Last week we thought we’d be on parallel tracks to Somalia and Afghanistan, with Aaron headed to Kandahar to rescue his daughter and the FBI gang headed to Africa to investigate the black towers that shouldn’t have been out in the desert in 1991 because they weren’t technologically feasible. Turns out we only make it to Somalia this week, with a couple quick scenes back in L.A. All in all a doozy of an episode, really, complete with some gratuitous death and an appearance by a big, creepy animal, which seems to have become a staple of the sci-fi-lite genre spearheaded by Lost. (Remember the polar bear?) We hope someone besides us is noticing that there is a compelling, worldwide espionage thriller being played out on network television — like a John Le Carré novel and a John Woo and David Lynch movie all rolled into one serial drama.
“This is how it happens.”
Let’s get the Mark and Olivia stuff out of the way: Mark stays behind while the other agents (Demetri, Janis, and Vogel) head to Somalia, mostly so he can have a few heart to hearts with his wife and figure out why his daughter knows that “D. Gibbons is a bad man.”
Charlie, it turns out, was only repeating what little autistic Dylan spelled out in magnets on the fridge in her flash. But the thing that most freaked her out was what she overheard a man in a suit (Vogel) saying outside on the lawn at the tail end of her flash. “Mark Benford is dead.”
Sure, it’s possible someone was misinforming Vogel in the flash, but that’s how he remembers it, too. Figuring all this out from her daughter, Olivia is bound and determined to skirt fate and get the fuck out of Dodge, both to save Mark and save her marriage. But when she sits him down and makes him choose between marriage or letting his flash play out as is, he opts for his flash, and she rightly realizes: “This is how it [meaning their separation] happens.” He loves her, but maybe loves his career a little more, and he can’t walk away from solving the delicious mystery of the worldwide blackout. He is the sole, prophetic martyr living at the center of it, after all.
Also: Mark researches D. Gibbons, previously known as Dyson Frost, and discovers he was a chess grand master at age 15, and had a thing for hydras.
“Up until today my only good-luck charm was Brainy Smurf.”
There are some funny bits of writing in this episode, and there’s this gratuitous little nod in Bryce and Nicole’s direction: We see Nicole drop an Organic Chemistry book, and Bryce gives her a little pep talk about following her med-school dreams. Also, he gives her a good-luck charm in the form of the calculator that got him through the MCATs, and drops the news that he’s got a terminal illness.
“I thought this weekend you were supposed to bake bread.”
We see Demetri and Janis en route into the Ganwar region of Somalia, and they have a couple little fictions they’ve created to answer the popular worldwide question of “What did you see [in your flash]?” Demetri’s: “I was waterskiing,” which is as good a euphemism for “I was dead” as any. Janis’s ruse is “I was baking bread,” and Demetri reminds us that Janis was supposed to be conceiving this week in order to make her preggers flash come true.
Cut to them drinking whiskey in a dusty Somalian hovel and Demetri, like, sweet-talking his lesbian co-worker into letting him inseminate her. Yes, you heard us right. It appears that poor Demetri, with the black cloud of impending death hanging over him, just wants to spread his seed before he kicks it, and Janis is just determined enough to get a baby inside her that she considers it … and we think that somewhere off-screen they actually do it. You know, clinical-like, as one does when immediate insemination is required while stranded in Somalia.
“Death is a black camel that kneels at every man’s gate.”
We don’t know if this is an actual Middle Eastern proverb, but it’s spoken by the star of this episode, Abdi Kalif (played by relative newcomer Owiso Odera). Abdi’s no stranger to death. He was just a boy when the civil war in Somalia broke out (the same boy we saw way back in episode three in that flashback to 1991), and he believed he saw all of his people murdered in a strange, bloodless instant. He was out herding goats, and when he came back into the village, everyone was on the ground, unconscious, and apparently dead. Later, they just disappeared, and he thought maybe they’d been driven away.
But the agents, arriving under the extremely transparent guise of being relief workers, show up to check out the one remaining black tower out of five they saw in a satellite photo. Abdi recognizes Simon right away as the scientist who took responsibility for the blackout on TV, and he begins randomly shooting people in order to get the agents to talk about what they’re really there for.
He tells them that in his flash he was the ruler of the country, having obviously won the civil war. He was addressing his people and giving a speech about “better angels.” Janis recognizes this bit of his speech as Abraham Lincoln’s first inaugural address, and makes him realize that he doesn’t become the leader by winning the war, but by stopping it and reunifying the country.
He stops shooting people long enough to take the agents into the base of the black tower, which has a control room inside where they find a dusty VHS tape (remember those!?) that they pop in a VCR, and what do they find but Dyson Frost talking and interviewing Somalians — including Abdi’s mother — about what they saw in their 1991 flash forwards. Because the technology was still being developed, their blackout was merely village-wide, and their flashes took them a paltry two weeks into the future.
Simon remains confused as to how Frost somehow stole his design for this tower thing, which he did at age 13, in 1991, as a theoretical exercise. The technology, he says, didn’t exist to make them a reality. But lo and behold he opens a hatch in the control-room floor, which leads down to a bunker, which leads to a “linear accelerator” — basically an earlier, smaller-scale version of the big-boy accelerator he and his Stanford friends have in 2009.
They find an underground room full of skeletons where Abdi finds the remains of his missing mother, still wearing the necklace with the amber bead that he’s wearing in his flash. He naturally gets a little worked up over this, and aims his gun at Simon, without whom his mom would still be alive. But Vogel steps in and defies fate by shooting Abdi in the back. Janis seems the most broken up about it, but there’s hardly time to stay sad, what with a baby to conceive.
Also, that VHS tape? They stick it into the deck one more time and Demetri lets it play, and HOLY SHIT: Dyson Frost starts talking to Demetri from beyond the veil of time and digital recording devices. “Hello Demetri,” he says, creepily, not unlike one of those Dharma Initiative people walking right off the screen to strangle someone. “I’m recording this message in 1991. Got your attention, didn’t I?” And while we were losing our minds over this, actor John Cho was just standing there with a stupid partial grin on his face, which we hope is just the look he gets when he’s uncontrollably pissing himself, and not just the look of an ill-trained actor being asked to do a reaction shot to something he can’t see or hear.
Cut to commercial, and we’re crossing our fingers that episode fourteen breaks the even-numbered episode curse so we can get to the bottom of this and go to Afghanistan.