10 theories on what caused the flash forward in FlashForward

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Dec 14, 2012, 4:09 PM EST

Why did the world black out for 2 minutes and 17 seconds? How come almost everyone on the planet experienced that time as a snippet from their lives six months in the future?

FBI agents Mark Benford (Joseph Fiennes) and Demetri Noh (John Cho) have been assigned to the case because Benford saw himself working the case in the future, and they've already started developing theories about the cause of the flash-forward. But fans of the TV show are already way ahead of them. (In fact, even before a second episode aired, there was already a blog devoted to these theories.)

Here are some of the more interesting theories we've seen. (Warning! Spoilers ahead.)

What's the Theory? In the 1999 novel by Robert J. Sawyer upon which the series is based, the flash-forward is caused by the activation of the Large Hadron Collider at CERN at precisely the same moment a burst of neutrinos arrives from the remnants of Supernova 1987A.

How Likely Is It? While the cause of the flash-forward made for a gripping novel, it's unlikely to be the cause in the TV show. On a meta level, the producers of the show aren't going to create a mystery and keep it going just to let the viewers down at the end with the revelation that it's just like the book. Furthermore, in the book the cause is known almost from the beginning; the TV show seems to be turning the cause into the main puzzle for viewers to enjoy. Also, the flash-forward in the book took place 21 years in the future, as opposed to merely six months, as in the TV show. And within the show itself, we've already seen that mysterious figure walking around the baseball stadium in Detroit. Presumably his existence means that the flash-forward was a planned event, and not an accident. Speaking of which ...

What's the Theory? Suspect Zero, the mysterious figure seen running around a baseball stadium in Detroit during the blackouts, is behind the flash-forward.

How Likely Is It? Given that Suspect Zero wasn't acting confused or panicked about his situation, it's very likely that he either knew what was going to happen in advance or was part of a conspiracy to cause the flash-forward in the first place. On the other hand, if he knew what was going to happen, why was he in the stadium allowing himself to be caught on security cameras? It's so obvious that he's part of a conspiracy that maybe it's just a clever bit of misdirection. But if he is part of a conspiracy, which is implied by the discovery of the cell-phone call, that leads us to another possibility ...

What's the Theory? FBI agent Demetri Noh is part of the conspiracy that created the flash-forward. Remember that when Mark woke up, Demetri was out of the car already. Perhaps he was conscious and running around, like Suspect Zero in Detroit. His claim to have not seen anything during the blackout is true, but that's simply because he wasn't blacked out.

How Likely Is It? Hmmm. While this would make for a clever twist down the line, it does beg the question of what Demetri could possibly accomplish on a Los Angeles freeway for 2 minutes and 17 seconds. Actor Jon Cho himself dismissed the idea, telling SCI FI Wire in an interview, "I've heard that people think I may be an evil mastermind behind it all. That would be confusing if it were a later development like that." And as of last night's episode, there appears to be independent evidence that Demetri really is destined to die before April 29. Unless, as Josh Lasser suggests, the government might fake Demetri's death to smoke out the bad guys. Perhaps Demetri is still lying about something, though; he might have seen something in the future that he doesn't want to disclose.

What's the Theory? If there is a conspiracy, what's their motivation? Blogger Marat Gaziev suggests that the conspirators are trying to avert a cataclysmic future for the human race. According to his theory, the conspiracy will create more flash-forwards that take us further into the future, showing the human race the self-destruction that will take place if we don't change our ways.

How Likely Is It? It's difficult to evaluate so early in the game. However, Gaziev earns kudos for being one of the few bloggers out there coming up with a valid human motivation to trigger the worldwide disasters that went along with the blackouts. The needs of the many—that is, all of humanity—would surely outweigh the needs of the few who had to die to keep the human race alive.

What's the Theory? On the other hand, the Feeling Listless blog posits that the conspiracy didn't actually show people the future, but rather created a mass hallucination of a possible future in order to make people follow a particular path for some unknown reason.

How Likely Is It? Given the amount of knowledge about every single person on Earth this would require, wouldn't it have been far easier just to send people into the future? We can probably discount the hallucination theory.

What's the Theory? The flash-forward is somehow connected to the explosion that took place in the fifth season finale of Lost, "The Incident." The evidence for this is a billboard for Oceanic Airlines that boasts "Perfect safety record." Given that Jack and Juliet were hoping that the explosion of a nuclear bomb on the island would change history and prevent their plane from crashing in the first place, the billboard implies that they were successful.

How Likely Is It? The comparisons to Lost have been inevitable, especially now that Lost has explicitly embraced time travel as part of its oeuvre. But keep in mind that the two shows are run by two different creative teams, and actors from Lost are already playing entirely new characters on FlashForward: Sonya Walger (Lost's Penny, FlashForward's Olivia) and Dominic Monaghan (Lost's Charlie, FlashForward's Simon). So it's more likely that the producers of FlashForward are just having fun with the fans—and perhaps hoping to emulate the success of Lost.

What's the Theory? Scaramouch on the Yes But No But Yes site suggests that the show is the tale of the Christian Apocalypse. The people who didn't see their future when they blacked out will be taken in the Rapture, and the others will be left behind (so to speak) to fight the Antichrist.

How Likely Is It? Um, this is mainstream Hollywood we're talking about here. While rapture fiction does do well for Christian audiences, it's difficult to imagine the show runners going that route—at least, not explicitly. Although FBI agent Stanford Wedeck did bring up the possibility in last night's episode ...

What's the Theory? The flash-forward didn't show us a picture of the real future, but rather of an alternate reality. (Proposed by D-Roc, an administrator at WeFlashForward.)

How Likely Is It? If the flash-forwards cause people to take actions that void their visions, then yes, they would automatically become part of an alternate reality. Still, that doesn't explain why the flash-forward happened in the first place.

What's the Theory? The flash-forward lasted 2 minutes and 17 seconds, or 137 seconds total. Therefore, the flash-forward is connected to the fine structure constant, an obscure but important number that shows up in quantum mechanics to represent the strength of electromagnetism and is equal to 1/137. (This connection was suggested by Trish and Rob Macgregor on their Synchronicity blog.)

How Likely Is It? If the flash-forward were based on some sort of modern physics phenomenon, it wouldn't be a stretch to say that its duration was predetermined and inviolable. And the teaser to next week's episode implies that the number 137 is significant. Still, the length of the flash-forward pales in comparison to the initial fact of its existence.

What's the Theory? The kangaroo did it.

How Likely Is It? Rather unlikely, wouldn't you say? Kangaroos don't even have opposable thumbs. Still, don't be surprised to see the kangaroo motif running throughout the season.