shot and killed. But even though Mark doesn't want to lose his wife, kill his friend and relapse into alcoholism, he also sees that he has a role to play in getting to the bottom of this mystery and helping people. And Olivia, Mark's wife, is drawn to the feelings she experienced with Lloyd in her romantic flashforward, which are "not easy for her to ignore," in spite of what they mean for her marriage to Mark.
She adds that the show is in the middle of producing the episodes where the characters catch up to April 29, the day everyone saw in their flashforwards, and we'll obviously learn a lot more about just how malleable the future is then.
Since I had the producer of FlashForward on the phone, I had to ask her about Brad Templeton's critique of the show. Templeton points out that since Mark sees a bulletin board full of information about the flashforward event in his own flashforward, then everybody's flashforwards are of a world where the flashforward has already taken place. So wouldn't people know that this was coming on April 29, and be prepared for it? Why, for example, would FBI Assistant Director Stanford Wedick be sitting on the toilet in his flashforward, if he knows that his past self will be viewing those two minutes and change?
I think that how we arrive at our destiny is never as carefully planned as we hope... I don't think that in the world of our show, we could really construct it so that people could send messages back to themselves in their vision or something. Fate pushes you towards that moment [that you see in the future.] If you have to go to the bathroom, you just have to go to the bathroom. [Laughs] And sometimes things are out of your control. [But] as we catch up [to April 29], we may find out that he's able to get to the bathroom five mintues earlier.
Also, she says that the first episode back after the break (airing March 18) includes one character who acknowledges in his flashforward that it's the moment of flashforward.
Cho says, "I think there is some gray here. You can change the future, or you can't. The show deals with a gray area." And Bosiczky rejects the fate/free will dichotomy, saying the show embraces both. She adds that it's "not a time-travel show" where people can send messages back from the future. "It's a river of time."
Mark vs. Demetri:
So we just learned that Mark is the one who kills Demetri in the future, which has to put a bit of a strain on their relationship. Cho says this shift has been rewarding to play, and "satisfying, in a weird way. The first half of the season, it felt like we were getting closer as people, and fleshing out the relationship. And now, in a weird way, the rug's been pulled out from under us... As close as we were, that mistrust is just as deep now, and it's very interesting for me."
There's definitely an area of mistrust... We're in an environment of huge pressure in the FBI office. Few people can trust each other. It's a very secretive, closed community, and part of one's DNA as an FBI investigator is to trust each other.
Fiennes says that both this professional bond and Mark's close personal friendship with Demetri will be put to the test. "We may see someone put their life on the line to make sure events don't turn out that way." And he says we've already seen Mark cross the line to try and save Demetri, in the Hong Kong episode where he tries to kidnap Nhadra. That obviously "goes balls up," but it's a great testament to how much Mark cares about Demetri, and how far he's willing to go to avert that horrible future.
And of course, we'll soon be catching up to March 15, the date on which Mark is supposed to shoot Demetri. "We're going to cover that day, and we obviously find out how that goes for him. It's our most suspenseful, exciting episode. It's an overused term in Hollywood to talk about stakes, [but] the stakes don't get any higher than this."
Meanwhile, Demetri's fiancee Zoey (Gabrielle Union) comes into the FBI and starts interfering, in a bid to save Demetri from being killed. "It causes tension," says Cho. Zoey's "going over my head a little bit. She comes in without telling me, and bosses my boss around, and it's a little bit embarrassing." Cho is really happy with this story arc, because Union's character could have been written as "sitting at home, waiting for the impending death of her man," but instead "she's taking a role in preventing it from happening." Still, says Cho, "Everybody's working at the same thing, but sometimes the action can go at cross-purposes."
Adds Fiennes, "One thing I've learned from this show is that women hate men who are going to kill their men."
Meanwhile, Mark is going to have to work with Lloyd Simcoe, the physicist who's apparently hooking up with Mark's wife in the future. Even though Mark is very suspicious of Lloyd's partner Simon (Dominic Monaghan) and believes that Simon knows more than he's saying, he still is happier working with Simon than with the man who's going to take his wife away. But Mark realizes that he needs Lloyd's help to untangle what's going on. "We might even see those two working together to get some quantum information."
Adds Borsiczky with a laugh, "Joe [Fiennes] hasn't read the episode yet where he and Olivia become swingers."
FlashForward vs. the Zeitgeist:
Fiennes calls FlashForward "a heightened reality of a premise." The show draws parallels with world-shaking events like 9/11 and asks difficult questions.
And Borsiczky says the show definitely has some relevance for the time we're living in, in which people have way too much information about all the impending dooms that face us:
There's something about the time we're living in, whether it's seeing the effects of [climate change on] the environment [or] seeing how interconnected the world is. [Like] our economy falling out, seeing that affect so many other countries around the world. A lot of people I know, these last couple of years have been very challenging, very tough.
She says that during such challenging, complex times, people find unity, and start to think about how they can change the world by making changes locally. With the election of Obama and other similar events, people have been thinking a lot about embracing change. "The question of our show [is] can you change fate? Can you change the world? What can you affect? Can one little thing you do change destiny, and extend in a universal way?" Because the blackout is a global event, it's even more universal than something like the Haiti earthquake, a local event that people around the world rallied around. "I have never seen anything quite like this, where the entire world is affected by one event," says Borsiczky.