“In Which We Meet Mr. Jones”
November 11th, 2008
I don’t think that anyone could actually be addicted to Fringe at this point, to be honest: while Abrams’ last show, Lost, became this massive sensation, there is nothing sensational about Fringe, as evidenced by this week’s episode, the first new one in three weeks. This is not to say that this episode is bad – on the contrary, it was actually one of the more memorable episodes for a few characters – but rather that it feels as if it is operating at a near glacial pace.
The episode is one of the most expansive: when Fringe science pops up on the FBI’s doorstep, solving this individual mystery unlocks the secret to something much bigger, opening up this world to new scientific terror cells organized as “ZFT.” Really, this is nothing new for a procedural: you take what you’ve been doing all along, solving crazy scientific mysteries like this week’s pirahna plant organism eating away the FBI agent’s insides, and suddenly make solving them about more than an individual life and more about driving our heroes to search out new questions, new answers.
But the show has, honestly, been extremely slow with answers: we might only be 7 episodes in, but things like character dynamics and organizational terror-like cells are the types of things that might have been useful earlier. There were questions early about whether or not the show could last very long, but they insisted they had a plan: is there plan, however, just to move really slowly in opening up this world? This wasn’t a bad episode in execution or in design, but there was a point where Broyles was ranting about Olivia being stubborn in wanting to control what can’t be controlled, contained what can’t be contained that stuck with me. It felt like Abrams was telling me not to ask questions, not to want more out of this show.
And while I’m willing to be patient, I do think that the eponymous Mr. Jones has some potential, and forgive me for hoping that we’ll see it sooner rather than later.
I’ve been complaining (mainly to myself, especially since my brother has just started watching The Wire) that I wish Lance Reddick was given more to do on this show – to an extent, I got my wish. While certainly not a real showcase episode by any means, Broyles had his biggest episode yet in terms of his personal involvement with these cases. It was, ultimately, a good involvement: Broyles’ presence helped put Walter’s perspective and Peter’s whining into context, and I do think that sometimes the lab feels too isolated from the FBI. Olivia can walk over to the office all she wants, but the office sometimes has to come to the lab as well. Reddick plays gruff really well, but I do think that they could humanize Broyles a bit more in the future.
There wasn’t space in this episode, though, since the show made yet another futile attempt to humanize Olivia Dunham. It’s not that I don’t think Anna Torv is attractive, or that Olivia’s personality would charm a certain type of person, but there is just something about her in a romantic situation that doesn’t read right at all. Billy Burke (who I last saw as Bobby’s brother Jack on “My Boys”) was fine as the suave former associate, and I think Torv did what she could with it, but I find it much more likely that creepy inmate Mr. Jones or the Warden are going to find her sternness intriguing than I am about someone falling in love with her.
In terms of the story of the week itself, it was one that didn’t feel quite as convenient as some of the ones in the past: there was some nice movement with Joe Smith being shot mid-way through, there was a nice variety of events (the medical emergencies, the swat raid on Smith’s house, Olivia’s prison visit with Mr. Jones [which I’ll get to in more detail in a second], etc.), and perhaps most importantly it wasn’t simply solved by Walter’s past experiments. There was a nice, natural branching out: we start with confusion and scientific interest, we expand into a way that Walter’s scientific knowledge could help this patient (not because they’re suffering from is ramifications, but because he’s smart), and eventually it even required the last minute horizontal line brain damage issue to be brought to the surface. These 48 minute episodes have allowed them to, even if the central process is similar, add a lot of variety into each individual mystery, and it’s helped in breaking up the monotony.
And, thinking along the same lines, the episode seemed to be designed to introduce Mr. Jones and ZFT, two of the faces of the Pattern. I nearly threw something at the TV when Broyles, again, revealed that he was withholding information from Olivia: why? The only reason is to keep us from knowing it either, which is getting frustrating: while it worked for Alias, where Sidney was a double agent who knew very little about the CIA’s internal structures, Olivia should not be kept in the dark on these things considering her position. It just doesn’t make any sense, which is why I’m getting annoyed with how slowly the universe is opening up. However, I have to give them some credit: there are some very interesting ramifications in this episode for the future of the Pattern and its threat.
First and foremost, Mr. Jones himself joins the Observer as our recurring characters of interest, those who could begin building a mythology for the show. One of the best things about a show like Alias or Lost are those characters who pop up (like Sark on Alias, or Rousseau on Lost) and serve as a roadblock for our leads. I felt like Mr. Jones (played by Jared Harris) was a bit underplayed, but it’s still an interesting and creepy enough figure (even if it felt a bit too “Silence of the Lambs”). I’m curious what he knows, and more importantly where the show will eventually be willing to abandon its procedural elements in order to let him break out of prison and wreak some havoc. Whenever the show really builds up to these ideas, such as its episode-ending reveal about the identity of the mole, it makes me wish it had more time to spend on those and less time with its “scientific mystery of the week.”
And, to be honest, I find that even with the extra eight minutes these parts don’t feel like they’re getting enough time to develop. I know they were saving the reveal that Loeb (who was played by Chance Kelly, who played Godfather in Generation Kill, not the first from the show to make the leap over to Fringe) was the mole until the end, but his plan seems REALLY convoluted when they could have just asked Joe Smith for the information themselves. Or, if it was something he wasn’t going to share with just anyone, then we wonder why these two different groups (presuming that Jones and Loeb were working for different people, which seems logical considering that Jones claimed he wasn’t responsible for the parasite) are after this particular piece of information. It just feels like this is a LOT of complicated mythology stuff, and right now the show’s structure really isn’t letting it grow very well.
But, in the end, I’m glad it’s there: it’s making the show test its limits, and testing its formula to see what works and what doesn’t. While humanizing Olivia is going to take a lot more work, and we need some more time before seeing how Mr. Jones and ZFT will play into the grand scheme of things, this episode felt like a good starting point for something…even if we, still, don’t really know what that is.
- While John Noble is great and Walter is still a very funny character, I hope that Broyles noticing the fruit cocktail line might put a moratorium on the weird cravings/demands phase. It’s a bit of a cliche at this point, to be honest.
- Since this is Abrams we’re talking about, what do we think the significance is of A Christmas Carol being the book that the page from Frankfurt came back in?
- Was it just me, or did Walter call Astrid “Asteroid” at one point during the climax of the episode? If so, I’ll budge: that’s one Walter meme I quite enjoy.
- Peter’s relationship with his father is a bit strange, but I don’t quite get why him having low electric tolerance would make him an ideal candidate for the job he was given during the experiment. The fact that he had tested Peter to begin with was sketchy enough, too. I’m hoping we see a few more dimensions to their relationship in the future, as it has a lot of potential.