Mania Grade: B-
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- TV Series: FlashForward
- Episode: Playing Cards with Coyote
- Starring: Joseph Fiennes, John Cho, Jack Davenport, Dominic Monaghan, Peyton List, Zachary Knighton, Sonya Walger and Courtney B. Vance
- Written By: Marc Guggenheim and Barbara Nance
- Directed By: Nick Gomez
- Network: ABC
FlashForward: Playing Cards With Coyote Review
A Little Cleaning Up in Flash Forward.
By Rob Vaux
November 13, 2009
© ABC/Bob Trate
An episode as good as last week's usually requires a more modest follow-up to help us calm down. "Playing Cards With Coyote" relegates itself to assessing the fallout from Agent Gough's suicide, and how that both changes the game and leaves the rules intact. It works well as filler and may be necessary as part of the larger plot arc, though it struggles to generate any energy on its own.
Gough demonstrated beyond the shadow of a doubt that the future is not immutable. The visions can be changed, though how much and by what degree remains to be seen. Director Nick Gomez plays up the trickiness of that equation, suggesting that while a given person can alter his or her fate, he or she needs to work extremely hard to do it. That holds particular importance for Agents Benford (Joseph Fiennes) and Noh (John Cho). The former wants to prevent the office attack glimpsed in his flash forward (as well as save his marriage and retain his sobriety), while the latter literally wants to keep from dying. They target a man with star tattoos on his forearm, noticed in Benford's vision and recorded on a shaky iPhone cam in the middle of Barstow.
Trouble is, he's not necessarily the only man with those tattoos. While Our Heroes cheerfully believe that stopping him means altering the future, they're supposed to be smart enough to notice such loopholes. The fact that they don't lends the subplot a certain air of arbitrariness--just following the playbook rather than developing any genuine drama--though it also accentuates the Agents' desperate attempts to control their own destiny. The thread also ends on a most intriguing note, with Ricky Jay showing up as That Guy Ricky Jay Always Plays and a box of rings with ominous connections to those inked stars.
So goes the remainder of "Playing Cards With Coyote": amusing asides picked up along the way to the next big revelation two or three episodes hence. Aaron Stark (Brian F. O'Byrne) and his newly rediscovered daughter (Genevieve Cortese) occupy the bulk of the leftover time, intended to provide some whiz-bang revelations which may or may not connect up with the FBI investigation. Unfortunately, their storyline plays like warmed-over Jason Bourne, coughing up a potboiler conspiracy theory which clashes badly with the show's ostensible realism. The fate of Stark's daughter never held a huge amount of appeal to begin with, and now that she's alive and well, it leeches even more energy from the proceedings.
The last bit of time belongs to the real culprits--Lloyd Simcoe (Jack Davenport) and his skeezy associate Simon (Dominic Monaghan), who are deeply entrenched in whatever bit of naughtiness set off the blackout in the first place. Lloyd wants to go public with what they know, while Simon wants Lloyd to stop being such a little wuss. Naturally, they play poker to see who prevails, just like any other genius physicists toying with forces they don't quite understand. As preposterous as the notion sounds, it actually constitutes one of the episode's better elements, with Simon sneering about predestination over the chips and assuring his colleague that every hand has already been played. Monaghan expounds upon the show's core concepts in oblique but amusing terms, granting us flashes of insight into the philosophical underpinnings behind the flash forwards without actually revealing a thing. He seems to be finding the character as well: though he still lacks menace, his insouciance and head games are beginning to develop the right hint of danger.
Those elements and others like them deliver a decent sense of pep, despite the fact that no single subplot quite puts the pieces together. More importantly, "Playing Cards With Coyote" collects and sorts through the revelations of the last few episodes, helping us get a better feel for the way things have changed and the types of challenges Gough's suicide now presents.
Maintenance episodes like this one rarely stand out, but sometimes they're required to keep the show healthy as a whole. "Playing Cards With Coyote" is saddled with that unfortunate duty, and while it may not quite succeed in its own right, FlashForward is better off for the effort.