Flight — with airplanes criss-crossing the Atlantic and birds dropping out of the sky — features as the dominant motif in this latest episode of FlashForward. Or maybe it’s disruption of flight that’s the central theme. After all, worldviews all over the world are crashing and burning too, in a situation just as disturbing as any Alfred Hitchcock film.
It’s been about a week since the blackouts hit, and the cogs of daily life in modern America are only just beginning to turn again. In an early scene, the camera gives us a birds-eye view of an airport runway—though a few planes land and take off, wrecks of planes with broken wings are more common and clearly visible against the black asphalt of the runway. Viewers are also introduced to Demetri’s fiancé Zoe in this context of a noticeably empty airplane. As it turns out, the man sitting across the aisle (who looks like he’s about to be sick) is the airline CEO, taking a flight to prove to the stockholders that he has faith in the safety of the skies. Clearly, as he downs another drink, he doesn’t.
Agents Mark Benford and Janis Hawk (another bird reference) also take a flight during the course of the episode—to Germany, to speak with an ex-Nazi who claims to have crucial information about the specific duration of the blackouts (he insists that 137 sekunden, or seconds, has a specific meaning).
The prisoner, Rudolf Geyer, is currently incarcerated in a high security facility in Munich: Quale Prison. The name of the prison is a homonym for the quail, a bird notable for its reluctance to fly even when flushed out of cover. Geyer, under lock and key, is essentially caged himself, and quite eager to be repatriated to the United States; by the end of the episode, confident that he’ll get the full pardon he envisioned in his flash forward, he describes himself as a “free man”—in other words, free as a bird.
Mark and Janis are understandably skeptical, especially after Geyer’s supposedly vital information about the 137-second blackouts appears to be nothing more than amateur numerology: the letters in “Kaballah,” a form of Jewish mysticism in which “everything has a hidden meaning,” when assigned numbers and added together in the Hebrew alphabet, add up to 137.
While Benford holds out for the second part of Geyer’s promised revelations, Janis is furious. Calling Mark out on the tottering foundation his whole investigation rests on, she challenges him to stop “hiding behind the badge”: “You’re the one driving this thing, Mark, you are.”
Janis’s vehement distrust of former Nazi Geyer really requires no justification—“there’s no statute of limitation on evil,” she says, a sentiment most of us would probably agree with—but her interaction with Geyer during his interrogation does reveal some potentially important information about her:
In her flash forward, Janis saw herself pregnant, tearing up as she learned from an ultrasound that he baby was a girl. In the pilot, she’d brushed off the vision casually, and throughout the show so far she’s been outspoken in her skepticism. She doesn’t consider her own vision—pregnancy and motherhood—even the slightest bit credible.
In “137 Sekunden,” Geyer calls attention to the plain silver band Janis wears on her left thumb, commenting that “in some Eastern European countries, where homosexuality is illegal,” wearing such a ring on her left thumb would indicate her particular sexual “proclivities.” It’s possible that Janis doesn’t believe the future will happen as she saw it because, if she is after all a lesbian, pregnancy would appear to be out of the question. And if she does have Eastern European ancestry, it’s also possible that either she or members of her family are Jewish, explaining why she reacts so viscerally to the idea of Geyer ever going free.
More allusions to birds continue in the prisoner’s conversations with Benford, as well. Sensing the FBI agent’s distrust, Geyer smiles and notes: “I believe we have a game of chicken. Who do you think will blink first?”
Again, flight and birds are referenced in the context of cowardice—as with the airline CEO and, later, Jerome Murphy, a future Customs official who Geyer saw in his vision, and who begs Demetri not to bust him for marijuana use (throughout their conversation, a model of a bird perched on his lampstand hovers over Murphy’s left shoulder). And remember that at Quale Prison, Janis Hawk reflects the characteristic behavior of a common quail rather than her namesake, as she’s unwilling to “take a leap of faith” with Benford and support the pardon of Geyer in exchange for his information (such as it is).
Of course, the most obvious appearance of birds comes with Rudolf Geyer’s story of the dead crows he saw “littering the courtyard” outside his cell when he woke up from the blackout. Geyer insists that this is the information that will ultimately secure his release, and upon further investigation, Benford finds that on the day of the blackout the population of crows worldwide plummeted.
Bizarre coincidence? Janis certainly thinks so. But after a search of previous trends in crow population, the two agents discover that a very similar rapid decline occurred in 1991, in the Ganwar region of Southern Somalia, where claims had been made that the inhabitants “suffered a mass loss of consciousness.” “137 Sekunden” ends with a flash back to that particular moment in time, a young shepherd watching in horror as hundreds of crows stop circling and drop to earth and some strange shape (nuclear mushroom cloud? forcefield? UFO?) begins to rise in the sky.
And Benford, saying exactly what the rest of us were thinking after the episode: “We’ve been so worried the blackout might happen again, we haven’t stopped to ask ourselves—what if it happened before?”
In any case, the third episode of FlashForward leaves us with this big question to answer, and Mark Benford in possession of a strange gift from Rudolf Geyer: a small book on birds of South America—it may be useful, he says. If that’s true (and in the post-Lost world we need to assume that everything means something), birds in all their literal and metaphorical forms might just be important throughout the season. For now, though, it’s all speculation.