It hurts me to say this, but I was incredibly disappointed with this episode.
There were a precious few moments that I genuinely enjoyed (and, more importantly, approved of from an analytical standpoint), but otherwise the whole of "Playing Cards With Coyote" ranged from painfully overworked to horrible cliched.
I'll start with the parts that I did actually like. The short scenes with Simon in the hospital were a good deal of fun - breaking creeper mode to entertain Dylan Simcoe, and then readopting it for a marvelously chilling argument for determinism. Dominic Monaghan is a talented dude and Jack Davenport is an excellent counterpoint to him.
The other part of the episode that worked for me was the development of the Aaron and Tracy plotline. I wasn't sure exactly how the writers were going to connect these two to the larger plot arc effectively - I was honestly starting to worry that the Mark-Aaron friendship would be the tenuous whole of it. But FlashForward has outsmarted and impressed me (again). Tracy's connection to this Jericho group (more on that in a moment) is all sorts of intriguing and crafty, and I am definitely looking forward to seeing how it all pans out. Further kudos to this plotline: Aaron and Tracy had the most genuine and least borderline-pretentious heart-to-heart about the in/fallibility of the future per flashforwards to date.
And speaking of the in/fallibility of the future, it is now time to address the reasons why "Playing Cards With Coyote" is probably my least favorite episode thus far.
The personal journey of Al Gough in last week's "The Gift" was beautiful and well-crafted. In contrast, I found the fallout of his actions poorly executed and ultimately rather disrespectful of one of the most inventive plot twists (and also one of the most personable characters) on the show so far. The opening montage was labored and it was lame. It covered the necessary points - the widespreading possibility that the future is not set in stone and the subsequent hope people have - , but there was absolutely no finesse and opportunities for some bonafide emotional moments were abandoned in favor of the bad kind of melodrama.
The occasional cheese-fluff I can handle. What really DEEPLY bothered me about this episode was the complete lack of originality in the wannabe plot twists. There were two extreme cliches played out in this episode. Both of them had some minor redeeming factors, but mostly they were just painful to watch.
First: tattoo guy. I mean really. Was the existence of an entire cohort of three-star tattooed ex-military guys supposed to be a revelation? That was approx the greatest "Wow, REALLY?" moment of all time. This whole bit was partly redeemed by the introduction of the rings and the not-quite-hinted-at possibility that this could be the elusive Jericho group. From a purely critical-thinking point of view, putting breakthroughs on tattoo guy and the Suspect Zero video in the same quarter of an episode was maybe a bit too clean-cut for a show supposedly interested in creating suspense and conspiracy. But I'm not going to complain, because at least we are finally starting to get somewhere.
Where we are not making progress is on the Simon and Simcoe front. A glance or two at the email Lloyd sent gave us a few names to keep in mind for future episodes, which is good. But any value that might have had as a gesture of good faith for our patience was basically annihilated by that frickin' poker game. SERIOUSLY, FlashForward? A POKER game? That by itself was a tired, bad move. But then they stretched it out over the entire episode. So unnecessary. No amount of suspenseful music or high stakes was going to make this game interesting. I didn't know it was going to be Lloyd who won at the outset; but if anyone didn't see that straight flush coming once all of the table cards were revealed in the last hand, they ought to be embarrassed.
The only minimal credit I can give to this portion of the episode is the subtle but growing possibility that Simon may be cast as the major creeper, but Lloyd seems to be the one with a real taste for gray-area villainy.
So yeah. Pretty disappointed with this episode. The content definitely was not a match for the admittedly awesome title. And, once again, NO DEVELOPMENT ON SIMON TO SPEAK OF. I am seriously getting desperate here. To the point where I'm not even going to bother to hope FlashForward will throw me a bone next week.
I am looking forward to it, though. If only because I really need to have my faith in FlashForward renewed.
(This review also posted on my blog at http://meltedbrain.wordpress.com)