Fringe – “Safe”



December 2nd, 2008

I wrote a piece a few weeks ago wherein I talked about the gradual serialization that was causing some viewers of one of the season’s successful demo hits; Fringe may be from J.J. Abrams, but it was taking a lot longer to feel like it was capable of rising to the scale of the shows we most often associate with Abrams (Alias, Lost). I argued at the time that this was part of the appeal, that it was designed (as will be Joss Whedon’s Dollhouse) to appeal to two different sectors of viewers.

Well, I’d tend to argue that between last week’s solid “The Dreamscape” and the quite eventful and entertaining “The Safe,” Fringe has officially entered into the next phase of its serialization. Picking up, really, where “The Equation” left off, this episode felt like vintage Alias. It put together pieces that we didn’t know were pieces, brought various recurring characters into one central location, and revealed that our charisma-less heroine is more central to the series’ biggest questions than we realized.

What we got, finally, is an episode that felt meaningful: where the science was being used not to terrorize but to disrupt, and where both our characters and the conspiracy took on new roles that will lead to a better series once the show returns in January.

I’ll get to everything else in a second, but one of the problems the show has struggled with is defining Massive Dynamic’s role in this whole situation. Nina Sharpe (Blair Brown) was oddly absent for an extended period of time, and it resulted in muddling even further just what they’re up to. But, starting with last week’s “The Dreamscape,” we started to get a better sense of where Massive Dynamic fits into this scenario. We didn’t get a definitive answer from that episode, you’ll notice: it didn’t solve his murder so much as pose the question that there was something more complicated going on. I liked that – yes, it’s more questions than answers, but the whole nature of the show is dallying in the unpredictable and unexplainable.

It also led well into this episode, where we got a much better image into what we’re seeing, precisely. Right now, we have a race between two groups who are searching for Olivia Dunham. Massive Dynamic wants her because they know she has John Scott’s memories in her head, and there is something in them that they desire to find. Why Mr. Jones wants her isn’t clear, but I would tend to presume that it is for similar reasons. Sharpe seemed to indicate that they are in a race with someone for this information, and I would tend to believe that it is Mr. Jones who is involved.

It’s a better look at what Massive Dynamic is; while they are being cooperative, there is a sense that they are only cooperating to slow down their competitors while themselves making scientific advancements of a similar nature. This was always the general idea, but we moved a fair distance from that as they became a convenient source of intel versus an actual threat. I thought the episode was a nice reminder of that, and it’s something I hope they investigate further.

The rest of the episode was pretty well executed all around: the opening scene was tense (even if it was pretty clear that he was going to get stuck the second they gave us a descending clock), Walter’s solution to the first mystery was more “brilliant man solves mystery” than “Walter remembers some experiment he did a while ago,” and the final revelation that Walter discovers (that he had created a sort of transportation machine which could find a deceased doctor in time to save Peter’s life) raised a lot of interesting questions about both Peter’s childhood and, more importantly, felt more emotionally resonant than most of Walter’s discoveries.

And, as many have pointed out, the whole episode was a giant callback: the equation formed the basis for the bank heist, Walter’s penchant for hiding things explained the bank vault, the vault numbers were the numbers that Walter repeats before going to sleep (The Fibonacci series), Little Hill (which they pulled in the episode with Mr. Jones’ arrival) was the name of the airfield where the exchange went down, etc. It was in this that the episode felt like Alias: while that show was never overly focused on its mysteries at all, its biggest trick was added up enough macguffins and odd occurrences to suddenly reveal themselves as one of Rambaldi’s broader schemes. The show ended up getting bogged down in it after a while, but in the short term it worked well.

As it did here: for an hour, I wasn’t paying any attention to whether Anna Torv is improve as an actress (although she definitely displayed some new emotions in that scene with Peter at the bar), or whether the show was going too heavy on the exposition (Broyles seemed to be in a more logically advisory role here, and Olivia even went to him trying to get information at one point). The show let its pieces fall together in a very natural way, and ended up with a hell of a cliffhanger in the process: even those somewhat disengaged with Fringe on a week-by-week basis have to be curious what Mr. Jones has planned for Olivia (presuming this is who has her) and what the big picture is for his escape.

This is what J.J. Abrams series are good at: even when you might not wholly like a character or believe in a storyline, the show’s plot has this capability of converging at a certain point and capturing our attention. This is a great piece of momentum to take into the show’s return in January, and here’s hoping that anyone who was luke warm on the show early in the season will use Hulu and other available methods for catching up: airing after American Idol in the winter, there’s a lot of potential for growth here, both in terms of ratings and (as the recent series of probably four episodes has shown) creativity.

Cultural Observations

  • I thought that Walter’s method of explaining his vibrations theory was really clever, primarily because it successfully combined his child-like spirit with real science. Also great for Walter was his absolute delight at the thought of Olivia doing drugs. Such a giddy man.
  • I think I’ve figured out Olivia’s problem: she spent so much time playing cards with her father that she’s put on a 24/7 poker face.

1 Comment

Filed under Fringe

One response to “Fringe – “Safe”

  1. I really liked this episode and how it tied lots of things together from previous episodes.

    Oddly enough, for a show that usually leaves you with frustratingly more questions than answers, it actually answered a bunch. Yet, I wish they would have left us with the question of who had Olivia. You’re still left to wonder why Mr. Jones wants her exactly, but I think leaving it open as to who actually had her would have made for a better ending to the fall part of the season.

    And, yes I do realize how contradictory it is to be less than enamored with the show having too many unanswered questions and also wishing they had left us with one more than they did in this episode.

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