I did not get what I wanted out of this episode, - namely, some actual development of the whole Simon situation - so I'd almost like to say that I was disappointed. But the truth is, this was a pretty phenomenal episode without it.
The 'intense' Benford family drama was (thankfully) sidelined for the majority of "The Gift," which opened up opportunity for further development of several characters who have been fairly simplified or limited up to this point.
The pairing of Bryce (Zachary Knighton) and Nicole (Peyton List) was pretty contrived, but it was also surprisingly effective. If suspension of disbelief regarding the ridiculousness of the Japanese-speaking and artistic capability can be achieved, then there is a lot to appreciate about these characters' shared scenes. For the first time, both of them had significant screentime without having to play second banana to one Benford or other. It's difficult to say at this point what is going to happen about this Japanese girl of Bryce's or how I'm going to feel about it. My hope is that it will provide an opportunity for the show to pursue a lighter-hearted storyline.
Aaron the electrician (Brian F. O'Byrne) was probably the least individually developed character leading up to "The Gift." He's divorced. He's lost his daughter, but seen her in his flashforward. he hangs out with the Benfords. What else does he do with his time? What else is there to him? Well, we still don't know. But after this episode, I at least have an even greater appreciation for the emotional complexity of the character. And, given that his daughter (Genevieve Cortese) just appeared - alive - in his kitchen, Aaron is sure to be the source of some genuine weirdness to come. Not because Tracy's appearance was surprising (because a - she was in his flashforward and b - her army buddy's "omg I saw her die!" story was utterly unconvincing), but because her appearance was surprisingly early, which implies that Aaron and Tracy's plotline may prove to be vastly more complicated than a father's desperate-but-hopeful search.
The main major plotline development of this episode came from the FBI's encounter with the Blue Hand, a community for "ghosts" - people who didn't have flashforwards and who, therefore, are assumed to be dead at that point in the future. The effect of this encounter was not the (expected) introduction of anything particularly mind-blowing. It was just finally an outright vocalization of the idea that's been hinted at regarding flashforwards but never really discussed: "Everything is scripted." Not a new concept, to be sure. But the delivery was definitely an achievement in utter creepiness thanks to Myron Natwick's Russian Roulette and a performance by the excellent by Callum Keith Rennie. My only criticism of Dr. Raynaud: As a self-respecting fan of sci-fi television, I can't say that watching a Cylon take the Jesus/Wolverine pose with two blue hands exactly screams originality to me.
What ultimately made this episode so great was FBI Agent Al Gough. I guess I can/should retract my statement of outrage from last week regarding the elevation of Lee Thompson Young to lead castmember status. DEFINITELY didn't see that one coming. And that is just fantastic. In true FlashForward fashion, the reveal of Al's full flashforward and his subsequent to make it impossible resulted in more questions than answers. The greatest of those: Will his effort prove successful? And if so, what sort of butterfly effect will there be?
Maybe I've just been watching too much Heroes. But I can't help doubting a character death, especially when he has appeared in the future. I've already voiced some belief in the possibility of more than one copy of certain individuals (namely, Demetri Noh, who had no flashforward and yet was in someone else's). I wouldn't dare make any predictions about what this all might mean in terms of the overall show and the (in)fallibility of the flashforwarded future. But I am sooooo excited and curious to find out how it all turns out.
Once again, previews lead me to believe that next week may contain some answers regarding Simon, Lloyd, and the grander scale/meaning of the blackout and flashforwards. If I end up disappointed once again, I will be unsurprised, if sad. Hopefully - hopefully - there will at least be more of Dominic Monaghan than a(n admittedly intriguing) four-second appearance in a truly excellent end-of-episode montage. I guess we'll see.
(This review also posted on my blog at http://meltedbrain.wordpress.com)