January 20th, 2009
When it takes four people to write an episode of television, it is easy to become suspicious: there is nothing about “Bound” that screams as if it needs to have so many cooks in the kitchen, and the show has enough trouble keeping a consistent tone as it is without having so many independent voices in the writer’s room.
But this is a huge episode for Fringe: it is the first to air behind American Idol, the biggest lead-in in television and, as a result, a real test of the show’s ability to draw in new viewers. As a result, I can see why four writers had enough of a hand in this episode: it has to introduce potentially new viewers to the universe while at the same time dealing with the fall finale of sorts which left Olivia Dunham in the hands of some dangerous people.
What “Bound” becomes is a prime example of why these types of mid-season reboots for the purpose of drawing in new viewers are inherently dangerous, if not why they are an entirely bad idea: the episode is not a complete disaster by any means, and its back to basics approach will probably help it draw in some of the post-Idol audience for a few weeks at the very least.
But the problem lies in the fact that they bring to head a long gestating question of double agency in an episode where they are treading carefully with serialized elements: it’s hard to feel the sense of finality or build-up we should have felt when everything felt too clean due to the episode’s lack of time to really get dirty. There was something about the episode that just felt a bit too clean, mouth slugs be damned, and while I get the reasoning I can’t help but feel it’s nonetheless a step back in terms of momentum.
I totally get the criticism the episode is facing for its lengthy pre-credits exposition, I am – while we usually start each episode with the death or the disappearance or whatever else happens as part of the Fringe unit’s investigations, here we begin with Olivia’s disappearance. It’s all blatant exposition: Broyles introduces who Charlie is, we learn that Olivia can kick some ass in an early fight sequence, and when she ends up in the hospital the new overseer of sorts is nice enough to give us a history lesson about the events of the first half of the season. It was nothing if not really clunky for those of us who have seen the show, and it’s even more frustrating coButnsidering that it’s the show’s second time doing it (they employed a similar technique in the first post-pilot episode that aired after House, the pilot having aired on its own).
But if it gets the show an audience, I think it’s worth it, even if this episode wasn’t a fine example of the potential we saw before the break. The problem was that everything was devoid of context, likely for fear of confusing viewers. Loeb’s plot to kill scientists who could stop an epidemic was without context, even if his plan to kidnap Olivia and “save her” certainly places a few more shades of grey on his actions. This seemed an odd time to catch Loeb: yes, the scene with Olivia fighting his wife was tense, and yes I thought the effects on the death slugs were kind of impressive, but it seems odd that this man would kidnap scientists to get an equation, use that equation to perform numerous bank heists, and then get captured while putting powder into people’s drinks. It was so mundane for what has been such a complicated character of sorts, and I feel as if we were robbed of that complexity by the episode’s position.
I think they made the decision so that fans could get some sense of closure or satisfaction from an episode made to cater less to them than to new viewers. The same goes for Olivia’s sister and niece entering into the series: while next week appears to bring more from young Emma, it felt like a cheap attempt to humanize a character for us longstanding viewers, but perhaps a sign of her actual humanity for new viewers who don’t know any better. It’s one thing for an episode to feel like it’s redundant (heck, a lot of procedurals often feel that way), but in this case it almost felt revisionist, and I have to be concerned about the show returning to what it achieved before the hiatus. It almost reminds me of what happened to Terminator: Sarah Connor Chronicles, which came out of its first season with a full head of steam that was stopped dead by a bogged down start to its second season.
My hope is that they are able to capitalize on what worked here: I thought that having Olivia get more physically involved in her crimes did wonders for my impression of the character, and forced or not it was nice to see her be given a reason to smile with the arrival of family. Similarly, the final moments of the episode worked for me: Loeb’s question of whether Olivia knows the two sides might point back to our own ignorance of the big picture here, but it also at least confirms that they are interested in that question in the same way we are. The episode could have used a bit more Walter, in my books, but the episode was downplaying the science part of things so his usual solving powers were less important for diagnostic purposes than usual. That balance was fine here, really, and I’m hoping that part of the first half’s improvements isn’t written over.
Barring an unforeseen vendetta against the show, FOX is liking to give out a second season order once some big numbers pop up after a couple of weeks of Idol – hopefully with that will come the kind of freedom that can keep this ship afloat for seasons to come.
- Favourite moment of the episode was definitely when, in his early speech, Broyles (portrayed by Lance Reddick, late of “The Wire”) got to utter the phrase “The Western.” I teared up a little, nostalgia for his past role as Cedric Daniels washing over me.
- Of the various exposition moments, the clunkiest was by far the “Oh look, Peter was worried about Olivia, INSTANT ROMANTIC TENSION” in the car waiting for Loeb to fall for their trap.
- Speaking of which, seriously? He fell for the text message trick? I thought that was too stupid by half, especially for a character who had injected himself with a frakking pirahna plant to get information…although maybe he’s not so smart after all if he did that.