Fringe Season 2 – “Go Then. There Are Other Worlds Than These.”

Finally, after too long a wait, Fringe has made its way back to Fox. It has a better night and time (for ratings) than it did last season. Even though Fox cut episode length by a few minutes this season by putting in standard commercial breaks instead of the abbreviated ones I loved last season, I don’t think very much will be lost.

I had intended to have write-ups about each new episode individually, but time has gotten away from me once again, and I was unable to watch the season premier until a couple of night’s ago. With the second episode airing last night, I figured I would just consolidate the posts.

“A New Day in the Old Town” – 2×01

Fringe Frog Maybe I went in expecting too much. I don’t know. But after having so many people tell me how wonderful the first episode of Season 2 was, I went in with incredibly high hopes. And I was let down. But only a little. It was one of those “I expected better out of you” moments. I feel like a parent, and I want to sit down little Fringe and have the “I love you, but I’m disappointed in you because you knew better” speech.

First, the whole premise of “A New Day in the Old Town” is a cliché that I really wish shows like this would move past. Not only that, it’s a cliché that I thought shows like this had moved past. It worked once upon a time to make viewers think that the protagonist was dead, only to have him/her spring to life after a brief but decidedly tense hospital stay. However,in the day and age where promotions run months before series start, social media helps actors stay in touch with fans, and we see promo clips of the season prior to the premier with the protagonist alive, please don’t act like Olivia died in that car crash. We know better. It’s insulting. The only reason to ever do this is if the creators have the gumption to actually kill the protagonist. Then it means something.

Also, the tried, true, and boring-as-hell “the government is closing down your division because of lack of results” storyline is equally blasé. Here’s the problem with this plot device: if it works, the show is cancelled. So if the plot carries on for any period of time at all, it is wasted time. Fringe division cannot be shut down because without it, there is no Fringe. It’s the same reason that Mulder and Scully were never reassigned for more than half a season on The X-Files. The show must have a premise, so the mechanic through which tension is built is undermined before it ever has a chance to take hold and resonate with the audience. We can see right through it. It means nothing.

The one thing I do like about Broyles having to go to a hearing about Fringe division being shut down is that it gives the presiding official a chance to mention “X designation” as being something the past that has gone through similar circumstances. I love when shows which pay homage to an earlier work integrate themselves into the same (or seemingly the same) universe. Also, yay for The X-Files references.

I’m not sure how I feel about the new female FBI agent. She has an air about her I haven’t been able to figure out yet. She could be a good addition to the cast, especially given that Charlie (Kirk Acevedo) is leaving, but I’m afraid that it’s one more step to have Fringe be more about the hot girls than the narrative (remember Seven of Nine or T’Pal?). I can see it, though, as the ensemble was a little male-heavy, what with Peter and Walter and Charlie and Broyles. The only female characters were Olivia’s sister, niece, and Astrid—and they were hardly leads like they seem to be making Ms. New FBI Agent. She has a little charisma, and she’s not too attractive to be unbelievable in her role. I’ll give her time. And her finding Bible verses to caption Fringe division cases? Is that a series theme (science interconnected with religion) or character development?

I knew Charlie was going to die. Kirk Acevedo mentioned on his Facebook page at the end of the previous season that he wasn’t going to be returning for his recurring role, so when the narrative took him to a place where danger was prevalent and there was something ambiguous going on, I was 100% sure he bit it before it was actually revealed. The situation was predictable anyway, but with the 4th wall being broken so easily and often, it’s hard to be surprised by that kind of revelation.

And I called it. In my review of the Fringe Season 1 finale, I said:

Fringe is one of those shows that never gives any information that will not be needed elsewhere, nor do they have filler scenes that hold no weight. In “There’s More Than One of Everything,” there is a scene near the end that very likely flew under many people’s radar. Olivia is driving toward meeting Nina to have her introduce William Bell. As she drives, a car nearly pulls out in front of Olivia, nearly causing an accident. Olivia swerves, the car brakes, and Olivia continues to her meeting with Nina no worse for the wear, just flustered. I think this particular scene happened in an alternate reality as well, except that in the alternate reality, Olivia was either severely injured or killed, thus throwing that reality out of whack. I can think of no other explanation for it because the scene has no bearing on anything else in the episode or in the greater scheme of the narrative. The creative team is too deliberate with Fringe to have a scene that means nothing. I expect Olivia’s near crash to play a part next season.

In no other reviews or postings I’ve read since the first season ended have I seen anyone make mention of Olivia’s near collision as anything but superfluous. I was really glad to see that Fringe’s creators live up to my assumption that—like LOST—there is never a meaningless detail.

Aside from those minor (?) quibbles, I really enjoyed 2×01. It was a pretty strong premier for a series that is still in the process of indoctrinating new viewers. But for some reason, the entire time I was watching “A New Day in the Old Town,” all I could think of were Jake’s words to Roland in The Gunslinger: “Go then. There are other worlds than these.” Apt, yes, but I’m not sure why they’re so prevalent.

Night of Desirable Objects” 2×02

Fringe Apple And then there’s the second episode of Season 2. I don’t have nearly as much to say about “Night of Desirable Objects” as I did about the premier because, frankly, it wasn’t as interesting or as good.

Unfortunately, while “A New Day in the Old Town” could be considered a Pattern episode, its followup is a Monster of the Week story. Very little of the mythos is explored in “Night of Desirable Objects,” and to me, I think it’s a bad way to start out the season. I figure that it’s Fox exerting control over the series in much the same way they exerted control over Firefly and Dollhouse. When will they learn that forced stand-alone episodes in a series based around serialized narrative hurts ratings rather than helps them? Let the series be what it is. Fool me once; shame on you. Fool me twice, three times, and maybe a fourth, and I’m probable producing a show for Fox.

As soon as the episode started, I got a feeling in this episode of The X-Files episode “Home.” I know that the creators epitomize The X-Files as the best show ever, but that can only go so far before Fringe loses some of its original charm and identity. For a Monster of the Week episode, I found it—like last week—rather predictable, what with the rural setting, disgruntled older man with lab equipment, and all. I suppose I expect more out of a J.J. Abrams show after last season of Fringe and all of LOST. I even expect more out of Kurtzman and Orci after Star Trek.

I don’t know what it is, but there’s something about TV and movie producers that make “sweaty” equate with “evil.” Once Charlie was killed in the premier, every scene with his imposter has him sweaty and unkempt when he was very clean-cut before. I figure it’s secret (read: obvious) TV language for “Hey, this is the bad guy. See how he’s unclean!” but it just insults the viewer because it works off the assumption we cannot figure out what happened on our own, nor can we remember from one episode to another that faux Charlie is a bad guy. Doppelgangers work best when they’re actually doppelgangers, not skeezy and unwashed.

The best part of the episode: we got to see more of the magic mirror/typewriter combo that allows the shifter to communicate between worlds. I get almost a Warehouse 13 vibe from these scenes, and I am really intrigued. Aside the obvious question of “who’s he writing to?” I wonder more about why we can’t see with whom he’s communicating. They keys move in the mirror without hands, and I wonder if it’s not something to do with the shifter communicating with himself using a weakened spot between universes where he exists as a single entity but in two dimensions experiencing two different realities simultaneously. I think my brain just exploded a little.

And lastly, one thing I really appreciated about 2×02 was how Peter and Walter have such visible chemistry as father and son. Joshua Jackson legitimately looked hurt tonight when talking about the fishing trip he never got to go on. And when John Noble asked if he could come along with Peter and his friend, there was real longing there. After the paternal revelations of “There’s More Than One of Everything,” my heart broke just a little because of seeing the two unite, finally, over something that may or may not have happened to those particular instances of Peter and Walter.

I look eagerly toward the rest of Fringe’s sophomore season. Often, an incredible first season can lead to a mediocre second season simply based on viewers’ expectations, but I don’t see that happening with Fringe. Sure, I have my reservations about the first two episodes, but overall, I thoroughly enjoyed sitting and watching them. I’m interesting in finding out how William Bell and Olivia’s meeting played out, where Nina Sharp fits in all this, and just why Peter gave Broyles the technology for shifting that he did (mark my words: something’s up there). While I don’t think that Season 2 started out being nearly as strong as it could have been, I think it was a solid comeback for a much-awaited series.

What do you all think?

Comments

  1. Loki

    Not having seen the second episode yet (I will tonight, though) I can't read nor comment your review of it, but as to the season premiere, I can say my reactions and positions were more or less exactly the opposite of yours, for more or less exactly the same reasons. Confused? Bear with me as I try to explain.

    I watch a lot – _a lot_ – of TV, and one of my least favourite genres is cop shows. Not because something is inherently bad about them, but because they've been done. To death. So while I do watch Fringe, it is easily in the bottom of the barrel for me as far as the shows I follow go. I have very small expectations from it beyond some good dialogue from the Bishops (the two characters that stands out enough that they make the show more than just a cop show with sci-fi criminals) and basic, unoriginal plots that are still well enough executed to entertain me.

    As such, all the things you complain about here is highly expected to me. Every little cliché this episode was guilty of is as genre-typical as everything I've come to expect of Fringe by now. (Example – "they'll close us down" is overused to the extreme, but I'm EXPECTING overused to the extreme, so to me, the plotline just means "hooray, finally some larger-scale political aspects to the show, bringing it out of its stubborn procedural-frame. That can't go anywhere bad, no matterh how unoriginal at least it's diversifying.") Luckily, I don't meta-follow the show very closely and was genuinely surprised that they'd kill off Charlie in the end. To me, the unoriginal "the protagonist is dead!"-plotline found its justification in this – it diverted by attention into the safe feeling of "bah, they're obviously not killing her", making me hardly consider the notion they could kill someone ELSE instead.

    Additionally, Olivia is a to me rather unoriginal character. She's the typical tough, hardened female cop who doesn't have a personal life and has a tragic, depressing backstory (not that this can't be good – the protagonist of "The Inside", for instance, springs to mind as a very good take on this – it's just not original. That's my problem with most of Fringe. "Well done, but haven't I seen this four or five times before?"), and getting to see her in a new situation as thoroughly helpless was very good for the character. Hopefully that and the loss of Charlie will both make her grow a little over the course of this season.

    Additionally, as I mentioned in my comment over at Kuang's review on The Examiner, making Olivia first be "dead" and then locked in a hospital bed for the entire episode gave the remaining cast time to shine. Most of this was spent on Peter – whom I love, but I still found this to be a tad sad, as he's usually the guy who gets the second most attention anyway. Still, Broyles got more than his usual fair share of attention too. And this is good for an ensemble show which is usually overshadowed by Olivia and only Olivia.

    Oh, and in closing, perhaps you could tell me – why on Earth did Astrid show up for work at Fringe division while it was closed down when Peter couldn't even get in TOUCH with any of the other agents involved? And why did it go without so much as a mention that she apparently valued the loyalty to Bishop higher than her orders? Seemed an enormous character moment to me, but it was passed over as a matter of course. Did I miss something?

    Wow, this turned out long. My apologies for my long-windedness. And thanks for writing a nice and informative review.

  2. Robert Kuang

    I actually laughed out loud while during your review. Fox does have a tendency to bite itself in the ankle doesn't it? In truth, I'm almost hoping this is the network and not just the creators being lazy…that would be worse.

    Actually, I don't think sweaty-Charlie is an accident or a "look." I noticed he was holding his abdomen a lot while walking and seemed to be in pain, groaning and such. I thought maybe his sweating was a symptom of some bigger thing they've yet to reveal, but who knows.

    As far as female characters go, I wish you had mentioned Nina Sharp, because I find her to be–for lack of a better word, awesome. Still, I hope Agent Jessup is not a new series regular, although I am interested in her biblical interpretations of the fringe cases (almost makes me want to skim Revelations to see if all the cases actually match the signs for the apocalypse).

    Great review. I still love Fringe, but I also remember season 1 being exponentially more amazing after a few episodes, where things begin to click together. It works better as a serialized piece, the individual episodes usually work OK, but not as well as the bigger picture.

    Oh, watch Glee, sir.

  3. Jennifer

    I appreciate everyone in the comments for this and his Fall tv blog who has encouraged the Glee love. I keep telling him how great it is, but he keeps resisting. With your help, hopefully I can wear him down!

  4. jane

    I beg to differ with the Beej. I thought both were at their best.

    You're right that everything in Fringe is there for a reason (sounds like Locke on Lost, doesn't it?) Olivia *has* to be shown to us as dead, because she has been to the Other Side. We all know she's going to waken; surprise is not the point of her death. Rather, she is being reborn. She returns "through a glass", in this case through the windshield. Now, lying in the hospital bed, she wakes up: This is an echo of the first episode of season 1, when Olivia has her Opening Eye moment in the hospital after a near-death experience at the storage facility with John Scott. Now she wakes up not only speaking Latin (a dead language, spoken by Others) but also invoking Peter's dead mother. Olivia's trip to the Other Side has *changed* her. So don't say that Olivia's death is meaningless, because it's not. Her death is an integral part of her character.

    Remember at the end of last season, when people see the device Jones uses to get to the Other Side: they all describe the altered fabric of Space as a window. Please notice that the typewriter on the Other Side of the mirror (a looking glass) types out the opposite of what is typed on this side.

    Charlie gets killed off and taken over by a doppleganger. This is also a metaphor for death and rebirth. While I didn't know that the actor was leaving the show, I did suss out that the doppleganger got him – that's good acting. The doppleganger gets sweaty before it's ready to assume another person – perhaps the doppleganger has to keep feeding over and over again, as if in a loop, to keep itself going? Not having a self, it has to keep assuming new identities. Kinda like how the spinal fluid woman had to keep feeding to keep from burning up. Charlie is taken over in front of a furnace – a symbol for Hell.

    Of course Revelations is both character development for the new FBI agent as well as continuing the series' intention of wedding science and religion. She provides a character with a religious perspective (she should be freaking out pretty soon, dontcha think?) and the Apocalypse is a ripe metaphor for the experience of dying and resurrection. Christ was known as a fisher of men, too: father and son go fishing; Peter is from the Other Side.

    Peter showed us that sound can be imprinted in glass, and retrieved with a particularly close reading. Now we get to that Olivia has returned from the Other Side, we see in Desirable Objects she has become a keen observer of sounds. She is letting her subconscious mind point out details to her. This is mirrored by the Scarecrow: a call out to Batman Begins, where the "villain" is using a weaponized concoction to evoke people's deepest *subconscious* fears; the massive scale version is delivered through subterranean pipes. So of course we have to have a cavern underground. The poor boy tries to escape into the sunlight, only to be crushed by a vehicle breaching through the earth – a mirror to the previous episode.
    "Getting shut down", this is also a metaphor for dying. The same wording showed up Dollhouse last night; Echo also revisits her Series Premiere, by invoking Eleanor Penn. There are always worries that the network suits will cancel the series, only to have a fresh breath of relief when they are renewed. For regular people, though, there is always the temptation to shut down when we find a lack of results in our lives.

    Like Lost and FlashForward and Dollhouse, Fringe is a meditation on death.

    ~ jane ~

    p.s. Keep thinking about multiple realities simultaneously, especially realities that are polarized from each other. The hard drives are fused together for a reason. It's like… it's like a plane crash. Look at the whole tapestry, because the threads are all connected by subterranean tunnels… to form a hand just waiting to reach out from the terminal.

  5. Beej

    Wow, Jane. Just wow. Do you have a blog or site where I can read more of your work? If not, you need one.

    I'll sort my way through this and comment as soon as I can.

    Thanks for the insight! That goes for all of you. I'm loving this conversation!

  6. Loki

    I can't but join the Glee-recommendations, just so that's said. In spite of the premise, I'm thoroughly enjoying every episode.

    So, having seen the episode, I'm back with another comment like I said I would:

    Jane raises a lot of brilliant insights I never would have arrived at on my own in her comment, but I disagree on her implication that these paint the second episode in a more, to borrow Beej's words, mythos-exploring light. They certainly make it seem a lot more layered and well-made (which it probably is, too – again, the insights truly impressed me), but they don't reveal anything we don't already know. In that sense, it doesn't explore the mythos, nor does it build on it. It simply references it.

    Which is of course a lot better than ignoring it, but it's still a symptom of the never-ending desire to have the episodes function as standalone stories as well as parts of a whole. An understandable desire from the network's standpoint, sure, but not one that gels well with my and most other more or less fastidious viewers' tastes. So while I'm impressed at these many ways they've made the episode richer to those of us who follow the show closely (most of which I'll freely admit went right past me until I read Jane's comment here), I'm still liking the show a lot less than I do shows that rather aims their episodes at the faithful viewer first and foremost instead.

    To me, the second episode was alright. Obviously, it was quite intelligently and well made, with likely dozens of angles and themes and contents I didn't notice or understand, but none of these things add much to my enjoyment of it. Even if I were to rewatch it with these added insights, I'd still be longing for some focus on actual plot _development_ instead.

  7. jane

    Oh, wait, *Olivia* thought she was speaking Latin? Peter says she was speaking *Greek* when she woke up. Still, that she was speaking a foreign language at all was a surprise. I wonder if we should trust Peter's translation, though. I'm gonna have to watch that again.

    Okay, back to Night of Desirable Objects.

    In New Day In The Old Town, we get our little X-files shout out. We are being warned that the practical reality for the production of the show is that it has to be accessible to a wider audience, that there are others who are not following the show for an epic payoff, but for a periodic dose of thrills. Tangible results. Like that shapeshifting gizmo. In 2×02, the surface story plays for thrills and it fulfills that intention. Getting sucked into the ground, creepy monster, hearing whispers, and especially that scene with Olivia and Charlie in the car. (Cars are scary.) When is Charlie going to turn on her? This shapeshifting reversal of Charlie is really scary, because it breaches the trust of Olivia. When she finds out, she's going to be traumatized. There's good tension here!

    It's below the surface that we have to look for mythological advancement, and we told to do this through Olivia's whispers. This is the most visible mythological advancement, that Olivia's senses truly have been altered by her visit to the Other Side. Her observational skills are sharpened, but the focus is on seemingly random elements – more of a mosaic pattern than a linear one. Because this is myth, we are to take on Olivia's perspective: read the episode *closely*. Examine the details, and put the pieces together yourself.

    Olivia has been lamed – is she a Fisher Queen? She does find herself in a Wasteland – and lo and behold, the monster of the week episode turns deeply mythological. The monster is a result of a pregnancy problem caused by lupus. Lupus is connective tissue disease, affecting an integral underlying network of the body. We see a "scientific" solution to the pregnancy problem: a transfusion of alternate genetic material into the baby. Another chimera? A fusing of different beasts? But the scientific answer yields only a horror.

    Consider the pregnancy problem on the Island. What Juliet has done is created a fusion reactor, contained within the electromagnetic bottle at the Swan Site. Now the fertility problems begin on the Island, which brings Juliet to the Island. Hmmm. And the Statue has been destroyed, a fertility goddess. Which has also been removed from Jacob's Tapestry. Lost and Fringe are connected, underneath the surface: all roads lead to the Island and the Holy Grail that lies there.

    The title of the episode is also a clue to the underlying mythology.

    ~ jane ~

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  1. […] was to make him look greasy and sweaty.  I had a comment on my blog about how it looked as though Bad Charlie were injured instead of it being a deliberate look.  I thought it could have gone either way, and “Momentum Deferred” finally out-and-out said […]