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Series / FlashForward (2009)

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"What did you see?"

"He who foresees calamity is doomed to suffer it twice over."

Two FBI agents, Mark Benford and Demetri Noh, are investigating a terrorist cell when an event called "the Blackout" occurs. Everyone on Earth blacks out for two minutes and 17 seconds. Twenty million people die. And more than that: during the two minutes and 17 seconds, the people didn't just black out, they had visions of what they were doing six months in the future.

Janis Hawk, their co-worker at the FBI, has a vision of herself pregnant. Olivia, Mark's wife, sees herself with another man. Demetri doesn't have a vision at all, leading him to believe that he will be dead in six months. Mark himself has a vision of his own Room Full of Crazy with clues about what caused the Blackout (as well as him falling off the wagon). And Mark's daughter Charlie says there will be "no more good days."

The series built a nice Myth Arc with a great "Holy Shit!" Quotient. Based on the 1999 sci-fi novel by Canadian author Robert J. Sawyer (who gets a blink-and-you-miss-it Creator Cameo in the pilot), though it shared little with the book other than the flashforward concept and a character name or two. This show is not to be confused with Flash Forward (1996), which is totally (and tonally) different.

If you're just getting started on watching this show, know the Wild Mass Guessing page for this show has been divided into folders letting you read theories as you go without being spoiled.

Despite having a strong start, ratings progressively dwindled throughout its run until it ended up with about a third of its original viewers, and it never made it to a second season, leaving fans pondering the season-ending Cliffhanger. Zap2It declared FlashForward the most missed show after a poll determined that 46.3% of voters would miss it the most (by comparison, the runner-up, Ghost Whisperer, had 17.1% of the vote), and there were rumours that Starz might pick the show up for a second season, but it appears this has come to naught.

This show contains the following tropes:

  • Action Girl: Janis Hawk, who knows tae kwando and manages to disarm and snap the neck of one assassin and then shoot a second assassin dead even while bleeding from a gut wound in "Gimme Some Truth."
  • Alternative Foreign Theme Song: The Japanese theme song is called "Sisyphus".
  • Anyone Can Die: Double subverted. At first, the fact that most characters have visions of themselves in the future seems to show that none of those characters are going to die before April 29. But after the self inflicted death of Al Gough, it is now believed that the future can be changed and that anyone without a flash forward can still live, and likewise, any with a flash forward can still die.
  • Arc Words:
  • Arc Number:
    • 12/12/2016.
    • 6th October 2009 - the date of the flashforward.
    • 29th April 2010 - not just the date that people experienced in their flashforwards, but also originally meant to be the airdate for the final episode, until its scheduling was changed.
    • 2 minutes, 17 seconds. Gets mentioned even more than the others (in the intro voiceover for every episode, as well as being mentioned in-episode multiple times) - 137 seconds, 137 Sekunden (the German - also used as one episode title). A lot of importance was originally attributed to the number by characters early on, but later this stopped being treated as important. One theory is that it is because 137 is very nearly the reciprocal of the universal Fine Structure Constant. (137.0359990...)
  • The Artifact: Zoe. Her role was originally supposed to increase later in the season, and in the second season that never got to be, due to Demetri's death as expected. Instead, the new showrunners decided to keep him alive since John Cho had become popular following the release of the 2009 Star Trek, and the ratings needed all the help they could get. As a result, Zoe has little to do after Demetri survives his would-be death beyond break up with him, and is gone from the series by the season/series finale.
  • Artistic License – Animal Care: The pet store owner grateful for the FBI's help offers Janis a free cockatiel. Um.....for starters, there is the obvious problem of giving a pet to someone who isn't fully committed to taking care of it. Also, cockatiels in particular need a ton of time and attention and socialization or else they can become self-destructive. No bird breeder or caretaker worth their salt would consider just giving a bird away like that.
  • Ask a Stupid Question...: Mark radios to his superiors that he in is pursuit of their two known suspects, and a third "unidentified Caucasian woman". His superior asks who she is.
    Mark: That's the "unidentified" part, sweetheart.
  • Benevolent Boss: Though he does not allow himself to be taken advantage of, Wedeck really cares about his employees. He most definitely comes off as A Father to His Men after Janis is shot, and sheds sincerely touching Manly Tears when Al Gough kills himself.
  • Berserk Button:
    • Agent Noh and Olivia Benford do NOT care or want to hear what your flashforward was about, because neither of them want theirs to happen.
    • Demetri also REALLY doesn't like it when people tell him that he can't fight fate.
    • Don't accuse anyone of blabbing secrets to Olivia.
    • Simon is capable of anything when someone tries to manipulate him into doing something he doesn't want to do. Even murder.
    • Aaron does NOT like people messing with his daughter.
    • Call Mark a failure, question his self-belief and he WILL try to end you.
  • Big Bad: It seemed at first that it would be D. Gibbons, aka Dyson Frost, but it actually turned out to be Lucas Hellinger. Although, the finale implies that he was just a middleman and the real Big Bad was someone else.
  • Brief Accent Imitation: Mark Benford's laughingly over-the-top English accent while playing with the egg in the kitchen with Charlie (don't forget that Joseph Fiennes who plays Benford actually is English, see Fake American).
  • Breakout Character: Attempted with Demetri Noh. Originally he was indeed supposed to die midway through the season, and his fiancee Zoe would have gotten a larger role in the second season due to her belief that the FBI failed to prevent Demetri's death. But with the ratings slipping, and the showrunner replaced by three people early in the season, the writers decided to keep him alive instead in the hope that the extra popularity John Cho had gained from playing Sulu in Star Trek would help the show's ratings. Cho and Demetri were popular, but not enough to save the show.
  • Break the Cutie: Keiko, after graduating from the reputedly finest university in Tokyo and being employed at the workplace of her dreams, ends up having to serve tea because tradition demands a woman has to serve the tea and she is the only woman employed at the company.
  • Brick Joke: After the blackout, Mark sees a wild kangaroo show up from nowhere and then disappear. When Mark is taking Charlie trick-or-treating, it briefly reappears. In the finale, shortly after the blackout, the kangaroo shows up again...from nowhere... and then disappears.
  • Bulletproof Human Shield: A variant on this. Janis shoots a man on a motorcycle in the chest from head-on and kills him, but the woman riding right behind him is left untouched.
  • Bury Your Gays: Janis is revealed to be a lesbian, and by the end of the episode has been shot and left for dead. However, this is later partially subverted when she survives, but is left unable to bear the child she now desperately wants.
  • California Doubling: Mostly averted, since the show is set there, but Southern Somalia looked suspiciously like Southern California...
  • Card-Carrying Villain: Flosso, a Smug Snake who regularly smokes cigars despite his crippling emphysema because that's what a villain is supposed to do. He even outright says that he's a villain when introducing himself.
  • Chekhov's Gun:
  • Mark's pistol, the one that was even predicted to murder Demetri Noh on March 15th.
  • Dyson Frost's white queen, which contains the ring he used to stay awake during the blackout.
  • A Day in the Limelight: "Believe," which focuses solely on Bryce Varley and his Asian girlfriend Keiko in their quest to find each other.
  • Dramatic Irony: The episode "Let No Man Put Asunder" begins with a flashback of Demetri, Marcie, Janis and Al's first day in FBI. Mark greets them with a speech about how they're going to give their lives to people who might not even know them, at which point the camera focuses on Al.
  • Enhance Button: Defied and lampshaded - even the NSA couldn't reconstruct a face from a blurred security camera picture under a month.
  • Evil Brit: Simon seemed to be this initially as he claims responsibility for the Blackout, but then in "A561984" he starts co-operating with the FBI, and his claim is thrown in doubt when he reveals he had no knowledge of the pylons in Somalia. He was (albeit unhappily) working with the people responsible for the blackout as The Mole.
  • False Reassurance: Inverted: A Nazi war criminal is able to secure his release from prison by telling the main characters that, in his flashforward, a murder had been his "Get Out of Jail Free" Card. Once the paperwork had been filed, he then told them that he saw a dead murder of crows outside his window when he came to.
  • Fanservice:
  • Fauxshadow: Did anyone else think, based on the contents of his vision, that Vogel had to be The Mole, until it turned out to be someone else?
  • Flat-Earth Atheist: Several people are shown to be skeptical of the flash forward despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, calling them meaningless "visions" and getting angry at people who are considering the visions as true just in case because they could possibly save lives. Explained in that these characters were shown to have really awful futures they don't want to be true.
  • Foregone Conclusion: December 12, 2016. The End. Whatever that would have meant.
  • Foreseeing My Death: A variation: Demetri Noh doesn't experience a vision of his future despite almost everyone else in the world experiencing one, which leads him to the terrifying conclusion that it's because he doesn't have a future. His arc for the rest of the series is involved in determining whether or not the future seen in the visions are preordained and if there's a reason why he didn't see anything other than him dying, consequently putting his life in even more danger.
  • For the Evulz: Generally assumed to be the motivation of the people who caused the global blackouts and is planning on doing it again, at least until their motivation becomes more clear.
  • A God Am I: This is Simon's viewpoint on the fact that his experiment maybe caused the blackout.
  • Heroic Suicide: Al Gough commits suicide so that the woman he found he accidentally killed in his flashforward can live.
  • Hostage Situation: Subverted. Flosso kidnaps Simon's teenage sister to use as a bargaining chip to control Simon. Simon decides to just kill Flosso and then hunt down his sister.
  • I Did What I Had to Do: Janis says this word-for-word after revealing her double mole status to Mark.
  • Imperial Stormtrooper Marksmanship Academy: The mooks in the final episode. Mark runs in front of the group of mooks who are firing like crazy, and Mark manages to take out at least one of the mooks, and gets nary a scratch himself.
  • Ironic Nursery Tune: The second episode opens with "Ring Around the Rosie" and images of children lying completely still on the ground. Later on, the fake D. Gibbons has dolls which also sing the song. It's creepy.
  • I Want My Beloved to Be Happy: Between Mark and Gabriel in "The Negotiation".
  • Karma Houdini: Anyone involved in the global blackout apart from Dyson Frost, who's dead, and Hellinger, who's still in FBI custody as of the end of the series. Alda Herzog and Evil Pet Shop Lady are still on the loose, and no one apart from Aaron even knows about Jericho's involvement.
  • Mind Screw: You may have a tough time in the first episode differentiating the flashforward from the real world if you start watching when it happens.
  • Newspaper Dating: That's how they find out that the visions are supposed to show the future.
  • No Endor Holocaust: Averted. One of the reasons for the investigation into the flash forward is that 20 million people died in the blackout due to car crashes, train derailments, doctors passing out during surgery, and plane crashes.
  • No Ending: Due to the cancellation of the series after a cliffhanger in the finale.
  • Obstructive Bureaucrat: The head of the Senate committee in "Gimme Some Truth" is practically the embodiment of this trope.
  • Oceanic Airlines: An Oceanic Airlines ad appeared during the pilot episode.
  • Oh, Crap!:
    • When Demetri's fiancee realizes that what she saw wasn't a wedding, it was a funeral.
  • Mark can turn into this if you talk about his daughter in a way he doesn't like.
  • Prophetic Fallacy: A constant as people can misunderstand what their visions truly mean.
    • Bryce sees himself with an attractive woman in what appears to be Japan. He flies to Tokyo and spends weeks there to no avail so thinks the vision was false. We then see it from her point of view...showing it was a Japanese restaurant in L.A. all along.
    • Olivia is at first relieved when Lloyd doesn't recognize her and thinks the vision of them together must have been wrong...not knowing that Lloyd's vision had his back turned to Olivia so doesn't grasp this is his future lover.
    • The Vice-President insists she will be President as she saw herself sitting in the Oval Office in six months. In the finale she isn't and was just sitting there for an unrelated reason.
    • The most dramatic is how Zoey insists Dimitri is wrong that his seeing nothing means he's going to die as she saw herself in a white dress on a beach with Dimitri's family there and thus, it was their wedding. Then she discovers that in the Korean culture, white is the color of mourning...
  • Red Shirt Army: The Red Panda escorts. They even lampshade it, when the Somali warlord explains that the purpose of the Red Panda guys was to die in order to intimidate the hostages.
  • Red String of Fate: Three characters (Bryce, Keiko, and Olivia) see themselves in love with someone they haven't met yet in their flash forwards leading two of them (Bryce and Keiko) on a quest to find each other and Olivia doing everything she can to avoid her apparently-fated love interest. The recurring question of fate versus free will is never really resolved and it is heavily suggested that Olivia avoiding her match with Lloyd might actually doom the entire world.
  • Remember the New Guy?: Hey guys, remember Marcie? You know, the mole? Her motivator was that - as a wallflower - nobody ever paid any attention to her in the first place.
  • The Reveal:
    • Simon is Suspect Zero.
    • Marcie is a mole.
    • The twist is that so is Agent Janis Hawk.
    • A double twist is that Hawk is actually working for the CIA as a mole in the organisation of whomever wants her as a mole in the FBI.
  • Ring of Power: A set of seven rings worth killing for in "Playing Cards With Coyote". It turns out they were what kept people awake during the blackout.
  • Room Full of Crazy:
  • Nicole Kirby's mother spends her spare time gluing pennies to the wall in one room of her house. All of these pennies are from the year Nicole was born.
  • Running Gag: Simon constantly hitting on Janis.
  • Scenery Gorn: The first 17 minutes of the pilot is dedicated to showing what would happen to downtown Los Angeles if everyone blacked out for 2 minutes, 17 seconds. Helicopters sticking out of skyscrapers, freeways full of twisted metal and bodies... it's pretty darn Gorn-iffic. Gorn from around the world is mentioned through the rest of the episode, but not shown (700 plane crashes?!).
  • Screw Destiny:
    • What Mark's trying to do by burning the friendship bracelet.
    • In episode 7, Al Gough does this by killing himself.
    • Olivia gets in on the act in episode 8 by throwing out the lingerie she saw herself wearing in her flashforward.
    • Mark again by getting himself fired in episode 10. Considering what he did (went to China against his boss's orders, then kidnapped a woman at gunpoint and got arrested and deported by Chinese authorities), it's not likely he'll get his job back in the next few months....except not.
    • He is successful in not killing Demetri.
  • Science Marches On: In-universe example:
    Simon: What I designed was theoretical. It could only be done in the future. And yet, it's been standing here for 18 years.
    Janis: Well, welcome to the future.
  • Self-Fulfilling Prophecy:
    • Who doesn't already believe that Mark and Olivia's marriage is going to fail? They seem to have grown distant already just at the thought that she will cheat on him. Even more so now that he knows she's met the man in her vision and she knows he was drinking in his Flash Forward.
    • The Blue Hand,not having flash forwards, realized they will be dead in six months and begin committing suicide.
    • Demetri would do well to learn that one often meets his destiny on the road he takes to avoid it.
    • The Finale goes to town on this one. So the second blackout was predicted by Gabriel's modifications to the board, who modified the board because he modified the board, because he modified the board, because he modified the board? Come again?
  • Senseless Sacrifice: Most likely Al Gough's. He kills himself in order to save a woman he would inevitably kill by accident if he had stayed alive. But several episodes after his death, she gets hit by a car, and the doctors say her chances of living are slim. We never did find out if she lived or died, but she most likely succumbed to the wounds.
  • Shipper on Deck: Gabriel is visibly distraught that Lloyd and Olivia aren't together, as them not being together affects the fate of the world. Somehow.
  • Shoot Out the Lock: how Mark gets into the building where Demetri is stuck in a Death Trap in "The Garden of Forking Paths".
  • Shout-Out:
  • Smug Snake:
    • Heroic variant in Marshall Vogel of the CIA. Most infuriatingly, he's most often right. In "Queen Sacrifice", Mark, Demetri and Janis all tell him to *** himself at different times whenever he suggests one of them could be The Mole. Turns out he was right about Janis, too.
    • And in the villain corner, Carline, Janis's contact within the mysterious conspiracy is one full-stop.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance:
    • A massive shootout (and Janis bleeding out) all to the tune of "Like A Rolling Stone" by The Rolling Stones. How does it feel?!
    • In "Black Swan", the flashforward occurring in Echo Park (with all the carnage that implies, specifically, an out-of-control city bus heading straight into a lake, running over several unconscious people in the process) set to Bjork's "It's Oh So Quiet".
  • The Sponsor: Aaron Stark, who is Mark Benford's AA sponsor. As the series progresses, his focus shifts from helping Mark with his addiction to finding his daughter.
  • Stable Time Loop:
    • Several, including the stuff that was on Mark's wall of crazy. It'll drive you mad just thinking about the reason he put up those cards: he put them on the wall because he had a vision of them on the wall.
    • In the second episode, Mark puts up a picture of the burned doll on the wall. But the doll wouldn't have been burned (and he wouldn't have gone into the doll factory at all) if he hadn't had the vision of the burned doll picture in the first place. Oh no, I've gone cross-eyed.
    • The Nazi war criminal from "137 Sekunden", who would never have been released if he hadn't seen that happening in his blackout.
  • Stealth Pun: When the agents have to give cover stories about what they saw in their flash forwards, Janis says she was baking bread. Actually she was having a pre-natal sonogram, or in other words she had a bun in the oven.
  • Straw Nihilist: Dr. Raynaud, the highest ranking Blue Hand we've met so far. Mark when he asks Raynaud what made him turn from an ordinary nice guy into Friedrich Nietzsche.
  • Timey-Wimey Ball: Some of the events in the flashforwards were themselves caused by the flashforwards (see above). However, apart from a throwaway line mentioning a party in Times Square, none of the visions show any awareness that this was the moment they all foresaw. And now someone has apparently died despite the fact that he was alive in his flashforward.
  • Token Minority: Mostly averted, as there are three of the six regular cast members playing FBI agents are black, as is Demetri's fiancee. Lynn Whitfield and Gina Torres have also appeared. Still only one Asian regular, but he's co-lead and has been getting Character Development, so...
  • Took a Level in Badass: Aaron Stark, in "Blowback,". When his daughter is kidnapped by Jericho, he proceeds to beat information out of the mole, tap the phone in the head honcho's house, and leave the mole TIED UP AND HANGING FROM THE CEILING in the Big Bad's house...with "Happy Birthday" written on his chest.
  • Wham Episode:
    • "A561984". Just about every point of the meeting with the woman in Hong Kong is its own mini-wham, and then you have Simon working with the Good Guys and the things he reveals, plus what happens to Lloyd (and his son and Olivia!) at the end.
    • "The Garden of Forking Paths". Dyson Frost isn't actually the Big Bad. And now he's dead. And Demetri's successfully managed to Screw Destiny by not dying on March 15th. Or has he?
    • "Countdown". Oh, boy. Where to begin? Everyone's future goes severely downhill and strays very far away from the flash forwards: Mark is expelled from the bureau after beating up Hellinger (something the latter had just predicted it would happen), starts drinking again, gets in a bar brawl and is thrown in jail for good measure. Zoey departs for Hawaii alone after Demetri tells her he impregnated Janis, who in turn might have lost her baby while handcuffing Simon. Lloyd can't complete the tachyonic equation since Olivia decided not to let her flash forward become true. Nicole reveals Bryce she knew where Keiko was, but he misses her (again) because she's returning to Japan on immigration agents' watch. All of this mere hours before the moment of the visions. What else? Oh right. Too bad for Aaron, Tracy is dead.
  • Wham Line:
    • "Message received." Spoken by Janis, revealing that she's a second mole in the FBI.
    • The episode before: "Hello Demetri. My name is Dyson Frost. I am recording this message in 1991. [pause] Got your attention, didn't I?"
    • Dyson Frost again: "Hello, Charlie! :)"
    • Evil Pet Shop Lady to Janis: "We need you to kill Mark Benford."
    • Zoey speaking to Dimitri's mother on her vision of her on a beach with everyone in white and how she assumed that was their wedding...only how she recently found out that in Korean culture, white is the color of mourning. Also, the presence of Dimitri's mother, who never approved of her and openly said she wouldn't attend any wedding. "A mother might ignore her son's wedding...but she'd never miss his funeral".
    • Series Finale: "They Found Him!" Whatever that meant.
  • What Happened to the Mouse? - Early episodes mentioned the Vice President being the new president in her flash forward, implying the old one would die. However, the April 29th episodes focused entirely on LA and Somalia, and even then, you'd think we would have heard if the president died.
    • In the final episode, there's a reference to President Segovia as being alive, well, and in office. Apparently, something happened to keep Vice President Clemente's flash forward from coming true. No details, though.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Janis, Olivia and Wedeck have all given this treatment to Mark. Demetri has gone as far as punching Mark in the face, although that was more his Berserk Button going off.
  • Whole Episode Flashback: Especially in the early season, episodes would be split between new footage, flashbacks of the flashforwards, and flashbacks of scenes from the 'present day' timeline.
  • Wire Dilemma: In "The Garden of Forking Paths", the Death Trap Demetri's in involves one of these.
  • You Are Too Late: In the finale, Lloyd and Mark discover when the second blackout will take place. Unfortunately, it's due to happen just minutes from when they found out, so they're unable to stop it.
  • You Can't Fight Fate: They're not sure if this is true yet, but it looks like it might be.
  • You're Insane!: Demetri to D.Gibbons in "The Garden of Forking Paths". Gibbons' reply: Most oracles are.